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

18 November 2010

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

18 November 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, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

**Myanmar

The Secretary-General called Daw Aung San Suu Kyi this morning to personally greet her following her long-awaited release from detention.  The Secretary-General and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had a warm and cordial conversation.

The Secretary-General expressed his admiration for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s courage and dignity as a source of inspiration for millions of people around the world.

The Secretary-General and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi both stressed the need for the Myanmar authorities to release all remaining political prisoners as a matter of priority, so that all citizens of Myanmar are free to contribute to advancing the prospects of national reconciliation and democratic transition in Myanmar.

The Secretary-General told Daw Aung San Suu Kyi that he was encouraged by the spirit of reconciliation emanating from her statements and appeals for dialogue and compromise following her release.  He stressed that he would continue to encourage all parties to seize the opportunity to work together in the national interest through dialogue.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi expressed her appreciation for the role of the United Nations in Myanmar and emphasized the continued importance of such a role at the present juncture.  She recalled the Secretary-General's visit to Yangon in July 2009 and his desire to meet her, and expressed her appreciation for the continuous efforts he has made on her behalf.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi expressed her support for an early visit by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Myanmar to Yangon and her desire to engage with him for pushing ahead in addressing the challenges facing the people of Myanmar.  Meanwhile, she also suggested an early meeting with the head of the UN Office in Yangon.

The Secretary-General reiterated his own commitment and that of the United Nations to continue to uphold the cause of human rights and support all efforts by the Government, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all other stakeholders to build a united, peaceful, democratic and modern future for their country.

And we have that available as a statement in our Office.

** Lebanon

In a statement we issued yesterday, the Secretary-General welcomed the Government of Israel’s decision to accept, in principle, the United Nations proposal for a withdrawal of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) from the northern part of Ghajar and its redeployment south of the Blue Line.

The IDF’s withdrawal from northern Ghajar would be an important step towards the full implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).  The United Nations intends to continue to work closely with all parties in the coming period in a process to resolve the permanent status of Ghajar.

The Secretary-General commends all sides for their continued commitment to Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) and stresses his determination and commitment to advance the full implementation of this and other relevant resolutions.

Also yesterday, the Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Major-General Alberto Asarta Cuevas, received a phone call from the Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, informing him that the Israeli Security Cabinet has accepted in principle the UNIFIL proposal to facilitate the withdrawal of the IDF from northern Ghajar.  UNIFIL is awaiting formal notification in order to get more details.  It is also important to have the date for the IDF withdrawal from the area.

**Security Council

Further on this, Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, briefed Security Council members in closed consultations this morning on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006).  Those consultations have just ended and Mr. Williams is speaking at the Council stakeout.

The Security Council also will discuss, in its closed consultations, the latest developments in Myanmar.  The Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar, will brief the Council on the situation there and the work of the good offices.

Then at 3 this afternoon, the Security Council intends to hold a formal meeting to vote on a resolution on Bosnia and Herzegovina.  After that, the Council has scheduled consultations to receive an update on the situation in Guinea.

**Cyprus

The Secretary-General is meeting with the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities today.  They will have lunch together, followed by a meeting at 3 p.m.

**Secretary-General at Academic Impact

In remarks this morning launching the United Nations Academic Impact, the Secretary-General said that by formalizing the relationship today with academia, we can magnify the already great impact the academic community is having.

He said the academic world has supported our work since the founding of the United Nations, noting that, without research scientists, we never could have eradicated smallpox.  Experts in mediation have contributed immeasurably to peace and security.  And we have his remarks in our Office.

** Sudan

Today, the Secretary-General’s Panel on the Referenda in the Sudan visited the town of Wau, the capital of western Bahr el-Ghazal state in Southern Sudan.  They visited three voter registration centres and spoke with officials at the centres, as well as southern Sudanese lining up to register to vote.  They saw large queues and enthusiastic people at each centre.  While in Wau, they also met with the Deputy Governor and with officials helping to run the referendum in that State.  They also received a briefing from UN officials.  Tomorrow, they will travel to Abyei.

And that is all I have for you today.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Over the Eid holidays, after the prayers in the occupied Indian Srinagar, hundreds of protesters came out from mosques and clashed with the Indian forces.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about that at this point?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have any new comment on this.  I would just refer you to the comments the Secretary-General has made on this particular topic over the last couple of months.

Question:  But the thing is, these are the clashes between the… but he has never said anything about the clashes between the Indian security forces and the demonstrators who are unarmed and…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, he did express, a couple of months ago, his concerns about the violence.  Those comments still stand.

Question:  Okay, another thing, about Israel’s withdrawal from Ghajar in Lebanon.  Does the Secretary-General expect a similar action to be taken by Israel in other occupied Palestinian territories or not?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of that, our position is that Israel is obliged to withdraw from northern Ghajar and an adjacent area north of the Blue Line, in accordance with resolution 1701 (2006).  So we see this as part of their effort to be in compliance with resolution 1701 (2006).  Of course, we do call for the compliance by all Member States to all Security Council resolutions, so other resolutions would apply.  But in this case, this involves resolution 1701 (2006).  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I need to ask you, with all the things taking place in Haiti, there are different accounts, and I wanted to know what is the UN’s own account of the force that it’s used in countering these demonstrations, and whether… some are saying that up to three people were killed by UN peacekeepers, is that… what’s the number the UN is using?  And also, is live fire being used, or is live ammunition being used by peacekeepers, or rubber bullets… what are the terms of engagement?  And then just, maybe just to get your comment on this.  The Swedish ambassador to Haiti has been quoted in the Swedish press as saying he was told by diplomats that it is confirmed that Nepali peacekeepers are the source of the cholera.  So I just wondered, given that that’s a diplomat of a UN Member State, what the UN’s response is to that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, first question.  As far as we’re aware, as MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] pointed out in a press release, one person was killed in an exchange of fire, basically a couple of days ago.  Some people fired at the UN peacekeepers and the peacekeepers responded with fire, and in that case, they said that one person was killed while they were firing in self-defence.  I’m not aware of any other casualties caused by MINUSTAH.

On your second point, we’re not aware on what basis the Swedish Ambassador has said the comments that he said.  From a medical point of view, there’s been no direct connection established between cholera and the Nepalese contingent of soldiers.  We certainly will continue to try to find, to obtain as much information as we can, to see how this cholera epidemic started in Haiti.  But at this stage, we certainly are not in possession of any conclusive evidence linking the two things.  Yes?

Question:  AP says three people were killed.  The Associated Press. Don’t kill the messenger.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no.  The thing is that, so far, the information we’ve gotten from MINUSTAH, they’ve told us about one such death.  We would need to get from them any further information.  Certainly, it’s quite possible that other people have died in clashes.  But whether it’s happened with MINUSTAH firing is something we’d need to get the information from them.

Question:  Okay, now — the cholera situation — I mean the CDC [Centres for Disease Control] and the Japanese, I think there’s a Japanese science journal — have reported over a week ago, and they tested the strain, and their conclusion, and I don’t know about scientific conclusions, what… that it was an Asian strain.  So, I think there are a lot of people that come out of Asia, but there are fingers pointing…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, I see that you’re pointing at me.  It wasn’t me!

Question:  I’m not trying to point the finger, but the question that the Final Call is really pushing for right now, and again, I talked to my editor and we make our request that Mr. [Bill] Clinton be requested to be here to talk to us about how this election’s going to be held.  They’re using the term — and I’m not saying the UN is — but the term “riot” is being used to describe the unrest, at this point… is that a clear definition of what’s going on?  Is it rioting?  And AFP is saying that a UN official had pointed a finger at a third force, or an unseen hand, that’s pushing this.  I don’t know if it’s Nigel Fisher or not.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you saw that Nigel Fisher gave a video briefing to you on Monday, in which he worried about the possibility that some people were invested in stoking up the violence before elections.

Question:  Who is it?  Can we get a better definition of who it is, rather than a suspicion, because I think that’s important.  Again, our question is… the funding, we’re still having a hard time, there’s a lot of shadow funding going on — we want to see exactly who’s paying for the election, how it’s being paid for, is it a time… does the UN at this point believe that this is really the time for the election, still, 1.-how-many-million people in the IDPs [internally displaced person camps]?  Is it fair to have the election with this kind of atmosphere going on?  And it’s beginning to seem that the UN peacekeeping force is being viewed by many as an occupying force.  And I don’t think the UN wants to get caught up in being an occupying force, particularly in a black country.  So, here we are again.  Can we get Bill Clinton here, can we get a better understanding of the budget, and why will the UN continue to have this election, under the atmosphere?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, well, that’s a bunch of separate questions.  In terms of getting Bill Clinton or others to brief, we’ve put those requests in.  On the question of the elections — the elections are mandated by the constitutional process in Haiti, and we’re doing our best to support them and make sure that they can go on smoothly.  In terms of perceptions of the United Nations, we are working to try and help allay any sorts of suspicions.  And in this particular case, about suspicions having to do with cholera, the UN Mission, MINUSTAH, has publicly stated its willingness to participate in any further investigation into the source of the infection, in particular, as a joint effort with the Haitian authorities.  And there are a number of bodies, including the Centres for Disease Control, who are going to try to work on that particular effort. 

On the question of suspicions of the Nepalese involvement, one of the things that I want to point out is to talk to you a bit about the chronology of the various tests.  Tests of water samples from the Nepalese military camp in Mirebalais and waters adjacent to the base were conducted on Friday, 22 October, and Tuesday, 26 October, by civilians from the MINUSTAH Water and Sanitation Unit, which falls under the Mission’s engineering section.  These water samples were analysed at the MINUSTAH laboratory in Port-au-Prince.  Both sets of tests proved negative for the presence of cholera.  Then on Friday, 22 October, the Government of Haiti also took water samples from the river adjacent to the Nepalese base.  These samples were analysed at the national laboratory and the results, which were released on Monday, 25 October, also proved negative.  These findings were confirmed at a meeting of the Epidemiology Committee, which was held at the national laboratory on 26 October.  Then, additional tests on water samples from the Nepalese military base were conducted on Wednesday, 27 October, by the Force Medical Officer at the request of the Force Commander.  The water samples were analysed at the Microbiology Department of CEDIMAT, a private laboratory in the Dominican Republic, and also came back negative.  It should be noted, however, that these test results referred to above do not constitute conclusive evidence that MINUSTAH was not the source of the current outbreak.  But at the same time, I would like to point out that we did do repeated tests, and all of them did turn out negative.  MINUSTAH does continue to monitor the situation closely and is drawing water samples from various sources, and ensuring that waste waters do not flow into the rivers.  And beyond that, they’ve stated their willingness to participate in any further investigation.  Yes, James?

Question:  It’s a follow-up on the same thing, but it was something about the way you phrased one of your earlier comments.  It was about the connection between the Nepalese peacekeepers and cholera.  You said the UN was not in possession of any conclusive evidence that linked one to the other.  And you stated some piece of evidence that… is the UN in possession of any evidence linking the peacekeepers from Nepal to the cholera?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we are not in possession of that evidence.  You are aware, as indeed we all are, the Centres for Disease Control did come out with laboratory results identifying the strain of cholera, and it is a South Asian strain, but that also is not a conclusive indication that it was the Nepalese peacekeepers.  The South Asian strain of cholera, as you know, has travelled around the world, and is present in any number of continents, not simply in South Asia itself.

Question:  I appreciate that your statement today was perhaps one of the clearest statements we’ve had from a UN official on this, which is a good thing.  But I was talking to a few my colleagues on the ground — sorry, I don’t mean to patronize — I’ve spoken to a few colleagues on the ground.  And the feeling there is that there’s a degree of confusion, that the UN really hasn’t communicated this message very well.  And one of the best ways to resolve this would be for the UN to launch an independent investigation, which could publish independently.  How do you respond to that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, we are willing to participate in any further investigation.  The Centres for Disease Control have announced that additional laboratory testing, including whole-genome DNA sequencing, would be conducted in the coming weeks.  It’s important to stress, however, that such testing may never fully explain how cholera was introduced into Haiti.  And according to recent reports, epidemiologists are currently focusing on collecting and analysing data in order to contain the spread of the disease.  So that’s where our focus is.  Yes?

Question:  I know you don’t know, because you’re not there.  But maybe those who have colleagues on the ground could clear this up.  Cholera is something that can stay in the host?  It does not necessarily have to be spread by water or anything at that point.  Is there a possibility… do the Nepalese, or does anyone else from South-East Asia that’s there, mingle?  Do they mingle?   Do they go socially?  Do they hang out?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Cholera is not a contagious disease.  It’s not a contagious disease, and it’s not a communicable disease.  It’s spread… not to get too technical, but it’s spread by faecal matter in the bloodstream.

Question:  We need to get technical.  I think there are almost a thousand people dead.  Now they’re saying this is spreading into the Dominican Republic.  It’s becoming an issue, okay?  Maybe if one person were dead, meh; but we’ve got almost a thousand people dead, so yeah, I think everybody has to get technical.  And those of us who are reporting this must do it clearly; we must be concise, we must be very clear on how we’re putting our information out.  So I’m just probing right now, if people are hanging out and going places and mingling with Haitians, does that bring it out?  I know it’s not communicable, but neither are bedbugs, and, I hate to bring that up, but we’re getting them all over the place.  So, right now, I think everyone here — not here, but here in the States, in the diaspora — we’re suspicious.  We’re very suspicious.  Because the history of Haiti has been a very murky history.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Our medical authorities from the World Health Organization, the Pan-American Health Organization, and also the other people doing humanitarian work for the UN system are doing what they can to ensure that we have enough infrastructure in place, both to contain the disease and prevent its spread, and to make sure that people get treatment so that casualties are brought down.  So we’ve been doing that; we now have, I believe, 18 centres throughout Haiti, which is a step up from last week, when I think we had 15.  And we’re trying to do more to provide aid to the Haitian people.  Yes?

Question:  I’m sorry for being late, but I want to talk… I want to ask a question about this tripartite meeting between the…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, I figured you did.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General planning to talk to the press after the meeting, first, and who is attending the lunch and then the meeting from the UN side, apart from the Secretary-General, please?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the main attendees from our side are the Secretary-General and his Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, and they will also be present at the 3 o’clock meeting.  I don’t have anything to tell you right now about any press engagement by the Secretary-General.  I think some of that depends on the events, and we’ll let you know, we’ll inform all of you accordingly if he’s going to talk to the press.

[The Acting Deputy Spokesperson later said that the Secretary-General would speak to the press at 5:20 p.m., following the conclusion of the meeting.]

Question:  There are reports in South Darfur of Government aerial bombing killing one man and injuring two women, in [inaudible] South Darfur.  And I wonder if this is the kind of… if UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] is aware of that, and if it could confirm that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any confirmation from UNAMID of that at this stage, no.

Question:  Can you confirm, there are also reports that the former Nigerian Health Minister, Babatunde Osotimehin, is being named the head of UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund], that Mr. Ban has submitted the name to the Executive Board of UNFPA, is that something that you can confirm, and has there ever been a male head of UNFPA, is that…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, there have been previous male heads of UNFPA, I think a little bit far back, before Nafis Sadik’s time.  Once we have an appointment announced, we’ll announce it.  But I don’t have… we’re not at that stage yet.

Question:  Two questions basically.  First of all, do you have any updated information about the intervention treatment of the cholera situation in Haiti, because the last time we were updated on the number of money the funding needed, as well the [inaudible] to dispatch those.  And besides this, what is the UN and WHO’s [World Health Organization’s] constructive function in communicating that no matter how hard, or wherever the source is, cholera is curable, preventable and is not worth it for people to die over that.  It’s totally insane.  There is a technical, scientific necessity, if you will, to find out where the source is, and to give an explanation — it’s a human tragedy challenging everyone in Haiti.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, certainly I think you were here on Monday when Nigel Fisher talked about our education campaign.  We certainly do have an education campaign under way in Haiti, as well as the treatment centres and the other efforts to provide clean water and better sanitation, which is crucial in terms of being able to forestall further incidents of cholera.  And so those efforts are the ones that are continuing.

Question:  What about the means of the mass media to tell everyone that it’s not anyone’s fault, at this moment…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, as Nigel Fisher told you, we were using the media in Haiti to try to put out the message as well.  Yes.  So we are doing educational messages using the local media.

Question:  Is the funding allocated already?  Needed for the 200,000 people estimated?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know what stage of funding we’re at, but you saw the funding appeal that we put out, and we are receiving pledges to that appeal that was issued just late last week.  Yes?

Question:  I have another question on funding.  The UN, I believe, has asked for $160 million-odd, and I was just wondering about the feasibility of the election campaign happening at the time of a national tragedy; is the UN concerned with how much money the Haitian Government is spending on the election campaign, and are there any plans to channel some of those funds to disaster relief?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No; the elections also do need to be held.  And we certainly recognize the responsibility of the Government in terms of staging these elections.  We are trying to acquire separate funding in order to deal with this health crisis.  Yes?

Question:  Is it the case that UNRWA’s [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] workers on the West Bank have been on strike since mid-October and that students that should be in school are not in school?  There’s a report to that effect, but I hadn’t heard UNRWA talking about a strike and disruption to their services.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you should ask UNRWA.  They have had to deal with some labour issues, because also, UNRWA, as you know, has had significant shortfalls in their own funding.  And we’ve pleaded for funding for UNRWA, so that it can pay all of its workers accordingly.  But as far as I’m aware, most of these labour problems have been resolved on the ground.  But, like I said, you can check with UNRWA for that.  Yes?

Question:  The UN Secretary-General met with the Norwegian Secretary-General of the Council of Europe this week to discuss closer cooperation between the two organizations, and it included cybercrime.  Since the Council’s convention on cybercrime has been called the only existing legal instrument in the field, do you have a readout of their meeting, and when can we expect to get a press briefing on cybercrime?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether we’ll have a press briefing on cybercrime, per se.  As for the readout, the Secretary-General and Thorbjørn Jagland discussed follow-up matters to the Secretary-General’s visit to Strasbourg in October, namely human rights issues around the world, including in Europe, cooperation between the Council of Europe and the United Nations, as well as the latest developments in Myanmar.  And with that, I wish you all a good afternoon.

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