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

16 April 2009

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

16 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 everyone.

** Sri Lanka

Following the end of the temporary ceasefire in northern Sri Lanka, fighting in the vicinity of the no-fire zone is reportedly intense, and small arms fire, mortar fire and aerial attacks have resumed.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), more than 64,000 people have crossed from conflict areas.  Some 63,000 of them are accommodated in various camps, while 800 displaced persons are in hospitals in various districts.

The International Red Cross was able to evacuate 988 people from the no-fire zone during the ceasefire period.  A ship with approximately 1,030 tons of humanitarian supplies is being loaded for departure to the no-fire zone and is expected to leave in 3 days.

In the camps in the Vanni region, shelter construction, site clearing, educational support, health care, water supply and sanitation assistance are continuing.  But water and sanitation services remain inadequate.

OCHA says that the continued use of schools and other education establishments as sites for internally displaced persons continues to put a strain on the education services in the district, which is affecting both displaced students and host students.

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

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reports that its inspectors departed the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea today.

The Agency’s inspectors at the Yongbyon nuclear facilities removed all IAEA seals and switched off surveillance cameras yesterday.  That happened after the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea informed the inspectors on 14 April that it had decided to cease all cooperation with the IAEA, requested removal of containment and surveillance equipment and required the inspectors to leave the country at the earliest possible time.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning, in its closed consultations, received a briefing by Gennady Tarasov, the Secretary-General’s High Level Coordinator dealing with missing Kuwaiti and third-country persons and property in Iraq.  He presented the Secretary-General’s recent report, which, you’ll recall, suggests that a confidence- and cooperation-building period, lasting until July 2010, should be introduced to further encourage Iraq and Kuwait to achieve visible and significant progress and to strengthen the patterns of their practical cooperation.  The Council President is expected to read a press statement concerning the briefing afterwards.

The Council will also receive a briefing today on the Development Fund for Iraq and the United Nations escrow account, from the Controller, Jun Yamazaki.

** Lebanon

Yesterday, the Pre-Trial Judge for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon ordered the Prosecutor to file, by 27 April 2009, reasoned submissions stating whether or not he requests the continuation of the detention of the persons held in Lebanon in relation to the case concerning the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

In setting this time limit, the Pre-Trial Judge took into consideration the fundamental guarantee of a fair trial, on the one hand, and the specificities of the case concerned, on the other.  In this regard, he stated that it is a fundamental right, enshrined in all human rights instruments, that any individual arrested or detained be brought promptly before a judge to rule on his or her detention status.  The Pre-Trial Judge noted, however, that the Hariri case raised difficult issues of terrorism, and that the judicial record relating to it was particularly complex and voluminous.


On Timor-Leste, nearing the seventh anniversary of the restoration of the independence of Timor-Leste, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Atul Khare, today stressed that the rule of law may exist in the absence of democracy, but democracy without the rule of law cannot.  The Special Representative also said establishing a culture of democracy and a truly democratic system takes many years and can only be achieved if the rule of law is one of the guiding principles that lead the process.

Highlighting that Timor-Leste has witnessed important developments and reforms on its way towards firmly establishing the rule of law and democracy, he said an independent and efficient judiciary is a key element of the rule of law.  And we have more on that upstairs.

**Deputy Secretary-General

The Deputy Secretary-General is currently in Montreal, Canada, where, this morning, she addressed the annual Summit on the Millennium Development Goals.

Noting that time is running out to reach the Goals, she stressed that, in the limited years we have left, we can’t afford to speculate on what works.  We have identified a set of tried and true low-cost interventions that are effective.  And we need to put them into place, she said.

The Deputy Secretary-General emphasized that the Goals represent the minimum we must do.  After all, she said, if the tables were turned, and one of us lived in a shantytown, we wouldn’t say that the Goals should be scaled back,  or that one Goal is less essential than the others, or that less should be done.  And we have her remarks in my Office.

Later today in Montreal, the Deputy Secretary-General is slated to give a public lecture at McGill University on “Renewing the International Partnership for Development”.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says it has set up two joint coordination centres with the Congolese army to support the Government in its attempt to restore safety and security in the north-east.  The parties have already appointed their respective commanders at the centres, and will soon name military officers to execute joint operation plans on the ground.  One of the new coordination centres is located in Sake, while the town of Kiwanja will host the other.  Both towns are in the restive North Kivu Province, where Rwandan rebels from the Forces démocratiques pour la liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) continue to attack civilians, Congolese army troops and UN peacekeepers.

The Mission also reports that the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has repatriated some 6,800 Rwandan nationals back to their country since January.  Voluntary repatriation also continues for former Rwandan rebels and their dependents.

**World Food Programme (WFP) -- Somalia

On Somalia, the World Food Programme (WFP) is concerned that people in Somalia will go hungry if the Sea Horse vessel is not quickly released or replaced by another vessel.  The Sea Horse -- hijacked by pirates on 14 April -- was due to load more than 7,000 metric tons of food for Somalia.

After the hijacking of the Maersk Alabama last week en route to Mombassa, WFP also stresses that the Kenyan port is essential to its operations in Somalia and elsewhere in eastern and central Africa.  More than 500,000 metric tons of WFP food arrived in Mombasa in 2008.

If food assistance cannot arrive through Mombasa for Somalia, Kenya, Uganda, Southern Sudan and the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, millions of people will go hungry and the already high malnutrition rates will rise, according to WFP.

** Sudan

On, the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) its office in Zalingei, West Darfur, today approved 19 quick impact projects on rehabilitation, construction and the provision of educational materials for schools around the camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs).  The projects would largely target basic schools in IDP camps.  And the proposals are estimated to cost more than $432,000.


On disarmament, the head of the UN Office at Geneva, Sergei Ordzhonikidze, today addressed a conference in Rome entitled “Overcoming Nuclear Dangers”.

In his remarks, Ordzhonikidze acknowledged that, while nuclear-weapon States and their allies focus on non-proliferation, non-nuclear-weapon States, particularly those in the developing world, advocate nuclear disarmament first.  As a result, he said, there is no common global strategy to address issues concerning nuclear weapons.  And that is one of the primary causes for the continuing stalemate in the Conference on Disarmament, he added.

Ordzhonikidze noted prospects for renewed United States-Russian negotiations.  But he added that, while the United States and the Russian Federation have a vital role to play in providing leadership, shared goals can only be realized fully through multilateral efforts.  Bilateral initiatives must support and feed into the multilateral mechanisms to make the disarmament process sustainable and lasting, he said.  And we have his full remarks upstairs.

**United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC)

The growing threat of organized crime is at the heart of the eighteenth session of the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice, which opened today in Vienna.

In his opening remarks, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, warned that crime had gone global and posed a security threat to cities, nations and entire regions.  He called on countries to change the way they fight crime and corruption to respond to the unprecedented rise in organized crime.  Costa asked for greater cooperation to fight organized crime, adding that the political will of States was more powerful than the greed and firepower of criminal groups.  And this session will run through 24 April.

And that’s all I have today.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  A follow-up question.  Has the Secretary-General made any decision on appointing monitors to Sri Lanka as is being demanded by human rights groups now?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, there is nothing we have to say about that proposal.

Question:  Another follow-up, on Pakistan.  You said yesterday and the day before also, the Secretary-General is still evolving his position on this human rights issue in Pakistan, vis-à-vis the new act passed by the Pakistani Parliament.  Do you have anything on that at all?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, I have nothing more.  If you need further… Of course, you can also consult with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, who has commented on similar types of legislation in the past.

Question:  Farhan, I wanted to ask you to confirm that Vijay Nambiar has been sent to Sri Lanka as an envoy of the Secretary-General to try to speak with Colombo and other parties.

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, Mr. Nambiar, I believe, is in Sri Lanka.  The Secretary-General is doing his utmost to alleviate the situation and, in that regard, there’s a number of high-level contacts that we’re pursuing.

Question:  Can you state with whom else Mr. Nambiar will be speaking, which other Governments or groups?

Associate Spokesperson:  At this stage, no.  We might have something more later, but at this stage, no.  One of the points we want to stress in this regard is that we continue to be concerned that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) did not appear to have responded constructively to the request to allow civilians to leave.  And we found this to be truly disappointing.  Our position remains that civilians must be allowed to leave the area of violence, and they must not be used as targets of political or military designs.

Question:  Is there some consideration by the UN of trying to either extract or allow escape by sea -- by boats?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything further to say on that.  You might have missed it, but at the start of the briefing, we did give a humanitarian update on the situation, and we can provide it for you later.

Question:  How long has Mr. Nambiar been there?

Associate Spokesperson:  He just arrived recently, over the last day or so.

Question:  There is a letter by Serbia to the Security Council complaining about the budget proposal of the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), saying that, as proposed by the UN, it wouldn’t allow the Mission to carry out its functions under resolution 1244 (1999), and that Mr. [Lamberto] Zannier has not been signing the laws of the Assembly of Kosovo, as they believe is required.  I understand that the Council will talk about it, but what’s UNMIK’s response to this critique of its budget and Mr. Zannier not signing the laws of Kosovo?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, you could ask UNMIK about its response.  But what I know about this is that the Security Council is expected to discuss this under other matters this morning.  So I think the thing to do would be to wait until they are done with that particular discussion.

Question:  Just one question.  Who makes… who draws up the budget for UNMIK?  Is it UNMIK itself or is it the Secretariat here in New York?

Associate Spokesperson:  If I were you, I would check with UNMIK about how their budget process is done.  As with all peacekeeping missions, its budget is approved by the General Assembly.

Question:  Yesterday, I asked about this in regards to New Zealand, but now, Australia.  There is an article in from Australia that the Rudd Government has told the UN to stop not just future, but current use of Fijian peacekeepers.  Can you state if, in fact, the UN has formally heard from both New Zealand and Australia, or separately?  And also, can you confirm that the current military leader of Fiji was a UN peacekeeper himself?

Associate Spokesperson:  Commodore [Frank] Bainimarama, you mean?

Question:  That’s correct.  He reportedly served in previous UN missions.

Associate Spokesperson:  I am not aware.  I’ll check with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations on that.  The Secretary-General has spoken to a number of officials on Fiji.  In fact, even as he departed Thailand, he met with the Prime Minister of New Zealand, and Fiji was one of the topics that they had discussed.  So, he and other people in the Secretariat have discussed the matter.  But our position stands that we would review any future contributions of Fiji to UN peacekeeping on a case-by-case basis.  All right, have a good afternoon everyone.

[The Associate Spokesperson later said that there was no record of Commodore Bainimarama having served as a United Nations peacekeeper.]

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