Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

13 April 2009

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

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


And the spokesperson for the General Assembly president


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, everyone.

** Sri Lanka Statement

The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement made on Sunday by the Government of Sri Lanka that it will observe a two-day pause in offensive military operations.  This is less than the full humanitarian pause of several days that the Secretary-General had pressed for, but is nevertheless a useful first step and an opportunity to move towards the peaceful and orderly end to the fighting now so badly needed.

The Secretary-General called on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to take concrete and immediate steps to protect civilians by respecting the pause, for its full duration.

The United Nations has been in discussions with the Government of Sri Lanka and other concerned parties in recent months and weeks to explore ways in which the suffering of innocent people in the Vanni region can be brought to an end or lessened.  The Secretary-General has personally been involved through discussions with President Mahinda Rajapakse.

The United Nations will, therefore, do whatever it can to support this humanitarian pause and help end the grave predicament of civilians in the conflict zone, including through the provision of more aid to those still trapped in the zone.

During this period, civilians wishing to leave the conflict zone should be allowed to do so without any hindrance and should then be treated fully in accordance with international standards and principles.  In particular, the LTTE must allow civilians to choose whether they stay or leave.

This is a terrible conflict that must be ended as soon as possible.  In the meantime, with tens of thousands of lives at risk on the beaches of northern Sri Lanka, the Secretary-General calls on the Government forces to adhere scrupulously to the commitments of the Government about non-use of heavy weapons.  He also counts on key members of the international community to support this pause and to continue to do all they can to avert further death and suffering in Sri Lanka.

And we issued that statement, it’s upstairs and on the Web.

** Haiti

The Secretary-General met earlier today with Haiti’s Prime Minister Michèle Duvivier Pierre-Louis.  They discussed the donors’ conference for Haiti to be hosted this afternoon and tomorrow by the Inter-American Development Bank in Washington, D.C.  The Secretary-General stressed the fundamental importance of the conference in demonstrating the strong commitment of the international community to work with the Haitian Government to consolidate the country’s fragile stability.  The conference, the Secretary-General said, is the beginning of a process.  It is vital, he added, that the key reforms required for Haiti to fully realize its economic potential move ahead as quickly as possible.  They also discussed the upcoming senatorial elections in Haiti and the strengthening of Haiti’s institutions.

The Secretary-General will be heading to Washington this afternoon to attend the conference.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

As you know, the Secretary-General’s trip to Thailand was cancelled after the postponement of the ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) Summit and its related meetings.  The Secretary-General, in a statement issued on Saturday, regretted the postponement but said he understood the circumstances that led the Thai Government to take this difficult decision.

He said that he strongly values the long-standing relationship between ASEAN and the United Nations and their cooperation in various fields. He hopes for an early restoration of normalcy in Thailand and for the settlement of differences through dialogue and peaceful means.

On Saturday morning, the Secretary-General began an official visit to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, where he met the country’s President and Deputy Prime Minister.  He also spoke at the official opening of UN House, a compound in central Vientiane.  “At the UN House, we will all join forces to benefit the people of this country, especially those who need it most,” he said.  He also took the occasion to launch the second Millennium Development Goals Progress Report detailing Laos’s progress towards achieving the eight Goals.

**Security Council

On Saturday afternoon, the Security Council held brief consultations to discuss a draft text of a presidential statement on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea that was circulated by the United States.

Afterwards, the Council President, Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, said that he intended to call the Council to meet this afternoon to hold consultations on the draft presidential statement, with a view to its adoption.  We’ll let you know once any consultations are formally scheduled.

[The Associate Spokesperson later said that a formal meeting to adopt a presidential statement would be held at 3 p.m.]

** Fiji

In a statement we issued on Friday, the Secretary-General expressed deep dismay at the abrogation of the Constitution of Fiji, the dismissal of the judiciary, a declaration of public emergency and a clear attempt to prolong rule by an unelected executive by setting a new time frame of five years for parliamentary elections.

The latest measures are a clear rejection of the legal process and are contrary to the stated common objective of returning the country to an elected Government as soon as possible.  The Secretary-General strongly deplores these steps and calls for urgent action towards their reversal and the restoration of a legitimate Government and constitutional order.

** Sudan

On Sudan, the second regular meeting of the Darfur Human Rights Forum will be held tomorrow in West Darfur’s state capital, El Geneina.  This one-day forum will bring together officials from the Government of Sudan at the local and national level; members of the Advisory Council on Human Rights, which also represents the Government; members of the diplomatic community; the African Union; and human rights officials from the two UN peacekeeping missions, UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] and UNMIS [United Nations Mission in the Sudan].  It will also include participants from the Darfur State Committees on Combating Violence against Women and Children.

The purpose of the Forum is to promote transparent and constructive dialogue on human rights issues between the Government of Sudan and UNAMID.  It will also form part of the ongoing efforts by UNAMID to support the Government in the discharge of its responsibilities in the promotion and protection of human rights.

During the past 72 hours, UNAMID reports that the security situation in Darfur is relatively calm; however, carjacking incidents and banditry activities continue to occur in most parts of North and West Darfur.

** Afghanistan

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said today that it was sickened by the senseless murder yesterday of a provincial legislator, Sitara Achikzai, in Kandahar.  The Mission described Achikzai as a committed and brave woman who served her country without fear in one of Afghanistan’s most volatile areas.

UNAMA condemned her murder in the strongest possible terms, saying that her killers have clearly shown their disrespect for true Afghan honour and traditions.  We have more in today’s briefing notes from Kabul, which also mention the start yesterday of a polio immunization campaign throughout the country.

**Children and Armed Conflict

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, will start a visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo tomorrow, 14 April.  The objective of her visit is to ascertain first hand the situation of children and ensure their greater protection in the ongoing humanitarian crisis.  Coomaraswamy will pay particular attention to the issues of children associated with armed groups, sexual violence, internally displaced and refugee children, as well as impunity for crimes against children.

During her week-long visit, the Special Representative will meet representatives from the Government and from civil society, among others, in an effort to address grave violations against children as part of the regional peace process.  And we have more on this upstairs.

**Child Marriage

We also have upstairs a statement by UNICEF Executive Director Ann M. Veneman on child marriage.

UNICEF is deeply concerned by reports that Saudi Arabian tribunals have decided not to annul the marriage of an 8-year-old girl.  Irrespective of circumstances or the legal framework, she says, the marriage of a child is a violation of that child’s rights.

The right to free and full consent to marriage is recognized in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Consent cannot be free and full when either party to a marriage is too young to make an informed decision, UNICEF says.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

In terms of press conferences, at 11 a.m. tomorrow, the General Assembly President, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, will be here to brief on the General Assembly’s Financial and Economic Summit, which is scheduled to take place from 1 to 3 June 2009.  And we’ll have the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President, Enrique Yeves, brief you here once I’ve finished.

Are there any questions before we turn to Enrique?  Yes, please.

Questions and Answers

Question:  Good afternoon, Farhan.  In light of the events of last week and then the events over the weekend on the coast of Somalia, does the Secretary-General have any reaction?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have any specific reaction to this beyond the fact that the Secretary-General, as you know, has repeatedly called for Member States to cooperate in order to combat piracy in the international waters off the cost of Somalia, and so he welcomes any sign that the Member States are working together to address the situation of piracy.  But beyond that we have no specific comment on the weekend’s events.

Question:  Yes, Farhan, thank you.  I was wondering again if there is a specific date for the official handing of the Board of Inquiry report to the SG, and how much time shall we expect after the official handing until we get something out of that report?

Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, that report, we said last week, would require another roughly two weeks before it was presented to the Secretary-General.  We said that in a statement in the middle of last week.  And so, I would say it will be another week or so before we expect it.  Once the Secretary-General has received it, he will then make a decision about further action, and that would include a decision about how it would be transmitted.

Question:  So you don’t expect anything to happen in terms of officially handing the report this week?

Associate Spokesperson:  Not so far.  If that changes, we’ll certainly let you know.

Question:  Sure, Farhan.  On this statement about Fiji; I wanted to know, there’ve been right at the transfer between the previous Secretary-General and the current one, there was a statement that if Fiji didn’t return itself to democracy, the UN would stop using Fijian peacekeepers, that was essentially what had been said.  Given this expression of deep dismay, what does the current Secretariat intend to do in terms of the continued service or following up on the previous statements about peacekeepers from Fiji, given the abrogation of democracy?

Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of that, at this stage what we’re going to do is evaluate any future contributions of Fijian peacekeepers to UN peacekeeping on a case-by-case basis.  And we can certainly let you know what the decisions are once we’ve done those evaluations.

Question:  [inaudible]...the thing that came up was that they’re serving in Iraq and then it was said if this is deep dismay, is there any change in the UN’s policy?

Associate Spokesperson:  There is nothing to report about the people who have been serving with distinction protecting UN staff in Iraq so far.  If there is any change, like I said, I will let you know.  But right now what we’re doing is evaluating this precisely on a case-by-case basis.

Question:  And also, last week I’d asked about this contract with Petrocelli Electric that the UN has, in light of the indictment of the founder of the company.  Over the weekend The New York Times reported that the FBI says that the founder is connected or has associations with the Genovese crime family.  So what I’m wondering is now given... if you accept that report is true in The New York Times, what is the UN going to do about these contracts?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, Michèle told you what we’re doing in terms of that, and what she said last week hasn’t changed.

Question:  So the current contract is going to continue?  How long does the current contract run?

Associate Spokesperson:  Right now, they’re suspended from the list of vendors, but we do have, of course, our current facility needs.  So we have an existing contract.  But I believe she mentioned to you the suspension last week and...

Question:  For future business.  I just want to know how much the current business is and whether this new report makes any changes.

Associate Spokesperson:  I think she mentioned to you what the details of that contract were.  But I can just re-submit that over to you if you don’t have those details.

Question:  I don’t think she said either length or dollar value or any of the details.

Associate Spokesperson:  No, I think she mentioned what the services are.  So, I’ll get that over to you.

Question:  There were reports over the weekend on Friday of some sort of demonstrations on the borders between Algeria and Morocco, and I was wondering whether there was a demonstration by Polisario, pro-Polisario, there was a landmine and protests by Morocco.  I was wondering whether if there is any reaction from the SG or from MINURSO on these acts?

Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of that, MINURSO is looking into what the precise details of these events are, and so they are trying to get some further information about it.  I believe we’re aware that Morocco has written to the Security Council about this and so it would be up to the Security Council to see how or whether it wants to react.

Question:  But the SG or the MINURSO office will determine whether what happened is a violation of the ceasefire agreement between the two sides?

Associate Spokesperson:  At this stage, first they’re just trying to obtain more information and then we’ll see what happens once they’ve done that.

[The Spokesperson later said that MINURSO was able to monitor part of the so-called “1,000 Column Demonstration,” organized by the Frente Polisario in protest against the Berm.  Military observers from MINURSO saw approximately 600-800 civilian demonstrators inside the Buffer Zone.  They reported that, at a certain point, the crowd became unruly and a number entered a known mined area, and several demonstrators threw stones towards Moroccan Army soldiers on the other side of the Berm.  MINURSO’s observers heard a mine explosion and saw that five of the demonstrators were injured, and the demonstrators dispersed shortly after this incident.  MINURSO staff did not hear shots fired or observe demonstrators in possession of weapons, and are unable to confirm whether shots were fired.]

Question:  Do you have any update on Moldova?

Associate Spokesperson:  Nothing further.  You’ve seen the statement that the Secretary-General issued last week, and that’s where we stand on the question of Moldova.

Question:  This is on Sri Lanka.  There have been some reports that in the camps that have been set up outside the conflict zone from which people can’t leave and can’t receive visitors, that there are some UN staff in these camps ‑‑ from OCHA [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] and some of the specialized funds programmes and agencies.  Is the UN aware of any of its staff members that are either held incommunicado or are in camps that they can’t leave from?  And if they’re aware, what’s the UN doing about securing their freedom of movement and release from these camps?

Associate Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that one, but we’ll check with OCHA and see what they have to say on that.

[The Spokesperson later said that, among those tens of thousands of people who have managed to flee the No Fire Zone in northern Sri Lanka, OCHA is aware that some United Nations and non-governmental organization staff and their dependents have managed to flee as well.  As far as OHCA knows, they are still in the camps for displaced people set up in the area, and the United Nations has repeatedly asked the Government of Sri Lanka to allow them freedom of movement so that they can eventually resume their role as aid workers.  While the Government has repeatedly given assurances that this request would be met, the staff still remains in the camps.]

Question:  Sorry, I just wanted to ask you ‑‑ maybe this question has been asked ‑‑ in view of this crisis, this Somalia piracy crisis, I just wanted to find out whether the Secretary-General is going to revisit this issue and ask the Security Council to form some sort of force, a UN force for Somalia and so forth, in order to avoid this incident of piracy?  Was the questions asked?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Security Council has been dealing with this issue.  And you’ll remember that late last year they adopted resolution 1851 on Somalia.  So I’d refer you back to the language of that resolution, which discusses the sort of international cooperation that the Security Council wants to see in terms of dealing with piracy off the coast of Somalia.

Question:  At that point in time, when that resolution was issued, I talked to the Pakistani ambassador.  He said that he had suggested in some conversation with the Secretary-General that the Pakistani Navy is willing to patrol the area if given the opportunity.  Has that issue being visited at all or not?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether Pakistan has approached the Council about this.  Like I said, the Security Council is the one that came out with resolution 1851; so you might want to check with the Council presidency whether this has come up.

Question:  On North Korea; just one question, another question.  Will the Secretary-General at any point in time revisit the North Korean Special Representative issue since Mr. Kofi Annan?  His last Special Representative was removed and no one has been appointed since.

Associate Spokesperson:  What we’ve been trying to do is we’ve been in touch with the authorities in the DPRK to see whether we can open up a line of communication to deal with the issues between the United Nations and the DPRK.  So we’re working on that, and so far those discussions have been proceeding fairly smoothly.  We don’t have any appointments to announce so far, though.

Question:  One follow-up on Somalia.  The report of the Somali... three were killed and one is going to be supposedly put on trial in the United States and he is [reported to be] 16 years old.  I’m wondering whether the UN has any view on the 16-year-old, whether these issues of children and armed conflict might be involved; whether you expect the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on the issue has considered at all the age of the pirates involved and whether this [inaudible]...?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, you know we still haven’t been formally informed about this particular incident, so there is no reaction from us in that regard.  You might want to check with Ms. Coomaraswamy’s Office whether they have any reaction.  I am not aware of what the precise age of the person who was apprehended is.

With that, I will turn over the floor to Enrique.  Thanks very much.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you, Farhan.  Good afternoon to everybody.

I have today a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly on the situation in Sri Lanka.

The President of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, welcomes the announcement of the ceasefire declared yesterday by the Government of Sri Lanka, hoping that it is a defining step that will enable the beginning of peace negotiations and an end to further violence in that country.  The President has been very concerned about the tens of thousands of people who are facing a humanitarian disaster in the eastern part of Sri Lanka.  He noted the lack of adequate food, water and sanitary conditions arising from military operations, as well as aerial bombings that have injured many civilians.

“Negotiations between the warring factions are the only way to a peaceful resolution of the conflict and this requires an end to military action and sending urgent humanitarian aid to the civilian population,” the President declared, adding:  “In these situations, military solutions are not solutions.”

Mr. d’Escoto reminded all concerned parties of their obligation to do all they can to protect civilians and stressed that civilians should be allowed to leave the conflict zones.

The statement will be available in a few minutes online at the President of the General Assembly home page.  In any case, we will have some copies available.  My colleague has some copies available for you in case you need them.

On another front, the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Revitalization of the General Assembly will hold its first meeting on this coming Wednesday, 15 April, at 10 a.m.  As you probably know, President d’Escoto appointed last 9 April two co-chairs to facilitate the negotiations on the revitalization of the General Assembly:  Ms. María Fernanda Espinosa, Permanent Representative from Ecuador, and Mr. Morten Wetland, Permanent Representative from Norway.

And finally, a reminder.  As Farhan just mentioned, the President of the General Assembly will hold a press conference here tomorrow, Tuesday, at 11 a.m. on the upcoming Summit on the Global Financial and Economic Crisis that will take place here in New York from 1 to 3 June.  And this is all I have for you, unless you have any questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I just want to clear up, I guess, the President’s statement on Sri Lanka.  When he says aerial bombings, I just want to be clear that this is... given reports that the Tamil Tigers no longer have an Air Force they once had, is this a recognition that these bombings are done by the Government?

Spokesperson:  He is referring to the military bombings that are going on right now in Sri Lanka.

Question:  From the air?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  No more questions?  That was easy.  Thank...  Oh, that was too easy!  Yes.

Question:  Did you have a response about whether there would be something about the Security Council reform, a presentation?  You said you’d find out to see...?

Spokesperson:  We have not been able to discuss it yet.  But as I said, this week we will take a decision on when we can have such a briefing.  Still, as you know, the last of the first rounds of negotiations will take place on Monday.  So after that we will somehow make a briefing, if Ambassador Tanin can come.  Otherwise, I will do it myself.

Thank you very much.

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