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

24 November 2010

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

24 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.

Good afternoon.

** Haiti

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, has been in Haiti since yesterday.  She is there to highlight the need for a much stronger international and national response to the cholera epidemic.  Today, she met with President René Préval and visited a slum in Port-au-Prince.

Yesterday, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that, based on the speed with which people are being infected in Haiti, the outbreak could affect as many as 400,000 people.  This is considered a worst-case scenario, which is avoidable if the prevention and treatment responses reach people in the poor areas in Port-au-Prince and other towns and outlying areas in the country.

Amos said that this projection was a wake-up call.  She added that there was a need to invest in cholera prevention nationwide in Haiti, to build more treatment centres and to increase the number of health workers on the ground to support the work already being done.

** Afghanistan

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan strongly welcomed today’s certification by Afghanistan's Independent Election Commission (IEC) of the final results for 34 out of the 35 constituencies in the September elections.

In a statement, Staffan de Mistura said the UN supported the Commission's decision to take more time to finalize the certification of the results of the elections in Ghazni province.  He added that this final certification was the culmination of many months of dedicated work by the Independent Election Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission.  We have Staffan de Mistura’s statement in our Office.

** Nepal

The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, will be in South Asia at the beginning of December.  He will visit India and Nepal from 2 to 4 December.  Pascoe’s discussions in India will focus on a range of regional and international issues.

While in Nepal, he will assess efforts by Nepal’s political leaders toward concluding the key remaining tasks of the peace process and preparing adequately for the departure in January of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).  This will be the Under-Secretary-General’s second visit to Nepal since the Security Council decided in September to conclude the UN Mission’s mandate as of 15 January 2011.  He will be looking particularly at the status of decision-making and planning for reintegrating and rehabilitating combatants and for ensuring an orderly withdrawal of the Mission that leaves no critical gaps.

** Sudan

In Sudan, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Georg Charpentier, spoke to reporters today about Sudanese returning to the South for the referendum and humanitarian contingency planning.  Charpentier said that the UN peacekeeping missions, UN agencies and humanitarian partners are working closely together to ensure coordinated support for any uncertainty concerning the upcoming referendum.  He said that, to ensure timely support, supplies in key life-saving sectors, including health, nutrition, water, and food, are being procured and pre-positioned in several places, in line with potential needs.

**Security Council

Regarding the Security Council, the two Under-Secretaries-General dealing with UN peacekeeping operations, Alain Le Roy and Susana Malcorra, participated in an “interactive debate” on peacekeeping in the Security Council’s closed consultations today.  Before that, Council members also received an update on the work of the sanctions committee dealing with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

** Iran

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, on Tuesday expressed renewed concern for the fate of human rights defenders in Iran, particularly Nasrin Sotoudeh, who had been on hunger strike for several weeks in Tehran’s Evin Prison.  Pillay called for the Iranian authorities to review her case urgently and expedite her release.

She also urged the Iranian authorities to review the cases of five lawyers who were arrested earlier this month in Tehran on security charges.  Although two have reportedly been subsequently released, the other three are believed to be still in custody.  And we have a press release with more details.

**United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

One more announcement.  UNDP’s Goodwill Ambassadors Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane announced that the eighth Annual Match Against Poverty will channel funds into recovery efforts for the catastrophic disasters that hit Haiti and Pakistan this year.  This year’s match will be held in partnership with the Olympiakos Football Club in Greece on 15 December.  And we have a press release with more details.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

We also have — I know that some of you won’t be around — tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day in the US, and UN Headquarters will be closed.  So there won’t be any briefing then; so we put out the Week Ahead a bit early.

And just to flag a few things:  Monday will be the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.

On Tuesday, the Secretary-General will be in Astana, Kazakhstan, where he will address the opening of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) Summit.

And the guest at the Noon Briefing will be John Ging, the Director of Operations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza.

And we have more in our Office.  Thanks very much.  Joe?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Before Matthew asks you, I am just going to ask you if you can confirm a new report from South Sudan that the North bombed an army base in the South.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  The Khartoum Government bombed a Southern army base.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we do not have a confirmation of that, of a bombing of an army base by the North, no.

Question:  Are you likely to have one at some point — which goes to the heart of the question whether you are actually checking these things out or not?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, if the missions are, if the two respective Missions that we have in Sudan are aware of military activities, they do inform us of those as they occur.  But we don’t have confirmation on this particular thing.

Question:  Would they investigate such claim by the South?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s not necessarily a case of them investigating.  But certainly they do monitor what the events are.  And like I said, we don’t have a confirmation on this.

Question:  If they didn’t see it, they’ll never know, basically?  Is that the case?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, that’s not the case.  They follow up on reports, obviously.  But this is not something on which we have confirmed things.  There have been all kinds of rumours and reports.  Sometimes they are confirmed; sometimes they are not.

Question:  But you do see the value of finding out whether this is true or not, right?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I do see that, but we’re not acting on the assumption that this is true.  If it were to be true, they’d have to confirm it.

Question:  You said follow-up doesn’t include investigation, though?  What does it include?  What is a follow-up?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no, they monitor all of the reports.  They do follow up as needed.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, last month, Israel was condemned for sabotaging, infiltrating and manipulating the data of the Lebanese communication system.  And we heard yesterday from Israeli media that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is relying on data provided by Israel in the investigation of the killing of Rafiq Hariri.  How can justice be seen to be done to Lebanon in this case when the Tribunal is relying on data provided by a saboteur?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  First of all, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is an independent body.  They go about their investigations independently.  And I don’t have any comment about how they go about those investigations.  I am not aware that what you are saying is a fact.  Certainly, they have not disclosed the sources of their information.  They have received information from a variety of different sources, and I would refer you to the Special Tribunal for any further information.

Question:  Farhan, the media yesterday mentioned very clearly that they have relied on Israeli information and data provided from communications.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That is not something that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon itself said.

Question:  Is the Tribunal investigating allegations about manipulation of the data in the Lebanese case?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The Special Tribunal double-checks and tries to verify all of the information that they have.  What they are trying to do, what Mr. [Daniel] Bellemare has said repeatedly, is he is trying to get information that he can prosecute in a court of law.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, is the Secretary-General’s report on the goodwill mission in Cyprus to be released today?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  It depends on whether it goes to the members of the Security Council.  We’ll check with the members of the Security Council whether they get that report.

Question:  So, if they get the report today, will it be out for us to see?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Once all the members of the Security Council have a report, we try to share that with the press as we can.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I want to ask several questions.  But first on Sudan, there are also reports again in Darfur of fighting between the SLA [Sudanese Liberation Army] and the Government in [inaudible] in Darfur.  And I wanted to… yesterday, this is now, there are four separate allegations, some by JEM [Justice and Equality Movement], some by SLA, of fighting with the Government.  And I am just wondering there hasn’t been either a confirmation or denial by UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur].  Is UNAMID aware of this report and what does it say about these now mounting reports of escalating fighting in Darfur?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve received different information from UNAMID about their daily activities; it does not include a confirmation of this particular burst of fighting. 

Question:  On the previous ones that have… of the report by JEM of a week’s worth of bombing in the Jebel Marra area, is that something that the UN, UNAMID, has tried to figure out if it’s taking place or…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, with UNAMID’s mandate, they try to monitor any violations of the agreements on the ground.  But they do not — they have not provided a confirmation on this.

Question:  And now that Minni Minawi, who previously had been on board with the National Congress Party, has now come out and said that the National Congress Party has violated the Darfur Peace Agreement and is basically, I am just wondering, this seems like a major development, in that the one peace agreement in Darfur is falling apart, or at least the leader of Minni Minawi’s faction is saying that it’s falling apart.  What’s UNAMID’s or Mr. [Djibril] Bassolé’s response to that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t believe that he has responded to the particular comments of any precise party.  If he does have a comment on what Minni Minawi has said, we will share it.

Question:  And I also wanted to ask, a memo has emerged for a 6 December meeting of the Policy Committee of the Executive Office of the Secretary-General concerning DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea].  I don’t know if you have seen it, but it’s been leaked and talks about the UN trying “efforts to re-engage with the DPRK”.  It seems to have been written before this most recent firing, but I just wonder, first, can you confirm that the document exists and or that there is a 6 December meeting of the Korean Peninsula/DPRK Policy Committee of the Secretary-General’s office?  And two, does this raise any, does the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, is a stated desire to re-engage with DPRK in any way changed by recent events?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, you’re aware of our general policy not to comment on leaked documents, which applies in this case.  In this particular case, as for whether there was a meeting of the Policy Committee on this, no, in fact there was not.  The document that was reported on Fox is not something that has been seen by senior UN officials.  It was not reviewed by senior UN officials, and therefore it does not have any particular status.

Question:  Is there within DPA [Department of Political Affairs] a unit that specifically focuses on Korea Peninsula/DPRK that provides memos to the Executive Office of the Secretary-General?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  You mean does the Department of Political Affairs have a desk on North Korea?

Question:  [inaudible] document, it seems to, unless it’s somehow some lower-level UN official writing his own grandiose projections, it seems to be…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, this is not something that was reviewed by senior officials.  It could be a working level initial draft.  But it certainly is not something that has undergone any particular review higher up.

Question:  Was there at any time a meeting scheduled for 6 December on the topic of DPRK/Korean Peninsula?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, this not something that has been discussed at the Policy Committee.

Question:  And I just wondered, this may or may not be related, I notice in the speech the Secretary-General gave at Seton Hall didn’t really seem to, other than a sort of historical reference to the UN having helped Korea in the past, there seems to have been no mention of events, whether positive or negative, in terms of Korea.  I guess I wonder — at the time the speech was given, there was already a lot of discussion at the Security Council of proliferation in Korea.  Was there any, in retrospect it looks like this seems to be a big, a kind of a missing, an elephant in the room in terms of that speech, which some people have described as a re-election speech.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Not every topic needs to come up in every speech that the Secretary-General gives.  The Secretary-General spoke quite forcefully on the question of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea just yesterday, and I would refer you to what he said.  Beyond that, of course, we have a long-standing concern for the suffering people of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, particularly women and children.

Question:  But I guess I wanted to — if you could, and you’re very good at explaining these things.  That speech seemed to only portray, there didn’t seem to be any kind of self-criticism of, let’s say, doubts that have arisen in Haiti, or the mass rapes in the Congo.  Everything was “the UN is needed and is doing its job, it’s excellent”, and some people have described it as a re-election speech.  Is that how we should read that speech?  Seton Hall said it was going to be a major policy statement.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: You’re suggesting that the Secretary-General of the United Nations would do a re-election speech at a university in New Jersey?

Question:  I guess I am asking you. 

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think your question answers itself.  No, the Secretary-General, as we have said repeatedly, is focusing on his current term.

Question:  But does he not, in giving a speech of that length on UN policy issues, given that there is no kind of doubt or self-criticism at all, does he recognize…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  First of all, I wouldn’t agree with your characterization of the speech.  Secondly, it does talk about the challenges that the United Nations faces.  I’d just urge people to read the speech as a whole.  Yes?

Question:  Are you dissing New Jersey?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I am from New Jersey.

Question:  Okay. My question is on Sudan, actually.  Now there is an official of the National Congress Party who is saying that the South is helping rebels in Darfur, the JEM, moving their forces in the South to retrain them.  Any comment on that; any confirmation of that allegation?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We are certainly not aware of any confirmation of those particular allegations.  Regarding the issue of any potential problems with the referendum process, one of the things I want to point out is the UN Mission in Sudan, UNMIS, urges the parties which signed the code of conduct for the Referendum and popular consultations to continue to abide by their commitments, create the best political environment possible for both Comprehensive Peace Agreement benchmarks, and to desist from accusing one another of wrongdoing.

Question:  Huh?  Because that’s interesting, because the timing of that seems to indicate that (a) there is an acknowledgement of all these accusations or (b) that things are heating up and it’s getting pretty scary.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’re certainly aware of the rhetoric that has emanated from various parties.

Question:  It’s only the rhetoric that you’re addressing here, not actual incidents?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, actually, yes.  If you see what we’re saying, we’re talking about the parties need to abide by their commitments and create the best political environment for all the various benchmarks of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, revisiting the Lebanon Tribunal, have you received anything from the CBC of Canada on the documents which were broadcast in their documentary?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’re aware that the CBC had posted the documents online on their website.  So we have seen this.

Question:  When did they provide you?  Are they authentic documents?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any further comment from what I said a couple of days ago about those documents.  I would refer you to the fact that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon did come out with a statement of its own concerning those documents yesterday. 

Question:  So they do understand that they are authentic?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I’d just refer you to the statement by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Question:  You said that the Secretary-General, yesterday he had a conversation with the President of the Security Council.  But did they, what was exactly the conversation he had yesterday, what he had today and also why there is now, listed, I don’t know if he asked, but did he ask for an emergency reunion of the Security Council?  Why are things not immediate, like yesterday, as was expected after the exchange of fire?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as for why or when the Security Council schedules its briefings, that matter is, as you know, in the hands of the Member States of the Security Council.  So, I’d refer you to the President of the Security Council for that.

Question: But the Secretary-General can ask, right?  He can…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General made clear to Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant his own concerns about the situation on the ground.  You will have seen the statement that we put out at the time.  Beyond that, of course, the Members of the Security Council are conferring amongst themselves, and it will be up to them to decide when and whether to take this issue up.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, during the long 43 years of civil war, most of it between North and South, the LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] played a role.  They were armed by Khartoum; they were fighting against the South.  Is the UN in South Sudan monitoring — trying to find out where the LRA is and whether they might again be active in a potential new conflict?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.  Yes, the Mission there is trying to monitor to see whether there is an LRA presence and to follow up on reports.  But in general, as you know, also the various neighbouring countries in the region have agreed to cooperate and to share information about LRA activities.  So we’ve welcomed their cooperation on this matter, as well.

Question:  Do you have any information about the LRA in Sudan, in South Sudan?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, certainly we followed up on various reports of their activity, not just in Southern Sudan, but in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Central African Republic; there are often sporadic reports of LRA presence, and we try to find out about that.  Yes?

Question:  Just one follow-up there with these reports of Joseph Kony, the leader of the LRA, being in Darfur.  Is that something, when you said the mission, you mean UNMIS, or is UNAMID taking any action on the report by Human Rights Watch that Joseph Kony is in Darfur?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  UNAMID has said that they don’t have a confirmation of any — there is no solid confirmation regarding LRA presence or Kony’s presence in Darfur.

Question:  And also, I just want to ask you two quick questions.  One is about Somalia.  There has been an admission or statement attributed to the Force Commander of AMISOM [African Union Mission in Somalia] that they fired on civilians and it’s said to have been people in front of the headquarters of UNDP in Mogadishu.  So, I wonder whether, given the sort of UN work, whether there was any either confirmation or statement on that?  And also, given that the UN is actually the one providing logistical support to the AMISOM force, what do they make of this killing of civilians?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the logistical support, as you know, is a separate issue as mandated by the Security Council.  As for your initial question, we were informed by African Union Mission, AMISOM, of the tragic incident that occurred yesterday when an AMISOM convoy leaving Mogadishu airport base fired and killed two Somali civilians and injured several others.

We regret the loss of life and express condolences to the families of the victims and our wishes for a speedy recovery to those who were injured.  We welcome the swift action by the AMISOM Force Commander to undertake a thorough investigation into the incident.  The UN will continue to work with AMISOM to implement measures in its military operations to avoid civilian casualties.

Question:  Is that part, that’s part of the logistic, just factually, is that part of the DFS/AMISOM or UNSOA [United Nations Support Office for AMISOM] support?  Who is the one that’s actually working with AMISOM to try to avoid future civilian casualties?  Which unit of the UN?  How does that take place?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The United Nations system as a whole will do this work through the various levels that we deal with AMISOM.

Question:  And I wanted to, just finally on this, there is this issue of the award that was given by Under-Secretary-General Sha [Zukang] to the General involved in the Tiananmen Square incident.  I just, it was left — at the time it was said that, Martin Nesirky said that, Mr. Sha was on UN time while he was in China, but that the Secretariat hadn’t been informed that this award was going to be given.  Questions continue.  It’s been reported in China that this was a UN award or somehow given in his official capacity.  What’s the UN’s final position on whether Mr. Sha was operating as an Under-Secretary-General when he gave it, and if he wasn’t, what’s going, what’s happened since?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Sha, I believe, tried to provide an explanation for his actions.  At this point, I don’t have anything further to say about any UN response.

Question:  He gave an explanation to the Secretary-General’s office?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: To the Secretary-General’s office.

Question:  Was it acceptable?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this point I don’t have anything further to say.  We did receive an explanation.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, in October the Secretary-General was talking about the situation, the food shortage in North Korea, and he was, you know, he was saying that the political and strategic and security situation [inaudible] the providing food for the people of North Korea because the situation was very — he mentioned it was clear that the situation was very bad.  Now, is at the same times [inaudible] from the Government of South Korea, there was especially after the accident, the sinking of the ship in March, there was a decrease of the providing of the food.  So, there is a linking.  The price change of yesterday, is it possible that the Secretary-General had foreseen, saying last month, only a few days ago, was foreseen by this crisis, the food shortage could provoke a situation like this, with North Koreans — could escalate and something like that, just because they can’t feed the population?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s not what our concerns were based on.  What we were saying about the food situation was based on our evaluation of the situation on the ground and on our humanitarian concerns for the long-suffering people of the DPRK.  And that is a concern that remains, aside from the other concerns that we expressed yesterday.

Question:  But the Secretary-General — is he satisfied with food, with the way the help, especially food, is coming to North Korea?  Is he satisfied?  Does he think that South Korea and other countries are providing the help?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’d just refer you to the concerns expressed by the World Food Programme as the lead agency on the ground dealing with this.  They’ve been worried about the situation.

With that, I wish you a happy day off tomorrow.

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