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

12 August 2011

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

12 August 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Hello.  Good afternoon, everyone.

**Secretary-General in Republic of Korea

The Secretary-General met members of the diplomatic corps and a wide range of Korean dignitaries at a breakfast event in Seoul today.  He outlined the UN’s priorities for the coming years, saying that there was broad consensus among Member States that the focus should be foremost on sustainable development.  He said that health, especially for women and children, would also be a priority, as well as nuclear disarmament.

Later, the Secretary-General visited the South Korean Foreign Ministry, where he briefly met Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan and then spoke to Ministry staff.  He called for even greater opportunities for women in the Ministry and elsewhere in Korean society, and encouraged young Korean diplomats to have a broad global vision.

The Secretary-General also attended an event organized by the South Korean Red Cross and UNICEF to support children in Africa.  He thanked famous young Korean entertainers who were present for backing the project and asked them to use their reach to raise funds and awareness.  And the Secretary-General also met the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Seoul, Cardinal Chung Jin-suk.

The Secretary-General will visit his hometown and speak at his old high school on Sunday before flying back to New York.

**Horn of Africa

In Somalia, the second of three planned humanitarian flights by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, landed in Mogadishu this morning.  The plane unloaded a 32‑ton consignment of shelter and other aid items.  The agency is expecting to send another flight into Mogadishu tomorrow.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that insecurity remains a concern for humanitarian actors in Somalia, notably in the capital and despite Al-Shabaab’s announced withdrawal from Mogadishu.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) is concerned over the sudden increase in cholera cases in Mogadishu.  It says that since March 2011, there have been cholera outbreaks in various parts of Somalia, but it says that the rate of confirmed cases among internally displaced people reported in the capital is alarming.

Also, in Ethiopia, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, says that vaccine supplies are low following the measles vaccination campaign.  It says the replenishment of stocks must be a priority.  It is also concerned that half of the food aid beneficiaries in Ethiopia will get an incomplete ration due to a lack of funding.

The refugee agency is also warning that the number of tents it has moved to the Dadaab camp in Kenya is still not sufficient for the growing refugee population, and that it needs funding for 45,000 more tents. 

**International Youth Day

Today is International Youth Day, which also marks the end of the International Year of Youth that the United Nation has been observing.

On this day, the Secretary-General is calling on the international community to work with young people to expand opportunities and answer their legitimate demands for dignity and development.  The Secretary-General says that over the past year, youth have achieved stunning results, including overthrowing dictatorships.

The Secretary-General hopes that the experience gathered over the Year of Youth will provide a foundation to further harness the talents and energies of young men and women.  And that message is available on our website and counter.

**World Food Programme

And I have a few answers on some of the questions we were asked yesterday.

On the alleged killing of a worker from the World Food Programme (WFP) in West Darfur, as we said after yesterday’s briefing, the World Food Programme confirms that no worker from the Programme was killed.  WFP also says that it has no staff or office in Fur Baranga and that all WFP staff in West Darfur are accounted for.  It adds that no one by the name of Ahmaday Mohammad Omar has been employed by the World Food Programme in Sudan.

Concerning the withdrawal of troops from Abyei, the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA) says that it has not observed troop movements out of the area.  The Head of the mission, General [Tadesse Werede] Tesfay, is scheduled to travel to Khartoum in the coming days to discuss this issue with Sudanese authorities.

Finally, regarding sound engineers, we can confirm that as a result of shrinking budgetary resources, the United Nations has had to make a number of difficult decisions.  We have informed PPS, the company that employs the engineers, that we would not be needing the services of seven broadcast engineers that perform a number of functions for the Department of Public Information.  This was not an easy decision to make as we are very appreciative of the work that the engineers do for the United Nations, day in and day out.  Regarding the sound engineers at the stakeout, also due to budgetary constraints, we may not always be able to supply a boom mike engineer at every Security Council stakeout from now on.

**The Week Ahead

Regarding The Week Ahead, we will not have a full Week Ahead document for you today as the coming week so far looks to be pretty calm.

But I just want to flag that next Thursday, 18 August, the Security Council will receive a briefing, followed by consultations, on the United Nations Regional Office for Central Africa (UNOCA).  Also, that day, in Rome, the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) will be hosting a meeting of its member countries and humanitarian and development partners to strengthen the international community's response to the situation in the Horn of Africa.

And then on Friday, 19 August, we will mark World Humanitarian Day.  Also that day, there will be a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the eighth anniversary of the Baghdad bombing.  And that will be at 10:15 a.m., in the Public Lobby of the General Assembly Building.

And finally, unless events dictate otherwise, we will hold only three briefings next week — on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  We will update our web pages every day of the week.  And, of course, that can change as circumstances dictate.

Questions?  Yes, Lou?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  I want to ask about this statement on Libya that was issued last night.  Earlier in the week you had said, I just want to quote, that the Secretary-General believes that resolution 1973 (2011) has been used properly in order to protect civilians in Libya, and you’ve continually emphasized the need as this proceeds to make sure that civilians in Libya will be protected.  And then yesterday’s statement said that, you know, the Secretary-General was deeply concerned over, about, you know, reports of unacceptably high numbers of civilian casualties.  I know you’ll probably say that these don’t contradict each other, but they do.  And so I am just wondering what went on, is there some sort of attempt perhaps to smooth, to help things for Mr. al-Khatib as he sort of pushes for a diplomatic solution?  I’m just wondering what led to this sort of shift in tone.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you’ve already predicted part of our response, which is simply that it’s not contradictory.  And in fact the Secretary-General has consistently called for restraint and caution to avoid civilian casualties.  He of course recognizes and appreciates NATO’s [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] efforts to avoid civilian casualties.  In his telephone conversation with the Libyan Prime Minister on Wednesday, the Secretary-General expressed his concern about the loss of innocent lives as a result of the fighting.  He strongly believes there can be no military solution to the Libyan crisis, and he is troubled that there has been no progress in the efforts to find a politically negotiated solution, despite the hard work of his Special Envoy, Abdel-Elah al-Khatib.  He certainly urges all Libyan parties to engage with his Special Envoy to end the bloodshed as soon as possible.  Yes, Margaret?

Question:  Farhan, as a follow-up to that, do you have anything on Mr. al‑Khatib’s activities of late, or what is planned, or where is he?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage I don’t have any fresh update.  He has been continuing his conversations.  As you know, he has repeatedly visited Tripoli and Benghazi, and he has also visited a number of capitals of concerned countries and he is continuing with those efforts.  As you saw from the statement we put out yesterday, as well as from what I have just read, the Secretary-General is worried about the lack of progress in efforts to get to a politically negotiated solution.  But certainly Mr. al‑Khatib is going to continue with his work, and we hope that he gets the support he needs in that.

Question:  Does he have any trip to Tripoli or Benghazi scheduled?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  There is nothing to announce so far.

Question:  Nothing because it’s Ramadan or what?  What’s the reason?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  There is nothing to announce just yet.  The next time — and it’s not necessarily that, having anything to do with Ramadan — but the next time we have a trip to announce we will let you know.  But we don’t have one to announce just today.  Yes?

Question:  Has the Secretary-General had any conversation with the Israeli authorities on this construction settlement that was approved day before yesterday and yesterday [inaudible]?  I know that he has been speaking about it, but time and again as this is a major development, has he spoken to anybody [inaudible]?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you will have seen that yesterday, Robert Serry, our Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process did come out with his statement, and he is certainly in touch with people on the ground about this worrying development.  I would also like to refer you to the fact that over the weekend, we did have a statement in which the Secretary-General said that he was deeply disturbed, disappointed by the recent approval by the Government of Israel to build more than 900 housing units in East Jerusalem, and that he reiterated that settlement activity in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is contrary to international law, and that he is concerned by provocative actions on the ground.  So that statement still stands, and of course, like I said, Mr. Serry has also expressed his concerns and is dealing with people on the ground.

Question:  Basically, the Secretary-General has not had any conversation with the Israeli… Benjamin Netanyahu in regard to that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Not in the last few days.  Of course, he has been in regular touch with them, and in his conversations with his Israeli interlocutors, he has repeatedly brought up his concerns about settlements.

Question:  Another question about this talking to the heads of… I mean, has he had any conversations with the British Prime Minister [David] Cameron about 1,900‑2,000 people being arrested there and people saying that many people’s human rights have been violated, there have been so many other, I mean, violations of civil rights over there.  Has he had any conversation with the British Prime Minister?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  There has been no conversation that the Secretary-General has had, and he has not commented on this particular set of events.  Yes?

Question:  Just a follow-up on that, and then I want to ask you about Sudan, Kosovo and your announcement about briefings.  But on that, there was an announcement… it is reported that the UK is considering something called the social media kill switch, i.e. turning off Twitter and Blackberry Messenger during unrest.  And I just wondered, given statements from the UN system about closing down of communications in other parts of the world, is that… is that one aspect of the UK developments that he would have any concern about, or does he think that will be fine?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think we’d need some further information on this, but if there is a reaction you could check first with our colleagues in the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) who have been speaking out about this and many different other incidents.

Question:  Sure, I wanted to… on Sudan, I wanted to ask, there is this… Radio Dabanga, I’ll source it this way, has reported that, that Sudanese armed forces helicopters are buzzing and making hostile movements around the Zamzam refugee camp in Darfur.  So I wanted to know, is that something that Darfur… that… that UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] is aware of?  And on the report, again thanks for…getting -- I saw WFP saying that that’s not their employee.  That was, it was a Dabanga report, but it’s also on the UN’s ReliefWeb, which I think is a UN website, is it not?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no.  I am sorry, but the ReliefWeb website simply cuts and pastes, you know, copied the Radio Dabanga report.  Radio Dabanga was the source of that information and…

Question:  But has the UN sought any correction since it remain… I am looking at it right now, it remains on the ReliefWeb website that a WFP worker was killed in West Darfur.  Is that something that is going to be taken down given that you have now denied it?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you’ve heard what I have had to say, and again I can say very clearly that the World Food Programme has no information of any casualties among any of its staff in Darfur.

Question:  How about the Zamzam camp?  Do you have, I mean, is that something that you are aware of, is that also not true?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’d have to check whether it is.  As is the case, some of these reports on the ground have not checked out.  But we’ll check with UNAMID to see whether this is, whether this holds up.

Question:  And what about the South Kordofan human rights report, I think Mr. Šimonović, it was three weeks ago today, was in here and said it would be released in two weeks.  What’s the hold up?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  There is no hold up.  It’s being finalized, and when we know for sure that it is coming out, we will certainly tell you.

Question:  And for, also on Sudan, there was, it was announced that in September JEM and the… well, the US has invited JEM and the Sudanese Government to meet in the US in September as sort of, to try to get them back into the process, and I just wondered, given, you know, Mr. Gambari’s now double role as the joint mediator etcetera, is there any UN involvement or is that a purely US initiative?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, since this is a US invitation I think you should first check with the United States Government.  Yes?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General consider the settlement building to be provocative?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, like I said, he believes that settlement activity in the West Bank and East Jerusalem is contrary to international law and he is concerned by provocative actions on the ground.  So take that as you want.  Yes?

Question:  Would you have any response to the letter by US Congressman Dennis Kucinich yesterday to the Secretary-General in which he requested the UN to take immediate action to hold Member States and their NATO extension accountable for actions in Libya that place innocent civilians at risk?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We have no specific reaction at this time to Mr. Kucinich’s letter.  However, I would like to point out that I just said where we stand regarding the issue of civilian casualties and the Secretary-General’s concerns.  Yes?

Question:  I want to ask about I guess, Kosovo and Serbia.  First, there is a, there is a report, and again maybe this is local media that is on the B92 website saying that local municipal authorities in northern Kosovo have written to Ban Ki-moon asking for greater UN involvement in the disputes along the border.  Have you received that letter?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, we have.

Question:  And what, what’s the response to it?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  At this stage, the letter was received yesterday through our office, through the UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), which transmitted it to us.  It’s being studied.

Question:  And there are also… I mean, there seems to be now the report, that long awaited UNMIK report, there is… there is, I guess, a preliminary draft out dated 11 August signed by or approved by Mr.Bout De Marnhac and it doesn’t… it doesn’t address any of the more recent fighting in the, of the… you know, along the border gates, and I just wonder, is that, is the UN not going to produce a written report about those incidents in July or how is it going to report to the Council?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, as you are aware, many times written reports are written in advance, and sometimes are updated over the course of events.  Sometimes, after the report has come out, or after the details in the report have been written, there may be further developments underlined as with any number of reports on any number of peacekeeping missions.  And then the further update would happen later on when the Security Council receives a briefing.  And as I am sure you are aware, the Security Council will receive a briefing on the UN Mission in Kosovo later this month.

Question:  Sure, but will they get a briefing on those incidents?  That’s all.  I mean, I understand this was…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  They will receive a briefing on all recent developments that are relevant.

Question:  Okay.  And then I just wanted to ask you this, you’d said this thing about the… the limited briefings next week.  So I just want, one thing I wanted to know is, is this a cost-saving move in the sense of the way that you announced with broadcast engineers?  And two, given that the UN has 100,000 peacekeepers with weapons in the field, why would, why is it unreasonable to think that for 10 minutes a day you could take, answer questions in this room?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  First of all, Matthew, I just wish you could see some of the expressions of your colleagues when you asked that question. 

Question:  [inaudible]

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I am doing a favour for as many of you as for any of my colleagues who man the various services.

Question:  Who did you speak to?  How many [inaudible]?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Secondly, Matthew, I have been here as a Spokesperson for 12 years, and every summer, there is a period and indeed the week between Christmas and New Year’s, there are times when we cut back on briefings.  A lot of that has to do with low audience.  That is standard procedure, and we’ve done this on and off.

Question:  Who did you speak to?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said before, if events warrant, we would revise that and hold further briefings.  But there is no real purpose in holding briefings that might be sparsely attended on which we have nothing particular to say.  And everyday, like I said, we will, as we do every other summer on days when we don’t give the briefings, we will come up with updates on the website.

Question:  Is the UN doing the last work in the field in all of this [inaudible]?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  And frankly, Matthew, you have been here for five or six years, and so you are about as used to this as I am.

Question:  I guess what I was unused to is this idea that somehow you’ve polled people and then I’ve talked to a number of people that weren’t polled.  So how did you decide to say that journalists here want less information rather than more?  I don’t understand the basis.  Just tell me how many did you speak to?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, whenever I am around and frankly, many summers I am not around, I actually do ask a bunch of reporters just to test whether this is a good week to do it or not.

Question:  In this case…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  But that’s standard.  And frankly, every time I do it, the vast majority of people I talk to say “yeah, this is a good week to do it”.

Question:  Maybe it’s based on [inaudible]

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  If that changes, like I said, if that changes, we’ll change.  But frankly, there isn’t a single person who is worried about this one way or another.  [inaudible]

Question:  I don’t think it’s true.  I actually heard from others, but are you in the office, actually, I mean, is that office manned in the week?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure, sure.  I will be here all week long and you can always feel free to come by and ask me questions.

Question:  Are you… I mean is 10 minutes too much?  I mean I am just trying… I don’t understand it, I guess, is what I am saying.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  You can have 10 minutes with me, as well.  The question is: what’s useful and what’s not useful.  This is hardly exceptional, not even for this, but for offices elsewhere in the country and in the world at this time of the year.

Question:  When is the lead Spokesman coming back?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  He should be back on I think 29 August, possibly before.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Thanks.

* *** *

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