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

26 February 2009

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

26 February 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary-General arrived in the capital of Tanzania today and went straight to a meeting with the President, President Kikwete.

At that meeting, the two discussed the global economic and financial crisis; the upcoming elections in Tanzania; the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which is expected to complete its work next year; and regional issues, including Burundi, Zimbabwe, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  On Burundi specifically, the Secretary-General expressed concern over delays in the disarmament of the Forces nationales de libération (FNL).

The Secretary-General and President Kikwete also spoke about climate change and its impact on food security in Tanzania, as well as the public health situation in Tanzania and the Government’s efforts to stamp out HIV/AIDS.

In a separate meeting chaired by President Kikwete, the Secretary-General met with former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, who briefed him on the Nairobi talks concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which Mkapa co-chairs with former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.  They discussed the reintegration of fighters from the National Congress for the Defense of the People (CNDP) into the Congolese Armed Forces, the prospects for United Nations assistance in supporting military integration, and the question of temporary amnesty.

Also today in the Tanzanian capital, the Secretary-General delivered a lecture to the local diplomatic corps, the academic community and representatives of the media.  He said that we must not let Africa’s successes be undermined by global crises.  And he called on African leaders to move forward on education, efforts to battle climate change and the fight against HIV/AIDS.

He also emphasized the need for violence to stop throughout the continent -- including in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia.  We expect transcripts of the lecture later today.

** Madagascar

And Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios, who has been travelling in Africa with the Secretary-General, has been sent by the Secretary-General to Madagascar to continue our good offices work there.  He will report to the Secretary-General on his return from the country.

Menkerios arrived in Madagascar today, and he has already met with President Marc Ravalomanana.  And he expects also to meet today with the Mayor of the capital, Andry Rajoelina.

Last night, the Secretary-General met at the airport in Johannesburg with Madagascar’s Foreign Minister and the Minister of Economic Trade and Industry, who asked for a more active United Nations role in dealing with the parties in the country.  The Secretary-General assured them that a mediator has been appointed who would arrive in Madagascar shortly, in addition to Mr. Menkerios.

** Darfur

The African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that the security situation is relatively calm today, although banditry activities are still occurring in North Darfur and locals in South Darfur have reported to UNAMID that armed militiamen continue to attack or harass civilians.

UNAMID’s forces continue to intensify their routine patrol activities, investigation duties, escort duties and confidence-building patrols throughout their area of responsibility.

**Security Council

Here at United Nations Headquarters, Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, told the Security Council that, following the governorate elections last month, Iraq “has emerged sovereign and rising to expectations”.  He said the elections should increase the confidence of Iraqis in their local institutions and added that it is heartening that approximately one quarter of the 440 new governorate council members will be women.

De Mistura said that the United Nations Mission in Iraq is working as an honest broker to promote a spirit of dialogue among Iraq’s communities, including by its work on Kirkuk.  He said that he has detected a momentum for Kirkuk’s people to explore locally generated options regarding the city’s administrative future.

The debate on Iraq is continuing, with all Security Council members, as well as Iraq, speaking.  Once that meeting has ended, Mr. de Mistura will go to the Security Council stakeout to speak to you, and I am told that there is still about half a dozen speakers on the list who need to speak.

Earlier, the Security Council voted to extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Timor-Leste by one year.

**Security Council on Somalia

And yesterday afternoon, the Security Council President, Ambassador Yukio Takasu of Japan, read out a press statement on the Council’s behalf condemning in the strongest terms the attack on the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) base in Mogadishu over the weekend.

Council members, he said, reiterated their commitment to support a strengthened AMISOM.  They also welcomed the ongoing political process in Somalia that led to the expansion of Parliament and the election of a new President, and they called on all Somalis to reject violence and extremism.

** Lebanon

In a report that is available as a document today, the Secretary-General says that all the necessary measures have been taken for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon to commence functioning this Sunday, 1 March.  On that day, Commissioner Daniel Bellemare will assume office as Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal and continue his investigations from The Hague.

The judges of the trial and appeals chambers will assume their responsibilities on a date to be determined by the Secretary-General, in consultation with the President of the Special Tribunal.  Meanwhile, the courtroom for the trials is expected to be ready for use by early 2010.

United Nations Legal Counsel Patricia O’Brien will attend the ceremony this Sunday in the Netherlands to mark the start of the Tribunal.  And then she will come back to New York to brief you, in this Room, about the Tribunal at 11 a.m. next Tuesday.

** Zimbabwe

A United Nations humanitarian mission to Zimbabwe wrapped up its work and reported that the country’s humanitarian crisis remained grave and called on both the Government and the international community to support efforts by the humanitarian community to strengthen its work there.

Some of the most acute manifestations of Zimbabwe’s complex humanitarian crisis include one of the world’s worst outbreaks of cholera and up to 7 million people in need of food aid.

Catherine Bragg, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the United Nations Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, who led that mission, said, “Despite tremendous efforts by both the Government and the humanitarian community in Zimbabwe to contain the cholera epidemic, major challenges remain.” 

She spoke of the need for continued food assistance and resources to help Zimbabweans improve food security.

The mission stressed that the welfare of the people was largely the responsibility of the Government of Zimbabwe.

Meanwhile, according to the World Food Programme (WFP), the food crisis in Zimbabwe has reached its peak.  WFP is aiming to provide monthly relief rations to 5.1 million of the most vulnerable people in both February and March -– the two hardest and hungriest months before the annual maize harvest starts in April.

** Colombia

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes is back in New York following his three-day visit to Colombia.  He said he had an honest and constructive dialogue with the Government on the humanitarian situation in Colombia.  He noted good progress on laws about internally displaced persons and on resources being made available to address their needs.  But more is still needed, he said.

Holmes also noted the likely effects of climate change in Colombia and the risks posed by increasing disasters such as floods.  In that regard, he stressed the importance of investing in disaster risk reduction and said that the United Nations is interested in working even more closely with the Colombian Government on this, as well as on natural disaster preparedness and response.  And there is more on this upstairs.  And we expect John Holmes to brief on the humanitarian situation tomorrow, and we will confirm the timing of the briefing by the end of today.


Five former high-ranking Yugoslav and Serbian political, military and police officials were today convicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for crimes against humanity committed in Kosovo in 1999.

Former Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister and two generals were each sentenced to 22 years’ imprisonment for crimes against humanity and war crimes.  Two other senior army officials were found guilty of aiding and abetting the deportation and forcible transfer of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, and each was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment.

The Tribunal’s Trial Chamber 3 said that former Serbian President Milan Milutinović did not have direct individual control over the Army, a federal institution; instead, it ruled, in practice, it was President Slobodan Milošević who exercised actual command authority over the Army during the campaign.  The former Serbian President was, therefore, acquitted on all counts.

** Sierra Leone

Just to recap -– yesterday, in Freetown, three former leaders of Sierra Leone’s rebel Revolutionary United Front (RUF) were found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the country’s decade-long civil war.

Former RUF Interim Leader Issa Hassan Sesay and RUF commander Morris Kallon were each found guilty on 16 of the 18 counts in the indictment.  Former RUF Chief of Security Augustine Gbao was found guilty on 14 counts.  All three were found guilty on charges relating to forced marriage and, for the first time in history, the three were also all convicted of specific war crimes relating to attacks on peacekeepers.  Sesay and Kallon were also found guilty on charges relating to the use of child soldiers.

They will face sentencing in the coming weeks.

**International Criminal Court

And we just got a further press announcement from the International Criminal Court.  They say that the decision of the International Criminal Court with regard to the prosecution application of 14 July 2008 for the issuance of a warrant of arrest against President Bashir of the Sudan will be announced during a press conference, which will take place on 4 March at the seat of the Court.  And that press conference will start at 2 p.m.; it’s obviously local time.  And there is a whole press release that they have just issued on the various media arrangements for that event.


And finally, celebrations took place in Shanghai, China, today to mark the 100th anniversary of the first international conference to control drugs -- the International Opium Commission.

Addressing the commemoration, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa cautioned that, despite progress over the past century, the drug problem has not been solved and reducing demand for drugs should be the number one priority.

He added that health and human rights should be at the centre of drug control efforts, stressing that, although drugs kill, Governments should not kill because of drugs.  And there is more on that in a press release upstairs.

And as I mentioned, Staffan de Mistura, will be heading out to the stakeout shortly.  And I will take some questions if you have any for me.  Ronda?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, Marie, I have a question about a report that was issued on 17 February by the International Commission of Jurists about the discrepancy between the laws of war and the laws of terror; I’m sorry, the laws of criminality, and saying that there is a problem with mixing those.  And it also refers to the listing/delisting that the Security Council is doing, and I wondered if the Secretary-General was aware of that report and if the legal advisories have been looking at that and trying to understand the significance of that report to what the Secretary-General does and supports because Mary Robinson was one of the people at the press conference.  This is a substantial report speaking to the problems of…

Deputy Spokesperson:  What is your question, Ronda?

Question:  The report was calling on the United Nations to help straighten out this confusion in the law…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I see.

Question:  …between the laws of war and criminality with regard to terrorism and is saying this is violating human rights and they asked that the United Nations lead the effort to straighten this whole situation.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I see.  I am not aware of the documents that you refer to, but, if you bring it to our attention, we’ll look into it for you.  Masood.

Question:  Marie, the Secretary-General announced as far back as 4 February the appointment of a special, what do you call, head of a special fact-finding mission.  Why is it taking such a long time for the Commission to be formally formed and start functioning?  Why is it taking such a long time?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I assume you’re talking…You didn’t mention the country; you didn’t mention what commission, but I assume you’re…

Question:  (Inaudible)…

Deputy Spokesperson: …all I can tell you, I’m sorry (interrupted)…

Question:  You and I remember that very much.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, and I really don’t have anything beyond what Michèle has already promised you; which is as soon as we have something more to announce, we will…(interrupted).

Question:  The question is only this:  Why is it that one question that is not being answered; why is it taking such a long time?  Why is the Secretariat taking such a long time?  There must be a reason, I am sure, valid or invalid (inaudible), what have you.  But there must be a reason.  Why is it taking such a long time?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know the reason Masood, and all I can tell you is that, as soon as we have it, you’ll be the first to know.  Yes.

Question:  (Inaudible)…about this programme broadcast in Israel mocking (inaudible) the prophets of Jesus and Mary and Mohammad.  Did you hear about it and is there any reaction from the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I am not aware of what you are referring to.

Question:  It has been going on for two weeks and there is outrage in the Middle East and elsewhere in Europe even, about it.  I mean, why is such a thing with regard to the dialogue of civilizations, with the dialogue of religions ignored?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of the press reports to which you refer.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that the Secretary-General has repeatedly stressed the need to be respectful of all religions and, in that context, has supported the Alliance of Civilizations and other initiatives that can help to foster better understanding of religions and cultures.  At the same time, the Secretary-General would like to emphasize the need to ensure the freedom of speech, she added.]

Question:  On another matter; last Friday, and for the following few days, there were reports coming from Saudi Arabia that their religious police attacked pilgrims visiting Medina.  Did you get any reports on that and is there any reaction?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not seen a reaction to the reports to which you mention, but I will look into it for you.  Yes, Pat.

Question:  Yes, to back up what Masood was talking about, I am also writing about it; I’d like to be the second one to know when you get this information.  But I am coming across a lot of stuff online about even possible involvement of the CIA; not the United States Government, but the CIA, and I am wondering if it would help the Secretary-General if we printed out this stuff and we brought it in.  Would it help him clarify his thinking about the need for this panel on Benazir or would…(interrupted)?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Pat, the Secretary-General is well aware of the importance of the need for the panel, which is why he made the announcement he did and, as soon as we have the rest of the commission to announce, we will get it to you.

Question:  Well, the thing is we all know that the longer it takes to get, you know, to get worked on, noticed, whatever, resolved, the more it fades into the past, you know, and there is always the suspicion that interested parties -– not necessarily the Secretary-General; but maybe some countries would rather have that happen than to pursue it while…(interrupted).

Deputy Spokesperson:  I promise you the Secretary-General is taking the matter very seriously and working on it.  Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Marie.  Regarding Madagascar, is the Secretary-General or his Special Envoy there?  Are they undertaking a fact-finding mission or mediating mission or both?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just read to you what we had on Madagascar.  I have nothing beyond that for now.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Sure, Marie, a couple.  First, you said that Mr. Holmes will brief us, will give a briefing here on Sri Lanka.  Can you confirm that he will also be briefing the Security Council under other matters?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You’d have to talk to the Security Council President and ask him what he has on the schedule tomorrow.

Question:  I guess I only ask this because his spokesperson, you know, Ms. Bunker, had said there is no request, and then I am told by a P-5 Ambassador that there is a request.  So is he going to…it seems like you guys would know that. 

Deputy Spokesperson:  We only know the Security Council programme, as you know, at the end of the day, at which time we announce the programme.

Question:  (inaudible)…when he can brief?  That’s where I was told the delay was…that he was asked…(interrupted).

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, we have a monthly programme of the Security Council which comes out, which we update whenever we get something new on that.  Otherwise the daily programmes are updated at the end of the day.  So as of now, there is nothing on the schedule, as you can see.  So you’ll have to ask the Security Council President.  I am sure Ambassador Takasu will entertain your question.

Question:  And also, I want to ask you, in Sri Lanka, the editor of a newspaper, Mr. Vidyatharan, has been picked up without warrant to be questioned.  Reporters without Borders has condemned it and I am wondering if either the Secretariat or UNESCO or anyone in the United Nations system or the Country Team has any comment on it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not seen a direct comment on this, but I can look into that for you.  Khaled.

Question:  I have a question on a different subject.  There were reports about Iraqi refugees living in the United States and the fact that they are -- in light of the economic crisis -- they are facing problems after they were brought here by UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].  I was wondering whether the United Nations is doing anything for those Iraqis.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I put that query to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees -- their office in Washington, D.C., is their representative office for the United States.  So they would be the ones who would have something to say on that.  But I put a question in for you on that one.

Question:  On the Secretary-General’s trip in Tanzania, the Foreign Ministry there had said that the Pemba elders were going to try to give him a petition.  And now it’s reported that Fernandez-Taranco, the country representative, has met with the elders.  Was the Secretary-General made aware of the issues that the people from this Pemba Island were trying to raise and did he or Deputy Secretary-General Migiro have any comment or knowledge of what was…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am sure that he, like you, reads press reports on various issues.  I have nothing on that.  There is nothing on his schedule today.

Question:  And also, totally separate, can you confirm that a gentleman named Michael Browne has now just been named Deputy for Safety and Security Service in charge of safety within the United Nations Headquarters?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information, but I will look into that for you. 

Question:  Marie, on Gaza, do you have anything on the investigation in Gaza, any new information? 

Deputy Spokesperson:  The only information I had was that they left New York, they were in Jerusalem and I believe they’re crossing into Gaza today.

Question:  How about the Israeli investigation?  Did they come back to you with anything?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing new on that.  If there is nothing else for me, Mr. de Mistura is at the stakeout.  Have a good afternoon, thank you.

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