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

20 October 2010

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

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, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General in Strasbourg

This morning, before leaving Strasbourg, France, the Secretary-General met with Catherine Ashton, the High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy of the European Union.  They discussed the importance of the cooperation between the United Nations and the European Union on a broad range of areas, including the Middle East and Lebanon.

On the Middle East, they discussed the status of the direct talks.  The Secretary-General emphasized the importance of sustaining the direct talks and reaffirmed the readiness of the Quartet partners to support them.

The Secretary-General and High Representative Ashton also talked about the situation in Sudan.  They discussed recent developments in the preparation for the referenda, which stands at a critical juncture, and agreed on the need for the UN-led mechanism to coordinate monitoring.  They also talked about Somalia, Iran, Pakistan and Kosovo. 

Yesterday afternoon, after addressing the Council of Europe and the European Parliament, the Secretary-General also participated in a question-and-answer session with the Foreign Affairs Committee of the European Parliament.  And the Secretary-General will be back in New York in a few hours.

**Secretary-General on Iraq

In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the attack in Najaf, Iraq, earlier that day on a UN convoy carrying his Special Representative for Iraq, Ad Melkert, his Deputy Special Representative, Jerzy Skuratowicz, and staff of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, UNAMI.  All UN staff escaped without injury.  Regrettably, one member of the Iraqi security forces was killed and several others [were] injured.

The Secretary-General sent his condolences to the family of the deceased and wished a speedy recovery to those injured.  The Secretary-General also expressed his appreciation to his Special Representative and the staff of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, who are working under difficult circumstances to implement the mandate of the United Nations in Iraq.  This attack will not deter the UN from continuing its efforts to assist the Iraqi people on their path to reconciliation and prosperity. 

** Afghanistan

Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, welcomed the publication of preliminary results by the Independent Election Commission of the September elections.  He said that the Election Commission has shown significant improvements in the management of the post-polling day process and he commended them.  De Mistura noted that the number of votes invalidated and identified by the Independent Election Commission point to considerable fraud and electoral irregularities on election day.

He added that we are now looking attentively at this next stage of the process, which should also ensure that those who are proven to have committed fraudulent acts are held accountable.  The United Nations will continue to provide technical and operational support to Afghanistan’s electoral institutions.  And we have a press release with more details.

**Security Council

The Security Council heard a briefing this morning from Youssef Mahmoud, who heads the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad, known as MINURCAT, on the drawdown of that Mission.

Mahmoud told Council members that on 15 October, MINURCAT’s military suspended all operational activities and the Mission started its final withdrawal from Chad, in accordance with resolution 1923 (2010).  Every effort is being made to complete this withdrawal by the end of December.  He added that it is essential that the international community step up support to the Government and the country team so that MINURCAT’S hard-won achievements do not fade because of lack of funding and assistance.

Mahmoud described the security situation in eastern Chad as calm, but said that the security situation in the north-eastern part of the Central African Republic remains volatile, and he expressed concern at attacks attributed to elements affiliated with the Lord’s Resistance Army.  And we have his remarks in our Office.

The Council is currently holding consultations on MINURCAT.  It also held consultations earlier today on Nepal, and the Council President intends to read a press statement on Nepal when this morning’s session has ended.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

The Secretary-General announced the appointment today of Martin Mogwanja, a Kenyan national, as Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF).  Mr. Mogwanja will succeed Omar Abdi, to whom the Secretary-General is grateful for his outstanding contribution to UNICEF and commitment to the ideals of the Organization.

Before taking up his current post, in January 2007, as UNICEF Representative in Pakistan, Mr. Mogwanja had served as Representative in both Uganda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  While there, he was responsible for the overall planning, coordination and implementation of a broad range of UNICEF programmes to improve the status of children and women.

Anthony Lake, the Executive Director of UNICEF, said he was very pleased with the Secretary-General’s decision to appoint Martin Mogwanja, who, he said, has done a remarkable job in Pakistan as UNICEF Representative and recently as acting Humanitarian Coordinator.  Lake said, “I have full confidence in his abilities and leadership.”

**Women

The United Nations today released The World's Women 2010: Trends and Statistics, a one-of-a-kind compilation of the latest data documenting progress for women worldwide in eight key areas:  population and families, health, education, work, power and decision-making, violence against women, environment and poverty.

In the book’s introduction, the Secretary-General says that the report “finds that progress in ensuring the equal status of women and men has been made in many areas, including school enrolment, health and economic participation.  At the same time, it makes clear that much more needs to be done, in particular to close the gender gap in public life and to prevent the many forms of violence to which women are subjected”.

Among the findings:  There are approximately 57 million more men than women in the world.  In 2010, some regions have an obvious “shortage” of men while others have a shortage of women.

Incidentally, speaking of statistics, I’d like to remind you that today is the very first World Statistics Day, for which the Secretary-General has a message.  And that message is available on our counter and on our website.

**Press Conferences Today

In terms of further press conferences for today, at 3:30 p.m., here in the Library Auditorium, there will be a press conference by the United Nations University to discuss a new alliance for measuring university performance called the Global Research Benchmarking System (GRBS).

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Then tomorrow at 11:15 a.m., there will be a press conference to mark the tenth anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325 (2000).  The press conference will focus on the work of women peace advocates, United Nations priorities in advancing the resolution, the achievements of resolution 1325 (2000) in the last 10 years, and the challenges ahead.

At 12:45 p.m., the United Nations Office for Partnerships will hold a press conference about the 2010 Annual Humanitarian Awards by the United Nations Association of New York.  The awards will honour the work of individuals and corporations to further UN Millennium Development Goal number 8, which concerns global partnerships.

At 1:15 p.m., the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, will hold a press conference to discuss threats posed by the increasing pressures on lands, and the importance of land redistribution for the realization of the right to food.

And last, at 2 p.m., the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, will hold a press conference to discuss the upcoming elections in that country.

And that’s it from me.  Any questions?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Correspondent:  Happy World Statistics Day.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Happy World Statistics Day to you.  And we have given you lots of statistics-heavy press conferences, to start with that.

Question:  Yeah, and there are lots of World Statistician Day events going on as well, including some with renounced statisticians and good bookkeepers like Hamid Karzai, the North Koreans and the Zimbabweans.  And I bet you just wondered, doesn’t that undermine the point of the day?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe the point of the day is to see and to emphasize the role that accurate, well-researched statistics can have in increasing to the store of knowledge.  And the Secretary-General, like I said, does have a message on that, which is available.  As for the statistics that came out of Afghanistan, I think I just pointed out what Staffan de Mistura had to say about that.

Question:  But wouldn’t it be more sensible to have Staffan de Mistura doing an event about good statistics rather than Hamid Karzai?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  In a manner of speaking, he kind of did.  Anything else?  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, thank you.  In his recent visit to Morocco, the Secretary-General praised the Moroccan Government for its willingness to return to informal talks on Western Sahara.  Has the Polisario expressed any such readiness?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, Christopher Ross, is in the region.  He has visited Algeria and Tindouf is also going to be visiting Morocco and also Mauritania, and I think we put out earlier his initial remarks once he was in Algiers.  But he is hopeful that he can get the parties together next month, November, for the third round of informal negotiations and eventually towards direct talks.  Yes?

Question:  I have some questions about Sudan, Sri Lanka and the Secretary-General.  Sudan, there is a couple of… one is, yesterday you were asked about UNMIS’s [United Nations Mission in Sudan] failure to go out and ascertain whether there is a troop build-up by Khartoum on the border.  And it turns out there has been a statement by the SPLM’s [Sudanese People’s Liberation Movements] representative on the Ceasefire Monitoring Commission, that in fact this issue of Government build-up on the border was raised in that Commission, which UNMIS chairs and which I think [Haile] Menkerios has said that, if it is raised in that forum, has some duty to go out and investigate.  He claims that this has been raised several times.  So I wonder, is the UN… who is correct here?  Mr. Menkerios had said that he had only heard about this in the press, therefore hadn’t checked it, SPLM says that they raised it in this Ceasefire Monitoring Commission.  Can we get to the bottom of whether UNMIS acknowledges that this was actually raised through that mechanism?  And if so, why they didn’t go to check it out?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe my colleagues in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations are in fact following up on yesterday’s question of this reporting of incidents.  And so we’ll see what they have to say on that.

Question:  Is it in fact… is it the case that if… that UNMIS not only chairs that Commission, but if things are raised in that, its job is to go out and check them out?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It follows up on the things that are raised in the Commission.  And indeed, it is following up on a range of issues that have come up in that Commission, yes. 

Question:  I also was here in this room yesterday, the Chairman of the Committee against Torture was asked, and this question of whether this impending or proposed or considered turnover of Darfur rebels to the Government by UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] might bring up the spirit if not the letter of the Convention against Torture, i.e. the turning over of individuals to the Government accused of torture.  And I just wonder… My question is this:  I know you’re going to say it’s being negotiated, what I want to know is, does the UN system, in making these negotiations, acknowledge the applicability of this Convention against Torture?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The United Nations, whenever it deals with any people whose lives may be under any form of threat, takes particular concern to make sure that their safety is ensured.  And, of course, the United Nations tries in all of its work to uphold all of our various conventions.

Question:  And I understand you are going to say it’s a leaked draft, but the [inaudible] only concerns execution and not torture in the least, and I just wonder that’s…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, Matthew, in all honesty, one of the best ways to ensure the safety of these particular sheikhs is to make sure that the talks concerning them are conducted, and conducted with discretion.  Anything beyond that actually stands the risk of placing them at risk, and that is something we are not willing to do.

Question:  Under what mandate does the UN negotiate the, essentially, extradition of individuals to a Government without oversight and say it should be all done in secret?  I don’t understand that.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, a lot of the work that the UN does has to do with negotiations.  That’s a simple fact of the matter.  In this case, any sort of arrangement involving the sheikhs is one, as we have made clear repeatedly, that must ensure their safety and their security.  And that is a bottom line for us.  Beyond that, I am not going to have anything to say and for the reasons I have just outlined.  

Question:  I want to ask about Sri Lanka, if you don’t mind?  There is, and this is actually, it’s a factual question.  There are things circulated seemingly unnoticed from the Secretary-General’s Panel on Accountability on Sri Lanka, which is soliciting if individuals wish to make submissions to the Panel to make submissions from now until 15 December.  It’s not clear to me if this is a real, has the Panel in fact put out a notice?  I guess that’s the first question.  And if they have, why has it been so… it’s on the Sri Lanka Guardian website and some others, it’s not been widely circulated.  Is it fraudulent or is it in fact a statement by the Panel?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  On this, the Secretary-General’s Advisory Panel on Sri Lanka has circulated a notice advising that it has commenced its work and providing an address where interested organizations, academic institutions or individuals can make written submissions or otherwise correspond with the Panel.  It is within the Panel's mandate to develop its own working modalities, including as to whether to be open to input from other institutions or individuals.

Question:  I just want to ask one thing about this.  Number one, it still remains… I think if you do just even a Google web search you will find that it only appears in two places.  So I wanted to know, how did they circulate this invitation?  And two, since it says people could submit up until 15 December and that seems to be the last day of the Panel’s work, how is this information going to be incorporated?  If they get a submission on the day that their report to the Secretary-General is due, it just calls into question whether, is in fact 15 December the four-month deadline for the Panel?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no.  You have to remember that we put out a statement in the middle of September — I think it was on 15 or 16 September — which said that they had met with the Secretary-General and then that started the four-month clock.  So four months from the middle of September takes you to the middle of January.  Yeah, yeah, I see you’re working it out on your fingers, but it would be the middle of January.

Question:  On much less serious matters, the…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Compared to what?

Correspondent:  Compared to war crimes and extraditions…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Oh, no; I was thinking of your previous question.

Question:  Oh, yes, it’s less serious than that as well, actually.  It seems that a lot of the sort of the lubrication of diplomatic discourse has slowed down since the Delegates’ Lounge closed.  And although there was a brief abortive effort, I think, to have a bar reopened in the North Lawn Building, it doesn’t really seem to have come to much.  I was wondering if this was at all going to be addressed; partly because, as I said, it actually did serve as quite a useful function for the sort of informal diplomatic discourse at the UN.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s really an issue for the people doing the Capital Master Plan, what kind of facilities there would be.  I think they have been getting feedback about the areas that are set aside, and the congregation areas, and hopefully they will take into account the need for diplomats to meet up with each other.  Certainly during the high period of the General Assembly, the diplomats did seem to be having different areas, including even just different corridors and so forth, where they would find amenable conditions for them to meet.  And hopefully they would continue to have a place where they can sit down and chat.  But I’ll check with the Capital Master Plan people whether there is any need to look at the need for any lounge areas or not.  Yes?

Question:  Speaking on the Master Plan, the Capital Master Plan, last week I asked the Under-Secretary-General for Management why we still don’t have connected telephones, some of us, 10 months after we have moved from the third floor. And she answered that she will do something about it.  Has anything been done about it?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I am sure that Ms. [Angela] Kane is following up.  I will check with her to see what she is doing.

Correspondent:  Just a follow-up.  The plug on the wall is non-functional, so you can plug in all the phones you want to and you’re not going to get anything.  But I also came on the end of his question; I hope it relates to another subject that’s been bothering me.  I have recently learned that they are going to dock the whole Delegates’ Dining Room staff, and these are people that have been with us for a very long time.  They’re very good, they have been very good to us and we have been good to them in many ways.  And I don’t say that relates exactly to what he was talking about.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  A number of people have been asking about this in recent weeks, and certainly the UN, although we are not the employers of this staff, have made our concerns known to that subcontractor, in this case Aramark — although they can make their own business decisions with regard to their own staff — we have made it clear that we want to make sure that staff are either kept on or are relocated to other capacities rather than being dropped outright.  Ultimately, though, the follow-up on this would have to be in the hands of the actual employer, which is Aramark.

Question:  But with all the buildings around, there are Governments that own whole buildings — I know there is one near the old UNICEF building, where I worked as a consultant for a while, and there is one across the street — I think Uganda and maybe [the Republic of] Korea own whole buildings, so why not dedicate a floor of those to the Delegates Dining Room?  I wouldn’t mind.  I don’t think the diplomats would either, because they have to travel anyway to get to the meetings.  Why not dedicate a whole floor to the Delegates’ Dining Room, which would be managed by whoever manages… I know, I know…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know whether that’s up for discussion, but certainly when we deal with subcontractors, we try to make sure that they maintain fair practices in dealing with employees.  And that’s what we’re doing in this case.

Question:  Just to get that in the conversation, as a factual, and then something on the Secretary-General, but on this, even though they are the contractor, they have a contract with the UN, what I am wondering is, since the services offered by Aramark have changed so much — i.e. the cafeteria closing at 2:30, Delegates’ Dining Room no longer operating, Delegates’ Lounge in a very restricted form — has the contract between the UN and Aramark changed in some way, because the services being provided are probably 20 per cent of what were being provided before?  And I just wonder whether it’s Angela Kane or Facilities Management who has… Has the contract been modified or are they still, is it the same despite the radical change in what they’re actually doing?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, some of the changes are not changes that were caused by decisions by Aramark, but decisions caused by the change in the building due to the Capital Master Plan.

Question:  But this contract was reached right before the Master Plan went into effect, so I just [inaudible] what does it say; not what does it say, can we just find out whether the contract changed and how much they are being paid for what service?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t believe we’d go into particular details of contracts like that.  But certainly, with regard to contracts, we try to make sure that subcontractors continue with fair employment practices, and that’s part of what we look at when we are dealing with things like renewals of contracts.

Question:  And I just wanted to maybe just to get your response, probably your office has seen this article.  There is an article by Yonhap based on an interview with the Secretary-General in Strasbourg, the headline of which is:  “UN Secretary-General Ban confident about re-election”.  And I just wonder whether, is this something that you are going to seek?  Do you agree with this article?  Do you agree with the headline?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  This is something where the Secretary-General was interviewed in Korean, and once it was translated from Korean into other languages, including Japanese and then into English, it seems that what he was saying lacked nuance.  What I want to make clear is, the Secretary-General, in the actual interview, which we have a recording of, said that it's a bit early to indicate his intentions to seek re-election, but he expressed confidence in his work that he has done over the past three-and-a-half years.  He reiterated his belief that doing his best in fulfilling his current responsibilities is his way forward.  So that was the point.  It came out looking somewhat different, but some of that, I think, has to do with the process of translation.

Question:  There’s a direct quote saying “assessments by the international community are very positive”.  And I just, not to be…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, like I said, what he said was in Korean and I think that that’s a difficult translation.  We have the recording of it.  I don’t know whether we will try to do our own translation of it, but, basically, the point is:  no, he was not speaking about his own chances for re-election.  It is too early to be discussing that at this stage.

Correspondent:  Okay.  If we can get a translation it would be great.  I mean, your own, a UN translation as opposed to…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether we have that.  We do have the recording, though.  Yes?

Question:  On Sudan, there are those who believe that there are too many obstacles still remaining on the way towards holding the referendum on 9 January, and that therefore they should be postponed.  What is the Secretary-General’s view on this accusation?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I have said this before, but I’ll reiterate this point:  both parties have recommitted themselves to holding the referenda on time and to respecting their outcomes in the communiqué issued after the 24 September High-Level Meeting on Sudan.  The Secretary-General has reminded both parties of their commitment stated in that communiqué.  And the United Nations continues to operate on this basis.

And with that, good afternoon.

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