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

9 April 2009

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

9 April 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.

** Sri Lanka

The Secretary-General and President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka spoke again today about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Vanni region and their shared concerns about the civilians still trapped in the area. 

The President understood the Secretary-General’s deep preoccupation with the fate and condition of the civilian population.  They agreed to continue to work together urgently on ways forward in the coming days.

The Secretary-General reminds all concerned of their obligations to do all they can to protect civilians, and stresses that civilians should be allowed to leave the affected areas.

**Security Council -- Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Security Council held an open meeting this morning on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at which it heard from Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and the head of the UN peacekeeping mission there, known by the French acronym MONUC.

In his briefing, Mr. Doss spoke of the progress made on the ground, particularly in the east.  Members of some armed groups have declared an end to fighting and their readiness to integrate into the Congolese army, he said.

However, he said protecting civilians in such a huge area is a challenge, especially given the resources required.  In this respect, he said the Mission still needs certain important capacities.  For example, MONUC’s ability to respond quickly to emerging threats and to protect civilians is curtailed due to a lack of an additional 18 helicopters required for rapid deployment.

Mr. Doss is currently in consultations with the Security Council.  Depending on what time that finishes, he’ll be my guest here today, hopefully in a few minutes, or he’ll be able to speak with you when consultations end, at the stakeout area.  Of course, we will let you know which one.

We also have copies of his briefing notes available for you upstairs.

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary-General is currently travelling to Asia and will arrive in Laos on Friday evening.  He plans to open the UN House in that country during his official visit.

On Sunday, he will co-chair the third UN-ASEAN [Association of South-East Asian Nations] Summit with the Thai Prime Minister in Pattaya and hold bilateral meetings with a number of regional leaders on the margins of that Summit.

By the time you come to work here next Monday morning, the Secretary-General will be back in the United States, where he will attend the donors’ meeting on Haiti in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.  The Inter-American Development Bank will host the meeting, which is co-chaired by the Bank’s President and Haiti’s Prime Minister Michéle Pierre-Louis.  The meeting is intended to renew the international partnership with Haiti and to seek additional support for its priority reconstruction programme.

**Deputy Secretary-General

This weekend, the Deputy Secretary-General will leave for Spain.  She’ll first stop in Madrid where she’ll meet with senior Government officials, including the First Vice-President of the Government of Spain, the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Gender Equality.

The Deputy Secretary-General will then go to Barcelona to give opening remarks at the high-level meeting entitled “Relations between the UN and the European Union:  Towards an Effective Multilateralism”.  She will also meet with the President of the Parliament and the President of the Catalonian Government, among others.

The Deputy Secretary-General will then leave for Canada, where she will address the Montreal Summit on the Millennium Development Goals.

** Pakistan

On Pakistan, the United Nations notes with serious concern the killing of three Pakistani Baloch leaders today.  They were members of the Balochistan Quam Dost Committee that was recently formed by the Government of Pakistan to investigate the case of missing persons in the province of Balochistan.

The United Nations calls on the Government of Pakistan to immediately investigate these murders and to ensure that the Balochistan Quam Dost Committee continues its important work.  The United Nations extends its condolences to the families of the deceased.

And I would like to welcome Alan Doss who is with us.  He will be the guest at this briefing in a few minutes.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has condemned the recent rash of piracy off the coast of Somalia.  Ould-Abdallah said that these acts of criminality must not be allowed to follow the same path of impunity of the past, adding that international naval presence off the Somali coast should be increased and strengthened.

He also said that the proliferation of these acts of piracy was an insult to international legality.  He asked the international community to bring a new support to the Somali authorities to help them address effectively the root causes of piracy.

He noted that the United Nations and the African Union, together with the League of Arab States, the Organization of Islamic Conference and the European Union/European Commission would meet on 23 April to support Somalia and address its security situation.  We have more on that upstairs, and I would remind you that the Secretary-General will also attend that conference.

** Burundi

On Burundi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, has welcomed the demobilization of 112 children, including two girls from the Forces Nationales pour la Libération (FNL) last week in Burundi.  FNL also committed to facilitate the future separation of another estimated 200 children identified in their ranks in the near future.

Coomaraswamy said that the demobilization and reintegration into the communities of former child combatants had to remain a priority in Burundi.  We have more, of course, in a press release upstairs.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

With reference to the question on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea's launch, during our press briefing yesterday, the Office for Outer Space Affairs (OOSA) has informed us that, as of today, they have not received any information from DPRK under the Outer Space Treaty nor the Registration Convention with regard to the launch.

As I said yesterday, DPRK acceded on 10 March to the two international treaties governing the activities of States in outer space:  the Outer Space Treaty and the Registration Convention.  Following accession to the space treaties, the Permanent Missions of DPRK to the United Nations in New York and Vienna contacted the Office for Outer Space Affairs on queries related to obligations of States parties under both the Outer Space Treaty and the Registration Convention.

DPRK also officially informed the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO) of its intent to launch an “experimental communications satellite”.

If you want to know more about the work of the UN Office for Outer Space affairs, please go to their website:  http://www.unoosa.org/.

**Report on Mediation

And in a report to the Security Council that is out on the racks today, the Secretary-General examines the work the United Nations has done in providing mediation assistance to parties in conflict.  He points to the need for experienced and knowledgeable mediators and support teams and sufficient resources to provide assistance at an early stage to help bring about sustainable peace.

The Secretary-General says that, given the centrality and proven cost-effectiveness of skilled third-party mediation, it is surprising that so little attention and resources have been devoted to building this capacity within the United Nations.  He recommends steps to strengthen conflict prevention and resolution through early UN engagement, to professionalize operational support to mediators and to develop the next generation of UN mediators.  He also calls for gender balance to be fostered in senior mediation posts.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, in Kabul today, two experts from the independent UN working group on the use of mercenaries briefed the press about their visit to Afghanistan.  They said that a draft law recently submitted to the Afghan Parliament on private security companies, which would include their oversight and monitoring, is a positive development.  We have more in today’s Kabul briefing notes upstairs.

**Former Yugoslavia

And on the judicial front, the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia today ordered the provisional release of Kosovo’s former Minister for Culture, Youth and Sport from the Tribunal’s Detention Unit.

Astrit Haraqija’s release was ordered after he completed a five-month sentence imposed for contempt of court.  He was convicted last December of trying to persuade a prosecution witness not to testify in the trial of former Kosovo Albanian military leader Ramush Haradinaj.

** Fiji

And I have just received a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Fiji.

The Secretary-General takes note of the ruling of the Fiji Court of Appeal which declared, among other things, that the removal in December 2006 of the elected Government was unlawful and the appointment of the interim-Government unconstitutional.  The Secretary-General appeals for calm and urges full respect for human rights, the rule of law and the judicial process.

The United Nations has also learned of the outcome of the meeting convened by Commodore Voreque Bainimarama on 9 April, which included a number of political parties, while excluding a number of major ones, and the position taken at that meeting with regard to the President’s Political Dialogue Forum to be jointly mediated by the United Nations and the Commonwealth.

The United Nations, in consultation with the Commonwealth, will be reviewing its role in mediating a national dialogue in light of these developments and the prior understanding that the dialogue must be broad-based, inclusive, time bound and without prejudice as to its outcome.

** Namibia

And other notes on Namibia, a UN disaster assessment and coordination mission in Namibia has reported that humanitarian needs following the floods there include shelter, water and sanitation, health care and food.  A detailed report of needs per affected region has been presented to the Government and the United Nations country team.

UN agencies have requested the deployment of additional staff to support the flood response effort.  The number of people displaced by the floods has increased to 54,581.  Serious damage to roads and bridges is hampering full access to an estimated total of 344,000 affected people.

** Sudan

On the Sudan, UNICEF says that the President of the Government of southern Sudan, Salva Kiir Mayardit, will tomorrow officially launch the first ever Child Act for Southern Sudan.

Speaking on the eve of the Act's official launch, Peter Crowley, Director of Operations for UNICEF's Southern Sudan Area Programme, applauded the efforts of the Government to build a society in which children can grow and develop to their full potential.  He said that the legislation is a major milestone in creating a protective environment in which children can enjoy their rights to health, education and other basic services and be protected from abuse.  There is more in a UNICEF press release upstairs.

** Bonn Talks

The latest round of UN Climate Change Talks in Bonn, Germany, concluded yesterday.  Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said that countries now had the necessary clarity to move into intensified negotiations during the next round of talks, in June. 

During the Bonn Talks, countries discussed how to strengthen international cooperation on reducing emissions and adapting to climate change impacts, among other topics.  According to UNFCCC, the talks narrowed gaps in many practical areas and countries gave their green light to prepare the negotiating texts for the next round of talks.

The Bonn Talks were the first in a series of meetings scheduled for this year in the run-up to Copenhagen, in December.  The next round of negotiations will be held from 1 to 12 June, also in Bonn, Germany.

** Holiday

And just to let you know, UN Headquarters in New York will be closed tomorrow for the Good Friday holiday.  The noon briefing will resume next Monday, 13 April.

**The Week Ahead

And we also have upstairs the Week Ahead.  And the Week Ahead, on Saturday, the Secretary-General, as we had announced before, will be in Vientiane, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, on an official visit.

On Sunday, 12 April, he will be in Pattaya, Thailand, to co-chair the summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United Nations.

Next Tuesday, the Secretary-General will address the high-level donor conference on Haiti, in Washington.

And at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann briefs on the General Assembly’s financial and economic summit, which is scheduled to take place from 1-3 June.

And next Friday, the Secretary-General will deliver the opening keynote address for the 2009 Princeton Colloquium on Public and International Affairs.

We have, of course, the full Week Ahead upstairs.  Any questions?  And make it quick because Mr. Doss is waiting.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you Michèle.  There are military planes, or there are military planes going over Shab’a Farms and also Israeli Army activity in the town of Ghajar.  Any reaction from the UN or UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon]?

Spokesperson:  Well, let me check first with our people there about the information itself and we’ll get back to you on a possible reaction. 

[The Spokesperson later said that UNIFIL continues to record several Israeli overflights and has protested to Israel about these violations and has informed the Security Council about them.]

Question:  Has the Secretary-General been called upon in the American piracy incident that yesterday you said, or did you mention that earlier, did I miss that?  Has there been any involvement with the UN or call for or appeal by the Secretary-General for the release of the hostage?

Spokesperson:  We have had a reaction from Ould-Abdallah on this, and we don’t have something specific on the side of the Secretary-General.  As you know, there have been many incidents of that sort in the Gulf.

Question:  I have a follow-up, briefly…

Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  …but it’s about the release of John Solecki, again, from Pakistan, maybe you have commented another day, so I apologize.  Have you, but now that he’s free, what does the UN know about the group that took him hostage, about their demands, has there been any follow-up investigation now that he is free and how does the UN feel now that he is now back in New Jersey?

Spokesperson:  Well, right now, we feel extremely relieved; we put out a statement immediately after his release this past weekend.  We talked about his state of health.  He has asked to be left alone for a little while because he needs to recuperate, and we’re very happy that he is back home.  In terms of the follow-up, I will check for you what has been done in terms of an investigation on the subject, on what happened. 

Question:  Michèle, you just made a statement on Balochistan, but in view of the constant protests from the Pakistan Government about growing attacks inside Pakistan, has the Secretary-General taken a position as yet on drone attacks…?

Spokesperson:  You asked me that yesterday, Masood.  You asked that the day before.  I do not have a specific reaction to that at this point and you can be sure that I will let you know as soon as I have one.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General made his position known on this announcement by the United States to join the Iran talks with other five nations; China, Russia, in Vienna?

Spokesperson:  …I can tell you the Secretary-General welcomes, of course, this development and he hopes for an early resolution of this issue in accordance with the relevant Security Council resolution, and this is all I can tell you at this point.

Question:  Sure, Michèle, I’ll try to go quickly.  In this readout of the Secretary-General’s call to the President of Sri Lanka, at the same time that this call took place, there are reports there that an ultimatum has been given to this “No Fire Zone” that this is the last chance to give up, otherwise the army is coming in.  Was this something discussed on the call as well?

Spokesperson:  What was discussed was not that specific issue that you have mentioned.  What was discussed was what can be done to help the civilians trapped in the Vanni region, and that’s what they discussed, what could be done.  And…

Question:  Did the President commit to not doing an assault in the No Fire Zone…?

Spokesperson:  I am not at liberty to tell you the details of what was said; but the call was to get that and the call was made by the Secretary-General to the President.

Question:  Michèle, there is a sense of foot-dragging by the United Nations regarding this investigation of Gaza.  Doesn’t that really impact adversely on those people, the victims in Gaza for delaying this report week after week, month after month…?

Spokesperson:  It’s not month after month; it’s not week after week.  It was supposed to be…

Question:  Well, it was supposed to be on 30 March.

Spokesperson:  …It was supposed to be out on the 7th.

Question:  No, it was supposed to be on [inaudible]…

Spokesperson:  …It was 30 March, then 7 April and the people actually who are in charge, Ian Martin’s commission, they went to the Secretary-General, they briefed the Secretary-General on their work and they have asked to finish, to actually writing the actual final report.  And that’s what they’re doing.  It’s an independent investigation, an independent commission.  I would like to mention again, it is not about everything that happened in Gaza.  It is specifically about what happened, the death, injuries or damage done within the area of UNRWA’s [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], you know, the schools and the other facilities of UNRWA.

Question:  Can you categorically say that there will be no re-editing of the report?

Spokesperson:  No, there will be no re-editing of the report.  The report will be given to the Secretary-General as Ian Martin and his group have written it.  In terms of what will be published and what will be in the media, I said it last week, I will say it again:  I said there will be considerations in terms of actual confidentiality issues, privacy issues, issues that will be decided by the Legal Department.  And the Secretary-General will decide when he gets the report what to do about it.

Question:  Michèle, this human rights group Amnesty International and other human rights groups have complained about the new Nepali Government violating women’s rights, human rights in Nepal, since the takeover.  Of course, you know what preceded before this happened.  They’re saying that they had given promises that they would protect the human rights of the women and they’re not doing it.  And they have written to the United Nations.  Has the Secretary-General received such…?

Spokesperson:  They have written certainly to the Human Rights Council and, of course, the issue is with them at this point.  Yes, the last one really.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment about reopening the case of the Nigerian environmentalist Ken Saro Wiwa, who is now, his hanging is now being taken up by the Alien Tort Claims Act in the United States with accusations that Shell Oil actually manipulated the execution?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have any independent information on that and I have no reaction at this point.  Yes.

Question:  It came up yesterday, so I wanted to before, to give you a chance to opt to respond to it.  On this appointment to the board to the Global Compact of the businessman [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  You got your answer yesterday.

Question:  Is that the answer for the Secretary-General?  Does he…?

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s the answer for the people who are in charge of the Global Compact.

Question:  But didn’t Ban Ki-moon appoint him?  I mean, I guess I just want to say, people that look at it and say a South Korean businessman that’s appointed…

Spokesperson:  And you had a full answer yesterday. 

Question:  Okay, so I just…

Spokesperson:  You had a full answer.

Question:  That’s the answer.  Okay.

Spokesperson:  We’ll stick to that, yes. 

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