|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, and welcome to the noon briefing.
My guest today is Joan Clos, the newly appointed Executive Director of UN-Habitat. We’re very pleased to have Mr. Clos here. As you know, he took office in Nairobi on 18 October, and Mr. Clos has been here this week, amongst other things, to address the Second Committee of the General Assembly. I know that Mr. Clos has a few opening remarks, and then we’ll take questions. And then, of course, I will be able to continue with my part of the briefing after that. Please, Mr. Clos, the floor is yours. Welcome.
[Press Conference by Mr. Clos issued separately.]
So just a few other points.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on Guinea
I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Guinea.
The Secretary-General welcomes the consensus reached among Guinean stakeholders that paves the way for the holding of the run-off presidential election on 7 November 2010. He urges all actors in the electoral process to ensure that the date is respected and that the necessary conditions are put in place for the smooth conduct of the poll. The Secretary-General calls upon the presidential candidates to uphold their commitment to conduct a peaceful campaign and to respect the outcome of the election. He encourages all Guineans to participate in the poll.
The Secretary-General remains concerned over recent episodes of violence and reported intimidation that led to the displacement of people in parts of Guinea. He calls on national and local leaders, as well as on the population as a whole, to refrain from any act or statement that may incite violence or human rights abuses. The Secretary-General further warns against exploiting ethnicity, religion or any other divisive factor for political ends, and reiterates that those responsible for fomenting violence or violating human rights must be held accountable. The Transitional Government of Guinea has a responsibility to protect and ensure the safety of all Guineans, regardless of their ethnicity, religion or political affiliation.
The Secretary-General reaffirms the readiness of the United Nations system to support Guinea throughout this historic electoral process, as well as after the vote, to help consolidate peace and development in the country.
I can also tell you that the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, is in Conakry, starting today, to help support the electoral process ahead of the 7 November poll.
**Secretary-General in China
The Secretary-General is on his way back from his trip to Asia and should be in New York later this afternoon.
Before he left China, the Secretary-General spoke in Beijing this morning at a round table at the Central Party School, where many of China’s future leaders are educated. He discussed his visit to the county, saying that China is clearly on the rise, and that he believes this rise is beneficial to the world. He noted that with that rise come great expectations and great responsibilities.
He noted the role that China can play as a partner of the United Nations in dealing with climate change, Sudan, Myanmar and the situation on the Korean peninsula, among other matters. He expressed his confidence that the future generation of Chinese leaders would uphold the shared values and principles of the UN Charter, as well as the body of international laws and agreements that are the foundation of our common quest for development, peace and security and human rights. He stressed that the values embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are timeless and shared, yet unrealized, in far too much of the globe. We must continue to work together to make those rights real in people’s lives.
This morning, the Security Council received a briefing by videoconference from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Côte d’Ivoire, Choi Young-jin. He informed the Council about the electoral process that culminated in the presidential elections held last Sunday.
Choi said that the voter turnout was over 80 per cent, one of the highest turnouts in the world, and no major incidents were reported. He added that provisional results of the elections are expected to be announced later today.
The UN mission in Côte d’Ivoire has been providing, and will continue to provide, support to the electoral process, with final results expected to be announced on 10 November. If no candidate wins a majority, a second round needs to take place on 28 November.
Council members continued their discussions on the Ivorian elections in closed consultations, and the Council President intends to read a press statement on Côte d’Ivoire once consultations have ended.
**Refugees — Kenya
The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, has issued an urgent appeal to Kenyan authorities to immediately halt its returns of Somalis from the Border Point 1 camp at Mandera in north-east Kenya.
This is in light of orders issued by local authorities to the more than 8,000 refugees at the camp, telling them to cross the border back into Somalia. As of yesterday, some refugees had gone back into what is called “no-man’s land”.
UNHCR notes that in its advice to Governments, it has made clear that people fleeing central and southern Somalia are at substantial risk and that their international protection needs must be respected. The population at the Border Point 1 camp mainly comprises children, women, and the elderly — all of whom have fled there to escape recent fighting between Al-Shabaab and Ahlu Sunna Wal Janaa forces in the Somali town of Bulla Hawa.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the Government of Benin and humanitarian agencies launched a joint Emergency Humanitarian Action Plan for the country today. It is asking the international community to provide more than $46 million for emergency assistance to help hundreds of thousands of people survive recent flooding.
The United Nations also launched another appeal today, this one for Djibouti. The appeal for more than $38 million will help provide vital humanitarian assistance to 120,000 people affected by the protracted drought that has plagued this East African country since 2005. We have press releases on both of these appeals in my office with more details.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, congratulated the people of Niger for their commitment to peace and democracy, as clearly demonstrated through their large participation in the referendum last Sunday, and their overwhelming support for the new constitution.
Djinnit calls on the Niger leadership to keep the transition on course as planned, and ensure that all conditions are met for a peaceful, credible, free and fair electoral process leading to the return to constitutional order. He also reiterates the United Nations continued support to the Niger transition, along with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union and other partners.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
Tomorrow my guests at the briefing will be Jeni Klugman, Director of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office, and Amartya Sen, Nobel laureate, economist and contributor to the first Human Development Reports and Human Development Index. They will be here to brief you on the 2010 Human Development Report, which will be launched tomorrow morning.
And also tomorrow, at 2:30 p.m. here in the Library Auditorium, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will hold a press conference on the launch of the UN Trust Fund for Victims of Human Trafficking. As I think you’re already aware, participating in the press conference will be the Executive Director of UNODC, Yury Fedotov, and Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher.
I’m happy to take some questions. Yes, Erol?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Martin, any comments on the US election for Congress? I’m asking this in particular since in the past, the UN was not so, one would say, friendly with the dominantly Republican Congress of the US. And also, if the Secretary-General is planning to meet President [Barack] Obama in the near future?
Spokesperson: On the midterm elections, no specific comment except to say that of course, the United Nations works with the Administration and the elected representatives of the people, and that’s always the case. And on the question of when, if, the Secretary-General is going to meet President Obama in the near future, I think you said, I’m not aware of anything at the moment. If I can provide you with more details I would let you know, but I don’t have anything at the moment. Yes, Bill?
Question: Repeating a quick question asked yesterday, can you now say with which Chinese officials the Secretary-General met and raised the issue of human rights; whether he, also with those officials, if he raised the issue of the release of Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo?
Spokesperson: No, I can’t, Bill. I can tell you that he did raise the question of human rights with Chinese leaders, as I mentioned yesterday, and I can tell you that, although it didn’t figure in one of his meetings, it did in other meetings, as I’ve said, and he has consistently raised human rights issues with concerned Member States, not just with China, of course.
Question: Just to follow up, why is the UN’s decision, or the Secretariat’s decision, not to release the names of the officials with whom he raised the human rights issues?
Spokesperson: Well, a couple of points: One is that the delegation is on its way back from Beijing, and I have not had a chance to interact with them. That’s the first. The second is that sometimes meetings of this nature are best characterized in this way and without giving specifics. Sometimes that can be more helpful in the general aim of tackling the question of human rights. Yes, Ali?
Question: Thank you. Today the US representative announced a $10 million contribution to the Special Tribunal for Lebanon. I wonder, would the Secretary-General commend this action, and whether he would request to other countries to contribute as well?
Spokesperson: Well, as I mentioned, the Secretary-General is on his way back; he’s in midair as we speak, and probably not specifically aware of this at the moment. But clearly, the Secretary-General and others have spoken of the need for support for the Tribunal, and support means not just political support, but financial support. And so clearly that would be a welcome development. We’ve said very clearly how important the role of the Tribunal is, and for it to be able to do its work. Yes, Erol?
Question: Martin, as a culmination of the political crisis in Kosovo, the Parliament in Kosovo has decided to disband the Government. Recently, the Secretary-General mentioned that he raised, actually, the optimism that the talks could go forward, the dialogue, and that the UN will be instrumental. How does the Secretary-General see this now? Does he see this as jeopardizing the process of the dialogue between Belgrade and Pristina?
Spokesperson: As you know, there will be a report to the Security Council in the course of this month, in the next few days, and I know that the Special Representative will be briefing the Council at that point. I don’t have anything right now for you. Yes, Matthew?
[The Spokesperson later added that the United Nations takes note that the early election for the Assembly of Kosovo will be held on 12 December 2010. The United Nations looks forward to continuing to work constructively with Kosovo's institutions.]
Question: I have questions on Sudan and Guinea, but I wanted to just ask some kind of questions about the trip, the now-concluding trip. One is that the Prime Minister of Thailand is reported to have said, after the trip through Thailand, that the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon informed ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] members that the issue of the Thai-Cambodian border dispute would be solved bilaterally and that no other countries would intervene. I’m just wondering if this is one of those sort of… what did the Secretary-General say to the Thai Prime Minister about that border conflict, and any possible either, not intervention, but involvement by other countries or regional organizations?
Spokesperson: I think we provided a readout that characterizes what the Secretary-General said. In his meeting, he also had a press conference right after his meeting with the Prime Minister. If I remember correctly, he was also asked at a later point in a public setting about this topic, and I would refer you to the transcripts of those encounters. What was the other question?
Question: I wanted to ask about… This thing came up about the Habitat one. What follow-up did the UN make to the petition that was delivered by the protestor that was beaten in Phnom Penh, delivering this protest against evictions, which they say is in… the evictions are for a local elected party official. Was there anything done after the receipt of that letter by the UN on this issue?
Spokesperson: I think we did say…
Question: By the Deputy High Commission on Human Rights?
Spokesperson: This is the point that the office intervened, the Deputy High Commissioner intervened, the person concerned was released, and came to the office, and was able to provide some testimony to the office on what had transpired. As the Deputy High Commissioner also said, there was the chance for her to receive a copy of this appeal from those who face eviction. I know that the Deputy High Commissioner was to return to Geneva and to brief the High Commissioner on this subject and more generally on the question, on the other questions that were raised there in Cambodia. And I think that once that’s been done, we may well have something else to say.
Question: Next on this Mr. Sha… I just want to get, now that the trip is coming to a close, that… There’s a photograph and it was reported in the Chinese press that Under-Secretary Sha [Zukang] handed this award to the Chinese general on behalf of a foundation, and I just… You said there might be something forthcoming, but, is that still… It seems like a pretty… like something on which the UN might want to speak, when a USG hands an award to a controversial general. Was it a UN act or not, and what is the UN going to do to hold its USGs accountable?
Spokesperson: As I told you, I don’t have anything further, but I would hope to have something further, I don’t at the moment. Other questions? Yes, Lou?
Question: I wanted to follow up on Bill’s question. The New York Times today had an editorial that is quite critical of the Secretary-General, calling his general silence on human rights issues in China “shameful”, and suggesting that the US should think hard about whether it would support a second term for the Secretary-General. I was just wondering, given the sort of massive coverage that this has gotten, are we going to get some kind of more substantial reaction? I understand that you can’t get details yet from the delegation on who they spoke to and what was said, but I think it’s important to get some specifics on this, because it does seem to be snowballing a bit. And maybe you can react to the editorial itself?
Spokesperson: Well, I’m not going to react to the editorial itself, Lou. There are a couple of things. First of all, the Secretary-General did raise human rights while in China. He raised it in a number of settings, as I’ve mentioned, with Chinese leaders. He also devoted time during his speech to the Central Party School, which is a rather important setting in China, I think you would agree, where he set out, in some detail, as I said, his thoughts on human rights. As I mentioned to Bill, sometimes when tackling the question of human rights, which is undoubtedly important, it is also important to do this in a well-thought-out way. And sometimes that means that it is not always played out as much as you would like, in the glare of publicity. So just to conclude, there are many topics, many subjects that a Secretary-General deals with when on a visit to any country, and not least to one of the largest counties in the world. Many different topics, which would include human rights, but it also includes other topics. This is not to diminish the importance of that, but there are many other topics on which it’s important for the United Nations to be able to engage. That is quite significant, I think.
Question: Quick follow-up. I think — and my colleagues here appreciate the difficulties and sensitivities involved with these issues — it is a political position being Secretary-General. There are differing views on these issues worldwide. But we would not be doing our jobs if we weren’t calling the Secretary-General on issues such as compliance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which China has signed. So maybe you could explain a bit more about why the present circumstances require withholding information about the specifics of these discussions and who it was… what makes it better to give us less information now? What’s the justification for it?
Spokesperson: Well first of all, the speech that I just mentioned to you, and I referred to it before you walked into the briefing room, but maybe you were watching it on the TV…
Correspondent: There was a passing reference to human rights…
Spokesperson: Well, more than one reference, and they’re not passing, Lou. They’re very specific. And for example: “The values embedded in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights are timeless and shared, yet unrealized in far too much of the globe. We must continue to work together to make those rights real in people’s lives, that will take a global effort. China’s voice and example are critical. In this respect, I welcome China’s commitment to building a rule-of-law society and its notable advances in that ongoing journey.” As one example. There are others in the speech, and I’m not sure it helps particularly to go backwards and forwards on the process here. The information that I have to provide to you, I do so, I do that very willingly. As I’ve said, there are often good reasons for doing things in a certain way, whether you like it or not. So, any other questions? Yes, Joe?
Question: During the Tiananmen Square protest, Mr. Liu, the Nobel laureate, staged a hunger strike. In addition to not raising this issue with the Chinese President, an Under-Secretary-General, travelling with the Secretary-General, awarded the general who was in charge of the crackdown of that protest; is he answerable to the Secretary-General? Is he held accountable for that?
Spokesperson: Well, first of all, the way you phrased it sounded like the event took place during the visit. It did not. It was not a part of the visit, let’s be very clear about that, extremely clear.
Question: But he’s not accountable when he does something, and the SG is not there?
Spokesperson: I didn’t say that. I did not say that, Joe. I’ve told you what I am… what I have on this, firstly, that when we saw the reports online, with the photograph Matthew refers to, and anyone can see that picture online, that was the first that we had heard of this. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that I don’t have any further comment on it at the moment, but I would hope to have something in the time to come. I can’t tell you exactly when.
Question: Have you spoken to the SG during this period?
Spokesperson: I beg your pardon?
Question: Have you had any conversations with the SG on…?
Spokesperson: Me personally? On this particular topic, no.
Question: I’m trying… For example, do you know his reaction to the press coverage? It’s been pretty harsh, even before The Times editorial.
Spokesperson: Again, it’s not for me to comment on that I think. I think everybody knows what the coverage is on this topic, and I think everybody understands the constraints that there are, and they also understand the importance of the subject and that it was raised during the visit to China.
Question: Will he be holding a press conference when he gets back?
Spokesperson: I’m sure there will be an opportunity for you to ask him questions before the end of the week. Okay?
Question: Just to follow up quickly, is there a set time and date for that?
Spokesperson: I’ll come back to you.
Question: Is this the fourth time that the SG is travelling to China?
Spokesperson: I think the third, but we can check on that, I don’t have it with me right here.
[The Spokesperson later said that the present trip was the Secretary-General’s fourth visit to China.]
Question: Is he planning a four- or five-day visit to Russia? Or France? Or Britain, in the coming year?
Spokesperson: Let’s be…
Correspondent: He visited China.
Spokesperson: Well, actually, it was including Thailand, Cambodia, Viet Nam; China was starting in Shanghai, to do with the Expo.
Spokesperson: Yes, I know where Shanghai is, Joe. Yeah, thank you very much. Nanjing is also in China, and it’s 300 kilometres away, and it takes about an hour to get there on a high-speed train, so I am told. The Secretary-General makes trips to many different places, and the time spent in different places depends on what’s on the agenda, it depends on the topic; for example, Shanghai was the closing of the Expo. You heard about that from here, from the Executive Director of UN-Habitat, which was a major event over a number of months, and it culminated on 31 October.
Question: On Liu Xiaobo, on this trip, did he realize that this could become an issue?
Spokesperson: What do you think, Joe?
Correspondent: Well, I want to know.
Spokesperson: I think everybody understands the importance of different topics when visiting different countries. There are always going to be challenges on visiting different countries. That’s pretty obvious. Yes, Sudan?
Question: I’d like to be copied on the Sha answer, if there is one. But on Sudan, I wanted to ask you two factual things. There are reports that at least eight people injured in Tawilla, where there is a peacekeeping base, have been taken to the hospital in El Fasher. I haven’t seen anything by UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur]; I’m just wondering if it’s possible to get… whether UNAMID can confirm that this attack took place, who they think did it? There are also reports of the arrest of the leader of a refugee camp, Al Salaam in North Darfur, by the authorities. And I’m wondering, again … these things build up, but whether UNAMID can confirm these two incidents, and also, if these things are true, why these things are not being said in some way by UNAMID? And I know you may say “ask them”, but I’ve asked them and I’ve received nothing in return.
Spokesperson: We will ask them. All right, thanks very much. Good afternoon, everybody.
[The Spokesperson later added that we are aware of these reports and are investigating them. UNAMID is concerned about heightened military tensions on the ground. There have been other incidents recently. UNAMID calls on all parties to refrain from the use of force.]
* *** *