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

8 September 2010

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

8 September 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 Farhan Haq, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

I’ll get started.

**Secretary-General in Rwanda

The Secretary-General has ended his visit to Rwanda and is on his way back to New York.  He arrived in Kigali yesterday evening, and met with Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo. This morning, he met President Paul Kagame.

The Secretary-General decided to visit Kigali to speak directly with the Rwandan President and other Government officials about their concern regarding the Democratic Republic of the Congo Human Rights mapping report compiled by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

He intends to speak to reporters tomorrow, upon his return from his travels.  That press encounter will be at the second-floor stakeout position in the North Lawn Building, and will take place tomorrow morning at 11:20.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUSCO, says that Operation “Shop Window”, which aims to protect civilian populations in the regions of Pinga, Kibua and Walikale in North Kivu, will now be extended until 15 September.  You will recall that Atul Khare mentioned Operation “Shop Window” in his briefing to the Security Council yesterday.

Eight of the nine operational bases have already been deployed.  As of 6 September — Monday — 165 patrols and 21 helicopter over-flights had been conducted.

With this operation, MONUSCO will also gather information on armed groups in the area and meet local authorities and community leaders, among others.  There is more information in a press release in the Spokesperson’s Office.

** Côte d’Ivoire

The UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire says that the agreement reached earlier this week by the Ivorian political leaders on the final voters’ list signals a “major breakthrough” in the electoral and identification process. 

The Mission is hopeful that the agreement will allow a large number of citizens to receive formal identification documents, which in turn should lead to the effective holding of presidential elections currently planned for 31 October.  The Mission also reiterated the UN’s readiness to assist with the efforts to find a lasting solution to the Ivorian crisis. 

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning heard a briefing from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Liberia, Ellen Margarita Löj, concerning the work of the UN Mission in that country (UNMIL).

Löj told the Council that the security situation in the West Africa subregion is calm but fragile.  Internally, Liberia still faces potentially destabilizing challenges, including mob violence and criminality.  She said that seven years of unbroken peace, the longest in decades, has allowed Liberians to be optimistic about the future, but recovering from a long civil war requires leadership, resources and time.  We have her remarks in our office.

The meeting on Liberia was followed by consultations on the same topic.  And I have just been informed that the President of the Security Council does intend to read a press statement on Liberia once consultations are done.  That should be sometime in about half an hour or so.

**Secretary-General Report on Haiti

The Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is now available online.

In it, the Secretary-General says that Haiti has successfully avoided a second-wave disaster of epidemics or social unrest but that, with hundreds of thousands of people expected to remain in camps or improvised shelters over the coming year, the political, social and economic situation will remain fragile.

The Secretary-General says that the presidential and legislative elections must be credible and legitimate in order to bring in a President and Government with a clear and uncontested mandate to lead the reconstruction process.  He also highlights the continuing need for a clear, considered and comprehensive strategy for the resettlement of earthquake victims and the urban poor.  Protecting the displaced population and vulnerable groups is a key priority for MINUSTAH and its international partners, he adds.  The Secretary-General also says that as Haiti recedes from media attention, it is important that donors and other international supporters not forget the magnitude of the January earthquake.

** Afghanistan

Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, expressed his concern today at the announcement by a small religious group outside the country of their intention to burn copies of the Koran.

De Mistura said that the exercise of the freedom of expression should not be confused with the intention to offend the religion and beliefs of millions of people.  If such an abhorrent act were to be implemented, he warned, it would only contribute to fuelling the arguments of those who are against peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan.  And we have his full statement in our office. 

**Press Material for Sixty-fifth General Assembly

And lastly, the press kit for the forthcoming sixty-fifth session of the General Assembly is now available at the Documents Counter. 

The kit contains a range of materials, including the General Assembly's provisional agenda and a biography and photo of the President-elect.  It is available in English and French.  As of next Tuesday afternoon, you'll be able to find the press kit in all official languages, at http://www.un.org/ga.

And that’s it for me.  Like I said, at 11:20 tomorrow we anticipate a press encounter by the Secretary-General at the second floor stakeout position in the North Lawn Building.  And we are also trying to get as our guest for tomorrow’s noon briefing Valerie Amos, the new Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, to see whether we can get her to speak to you by audio conference, by phone conference.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Could you put some more light, could you give us a clue what’s going to happen tomorrow at the General Assembly with regard of the Serbian resolution?

Spokesperson:  I can’t.  That would be up for my colleague Jean-Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  As you know, it’s now in the last few days of the previous session, the sixty-fourth Session, and they are going to be doing a few more items on their agenda.  Jean-Victor will have some more details.  He’s not briefing today.

Question:  Sorry if I missed that.  And sorry for my ignorance.  I was a little bit out of the city so I couldn’t follow everything.  Since you mentioned Mr. de Mistura’s statement of [the] burning on Koran, I wonder if the Secretary-General will go with any kind of statement or comment on that.  And also, did he weigh in on the issue of the Islamic Centre in New York since it is also an issue of the human rights and is somehow is tackling the [inaudible] the United Nations.

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the Secretary-General on all of these issues has always made clear his call for all parties to show tolerance and understanding.  He’s also made it clear that he wants everyone to understand that religious differences should not be source of divisions among people.  That said, I might have something more specific to tell you about his reaction to this current controversy.  I’ll let you know when that takes place.

Question:  [inaudible] same question, but particularly about the Koran burning in Florida.  Does the Secretary-General, I mean, have a particular something to say, considering the possible consequences of such acts in places, even where the UN is active all over the western world.

Spokesperson:  Well, I’m still waiting for something more specific. What I want to point out is that this remains hypothetical, first of all.  This is not something that has actually taken place yet.  However, having said that, any such action, if it were carried out, would contradict the efforts of the United Nations and many people around the world to promote tolerance, intercultural understanding and mutual respect between cultures and religions.  And in fact, it would lead to further discord and polarization between communities.  So that is what our concern is.  If the Secretary-General has anything further to say on that, I’ll certainly let you know.

Question:  Is there a particular reason why the Secretary-General has been lagging behind most of the politicians and religious figures world-wide about this issue?  I mean this is something better to pre-empt, a pre-emptive action could be a lot better than remedy afterwards.

Spokesperson:  I’ve already just said what I’ve said.  I don’t think that we’re lagging behind and, like I said, this is something that has not yet happened.  And we certainly hope that it will not take place.

Question:  [inaudible] someone like Petraeus, I mean he’s already issued a very clear statement, saying although it’s hypothetical…

Spokesperson:  We’re not in a contest on who speaks…

Question:  No, no.  It’s not a contest.  But I’m saying it’s a serious issue.  I mean, people are issuing serious statements ahead of the event, you know.  So we are wondering what the UN has to say, I mean the Secretary-General particularly…

Spokesperson:  And I’ve already just made clear what I’ve just said now and if I have anything further, I’ll let you know.  But certainly, what I have just said represents the views of the Secretary-General and Mr. de Mistura has already spoken out on this. 

Question:  A follow-up on this, and whether the Secretary-General is going to, you just read the statement which obviously could be later on probably attributed to the Secretary-General or his spokesman, but is he going to be more sort of particular using the word ‘Islam’ since Islam is definitely offended here and whether the Secretary-General is going to use this opportunity to weigh in his opinion on this religion. 

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, as a point of principle, the Secretary-General calls for understanding among all religions.  He has noticed…

Question:  [inaudible] against all religions…

Spokesperson: …he has noticed… Please, please.  If you really want to hear what my views are, you really do have to listen to what it is I am saying.  He has noticed the threats and other provocations made against Islam and he has been taking them quite seriously.  But his basic point is that people of all religions need to show mutual under… mutual respect, mutual understanding and tolerance for each other’s faiths.

Question:  I’ve actually been trying to listen closely to what you said.  Yesterday, on Sudan, you said that the process of UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] asking for Government approval to move was a normal one.  That’s my understanding, looking at the transcript.  Then later in the day, Atul Khare said that for UNAMID to be required to get Government approval would violate the agreement between the United Nations and Sudan.  There’s… finally… these seem to be in contradiction.  I would like you to clarify what is the practice of UNAMID in terms of getting Government approval before it goes out, for example, to go to this market of Tabarat and find 50 dead people and injured people.  But since then, it’s actually been said, and I was going to… I found this strange.  Mr. Khare said that on 7 September they got to the area.  And today’s UNAMID’s press notes say that in fact the Government of Sudan stopped them and said that they cannot go to the Tabarat market area for the next two days because of actions by the Sudanese Armed Forces.  So, which is it? First of all, what’s the practice of the UN in terms of seeking Government approval, and two, did they in fact get to this Tabarat market or not and if they were blocked how is it consistent with the agreement with the Government?

Spokesperson:  First of all, yes they did get Tabarat.  On 4 September a UNAMID patrol gained access to the area.  It observed that Tabarat was practically deserted and reported the presence of Government police in the area.  On 7 September, which is yesterday, a UNAMID mission travelled to Tawilla to further assess the impact of the violence and UNAMID has made efforts to assist in evacuating some of the injured victims by air to Al-Fashir.  As for approvals, we do not require approval to go about our regular movements.  At the same time, different parties on the ground sometimes inform us of actions, of combat and other problems involving security in their areas and that does at times affect our movements.  But certainly, we have repeatedly insisted on the freedom of UNAMID, the freedom of movement for UNAMID and we continue to do so.

Question:  [inaudible] for example, I received this document saying that on 2 September the relatives of the people killed in Tabarat Market asked the UNAMID team at Tawilla to come to the market area and were told come back tomorrow.  We have to get approval.  So that seemed to be, they didn’t even know at that time that there was action or anything. They weren’t told anything by the Sudanese Government and today’s UNAMID’s press notes say on 7 September, UNAMID on its way to Al-Fashir to Tabarat were stopped by the Sudanese Armed Forces, were informed by the commanding officer not to return for two days.

Spokesperson:  Again, what UNAMID is trying to do is gain access and we do continue to insist on the freedom of movement of UNAMID.  So we will continue to work with all the parties on the ground to try to get access to that area which is a place where we need to do further evaluations. 

Question:  But how do you explain the Tawilla people telling the relatives of the people injured “we can’t even move until we get approval…”

Spokesperson:  I don’t speak for the Tawilla people.  As I pointed out to you…

Question:  [inaudible] peacekeepers…

Spokesperson:  …as I pointed out to you, we did gain access to the area on 4 September.

Question:  I just wanted to know if [inaudible] Ms. Amos [inaudible] after touring Pakistan as she did, raise the …

Spokesperson:  On Valerie Amos, I didn’t have it in time for noon, but we do expect to have a press release from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] concerning her travels in Pakistan and we’ll put that out fairly shortly and we’re trying also to get Ms. Amos to speak to us possibly by video conference at tomorrow’s noon briefing.

Question:  Yeah, but I noticed she had a press conference today in Islamabad, Ms. Amos.  I just want to know has OCHA or… decided to raise the…

Spokesperson:  I think that any further details will be in the press release, but OCHA has worked on a press release and we should be putting [it] out shortly and that will have further information.

Question:  I wanted to ask about yesterday’s briefing by Mr. Khare.  It was very detailed and he seemed to say, not only did he discuss the 30 July e-mail that you all put out the DSS version of, but he said pretty clearly in paragraph 7 “on August 5th MONUSCO received information indicating 15 rape victims” and then he goes on and says IMC numbers rose to 47 on 9 August, 68 on 13 August.  So I’m thinking back to what Mr. Meese told us in this room on that screen where he said the first thing that MONUSCO knew about these rapes as 12 August and it just doesn’t seem to match the facts.

Spokesperson:  Well, the reason that it doesn’t is that we had, the Secretary-General has specifically entrusted Atul Khare to go to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to get the most reliable information and find out more and in more detail about how we responded to these rapes and what action we took.  So the report, in other words, that he gave to the Security Council is the more authoritative, more recent and more reliable one and that is what, what we’ll go on.

Question:  But since he says 5 August MONUSCO received information.  Are we saying that Meese, when he spoke to us, didn’t know that the information had been received or was just came up with a date that made sense to him but… I mean is there going to be any retraction…

Spokesperson:  He was providing information based on what he had at that time.  But since he spoke to you, which was as you know about two weeks ago, there’s been more information accumulated and so this is the information that we have now.

Question:  In the future, when he speaks, should we take him at face value that he is telling us what MONUSCO knows or just what he knows.  I mean, when it says MONUSCO received it, how could the head of MONUSCO go a week without knowing?

Spokesperson:  The fact that we have been doing a rigorous effort to get the best available information should convince you that we’re actually trying to get reliable information as much as we can.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  That doesn’t mean that Roger Meese’s words are not reliable.  It just means that at that point he had a certain store of information upon which we have now acquired much more. 

Question:  Just one… because in the future we just hear from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General.  There’s not this kind of investigation done and we usually take what is said at face value.  But in this case, it’s off by at least a week, probably two weeks and it just… I’m just wondering sort of how internally if there are any repercussions for that, for, for — for speaking pretty much incorrectly.

Spokesperson:  He was speaking on the basis of what he had at the time and I think he made that clear to you at that time.  But even then, he, along with the other people in MONUSCO, were trying to obtain as much, more information about this because of the seriousness of the situation.

Question:  Do you know when the Secretary-General received Myanmar’s inquiry panel’s report and when he’s going to submit it to the Security Council, please?

Spokesperson:  As you know the Secretary-General expects a progress report on 15 September. That’s not the final report, but a progress report. And then the final report, as we have mentioned in the past…

Question:  …[inaudible] it’s not 15 September, before 15 September?

Spokesperson:  It’s a progress report by 15 September.

Question:  OK.

Spokesperson:  So we would expect it more or less on 15 September and then the final report is due, as you know, in January.

Question:  [inaudible] Secretary-General planned to meet or to talk with anybody from the players from Serbia and Kosovo, since this resolution is pending? 

Spokesperson:  We’ll provide you with information about his various meetings once we get them.  His schedule of meetings for the coming weeks is being developed even now.

Question:  Could you talk a little bit about Myanmar, what’s the progress on appointing a commission of inquiry into war crimes?

Spokesperson:  This is not something that’s gone beyond an idea that has been proposed by the Special Rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana.  Mr. Quintana has proposed that idea.  Whether anybody takes that up is up to the various bodies of the UN system. 

Question:  So what’s the next step with that idea?

Spokesperson:  Ultimately, the bodies of the UN system, including the Human Rights Council, can consider Mr. Quintana’s views and see whether any further steps need to be taken.

Question:  On both of those questions, first on this issue of Serbia, there’s an article in, on the B92 website which covers Serbia pretty closely, saying that the EU-27, those who have recognized Kosovo, have stated on 22 July that they requested negotiations between Belgrade and Pristina and that they were ready to mediate, along with the UN, and it goes on to say Ashton and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have already agreed to this in writing.  So I have been looking at this for a couple of days, trying to figure out what that means.  Is there some agreement that Ban Ki-moon has reached with the European Union or Ms. Ashton about the UN’s role or UNMIK’s [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo] role…

Spokesperson:  There’s nothing I have to say about the UN’s role on this at this time.

Question:  So there’s no agreement… so they’re wrong…

Spokesperson:  There is nothing I have to say about a UN role on this at this time.

Question:  And the other one was on Myanmar, said there, again, just to site the source, in the Singapore, I guess, Strait Times, there’s a discussion of Ms. Heyser’s comments on Myanmar, that the Government was very focused on people, which I knew you said he wouldn’t comment on, but it seemed to indicate that the topic of Myanmar would come up at this retreat that the Secretary-General held with senior officials.  That’s what they said.  I guess, are we going to get any read out?  Whether it’s Myanmar or even things like the Ahlenius report or whatever, what was discussed at that retreat and what new policies can we expect?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is going to have a press encounter with reporters tomorrow, as you know, having come away from the retreat just a few days ago.  He, obviously this was a chance for the senior officials of the UN system to talk about a wide range of topics.  We don’t have any particular read out to give on the retreat, so there’s nothing being provided on that score.  But, certainly you can feel free to ask about anything related to the retreat at that point.

Have a good afternoon.

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