Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
|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.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The Secretary-General welcomes the release of a US national during the visit to Pyongyang by former US President Jimmy Carter. He appreciates the decision of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea to release Mr. Aijalon Mahli Gomes on humanitarian considerations. The Secretary-General commends former President Carter for his humanitarian mission.
Taking this opportunity, the Secretary-General encourages emergency humanitarian aid to DPRK which has been affected by the recent flooding. He has been closely following with concern on the flood situation in the DPRK and its possible impact on the already vulnerable humanitarian situation there and the funding gaps faced by the UN Humanitarian Country Team.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on Solomon Islands
I also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Solomon Islands.
The Secretary-General commends the people of Solomon Islands for participating in peaceful, orderly parliamentary elections this month, leading to the election of the Prime Minister by Parliament on 25 August. This demonstrates the commitment of Solomon Islanders to peace and democracy.
The Secretary-General is pleased that the United Nations was able to respond positively to the request of the Government of Solomon Islands for assistance in this process, and contributed to the conduct of the elections by successfully coordinating the deployment of international observers.
The Secretary-General notes the statements of observer groups detailing both the successes and the areas that require attention in any proposed electoral reforms in Solomon Islands. He encourages the Government to address and implement these recommendations in order to improve the electoral process for the future.
**Under-Secretary-General of Political Affairs in Africa
The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, is in Nairobi today where he represented the Secretary-General at the historic promulgation of Kenya’s new Constitution. Under-Secretary-General Pascoe conveyed the Secretary-General’s heartfelt congratulations to the Kenyan people and leaders for their vision, statesmanship and achievement as they open a hopeful new chapter in the democratic life of their nation.
Following these ceremonies, Under-Secretary-General Pascoe will travel to Cairo for a meeting of Special Envoys, Representatives and other officials involved in African peacemaking, as part of events marking the African Union’s Year of Peace celebrations. He will then travel to Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and back to Kenya for discussions on peace and security issues in the Horn of Africa, including the situation in Somalia.
His trip will conclude in Burundi, where Under-Secretary-General Pascoe will hold discussions on the peace consolidation process in that country.
**International Day against Nuclear Tests
In the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly in 2009, the Government of Kazakhstan proposed the establishment of an International Day against Nuclear Tests. This was backed by unanimous support for resolution 64/35.
The first observance of the Day will be on 29 August of this year. And that marks the anniversary of the day in 1991 when the President of Kazakhstan closed the test site at Semipalatinsk, where 456 nuclear tests were conducted during the Cold War era.
In his message to a High-Level Thematic Conference on the International Day against Nuclear Tests, which is taking place in Astana, in Kazakhstan, the Secretary-General asked the entire international community to reflect deeply on the consequences of the nuclear weapons tests that occurred in Semipalatinsk and around the world.
The Secretary said it’s time to bring the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty into force, and time for all to seek the security of a world without nuclear weapons. And we have the full message in my office.
On Pakistan, Pakistanis are marking one month from the gradual onset of floods that have devastated the country since late July. And more areas are being flooded. Over the last two days, an estimated 1 million people have been displaced in Sindh Province by new flooding.
Martin Mogwanja, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan, says: “We are working day and night to bring relief to millions of women, men, and children, but the floods appear determined to outrun our efforts […] we have been scaling up, but must scale up even further”.
The Indus River is raging at 40 times its normal volume, with the largest sea surge of water now in the Thatta District of Pakistan’s southern Sindh Province. Most of those newly displaced people need shelter, food water and medical care.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
A couple of answers to questions I was asked on the Democratic Republic of the Congo:
On the joint MONUSCO/Human Rights Office investigation team to be deployed in the Walikale territory, I can tell you that the team has indeed been deployed and is expected to finish its work around 2 or 3 September.
And I was also asked by a reference made by Special Representative Roger Meece to a hostage situation on 1 August. The Special Representative was referring to an Indian pilot with a commercial airline who had been taken hostage and MONUSCO (United Nations organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo) was providing good offices.
That’s what I have. I’m happy to take questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: President [Omar al-] Bashir of Sudan was in Kenya and has apparently now returned to Sudan without being arrested. Does the Secretary-General have any comment on this?
Spokesperson: Well, two things. State parties to the Rome Statute have an obligation to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Court (ICC). And secondly, the Secretary-General urges all States party to the Rome Statue to cooperate with the Court. This would be consistent with Security Council resolution 1593 (2005). That’s what I can tell you on that topic.
Question: Two questions. In terms of the al-Bashir issue, the notice put out by the ICC referring or notifying the Security Council about the situation said that the Secretary-General should pass that on. Has he done so? Has he formally transmitted that to the Security Council?
Spokesperson: Well, I’m aware that the ICC has issued a statement directed at the Security Council. I haven’t seen that statement, but if it says in there that this statement should be relayed to the Security Council by the Secretary-General, then clearly it will be.
Question: But you can’t confirm whether or not it has been already?
Spokesperson: Not sitting here right here and now, but I will certainly check.
Question: The second question is about Rwanda. There were reports that Rwanda warned Ban Ki-moon that it would pull its troops out of the Darfur peacekeeping operation if this UN human rights report went out. I’m referring to the human rights report that said the Rwandans committed genocide in Congo that was leaked today. Can you confirm that? Did Ban Ki-moon get a warning from the Rwandans that they would threaten to pull their troops out of the Darfur peacekeeping mission if that was the case?
Spokesperson: What I can tell you is that I’ve seen the story in Le Monde and obviously I’ve seen subsequent stories, including on the BBC. The stories are referring to a leaked report that was referring in turn to a draft. That is a draft report. That’s what it is. A final version of that report will be published quite soon. We are obviously rather surprised and disappointed that Le Monde, even though it knew that the final version was coming, went ahead and published. There will be a proper launch of the definitive final version in Geneva quite soon.
The reason I point to this in particular is because Le Monde quoted unspecified sources as saying that President [Paul] Kagame had threatened the withdrawal of peacekeepers in a tête-à-tête meeting with the Secretary-General. That is absolutely untrue.
Question: I’m sorry, just to clarify: President Kagame hasn’t raised it in any way with the Secretary-General, either in a meeting or in letter form?
Spokesperson: To my knowledge, President Kagame has not written to the Secretary-General about this. There has been correspondence, but not involving the President.
Question: Was there a phone call?
Question: Was it on the phone?
Question: Can you confirm that a letter from Foreign Minister Louise Mushi-kiwabo, the current Foreign Minister of Rwanda…there are reports that she wrote a letter to the UN making exactly that threat? And I know she met with the DSG [Deputy Secretary-General] and may be a candidate for UN Women. But the main thing is did she write a letter? Is that the correspondence that you’re referring to?
Spokesperson: As I said, there has been correspondence. I think its normal practice that one would not disclose the contents of correspondence in that way. But what I can tell you is that at no stage has President Kagame himself — and particularly at this meeting in Madrid — made such a threat to the Secretary-General.
Question: Is there any input from New York?
Spokesperson: In what sense?
Question: To Geneva in the writing of the final version of this report.
Spokesperson: This is a report that has been a number of years in the making. It’s a significant report and it’s an important report. And it has been put together by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). It spans a 10-year period, and as I said, it’s taken a number of years to put this together. We are now in the final stages before publication. There is a normal process that there would be for any document, and indeed the same applies in journalism, too. For example, when you write your story, there’s fact checking, there’s editing, there’s a conversation. This is a process, but it is ultimately a report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the final version will be published quite soon.
Question: So the answer is yes: a draft must come to New York and then there’s input from New York.
Spokesperson: There has been consultation as there is in any process of this kind involving reports.
Question: By the Secretary-General’s Office?
Spokesperson: This involves various people within the Secretariat.
Question: Could you say when that draft was sent to New York?
Spokesperson: I don’t know the answer to that, but I can find out for you.
Question: So you’re saying normally, a Human Rights Council report or report from the High Commission for Human Rights, whenever they issue a report, it has to come to New York?
Spokesperson: Look, that’s not what I said. There’s a process of consultation. It may differ depending on the kind of report, the kind of publication we’re talking about. But there is a normal process, and this is a document that’s been put together by more than 30 people who’ve been working on it. They were deployed across the DRC for a number of weeks, indeed months. And the report is in excess of 500 pages. And, as I said, it’s a significant and important report. It is not yet fully ready to publish; it is about to be ready to be published.
Question: Just to close this off then with the analogy you made to a newspaper: the editorial control ultimately rests here in New York?
Spokesperson: No. This is a report that was initiated by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and that’s the case.
Question: Well then who makes the final edit? When I write a story I don’t get to decide what the final version is…
Spokesperson: Well look, maybe it’s not a great analogy. I was just trying to show that there is a consultation process. That’s all I’m trying to say.
Question: There’s a statement today by the Government of Rwanda on the leaked draft UN report, which begins by saying, quote: “The timing of the leak of this draft report is revealing. It appears that the UN is attempting to divert international attention from its latest failure in the Great Lakes, where hundreds of Congolese women were raped under the watch of MONUSCO.” I guess I want to know what’s the UN’s response to the Government of Rwanda alleging that that the UN leaked this report specifically to draw attention away from the rapes in the Congo? And then I have some questions about the rapes in the Congo.
Spokesperson: And maybe some other people might have some questions, Matthew. I’m not going to comment on what the Rwandan may or may not have said. I haven’t seen that. What I would say, generally, Matthew, is it’s important to note that this is a report that has been a long time in the works. It is an important report. Its aim is to help the people of the region as they grapple with the need for a transitional judicial system and also to help in the fight against impunity.
This an important initiative and, what I would also say, is that because it’s been a long time in the works and because it is so significant and also because — as you will have heard me say and will have heard from Geneva — the Office of the High Commissioner is quite disappointed that there was a leak. I think this is pointing the finger in the wrong direction.
Question: Also, the same statement has a direct quote from the Government of Rwanda, Spokesman Ben Rutsinga saying: “Failure to consult with Rwanda even though they found time to meet with 200 NGOs is shocking and shows a complete disregard for fundamental fairness.” I’m just wondering, given that the report is being looked at here in New York; is that your understanding that in putting this report together the mapping team didn’t speak with eth Government of Rwanda and yet spoke with 200 NGOs?
Spokesperson: As I say, I’m not going to comment on this right now. What I can tell is that this is a very involved process and that a draft was shared with the concerned countries. So those countries — concerned parties — have seen a draft of the report.
Question: And when the Secretary-General named Paul Kagame as his co-Chair of this MDG Advocacy Group, was it done in awareness that this report was coming down? That it might use the word ‘genocide’?
Spokesperson: The two are not connected, Matthew.
Question: Going back to other continents. Has the Secretary-General have any recent contacts of telephone calls or did he meet and talk with, I would say, players on this Kosovo draft resolution made by Serbia and prepared for the General Assembly?
Spokesperson: The short answer is no, Erol. You are aware of the meetings that were held recently during the Security Council session. Nothing since then.
Question: May I ask then how much is he following this, since there is a sort of controversy that Serbia is still considering its language, and, for example the United States and the European Union are not very happy with that language and I know the Secretary-General is probably thinking to weigh in…?
Spokesperson: Well, you seem to be a mind reader, Erol. He is briefed fully on matter in all continents, including in Europe.
Question: At the top, you just gave a briefing about…from the OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] representative in Pakistan…the flood is raging on. But what he didn’t say was how many more people have been affected and how much more is needed by the United Nations. And I also wanted to find out whether the UN’s request for additional helicopters…I mean, where does it stand?
Spokesperson: There was an extensive briefing, as you know, from John Holmes [Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator], and the figures that I have are not dramatically different form those that were used yesterday. And as regards the helicopters, the situation, as far as I know, is the same. In other words, we still need those helicopters.
Question: Yesterday he did not give any figures basically…
Spokesperson: No. And if I remember correctly, he said that those that are on the ground — and I think he did give some figures — but the extra helicopters are not there. We are grateful for those that have been provided, but we definitely need more.
Question: Some are being provided and taken away every now and then, between the Pakistan Government and the United States. WFP [World Food Programme] has sent me a sort of statement…that they have been getting, but the thing is that nothing concrete has come as far as the helicopters are concerned.
Spokesperson: Not to my knowledge, but it could well be that the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has more up-to-date information than I have at this point.
Question: And I have another one on threats, which Mr. Holmes yesterday referred to. How have they materialized so far? Have they sough help from Pakistan security forces or the army to…?
Spokesperson: I haven’t got anything to add to what John Holmes said yesterday.
Question: [inaudible] this is being reported now widely. It’s in the New York Times and…
Spokesperson: But Masood, as I say, Mr. Holmes was quite clear and categorical on this yesterday and I don’t really have anything further to add. There were threats before. We are aware of the threats now. They didn’t deter our colleagues in the field in the past and they won’t now.
Question: A senior UN official in the DRC peacekeeping mission is telling CNN that the UN is to blame because they, basically, kept silent, when they knew [inaudible] concerning the whole mass rape situation. So the question is what’s the Secretary-General’s response to that?
Spokesperson: Well, I was asked by Josh Kron, the correspondent, and by Richard Roth by e-mal yesterday, and I gave them the answer which I’ll give you now, which is that we don’t comment on unsourced, unnamed officials.
Question: Have you received any reservations from the Lebanese Government regarding the UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] report on the incident of 3 August?
Spokesperson: Any reservations, did you say?
Question: Reservations or remarks from the Lebanese Government on the report?
Spokesperson: Let me check. I’m not aware. Let me check.
Question: I’m sorry just a follow up. Are we going to get a copy of that report when it comes out?
Spokesperson: As you know, the idea is that there will be a Security Council briefing, the timing of which I do not yet know. At that point, it’ll be seen whether it’s released or not. I don’t know whether it will be released at this point.
Question: Congo and then PhD’s and diploma mills. But as to the Congo…
Spokesperson: How about doing one at a time in case other people have questions?
Question: Ok, no problem. We’ll do the Congo first. Since you said you don’t comment on blind quotes, there’s a quote from the International Medical Group’s Vice President, Rebecca Milner, saying that there was an e-mail sent through the humanitarian listserv at the end of July saying that there were armed perpetrators precisely in the area where the rapes took place. I guess, what I’m wondering is, was this not enough to somehow trigger MONUSCO to go the area that the humanitarians were asked to stay away from?
Spokesperson: You asked about the e-mail yesterday, and I can tell you we’ve spent a considerable amount of time trying to track down exactly what this e-mail is and we’re still in the process of doing that. That doesn’t mean that such an e-mail does not exist. As I said yesterday, I have no reason to think that there isn’t some kind of e-mail, but we’re trying to establish precisely what.
To the second part of that question, we’ve been very clear that something went terribly wrong - that people were raped in such an outrageous way and on such a scale. That is obviously something that the Security Council is extremely concerned about and the peacekeeping operation is also extremely concerned about. In these situations, one always asks: could one have done more, could one have done something different. That’s precisely why Assistant Secretary-General Atul Khare is on his way to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It’s why [Special representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict] Margot Wallström will be looking into the response and follow-up for precisely this reason.
Question: I have some questions about Ms. Wallström I also wanted to ask. It’s been reported that her Office learned of this whole situation only on the weekend of 21-22 August, i.e., when it showed up in the newspaper. So I just have a couple of questions: given that this office has existed for almost six months now, what procedures have been established for the peacekeeping missions when they become aware — and they said it was 12 August — of rape as tool of war? Don’t they inform Ms. Wallström?
And related to that, it’s said that in the six months, she’s only hired two of the six positions that that office is supposed to have and that she was in Europe when this was supposed to have happened. I noticed that the statement that your Office put out by her doesn’t have a dateline at the bottom. With the Secretary-General’s it says “ New York 24 August”, but this one is blank. Where was she and where is she now?
Spokesperson: Well, on the first part, I think that you could easily speak to her Office to find out.
Question: It’s just that this was set up with such great fanfare here, I’d just like to…it seems fair to ask what steps has the Secretariat taken to make sure that this is a credible Office that actually staffs up, gets informed…?
Spokesperson: This is not just the Secretariat; it has a Security Council mandate. It is in the throes of being set up, that’s for sure. As for the location, it’s immaterial where Ms. Wallström was when she released the statement.
Question: Well, on the Secretary-General’s you have a dateline, so it’s not immaterial.
Spokesperson: So what, Matthew. It’s immaterial where she was. She made a statement. That’s the most important thing. She can be in contact and find out what’s going on regardless.
Question: Two weeks after DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] knew?
Spokesperson: That’s not the point that were we trying to address there, I think, Matthew.
Question: Just for clarification, is the Secretary-General still in town or is he out of town?
Spokesperson: He’s in town.
Question: And he’s been taking journalists out for lunch? I’m just trying to…
Spokesperson: What do you mean?
Question: The Secretary-General. He’s in town and he’s been taking out journalists occasionally for lunch.
Spokesperson: No, he hasn’t been taking them out to lunch. He has invited some journalists to lunch. Do you have a problem with that?
Question: No, I don’t have a problem. For my own information I just wanted to verify if it was true and not a rumour. That’s all.
Spokesperson: I’m choosing my words carefully here, Masood. The Secretary-General is in town. The Secretary-General is working, as usual, on all manner of topics, and he makes it his business to meet with a whole range of people in different ways. That can include having lunches with people. Not just journalists, but with all kinds of people to get to know them better.
Question: I thought he was not in town when I was informed. I though he was out of town. But he is in town.
Spokesperson: He spent a couple of days out of town, as we said. He’s back.
Question: Once more back on the report. I was just wondering, what’s the Secretary-General response to the claim of genocide?
Spokesperson: This is a report, that a draft version of which was leaked. This is a significant report that is coming from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The final version will be published soon. You will be able to read the final version and, given that the draft version is also in the public domain, you’ll be able to read that one, too.
Question: A follow-up on Masood’s question. What are the criteria that the Secretary-General is using when he’s inviting journalists for lunches and who are those journalists? Here is the end of the question: is that an attempt for, sort of damage control after negative writing and some…?
Spokesperson: I get all kinds of questions in this briefing room. And I’ll answer any question. That’s my job. It strikes me as a little off for you to be worried about who the Secretary-General has lunch with. If it’s a question of why you weren’t invited, Erol, for example…
Question: I would prefer an interview with the Secretary-General rather than lunch.
Spokesperson: Yes, and you’ve mentioned that in the briefing room a number of times, as well. So, what I can say is that it’s entirely normal. It’s been done a number of times in the past, since the Secretary-General came to Office, long before I got here, and will continue. It’s standard, normal practice and that’s it.
Question: Did you find something odd in this question? What’s the problem with this question?
Spokesperson: What I mean is — to ask it here in the briefing room when we’re dealing with questions about floods in Pakistan, a major report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights…
Question: On Kosovo, also, and we don’t get an answer, for example…
Spokesperson: Because there is no answer. You asked: has the Secretary-General had any contacts on this topic recently and the answer is “no”, not since the meeting that you’re aware of, with [Foreign Minister Vuk] Jeremic not so long ago.
Question: Martin, to be fair, he is the head of this Organization, and if somebody asks you a question on this…I think it’s a very fair question. You have nothing else to do but answer questions.
Spokesperson: It’s my job to answer any question. All I mean is that there is a calibration — I could be asked that question at any time. I’m just wondering whether its good use of the time here, that’s my point. I answer any question, any time, here or outside. It’s just a question of calibration and the use of time.
Question: On the Congo, you mentioned the joint MONUSCO/Human Rights team. Does “joint” mean in cooperation also with the Congolese Government?
Spokesperson: The one that I’m referring to, “joint” here means the Mission and the Human Rights Office.
Question: Is the Congolese Government involved?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has made clear, and others have, too, including the Security Council, for the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to investigate. That’s what I can say on that. Did you have a follow-up?
Question: Yes. Last year, there was a Security Council resolution asking the SG to deploy rapidly a team of experts to situations of particular concern with respect to sexual violence in armed conflict, resolution 1888. That team of experts hasn’t been deployed. In light of this incident, will it be?
Spokesperson: I didn’t quite catch the end of your question.
Question: The team of experts hasn’t been deployed and this resolution is from 2009. In light of the Congo incident, will it now be put together rand deployed?
Spokesperson: I don’t know the answer to that. Let me find out.
Question: Just for planning purposes, when is the SG supposed to announce whether or not he’s running for a second term? Is it supposed to be during this General Assembly? What are the rules on it?
Spokesperson: He has repeatedly said that his focus is on the job that he is doing now, which is this term, which he began in January 2007. That’s what he’s focusing on.
Question: But procedural-wise, I mean, when is the SG supposed to announce…because it’s the beginning of the fifth year?
Spokesperson: Like I say, his focus is on the job he’s doing right now.
Question: Congo and then diploma mills. But first I want to ask about Babacar Gaye. I’m sure you’ve seen this report that Babacar Gaye, recently named Military Adviser, is actually subject to an international arrest warrant, although some contest whether it’s a legitimate warrant or not. A French judge has indicted him in connection with a ferry sinking in 2002. Was this considered in naming him? Also it sounded like Mr. [Chikadibia Isaac] Obiakor was leaving 2 September, but I think he may be staying on to do some consultant work or write a report. Is that the case? What’s going to be Mr. Obiakor’s relation with the UN after 2 September?
Spokesperson: On the second, I don’t have anything to say. I don’t know anything about that. On the first, as I understand it, Mr. Gaye has made clear that he is available at any point should that be required by the relevant authorities.
Question: I guess, I’m just saying did the Secretariat look at this outstanding international arrest warrant and say its not relevant to naming him…I mean, was this passing judgements on the merits…some in Senegal thing that the warrant is colonialist, etcetera, but, you know, its…
Spokesperson: As I said, that’s where I’d leave it, I think.
Question: And this is just sort of a UN policy question. Recently, UNDP named a man, Mr. Rohr of Switzerland, to be the Administrator’s Special Representative to the Programme of Assistance for the Palestinian People. In his CV, as distributed, it listed a PhD from something called Pacific Western University of Los Angeles, which a simple Google search would find is a highly discredited diploma mill that changed its name because it gave out degrees without anyone attending or doing any work.
My question is — and I’m sure you’re going to say ask UNDP and I did – they didn’t address this; they said he’s qualified in other ways. What I wanted to know is that, in the UN system, when high posts like this are given, if someone’s CV contains a dubious, some would say fraudulent, academic degree, what happens next other than saying the have other qualifications? Are there any ramifications for listing a diploma mill PhD, while being named the Special representative to the Palestinian People for UNDP? What’s going to happen?
Spokesperson: I’ll ask my colleagues who deal with human resources.
Okay. Thank you very much.
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