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

7 January 2011

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

7 January 2011
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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everybody.

Darfur

Ibrahim Gambari, the Joint Special Representative of the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), met Thursday with the Sudanese Presidential Adviser in charge of the Darfur File, Ghazi Salah Al-Deen.  They discussed the security and humanitarian situation following recent fighting and heightened tensions between the Government of Sudan and Darfur movements in areas of North and South Darfur States.

Following that meeting, UNAMID was informed of a commitment by Sudanese security authorities in Sector South to allow air and road movements unless there are specific security threats, which will be communicated to UNAMID.

[The Spokesperson added later that the Secretary-General had chaired a video and telephone conference call earlier on Friday on the Southern Sudan referendum, recent fighting in Darfur and developments in the Doha peace process.  He was briefed by Ibrahim Gambari, UN Mission in Sudan head Haile Menkerios, Chairman of the Sudan Referendum Panel President Benjamin Mkapa and Djibril Bassole, the Joint UN-African Union Mediator for Darfur.]

Darfur Mediation

The Arab African Ministerial Committee on Darfur and the Darfur Mediation Team held a meeting in Doha on Thursday.  And in a communiqué issued afterwards, the Committee renewed its support for the Doha peace process led by the State of Qatar and the African Union-United Nations Joint Chief Mediator as the only platform for the settlement of the Darfur conflict.

They observed that the Doha peace process has reached a critical stage and called for the convergence of all peace initiatives and efforts into one single track in the Doha forum with all the support it needs to succeed.

We have copies of the communiqué with more details in our office.

Haiti Panel of Experts

In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, we announced the establishment of an independent panel of experts to seek to determine the source of the cholera outbreak in Haiti.  The panel will review all of the information and data available to date and travel to Haiti to conduct investigations on the ground.  The panel will operate completely independently from the United Nations and will have access to all UN records, reports, facilities, and staff members as required.  It will present a written report of its findings to the Secretary-General and to the Government of Haiti.

The panel will be chaired by Dr. Alejandro Cravioto (Mexico) of the International Center for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh.  The other three members of the panel are Dr. Claudio Lanata ( Peru) of the Instituto de Investigacion Nutritional in Peru, Daniele Lantagne of Harvard University in the United States, and Dr. Balakrish Nair of the National Institute of Cholera and Enteric Diseases in India.  We have more information on the panel members in my office.

Haiti

The UN Children’s Agency, UNICEF, is releasing a report today, marking next week’s one-year anniversary of the Haiti earthquake.

The report says that relief and recovery efforts have been extraordinary but that children in Haiti continue to suffer from inequitable access to basic water, sanitation, health-care, and education services and protection from disease, exploitation, and unsanitary conditions.

UNICEF says that Haiti poses huge institutional and systemic challenges that predated the earthquake, and that require more than an emergency response to resolve.  We have more information on this upstairs.

And also on Haiti, the United Nations Office of the Special Envoy for Haiti (OSE) has released a new analysis of pledges made for post-earthquake recovery activities, showing a 2010 disbursement rate among public sector donors of 63.6 per cent.

This is an update from 55 public sector pledge-makers at the March 31, 2010 international donors’ conference last year.  These donors pledged approximately just over $2 billion for recovery activities in 2010.  Of that sum, $1.28 billion — that’s the 63.6 per cent — was disbursed by the end of the year.

There is more information available on the website of the Office of the Special Envoy.

Western Sahara

The UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, has announced that flights between refugee camps in Tindouf and the Western Sahara Territory were expected to resume today. This is part of the agency’s confidence-building measures programme to facilitate visits of Sahrawi families that have been separated for more than 34 years.

UNHCR is also planning to host a meeting in Geneva in February this year with all the parties to discuss the implementation of other components of the confidence-building measures programme, which, when implemented, will benefit a larger number of Sahrawi families.

Somalia

The Secretary-General’s latest report on Somalia is out as a document today. And in it, he urges the Transitional Federal Institutions to complete the drafting of a new constitution and to work towards meeting the August 2011 deadline for the political transition.  He says that security remains the single most critical challenge confronting the country, with the presence of foreign extremist fighters rapidly turning it into the next front for the fight against international terrorism.

The Secretary-General therefore appeals to the international community to provide urgent military, financial, logistical and other support to the Transitional Federal Government.  He also acknowledges the call from the African Union Peace and Security Council to the UN Security Council to reaffirm its commitment to deploy a UN peacekeeping operation in Somalia in replacement of the current AU Mission (AMISOM).

Also available today is the Secretary-General’s periodic report on the work of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).

Nigeria

In a new report, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) are urging Nigerian authorities to prevent further lead poisoning in northern Nigeria.

The publication calls for polluted villages to be cleaned up as soon as possible to ensure that children suffering from lead poisoning can return to their villages for recovery and follow-up care after treatment.

To date, more than 18,000 people have been affected in northern Nigeria, with 200 children reportedly having died.  Joint investigations by the Office of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the UN Environment Programme have revealed that the cause is acute lead poisoning from the processing of lead-rich ore for gold extraction taking place inside homes and compounds.

And that’s what I have for you.  Questions?  Yes, Erol?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, as you know, there are many floods all over the world, including the Balkans — two Balkan nations, Montenegro and Bosnia, were heavily affected recently, and some 40,000 people were evacuated.  UNHCR put the statement, and I wonder whether the Secretary-General is considering to put out an extra appeal for help, like he did, to address this issue by himself?  Or whether the UN is going to do something more?

Spokesperson:  Well, I would have to check with our colleagues from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to see whether they have received a request for help, firstly, and secondly whether part of that would also mean that they would be looking at appealing for assistance from the international community.  But I think that we would need to check with the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs people.  The Secretary-General is obviously concerned about flooding in the Balkans as he has been in other parts of the world.  Yes, Ali?

Question:  Shall I ask all my questions in one package?

Spokesperson:  Why don’t you do it one by one?  Because I know there are others who would like to ask questions.

Question:  My first question is about — Lady [Catherine] Ashton yesterday called for a meeting of the Quartet in February.  Would the United Nations consider reinforcing this call for the meeting of the Quartet next month?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said to you yesterday, the Secretary-General did speak with Ms. Ashton yesterday, and they did speak about the possibility of a Quartet meeting.  The timing of a meeting of the Quartet remains under discussion.  Obviously, the Secretary-General is keen to see such a meeting sooner rather than later, but the timing is under discussion.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Can I follow up on Lady Ashton?  Is the Secretary-General — did they talk [about] whether Lady Ashton would come by the end of the month to New York with the UN?  Can you tell us anything?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge.  I can check and let you know if that’s the case.

Question:  I wanted to ask first, I guess, about Sudan.  Yesterday Alain Le Roy said that he’s asked for approval of the Sudanese Government for more peacekeepers, but that the Government hasn’t granted it, so he can’t make a request to the Council.  After that, Sudan’s Permanent Representative said that he was in a meeting for two hours with Mr. Le Roy on Wednesday, and that the request wasn’t made.  So I guess I wanted to know, it seems like an important issue.  Where and when did the UN make a request to the Sudanese Government for more peacekeepers?

Spokesperson:  Mr. Le Roy has spoken about it, and therefore…

Question:  He said it, and then the Ambassador totally disagreed with him.  So I’m asking, what’s the UN response?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think you expect me to contradict the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping.  He said publicly that there’s a request, they would like to make a request, and that this obviously needs the concurrence of the Government of Sudan.  I’m sure that you could find out more from DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] on that.

Question:  Also, yesterday, I had asked you about what was said by a senior UN official about Khor Abeche, that the Government had blocked the re-supply of the Tanzanian battalion.  So I’m just wondering, is there — I heard your announcement about, going forward, the Sudanese Government saying, making some commitments, he’d said, to Mr. Gambari.  But what happened in Khor Abeche?  Is it the case that supplies were blocked?

Spokesperson:  I think that you know that, not just in Darfur, but in many other places where there are peacekeeping forces, peacekeepers are there to help the local population — that’s what they’re there for — and that can sometimes include providing their own rations and clothing, items to help the local population.  Re-supply, logistics, that’s also something that’s a challenge in many places where we have missions, and not just in Darfur.

Question:  The senior UN official seems to be saying that the Government blocked the re-supply.  So it just struck me — I guess what I was asking you is, why didn’t — if that’s the case, maybe that’s not the case — but if it is the case, why didn’t UNAMID at the time speak out loudly, as UNOCI in Côte d’Ivoire has, about a threat to blockade them?

Spokesperson:  As I said, it’s simply not the case that when something like this happens, that it’s not reported on.  It is.  But it’s also the case that this happens not just in Darfur, but in other places, too.  And I think we’ve gone round the houses on this quite a lot.  So, next question?  Yes?

Question:  I have a question about Haiti.  You may have spoken about this; I came in a little late.  The Dominican press is reporting that at least 3,000 Haitians have been expelled from the country in the last 24 hours, since the Dominican Republic resumed deportations.  And a lot of local NGOs [non-governmental organizations] are calling this an extremely racist move; they’re saying that people are being denied due process.  So, first of all, what’s the UN response to this?  And in a related issue, the United States has also recently resumed deportations of Haitians.  I wonder if Bill Clinton has a position on those deportations?

Spokesperson:  On the second one, I think you could ask Bill Clinton that.  On the first one, we’re aware of the reports and we’ve asked our colleagues in the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, to give us the latest snapshot of what they understand to be going on, and their assessment of it.  So I don’t have anything specific for you, but we’re certainly aware of those reports.  Yes?

[He later added that, since the deported Haitians were migrants, this was an issue for the International Organization for Migration.]

Question:  I have another question on Haiti.  Oxfam released a report yesterday saying that donors are circumventing the Haitian Government and the reconstruction and recovery process.  Does the UN have any plan to combat this or deal with this issue, and help redirect the process and the responsibilities for it towards the Haitian Government?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything specific.  What I can tell you is that we’re hoping, early next week, to have a video-conference link with our colleagues in the Mission in Haiti.  I think that this will be something that they’ll be able to address at that time.  Yes?

Question:  Okay, I have a question on whether the Secretary-General met Judge [Daniel] Bellemare recently or is he going to meet with him soon, this month?  And whether the Secretary-General is going to visit King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia while he is in New York?

Spokesperson:  On the last question, I’d have to check, I’m not aware of anything on that.  And on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon, I think you need to direct questions to them about that.  As you know, if and when the Secretary-General meets with Mr. Bellemare, it’s to talk about the management, the administrative side of the Special Tribunal, and not about the cases, the case and the investigation itself.

Question:  No, my question was:  have they already met this year, or are they going to meet this month?

Spokesperson:  As I said, I would ask you to direct your questions to the Tribunal.

Question:  I’m asking about the Secretary-General.  Why do I have to ask the Special Tribunal?

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of any meetings planned.  You could ask the Tribunal whether they have any intention to visit.  I’m not aware of anything, okay?

Question:  Another question; this is also related.  Whether the Lebanese Prime Minister, who is visiting New York today, is going to meet with the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge.

Question:  On Côte d’Ivoire — I have some other, but I’m more than willing to be bouncing it back and forth.  On Côte d’Ivoire, I wanted to know, this fighting that killed at least 14 people in Duekoue, it says that the UN says that this is not related to the standoff between Mr. [Laurent] Gbagbo and [Alassane] Ouattara, although it’s ethnic, and the tribes seem to break down in terms of supporting one or the other.  First, on what basis has the UN said that it’s not related to the political conflict?  And what’s the UN, or UNOCI presence in that area?  Are there steps being taken to try to tamp down this seemingly explosive situation?

Spokesperson:  Well, I can tell you that the Secretary-General was on a videoconference with the Mission this morning, and this topic was discussed at some length.  The mission is sending a humanitarian team to that area.  They will be leaving tomorrow morning and coming back on Sunday.  They will be assessing the situation on the ground — the humanitarian situation, and the security implications — taking aid with them, as well as assessing what is needed.  In addition, there is a presence in the area of peacekeeping colleagues.  They obviously have a role for the protection of civilians in that area.

Question: And that’s a team from here?  An OCHA team from New York? 

Spokesperson:  From the Mission.  From the Mission, so from Abidjan.  Seven people.

Question:  Okay, great.  Some — I guess, it’s Member States, but I want to know if the UN has any involvement or comment on it — there has been some talk of trying to cut off cocoa customs revenues to the Government by a number of mostly European countries.  They’re discussing this, they’re saying that if Gbagbo can’t make his payment in mid-January to his soldiers, maybe they’ll defect.  And I just want to know, is the UN aware of these discussions?  What does he think of, given it’s economic development and other kind of roles in-country, what does it think of such a strategy?

Spokesperson:  Well, you’re right that this is something that’s being undertaken or considered, according to reports by Member States.  And I think one needs to view it in that context.  But clearly the Mission monitors such developments very carefully, that’s quite obvious, that they keep a very close eye on this.  As you know, in various contexts — whether it’s through the Security Council or through ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] or through the European Union — different measures have been taken or have been promoted, but not yet undertaken.  The Mission obviously keeps a close eye on all of this.

Question:  This seems a bit more stealth.  The idea is to somehow — we’ve heard from the European countries — the idea that they would actually start offering money to Gbagbo military people to defect.  And all I just wanted to know is, is this something that the UN either — does this come up between Mr. Choi [Young-jin] and Ban Ki-moon?  Are they actually speaking about what countries are doing to try to put an end to the crisis?  Or is this something that’s on an entirely different track?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that it’s obvious that the Mission keeps a very close eye on all developments, political, economic, military, and humanitarian, very obviously; and is doing so thanks to the various parts of the Mission, the other components of the UN on the ground there.  And they obviously also ensure that Headquarters is kept informed of what they understand, and that Headquarters — the people here within DPKO, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs — they also are assessing everything across the spectrum.  Yeah.  Yes, please?

Question:  Martin, one more question on Haiti.  A French expert on behalf of the Governments of Haiti and France conducted a separate investigation and found strains linking to the UN troops from Nepal.  Any response from the UN on this?  Any rebuttal at this point?

Spokesperson:  This is not a new report.  This goes back some time, and we’ve already commented on that.  What we’ve said is that, and what the Secretary-General has very clearly said is that, he is very concerned about the outbreak.  And obviously it’s important to be able to determine the source.  It’s also important to be able to treat people, and to ensure that the spread can be halted or slowed down.  It’s an indication of how important the Secretary-General believes it is to determine the cause, the source, in that he announced yesterday the members of the panel and that this panel would start its work immediately.  And the panel will be looking at all aspects of the outbreak.  They have very carefully chosen expertise to be able to do that.  And it’s not for us, at this point, to prejudge what they’re going to find.  They need to be able to get on with the job, starting as soon as possible and finishing as soon as possible, to be able to report, as I’ve said, to provide a written report to the Secretary-General and the Government of Haiti.  And I can tell you that those findings will be made public.

Question:  For how long do you expect the investigation to go?

Spokesperson:  Well, obviously, it’s up to the panel to decide how it’s going to proceed.  But, equally clearly, we’re eager to see this wrapped up as soon as possible.  It’s for the panel, now, as I’ve said; it’s going to be operating completely independently of the United Nations Secretariat and the Mission in Haiti.  It’s for them to decide their methods of work and how they will proceed.  And I know that they are intending to start work extremely quickly.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, Gregory from Media Global.  Going back to Côte d’Ivoire for a minute, the World Food Programme said there are 21,700 refugees going into Liberia, with 300 to 400 more people coming in everyday.  They said they are prepared for three months to feed 25,000 families.  I was wondering if the Secretary-General was going to pressure countries, the World Food Programme to increase that amount?  Or, for the time being…

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t think the Secretary-General needs to pressure the World Food Programme, which does a really excellent job and can best assess how to handle this.  That’s the first point.  The second is that the Secretary-General does keep an extremely close eye on this.  As I mentioned, there was a videoconference call this morning and the humanitarian aspect is an important part.  We shouldn’t forget — the refugee problem is significant.  And help needs to be provided to those people who have fled, primarily to Liberia, but not just to Liberia.  But we should also remember that there are internally displaced people, and that number has gone up as well in recent days.  The figure is around 12,000 at this point — of internally displaced people.  So the World Food Programme, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, they’re keenly aware of the need to help those people who have fled their homes because of the fear that they have, and if additional assistance is required, I’m pretty sure that the World Food Programme would appeal for it quite clearly.  Yeah?

Question:  There’s been a lot of controversy about the statement made by Ms. [Karin] Landgren in the [Security] Council.  Even various political figures at the top of the Nepal have called them “wild accusations”.  She seemed to be saying that there’s a danger with the UN leaving of the Maoists having a revolt, or an army-based coup, so — I’m sure you’ve seen that.  I wonder, is there any response — if there’s any kind of response to the criticism coming from various parts of Nepal of those statements?  And also, I didn’t understand her — she said it’s not an option for us to hand over monitoring-related equipment to the Government without an agreement.  I wanted to know first, just factually, maybe you can find — what is the equipment?  And two, it seems to contradict something that was said to me earlier, that the UN is thinking of loaning, but not giving it.  What’s the status of…

Spokesperson:  That’s semantics, Matthew.

Question:  It seems pretty important.

Spokesperson:  If you would like to hear the answer, you might want to let me finish speaking.  I think that’s semantics.  The point is that it’s something that is clearly under discussion, that’s the first thing.  The second is that the decision has been taken by the Security Council for the Mission to be phased out on 15 January.  There is obviously concern about what happens next, and I think that Ms. Landgren who, after all, has been heading the Mission in Nepal, is well placed to assess what could happen next, and provide her expert assessment based on the work she has done with her colleagues in Nepal.  And I think that one could say that she has been able to assess things in a very clear way.

Question:  What I was — some Security Council Permanent [Representatives] have been saying that if a request were to come in before the 15th — last time, it came in 72 hours before the deadline was going to close, the Government then made a request to extend it — that there are some members of the Council that would then want to revive it.  I understand that sounds kind of hypothetical.  I just wonder, given what I’ve been hearing from Security Council members, why did the Secretary-General reassign Ms. Landgren to Burundi at this time?  If the Council were to choose, based on a request by the Government to revive it, would she go back to Nepal?  Would a new SRSG…

Spokesperson:  You’re quite right, it’s hypothetical.  And I don’t think I’m going to answer a hypothetical question.  What I can say it that the Security Council took the decision.  It’s for the Security Council to decide whether to revisit it, based on any request that may be made by the Government of the host country.  That doesn’t just apply to this Mission, but to other missions as well.

Question:  Doesn’t the Secretary-General usually keep his representatives in place as long as the mandate of the Mission is — I guess what I’m saying is, do you acknowledge that it’s a little strange…

Spokesperson:  As you know, that’s the case.

Question:  In this case, it didn’t work that way.  Fifteen days before it ended, she was assigned elsewhere.

Spokesperson:  But has not moved yet, and we’ve made that very clear to you already, Matthew.  Alright, thank you very much.  Have a good weekend.

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