16 July 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, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Statement on Iran

I would like to start with the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning the Islamic Republic of Iran:

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the suicide bombings in Zahedan, Iran, which have reportedly claimed the lives of scores of people and left many more injured.  This senseless act of terrorism at a place of worship makes it all the more reprehensible.

The Secretary-General extends his sincere condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Iran.

**Secretary-General in Madrid

The Secretary-General is in Madrid, Spain, today, where he is right now closing the first meeting of the Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group.  He met with many of the advocates who make up the Group, including Michelle Bachelet of Chile and Graça Machel of South Africa.

The Secretary-General told the advocates this morning that people around the world support the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), but more needs to be done to educate and inform them.  He said that, at a time of economic uncertainty and fiscal austerity, the advocates could help send the message that the MDGs go beyond development.  He added that they could help to make the MDG Summit, to be held in September in New York, a turning point.  And we have copies of his remarks in the Spokesperson’s Office.

Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General met separately with the two co-Chairs of the MDG Advocacy Group, Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Over the weekend, he will travel to Geneva, where he will attend the Third World Conference of Speakers of Parliament.

**Security Council

The Security Council began an open debate this morning on preventive diplomacy.  The Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, told the Council at the outset that there is a pressing need to re-evaluate how we can use our limited resources and capabilities to maximize the impact of preventive action.

She said that, over the past three years, we have sought to strengthen the Department of Political Affairs so that it is capable of effectively carrying out its lead role in this area.  In the last year alone, the United Nations has supported, often in partnership with others, more than 20 peace processes, and responded to many more disputes that did not reach that level.

Migiro said that we have improved our ability to detect warning signs of impending crises, and have at our disposal a growing range of tools and instruments to address them.  We must now set our sights on building our capacity for international preventive diplomacy, so that when called upon, we can respond reliably and promptly.

And we have her remarks, delivered on behalf of the Secretary-General, available in the Spokesperson’s Office.

**Humanitarian Affairs

The UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, today allocated some $41 million to under-funded humanitarian operations in nine countries across the globe, where people are suffering the effects of hunger, malnutrition, disease, and conflict.

The funds made available today will be granted to United Nations humanitarian agencies and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and through them to partner organizations, including non-governmental organizations, to cover funding gaps in key humanitarian projects in the affected countries.  Countries were selected to receive grants based on an analysis of the funding levels of their aid programmes, and the severity of the humanitarian needs.

Humanitarian actors in Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo received the largest individual portions of the allocation, of some $8 million apiece.

And we have more details in a press release.

** Kyrgyzstan

Turning to the situation in Kyrgyzstan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates that, one month after the crisis in the country’s south, there are some 75,000 people who are still displaced, with thousands affected by uncertain security, problems arising from the loss of personal documents, and a shortage of shelter.

The agency says that in the cities of Osh and Jalalabad, the situation is calm, but there are scores of police check-points, and the two cities remain under night-time curfew.  That, in turn, presents difficulties for people without personal papers, and there are frequent allegations of police harassment.

The agency and its NGO partners are counselling people on their rights and on procedures for restoring documentation.  They’re also discussing with the authorities ways to enhance the capacity to reissue documents, such as establishing mobile teams to visit affected communities.

And we have more on this in the Spokesperson’s office and online.

** Uganda

Also, the UN refugee agency has deplored this week’s forced returns of Rwandan refugees from Uganda.  Ugandan police on Wednesday rounded up some 1,700 Rwandans from two refugee camps in south-western Uganda.  The refugees were asked to assemble at a designated location under the false pretext that they would be receiving the results of their asylum applications.  UNHCR staff present at the camps were ordered to leave the premises.

Police then proceeded to force the Rwandans onto trucks, firing warning shots when panic began to spread among the crowd.  Twenty-five people were wounded in the ensuing melee, including pregnant women.  Two Rwandans later died when they jumped out of a moving truck.

While UNHCR was broadly aware of an agreement between Rwanda and Uganda to return refugees whose asylum applications were denied, it says it had not been informed of the timing of this operation, which it condemned.

There is more in a press release on the agency’s website.

** Nepal

The UN Human Rights Office in Nepal is urging Maoists to respect the rights and the professional freedoms of lawyers and other human rights defenders in the country.

The Head of the Human Rights Office in Nepal, Richard Bennett, met today with Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists Chairperson Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known as Prachanda.  He reiterated the strong message that the Maoists must honour the commitments made in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in full cooperation with Nepal’s justice system, as well as respect the rule of law and uphold commitments to put an end to impunity.

Bennett expressed serious concerns about recent news that some lawyers and human rights defenders have been publicly castigated by Maoists.  He stressed the importance of lawyers and human rights defenders carrying out their professional work without any fear or hindrance and with confidence that the rule of law will be respected.

**Mandela Day

I know you just heard about the first Nelson Mandela Day, which will be observed this Sunday.

We have a message from the Secretary-General marking the day, in which he says that he has been lucky enough to have met Nelson Mandela, and that the Secretary-General was most impressed by his humility.  Mandela, the Secretary-General notes, preferred to talk not about himself but about what other people had done in the struggle for human rights and dignity.

That is just one reason why Nelson Mandela is such an inspiration to millions, the Secretary-General says.  He was not backed by money or power.  As he constantly reminds us, he is an ordinary man.  But he has achieved extraordinary things.

** Sri Lanka

I know I was asked earlier this week about the recalling of Neil Buhne.  I have something further to say on that.  Neil Buhne will conclude his visit to New York this week and he will return to Colombo.  It is important to continue UN efforts to assist the people of Sri Lanka, particularly with regard to reconstruction and rehabilitation in the North.

Obviously, the functioning of UN operations in Sri Lanka will require positive cooperation, and Mr. Buhne will also convey the Secretary-General’s strong expectations for a better treatment of the UN family in Sri Lanka, as well as for progress on the range of commitments covered in the Joint Statement of May 2009, including resettlement of IDPs, political reconciliation and accountability.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

And last, we have available in the Spokesperson’s Office “The Week Ahead at the United Nations”.

Among other things, on Tuesday, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) will have a special briefing on the food and malnutrition crisis affecting the entire Sahel region.  And this will take place at 3 p.m. in Conference Room 3 in the North Lawn Building.

And on Wednesday, 21 July, the Security Council will hold an open debate on the Middle East.

And the guest at the Noon Briefing that day will be the UN Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden.

And that’s it from me.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, going back to this terrorist attack in Balochistan.  Does the Secretary-General support an investigation about who is helping this terrorist group, and why is this group not listed like the Taliban and Al-Qaida, and other terrorist groups?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the list of entities and individuals associated with Al-Qaida and the Taliban is maintained by the Security Council and specifically the Sanctions Committee dealing with resolution 1267.  So it’s a decision for them to make.  But certainly the Secretary-General strongly condemned the suicide bombing, and he hopes that it will be investigated.

Question:  He hopes, but will he recommend to the Security Council that they should do something about it and set up a committee to investigate who is financing this group; who is behind this group?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, certainly any follow-up action by the Security Council is in their hands.  And like I said, the maintenance of the list is up to the 1267 Sanctions Committee.

Question:  Sure, Farhan.  You may get other questions about this, but I wanted to ask you about this MDG advisory meeting.  You’d said that the Secretary-General met separately with his two co-Chairs, Mr. [Paul] Kagame [President of Rwanda] and [José Luis Rodríguez] Zapatero.  It’s been widely reported in Spain that Prime Minister Zapatero boycotted the meeting with Kagame specifically on human rights grounds, because he is subject to court proceedings in Spain for various human rights violations.  Can you confirm that this is why they did not meet together, that Zapatero did not, and can you explain why Ban Ki-moon would have chosen as the two co-chairs a person charged with human rights violations in the country of the other Prime Minister?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I think I have already explained to you yesterday the reasoning behind the choice of President Kagame, which has to do with the record that Rwanda has achieved in terms of its implementation of the Millennium Development Goals, which is the subject of this meeting.  Yes, the Secretary-General met separately with each of the leaders.  And certainly, he did raise human rights concerns in his meeting with the President of Rwanda.  In fact, for that, let me for the moment read to you the full readout of his bilateral meeting with President Kagame, which follows:

The Secretary-General met with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda this morning in Madrid, Spain.  They discussed the Millennium Development Goals and Rwanda’s achievements towards achieving the MDGs, especially on MDG 2, concerning education, and 3, concerning gender equality.  The Secretary-General also underlined his expectations concerning the work of the MDG Advocacy Group and its first meeting, today in Madrid.

The Secretary-General also noted the upcoming elections in Rwanda and expressed concern about recent incidents causing political tensions.  He stressed the need to uphold human rights.  The Secretary-General encouraged the Rwandan authorities to take immediate action, including a thorough investigation into the latest incidents, and to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Question:  Farhan, following up on this issue, are there any thoughts after what happened to the Madrid [meeting] of changing of the co-Chairs because, obviously, what is going to be the future of this group if the two co-Chairs cannot meet together?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, the co-chairs remain as they are.  The Secretary-General trusts that they will continue to participate in the work of the MDG Advocacy Group in the run-up to this September’s meeting in New York.  But certainly the Secretary-General also appreciates the role that Prime Minister Zapatero has played in pushing for the fulfilment of the Millennium Development Goals, and he also appreciates the role that Foreign Minister [Miguel Angel] Moratinos played in helping to convene this morning’s meeting.

Question:  Also, in Madrid, some people are worried that the UN put Spain in a very difficult position selecting Mr. Kagame after he has been… is involved in court procedures regarding…

Associate Spokesperson:  The Government of Spain had been fully informed of the choice of President Kagame as one of the co-facilitators.

Question:  He never raised any issues with the UN about it?

Associate Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that, no.

Question:  Farhan, again I just want to know, do you have any update at all on the situation in occupied Kashmir?

Associate Spokesperson:  No.  No, we continue to monitor the situation.  As you know, there have been some days that have been calmer and other days of unrest.  And if we have anything to say about the incidents, I will certainly let you know, but at this point we have no comment.

Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Sudan and Sri Lanka.  In Sudan, there are these reports that the Government made persona non grata, are throwing out, two representatives of the International Organization for Migration.  Does the UN have concerns about the expulsion of these humanitarian workers?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have any comment about the treatment of this.  We are aware of the reports, and we’ll check up on what was behind this decision and what the facts are on that.  But we don’t have anything to say on that just yet.

Question:  And on Mr. Buhne, I just wanted to understand, it seemed that earlier in the week it was said that he was at the end of his tenure.  Did he say something while here to change it, and return or…?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, no.  If you remember what we said in the statement issued last week — in the context of the disturbances and the inability of UN staff to go about their work, we put out a statement saying that he had been recalled.  Since then, he has been here over the past week and since then, as you know, we have received a number of assurances from the Sri Lankan side that would allow us to continue to go about our work without any further hindrance.  At the same time, you just heard what I read about the message that Mr. Buhne will convey back to the Government of Sri Lanka.

Question:  Sure, but I guess, what I don’t understand is what was the thinking earlier in the week — if it was so dangerous, then why would you only recall one individual?  That would seem to be about a threat to the staff as a whole.  I just wondered if something changed.  Was his tenure coming to the end, as was said, and now has been revived or extended in some way?

Associate Spokesperson:  I think what I just read right now speaks for itself.  I can read it again for you, but the basic point I just said was…

Question:  How does that compare to what was said earlier in the week?  That was what I was asking.

Associate Spokesperson:  Yeah, I understand.  But if you notice what we said is — when I said that he will return to Colombo, the next thing is:  “It is important to continue UN efforts to assist the people of Sri Lanka, particularly with regard to reconstruction and rehabilitation in the North.”  So that task will continue, but at the same time, as I pointed out, Mr. Buhne will convey the Secretary-General’s strong expectations for better treatment of the UN family in Sri Lanka.

Question:  And on the panel, there is an article out on Sri Lanka, saying that one of the outcomes of Mr. Buhne’s consultations with the Secretary-General was to further restrict the scope of the work of the group of Panel of Experts that they will now explicitly not consider information that comes in from either witnesses or anything like that.  And I just also wanted to ask about the staffing.  Can you confirm, as two Member States have now told me, that the head of the staffing will be Jessica Neuwirth, a D-2, and there will be seven other staff?

Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have any details to provide for you right now on the staffing.  Yes, they will have a small secretariat here that will assist them in their tasks, but I don’t have any confirmation of any names to give to you right now.  But certainly, no, there was no limitation of the scope of [the Panel’s] work as a result of this.

Question:  One of the Member States say, they said even Goldstone, maybe you can, I don’t know what the level of staffing was, but they said it was extraordinary that a D-2 level staff member would be assigned to run this panel, particularly given its relatively limited scope.

Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, I am not commenting on the level of staffing of the panel.

Question:  There are conflicting reports in the newspapers about who was behind this flotilla, which the Israel Defense Forces raided and were able to kill so many people.  I just want to know, when is the Secretary-General’s proposed commission going to begin working at all, if at all?  And what is the delay?  Why is there a delay?

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, we would be prepared to do something very quickly once we get agreement from the parties.  The Secretary-General has continued his efforts to talk to the parties, to win a positive response to his proposals.  And as I mentioned, in recent days, he has spoken with, among others, the Prime Minister of Israel and the Foreign Minister of Turkey.  So his high-level contacts on this continue.

Question:  Okay, which is the hold-up?  I mean, which country is a hold-up?

Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, he has particular proposals that he is continuing to discuss with the parties, and he is hopeful for a positive response.

Question:  Just for our diary purposes, can you just then tell us what days we can expect what on the Goldstone [Report]?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, I think I mentioned earlier that Israel has a deadline of until Monday for its own response.  After that, we expect the Secretary-General to put together a report that would go the General Assembly.  I don’t know precisely what day a report will come out, but I do expect sometime in the coming week we would, the Secretary-General would, submit a report to the General Assembly in line with the previous report that he sent.

Question:  Will the Israeli response be public?

Associate Spokesperson:  In the past, as you know, when the Secretary-General has sent his report to the General Assembly, which is a public document, it included the inputs from the various parties as annexes.  I can’t predict right now whether that would be quite the same way, but that is how we’ve handled it in the past.

Question:  Isn’t there an obligation on Hamas to respond, as well?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’ve received a response from the Palestinian Authority side, as well as from Switzerland already.

Question:  Can we have a readout of the meeting with Kevin Rudd that took place earlier this week?  It seemed to take about 50 minutes.

Associate Spokesperson:  It was a courtesy call, so no, there is no readout.

Question:  But if it lasted from 5:30 to 6:20, that’s a lot of courtesy.  Some have said he may be seeking a UN…

Associate Spokesperson:  We’re courteous people here.

Question:  Yeah, that he may be seeking a UN job.  I guess that’s why I am asking, and Janos Pasztor was there.  Was climate change discussed?  And was a job for climate change being discussed?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, certainly you are aware that when he was Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd had a very active record on climate change.  But beyond that, I don’t have any readout to provide.  It was a courtesy call with someone who is a former official.  Thanks.

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For information media • not an official record