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

27 April 2009

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

27 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

First, good afternoon, all.

As I mentioned earlier, the Secretary-General will make a brief statement about the swine influenza.  He won’t be able to stay with you, unfortunately; he has other commitments.  But we’ll have a regular press conference on the 5th (May).  So you will be able to ask him questions then.

**Secretary-General on Swine Flu

The Secretary-General:  Good morning, ladies and gentlemen.  It’s a great pleasure to see you.

As you know, I came back from a long trip last Friday and I am here to meet you in person and say a few words about swine flu, which has become one of the most serious concerns of the international community, including the United Nations.

During the last few days, as you know, we have seen the appearance of a new influenza virus.

It has been confirmed in the United States, Mexico and Canada and is suspected to have moved to other countries.

We are concerned that this virus could cause a new influenza pandemic.  It could be mild in its effects or potentially be severe.

We do not yet know which way it will go.  But we are concerned that, in Mexico, most of those who died were young and healthy adults.

This will be a first test of the pandemic preparedness work the community of nations has undertaken in the last three years.

The UN system is responding quickly and effectively with the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Dr. Margaret Chan, taking the lead.

I have been in constant contact with Dr. Chan and other senior UN officials over the weekend.

Dr. Chan informs me that she has activated the Strategic Operations Centre at WHO.  That includes convening the Emergency Committee, created under the revised International Health Regulations in 2005, which met over the weekend.

It will meet again later today to decide whether WHO should raise its pandemic alert from Phase 3.

If we are indeed facing a pandemic, we need to demonstrate global solidarity.

The swine flu outbreak shows yet again that, in our interconnected world, no nation can deal with threats of such dimension on its own.

Poorer nations are especially vulnerable.  They have been hit hard by other crises this year:  food; energy; the global economy; climate change.  We must ensure that they are not also hit disproportionately hard by a potential health crisis.

The World Bank and other UN development and humanitarian agencies will, therefore, mobilize to ensure that countries needing additional financial resources to combat an epidemic will have them.

I will continue to be in close consultation with senior UN officials and, through Dr. Chan, with affected Governments, international health officials and international organizations such as the International Red Cross to provide any and all assistance that might be required.

So far, our response has been an example of multilateral cooperation at its best.  I am confident that it will continue to be so.

Thank you very much for your support.

And please excuse me that I have a 12:10 p.m. appointment.  There are many ministers who are attending the ECOSOC meeting; I have a series of meetings with the ministers.  But I am sure that you will have another opportunity for a press conference by the Spokesperson of WHO.  They will be in a much better position to provide all necessary information to the questions you may have.

Thank you very much and I am looking forward to seeing you on 5 May for my regular press conference.  I regret that I had to skip this April regular monthly press conference because of my very hectic schedule.  I hope you will understand.

Thank you very much.

Correspondent:  We’ll have two in May.

The Secretary-General:  Two in May?  [Laughter.]  Let’s see.  Okay, let us make up for the loss.  Thank you, thank you very much.

**Swine Flu

You’ve just heard from the Secretary-General about his concerns regarding swine influenza.  And according to a statement issued over the weekend by World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan, the current situation constitutes a public health emergency of international concern.

As of now, WHO ‑‑ which is currently in emergency 24-hours operations mode ‑‑ confirms that there have been 40 cases of swine flu in the United States, 26 lab-confirmed cases in Mexico, six cases in Canada and one verified case in Spain.

The only cases considered severe have all been in Mexico, and for that reason, WHO has teams on the ground in that country, trying to learn more about the source and path of infection and about why Mexico has been the most affected.

WHO experts are also helping the Mexican authorities, at Mexico’s request, in their investigations and in strengthening labs.

For its part, WHO’s Emergency Committee met over the weekend and is now meeting at this very moment to continue assessing the situation and to advise on appropriate responses.

We did announce to you that WHO would be holding a telephone press conference this morning, and I am sure some of you connected, and we will continue to keep you informed of the agency’s daily briefings ‑‑ when they are and how you can participate.  If you missed this morning’s press conference, you can access the audio and a transcript at WHO’s website.  And we’re hoping this afternoon, around 2 p.m. or 3 p.m. to be able to have another opportunity for you to speak to them and address your questions to the people in charge.  I will not be myself answering any questions since I don’t have the information.  The information is handled in Geneva by WHO.

**Secretary-General at High-Level Economic and Social Council Meeting

The Secretary-General this morning addressed the High-Level Meeting convened by the Economic and Social Council with the Bretton Woods institutions and other leading economic bodies, telling them that their work at this year’s meeting is more urgent than ever.  The current global economic and financial crisis is exposing dangerous weaknesses and flaws in the international economic system.

He said that the G-20 Summit’s commitment of more than a trillion dollars to deal with the crisis was a huge step, but only a first step.  Now, he added, we have to examine where the funds will come from, and make sure that countries make good on their pledges.

The Secretary-General added that recent events have proven that the current system of global economic governance is not adequate to today’s challenges.  Our institutions and governance structures must become more representative, credible, accountable and effective.

** Sri Lanka – Humanitarian Update

Over in Sri Lanka, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes arrived in Colombo over the weekend for a two-day visit, to seek increased humanitarian access.

On Sunday, he met with the UN Country Team, NGOs and donors in Colombo.  In these meetings, the Humanitarian Chief discussed urgent humanitarian concerns including the situation inside the conflict zone, problems with the delivery of food and medical supplies into the conflict zone, conditions of internally displaced persons accommodated in the IDP camps, and continuing protection concerns on the displaced at the screening points in transit.

The UN Country Team raised concerns on the delay in the shipment of more than 1,000 metric tons of food; the urgent need to access screening points at Omanthai and Kilinochchi; and overcrowding of the IDP sites, among other issues.

In meetings with Government officials, Holmes stressed the need for a humanitarian pause to conduct an assessment of the conflict zone and to bring in emergency supplies including food and medical supplies.

He also underscored the urgent need for access by the United Nations Country Team to the conflict zone in the north-east, and to the screening centres through which tens of thousands of displaced persons are passing on their way to the camps.  Holmes also raised the issue of need for access to IDPs in transit who receive limited assistance, and addressed the issue of congestion in camps in Vavuniya and the need for more people to be accommodated with host families, as well as the need for the release of UN staff.

Today Holmes travelled to Vavuniya and the Omanthai screening point.  He visited a camp for IDPs in Manik Farm, Zone 2, where he was able to speak to the displaced, who number in total some 38,000-40,000.

At present over 151,000 displaced are in camps and in hospitals.  The UN estimates that there are still at least 50,000 in the conflict zone, which is now less than 10 square kilometres.

Meanwhile, a United Nations Refugee Agency emergency airlift carrying humanitarian aid for tens of thousands of people displaced by fighting in north-eastern Sri Lanka began Monday morning with the arrival in Colombo of a plane carrying 2,850 family-size tents from the Refugee Agency’s stockpiles in Dubai.

The Boeing 747 cargo plane, the first of two scheduled flights to deliver more than 200 tons of UNHCR tents, landed in Colombo at 10:45 a.m. local time.

High Commissioner António Guterres also approved the immediate release of an extra $2 million for UNHCR’s Sri Lanka operations helping internally displaced people.  The additional funds will provide shelter, protection and other aid for civilians fleeing the conflict zone in the north.

And in addition, UNICEF says 50 metric tons of airlifted emergency relief supplies landed today in Colombo.

**Security Council

The Security Council today received a briefing in an open meeting from the Joint UN-African Union Special Representative for Darfur, Rodolphe Adada.

Adada said that Darfur today is a conflict of all against all, with Government forces clashing with armed movements, who have fought among each other, along with intertribal conflicts.  He pointed to two major sources of risk:  the military engagement between the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudanese Government, and the poor state of relations between Sudan and Chad.

Adada warned that political progress in Darfur has been frozen, and civilians remain at an unacceptable risk of violence.  At the same time, he added, the UN-African Union Mission (UNAMID) has been working around the clock to prevent new killings and has increasingly played a preventive role in the conflict.

Mr. Adada will speak to reporters actually here in this Room 226 as soon as he is finished.  He is not going to the stakeout anymore as we had announced earlier.  So he is to come and join us in this room after this briefing.

Over the weekend, the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, issued a statement to the press on Iraq, saying that the members of the Council condemned in the strongest terms the terrorist attacks in Baghdad and Diyala on 23 and 24 April 2009, which caused numerous deaths and injuries.

** Sudan

Also on Darfur, the UNAMID Deputy Force Commander, Major-General Emmanuel Karake Karenzi, last week took the opportunity to bid farewell to UNAMID officials.  Major-General Karenzi, a Rwandan national, has served in UNAMID since its inception in January 2008.  He will be leaving the Mission soon and will be replaced by Major-General Duna Dumisani from South Africa.

Also, a team from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations arrived in Darfur yesterday to conduct an evaluation and assessment of the Mission over the next two weeks.  The purpose of the evaluation is to review the operational objectives of UNAMID’s military, police and civilian components and look at challenges and constraints.  The evaluation will also provide best practices and lessons learned in all areas of activity conducted by UNAMID that could be used by other missions.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has appealed for a quick disbursement of funds pledged last week in Brussels at the Somalia donors’ conference.  He also said that the Somali authorities must ensure that the funds are spent wisely and responsibly.

The Secretary-General and other conference participants last week announced that $213 million had been pledged to support Somalia’s security forces and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  Special Representative Ould-Abdallah notes that, while improving security, youth employment and aid delivery are essential, peace and stability can only be firmly secured through continued dialogue as laid out in the Djibouti Agreement.

We have a press release from his office upstairs.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) reports that Rwandan rebels are now surrendering at a rate of 146 fighters a month.  That’s four times last year’s average of 37 fighters a month.  More than 660 Rwandan rebels have heeded the call and returned to civilian life since the start of this year, along with 1,000 of their dependents.

This past weekend, another 10 members of the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) surrendered to a joint UN/Congolese army patrol near Goma.  The rebels brought with them 31 of their dependents along with a sizeable weapon arsenal.  The Mission says the new additions to its disarmament programme are now being processed for repatriation to Rwanda.  It calls on remaining FDLR fighters to follow suit.

**Non-Aligned Movement

The Secretary-General [will send] a message to the Ministerial Meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement Coordinating Bureau, which [will open this Wednesday] in Havana.

In a message [to be delivered] by Haile Menkerios, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, he [is expected to stress] the importance of closely coordinated responses to the interconnected crises the world is now facing.  Noting that NAM [is] a “key partner” in this regard, he [will call] on its members to play a strong, constructive role in forging consensus among developing countries, and to continue to deepen global cooperation in the difficult times ahead.

We have the full statement upstairs.

And this is all I have for you today.  I will take your questions until Mr. Adada reaches us.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On Sri Lanka, I wanted to know in light of the Secretary-General’s announcement last week that there will be a mission into the conflict zone by a humanitarian assessment, is that going forward or has it, as some of the reports have it, been blocked by the Government?

Spokesperson:  This is what John Holmes is trying to arrange.

Question:  Currently, it was announced that it had been agreed to.  Was it then un-agreed to?

Spokesperson:  It was agreed to.  We don’t know where things are at this point.  Mr. Holmes is there and he is the only one who has the answer to your question.

Question:  And just also on Sri Lanka, I learned, and maybe you won’t know this off hand, but that in late 2008 two UN staff members were arrested by the Government.  It now seems or I have been told and the UN didn’t say anything publicly, but some think they’re still being held.  One is a UNHCR protection officer in Vavuniya; and the other one is a UNOPS driver; both arrested by the...[inaudible].

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information.  We can certainly have it for you.  All I can say is that right now we have 13 staff members who are in the zone of conflict; and that is really all I have.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General believe that the United States should prosecute people who have engaged in torture?

Spokesperson:  This is an internal matter and I think this has to be solved internally.

Question:  Michèle, is there any update; I know that the Executive Office of the Secretary-General issued a statement last week saying that they’ve received the inquiry report on Gaza.  Is there any update on when we’re going to get feedback on what that report says?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that yet.  As you probably guessed, the Secretary-General came back and he had a full plate with what is happening in Sri Lanka.  So he has been really [dealing with] Sri Lanka and at the same time being constantly in touch with the WHO officials.  So we don’t have anything today, but I’m sure we will shortly have his decision about what he wants to do.

Question:  There is a report that Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb has put a statement saying that Mr. [Robert] Fowler and his colleagues were released in exchange for the release of Muhajadin, they put it.  I’m wondering whether the UN has seen that report and when Ban Ki-moon put out a statement he praised Mali, Burkina Faso ‑‑ what did he praise them for?  And is the UN aware of the prisoner exchange for Mr. Fowler?

Spokesperson:  No, we’re not.  And what I can say is that we can check for you on what was done.  But all the information that we had, you got.  And I will welcome Mr. Adada, please.  It will be a short one, I was advised, because Mr. Adada has other appointments.  But he will be glad to answer your questions and tell you about what he said to the Security Council.  Mr. Adada.

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