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

15 April 2009

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

15 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.

[As the guest at the noon briefing, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, first briefed on the situation in Sri Lanka.]

Okay, I guess we can get started now on the other part of the briefing.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General returned yesterday from Washington after attending the Haiti donor conference at the Inter-American Development Bank.  He will travel again this coming weekend after delivering, on Friday, the keynote address for the 2009 Princeton Colloquium on Public and International Affairs at the Woodrow Wilson School.  This will be at 9:30 a.m. at the Princeton University campus in New Jersey.

The Secretary-General has already announced his trip to the Summit of the Americas in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago.  From there, he will go to Geneva and then on to Valletta, Malta, on the 21st.  In Malta, he will meet with the President and Prime Minister before addressing the country’s Parliament.  The University of Malta will confer on the Secretary-General a honoris causa doctorate in recognition of his contribution in raising awareness on climate change.

The Secretary-General’s last stop, as previously announced, will be Brussels for the donor conference on Somalia on 23 April.  And the Secretary-General will return to New York the next day.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Myanmar

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Myanmar.

The Secretary-General has received a letter signed by a number of United States Senators on the situation in Myanmar.  The Secretary-General and his Special Adviser [Ibrahim Gambari] share their concern about the continued detention of Aung San Suu Kyi.  The Secretary-General and his Special Adviser have repeatedly called for her release and that of other political prisoners, and will continue to do so.

The Secretary-General continues to follow closely the situation in Myanmar, including through his Special Adviser, to promote national reconciliation, democratic transition and respect for human rights in accordance with the mandate given to him by the General Assembly.  And that statement is available upstairs.

**IAEA -- Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) yesterday informed the inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in the Yongbyon facility that it is immediately ceasing all cooperation with the IAEA.  It has requested the removal of all containment and surveillance equipment, following which IAEA inspectors will no longer be provided access to the facility.  The inspectors have also been asked to leave the DPRK at the earliest possible time.  The DPRK also informed the IAEA that it has decided to reactivate all facilities and go ahead with the reprocessing of spent fuel.

** Somalia

On the piracy issue, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, is calling for increased concrete efforts -- such as the international maritime presence off the Somali coast -- to fight piracy.  He said that those contributing to that international presence were doing an “excellent job”, but that they had a huge area to cover.  The Special Representative noted that, today, 17 vessels are being held and 300 persons are hostages.

Ould-Abdallah also suggested that the financial backers of the pirates should be identified quickly and held accountable in order to ensure stability in Somalia and the region.  And we have his full statement upstairs.

** Sudan

The African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that the security situation in Darfur is relatively calm.  UNAMID peacekeepers conducted 22 confidence building patrols, 17 escort patrols and 7 night patrols covering 44 villages and camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).  UNAMID police conducted a total of 92 patrols in and around the villages and IDP camps.

Meanwhile, some UNAMID troop contingents undertook scheduled rotations.  The Nigerian battalion stationed in South Darfur began the rotation of its troops in Darfur yesterday, with a total of 200 personnel arriving, while another 200 left the Mission for their home country.  South African troops will also be rotated in the next few weeks.

** Fiji

Turning now to Fiji, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has expressed her deep concern about the recent sacking of the judiciary and heavy restrictions on the media there.  Those developments follow the abolishment of Fiji’s 1997 Constitution and the imposition of a state of emergency five days ago.

According to Pillay, the long-term damage of undermining such fundamental institutions as the judiciary and the media cannot be underestimated.  In that regard, she called for a return to the rule of law, the reinstatement of the judiciary and an end to media censorship.

Pillay stressed that a state of emergency should only be used to deal with dire threats to national security, not to undermine the fundamental checks and balances of good government. 

And we have more on that in my office.

** Durban Review Conference

Also, Navi Pillay today welcomed the release of a revised draft outcome document for next week’s anti-racism Durban Review Conference.  The new text has been presented to States currently participating in the Conference’s final Preparatory Committee meeting.  Addressing that meeting today, Pillay urged delegates to transcend their differences and find consensus.  She also told them that the future and hope of countless victims of racism rest in their hands.

The new 17-page document is a revision of the “rolling text” that was published last month by the working group charged with negotiating the Conference’s outcome.  The Chair of that working group has expressed hope that the new version, based on extensive consultations with States, will meet the concerns of all delegations and can be adopted by consensus.

We have more on that upstairs, and the document itself should be appearing shortly on the Review Conference’s website.

**Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

Last, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, is in Indonesia today where he took part in the Third Ministerial Conference of the Bali Process, which aims at finding practical measures to help combat people smuggling, trafficking in persons and related transnational crimes in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.

Guterres said that smugglers and traffickers often prey on people who are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse, adding that “tough action against criminal agents has to go hand in hand with the protection of those in need of it”.  The High Commissioner stressed the importance of a comprehensive approach to respond effectively to irregular movements affecting the region.  He also noted that the Bali process offered the potential to forge mechanisms for regional cooperation.  And we have more on this upstairs.

And that is all I have.  Are there any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  You’ve mentioned the statement of Navi Pillay on Fiji.  So I wanted to ask one follow-up, which is that the Minister for Foreign Affairs of New Zealand has been quoted as saying that he and his country believe that the UN, now under Ban Ki-moon, should stop using Fijian peacekeepers and that he intends to raise it directly to the Secretary-General.  Has this been raised to the Secretary-General?  And since your last answer, has there been any change of thinking, given the suspension of democracy in the country and the previous statements by the UN of what that would mean for peacekeeping?

Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of what that means for peacekeeping, our position holds that we will evaluate any further contributions on a case-by-case basis.  And so we stand on that.

Question:  Farhan, since yesterday -- I know you were asked this question about Pakistan yesterday -- has the Secretary-General evaluated the situation in Pakistan, because the human rights groups in Pakistan are protesting this sharia resolution, which goes through without proper public vetting from public opinion basically because it went through Parliament.  Has the Secretary-General evaluated the situation, issued any statement?

Associate Spokesperson:  He is monitoring the situation.  We don’t have anything further to say beyond what I mentioned yesterday.  As you know, the Secretary-General had in his recent press conference a few weeks ago commented on his concerns about the situation in the Swat valley, particularly about violence against women and discrimination against women.

Question:  Actually two things.  One is, there is a report out of Nigeria that is unfolding a Halliburton bribery scandal that… Anyway, the report is that former President [Olusegun] Obasanjo received bribes from Halliburton for a liquefied natural gas plant in the country.  I am wondering of its something that the UN is aware of and what impact it might have on Mr. Obasanjo’s service as an envoy in the Great Lakes region.

Associate Spokesperson:  We’re not aware of that report.

Question:  And also, the Staff Union has put out a report that the Security Service here has failed to do the security-risk analysis required, they say, by the General Assembly, of this building and of all the buildings to which people will be moved under the Capital Master Plan.  So they’re calling for a suspension of any transfer of staff to those buildings until the required, they say, security-risk analysis has been done.  Is the UN aware of their call?  Does it acknowledge that these assessments were required and weren’t done, and what’s their response?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of the Staff Union motion.  However, I’d like to point out that we’ve been evaluating security as part of the Capital Master Plan project, and that also includes security in the swing space, and we’ll continue to evaluate that.

Question:  They claim that there is some formal document that has been done in Geneva, Vienna, and every other place, but has not been done here, and they specifically say that the head of the local security here, Bruno Henn, is responsible for not doing it.

Associate Spokesperson:  I am not aware of those details.  The basic point is, however, that we do continue to look into security in all the UN premises, including the swing space premises.  All right, have a good afternoon.

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