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

17 April 2009

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

17 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.

**Secretary-General at Princeton

The Secretary-General this morning spoke at a colloquium at Princeton University, warning that we face a landscape shattered by global economic crisis and collapse, regional conflict, and escalating humanitarian needs.  Absent decisive action, he said, we face a real prospect of our existing system unravelling.

The Secretary-General proposed a new multilateralism, which must focus on securing global public goods, including global financial and economic stability, a major push against poverty, restoring peace and stability, addressing climate change, advancing global health, countering terrorism and ensuring disarmament and non-proliferation.

An effective and empowered United Nations, he said, is central to meeting the dominant global challenges of the twenty-first century.  In an interdependent world, he added, the common interest is the national interest.  Either we will succeed together or fail alone.

** Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has stepped up its emergency response in the north, where displacement numbers are growing as a result of heavy fighting between the military and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

The latest estimates show that more than 63,000 people have fled the conflict zone in the north-eastern coastal pocket and are being accommodated at several transit and internal displacement sites in the districts of Vavuniya, Jaffna and Mannar.

Meanwhile, the Government says some 1,800 displaced persons with special needs, particularly the elderly, have been released from the sites, and some 1,345 separated families have so far been reunited.

While commending these initiatives, UNHCR calls upon the Government to accelerate progress on other outstanding protection concerns, including maintaining the civilian character of the IDP (internally displaced persons) sites and the separation of ex-combatants from the civilian population; expediting the screening process in IDP camps; and subsequently allowing freedom of movement.

The United Nations, however, remains deeply concerned about the plight of the civilian population still trapped inside the conflict zone.  Those fleeing into Government-controlled areas provide similar accounts of the dire humanitarian conditions prevalent inside the area.

Calling on the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to immediately allow these people to move to areas where they feel safe, the UN also urges both parties to the conflict to adhere to International Humanitarian Law and ensure that the safety of the innocent civilian population is the top priority.  And the UNHCR notes are available upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council President, Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, read a statement to the press yesterday afternoon following the briefing they received from High-Level Coordinator Gennady Tarasov about missing Kuwaiti and other persons and property in Iraq.

The Council President said that Council members supported the Secretary-General’s proposal for a confidence- and cooperation-building period between Iraq and Kuwait, and they agreed to finance the High-Level Coordinator’s activities for a further six months.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General this afternoon is heading to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, where he will address on Saturday the 34 Heads of State and Government attending the Fifth Summit of the Americas, during a working luncheon.  The Secretary-General will speak of sustainability, one of the themes of the Summit.

According to the Secretary-General, today’s economic crisis, if not handled properly, could evolve into a full-scale political crisis ‑‑ defined by social unrest, weakened Governments and angry publics who have lost faith in their leaders and their future.  Addressing the climate change issue, he is expected to refer to the impact of such changes on the Americas, from the shrinking glaciers in the Andes, to deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and the rising sea levels endangering the small islands of the Caribbean.  He will also stress the need to protect populations, including indigenous peoples, and to create financial incentives to preserve forests and the livelihoods of those who depend on them.  By tackling climate change, he will say, we also deal with the economic crisis ‑‑ green jobs for green growth.

From Trinidad and Tobago, the Secretary-General is expected to fly to New York before attending the Durban Review Conference in Geneva early next week.

** Darfur

The African Union-United Nations peacekeeping operation in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that UNAMID forces continue to conduct their routine duties and closely monitoring the situation in and around villages and camps housing displaced persons.

Meanwhile, Sweden’s Special Envoy to the Horn of Africa, Marika Fahlen, today arrived in the North Darfur capital, El Fasher, where she met with the Governor, or Wali, for North Darfur, who told her that local humanitarian ministries and agencies are doing their best to fill any vacuum left by the NGO expulsion.

US Senator John Kerry is also visiting Darfur.  He was briefed on the overall political and humanitarian situation on the ground and he promised to do everything to help assist in order to enable UNAMID to fulfil its duties in better conditions.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has issued a strong condemnation of recent attacks targeting Government officials.  A Member of Parliament was killed in one such attack just a few days ago.  Ould-Abdallah says that the killings aim to delay the ongoing effort to reconcile the country and restore State authority.  “However,” he added, “I am confident that this time they will not succeed.”

Also, on Thursday next week, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is expected to co-chair and address a Somalia Donors’ Conference in Brussels.  The event’s purpose is to solicit funds to support the Somali security institutions and the African Union Mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM.

** Côte d’Ivoire

The midterm report of the Group of Experts on Côte d’Ivoire is now out as a document.  Among other things, the experts found that quasi-private militias have maintained control over natural resources in the north.  The natural resources are exported through a network of local and foreign actors, the latter of which help secure fuel, vehicles and weapons for the militias. The experts also found a significant risk of a rapid spiral back into violence should the political situation deteriorate and the business and economic interests of some parties be threatened by events.  These parties include powerful politico-military commands controlled by elements in both the Government and the armed opposition.

The Security Council-imposed arms embargo, meanwhile, has not fully prevented certain groups from rearming and others from remaining armed heavily enough to engage in sustained military hostilities.


I have an appointment to announce for you.  The Secretary-General has decided to appoint Anthony Banbury of the United Sates as Assistant Secretary-General for Field Support.  Mr. Banbury assumes the position held by Jane Holl Lute, also a national of the United States, and will function as the Deputy to Susana Malcorra, the Under-Secretary-General in the Department of Field Support.  In this capacity, he will be responsible for developing cross-cutting field support policies and strategies, as well as overseeing day-to-day operations across the full range of mission support areas.

Mr. Banbury brings to this job more than 20 years of experience in political, peacekeeping, and management roles across several different regions and organizations.  Prior to this appointment, Mr. Banbury served for six years as the Asia Regional Director for the World Food Programme, where he led and managed operations in 14 countries valued at $3 billion annually.  And we have his bio data upstairs.

** Haiti

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Haiti, Hédi Annabi, expressed the hope that the pledges made at last Tuesday’s Washington Conference would be disbursed quickly.

The head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) said he also hoped the plan presented by the Haitian Government could be implemented soon.  He added that it would help respond to the immediate reconstruction needs in the country and would attract investments that are indispensable to putting Haiti on a sustainable development path.

Annabi also stressed that improving the economic and social situation was essential to consolidating stability in the country.  And we have a press release in French upstairs.

**Southern Africa

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that UN agencies are helping disaster survivors in Southern Africa, where floods have killed more than 150 people in Angola, Namibia, Madagascar and Zambia.

In flood-hit areas of Angola, for example, UNICEF is working to improve access to safe drinking water.  It has also distributed food and basic supplies to survivors.  The agency is also planning to provide water and sanitation facilities to relocation camps.

For its part, the World Health Organization (WHO) is supporting the Angolan Government’s efforts to assess the needs of flood-hit populations.

OCHA adds that the flooding in Southern Africa, which has also affected Botswana, Malawi and Mozambique, could worsen as the region is hit with higher than average rainfall over the next few months.

** Durban Review Conference

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is right now holding a press conference in Geneva on the Durban Review Conference, which starts on Monday.  As soon as we can, we’ll provide you with a summary of what she says.

Meanwhile, the Review Conference’s Preparatory Committee and its related working group are still negotiating the event’s outcome document.  According to the Conference’s Spokesperson, there has been a “palpable sense of greater optimism” following the latest discussions on that rolling text.  And we’ll keep you posted on any developments regarding the document.

As of this morning, nearly thirty-eight hundred people had registered to participate in the Review Conference.  That number includes over 100 heads of delegation from Member States and more than 2,500 representatives from non-governmental organizations.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo-Rwanda

The UN refugee agency is encouraged by the stated intention of both the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Rwanda to work towards the return of some 150,000 their nationals back to their respective countries.  Yesterday in Goma, officials from the two the countries met to begin hashing out plans at a meeting facilitated by UNHCR.

The agency says that both delegations recognize the scope of existing challenges, including persistent instability in north-eastern DRC, which has prevented the effective return of some 53,000 Congolese refugees in Rwanda.  The delegations also agreed to speed up the identification of Rwandans in eastern DRC to facilitate their return back home.


UNESCO today expressed its grave concern about the suspension of press freedom in Fiji under the 30-day Public Emergency Regulations that recently came into force.

UNESCO says that under these new regulations, editors are not allowed to publish or broadcast any material that shows the military in an unfavourable light.  Sensitive stories must be approved by Government officials before publication and media organizations ignoring these directives may be shut down.

“Such measures will not promote a solution to the nation’s social and political problems,” said UNESCO Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura.  He urged authorities to allow open debate, stressing that freedom of the press is essential to democracy, good governance and the rule of law.

** Afghanistan

Koïchiro Matsuura, the UNESCO Director-General, has also written a letter to Hamid Karzai, the President of Afghanistan, today, which expresses grave concern over the possible entry into force of legislation adopted by Parliament on the personal status of the Shi’ite community in Afghanistan.  Several articles of the new law undermine the right to education, the principle of gender equality and the rights of the child, all of which UNESCO upholds.

In his letter, Matsuura welcomed the considerable progress achieved by the Afghan Government in numerous areas, including education.  In view of progress achieved, the Director-General voiced concern over the draft legislation, which, he felt, contains provisions that run counter to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Director-General is requesting President Karzai to prevent the entry into force of this draft law.

**Disaster Reduction

Women and men are affected differently by disaster.  For example, 90 per cent of the people killed in the 1991 cyclone in Bangladesh were women.  It was the same in the US, when Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and African-American women were among the worst-affected.  Women are often the main victims of disasters, as they account for more than 70 per cent of the world’s poor.  And we have a press release on this subject available upstairs, in advance of a three-day conference on this topic to be held in Beijing, China.

**Women for Peace

On the occasion of the 2008 International Women’s Day, the UN Delegations Women´s Club tonight hosts a multicultural event dubbed Women for Peace, as part of its campaign to promote, strengthen and advance the goals of the Global Movement of Peace within the context of the Decade for a Culture of Peace.

In his message to the event, the Secretary-General reiterated his pledge to continue his utmost to keep the United Nations at the forefront of this effort.  Highlighting that the cause of gender equality should unite the world, he stressed that empowering women is a condition for building better lives for everyone.

During the gala, Ban Soon-taek, wife of the Secretary-General and Patron of Women for Peace, will present the 2009 Women for Peace Recognition Award, on behalf of the Women for Peace Executive Committee and its honorary members.

This year’s Gala has been planned with the efforts of spouses of ambassadors to the United Nations, and of other UN diplomats and associates who have dedicated their time, commitment and knowledge to implement the project successfully.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

And we have available “The Week Ahead at the United Nations”.

Among the items that we’re flagging in the coming week:  We’ve mentioned the Secretary-General’s visit to Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, tomorrow, and his opening of the Durban Review Conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday.

Also on Monday, at 2 p.m. in Room S-226, the UN-Non-governmental Liaison Service will sponsor a press conference by Roberto Bissio from Social Watch, Jo-Marie Griesgraber from New Rules for Global Finance and John Foster from the North-South Institute on the global economic crisis.

On Tuesday, the Secretary-General will be in Valletta, Malta, where he will meet with the President and Prime Minister before addressing the country’s parliament.  And on Wednesday at 12.30 p.m., again in Room S-226, the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, and the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, will speak about International Mother Earth Day.

And on Thursday, the Secretary-General will attend the Brussels Donors’ Conference on Somalia.

And the guest at the noon briefing that day will be Radhika Coomaraswamy, who will talk about her recent trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

And that’s all I have.

Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, do you have any details on the meetings of Vijay Nambiar with Sri Lankan officials and any outcome?  Has he made any progress?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have a lot of detail to provide.  We do feel that in his discussions with Government officials there’s been a little bit of movement forward in terms of trying to obtain the release of the civilians who are currently trapped in the conflict zone.  But those efforts will need to continue.  Among his meetings today, he did meet with the President, Mahinda Rajapaksa, and with the Secretary of Defence, among some other officials.  Yes.

Question:  Is Mr. Nambiar asking the Government to stop firing at the “No fire zone”?  It’s unclear how the Government could get, if you’re saying the LTTE is keeping them as human shields, how the Government could get them to release them.  Is he asking for a ceasefire or to stop firing?

Associate Spokesperson:  Our effort is concerned on two different levels.  On the one hand, certainly we have repeatedly asked for the Government of Sri Lanka not to fire its heavy weapons and heavy artillery in the conflict zone.  And that is part of the effort designed to see what we can do to have innocent civilians leave that area.  The other part of that effort, of course, is that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam will need to allow the civilians who wish to do so to leave freely.  And we’re trying our best both in our public statements and in our other efforts to work on both fronts.

Question:  Is Mr. Nambiar somehow in contact with the LTTE?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything to say on that at this moment.

Question:  And just one last one, can you confirm that the UN country team in Colombo has released new figures raising the estimated death count from 2,683 to 4,500 so far this year, and it’s distributed to diplomats in Colombo but not publicly saying that they’re unofficial figures?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, I cannot confirm that.  We don’t certainly have any figures that we can verify about this.

Question:  Can you confirm the estimate been distributed by the country team to diplomats...?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, I can’t confirm that.

Question:  Yesterday we received ‑‑ I received at least ‑‑ the readout from Brenden on the meeting of the Secretary-General with Javier Solana.  It was a list of topics, and he mentioned Kosovo.  Can you give me some more details?  What he did talk about regarding Kosovo with the Secretary-General, and also does the Secretary-General intend to travel to the region?  It is obvious that that region is missing from the route of his destinations.

Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of the Secretary-General’s travels, no, we don’t have any schedule for any trip to that particular region at this time.  Obviously, if something comes up in the weeks or months ahead, we’ll let you know in advance.  But we don’t have anything to say about it right now.  For the meeting with Javier Solana, the readout we gave is, I think, as much as we have.  I’ll see whether we can get anything more, but I believe all we have of that readout is, in fact, the list of topics that were discussed.

Question:  If I can have also two more, please.  I never asked you, Farhan, what is the position of the Secretary-General ‑‑ I know that he is with the position that the Court on the former Yugoslavia, ICTY, is independent ‑‑ but what is his position regarding the trial and accusation of Ms. Florence Hartmann, who was the spokesperson for Carla Del Ponte?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t think we have any comment to say about that.  Obviously, this is an ongoing judicial proceeding and we wouldn’t say anything prejudicial as that proceeds.

Question:  And I need to know, how much do you follow the new development regarding the Srebrenica trial, not trial, but rather accusation of United Nations of the Mothers of Srebrenica?  There is a new development, obviously; they have a new lawyer, who is now appealing the previous ruling from the Netherlands court.

Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, we did comment about the motion by the Mothers of Srebrenica previously, nothing has changed in what we’ve said in response to your previous questions about the motion filed by the Mothers of Srebrenica.

Question:  The Somalia Donor Conference is next week, is that correct?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  What’s on the agenda?  Is piracy going to be discussed?

Associate Spokesperson:  I can’t say in advance what will be discussed.  The main topic is support, both financial and otherwise, for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  And so, that’s in essence a slightly different topic.  I don’t know whether piracy will come up in the meeting, but the focus is on AMISOM.

Question:  Representatives of the UN Staff Union had a press conference here yesterday at which they drew attention to motions that had been adopted expressing concerns about various factors of the move out of the building [inaudible].  They included guarantees that there would be no exposure to asbestos, a risk assessment in which they would be consulted about swing-space buildings, and they said that they’d had no response from either the management or the Secretary-General, with whom they’d requested a meeting; and they accused him of being unresponsive towards their concerns.  Have you got any comment on that?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the general point is that the Secretary-General always tries to stay in contact and in dialogue with the staff and its representatives, and certainly will continue to try to do so.  On the question of asbestos abatement, in addition to the company that will be performing this asbestos abatement, we will have another independent group that will monitor how the abatement process is carried out and, among other things, try to ensure that it’s done in a safe manner.  And that’s an independent body called ATC Associates.

Question:  Can I ask a follow-up on that?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Just on this asbestos, first can you either confirm or respond to the seeming fact in the public record that Skanska is a named defendant in an ongoing civil suit about mishandling asbestos in the Monterey Courthouse in California, and that it had paid a fine in connection with that case earlier on?  And also that ATC has been issued an order of non-compliance from the Clean Air Act by the EPA, and why they were selected.

Associate Spokesperson:  You know, I have something for you on that, but I don’t know whether I have it here.  So many papers, but that one is still upstairs.  I’ll have to tell about that on afterwards.

[The Associate Spokesperson later said regarding the lawsuit in California concerning Skanska and asbestos abatement:  Skanska had made the United Nations aware of this lawsuit before they were selected, in the 2007 Request for Proposal process.  Neither Skanska nor Skanska subcontractors performed any asbestos abatement on the referenced project and all charges were dismissed in 2007 and permanently removed from the record by the State of California.]

Question:  And also, pending that, one of the things that the Staff Union representatives said yesterday is an issue that I think arose here before.  They’re claiming that these security risk assessments are required under a GA resolution and haven’t been done except for the FF Building.  And it’s their allegation it was only done for that one because Mr. [David] Veness is located there.  Can you just factually confirm if a report was done for the FF Building that wasn’t done for the other buildings, and if so, why?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’ll try and follow up on that.  Our standard procedure though, for any building, whether here or in the field, is to assess security risk at all UN premises.  That’s just the standard...

Question:  [Inaudible]... there is a special document that’s required as part of the, some kind of...

Associate Spokesperson:   I am not aware of what the bureaucratic procedure is.  I’ll have to follow up on that.  But we have something known as minimal operating safety standards and we try to make sure that all of our premises have those minimal standards.  Yes.

[The Associate Spokesperson later added that the Department of Safety and Security will not disclose the methodology they use for threat assessments, but the Department maintains consistent security standards for all locations.]

Question:  I’d like to know the background on this International Mother Earth Day, keeping in mind that for 39 consecutive years at the UN, which was initiated by U Thant, they have observed International Earth Day with the ringing of bells and so forth.  So, it’s been a tradition for 39 consecutive years.  Then of course, there is the other 22 April Earth Day, and in addition you have World Environment Day.  I mean, how does this come about?  Does this totally disregard history or did it come about, you know, because the President of Bolivia wanted to make international Mother Earth Day?  I’d like to know the details about that.

Associate Spokesperson:  If you can come up to the office afterwards, we can try and provide you with a little bit more information about next week’s event.  But I think also the press conference by the General Assembly President and President Morales would be a good opportunity to talk about the background behind this particular day.

Question:  Or is it you just have to know the President of the General Assembly?  Is that it?  I’m just saying, because it seems very bizarre...

Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, come upstairs afterwards and they’ll try and give you a little bit more about the event.  But beyond that, yes, I think there will be a full press conference next Tuesday about this particular topic.  Yes.

Question:  I just want to ask you again about this, the UNMIK; what was discussed in the Council yesterday under other matters?  You said to ask UNMIK so I did about the allegation that the budget doesn’t allow them to comply with resolution 1244 (1999).  And among other things, the Spokesman there, Mr. [Alexander] Ivanko has said:  “The proposed budget is submitted to UNHQ and it’s up to them to provide it to the media.”  So I wanted to know from you whether we can get ‑‑ since it was the big topic of the Council yesterday ‑‑ if we can... He represented that this budget, although it represents a 90 per cent cut, totally complies with 1244; that Russia and Serbia are wrong, et cetera.  But can we get a copy of the actual budget?  He has referred me back to you, so I am back to you.

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, certainly I’ll check whether that’s a public document or not, and we’ll try and get back to you on that.  And with that, have a very good weekend.

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