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

30 March 2009

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

30 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.

**Secretary-General in Qatar

The Secretary-General addressed the Summit of the League of Arab States in Doha today, telling the gathered leaders that, from the widening fallout of the global economic crisis to the suffering of victims of armed conflict, the Arab world faces insecurity today and the potential for more tomorrow.

He said that the people of Gaza are suffering, and the situation at the crossings is intolerable.  The way forward is a durable ceasefire, open crossings, and Palestinian reconciliation, he asserted.

The Secretary-General said that he remains extremely concerned by the Sudanese Government’s decision to expel key international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and suspend the work of three national NGOs that provide life-sustaining services for more than 1 million people.  He urged the Sudanese authorities once again to reverse this decision.

The Secretary-General added that he looks forward to free and transparent elections in Lebanon on 7 June.  And he added that the present situation in Somalia offers a rare window of opportunity.

Prior to the Summit, on Monday morning, the Secretary-General met bilaterally with the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States, Amre Moussa.  Also on Monday, he held bilateral meetings with the Secretary General of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the Foreign Minister of Norway and the President of the United Arab Emirates.

On Sunday, he held separate meetings with the Emir of Qatar and the Presidents of Lebanon, the Palestinian Authority, Somalia and Syria.

** Afghanistan

The Secretary-General is travelling to The Hague, where tomorrow he will address the International Conference on Afghanistan and call for international support as the people of Afghanistan face a critical year.

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), in a press briefing in Kabul today, said that tomorrow’s Conference will be an opportunity to review progress and consolidate support behind the priorities for the country that were agreed last year in Paris.  It said that we hope for a renewed and tighter collective focus on security, jobs and better governance.

UNAMA today is holding a consultation with media groups on freedom of expression in Afghanistan.  Today’s meeting aims to provide a constructive dialogue on ways to promote and protect freedom of expression.  We have more details in the Kabul briefing notes.

** Darfur

On Darfur, the Tripartite Committee meeting bringing together the Government of Sudan, the African Union and the United Nations on ways to facilitate and expedite deployment of the AU-UN peacekeeping operation in Darfur (UNAMID) is scheduled to take place tomorrow in El Fasher, Darfur.

The Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Susana Malcorra, is travelling from UN Headquarters to attend that meeting, which is also intended to facilitate the work of UNAMID in Darfur.

UNAMID reports that it will be the first time the Tripartite Committee is meeting in Darfur.  A communiqué is expected to be issued following the meeting.

Meanwhile, on the ground, UNAMID reports that, during the past 72 hours, the security situation in Darfur has remained relatively calm.  However, banditry activities and carjacking incidents were reported in both North and West Darfur.

The mission also reports that a fire broke out last night at Al Riyad camp for internally displaced persons, near El Geneina in West Darfur.  The fire caused heavy damage to about 35 shelters, the loss of many animals, and left a large number of people homeless.  A UNAMID investigation team was dispatched to the camp to probe the cause of the fire.

And the advance party of the second Egyptian infantry battalion, consisting of 100 personnel, arrived in Darfur today to join UNAMID.  Another 100 personnel are expected to arrive tomorrow.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo says it will support the nationwide electoral review process for local elections.  The operation will kick off in the Kinshasa and Bas-Congo provinces in June and will expand in August to the rest of the vast country.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Alan Doss, has welcomed the move and he has assured the Congolese Independent Electoral Commission of UN support along the lines of the Mission’s mandate.  He says the review process for local elections will complete a national endeavour that began in 2005 with the identification and enrolment of all eligible voters.

And for your planning purposes, we are working to have Special Representative Doss give a press conference here in this room on Wednesday morning.  Hopefully, he will be here on time.

** Haiti

On Haiti, UN assistance to Haiti’s planned elections -- scheduled for 19 April -- is taking shape with the arrival last week in Port-au-Prince of a first batch of materials, and the UN Mission’s, MINUSTAH’s, disclosure of some details of its electoral assistance plan.

With voter registration, the printing of ballots and the training of electoral workers now completed, and some 9,500 polling stations in place, the Mission is now in possession of some 100 tons of equipment.  These include 12,000 electoral kits just flown in to Port-au-Prince that are now being dispatched to voting centres across the island.  Also, 4,000 electoral security workers will be on hand to keep the peace on election day.  That’s in addition to some 6,500 UN peacekeepers and more than 1,800 civilian staff, 11 aircraft, 950 vehicles and some 300 horses and mules that will be deployed to ensure the success of the operation.

We are hoping to have Hédi Annabi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, here to discuss this with you.  In the meantime, you might want to read an op-ed by the Secretary-General in today’s New York Times online edition on his recent trip there, in which he outlines some of his priorities for Haiti.

** Namibia Floods

In Namibia, UN agencies and their humanitarian partners today launched a flash appeal for more than $2.7 million to support and complement the Government’s efforts to respond to the immediate and medium-term needs of up to 350,000 people affected by floods.

Since the beginning of 2009, the north-central and north-eastern regions of Namibia have experienced torrential rains, increasing the water levels of some rivers to levels not recorded since 1963.  Over 16 per cent of the population of the country is affected by the flooding and 92 people are estimated to have lost their lives.

**Climate Change -- Bonn

The first in a series of major UN negotiating sessions this year, designed to culminate in an ambitious and effective international climate change deal in Copenhagen in December, got under way yesterday in Bonn, Germany.

The issues of finance and technology required by developing countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the inevitable effects of climate change are at the heart of the talks in Bonn, along with discussions on reductions to be achieved by industrialized countries after 2012.

The Bonn session should provide the basis for a negotiating text of the Copenhagen agreed outcome, which will be tabled in June.

Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, warned that the clock was “ticking down” and urged countries to make progress during the negotiating sessions before the December gathering in Denmark.

About 2,500 Government delegates and participants from 175 countries are in Bonn for these talks, which will conclude on 8 April.

**Gender Equality

The Secretary-General addressed the Global Symposium on Engaging Men and Boys in Gender Equality -- held in Rio de Janeiro -- in a video message yesterday.

He noted that, in too many countries, women are still not seen as equals in the eye of the law or the minds of men and boys.

No country and no culture has fully escaped this prejudice, he said, adding that violence against women was the most obvious and hateful expression, but that inequality also exists in the home, in schools, in the workplace and in the halls of power.

The Secretary-General stressed that men and boys must play their part in the effort to achieve gender equality.  We have that message upstairs.

**Clarification on Resolution 1559 (2004)

I would like to clarify a point that was made at our briefing on 20 March regarding the mandate of the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1559 (2004).

The mandate of the Special Envoy derives from resolution 1559 (2004), which aims at reaffirming the strict respect of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, unity and political independence of Lebanon under the sole and exclusive authority of the Government of Lebanon throughout Lebanon.  The Special Envoy also reports on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1680 (2006).

Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) pertains inter alia to Lebanon, as well, and it re-emphasizes the importance of implementing resolutions 1559 (2004) and 1680 (2006) in full.  However, it also contains several elements which are distinct from both these resolutions, and the Secretary-General reports separately on its implementation.

And that’s all I really have for you today, thank you.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, can I just clarify the statement that you just read?  So are you trying to say that basically Mr. [Terje Roed-]Larsen has nothing to do with 1701?

Spokesperson:  Well, 1701, Mr. Michael Williams, who is in charge of 1701, yes.

Question:  So you’re basically trying to sort of correct what was said earlier about…?

Spokesperson:  I wasn’t correcting.  What I am saying, there was some confusion apparently on who has what mandate, and several questions were asked of me after that.  So I just wanted to clarify each mandate, which are different mandates.

Question:  Thank you.  If I might just ask a question about President Bashir, Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s activities today in Doha, Qatar, and whether he met with any other Sudanese officials, other than the President.

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  Does he plan…?

Spokesperson:  He did not meet with the President.

Question:  I know that he’s not going to meet with the President.  Does he plan to meet with the Vice-President, the Foreign Minister…?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  Am I correct in… I was told there was a meeting in Moscow on Afghanistan that the Secretary-General was attending on the 27th, 28th?

Spokesperson:  Yes, he did go to that.  Now he is in Doha, and he is going now to The Hague.  And in The Hague there is another meeting on Afghanistan.  They are separate meetings.

Question:  The same participants who were in Moscow will be in The Hague?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know who the participants are.  You can certainly find out from the website of The Hague meeting.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General issued any statement on the meeting in Moscow on Afghanistan?

Spokesperson:  He has.  His speeches are on the web.  You can consult them, everything is there.

Question:  Michèle, does the Secretary-General or do you have any reaction to the attack by the terrorists on a Pakistani police academy this morning in Punjab?

Spokesperson:  No.  This is something that we have been following closely, but I don’t have direct reaction today.

Question:  Will you have one later on that I can…?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know yet.  But, as you know, there has been an intensification of violence recently, and we’re following that very closely.

Question:  What about this, do you have a readout on OIC [Organisation of the Islamic Conference] with the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know, but I can get one for you from our people travelling with him.

[The Spokesperson later said that the meeting with the OIC Secretary General included discussions of OIC-United Nations relations, Israeli-Palestinian relations, the humanitarian situation in Gaza, Somalia and Sudan.]

Question:  Michèle, the UN-sponsored Khmer Rouge war crimes tribunal kicked off today in Cambodia against the protests of the defence team, who said that there were kickbacks and corruption preceding this.  They also said that they’d brought to the Secretary-General complaining about this.  Is the Secretary-General aware of an investigation into the war crimes tribunal there conducted by the OIOS, and if so, does he have anything to say about that?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General certainly is aware of that investigation.  I cannot comment on issues that may affect an ongoing legal process, as you know.  What I can really say at this point is that corruption within the court has been under investigation by OIOS and, as you know, that work is confidential.  The result of the probe will be submitted to the Cambodian party for further action.  As you know, we signed an agreement, a joint statement with the Cambodian Government dated 23 February 2009.  Among other things, this creates a new structure within the tribunal that would allow all staff of the ECCC [Extraordinary Chambers in the Court of Cambodia] to confidentially complain to an ethics monitor in a way that would provide genuine protection.  This protection is the bottom line for the United Nations.  And as I said, the OIOS report will be submitted to the Cambodian party once we receive it.

Question:  Do you have any clarification though on why, if the UN is sponsoring and helping fund this tribunal, why if there is an ongoing investigation into corruption that it still is going forward without any protests from the UN?

Spokesperson:  These allegations concern some Cambodian judges that have been named by Cambodia.  So this matter is not for us to act upon.  What we can do is refer all our investigation, the whole thing and what was found about kickbacks as well as corruption of judges, we have to forward this to the Cambodian party and they have to act on it.

Question:  Are there any specific names, or anybody specific…?

Spokesperson:  Not that I can reveal right now, because at this point, as I said it is under investigation.  Yes, James?

Question:  Thanks, Michèle.  Following on from Masood’s request for a readout of the meeting between Ban and the OIC chief, can we also get readouts of his meetings with the [ United Arab Emirates] President, Qatar’s Emir and Amre Moussa?

Spokesperson:  Yes, sure you can get that.  We’ll get that for you from Brenden who is travelling with him, and from Ahmad Fawzi who is the Spokesperson at this conference.  Yes?

[The Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General and Amre Moussa discussed Israeli-Palestinian issues, Somalia and Sudan.  The Secretary-General and the United Arab Emirates President discussed the United Arab Emirates’ contributions to food security, the Nahr al-Bared in Lebanon, Somalia, Gaza and mine clearance in southern Lebanon.]

Question:  Actually I’ll do a follow up on Larsen, that’s something else.  On this statement that you read out, is the Secretariat going to revise the framework that it produced which was subject (inaudible) in the just finished Fifth Committee session, subject to increased, very specific, line by line criticism?  Is this statement now going to be incorporated into a new framework that will be issued or to the framework that the ACABQ…?

Spokesperson:  Well, right now the framework, the matter, is in front of the Fifth Committee, and as you know, the Fifth Committee just acted on it.  So I think this should stay within the realm of the General Assembly.  In terms of the mandate itself, the mandate can be redefined only by the Security Council, as I said last week.  It’s not a matter for the Fifth Committee.

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to ask about two issues about Kenya.  One is that there are these reports following up on Philip Alston’s report about police killings in Kenya that some 30 human rights activist and lawyers have gone into hiding because they think they’re going to be killed because they cooperated with the UN on the report.  Is the UN aware of it, and what’s the UN going to do for people that actually worked with the UN on this report?

Spokesperson:  This report was made to the Human Rights Council and it is a matter for the Human Rights Council to take decisions on.

Question:  But if it’s true what these people say that they’re in fear of their life because they cooperate with the UN, does the Human Rights Council have any safety or security service?  What’s the procedure?

Spokesperson:  The Human Rights Council does not have its own security services, if that’s what you’re asking.

Question:  Just to go back to the Secretary-General’s activities in Doha.  I was wondering whether by any chance, you know, his reaction to the Arab leaders call, I mean, we heard it from the Syrian President, from others who’ve spoken in the session today, asking the Security Council to defer under article 16 and seeing the ICC resolution is being not so helpful…?

Spokesperson:  I’ve said over and over again it is not a matter for the Secretary-General of the United Nations.  If the members of the Arab League are making appeals to the Security Council, it’s a matter for the Security Council to examine.

Question:  But since the Secretary-General is also responsible for this huge UNAMID force, the United Nations has a stake involved.  I was wondering whether he is going to use his good offices to solve this issue even if he has no mandate.

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is fully aware of the full span of his responsibilities.  He that we’re responsible for the political process; not responsible, but we’re engaged in encouraging the political process that is taking place right now.  We’re also very strongly engaged in trying to find a solution to the expulsion of the humanitarian workers over there.  So, we’re definitely, and we have, as you mentioned, a peacekeeping force there.  So the Secretary-General is fully aware of the full range of his own responsibilities and is trying to do as much as he can within the range of what he can do.

Question:  On Friday, Michèle, in response to a question, you said that the UN is still gathering information on this reported Israeli attack on a convoy in Sudan.  Have you gathered enough information to make your observation…?

Spokesperson:  No, I do not. I do not have enough at this point.

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  The IDF in Israel has announced that they found no wrongdoing during the Gaza war, according to the latest investigation that they have undertaken.  Have these results been communicated to the Secretary-General and does the UN have any response to that?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, they have not been communicated to us yet.

Question:  Do you expect that they will be?

Spokesperson:  We had asked for them, yes, we had.

Question:  How about the Board of Inquiry report?

Spokesperson:  The Board of Inquiry, as I said earlier, the Board of Inquiry report is coming up around 7 April.  It’s going to be submitted to the Secretary-General, and then the Secretary-General will decide what to do after examining the conclusions.  Yes?

Question:  Madagascar and money.  On Madagascar, there are these reports that there now, counter-protesters, supporters of the former President are protesting of being tear-gassed several days in a row.  I know that he’d made this call that things should be consensual.  Is the Secretary-General, does this seem like it’s been consensual?  Is there… What follow-up by the UN, given its engagement, is there going to be?

Spokesperson: Well, there is a follow-up.  As you know, we have a Special Adviser who is there now, who is supposed to go back -- if he is not there yet, he should be there shortly.  He was here in New York last week for consultations, and the process is we’re trying what we can within the limitation of what we can do.

Question:  Alright.  The other issue is money, very quick money question.  There seemed to be over the weekend some controversy about how much savings were made by the UN’s participation in “Earth Hour”.  I saw an article that said that it was $81,000, and then another article said it was a $100.  How much was actually saved by turning off the lights for an hour, if…?

Spokesperson:  I think it’s putting the emphasis on the wrong thing.  I don’t know, I don’t have the exact number.  The emphasis should be it was a general worldwide effort to try to, it was not save money for the UN, that was not the objective.  The objective was to attract attention to energy use, it was to attract attention on climate change, and I think it achieved that.  When the lights went off at the Empire State Building, it attracted attention, maybe even more than it did right here at the UN.  So I don’t think it’s that important to find out what the exact number was.  I think we got conflicting numbers from different buildings management and different other management groups here within the building.  So I am not sure of what the final number is.  However, I really want to stress that was not the objective.

Question:  There is something I had asked I think about a week ago upstairs, [on] two of the envoys.  One is Romano Prodi and the other is Mr. [Olusegun] Obasanjo.  How they are paid and how much they’ve been paid so far under each mandate?  Not without counting, but the Prodi question so far hasn’t been answered, I was told DPKO would be answering it but there is nothing… But for that report that you did no African peacekeeping and Mr. Obasanjo’s ongoing role, just to add some statement on it, what’s being paid in his case?

Spokesperson:  Okay, I’ll check for you.  I think in the case of Mr. Obasanjo it is that he is paid when actually employed.

Question:  It wasn’t clear whether his mandate was ongoing or whether it was a one-shot deal.  So if you could just figure that out.

Spokesperson:  From what I gather it was a one shot deal.

Question:  (Inaudible) how much it was…?

Spokesperson:  We can try to get in touch, or put you in touch with the people who can give you an answer.

[The Spokesperson later added that Romano Prodi’s contract finished when his Panel concluded its work last December.]

Question:  (inaudible) clarification please.  Why is the report of the Board of Inquiry delayed, because it was supposed to be end of March…?

Spokesperson:  Yes, because the Board of Inquiry asked, they finished gathering the information they needed.  They just needed a little more time to actually, reach, write their conclusions.  And the fact that the Secretary-General won’t be back until about then.  So that’s when they will give it to the Secretary-General.  Okay, thank you.

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