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

14 April 2009

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

14 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Visiting Students

We are very pleased to have with us today a group of students from the Globalization and International Affairs Programme at Bard College, who are attending the briefing.  Welcome.

I know that some of you may have had some questions about the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).  So we do expect to have with us, just here to answer questions that you may have had, Stéphane Dujarric, the Director for Communications.  He will be here in a little while.

**Secretary-General in Washington

The Secretary-General today addressed the Haiti donor conference in Washington, D.C., and he stressed the need to support the plan presented by Haiti’s Government.  This plan, he said, would create thousands of new jobs in agriculture and manufacturing over the next two years, improve basic services and reduce Haiti’s vulnerability to natural disasters.  By acting now to translate this plan into action, he added, we will lock in the gains we have made in terms of political stability, and we will forge a renewed partnership built on a mutual commitment to place Haiti on a more sustainable social and economic footing.

The Secretary-General urged the donors to commit themselves to bring a measure of potential prosperity to the country, with the promise of a better life for millions of Haitians.

The Secretary-General also held a number of bilateral meetings in the margins of the conference, including with United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with the Canadian Minister of International Cooperation, Beverly Oda, and with Japanese State Secretary for Foreign Affairs Shintaro Ito.  And we’ll see whether we can get further details later today about those meetings.

**Security Council

The Security Council held a formal meeting yesterday afternoon and adopted a presidential statement on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

In that statement, the Council condemned the recent launch by the DPRK, which is in contravention of Security Council resolution 1718 (2006).  The Council reiterated that the DPRK must comply fully with its obligations under resolution 1718 and demanded that the DPRK not conduct any further launch.

In a statement we issued afterwards, the Secretary-General welcomed the adoption of the presidential statement, which sends a unified message of the international community on the recent launch by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

He further hopes that the Council’s unified response will pave the way for renewed efforts towards the peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues in the region, including through the early resumption of the six-party talks and the inter-Korean dialogue.

The Secretary-General stands ready to lend his full support to these efforts.

** Western Sahara

The Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation concerning Western Sahara is now available.

In it, the Secretary-General notes that his Personal Envoy, Christopher Ross, has suggested to the parties that one or more small, informal preparatory meetings be held to facilitate a next round of negotiations.

The Secretary-General recommends that the Security Council reiterate its call upon the parties to negotiate in good faith, without preconditions, and to show political will to enter into substantive discussions and ensure the success of the negotiations.  He also recommends that the Security Council extend the mandate of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO) for another year, until 30 April 2010.


In another report, the Secretary-General, notes with satisfaction the ongoing improvement in bilateral relations between Iraq and Kuwait, but again stresses the need to translate political statements of goodwill into concrete actions.

He suggests that a confidence- and cooperation-building period, lasting until July 2010, should be introduced to further encourage the parties to achieve visible and significant progress and to strengthen the patterns of their practical cooperation.  At the end of that period, he writes, the Security Council may wish to consider the matter and determine the future course of action.

** Sudan

On Sudan, the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that the security situation in Darfur has been relatively calm over the past 24 hours.

However, a UNAMID vehicle was carjacked by unidentified armed men in Zalingei, West Darfur, yesterday.  The incident was reported to Sudanese Government officials, and the vehicle was later recovered 30 kilometres north of Zalingei.

Meanwhile, UNAMID conducted 25 confidence-building patrols, 27 escort patrols and 6 night patrols covering 53 villages and camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).  UNAMID police conducted 93 patrols as escorts for women and girls to travel outside IDP camps to collect firewood.

** Somalia

On Somalia, according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), some 60,000 Somalis have returned to Mogadishu since the start of 2009.

But although such returns are usually a positive sign, UNHCR is not encouraging them right now, given Mogadishu’s volatile security situation and lack of basic services.

The agency is currently working to re-establish its presence in Mogadishu.  It is also leading UN assessment efforts, which will guide humanitarian aid and protection policies for the returnee communities.  And we have more on that upstairs.

** Durban Review Conference

As you know, the Durban Anti-Racism Review Conference starts next week in Geneva.  And the final session of the Conference’s Preparatory Committee starts in Geneva tomorrow.

The Chair of the working group established to negotiate the Conference’s outcome document has continued to consult informally on the significantly shorter “rolling” draft that was tabled last month.  A new, slightly revised version of that draft is expected to be submitted before tomorrow.  Once ready, that latest version will be posted immediately on the Conference’s official website: www.un.org/durbanreview2009.

Spokespeople have also been designated for the Conference -- both here and in Geneva.  And we will be happy to provide you with their contact information after the briefing.

**Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The company that operates most of Geneva’s public transportation system has joined up with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help raise funds for Congolese refugees.

Through the initiative, known as the “Gimme Shelter” campaign, a short film will be displayed on more than 200 buses, trams and trolleybuses in Geneva.  The film was shot in North Kivu Province and made by Academy Award winners Ben Affleck and John Toll.

The campaign’s goal is to raise funds that will allow UNHCR to get clean water and emergency humanitarian aid kits to Congolese refugees.  And we have more on that upstairs.

**Guest at the Noon Briefing Tomorrow

Our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, will be here promptly at noon to brief on the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka.

And like I said before, we have in the room right now Stéphane Dujarric, the Communications Director of UNDP who is available to answer any questions you might have about UNDP’s work.

Do we have anything further for me?  Yes, please?

Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, does the Secretary-General have any reaction or comments on the ratification of an agreement by the President of Pakistan with the Taliban?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has already made his concerns known about the situation in Swat valley, which is I believe the area that this agreement covers.  He had mentioned just a few weeks ago in his last press briefing in this room that he had some concerns about the video that had been shown of a woman being flogged in Swat valley, and he had mentioned that such violence against women is unacceptable, and he has discussed his concerns about violence against women in general.

Question:  But what about reaction to the agreement?

Associate Spokesperson:  That’s all we have to say for now.  He has been concerned in general about any agreements, including the one, by the way, recently in the neighbouring country of Afghanistan that might be discriminatory to women.  So he has mentioned that in the past.

Question:  Yes, Farhan, just to follow up on the report on Western Sahara.  I was wondering whether basically the quote, the main points in the report, that the situation is at a standstill, that we’re not seeing any resumption of the Manhasset talks any time soon.  And I was wondering whether we can have Mr. [Christopher] Ross for a briefing after his report or some time he thinks is reasonable.

Associate Spokesperson:  Okay, we’ll be in touch with the Department of Political Affairs and see whether we can get a briefing by Mr. Ross at some point.  At this stage, as we mentioned, the idea is to have some preparatory meeting.  So it may have to wait until after that.  But we’ll put in the request.

Question:  Is there any contact between the Secretary-General and the new Israeli Government with regard to the sticking issues in the Middle East, such as the blockade on Gaza and the withdrawal from the occupied territories in Lebanon?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General did have a phone call with Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu in the last couple of weeks since Prime Minister Netanyahu’s inauguration.  So he did talk about some of the issues in the Middle East at the time.  I don’t have any specific details to give.

Question:  Did they discuss Gaza?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, the situation in Gaza is one of the topics that came up.

Question:  First, on the Western Sahara report, is the Secretary-General, what’s his position on whether there should be dedicated human rights staff for the MINURSO mission?  That seems to be one of the issues of contest.  I’ve been reading it, it says that we have no staff and we call on the parties to uphold human rights standards.  Does he, therefore, not believe that it would be useful to have human rights staffers for this mission?

Associate Spokesperson:  I think that position in the report expresses where we stand on that.  Yes?

Question:  Just previous to your briefing, [General Assembly] President [Miguel d’Escoto] Brockmann said that… called the G-20 meeting a failure.  Does the Secretary-General share his assessment of that meeting?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has already given his views on the G-20 meeting, and they were expressed in a statement we issued at the time of the meeting, as well as in his own remarks to the G-20.  Those are the Secretary-General’s views on the matter, and we wouldn’t have any comment on the GA President’s own views.

Question:  What is the Secretary-General’s response to North Korea’s announcement last night subsequent to the statement you just read out earlier?

Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of that, of course, we continue to urge all parties to work within the six-party process.  And, as he said in his statement yesterday, we hope for a resumption of that process as well as of the inter-Korean dialogue.  If I have anything more to say on that later on, I’ll let you know.

Question:  A follow up question, please.  You stated that the position of the Secretary-General on the question of MINURSO handling the human rights file in Western Sahara is stated in the report, but basically I read the report, there is no position.  It states the position of each side.  So I was wondering, what’s the SG’s position on this request by the Polisario to include the human rights file to the mandate of MINURSO?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’ll see whether I can get anything further, but for now, the latest information we have on where we stand on the human rights issue there is what is written up in the human rights section of the report.

Question:  I just want to ask this on a follow-up question.  Can you actually deflect the speculation that the relationship between the General Assembly President and the Secretary-General is not very cordial?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has good relations with the General Assembly President, as indeed he does with quite a variety of the officials throughout the system that he deals with.  That doesn’t preclude them from having different views on matters, and certainly on the G-20, their views differ.

Question:  I want to ask you, after yesterday’s briefing, as you know, OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] has acknowledged that there are UN staff members that are being held in these IDP camps in Sri Lanka and not able to leave.  OCHA says that the Government was asked to release them and has not.  I wanted to know two things.  First of all, why didn’t the UN system say anything about this essentially detention of UN staff members for this period of time?  And two, what are the legal rights of these staff members?  Am I wrong that UN staff members have some type of privileges and immunities not to be detained, particularly in this case, where they’re not charged with any crime?  Why has nothing been said about this and what will be done starting today to do it?

Associate Spokesperson:  First of all, the United Nations does not disclose names and location of staff or their dependents.  As for contact with the staff, please note that the UN has access to all camps with displaced people in the Vani region, and therefore can contact UN staff as required.  We’ve repeatedly asked the Government of Sri Lanka to allow them freedom of movement so they can eventually resume their role as aid workers.  While the Government has repeatedly assured us that this request would be met, the staff still remain in the camps.

While the United Nations is relieved that some UN and NGO staff and dependents have been able to leave the “no-fire” zone, we reiterate our extreme concern about the estimated 150,000 people remaining in the zone.  We demand that civilians wishing to leave the conflict zone be allowed to do so without any hindrance.  And in particular the LTTE [Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam] must allow civilians to choose whether they stay or leave.  The Government of Sri Lanka must ensure that internally displaced people are dealt with in line with international standards and principles, including the need for transparent screening and registration processes, guaranteed freedom of movement and commitments to ensure a speedy return to their places of origin.

Question:  I understand that the Tamil Tigers are keeping people in the conflict zone.  I am asking two things.  Why didn’t the UN say anything about the denial of freedom of movement to its own staff?  How long has that been going on?  And does that comply with international law?  What are the rights of the staff members whose freedom of movement… have been detained… has been removed and for how long has that been going on?

Associate Spokesperson:  Like I’ve said, we have been pressing the Government to allow them freedom of movement.  I started out by saying that we don’t disclose the names and locations of staff and their dependents.  In an insecure environment, it is particularly crucial that we not do that.

Question:  But if you’re arrested in a country, for example, I’ve seen from this podium, announcements made of UN staff members, and you said: “We demand that they be released.”  Why wasn’t this done in this case?  And you just don’t keep their location confidential, i.e., say nothing about their detention, like if these people had freedom of movement denied, isn’t that detention and does that violate international law?  Is that something the UN is now accepting without saying anything?

Associate Spokesperson:  Like I just said, we are urging the Government to deal with all displaced people, including of course, our people, in line with international standards and principles.  And I specified what that entails.

Question:  Sorry, just from your statement you just read, does the UN not consider them detained if they have the ability to communicate with them?  I didn’t get that one section of the statement you just read.

Associate Spokesperson:  The point is that they’re not incommunicado, we do have contact with them.  At the same time, we have conveyed our own concerns about freedom of movement and yet, despite that, even though we’ve received assurances that our request would be met, the staff still remain in the camps.

Question:  What is the comment of the Secretary-General on mortar fire that was… the congressman who was… his plane was shot at yesterday at the Mogadishu airport?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have any specific comment on that.  Obviously we continue to be concerned about all of the level of violence in Somalia as a whole.

Question:  Farhan, is there any update on the activities of the technical commission for Benazir Bhutto’s assassination?

Associate Spokesperson:  The [technical team] has returned to New York and they’re in discussions with officials here at the UN.  I don’t have anything specific to say.

Question:  do you have a date for the publishing of the report?

Associate Spokesperson:  Not yet.

Question:  Do you have, for the commission that’s looking into things like Gaza, the report to the SG?

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s not done yet.  As we indicated last week, it might be about another week or so from now before it’s done.  So it’s not done yet.

Question:  Michèle said last week that it would be this week, she can’t tell us what day this week…

Associate Spokesperson:  No, no.  We had a statement last week, I believe last Wednesday or Thursday, that said it would be possibly another two weeks.  I can show you the statement.  But two weeks from then would be about a week from now.

Question:  This may be a transition to the UNDP presentation, but I know that Kemal Derviş, the former Administrator, is a special adviser or a special envoy of the Secretary-General?  It’s just been announced that he is now also working for (inaudible) Bank in Turkey.  I’m wondering whether you view this as any potential conflict and whether his role with the Secretary-General is an ongoing one.

Associate Spokesperson:  No.  He was a special adviser dealing with specifically one issue, the G-20 Summit, which has come and gone.  So that role has ended.

Question:  Okay. I’m sorry, there was one thing.  Weren’t there announced under Kofi Annan, right at the end, these anti-revolving door… I just want to know whether, for example, if the UN has any business dealings with (inaudible) Bank, does this in any way implicate the “revolving door” provisions if you go to work for an institution…?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t know enough of the details about that. That would be an issue I believe that if there were any conflicts he would need to report on.  That’s part of the bulletin that was issued, I believe, two years back.

Question:  Okay, thank you.

Associate Spokesperson: And that’s it for me.

Briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Director of Communications, UNDP

Good afternoon.

I think a number of you may have seen the article which appeared today in a newspaper here in the States regarding a report from the USAID ‑‑ the US Agency for International Development ‑‑ from their Inspector-General on UN reconstruction projects in Afghanistan.  While we at UNDP have yet to receive an official copy of the report, I thought it would be useful to come here today.  I have a few words to say and then answer any questions you might have.

Just a short word on the background of the project.  In 2003, USAID in Afghanistan approached the UN Development Programme and asked UNDP to take over their Provincial Reconstruction Team Quick Impact Programme, otherwise known as QIPS, which had experienced certain difficulties.  USAID also asked UNDP to use UNOPS, the UN Office Project Services agency, as the implementing agency in the QIPS project.  QIPS was intended as an urgent initiative to provide jobs for Afghans mainly in rural, remote and often inaccessible and insecure areas.  The emphasis was on the rapid creation of employment opportunities as much as on the completion and repair of infrastructure and provision of much-needed services to improve the well-being of the local communities in Taliban strongholds.  Much of the work involved repairs of roads, bridges, wells and clinics and not new construction, as such.  The vast majority of these projects were successfully completed.

Now, as mentioned, we’ve just now, just this morning, seen a copy of the Inspector-General’s report because it was published in the press.  We have not yet been given an official copy by USAID, it was never shared with us by USAID.  That being said, we are just now reviewing it and studying it carefully, and we’re clearly very disturbed by the issues that it raises.

But I do want to make few points very clear.  Regarding the monies that USAID has issued a bill of collection for, there have already been a number of meetings, including at the highest level of UNDP and USAID, to work through this matter.  We will be going through the vouchers with USAID to ensure that they are satisfied as to the validity of the expenses.  Again, any money that remains in dispute at the end of this process will be refunded by UNDP to USAID.  Our expectations are that this will not amount to more than $1.5 million.

No one is hiding behind any legal immunity as it has been implied.  Our relationships with our donors is our lifeblood.  If there are disputes, they are resolved amicably to the donor’s satisfaction.

After a quick read of the Inspector-General’s report, we recognize the lapses in the timing and quality of certain reports back to USAID, but we have been working for months to resolve any disputes with UNOPS and USAID and we expect to fully resolve these matters very soon.

On oversight, while this project was monitored regularly, UNDP’s Acting Administrator has begun an internal audit of this project to ensure we explore all of the allegations and, just as important, to make sure that any reporting or communications procedures with donors are strengthened where they can be strengthened.  UNDP is as angry as anyone about the reported misbehaviour of UNOPS or other employees in Afghanistan during the period of 2003-2006, and we fully support UN action against any individuals involved.

UNDP is committed to improving the lives of people in Afghanistan and has a good and close working relationship with the US Government and agencies such as USAID.  We’ve been implementing significant programmes in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban, including, often under very difficult circumstances, preparations for the Loya Jirga, the elections that took place in 2004, and preparations for the elections that are going on now.  To this day, USAID and the State Department have supported UNDP programmes in Afghanistan with contributions of close to $336 million over the past seven years, with no major disputes or difficulties.

And as Afghanistan moves closer to a another landmark election this August, where UNDP is providing support to voter registration ‑‑ I think we’ve already registered close to 5 million voters as of last month ‑‑ and other electoral systems support we’re providing, it is important that the US Government and all of our donors receives the level of accountability and transparency they expect and deserve from UNDP.

That’s it for what I was going to have to say.  If there are any questions I will take them.  Yes, sir.

Questions and Answers

Question:  [inaudible]...report in USA Today said that some of the money that was earmarked for Afghanistan projects was used to fund projects in Dubai, among other places.  Do you know if this is true?  Is it being investigated?  Do you know what project this might have been?

Mr. Dujarric:  As far as UNDP is concerned, when money is given by a donor for a specific project, it is used for that project in the country which it was intended for.  I think if others in the UN system, or if there has been malfeasance, these things have been investigated.  But UNDP policy is extremely strict and when money is given for a certain project it is used for that project.

Question:  So, if the money was used in Dubai that was fraudulent use of it?

Mr. Dujarric:  That would be a fraudulent use.  But I have no information that any UNDP monies were used in that case.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Sure, Stéphane.  The report, the actual Inspector-General report goes through... doesn’t limit it to 2006.  I mean, they’re talking about March 2008 requests made to UNDP for information, no information provided, and the inability to go forward because none was provided.  So, are the people named in this report, how many of them and which of them are still employed by UNDP and what’s their excuse for...  You just said that UNDP works with its donors...

Mr. Dujarric:  I have to say from...

Question:  Why didn’t [inaudible]... for these others?  Why didn’t they answer the question?

Mr. Dujarric:  ...from March, I think for the whole period following closure of the programme, there have been numerous exchanges between USAID, UNDP and UNOPS on the ground, in Kabul and lately at Headquarters.  So, you know, we take these allegations very seriously.  We do feel that there was a lot of back and forth between UNDP and USAID, including with the Inspector-General.  We recognize that there were some lapses, perhaps in responding to those requests.  We’re closely looking at the time line.  We have been and will continue to cooperate with USAID to get the matter settled.  And as I mentioned, one of the initiatives taken by the Acting Administrator is to review all the lines of communication in reporting to see what can be strengthened.  But we’re clearly now looking back at the lines of communications.  But we do feel that there was quite a lot of exchanges between the Inspector-General and between USAID on the ground.  Clearly, you know, as I said, we have not fully seen the report.  We saw it like you did this morning.  We do need to study it carefully.  But we value the relationship and we want to get it resolved as quickly as possible.

Question:  What was UNDP’s role, I guess, in overseeing, like, this guy Mr. Orvia (?), the UNOPS guy there?  There was a previous discussion here of him using UN funds to build a guest house for himself, other things.  What was, when UNDP takes a fee for a project, what is its role in overseeing the work that’s done and how much of fees were charged in this case?

Mr. Dujarric:  I think each programme is a little different.  This particular project, as I mentioned, USAID asked us to use UNOPS, which we did.  The money is passed through us.  That clearly invokes a high level of responsibility, of fiduciary responsibility, on our part, which we take seriously and we’re looking into this matter now.  The projects, as the project document states, the projects were to be, the completion were to be certified by USAID, as well as by UNOPS.  So the implementation of the project was done by UNOPS, again at the request of USAID.

Question:  What’s the standard fee, though, that the UNDP takes for the pass-through, and why didn’t USAID just pay UNOPS directly...?

Mr. Dujarric:  Well, I think that’s a question that you’re welcome to ask the USAID; I don’t speak for them.  The fee, I believe, is around 7 per cent.  Yes, sir.

Question:  If you find fraudulent activity, what is the process?  Who’s got jurisdiction in these types of cases, and what would you pursue if you do find... [inaudible]?

Mr. Dujarric:  As always with the UN system, should fraudulent behaviour be found, the case can then be brought to court in either the jurisdiction where it took place, which could be Afghanistan, or it could be brought in the jurisdiction of the Headquarters of the UN office, which is New York.  I think a number of, you know, cases in the past, procurement-related cases have gone to court in New York.  So we would have to then file papers with a national jurisdiction.  Clearly there have been cases of UNOPS employees raised in the press, being accused of behaving in a fraudulent manner.  We would very much hope that anyone that is found to have worked in that manner is brought to justice by the UN system.  But the issue of immunity is one that can be lifted by the Secretary-General alone.

Great.  Thank you very much.

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