|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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon, all.
**Press Conference Today
At 1 p.m. today, the Foreign Minister of Cuba, Felipe Perez Roque, will brief on the signing by Cuba of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
**Statement on Kenya
We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Kenya.
The Secretary-General warmly welcomes the “Agreement on the Principles of Partnerships of the Coalition Government” announced in Nairobi today, which marks a breakthrough towards resolving the crisis and which gives hope to the people of Kenya for a return to democratic stability in their country. He commends President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga for the spirit of compromise they demonstrated in reaching this accord. He also congratulates Kofi Annan and the Panel of Eminent African Personalities for their pivotal contribution in the mediation.
Moving ahead, the focus must be on implementing the agreements reached thus far and coming to further accord on the longer-term issues which this crisis has brought to the forefront in Kenya. Every effort should be made to involve the people of Kenya at all levels in the process. Even as today’s agreements are celebrated, urgent attention is also still required to lessen tensions in the communities and to overcome the serious humanitarian situation in the country.
** Middle East
On the Middle East, yesterday evening we issued a statement on southern Israel and Gaza, which I’ll now read into the record.
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned at the loss of civilian life in southern Israel and Gaza, and at the escalation of violence that has taken place. The Secretary-General condemns rocket fire against Israel by Hamas, which intensified yesterday and killed an Israeli civilian in Sderot. He calls on Hamas and other militant groups to cease such acts of terrorism. The Secretary-General also condemns the killing of four Palestinian children, including an infant, in Gaza in IDF [Israel Defense Forces] strikes. He calls on Israel to exercise maximum restraint and ensure respect for international humanitarian law so as not to endanger civilians. These events underscore the urgent need for calming of violence and must not be allowed to deter the continuation of the political process.
And regarding the infant who was killed, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, has confirmed that the six-month-old baby was killed in an UNRWA school compound, which is near where yesterday’s military strike took place. The infant was the grandchild of the school’s guard, which lives on the compound and is tasked with keeping the school free from militants. In addition to condemning the killing of the baby, UNRWA deplores any violence that puts its schools and other facilities at risk.
The Security Council has scheduled consultations on non-proliferation at 4:30 this afternoon.
On Gaza, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, or UNSCO, says it is closely watching the fuel situation in Gaza. According to UNSCO, Gaza’s power plant may have to shut down one of its two turbines tomorrow morning if the crossing that allows fuel from Israel into Gaza remains closed. Although some areas of central Gaza have already been experiencing power cuts of approximately 8 to 12 hours a day, a turbine shutdown could cause cuts of as much as 20 hours a day. UNSCO says this latest situation shows the precariousness of the lack of fuel reserves.
On Eritrea, regrouping continues for UN peacekeepers in Asmara, with noted progress in the relocation from 33 deployment sites in the Temporary Security Zone to Asmara and Assab. That’s according to the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, which adds that, to date, 788 out of a total of 1,115 military personnel have regrouped in Asmara while 112 have gathered in Assab. The Mission continues to encounter obstructions at the Senafe checkpoint where Eritrean soldiers are turning back some UN convoys. In the past 24 hours, seven UN posts inside the Temporary Security Zone were vacated and taken over by Eritrean militia, police and army personnel.
On Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, is about to wrap up a three-day visit to that country. Today, Mr. Ould-Abdallah is in Baidoa, the seat of Government in the south-west, and he has already held talks with the President, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of Parliament. He briefed them on his contacts with international partners and his efforts to garner support for the transitional federal institutions. He later addressed the Somali Parliament. Yesterday, he was in the north-eastern town of Bossasso where he visited the new airport and seaport, and held discussions with local authorities. Mr. Ould-Abdallah also visited the northern town of Garowe and met there with the town leadership and representatives of civil society and the local members of the national parliament.
Lakhdar Brahimi, the Chair of the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of UN Personnel and Premises, today announced five other members of the Panel that he leads. They are: Elsayed Ibrahim Elsayed Mohamed Elhabbal of Egypt; Anil Kumar Gupta of India; Umit Pamir of Turkey; Thomas Boy Sibande of South Africa; and Margareta Wahlström of Sweden. Mr. Brahimi said that the Panel would take a critical look at the security situation for the United Nations, prompted by the 11 December attack last year in Algiers, and that it would examine the current and potential capability to provide safety and security for UN staff and premises worldwide. We have more information about the Panel members and its work upstairs. And it’s certain most of you were at the press conference earlier today.
Mr. Gambari, the Secretary-General's Special Adviser on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, completed his consultations in Tokyo today, where he met with Japanese Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura and other senior officials. Mr. Gambari’s discussions in Tokyo focused on Japan's support to the Secretary-General’s good offices, including ways to help Myanmar address socio-economic and humanitarian challenges. The Special Adviser plans now to return to New York by the weekend before heading to Myanmar next week. Exact dates for that visit are being finalized.
Over in Nepal, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Ian Martin, welcomes today’s agreement between the Seven-Party Alliance Government and the leadership of the United Democratic Madhesi Front. Mr. Martin told a press conference that the implementation of the agreement, which meets key demands of the Madhesi movement and calls an end to the 16-day shutdown of Nepal’s southern plains, will be an important contribution to the election of an inclusive Constituent Assembly in a conducive climate. The eight-point deal includes a provision which will allow for an increase in Madhesi candidates in many party lists. It also stated that the 16-day Terai shutdown, which caused numerous deaths and injuries as well as crippled supplies to the capital, would be ended immediately.
On Georgia, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has wrapped up a three-day visit to Georgia, where she met with President Mikheil Saakashvili, key ministers, the Ombudsman and representatives of civil society. She also met with local leaders and members of civil society in the Abkhazia region. Ms. Arbour said that, while she has seen with her own eyes the progress Georgia has made in a variety of areas, she still has a number of concerns about the treatment of detainees, the living conditions of many of the country’s internally displaced people and the lingering lack of public trust in Georgia’s judicial system. We have more on that upstairs.
Georges Omar Ruggiu, a Belgian citizen sentenced by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda for his role in the 1994 genocide, was today surrendered to Italian law enforcement officials. He will be transferred by special flight to Italy where he is to serve the remainder of his 12-year sentence. Mr. Ruggiu was a journalist at Radio Television Libre des Mille Collines, whose broadcasts have been proved to have encouraged the killing mobs during the 1994 genocide.
**UNHCR in Sri Lanka
UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, is appealing for $18.6 million to provide assistance to an estimated half a million internally displaced persons in Sri Lanka during 2008. The money, part of the Sri Lanka Common Humanitarian Action Plan, will go towards the protection of the displaced, returnees and other populations affected by the armed conflict. It will also be used to provide shelter, non-food relief items and camp management.
**UNAIDS and Human Rights
UNAIDS [Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS] and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights have issued a statement expressing alarm at recent reports of human rights violations committed against people on the basis of their sexual orientation and their actual or presumed HIV status. Where it exists, homophobia fuels the HIV epidemic and must be addressed as a key part of national HIV responses, according to the two UN bodies. Experience has shown that effective responses to HIV are those based on respect for human rights, tolerance, and unimpeded access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support. We have the full statement upstairs.
The Secretary-General this morning addressed the opening of the 2008 session of the Special Committee on Decolonization, telling them that, over the last six decades, decolonization has transformed the membership of the United Nations. Facilitating this process constitutes one of the proudest chapters of the United Nations history, he said. The Secretary-General added that there are 16 Non-Self-Governing Territories remaining on the agenda of the United Nations. Until their status is satisfactorily resolved, the ideals of the General Assembly Declaration on Decolonization will remain unfulfilled. We have his remarks upstairs. Indonesia was elected to chair the Special Committee.
Renewable energy is growing rapidly to become a major part of the global energy sector. That’s according to a new report by the Renewable Energy Network for the twenty-first century and the Worldwatch Institute. According to the report, the generating capacity of renewable energy has doubled since 2004. It now represents 5 per cent of global power capacity and accounts for 2.4 million jobs. Wind power is the largest component, but the fastest growing sector is solar energy, which increased by more than 50 per cent last year. There’s more information from the United Nations Environment Programme upstairs.
**Global Compact Event
I’ll just alert you to an off-site lunch event on corporate social responsibility taking place Monday at the Millennium UN Plaza Hotel, “Making Corporate Social Responsibility Effective: Creating Shared Value”. It runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event is sponsored by Nestle with support from the UN Global Compact. UN journalists are welcome to attend, but must RSVP by tomorrow. And we have more information on this upstairs if you want to go.
Press Conference Tomorrow
Press conference tomorrow, 11 a.m. tomorrow, Secretary-General of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Anders Johnsson, will hold a press conference to launch the 2008 Map on the Political Representation of Women, meaning women in parliament, of course. That’s all I have for you, thank you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Michèle, this afternoon, King Abdullah II and the Queen Rania will be meeting with Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General. I know there will be many subjects raised. Do you know if the developments in Lebanon will be raised in this discussion?
Spokesperson: I don’t know at this point, but I will give you a readout as soon as the meeting takes place.
Question: And what about the report on 1701? Some said we will have it tomorrow.
Spokesperson: We don’t have any set time yet.
Question: It will come out tomorrow?
Spokesperson: We don’t know yet. We’re not sure yet.
Question: This delay is a consequence of the threat made by a Hizbullah leader against Israel?
Spokesperson: This is not the first time this report is late. I don’t think it’s linked to any special event. I will check for you when it is coming out. I will let you know.
Question: Another question. Who will be replacing Geir Pedersen as a UN Special Envoy to Lebanon?
Spokesperson: We don’t know at this point. We don’t have the information at this point.
Question: Can we meet with Mr. Geir Pedersen to wrap up what his mission was?
Spokesperson: We can try to find out when he’s coming to New York, if he’s coming to New York, and I will let you know. We’ll try to find out.
[The Spokesperson later told the reporter that Mr. Pedersen had finished his work for the United Nations on 15 February.]
Question: The last question, when is scheduled report of the IIIC [International Independent Investigation Commission] Commission? Would that be in March?
Spokesperson: We’ll have to check. I don’t have it yet, when the report will be coming out.
[The Spokesperson later informed the reporter that the report was due on 27 March.]
Question: I have a question about the statement issued by the Secretary-General yesterday on Israel and Gaza. Some people have been saying the statement has not been balanced. It starts with the events in Israel while there were more civilians killed on the Palestinian side with at least four children killed, but nevertheless, the Secretary-General broached it in a certain way that does not really reflect the magnitude of the losses. Also, Mr. Pascoe and Mr. Serry have repeatedly said that the United Nations is against targeted assassinations and, while the Secretary-General condemns Hamas and rocket fire, he does not condemn Israel for continuing targeted assassinations, which leads to the action or retaliation by Hamas.
Spokesperson: The statement, if you read it, also implies…
Question: I very much read the statement and it does not condemn at all Israel’s continued daily targeted assassination of people in Gaza, which many people in the region see as leading to retaliation by Hamas, so I was wondering whether this statement is really balanced or not?
Spokesperson: The statement stands on its own and I think the Secretary-General has come out quite often on the question of targeted assassinations.
Question: While there’s a feeling that there’s an imbalance in the Secretary-General’s statement, has the United Nations prepared any figures that, since this movement began, how many Palestinians have been killed by Israel and how many Israelis have been killed by the rocket attacks? Can you get the figures at least from the Humanitarian Office or whichever office compiles these figures? We’d like to know what has happened, where’s the imbalance? Can you get those figures?
[The correspondent was later informed that, in his brief to the Security Council on 26 February, the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, said that, from 30 January to 26 February, one Israeli had been killed by Palestinian militants, and 45 Palestinians had been killed during Israeli incursions into Gaza and the West Bank.]
Question: Just to add on to the same statement, because Mr. Ban Ki-moon called the rocketing of Sderot by Hamas as an act of terrorism, and I was wondering why he did not call killing four civilians and over 18 Palestinians in less than 24 hours as an act of State terrorism as well?
Spokesperson: I cannot second-guess the terms of the statement. I can only tell you that the statement stands for what it is.
Question: Michèle, on Kosovo, there was a report yesterday that the Secretary-General sent a letter to the EU [European Union] regarding the mission in Kosovo, saying some Security Council members object to EU plans to transfer the UNMIK jurisdiction. Can you confirm?
Spokesperson: No, there is no such letter. No such letter has been written from the Secretary-General’s side. So I deny.
Question: Couple of things Mr. Brahimi said he could not answer. One was whether the report he’s going to issue is going to be made public. He said he’s going to give it to the Secretary-General and it’s up to the Secretary-General whether to make it public or not. Given that the Ahtisaari report about the canal bombing and the hotel bombing in Iraq was made public, is it the Secretary-General’s intention that this report by the Brahimi Panel will be made public?
Spokesperson: We’ll wait until the report is submitted to the Secretary-General before I can give you an answer.
Question: And also, about the terms of reference. He was asked about the terms of reference and he said it’s really in the press release, essentially. Is there a separate document saying what they’re supposed to be, beyond just press release put out on 5 February? Are there terms of reference for the Panel?
Spokesperson: I’m sure there are.
Question: Can those be made public?
Spokesperson: No, what can be made public is what you got today.
Question: And what’s going to be the employment? The people on the Panel, are they temporary ASGs? Are they actually employed? Ms. Wahlström, for example, who was with OCHA and now this. Did she remain employed by the UN throughout the time?
Spokesperson: I’ll check for you the status of all the different members of the Panel.
[The correspondent was later informed that Panel members have a special service agreement type of contract and will be paid based on the number of actual days worked on behalf of the Panel.]
Question: Thanks a lot. I really appreciate this, it’s the news of the day. There was a question raised about whether there will be a seventh Panel member. And then somebody asked whether the Staff Union presented a letter. They feel they should have some representation on the Panel. Is that something the Secretary-General is considering?
Spokesperson: This is Mr. Brahimi’s… You’re asking that question?
Question: Is he the one? Did he choose the other Panel members or did the Secretary-General?
Spokesperson: He chose them, of course in agreement with the Secretary-General.
Question: What is the Secretary-General’s response to the Staff Union letter raising concerns about the process and their involvement in it?
Spokesperson: I don’t have an answer at this point.
Question: As a follow-up to that question, in deciding to assign Mr. Brahimi to this task, what sort of deliberation process did the Secretary-General make in making that appointment in the first place?
Spokesperson: As you know, Mr. Brahimi has a very distinguished career at the UN and he has done a number of investigative reports for the United Nations. So, it’s a choice the Secretary-General made after considering different possibilities.
Question: We’ve all read some of Mr. Brahimi’s reports, they’re very seminal pieces on peacekeeping and things like that, so it’s clear that he definitely is a person held in high esteem at the UN. But as part of the investigation, there will be some processes in which they’ll be looking at how the Algerian Government responded to the security concerns and, since Mr. Brahimi is certainly not an outsider to the Algerian leadership and Government, historically, is that something the Secretary-General was concerned with?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General thinks Mr. Brahimi has always been an extremely objective observer of situations and he’s certainly a very qualified person to lead that Panel.
[The Spokesperson later added that Mr. Brahimi had served with distinction as head of the independent panel established to review United Nations peace operations. The report, released by the panel in 2000 and known as the “Brahimi Report”, assessed the shortcomings of the existing system of peacekeeping and made specific recommendations for change, focusing on politics, strategy and operational and organizational areas of need. She said that the Secretary-General thinks that Mr. Brahimi can certainly be an objective observer and is well qualified to lead the Panel.]
Question: Am I to understand that at the moment the Secretary-General has not figured out what his position will be to allay the concerns that were raised by the Staff Union in terms of representation?
Spokesperson: I don’t have an answer on that yet. There has to be, of course, consultation with Mr. Brahimi on this.
Question: Michèle, if you remember this big incident last year in Chad where the French NGO do-gooders were kidnapping Chadian children and taking them to France to give them good homes and then they were caught because they were taking these children without the permission of the parents. Now, there was an investigation launched. Has that been concluded?
Spokesperson: An investigation to be launched by the UN? The UN was taking care of the children in the process. UNICEF was taking care of the children in the process. The UN was not part of the investigation.
Question: UNICEF was not involved?
Spokesperson: They were just taking care of the children, they were not really involved in the actual investigation itself.
Question: So there was no determination made?
Spokesperson: There was a determination made by other bodies which were not the UN.
Question: May I just add, I think it was that UNICEF and WFP both said that they had inadvertently provided some assistance to the group, Noah’s Ark. I can’t speak for Massoud, but did either of the agencies issue a report on their own inadvertent support to what they ended up denouncing?
Spokesperson: Not that I’m aware of, but I can find out for you if there was any UN involvement in any way.
Question: And this is kind of a long shot, the Chad Foreign Minister, when he was here yesterday, confirmed there was a request now by French President Sarkozy to the President of Chad, Déby, to pardon them so they’d be released from jail in France. Does the UN have any response to that?
Spokesperson: That’s a bilateral matter.
Question: Okay. And then totally unrelated, in Georgia, the President has recently threatened an armed response to the Abkhazia region about a journalist that’s not been released or whatever. Does UNAMIG or the Secretary-General have a response to this threat of violence?
Spokesperson: No, those are threats and we don’t respond to threats.
Question: Did he urge calm?
Spokesperson: No, we don’t have an answer to that.
Question: There’s a report from Geneva about those two rapporteurs who were accusing the United States Government of forcing blacks out of their homes in New Orleans. Does the Secretary-General agree with that assessment? Is there any comment on that?
Spokesperson: As you know, all the special rapporteurs report to the Human Rights Council. That’s what they’re there for. We don’t have any comments on the reports.
Question: Has the Secretary-General ever expressed or issued a statement on the use of civilians as human shields in conflict situations, given that there are children in Gaza who have now been killed in the targeted assassinations? Has there ever been any statement from the UN on the use of children, or placing civilians in areas where these occur?
Spokesperson: We have had a number of those statements in different situations, not concerning Gaza, but concerning different situations of that sort, and you can go to my Office upstairs and get that information.
Question: Rabbi Hier, Marvin Hier, a couple of days ago recommended some action on suicide bombing by the General Assembly or any other UN organ. Did the Secretary-General follow up on that?
Spokesperson: As I said yesterday, the Secretary-General said he would speak to the President of the General Assembly. It is a General Assembly matter.
Question: But he hasn’t spoken to him yet?
Spokesperson: I don’t know yet. I can ask for you.
Question: There is a report that Israel cancelled a visit of one of its ministers to Costa Rica because it had recognized Palestine as an independent State. Do you have anything on that?
Spokesperson: No, I don’t have anything on that. I don’t have comments on everything, you know.
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