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

5 March 2009

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

5 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.

**Press Conferences Today

Our guest at the noon briefing today is Catherine Bragg, Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator.  She will discuss the humanitarian situation in Sudan.

Following the noon briefing, Rachel Mayanja, UN Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, and Radhika Coomarswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, will be joined by other speakers to brief on today’s commemoration of International Women’s Day and the Secretary-General’s “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” campaign.

And at 2 p.m. the Inter-Parliamentary Union will hold a press conference here to present annual statistics on women in politics.

** Sudan

We first have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Sudan.

The decision by the Government of the Sudan to expel 13 non-governmental organizations involved in aid operations in Darfur will, if implemented, cause irrevocable damage to humanitarian operations there.

The operations of these agencies are key to maintaining a lifeline to 4.7 million Sudanese people who receive aid in Darfur.  The Secretary-General stresses that these organizations provide humanitarian assistance to those who need it in a neutral and impartial manner.  As such, he appeals to the Government of the Sudan to urgently reconsider the above decision.

The Secretary-General is also concerned about the safety and security of national and international humanitarian workers in the Sudan and their assets.  The confiscation of equipment, money and other materials is unacceptable and must end immediately.

And we will of course have Ms. Bragg as our guest in a few minutes.

** Darfur

An update on the security situation in Darfur.  It is reported to be relatively calm.

The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that peaceful demonstrations in support of President [Omer] al-Bashir took place today in El Geneina and Zalingei in West Darfur.

Forces and police from the UN-AU Mission in Darfur, UNAMID, continue to conduct their routine activities as prescribed in their mandates.

UNAMID Police Commissioner Michael Fryer led a confidence-building night patrol to Abu Shouk and Al Salaam camps for the internally displaced.

During the last 24 hours, UNAMID conducted 19 confidence-building patrols, 8 escort patrols and 3 night patrols covering 28 villages and IDP camps throughout Darfur.  Escort patrols mean providing security to humanitarian personnel, UNAMID and other convoys, as requested.

** Sri Lanka

We also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka.

The Secretary-General is extremely concerned over the deteriorating situation for civilians trapped in northern Sri Lanka.  He strongly deplores the mounting death toll of civilians in the area of fighting, including a significant number of children.  There is an urgent need to bring this conflict to a speedy end without further loss of civilian life.  In this respect, the Secretary-General renews his call to the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to suspend hostilities for the purposes of allowing civilians to leave the conflict zone, and allowing immediate humanitarian access to them.

The Secretary-General calls on LTTE to remove its weapons and fighters from areas of civilian concentration, to cooperate in all humanitarian efforts calculated to relieve the suffering of civilians, and to immediately cease recruitment of children.

The Secretary-General strongly urges the Government to begin serious efforts to resolve the underlying causes of conflict.

** Sri Lanka -- Humanitarian Update

Over there in Sri Lanka, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says the conditions for the civilians still trapped in the war zone of Vanni have rapidly deteriorated throughout February.

Many civilians seem to have moved to the new zone and the UN estimates the number of civilians there is between 100,000 and 200,000 people.

Consistent reports of a heavy loss of life among civilians within the war zone continue, including large-scale loss of life due to individual shell strikes within the new, densely packed no-fire zone.

The United Nations places the numbers of killed and wounded civilians well into the thousands.  No actual verifiable numbers are available due to lack of access for relief workers to the area where civilians are trapped.

Conditions in the no-fire zone are understood to be squalid and overcrowded, with poor shelter, unsanitary conditions, extremely limited food stocks, water and drug supplies.  The UN has also received reports of deaths stemming from a lack of food.

The actions of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in preventing civilians from leaving, and recruiting adults and children as young as 13 years old have become more apparent.  Consistent reports from civilians recount killings by the LTTE of family members who attempt to cross the front lines, and the forced movement of civilians to locations of the LTTE’s choosing.

**Human Rights

On human rights, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay today said that combating impunity and racism -- as well as discrimination against women, indigenous people, minorities, migrants and other vulnerable groups -- are top priorities for her Office.

Introducing her wide-ranging annual report to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council, she underscored that discrimination is all too often at the root of other human rights abuses.

In the report itself, Pillay draws attention to the impact of the food, energy and financial crises, which is being felt “most particularly by those individuals and groups in society who were already marginalized and discriminated against”.

The High Commissioner also told the assembled delegates that discrimination against women triggers violence which has “reached the proportions of a pandemic”.  We have more on that in my Office.

** Afghanistan

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay today also presented her annual report on Afghanistan to the Human Rights Council, which expressed concern about the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, particularly regarding civilian casualties.  Pillay urged pro-Government forces and anti-Government elements to ensure greater respect for the protection of civilians, including women and children.

She noted a dramatic increase in threats and intimidation against women in public life or those working outside their homes, with many being forced to curtail their activities or abandon their jobs.  The report also says that freedom of expression came under significant threat last year, including through the killing of journalists, and Pillay warned that pressure on the media was expected to continue as the country heads towards elections.  We have copies of the report, as well as a press release, upstairs.

** Cyprus

On Cyprus, Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat met under UN auspices in Nicosia today.

Speaking to the press after that meeting, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, noted that, following a 90-minute tête-à-tête, the leaders continued their prior discussion on property issues.  He added that they had now referred the matter of property to their representatives, who were also currently working on governance issues and confidence-building measures.  The leaders will meet again next Wednesday, on 11 March, to discuss matters related to the European Union.  We have more on that upstairs.

**International Women’s Day

The Secretary-General this morning opened the observance of International Women’s Day here at Headquarters.  The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day -- which is observed annually on 8 March -- is “Women and Men United to End Violence Against Women and Girls”.  This ties in with the Secretary-General’s wider campaign “UNiTE to End Violence Against Women”, launched in 2008.

Addressing the annual session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Secretary-General said that violence against women was an attack on all of us, on the foundation of our civilization.  He spoke of his recent visit to Goma, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, stressing that he had spoken forcefully about sexual violence in the country to President Joseph Kabila.  I will keep speaking out against such unspeakable atrocities, he added.

We have these remarks upstairs, as well as a message by the Secretary-General.  You can also find in my office a press release with the events at Headquarters to mark this International Day.  And, of course, after the noon briefing, you’ll have the full briefing on that Day.

Among these events that we’re going to have at Headquarters, the Deputy Secretary-General, Asha Rose Migiro, will launch a new database on violence against women.

This database will provide the first “one-stop shop” for information on measures undertaken by Member States to address violence against women, as well as available data and statistics.

The Deputy Secretary-General is expected to stress the importance of this database for encouraging exchange on initiatives and ideas, and the transfer of promising practices.

The launch is at 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 2.

**International Labour Organization

The International Labour Organization (ILO) today warned in its latest report that the economic crisis this year is going to have a more serious impact on women than men in most regions of the world when it comes to unemployment trends.

In a statement for International Women’s Day, ILO Director-General Juan Somavia cited a number of policies to address the problem, such as insurance schemes that recognize women’s vulnerable position in the global market.

The ILO’s report indicated that the only regions where there is a narrower gender gap in unemployment rates are East Asia, the developed economies, the non-EU South-East Europe and the former Soviet republics.  We have more on that upstairs.

**Secretary-General -- Food Crisis

The Secretary-General this morning spoke to the students of the UN International School at a conference on the global food crisis, and he told them that the way the world grows, markets and trades food does not protect the poor, and the situation is getting worse.

He said that food is not just a commodity, and agriculture is not just a business.  Both are central to survival.  Realizing every person’s right to food is a moral and humanitarian imperative.

The United Nations, the Secretary-General said, is moving on two fronts: delivering immediate food and nutrition assistance, and improving longer-term food production and agricultural development.  He asserted: “Hunger is a stain on humanity.  The time has come to remove that stain -- forever.”  We have his remarks upstairs.

**Human Trafficking

Today in Vienna, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, launched the Blue Heart Campaign against human trafficking.  “There is a lot of ignorance about modern slavery,” Costa said, adding that the Blue Heart demonstrates solidarity with the victims of a crime that shames us all.

The Campaign will take advantage of social networking, encouraging the public to change their Facebook picture to a blue heart, upload the blue heart to their webpage, spread the word through Twitter and watch a video about human trafficking on YouTube.  We have more information in a press release upstairs.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And coming up, at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by Ambassador Jorge Urbina, Permanent Representative of Costa Rica, and he will brief on the Security Council’s upcoming mission to Haiti, which, as you know, happens next week.

Our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow, Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, will brief on his recent trip to Washington DC, where he met with high-level US Government officials to discuss climate change.

This is all I have for you. If you allow me, I’d like to invite right now Ms. Catherine Bragg to come on the important issue of the day, which is the situation in Darfur.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesperson:  If you have any questions for me I will take them very briefly, because we have a whole set of guests waiting in the room next to me, and I don’t want to keep the floor too long.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I was wondering if Julian Harston has left the Western Sahara, the UN presence, and is now covering Belgrade for the UN, and if so why he left Western Sahara.

Spokesperson:  (Inaudible) I don’t have the information for you right now.  Yes, Khaled?

Question:  A question concerning the statement the Secretary-General issued yesterday on the ICC resolution.  Is the Secretary-General asking President Bashir to hand himself over to The Hague?  It’s not clear in the statement.

Spokesperson:  I think the statement says “and the Secretary-General expects the Government to address the issues of peace and justice in line with resolution 1593 (2005)”.  This is what the statement said.  What States are to do when they receive those warrants is a matter for States, not the Secretary-General.  The warrants have been issued by the ICC, the Secretary-General recognizes the independence of the ICC process and has repeatedly called upon the Sudanese to abide by resolution 1593 (2005).  And this is all I really can add to this.

Question:  (Inaudible) Why not issue a statement if he supports the peace and justice and the resolution, why not state openly that President Bashir should…?

Spokesperson:  It’s not for him to say.  I think this is something for the States Parties to the Rome Statute, the States that have received communication of the arrest warrant, the Security Council members, it’s for them to decide how this is going to be implemented.

Question:  (inaudible) he doesn’t think (inaudible)?

Spokesperson:  It’s not part of his mandate, okay.  Anything else?  Yes, George?

Question:  Briefly, the report that you mentioned, the annual human rights report of Judge Pillay, is that something that will be available here shortly, or already?

Spokesperson:  Well, you can go upstairs and find it on their website.  They have it.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Tell me, this United Nations inquiry into the Gaza offensive which the Secretary-General was supposed to have, has it begun or is it going to begin soon?  When is it going to…?

Spokesperson:  The UN investigation into Gaza?  It has started.  It’s on the way.  As you know, the time frame we had set up was a month, and we expect to get very soon a report from them that will be submitted, as you know, to the Secretary-General, and then from there the Secretary-General will decide what to do about the conclusions.

Question:  I just want to know, has he talked with the Israeli parties about opening the crossings?

Spokesperson:  He has over and over again.  I mentioned that to you yesterday, Masood.  Yes?

Question:  Has he done that again recently?

Spokesperson:  I already answered that question yesterday.  I said he has been doing it over and over again whenever he speaks to them.  So there is nothing new I can add to what I told you yesterday.

Question:  Okay.  Now, is there any update on the release of the Palestinian prisoners being held by the Israelis?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have anything.  Okay, good.  Thank you all, and we have our guests coming in… yes?

Question:  Can I go to Haiti?

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s not the place to ask the question.  I think you should go to my Office and ask the question.  This is really not the place.  You can go to my Office and we’ll see what we have so far.  Thank you all so much.

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