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

30 April 2009

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

30 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.


The World Health Organization (WHO) just wrapped up a press conference on the H1N1 virus.  Regarding its influenza pandemic alert level, which was raised from phase 4 to phase 5 last night, WHO said that, as of today, there is nothing to suggest that we should be moving to phase 6.

As of this morning, the number of lab-confirmed cases of H1N1 throughout the world has risen to 236.  That’s up from 148 yesterday.  The largest jump took place in Mexico –- from 26 lab-confirmed cases to 97.  But WHO attributed that jump largely to progress made in identifying a backlog of thousands of specimens.

Also in today’s press conference, WHO confirmed that it has begun distributing flu-treatment drugs to developing countries, and a portion of the available stockpile is being sent to Mexico specifically.

The agency also noted that Swiss pharmaceutical company Roche is scaling up production of antivirals and is looking into providing WHO with additional stockpiles to make available to developing countries.

Last night, the Director-General of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, spoke to the press in Geneva.  She stressed that influenza pandemics must be taken seriously precisely because of their capacity to spread rapidly to every country in the world.  But on the positive side, she said, the world is better prepared for an influenza pandemic than at any time in history.

Chan added that WHO will be tracking the pandemic at the epidemiological, clinical and virological levels and the results of these ongoing assessments will be made publicly available.  In conclusion, she said, “We do not have all the answers right now, but we will get them.”  Her full statement is available upstairs.

The Food and Agriculture Organization, meanwhile, notes that people might mistakenly conclude that the H1N1 virus is coming from or circulating in pigs.  But on the basis of available evidence, that is not true, the agency says.

Meanwhile, here at Headquarters, the Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, is scheduled to hold a town hall meeting tomorrow with UN staff in New York.  She will give an overview of the H1N1 situation and the UN's preparedness to address the potential pandemic.  Joining the Deputy Secretary-General at the town hall meeting will be representatives from the UN Medical Services Division and WHO experts.

And, of course, staff here at Headquarters are once again reminded that the most effective way to avoid infection is to practise effective personal hygiene and to avoid close contact with sick people.  More information on personal hygiene and infection control measures can be found at www.un.org/staff/pandemic.

** Sri Lanka

On Sri Lanka, as of today, some 172,000 people have crossed out of the conflict zone, including nearly 2,000 wounded and caregivers in hospitals.  There have been no new arrivals at the screening point in the last 24 hours, and the Government of Sri Lanka informs the United Nations that none are in transit.  Although we do not have any verifiable numbers, we believe that 50,000 people remain in the conflict zone.

John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, told you yesterday here in this Room that the United Nations would continue to press for a humanitarian pause and access to the conflict zone and to the screening centres for relief workers.  He also repeated the UN’s appeal to the Government to exercise restraint in its use of heavy weapons, and to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam to release civilians.

The situation in the camps, while improving due to the efforts of all aid providers, remains less than optimal.  One of the most serious concerns is congestion in the camps.  Shelter in the camps also remains inadequate, and there is an urgent need for the allocation of more land by the Government in which to house the displaced.

In Jaffna, response in the camps has been stepped up in the areas of health, temporary teaching space, and provision of supplementary food and protection.  The overall situation in Jaffna is more manageable than Vavuniya, but access to camps remains an issue there.  The United Nations continues to urge the Government to make available all public buildings and usable land for the accommodation of the large number of civilians.

In response to the request by humanitarian agencies to allow freedom of movement of internally displaced persons and release vulnerable populations from the IDP [internally displaced persons] camps, the Government authorities have released 111 elderly IDPs from one camp and 10 others in the Jaffna district.  The first camp was in Vavuniya, and since the beginning of the year, Government authorities have released a total of more than 1,250 individuals from camps.

**Security Council

The Security Council began its work today with a briefing on Cyprus by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Alexander Downer.  He spoke to the press following his briefing just a short while ago, saying that he is “cautiously optimistic” about the talks on Cyprus, while not underestimating the difficulties involved.  He asserted that the two Cypriot leaders are committed to the process and to a successful negotiation.  The Council also intends to issue a presidential statement on Cyprus afterwards.

The Security Council also is to hold consultations on draft resolutions concerning the extension of the mandates of two UN missions:  UNMIS in the Sudan and MINURSO in Western Sahara.  The Council intends to vote on those draft resolutions once consultations have ended.

And today is the last day of the Mexican Presidency of the Security Council.  Tomorrow, Russia will assume the Council’s rotating Presidency for the month of May.  And for now, they’ve scheduled their monthly briefing of the press on their programme for the month of May on Monday at, I believe, 11:30 a.m.  We will confirm that, obviously, tomorrow.

**Children and Armed Conflict

The Security Council last night wrapped up its day-long meeting on children and armed conflict yesterday by adopting a presidential statement reaffirming its commitment to addressing this issue.

The Council expressed deep concern with the high incidence and appalling levels of brutality of rape and other forms of sexual violence against children.  It recognized the importance of including, as annexes to the Secretary-General’s reports on children and armed conflict, those parties that kill or maim children, or commit rape and other sexual violence against them.  The Security Council strongly emphasized the need for concerned Member States to take decisive and immediate action against persistent perpetrators of violations against children.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, has strongly condemned attacks on civilians in the South Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He says that renewed violence against civilians by FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] comes in response to a planned new phase of Congolese army operations against FDLR.

Some 100,000 vulnerable South Kivu residents have been displaced by violence since the beginning of this year.  And John Holmes warns that the situation leaves several hundreds thousands of civilians at risk of further displacement.  He calls on all armed elements to protect civilians and their livelihoods, and to ensure humanitarian access to them.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Alan Doss, has welcomed the conviction and sentencing of 20 Congolese army officers by a military tribunal.  The tribunal found that 20 soldiers had committed offences ranging from rape and armed robbery to crimes against humanity.  Human rights experts from the UN peacekeeping Mission [United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC)] monitored the trial to ensure they meet international standards.  The Mission also provided logistical and financial support to the tribunal in Walikale town, in the north-east.

** Myanmar

Commemorating one year since the deadly Cyclone Nargis devastated parts of Myanmar, the United Nations called for continued and increased support by the international community in addressing remaining humanitarian needs as well as pushing forward recovery and reconstruction activities through the Post-Nargis Recovery and Preparedness Plan (PONREPP).

The United Nations Office of the Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Myanmar says the results on the ground show that the overall relief and recovery efforts over the past year have been effective, but considerable needs remain.

The UN and its partners have worked tirelessly throughout the first year after the cyclone, in cooperation with the national authorities and ASEAN [Association of South-East Asian Nations] under the Tripartite Core Group umbrella.  Continued support and engagement by the international community must be ensured for years to come, so the 2.4 million cyclone-affected people can fully recover and regain economic and social stability.  You can read more about this upstairs.

** Afghanistan

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), on Afghanistan today, reports that flash floods, landslides and earthquakes in different parts of that country in the last 10 days have damaged thousands of houses, killed hundreds of livestock and made thousands of people homeless.  At least 15 people have reportedly lost their lives and over a dozen others were injured by the floods.

You can read more about this upstairs in a press release, as well as a notice from OCHA on Angola, where a number of people have also reportedly been killed by flooding and more than 81,000 displaced.

**Senior Managers’ 2008 Performance

Earlier today, the Secretary-General published on iSeek -- that’s the Secretariat’s intranet for the staff -– the individual assessments of his senior managers’ performance against the targets included in their compacts for 2008 and their human resources action plans for 2007 and 2008.  This is the first time that senior managers’ performance assessments have been made available, and their publication follows the historic posting on iSeek earlier this year of the 2008 compacts and the 2007-2008 Human Resources Action Plans (HRAPs).

The Secretary-General views these performance assessments as an important tool of accountability and transparency.  The Secretary-General has reviewed the results achieved by his senior managers and intends to use the results and information to strengthen areas of weakness identified through the assessment process.

** Iran

And I’ve been getting a number of questions on the press reports of the President of Iran’s comments [on his meeting with the Secretary-General at] the Human Rights Council.  This is just to say that, as you are well aware, we generally don't comment in detail on bilateral meetings with leaders of Member States. 

In this case, given the possibility for serious misunderstandings, I would like to state for the record that the Secretary-General did not make the comments attributed to him by the Iranian President.  We do not see any need to continue such exchanges by gratuitous or one-sided comments.  For the actual substance of the meeting, please refer to the agreed read-out which was issued right after the meeting between the Secretary-General and the Iranian President.  That’s all I have for you today.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Following the noon briefing tomorrow, there will be a press conference by Michael Clark, Senior Adviser to the President of the General Assembly, on the upcoming General Assembly Economic Crisis Summit.

And that’s all I have for you today.  Anything for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Do you have an update on the humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, especially after the visit of Robert Serry [Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process] that he made today?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I do not have an update from today, but let me check with you after the briefing and see if there’s any recent update to bring to your attention.

Question:  A follow-up question.  There was a report the day before yesterday by UNICEF that the condition of children in Gaza has become precarious because of the closure of border crossings.  Has there been any easing of the situation there, having the border crossings opened?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I just mentioned, I don’t have a snapshot of the humanitarian situation today.  We did bring to your attention here UNICEF’s concern for children there.  The Secretary-General, as you know, has continued to bring that situation to the attention of all.  If there’s anything more that we can update on, we will do so after the briefing.  Yes?

Question:  I wanted to –- there’s this controversy about satellite photographs that were taken in Sri Lanka from the air, that UNOSAT, apparently on behalf of UNITAR [United Nations Institute for Training and Research], got, but didn’t release to the public.  So many people have started to ask, why did they release photos of Gaza, not of this photo?

I tried to figure out yesterday, Mr. [Carlos] Lopes [UNITAR Executive Director] said he has -– that there was a difference of how the photos -– who they were produced for.  In Gaza, they were made for donors.  It wasn’t clear to me who they were made for in Sri Lanka.  Mr. Holmes said he has no problem with them being released, it’s up to UNITAR.  Who is ultimately –- that’s a UN agency.  Who decides that the photographs should be or shouldn’t be released, and why aren’t they being released?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything beyond what Mr. Holmes told you about this. 

Question:  Mr. Holmes threw it back, I guess, to another part of the UN agencies.  So we don’t have UNITAR here every day, so I guess I’m asking you on behalf of the UN system…

Deputy Spokesperson:  UNITAR has not provided us with an explanation, so I recommend that you ask them directly.

Question:  But he answers, Mr. Lopes answers to Ban Ki-moon, right?  It’s a UN…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything from them, so if you need an immediate answer, I would suggest you go to them.

Question:  Okay.  And Mr. [Walter] Kälin [Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights for Internally Displaced Persons], is it possible that the Secretary-General’s Representative on IDPs that went to Sri Lanka, if he’s still in New York, can provide either a briefing or a stakeout, or some information about his visit?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll follow up on that.

Question:  Okay.  And I also wanted to ask, this is a different kind of a question, but there was in December a UN staff member who was either suspended or terminated for pornography –- for viewing and forwarding pornography, including bestiality pornography, if you remember this case.  And the UN said he’d been suspended.  But the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] report said that there were other –- that the investigation continued and that 13 of these had been forwarded and involved DSS [Department of Safety and Security].  I wanted to ask you, what has been the follow-up by OIOS and the UN system on that case?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not familiar with the case that you’re referring to, so I’d have to look into that for you.

Question:  How about the DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs] staff member that was recently arrested in Kenya?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond what I told you on that.  Okay?  Thank you very much.  Tarek?

Question:  Regarding the Security Council’s resolution on Western Sahara, I was wondering if there was any position taken yet by Ban Ki-moon towards extending the mandate of the peacekeeping force there, MINURSO, to include the issues of human rights?  And there are mutual accusations between POLISARIO [Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro] and Morocco about it.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing, no new developments on Western Sahara to report to you today.  Sorry about that.  Okay?  Thank you very…

Question:  There’s a BBC report saying that the army of the Central African Republic killed 30 civilians on its border with Chad, which seems to be right in the zone of this MINURCAT [United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad] Mission.  Was the UN Mission at all aware of this?  Did it catch them by surprise?  And how’s it going to change their engagement?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’re looking into that to see if there’s a response from the field.

Question:  Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay.  Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon.

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