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

24 April 2009

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

24 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Press Conferences Today

Our guest at the noon briefing today is Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative for the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.  She will be here shortly to present the latest Annual Report of the Secretary-General on the situation of children and armed conflict, and brief on her recent trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Immediately after her press conference, or at 1 p.m., we will have Amin Awad, the Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Sri Lanka, who will brief on the humanitarian situation in that country.

** Sri Lanka

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator will travel to Sri Lanka tomorrow for a three-day mission.

There, he will discuss issues of pressing importance with the Government of Sri Lanka, including the need for the Government to actively facilitate humanitarian missions to the conflict area, access to those displaced persons at screening centres, the release of all UN staff members detained in camps, and the humanitarian response to the situation in the camps for internally displaced persons.

Meanwhile, Neil Buhne, the UN Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, is scheduled to travel to Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka today.

The UN mission to the conflict zone referred to by the Secretary-General yesterday, is a mission by the UN Country Team in Sri Lanka itself, not a mission from outside ‑‑ just to clarify for those who have been asking.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the humanitarian situation in Vanni continues to be critical.  Civilian casualties have been tragically high, and their suffering horrendous.  Fighting continues to be reported.  Civilians remaining in the conflict zone, which we estimate at at least 50,000, are in extreme peril.

The security situation in the conflict zone has not allowed for humanitarian assistance to be delivered since 1 April 2009.  Thirty metric tons is planned for delivery today.

The UN continues to be concerned about malnutrition and health issues, and injuries for people still in the conflict zone and the evacuees.  We are also very concerned about overcrowding in the camps, and continue to work with the Government to identify new sites and are advocating that the internally displaced be allowed to go to host families.

Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is preparing to ramp up its already sizeable humanitarian operations in Sri Lanka to address the needs of tens of thousands of people displaced by the recent fighting in the north-east of the country.

Plans include an emergency airlift of 5,000 family tents and other aid items from the refugee agency’s regional stockpile in Dubai to Colombo, the Sri Lankan capital, for use in some 38 camps in and around the towns of Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee.

And that is why we are getting the UNHCR representative here shortly, who can brief you on these operations in person.  And there is a press release upstairs from UNHCR on its activities.

** Iraq

[The following statement was later read by the Deputy Spokesperson following the briefing by the guest:

The Secretary-General condemns the appalling suicide bombings since yesterday in Baghdad and Diyala, which reportedly killed at least 140 people including a large number of visiting Iranian pilgrims.  He expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the victims.  The Secretary-General is particularly dismayed by reports that one of the bombers was a woman accompanied by a 5-year-old child.  No cause or grievance can justify such reprehensible acts.

The Secretary-General joins the people of Iraq in rejecting these attempts to incite further violence in the country.  He reiterates the United Nations commitment to supporting Iraq in the efforts to achieve lasting peace and national reconciliation.]

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq has strongly condemned yesterday’s and today’s bombings in Baghdad.  Staffan de Mistura said these attacks on pilgrims and others are horrific crimes against civilians, some of whom had gathered in a food aid distribution centre when they were killed.

De Mistura said he is concerned at the spike in such criminal attacks in recent weeks.  He added, however, that he is confident that the Iraqi people will remain united in their resolve to combat violence.

**Security Council

And here at UN Headquarters, the Security Council this morning held an open meeting on the situation in Chad and the Central African Republic.  They are now in consultations on the same subject followed by other matters.

During the open meeting, Council members heard a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmund Mulet, who said that the UN peacekeeping force in that region is now halfway to its full strength after much difficulty generating troops at short notice.  He said it’s now crucial for Member States to contribute the necessary equipment for the force.  Mulet said the Mission has received pledges for just 6 out of the required 18 military helicopters.

He also noted that the humanitarian situation in north-eastern Chad remains worrisome.  Some 250,000 Sudanese refugees, 160,000 displaced persons and 700,000 local civilians were entirely dependent on humanitarian assistance, he said.

We have copies of his remarks upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the humanitarian situation there is worsening in the east, according to the UN Refugee Agency, which estimates that 100,000 civilians in North Kivu have fled raids by Rwandan rebels in recent months.  They are unable to return to their homes for fear of further attacks by the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).

UNHCR says that the rebels are engaged in a house-to-house terror campaign in the region around Goma.  This month alone they torched some 360 homes, and killed scores, including children.

And there is more on this in the UNHCR briefing note upstairs.

** Durban Review Conference

The anti-racism Durban Review Conference wrapped up in Geneva today, after hearing statements from a number of non-governmental organizations.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called the final outcome a “good document”.  She also stressed that, since day one of her tenure as High Commissioner, she had been committed to the Durban Review Conference ‑‑ despite having to face a widespread, highly organized disinformation campaign.

Pillay reiterated that it was unfortunate that a few States had disengaged from the process.  But she noted that they could still add their countries’ names to the list of 182 States that did adopt the outcome document.  We have her full remarks upstairs.

** Chernobyl

Four UN agencies today marked the twenty-third anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear accident by launching a new programme, which is designed to meet the priority information needs of affected communities in Belarus, the Russian Federation, and Ukraine.

You can read more about that upstairs.  Since our guest is here, I am going to try to zip through the rest of the notes, and you can get more on each of these items in the Spokesperson’s Office.


The Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Sha Zukang, is this week in Turkmenistan, where he is representing the Secretary-General at a high-level conference on “Reliable and Stable Transit of Energy and its Role in Ensuring Sustainable Development and International Cooperation”.  We have his statement upstairs.

**International Telecommunication Union

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) is wrapping up its Forum in Lisbon, Portugal, today.  Among the initiatives announced was a new international e-school project that will include the dissemination of laptops to children in developing countries.  There is more on that as well.


This afternoon, the Secretary-General, who is returning from his mission, and the Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery, former US President Bill Clinton, will receive a report on the lessons learned during the 2004 tsunami.

Delegations from India, Indonesia, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand will present country experiences on “The Tsunami Legacy:  Innovation, Breakthroughs and Change.”

The Secretary-General is expected to underline the importance of crisis response to natural disasters through foresight and advanced planning ‑‑ not just emergency relief.  He is also expected to note that measures such as good building designs, proper land-use planning, public education, community preparedness and effective early warning systems can reduce the impact of severe weather events.

That event will take place at 3 p.m. this afternoon in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.


Tomorrow is World Malaria Day.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says tomorrow is more than a commemoration ‑‑ it is a time to rally our forces to stop the disease.  He also warns that, in this time of economic crisis, we must protect investments in global health and not allow malaria to resurge.  We have the full message upstairs.  His full message is upstairs.

There are now just over 600 days remaining until 31 December 2010, the Secretary-General’s deadline for all endemic countries to achieve universal coverage with essential malaria control interventions.  And there have been major signs of progress towards that goal.  You can read more about that upstairs as well.

**Secretary-General and Soccer

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General plans to attend a charity soccer match between UN ambassadors.  Organized jointly by the Permanent Missions of Chile and Liechtenstein to the United Nations, each team player is sponsored by an individual or an organization, and will make a donation to benefit the organization “Play31”.

The group uses the power of soccer ‑‑ or football ‑‑ to bring together people who have been torn apart by armed conflict.  By donating footballs and facilitating community gatherings, the group helps to create peaceful societies where children can exercise their right to play.  The group was founded on the basis of article 31 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which stipulates that every child has the right to play.

Radhika Coomaraswamy, who is with us, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, will also attend that match.  For further information, you can contact the Missions of Chile and Liechtenstein.

**Week Ahead

We do have the “Week Ahead” upstairs and I think I just flagged a couple of events for you.  You can pick that up for your planning purposes only and it is current as of 12:18 Friday, 24 April, 2009.

And that is all I have for you.  Before I invite the guest up, anything for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On Sri Lanka, there is an Excel document that was distributed by the UN in Colombo, called “verified data” 6,432 killed.  So it is now on the UN relief website.  Many people are curious why the UN is distributing what it calls “verified casualties figures” to diplomats.  Can we say this is the UN number?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I asked the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs that question.  You asked the senior official of that Department yesterday.  They tell us that the numbers are unverified, but while unverified, this might be a reasonable estimate.  That is what I have for you.

Question:  Okay.  I guess we will hear from UNHCR about the humanitarian assessment mission to the north.  My questions is:  the diplomats of Sri Lanka have been quoted as saying, there is no longer a need for this trip, both the Foreign Secretary and others.  Is the trip to Jaffna by Mr. Buhne, that is what Ban Ki-moon was talking about as the “emergency mission”?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That is correct.  I refer you to what I read at the beginning of the briefing.

Question:  My other question has to do with the Medical Service.  I just wanted to know a simple thing:  the doctors and nurses in the UN Medical Service on the fifth floor ‑‑ is it the UN’s position that they have to have licenses, and do they distribute controlled substances like Valium and others.  And have recently prescription pads of a number of them been taken away and the DEA...

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no information on what you are referring to. Can I turn to somebody else?

[The correspondent was later given the following answer:

The Medical Services Division (MSD) provides a comprehensive occupational health service to UN staff system-wide, including health promotion, clinical care, and travel health services, as well as advice to the administration of the UN, its funds and programmes, and the Department of Peacekeeping Operations and the Department of Field Support on clinical and medico-administrative issues.  In addition, MSD provides medical advice to UN medical facilities across the globe, coordinating implementation of UN policies on medical and health care.  The overall goal is to improve staff health, lower risk, and ensure that job demands are met.

The Medical Services Division in New York does not provide a primary care service to staff, referring staff instead to the local health system for definitive management of any medical conditions detected.  A requirement for recruitment of doctors and nurses employed by the United Nations is that they are registered to practice their professions in their country of origin.  A limited quantity of medications is maintained on site, and stock control is rigorously performed, and is verifiable, according to standard pharmaceutical control norms.

The recent allegations regarding pharmaceutical control measures at the United Nations are not new and are in fact being investigated by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).  The Medical Services Division has provided its full cooperation to OIOS in that regard.]

Question:  The UN Rapporteur on Torture today said that the United States is obligated to prosecute attorneys who helped draft torture policies.  Does the Secretary-General support the Special Rapporteur’s comment?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Special Rapporteur, as you know, is an independent Rapporteur and his comments stand on his or hers...

Question:  Does the Secretary-General agree with that view?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Rapporteur’s views are independent and they should be looked at as such.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General believe that US attorneys should be prosecuted, those who helped draft...

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond what the Rapporteur has already said and it is widely reported in the press.

Thank you very much.

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