19 May 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everybody.

**Security Council

The Security Council held a meeting this morning on peace and security in Africa.  That was followed by a briefing from Ambassador Gérard Araud of France about the recent Council mission he led to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

**Secretary-General on Distracted Driving

Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General participated in the launch of a global effort to end distractions while driving.  Every year, more than 1.2 million people die on the roads around the world, and as many as 50 million others are injured.

The Secretary-General said that driver distraction — mainly through the use of mobile phones — was one of the emerging challenges of road safety.  No SMS is worth an SOS, he said.

The Secretary-General also said that he would be issuing an administrative instruction aimed at promoting road safety and saving lives.  The instruction will prohibit all drivers of UN vehicles from texting while driving.  We have his remarks in my office.

** Darfur Dialogue Document

The Secretary-General had a message today on the presentation of the Heidelberg Darfur Dialogue [Outcome] Document.  The message was read by the African Union-UN Chief Mediator for Darfur, Djibril Yipènè Bassolé.

In it, the Secretary-General says that he is concerned at continued reports of a military build-up and clashes between armed movements and Government forces.  He urges all parties to the conflict to scrupulously respect the ceasefire which has been declared, and to remain engaged in the negotiations in Doha towards a comprehensive settlement of the Darfur crisis.  And we have the full text of his message available.

**World Food Programme — Iraq

The World Food Programme (WFP) launched its first cash-for-work programme in Iraq today.  The goal is to help some of the poorest sections of Iraqi society earn enough money to pay for food that might otherwise be beyond their reach.

The World Food Programme says that food insecurity in Iraq is an access problem, not an availability problem.  It adds that nearly a million people need food assistance and millions more depend on Government aid.

The cash-for-work programme is being piloted in the central Iraqi governorate of Diyala.  The World Food Programme says that the pilot will be closely monitored and assessed as a model for similar programmes across Iraq.  There is more on that in a press release.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference on the outcome of the First Preparatory Committee for the 2012 UN Conference on Sustainable Development.  The Preparatory Committee met over the last two days to start negotiations on the Second International Conference on Sustainable Development, to be held in Rio de Janeiro in 2012, an event that is known as Rio + 20.

And at 12 noon tomorrow, Michael Alderstein, Executive Director of the Capital Master Plan (CMP) here at UN Headquarters, will be here to brief journalists on the work of his office.

So, questions please.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, we were hearing some reports in Thailand that the Red Shirts have dispersed but are now heading to various villages and other provinces.  If they do plan on setting up protests and furthering this kind of movement outside of the city, is the UN prepared to work with Red Cross and other groups to provide or is there a plan in place to provide humanitarian assistance to these groups if they do end up in these areas?

Spokesperson:  Well, that is all predicated on a hypothetical situation.  What I can tell you is — rather than looking at “if and maybe” — what is happening right now.  The Secretary-General already made a strong statement on Friday and he remains deeply concerned about the mounting violence and the loss of life, as well as the acts of arson reported today in Bangkok, and he continues to urge that every measure be taken by both the Thai authorities and protestors to avoid any further violence and loss of life, and to address issues peacefully.  That’s what I have for you.  Yes, Tuyet.

Question:  Martin, the Spokesperson’s Office has been able to help the media obtain draft resolutions in the past.  I wonder, does your Office now have access to the Security Council — you know, private consultations and whenever they put the draft resolution — you could still obtain it to help the media.  Considering the chaos in front of the Security Council now, the media needs more help from your Office.  Have you been able to enter the Council lately to provide similar assistance?

Spokesperson:  Well the short answer to the question is no, we have not been able to have access to the closed consultations in the Security Council recently.  I do not have direct word from the Security Council why that is.  What I can tell you — if it is any help — is that we have been informed that a letter from the Permanent Representatives of Brazil and of Turkey and dated the 17 of May has been transmitted to Council members.  That is what I can tell you.

Question:  Does it mean that your Office is now banned or barred from entering the consultation room?

Spokesperson:  This is really something — and I know that the question has been asked in this room — but I really don’t have a clear answer to you because I have not had a clear answer or clear explanation of what is possible and is not possible.  But at the moment we do not have access to closed consultations.  That is a fact.

Question:  How does the Secretary-General get news from inside the room then?

Spokesperson:  There are obviously…  Let’s put it this way:  we were not the only people sitting in closed consultations.  There are clearly other people who are able to report to the Secretary-General, but it really does depend on the topic.  All I want to say is that my Office has not been directly informed of what the reason is, nor what the rules of the game are from now on.  We have not.  Mr. Abbadi.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  First, can you confirm that the Chief of Staff, Vijay Nambiar, did write a letter to the Council when this issue first came up, and can you say whether the Council responded?  It just seems strange that you have… when you say “your office”, was there a response made to the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, saying that they could enter but your Office could not, as we understand it?

Spokesperson:  I would simply repeat what I have said.  My Office has not been directly informed; this does not mean — and I have said it here, too — this does not mean that we have not been trying.  And when I say “we”, that means the Executive Office of the Secretary-General as well, trying to understand and to have a clear answer.  But I personally have not received a clear answer.  Mr. Abbadi, yes.

Question:  You mentioned that the Secretary-General attended this meeting on traffic hazards and careless automobilists, etcetera.  We have a dangerous situation right here in front of the United Nations trying to cross at the corner of 42nd and First Ave.  I wonder if the United Nations can do something about getting the city to rearrange the lighting there in such a way that would give full, safe access to people going into the UN and out of the Secretariat?

Spokesperson:  Let’s find out.

Correspondent:  And there have been a lot of accidents throughout the years in this corner.

Spokesperson:  Let’s find out.  Thank you for raising it.  Other questions?

Question:  Sure.  I wanted to ask about Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sri Lanka as well.  On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, following last month’s attack on the airport in Mbandaka, the 11 rebels have just been sentenced to death.  This happened yesterday.  I wondered, one, if the UN or MONUC [United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] have any response to the speed of the sentences, and also whether MONUC has, in fact, conducted any inquiry into the alleged retaliation killings by Government forces of the FARDC [Forces Armées de la République Démocratique du Congo] following that airport attack, where, I have heard from within DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], they believe somewhere between 15 and 50 civilians were killed by the Government, but it is unclear what MONUC is doing.  Has anything been done by MONUC about this?

Spokesperson:  I know that MONUC has been looking into that incident, meaning the assault on the airport.  I don’t have any more details on that here right now, but let’s see if we can get something.

Question:  Also, Ambassador [Gérard] Araud just confirmed that Alan Doss is leaving by the end of, I guess, this month.  I had wondered, because it has come up here before, I think your Office has confirmed that OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] gave Mr. Doss a preliminary copy of a report that says that there was misconduct in the searching of a job for his daughter at UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] and he was given a time to respond.  Has he responded yet, and even if he retires on 31 May, does the inquiry just stop or does he respond, and what recourse does the UN have if misconduct is finally found?

Spokesperson:  All I can tell you is that the Secretary-General has received the OIOS report and with it Mr. Doss’s comments, and they are being reviewed.

Question:  If he does not rule before the end of the month, is there still jurisdiction over Mr. Doss as a former UN official, and if so, what are the possible sanctions or penalties?

Spokesperson:  We do not have any further comment on that at the moment.

Question:  And then on Sri Lanka, I wanted to ask, there is a report since our last interchange on Channel 4 in the United Kingdom, citing senior military commanders, that there were orders from the top to kill surrendering soldiers or hardline elements of the Tamil Tigers, saying these orders came from the top, that “we were to leave no one alive”.  What I am wondering is, in light of this still either delayed for 10 and a half weeks — however you characterize it — appointing of a panel to advise Ban Ki-moon on accountability in Sri Lanka, are they aware of this report?  Does it make it go faster, and would that panel have jurisdiction to advise the Secretary-General on the UN’s own role in, as we discussed, leaving Kilinochi, an ineffective call for a ceasefire, and funding internment camps as ICG [International Crisis Group] has alleged?

Spokesperson:  On the specific news report that you are referring to on Channel 4, I would have to check with colleagues whether they are aware of it.  I do not know the answer to that right now. On the broader question, the Panel of Experts will have the role to advise the Secretary-General on what the standards are for a credible domestic investigation or inquiry.  In other words, to address the question of accountability that has been discussed very often.  So it is a very specific aim, to advise the Secretary-General on the extent to which a domestic inquiry — meaning in Sri Lanka — would meet normal standards, widely-held standards, for that kind of investigation.  So it is fairly specific.

Question:  And if you don’t mind, since on Monday, I think, you had said that the Secretariat was going study this International Crisis Group report, which actually made some allegations or called for an international inquiry into the UN’s own conduct.  What is the UN’s response to that?  Do they think that is appropriate?  Given that this Panel would not even do that if named, what is the UN’s response to Louise Arbour and the ICG’s call for an inquiry into the UN’s own actions in this matter?

Spokesperson:  As I mentioned, and as you have pointed out, we said that it is being studied in some detail and that remains the case.  Any other questions?  Yes, Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  As you know, the meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations will take place just a week from now in Rio de Janeiro, and I have asked last week if the people in charge of this item could give us a briefing here, and you did kindly ask them.  You have not received any answer at this stage?

Spokesperson:  I will have to check.  I don’t think we have had a direct answer yet but we still have some time, I think.  The Secretary-General has said repeatedly how important — and thank you for mentioning it — how important this gathering is.  It is actually the support for and interest in this forum — the Alliance of Civilizations, which aims to promote tolerance and to try to thwart extremism — that support is broadening.

Question:  Can I ask about [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]?  I am figuring you will have an if-asked on this one.  The Foreign Minister of [the Republic of Korea] has said that there is little doubt that [The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] is responsible for the sinking of that ship and the killing of the sailors.  What is the Secretary-General — given his interest, obviously, in the peace in the peninsula — what does he, does he have any comment on that?

Spokesperson:  He has obviously been following this situation with concern and he has seen the comments reported in the media today.  We will have to await the official report, which is expected to be forthcoming tomorrow from the Republic of Korea before we can make any further comment.

Correspondent:  I actually have a road safety question.

Spokesperson:  A road safety question?

Question:  Yes.  Two days ago, it was reported that UN drivers in Cyprus, you know, crashed a car and killed two non-UN but Bulgarian people, and it was unclear, sort of, what caused it and what, I guess, repercussions — I do not know if the drivers have immunity.  Has there been any…  I do not know if texting was involved, but I guess, what has the UN found about this incident?  And also, the Secretary-General had said that there is a new administrative instruction against texting while driving for UN staff.  How is that going to be enforced?  What are the punishments if a UN staff or peacekeeper or whatever it is, is found texting while driving, and would it apply to also hands-free and other things discussed at today’s stakeout?

Spokesperson:  On the first one, I will ask DPKO.  My colleagues will ask DPKO or our colleagues in Nicosia what the picture is there.  I do not know the details of that.  On the second, as I understand it, this administrative instruction will be issued.  It has not been issued yet.  It will be issued and the details of it are not yet fully available so I cannot answer precisely on the points that you have raised.  The Secretary-General was fairly explicit about the dangers involved in using such devices behind the wheel.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General, has he always been invited to the upcoming G-20 meeting?  Or was the invitation…  You know there is a G-20 meeting, obviously, next month in Canada.  What was the relation of his recent trip to Canada, recent trip to Canada, and that G-20 meeting, and is he intending to go, and when did he receive the invitation?

Spokesperson:  Just to unwrap it a little bit, we have said fairly clearly why the Secretary-General was in Canada.  He discussed a wide range of topics, Millennium Development Goals, for example, climate change, Canada’s role in peacekeeping operations, all kinds of matters particularly related to the Millennium Development Goals, including maternal health and child mortality.  Clearly — obviously — it is in the context as well of Canada hosting the G-20 meeting, and I think the intention is for the Secretary-General to actively consider his participation in that.

Question:  But he was invited even prior to the…

Spokesperson:  I am not exactly sure of the sequence of events but I know that he is actively considering participating in the G-20.

Question:  If you don’t mind, if we can find out the sequence and also maybe have some statement on…  I think it has been reported that he wanted climate change to be a significant agenda item and that Canada has somehow rebuffed that.  Can you, is that ringing any bells or is that not the case?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you will have seen while the Secretary-General was in Canada in Ottawa, he spoke out fairly clearly on climate change and on Millennium Development Goals and a range of other topics.  But he did specifically speak clearly and to the point about climate change.

Question:  Quick follow-up on that:  what are the objections to climate change being a topic?

Spokesperson:  You would have to ask the Canadians if there are any objections.  I do not know.  If there are any objections, you would need to ask Canada.  I am not aware.

Question:  Do you know if the Secretary-General plans to participate in that 2012 Rio Conference which is being held to renew political commitments to the issues involved?

Spokesperson:  Well it is a fairly major event.  Obviously it is some way off so we need to look at that, but it is a major event for sure.

Question:  Martin, you never got back to me on the Albano building.  I understand there was a town hall meeting yesterday about not only bedbugs but various construction problems within the building.  There was some criticism of Skanska’s performance and Ms. [Angela] Kane and a number of them participated.  And they also had said that the Albano building has been leased for 10 years, even though the rehab here is supposed to only take five.  I am just wondering, I mean, I can break this down into questions, or I am wondering if, following the memo that came out of Mr.Shaaban Shaaban, do you have anything on this?  Is there a UN description of why these staff concerns are misplaced?

Spokesperson:  Actually, to the contrary, staff concerns are taken extremely seriously.  I know that there was indeed a staff meeting, a town hall meeting — however you would like to describe it.  I do not have a readout from that and I am sure that we can get something on that.

Question:  Some people working there, they said that when they moved to Albano they thought they would be returning to the Secretariat building where they always worked, and that they have now essentially been told that they will stay in Albano even after the building is fixed.  So this is obviously, and I know in the press corps not to get too… there are some concerns that the press will remain above the library and never return to the third or fourth floor.  Who is actually making the decisions of how space will be allocated in the building when it is fixed?

Spokesperson:  Let’s find out.  I do not know the specific answer to that.  Some of these matters could indeed be raised with Mr. Alderstein tomorrow, although, obviously, he has a mandate to fix the building rather than to allocate space after that.

Question:  To the degree that he can’t answer about this, what they are calling restacking or how space will be allocated, maybe Ms. Kane could come or give another briefing.

Spokesperson:  Let’s find out what we can do.  I fully appreciate the interest that there is in the building and the virtual headquarters that is across different parts of Manhattan at the moment.

Alright, thank you.  Thanks very much.

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For information media • not an official record