15 April 2010
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

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

and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, everybody.

**Commission of Inquiry

Just a reminder, if you really need it, that the Commission of Inquiry that was formed to determine the facts in the 2007 assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto will formally present the report on its work to the Secretary-General at 4:30 p.m.  The Secretary-General will then transmit it to the Government of Pakistan, and he will also share it, for information purposes, with the members of the Security Council.

At 5:15 p.m., at the second floor stakeout in the North Lawn Building, Ambassador Abdullah Hussain Haroon of Pakistan will hold a brief press encounter.

Then, at 5:30 p.m., in this room, Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz of Chile, the Chair of the Commission, and one of the other Commission members, Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia, will give a press conference to provide details of the report.  As we've mentioned before, the Commission intends to make copies of the report available to you at that time.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General will brief the Security Council at 3:00 this afternoon on his recent travels.  That briefing will be in closed consultations.

This morning, Security Council members received a briefing on Western Sahara by the head of the UN peacekeeping mission there (MINURSO), Hany Abdel-Aziz, and the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, Christopher Ross.  They discussed the Secretary-General’s recent report, which says that the two informal meetings held in August 2009 and February 2010 produced no movement on the core substantive issues.  The Secretary-General writes that more work is needed before a fifth round of formal negotiations can be held.

In its morning session, Council members are to receive an update on the sanctions regime in Côte d’Ivoire by the Ambassador of Brazil, who chairs the sanctions committee dealing with that country.

** Afghanistan

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Afghanistan, Staffan de Mistura, expressed his concern today about the reported killing on Monday of four civilians in Afghanistan’s Kandahar province, when international military forces fired at a bus.  De Mistura called on all parties to do their utmost to minimize harm to ordinary Afghans and to take every possible precautionary measure to distinguish between civilians and combatants in their operations.

This incident follows other reports of civilian casualties over recent weeks.  According to de Mistura, this is a “disturbing trend, and all efforts must be undertaken to ensure it is reversed”.

He also expressed his sadness at the death of five deminers, and injuring of 16 others, when their bus was struck by a roadside bomb on 11 April.  He deplored the attack on courageous people who for years have devoted their lives to making Afghanistan safer for all.  We have more details in press releases from the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).

** Lebanon

Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, met today with Lebanese Interior Minister Ziad Baroud to discuss the forthcoming municipal elections.  He said afterward that he strongly welcomed the agreement of all Lebanese political parties to go ahead with the municipal elections on time in May.  Williams also welcomed an agreement to maintain a calm and peaceful climate ahead of the elections.  He said that the United Nations strongly supports any agreement that helps promote an atmosphere of peace and stability in Lebanon. 

** Haiti

Edmond Mulet, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, said today that the reopening of a large number of schools in the areas directly affected by the 12 January earthquake demonstrates the Government’s work to restore normal life.  Mulet said that the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the UN system will continue to assist the people and Government of Haiti in the country’s reconstruction.  We have a press release in French with more details.


As you know, starting in December 2009, the Departments of Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support begun to issue quarterly press releases to make public updated statistics on sexual exploitation and abuse cases in field Missions.  We have the press release for the first quarter of 2010 available in our office.  You can also find the detailed statistics and additional information available on the Conduct and Discipline website. 

**Press Conferences Today

Just on a couple of press conferences.  As we have already said, at 1 p.m. today, the Deputy Secretary-General will be here to brief you on her recent trip to Haiti.

And, as I have mentioned, at 5:15 p.m., the Permanent Representative of Pakistan will be at the stakeout position on the second floor of the North Lawn Building.  [The stakeout was later relocated outside the Security Council.]

And then at 5:30 p.m., Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz, here to brief you on the Bhutto Commission report.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 3:30 p.m., the Deputy Press Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, Hidenobu Sobashima, will brief correspondents on the foreign minister’s visit as Chair of the Open Debate on Post-conflict Peacebuilding of the Security Council.

And Jean Victor Nkolo will brief you after me on the General Assembly and the work of the President of the General Assembly.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, last time, just two hours before the release of the report, we were given a surprise of a postponement for two weeks.  Now, still there are about five hours for it to be released.  [laughter]  Is there any other surprise in the bag to issue the report later, or is the Commission going ahead to release it, whatever the pressure from Islamabad is coming onto them?

Spokesperson:  The report will be handed to the Secretary-General, as I have mentioned, and as we already announced at 4:30 p.m. this afternoon.

Question:  My second question is about Afghanistan, in the field.  Previously, so many civilian casualties had been like that.  What kind of mechanism has somebody suggested to devise to avoid these kinds of civilian, innocent casualties?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you have heard from what Staffan de Mistura said that it would be advisable to take every possible precautionary measure to distinguish between civilians and combatants in operations, and that is something that he has called on all parties to adhere to.  Now, clearly, there are rules of engagement and various people, ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] and elsewhere, have spoken about those rules of engagement and they are consistently reviewed.  And I think Staffan de Mistura is making clear that all efforts should be made to try to avoid civilian casualties.

Question:  On the same subject, shouldn’t there be any observation by the human rights organizations, such as the Human Rights Council and others, to monitor what is going on in Afghanistan, since these have been occurring over years?

Spokesperson:  That is a matter for the Human Rights Council members to decide.

Question:  Would the Secretary-General suggest something like that?

Spokesperson:  Well, it is not for the Secretary-General to suggest such things; it would be for the Human Rights Council to deliberate on that.

Question:  On a different issue -- on Lebanon.  Two days ago, Israel annexed further inside Lebanon.  What is UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] doing to return this land to Lebanese sovereignty?

Spokesperson:  I would need to find out more about that.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  I would like to place on record the following issue:  Three months ago, I raised the issues that I faced following our movement from the third floor to the Dag Hammarskjöld Library, and especially the telephone conduction.  I raised those issues right here, in public.  Following that, I spoke to the Under-Secretary-General for Management, Ms. [Angela] Kane.  She is aware of it, and I wrote twice to Ms. Kane about this.  Three months after, nothing has been done.  I know the Secretary-General is eager to see the journalists operating in optimum conditions here and to have as many facilities as possible, but you will agree, without a telephone, you cannot do much.  So I am now appealing to the Secretary-General in his capacity as Chief Administrative Officer to look into this question, or his Deputy or the Chef de Cabinet.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Okay, that is on the record as you said.  Thank you.  

Question:  Sure, a couple of questions.  First, just factually, can you say… these peacekeepers that were taken hostage in Darfur, or who went missing, as you put it -- there is a group called the People’s Struggle Movement which has claimed credit for abduction and it says that it has asked for a ransom of some $44 million for their release.  Are you aware of that?  Does the UN have any more idea than two days ago what happened with these four peacekeepers?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that, as I told you before, they are missing and we are working with the Sudanese authorities to try to ensure that they are returned safely.  I do not have anything else to say on that at the moment.

Question:  Also, just before this briefing, there was a briefing by Barbados and perhaps CARICOM’S [Caribbean Community] candidate for the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] position.  Just raw numbers, how many candidates have been put forward?  And can you say either by country or region?  What can you say on that topic?  And can you confirm that Mr. [Janos] Pasztor is actually one of the candidates, the current advisor to the Secretary-General on climate change?

Spokesperson:  Well, two things.  One is that, as we have mentioned before -- and it is standard practice, not just for this job but for any job -- we do not reveal the names of candidates.  But I can tell you that there are 11 candidates from 11 different countries.  And although we do not normally comment, as I said, on individuals, we obviously understand the interest in a candidate that works for the Secretariat and therefore we can confirm that Mr. Pasztor has been nominated by the President of Hungary.  The appointment will be made following a normal competitive process run by a selection committee and in consultation with the bureau of the UNFCCC.  All candidates will go through the same process. I should tell you -- and this is important -- upon the announcement of his candidacy, Mr. Pasztor was asked to dissociate himself from activities relating to the UNFCCC with immediate effect.

Question:  But how is that possible, to perform the job that he is conducting without in some way dealing with the UNFCCC?  Can you explain that?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that it will be dealt with in a transparent manner and Mr. Pasztor’s office is clearly not involved in the process of selecting a successor to Yvo de Boer.  And, as I say, he has been asked to dissociate from activities that relate to the UNFCCC, and that is with immediate effect.  And that is what is happening.  Okay.

Question: Has the Secretary-General offered any comments on the new Israeli order, giving the military powers to move the Palestinians?  Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe called it a “worrisome development”, but has the Secretary-General made any comments?

Spokesperson:  No, he has not, but as you know, Mr. Pascoe is the top political advisor to the Secretary-General, so I think that his comments carry the weight that that would suggest.

Question:  My question is on Venezuela.  On Monday, the Inter American Press Association (IAPA) has addressed a letter to Secretary-General, asking him to look out for press freedom in Venezuela.  As you know perhaps, there were only two independent TV channels; one of them has been closed and the other one, its owner has been arrested three weeks ago.  My question is if you have actually received that letter, and if the UN is willing to study the case of Venezuelan press freedom?  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Well, two things.  One, I am not aware that a letter has been received.  It does not mean that it hasn’t; I am not aware of it.  We will find out after this where we stand with that, whether a letter has indeed been received.  More generally -- I have said it before -- the Secretary-General stands extremely firmly for freedom of the media.  And the UN system, as you know, has UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] as well, which looks very closely at matters related to freedom of the media.  And I would encourage you also to check with UNESCO to see what they may be doing about this.  If and when I have more information, for example whether the letter has been received, I will let you know.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the letter has been received.]

Question:  These four officers, South African officers of UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] who disappeared somewhere, it turned out now to be that they have been kidnapped.  Have any of the kidnappers made any demands or asked for any ransom?

Spokesperson:  I just answered this question.

Question:  I will repeat the same question I asked two days ago:  Is the Secretary-General going to answer the letter of President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad?  Would you confirm receipt?

Spokesperson:  So, we are making that four days on the trot.  A letter has been received, and it is being studied.  That is it.

Question:  How long will they study it, and when do we expect an answer?

Spokesperson:  It is being studied. Anything further?  Any other questions?

Question:  Sure.  On this Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) investigation of Alan Doss, the head of MONUC [United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], it has emerged that they have a preliminary finding, I understand, that it was misconduct and that Mr. Doss has been given an opportunity to respond to it before it goes to the Secretary-General.  I wanted to [know] if that is correct?  And also to know what is the timing for his response and for the Secretary-General to get the report, how this relates to the expiration of his contract in June, and whether you anticipate some decision by the Secretary-General on this OIOS report prior to Mr. Doss’s contract expiring in June?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that no final report has been issued on this matter.  And as you know, you have also seen the same report that I have seen.  As you know, there is a draft investigative detail provided only to Mr. Doss for his comment before a report is finalized.  The report has not been finalized, and once the report is finalized, it will go to the Secretary-General.  I don’t have any details on the timeline for that.  I simply don’t.

Question:  Given the report, that it finds wrong doing, is Mr. Doss’s daughter, Rebecca Doss, still employed by UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]?  What would be the ramifications of this report?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, what I said was no final report has been issued.  Therefore, I am not commenting on what the findings may or may not be; I am simply saying that a draft investigative detail has been given to Mr. Doss for him to comment on.  I have not said what is in this initial draft.

Question:  Aren’t there some procedures?  How long does he have?  Could he hold on to the report and not respond to it until June?

Spokesperson:  That is something for OIOS, I would think.  And I am sure that you can find that out.

Question:  Who would otherwise have jurisdiction over former UN officials?

Spokesperson:  This is due process, something which I think you, with your legal background, would certainly understand.

Question:  As the Secretary-General said in his report on Western Sahara, the second informal meeting has not led anywhere.  What are the plans of Ambassador Christopher Ross now?

Spokesperson:  Well, he continues to engage with the parties with the aim of trying to push forward with further informal consultations, further informal meetings.  That is clearly his mandate and clearly his aim.  The Secretary-General’s report made clear that there wasn’t an enormous amount of progress made, but that does not mean that you do not stop trying.  And clearly, the ultimate aim is to get to a round of formal negotiations, but you can only do that when you have established a comfort level through informal consultations.  We are clearly not there yet.

Question:  Does he intend to follow up with the third informal meeting?

Spokesperson:  He will continue to try to bring the folks together for informal consultations, of course.  Okay, anything else?  One final question and then it is over to Jean Victor.

Question:  Sure.  After yesterday’s noon briefing, your office issued a statement about the situation in Afghanistan -- the deaths of the UN staff, including Louis Maxwell -- saying, among other things, that “the United Nations is cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) in its inquiries into this incident”.  Because at times there have been some issues around UN cooperation with United States law enforcement, including in this building -- whether they have jurisdiction to come into the building, whether evidence is shared -- can you say when this cooperation began, of what it consisted, and ultimately isn’t it the UN’s responsibility?  Who is leading the charge to find out who, in fact, killed these four UN staff members?

Spokesperson:  There is a Board of Inquiry, as I think you know.  The United Nations instituted this Board of Inquiry after initial fact-finding by staff in Kabul and New York.  The United Nations has been in contact with the responsible Afghan authorities in the course of its inquiries.  The Board will submit its report in due course.  Any further actions by the United Nations will depend on the findings, and it would be premature at this point to comment further.

Question:  Like you had said, “as you were aware”, but I was not aware until yesterday afternoon that there was a Board of Inquiry.

Spokesperson:  That is why you were aware, because you were told yesterday afternoon.

Question:  Sure.  Mr. Ban said clearly at the stakeout that this was an attack by the Taliban that had done it.  Once the UN became enough aware that they created this Board of Inquiry, was there any thought given to saying “things are not as we first presented them”?  And secondarily, on these boards of inquiry, how many of them are there?  Are there just UN staff on it?  Is it an outside Board of Inquiry?  How many, I mean…

Spokesperson:  There is a standard way to institute a board of inquiry, and I am sure that you are familiar with that.  You have been here far longer than I have.  The UN takes extremely seriously any incident which results in the loss of life in whatever circumstances of a UN staff member, and will investigate it thoroughly.  And clearly the UN, as I mentioned, has been cooperating with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in its inquiries into the incident.  As we have also mentioned -- and I think you need to take that into account, too -- the United Nations has been briefing the family of Mr. Maxwell on its initial inquiries and will continue to support the family.

Question:  Thanks for saying that, but this Board of Inquiry, you are saying, whenever staff are killed, the UN moves to this.  Was this Board of Inquiry set up at the time that these five staff members were murdered?  Or was it created at some later date, and what triggered its creation?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, I should be very careful in the words that you are using.  There is a Board of Inquiry and there is an investigation going on that involves the FBI.  And the Afghan authorities are also investigating this, and it is part of -- as I mentioned earlier in a different context -- due process when you are investigating.  Be very careful what words you are using.

Question:  Is there any question… it is a question of who did the murder?

Spokesperson:  There is an investigation going on.

Question:  Right.  Is it a new investigation?  This took place in October and we are now in April.  Has it been going on since October?  I will just leave it at that.  When was the date that this Board of Inquiry was instituted, since it is such a well known procedure how these things are done?  When was it done?  When was this created?

Spokesperson:  I will let you know. 

[The Spokesperson later added that, in January, the United Nations established a high-level Board of Inquiry to establish the facts and look for lessons learned.]

Anything else?  Okay, thanks very much.

Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  Happy to see some of the faces back here.

**Thematic Debate

We will start with the meeting on Monday.  On 19 April 2010, the President of the General Assembly will convene a one-day thematic debate in order to foster a discussion on disarmament in all its multifaceted aspects.  The objective is to bring together Member States, the United Nations system, academic and civil society to have a fruitful debate on the issues that pertain to social and economic development and international peace and security, which are at the core of the United Nations mandate.

We have colleagues who are specialized in this and who are working on this meeting.  And should you want to contact me, I will make sure they provide you with further details, if you so wish. 

There is also more information on the website of the President of the General Assembly.

**Nuclear Non-Proliferation

Following a question asked yesterday by a correspondent on nuclear non-proliferation, I would like to confirm that the office of the President of the General Assembly received a copy of a letter dated 13 April 2010 and sent by the Permanent Mission of the Islamic Republic of Iran to the United Nations.  The letter was sent to the President of the Security Council.

The said letter has been circulated to all Member States.  The letter is being posted online.

That is what I have for you today.  Questions?  Yes, Doctor.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  This meeting that the Assembly is going to have on disarmament and non-proliferation, is this a regular meeting discussing disarmament issues or [is this] a special meeting and who requested that?

Spokesperson:  It is a thematic debate.  The title of the meeting specifically is “Disarmament and World Security:  Challenges for the International Community and the Role of the United Nations”.  You will find more details on that on our website, but if you so wish, I can have a colleague talk to you more about this in detail.  This is actually a very important meeting that will have several speakers, including the President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General, and many other eminent panellists.

Question:  Would you describe this as a special meeting in the agenda of the Assembly?

Spokesperson:  Not exactly.  It is not going to be a special meeting; it is in accordance with General Assembly proceedings and the Charter of the United Nations.  The President, among the many important issues on the top of his agenda, has decided to convene these meetings.  These meetings pertain to disarmament, or to peacekeeping, or to the Middle East.  One will be coming on the Middle East.  So, this one is on disarmament.

Question:  And how long would that last?

Spokesperson:  Well, we have a programme with the opening session at 10 a.m., and then we have several sessions ongoing up to about 6 p.m. that evening.

Question:  Beyond just posting the letter, I guess that question was is the President of the General Assembly… you know, has he read the letter and what does he think of the letter?

Spokesperson:  The letter was actually addressed to the President of the Security Council.  And the only thing that I know of that the letter requested us to do -- and it is said so in the letter -- is for this letter to be circulated as a document of the Security Council and that of the General Assembly.  And this is what we have done.  The letter is now with all Member States, and we will see if there are further reactions from Member States.  But it was posted yesterday.

Thank you, and good afternoon.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record