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

22 April 2009

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

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


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of toady’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  I am going to have to try to zip through this briefing because at 12:30, we have Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, and Paul Oquist from the General Assembly President’s Office, who will be here to brief on today’s General Assembly plenary meeting on the protection of the global climate for present and future generations of mankind.

I am also expecting a statement attributable to the Spokesperson on Burundi.  But I will start with the humanitarian update on Sri Lanka.

** Sri Lanka

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says the situation in the conflict area in northern Sri Lanka remains highly chaotic, which is complicating attempts to obtain accurate information.  We have reports of continuing fighting.

According to the Sri Lankan Ministry of Defence, more than 60,000 civilians fled the conflict zone since 20 April, according to OCHA.  However, tens of thousands of civilians are still trapped inside.  The United Nations remains extremely concerned about the safety of the civilians left in the combat area.  Given that the area has shrunk even further, the potential for further significant casualties still remains.

During the period from October 2008 to April 2009, nearly 83,000 persons crossed from conflict areas.  More than 81,000 are now accommodated in camps.  While there are no verifiable numbers of overall casualties, we believe that significant numbers have been killed and injured in the military operation.

According to OCHA, the International Red Cross ship has set off this morning to evacuate sick and injured civilians and their caregivers and has reached the conflict zone.  ICRC has evacuated over 10,000 civilians since February.

A shipment of approximately 1,200 metric tons of humanitarian assistance, which was due to leave Trincomalee for the No Fire Zone on 19 April, could not leave due to fighting in the conflict zone.  No assistance has been delivered to the conflict area since 1 April.

Available stocks of non-food items in Vavuniya will soon be exhausted with the current influx of internally displaced persons (IDPs).  We have asked OCHA to prepare a written note with further updates on the situation there.

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary-General is in Malta today, where he spoke to the Parliament and praised Malta for its crucial political and intellectual contributions in bringing climate change issues to the UN agenda.  He also praised the role the island nation has played in generating the historic Law of the Sea Convention and the landmark Framework Convention on Climate Change.  And I am sure you can get more on that upstairs.

He has actually left Malta, and is travelling to Belgium, where tomorrow he will co-chair the International Conference in support of the Somalia Security Institutions and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

You will recall that we put out a fact sheet about the Conference yesterday, and it is available upstairs if you need to refer to it again.

** Somalia

[In Security Council resolution 1863 (2009) the Council expressed its intent to establish a United Nations peacekeeping operation in Somalia as a follow-on force to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), subject to a further decision of the Council by 1 June 2009.  The Council requested the Secretary-General to submit a report providing his assessment in advance of that decision.  In a report just out on the racks, the Secretary-General proposes an approach consisting of an incremental three-phase approach.

The first phase consists of support to AMISOM, support in building the Somali security institutions, support for the political process and the recovery and humanitarian activities of the United Nations Country Team.  During this phase, the relevant UN components would conduct frequent missions to Mogadishu and other accessible areas of Somalia to monitor implementation of the mandated activities.  Progress in the implementation of this first phase would be assessed after three to four months.

If security conditions permit, the UN’s engagement would then be extended to the second phase, which would entail adding to the activities of the first phase, a light UN footprint in Mogadishu consisting of elements from the United Nations Political Office in Somalia (to support the political process on the ground), Department of Field Support (to oversee delivery of the AMISOM support package) and the United Nations Country Team (to oversee delivery of humanitarian assistance, and recovery and development projects).

Like the first phase, the second phase will also be assessed three to four months after the commencement of its implementation, at which time the Council would review the United Nations’ role and decide whether the conditions and timing are conducive to a shift to the final phase in which a United Nations peacekeeping operation could be established to take over from AMISOM.

This is a prudent, carefully calibrated and flexible approach which enables the Organization to gauge acceptability of a UN presence, expand or reduce UN engagement as needs and conditions demand, and place emphasis on Somali ownership, building the capacity of Somali security institutions and support to AMISOM.]

** Sudan

The Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on Sudan is out as a document.  It is scheduled to be discussed in the Security Council tomorrow.

In his observations, the Secretary-General notes that the humanitarian catastrophe that would ensue were the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to collapse might ensure that the international community remains focused on enabling the parties to successfully implement it.

And, as he stated in his report on Darfur, which we reported to you yesterday, he again strongly urges the Government of National Unity to reconsider the expulsion of 13 international NGOs and the closure of the three national NGOs from south Sudan.

The removal of these non-governmental organizations has left large parts of the so-called Three Areas and eastern Sudan with very little humanitarian, recovery, or reintegration support coverage.  If not reversed, this may have a direct negative impact on efforts to promote peace and stability in these fragile regions, both through the provision of peace dividends, especially in high-risk areas, and reconciliation activities.

I will refer you to the report, as we are running out of time.

The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS), meanwhile, has put out a press release voicing its deep concern about the renewed tribal clashes in Jonglei State, where dozens of people were reportedly killed over the weekend, with many more injured or displaced.

The mission reiterates its call on all parties to refrain immediately from using violence and encourages tribal and community leaders to resolve their differences through peaceful dialogue and in accordance with the spirit of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  The Secretary-General also refers to this in his report that I just mentioned today.

UNICEF, meanwhile, reports today that emergency measures have been launched by the Government of Southern Sudan to stop a polio outbreak spreading across the Horn of Africa.  Previously restricted to Southern Sudan and western Ethiopia, the outbreak has this year spread to Kenya, Uganda and northern Sudan.

You can read more about this and the immunization drive in a UNICEF press release available upstairs.

** Burundi

The statement I just referred to at the beginning of the briefing on Burundi is now also available for you upstairs.

The Secretary-General welcomes the accreditation of the Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL) as a political party on 21 April 2009 following the separation and formal disarmament of its armed wing, including the separation of children associated with the movement.  He applauds the FNL’s renunciation of armed conflict, which paves the way for its participation in the democratic process in Burundi.

The Secretary-General notes with appreciation the decisions made by the Government of Burundi and the FNL in Pretoria on 8 April, under the leadership of the South African Facilitator, establishing a mutually acceptable road map for the finalization of the peace process.  In this regard, he urges both parties to continue their enhanced cooperation in order to complete the last phase of the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement.

The Secretary-General commends the Regional Initiative for its sustained efforts to support the implementation of the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement of 7 September 2006 and calls upon the international community to continue to lend the necessary support for the timely conclusion of the peace process in Burundi.

**Security Council

Here, the Security Council is currently holding consultations on Western Sahara.  They received briefings from Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, on the diplomatic process, and from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet on the UN peacekeeping mission, MINURSO.

Mulet also briefed troop contributors to MINURSO in an earlier meeting today.

Yesterday afternoon, the Council concluded its open meeting on mediation by adopting a presidential statement recognizing the importance of mediation.

That is also out as a document already.

** Iraq

Today, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, presented reports on the disputed internal boundaries of northern Iraq to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki and the members of the Presidency Council of Iraq, as well as the President of the Kurdistan Regional Government.

The reports presented today by the United Nations are analytical rather than prescriptive.  UNAMI, the Mission there, has not made any suggestions at this time regarding the future administrative jurisdiction of these areas.  On the other hand, recommendations on specific localized confidence-building measures have been included in each assessment.

Mr. de Mistura said, “Our strong hope in presenting these very thorough and objective reports, which analyse these highly complex disputed areas in ways that nobody has ever done before, is that the parties will use them to start a process of concrete dialogue.”  And there is a press release with more details on this upstairs.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the general ban on imports of construction materials and spare parts into Gaza has continued to prevent economic recovery there.  It has also prevented the implementation of most of the projects for which the UN Flash Appeal was launched last February.  As an example, no substantive repairs have been carried out in any of Gaza’s damaged schools.

Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reports that cases of acute watery diarrhoea among children under the age of 3 have surpassed the alert threshold for the second time in 2009.  There is more information on this and a separate note on the unemployment situation in Gaza from UNDP available for you as well.

And this is in part to what you asked about yesterday:  Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, today visited some of the sites in East Jerusalem where Palestinian homes have either been demolished or are being targeted for demolition.

Serry deplored the demolition of a home, which was carried out today.  He also called for the Israeli Government to halt such actions and to abide by its commitments under the Road Map.  Serry stated that these actions harm ordinary Palestinians, heighten tensions in the city and undermine efforts to build trust.

**Children and Armed Conflict

The Secretary-General’s latest report on Children and Armed Conflict is also out today.  The report documents grave violations against children in 20 situations of concern, including Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Sudan and Uganda.

Commenting on the release of this report, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said that the child protection community is waiting for a strong signal from the Security Council on its commitment to tackle the protection of children during armed conflict.  She will be our guest tomorrow and can tell you more about this as well.

** China

John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, has concluded his two-day mission to China.  During the visit, he lauded the country’s increasing engagement in humanitarian affairs, while urging more involvement on the multilateral side.

As the first anniversary of the massive Wenchuan earthquake approaches, Holmes was also briefed on the continuing recovery and reconstruction efforts.  There is more on his visit in a press release upstairs.

** Durban Review Conference

The Durban Review Conference is continuing to hear statements today in Geneva.  Addressing the gathering this morning was High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres, who noted that the Durban Declaration explicitly acknowledged racism and related forms of intolerance as among the root causes of persecution leading to displacement and statelessness.  And you can read more about that upstairs.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

As we have only five minutes before the President arrives, my last item is that the guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative for the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.  She will be here to present the latest Annual Report of the Secretary-General on the situation of children and armed conflict, as well as brief on her recent trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

That is all I have for you.

Questions and Answers

Question:  On Sri Lanka, the NGOs who were represented here in this room today called on the Secretary-General to actually put Sri Lanka on the agenda of the Security Council and raise the issue to the matter of “responsibility to protect”, essentially making it a matter for international peace and security.  Has he considered doing that, and if not, why not?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, as you know, has been doing everything in his power to try to resolve what he can on the ground and to get access to the thousands and thousands of people in need.  The latest update I can give you about the Security Council is that I now understand that the Chief of Staff, Vijay Nambiar, who was just there [in Sri Lanka] carrying the Secretary-General’s message to Sri Lanka, will be briefing the Security Council in an informal interactive discussion session at 5 p.m. this afternoon.

Question:  But it is also in his power to put it on the Security Council agenda formally.  Why hasn’t he done that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Right now, this is the update I have for you, that Vijay Nambiar will be going down there to brief the Council.

Question:  We were told that, as of yesterday, Mr. Nambiar had told the Council that he should not brief because his visit was confidential.  His communications with the President were too sensitive and would somehow create a bad precedent.  This was turned back by the UK and France, saying:  unacceptable.  Can you explain what his rationale for saying that it is only humanitarian and not political would have been?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just explained that he will be going down to brief on his mission.  Yesterday, when you asked that question, I said the Security Council was making arrangements for a briefing on Sri Lanka, so, in response to the request, he will be briefing the Security Council this afternoon.  In addition, I am trying to confirm for you whether OCHA will also be providing a briefing at that same session.

Question:  Two questions.  One is that the Israeli Foreign Minister today compared Iran to Nazi Germany.  Is the Secretary-General as indignant about this comment as he was when Iran’s President compared Israel to...

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that report, so I have nothing on that for you.

Question:  Israel’s own inquiry has absolved its Army and soldiers of all responsibility of violating international humanitarian law in the recent attack in Gaza.  It has also refused to cooperate with the UN inquiry.  Do you have any comment on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You are talking about the Israeli inquiry?  I have seen that report and checked for you.  As far as I know, we have not received that report from the Israelis yet.

Question:  In view of that report, it has absolved its Army and then refuses to cooperate with the United Nations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We don’t have a first-hand account of that report.  I have seen the press report.

Question:  On the UNAMI report on Iraq, what entities exactly does the UN see that are disputing internal boundaries in Iraq?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The only thing I have as reference material today is the press release.  I am going to have to refer you to that, and for further questions, to the Mission or the person in our office who is liaising on Iraq.

Question:  I know you have not received the Israeli report.  Have you received notification or any other communication from the Israelis?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not.  I have not seen anything.  But we can definitely follow up on that for you.

Question:  And Ian Martin’s final report, has he submitted that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That again, we were asked about that yesterday, I have nothing beyond the fact that they are finalizing that report and that the Secretary-General is awaiting that.

Question:  Does the UN have an update on the liberation of the two Canadian diplomats?  That liberation was announced in various press releases today.

Deputy Spokesperson:  We are aware of the media reports, but at this point we have no further comment.  If there is anything, we obviously will let you know.

Question:  Although the Secretary-General has made clear that he supports ethics, integrity and transparency, when it comes to the Office of the President of the General Assembly ‑‑ for example, just the pushing of this resolution on the International Mother Earth Day ‑‑ who monitors the Office?  The Office of the President of the Secretary-General ‑‑ he knew that the original Earth Day has been celebrated at the United Nations for 39 consecutive years.  It was initiated originally by the now 94-year-old John McConnell and supported by Secretary-General U Thant.  Do you think that is ethical?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Unfortunately, for General Assembly matters, I have to get the General Assembly Spokesperson to come and talk to you.  I don’t know where he has been.  If he is listening, maybe he can come down later and brief.  Or he can come tomorrow to the noon briefing.

Question:  Two things:  There is a report of the FDLR killing 14 civilians in Kivu Province.  Is that something that MONUC can confirm, and what steps are they taking?  Also, I have been wanting to ask you about this thing of Ahmedou Ould Abdallah in Somalia, where it has emerged that he raised funds from Norway and, I believe, Kenya, to submit a report to Somalia under the Law of the Sea about drilling rights off shore.  Did he check with the Secretary-General before he did that?  How does he decide to use a drilling or oil-producing country’s funds to do a filing for Somalia?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of the report on Mr. Ould Abdallah, so I have to look into that for you.  The other one on MONUC, we have not seen anything from MONUC today, but we can follow up.

Question:  The UN radio, Radio Okapi, reported the number of 14, so it seems strange...  Can we say that it is a UN report that the FDLR is back in action?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of the report, so we will have to check that, or you will have to check with MONUC.

Have a good afternoon.

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