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

3 March 2009

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

3 March 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.

**Statement on Haiti

The Secretary-General recently invited [former United States] President Clinton to participate in a visit to Haiti.  This decision is based on the attention devoted by President Clinton to Haiti while in the White House, his service as the United Nations Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery after the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake, and most recently on his Call to Action on Haiti at the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) in September 2008.  The visit builds on the Secretary-General’s continuing work with President René Préval to identify an action plan to achieve economic security for the people of Haiti.  The plan focuses on the generation of employment opportunities, food security, reforestation and the provision of basic services, including health care. 

The presence of the Secretary-General and President Clinton will bring a strong message of hope that Haiti is still “winnable”.  The trip will help to focus attention on the importance of new partnerships and new efforts to assist the people and Government of Haiti as they continue to “build back better” from recent storm damage and create a more stable and prosperous future for the children of Haiti.

**Security Council

The Security Council met this morning to adopt its programme of work for the month of March.  And at 12:30, Security Council President Ibrahim Dabbashi will brief you in this room about the Council’s work over the coming month.

Also, under other matters, Council members heard a briefing on the killings of the President and Chief of General Staff in Guinea-Bissau, by Sam Ibok, Deputy Director of the Africa II Division of the Department for Political Affairs.

The Council is now in a formal meeting to condemn the two assassinations in the strongest terms, and called for restraint, the maintenance of stability and the constitutional order, and respect for the rule of law and the democratic process.

The Council President is also expected to issue a press statement today welcoming the commencement of the functioning of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

** Gaza

On Gaza, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, while international donors gathered yesterday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, to raise funds for the reconstruction of Gaza, aid agencies continued to experience restrictions and delays in delivering aid supplies to the Strip.

OCHA notes that more than 80 per cent of all goods currently allowed into Gaza by Israel are basic foods.  But other essential goods, including supplies and equipment needed for rebuilding, and even early-childhood development kits and toys from UNICEF, are being kept out.

For its part, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) is working with the Palestinian Authority on a project aimed at compensating farmers in Gaza for their losses during the recent military operations. Meanwhile, UNICEF remains concerned that the nutritional status and general health of children in Gaza is likely to deteriorate given the dependency of Gazan families on food aid and cash assistance, as well as their lack of access to clean tap water. We have more on Gaza in the Spokesperson’s Office.

** Lebanon

And this just in from the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  They have informed us that this morning 15 rifle shots were fired from the Israeli side of the Line of Withdrawal in the area of El Adeisse.

A UNIFIL investigation team visited the location to ascertain the circumstances of the incident and investigations are still ongoing.  Preliminary findings on the ground show that at least two shots impacted on a wall approximately 50 metres from the Line of Withdrawal into Lebanese territory.  There were no reported injuries.

This is a serious incident and a violation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).  UNIFIL has protested to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

The UNIFIL Force Commander, Major General Claudio Graziano, has been in contact with the senior commanders of the Lebanese Armed Forces and the IDF in this regard, and UNIFIL patrols are at the location.

This happened this morning around 10:15; that’s the time this was reported.

** Darfur

Turning to Darfur, the security situation in Darfur has been reported to be relatively calm.  Forces of the African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) are conducting their normal activities, including robust patrolling, and they are closely monitoring the situation throughout the region.

Ninety-three members of the Egyptian infantry battalion arrived in El Fasher today, as was planned and reported yesterday.

Further to yesterday’s report about a shooting incident at the Manawashi market in El Fasher, North Darfur, UNAMID was advised that a group of militiamen were firing in the market and had attempted to loot shops, allegedly due to their discontent with not having received salaries.  One person was killed and six wounded in the incident.

** Nairobi Office

And the Secretary-General has appointed Achim Steiner as Director-General of the United Nations Office in Nairobi (UNON), effective 1 March.  Steiner has been the Executive Director of the Nairobi-based United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) since June 2006, a position he will continue to retain.  Steiner is succeeding Anna Tibaijuka as Director-General of the Nairobi Office.

The Secretary-General made this decision in view of his policy of rotation among his senior managers.  Ms. Tibaijuka will continue to serve as the Executive Director of the Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat), a position she has held since 2002.  

The Secretary-General is grateful to Ms. Tibaijuka for the valuable support and direction that she has provided UNON during her tenure as Director-General since 2006.  He is counting on her continued leadership as Executive Director of UN-Habitat.

**United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

A new UNESCO analysis highlights the potential impact of the economic downturn on internationally agreed human development targets.  The document estimates that reduced growth in 2009 will represent 20 per cent of the per capita income of Africa’s poor -- a figure that dwarfs the losses sustained in the developed world.  The findings also highlight wider human-development impacts, including the prospect of an increase in infant mortality.

The analysis -- prepared by the Education for All Global Monitoring Report team -- was presented at the first session of the UNESCO Future Forum, held in Paris.  That Forum focused on the impact of the financial and economic crisis on multilateralism and UNESCO.  And there is a UNESCO press release on this upstairs.


And the number of people who are above the age of 50 and have HIV may be increasing worldwide.  But doctors seldom consider screening them for HIV, thus delaying diagnosis.

That’s according to an article published today in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO).

The article adds that older individuals are less likely to practise safe sex. And they experience faster progression rates from HIV infection to AIDS. And there is more on that upstairs.

**International Maritime Organization/UN Development Programme

And finally, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have launched a new alliance with the Global Environment Facility and four major private shipping corporations.   The goal is to tackle the devastating environmental threat of so-called “bio invasions”.

UNDP and IMO note that when ships discharge water into the sea, potentially harmful species of plants and animals from one geographical area are released into a new one.  Once these species are established, they are extremely difficult to eradicate.

The alliance will help to develop cost-effective water treatment technologies and new ship-design options.  And there is more upstairs in a press release on that subject.

And as I mentioned, the Security Council President should be coming down here shortly, and then we’ll have to turn the floor over to him.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, Marie, is there any comment from the Secretary-General on the terrorist attack on a bus in the Pakistani city of Lahore in which the Sri Lankan team was travelling?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have an official statement attributable to the Spokesperson, but the Secretary-General and we strongly condemn this attack and offer our sympathies to the victims and their families.  Any attack targeting civilians, in this case athletes, is despicable and unjustifiable, and we urge authorities in Pakistan to do all in their power to find the culprits and bring them to justice.  Masood?

Question:  Maybe you have already said it, have you announced any candidate for the UNDP post now that Mr. Derviş is about to leave?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing to announce on the replacement for Mr. Derviş.

Question:  Also, have you finally announced the formation of the commission for fact-finding for Benazir Bhutto?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I have not.  It’s still being worked on and, as soon as we have it, we’ll announce it.

Question:  There are these reports from Cambodia that the UN-assisted Tribunal there, that the employees may walk out due to the lack of funds.  There is also a report from the German legislature that the UN has somehow acknowledged that some employees paid kickbacks to get their jobs there.  What’s the UN going to do about this funding crunch at the Tribunal to look into more than 1 million dead in Cambodia?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not familiar with the reports.  I know you tried to raise the question just about half an hour ago, so I’d have to look into that for you.

Question:  Right.  Also, you announced now that the replacement of Ms. Tibaijuka by Mr. Steiner in Nairobi.  There are reports and pictures of a staff protest of that action.  So I am wondering if the UN… first of all you said because of rotation.  Where else has the Secretary-General instituted rotation and has he received, beyond just the staff protest, has he received any enquiries from African countries or the African Group about switching a UN office in Africa from an African to a German, and from a woman to a man?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any other protests received, and the issue of rotation and mobility is something that the Secretary-General has put very highly on his agenda since he took office.  This is something that he’s been promoting for staff throughout the UN system and I think that, as he mentioned today, this is in view of that vision of his. 

And in terms of Ms. Tibaijuka’s service, I just want you to look at the press release that was issued in Nairobi, in which he does express his gratitude for Ms. Tibaijuka’s valuable support and direction that she provided as the head of UNON during her tenure as Director-General; and she is continuing as the head of an important UN organization, UN-Habitat, and he is counting on her continued leadership in that.

Question:  Following up from yesterday’s question about the missing art, and I think yesterday you said something about that they got us some details from the Department of Management and they were kind of disputing the OIOS report, and that there was an official registry of all gifts.  Do you have any update on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing official to give you, but if you have specific questions you’re welcome to ask them to the Capital Master Plan (CMP) Office.  But just to clarify for anybody else who is listening, the report that you mention, which was written up in a news report yesterday, is an OIOS audit report that has been made public by Member States, so it is available for everybody to see, and there are recommendations made to the Department, and I did check with the Department and all the recommendations are being followed up.  So that’s all I have for now.  For the specific questions, right now, I don’t have anything more on that.  They will get back to me and we’ll have something for the briefing, but if you have specific questions, if you can address them to the CMP Office, that would be great. 

Question:  I think you mentioned it before, is the Secretary-General going to speak to the press tomorrow?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’re expecting the Secretary-General to have his monthly press conference, as scheduled, as soon as he arrives.  He’s arriving, I think, sometime later today, so we’re going to have to coordinate with him to get a time and I will announce that as soon as we get it.

Question:  But is it going to take place tomorrow?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Tomorrow, most likely not.

Question:  I just have some little question to follow up on that art story.  You mentioned yesterday, Marie, that you’d check into the veracity of the Financial Times article.  What about the article itself?  Was that accurate in your estimation, from what you’ve learnt?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, that’s what I am waiting for, to hear about the accuracy of the press report.  But the report itself is, as I mentioned to you, on the website for you to look at.

Question:  And then I had a question.  When is the last time the Secretary-General spoke with President Bashir, and does he intend to speak to him before tomorrow’s announcement that we expect…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He spoke recently during his travels to Africa and, if you look at his recent press comments, I think he makes it clear with conversations he had with the President over the upcoming announcement that everybody is anticipating.

Question:  But does he intend to speak to him between now and tomorrow morning?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, he’s on an airplane, so I don’t know.  So the answer is, I don’t know.  Matthew again, and then behind you?

Question:  Has the UN received any request from Bangladesh for any involvement in investigating or enquiring into the so-called border guards’ mutiny?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We had a statement on that which we read out to you yesterday and on Friday.

Question:  There is at least one press report saying that a request has been made for UN involvement in investigating it as well as to…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond the statement as of now.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that the United Nations has received a request, conveyed to its Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh, for assistance regarding investigations into the mutiny last week.  That request is being studied.]

Question:  Okay. Also, can you state whether the UN receives computer services from Satyam…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe my Office responded to that question to you.

Question:  Did you?  I didn’t…

Deputy Spokesperson:  If they’re listening maybe they could resend it. 

Question:  Does Satyam provide services to the UN through the International Computing Centre?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have the answer, but I believe that that answer was sent to you.  I don’t have the guidance with me right now, but you had a whole bunch of questions that I think we try to process as expediently as possible.

Question:  Just one more follow-up on that art missing.  You mentioned that some missions have this on their websites, I can’t find it.  Someone in your Office said that it was on the US-UN website, it’s not on that.  Do you know where else you could find the OIOS report?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I can guide you to it if you want me to look on the computer for you.

Question:  Just a technical follow-up to the (inaudible) Cambodia.  These allegations of corruption on this Tribunal have been around for almost two years.  Is there an ongoing investigation into these allegations?  Is there anything currently taking place, I guess, to look into these allegations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Cambodia Tribunal questions, yes, I will look into that for you and I’ll get back to you after the briefing.  Masood?

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that, regarding allegations on corruption in Cambodia, this continues to be a topic the UN is pursuing with the Cambodian Government.  The UN continued its high-level discussions with the Cambodian Government on 23 February on all issues related to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC).  Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Peter Taksoe-Jensen represented the United Nations.  The discussions also focused on the work of the Joint Sessions, which are working to establish a mechanism to address the allegations of corruption.]

Question:  Are you aware, is there a shortlist of UNDP candidates at all, that you can tell us about?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, as I mentioned earlier, the process has been conducted in a way to ensure maximum transparency.  The Secretary-General wrote to all Member States, there was an ad placed in the Economist, I am sure you all saw that.  And as for the shortlist, it was decided not to make that public to ensure privacy for the individual candidates.

If there is nothing else for me, if you can just hang on a few seconds or minutes, we’ll get the Security Council President in here as soon as we can.  Thank you.

* *** *

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