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

4 May 2009

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

4 May 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.

**Guest at Noon Today

Our guest today will be Dr. David Nabarro, the Senior UN System Coordinator for Influenza.  And of course, he will be here shortly to update you on the outbreak of Influenza A (H1N1).  And when he comes in, I am going to interrupt the briefing, because he is a very busy person right now, and I will pick up from when he finishes his briefing.

**H1N1 Influenza

As you know, a short while ago, the Secretary-General spoke about Influenza A (H1N1), at an informal gathering of the General Assembly in New York.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that, if and when the world faces a severe influenza pandemic, the UN system is ready.

He noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) has no plan to raise the flu alert level to 6 at this moment.  Regarding trade and travel bans or responses concerning pork and pigs, he stressed that we must avoid overreactions that will not help contain the spread of H1N1, but which will hurt our economies, our societies and our people.

The Secretary-General added that there is still much that is not known about this new strain and the dangers it poses.  We should not allow intense media coverage to alarm us, he said.  But, he added, we should also avoid a false sense of security if such coverage declines.

He also mentioned that, two weeks from now in Geneva, he intends to bring donors and the private sector together to explore how all can contribute to H1N1 mitigation efforts.  We have his full remarks upstairs.

Addressing the same meeting, WHO Director-General Margaret Chan said WHO has received reports of 1,003 confirmed cases of H1N1 from 20 countries on four continents.

WHO has dispatched around 3 million doses of flu vaccine to some 70 countries, mainly in the developing world.  But this is not sufficient, she said, and WHO is working to get more doses.

Meanwhile, we also have a press release upstairs from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) saying that, after the H1N1 virus was found to be transmitted by a human to pigs in Canada, FAO has again urged national authorities and farmers to carefully monitor pigs and investigate any possible occurrences of flu-like symptoms in domestic animals.

** Nepal

Yesterday afternoon, as you know, we did a short statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Nepal.  We are expecting another statement shortly in light of further development on that subject.

[The Spokesperson later issued the following statement:

The Secretary-General has learned of the resignation of the Prime Minister of Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda”.  While he is saddened by developments leading to this resignation, he is encouraged by the Maoist party’s assurances of its commitment to the peace process, including continued participation in the drafting of the Constitution.

The Secretary-General reiterates his call for restraint and political consensus.  He appeals to all concerned to strictly adhere to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and related accords, especially the Agreement on Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies (AMMAA), which stipulates clear and specific restrictions on the Nepal Army and the Maoist army.

**Secretary-General Statement on Doha Agreement

In the meantime, I have a couple of new statements, one is on the Doha Agreement.

The Secretary-General welcomes the Agreement signed between the Governments of Chad and Sudan on 3 May in Doha under the auspices of Qatar and Libya.  The Secretary-General recalls all earlier agreements between the two Governments and calls upon them to work towards the full implementation of the 3 May Agreement.  The Secretary-General expresses the hope that this positive development will result in a de-escalation of tensions and foster the conditions for stability in the subregion.

**Secretary-General Statement on Madagascar

And I have another statement on Madagascar.

The Secretary-General remains concerned with the continuing crisis in Madagascar, which has led to politically motivated arrests, escalating violence and the loss of lives.  He appeals to the authorities to observe human rights and respect the rule of law.

He takes note of the meeting of the Contact Group on Madagascar held on 30 April in Addis Ababa.  The United Nations Senior Political Adviser, Tiébilé Dramé, remains engaged with the African Union, the Southern African Development Community and other relevant partners to help facilitate a way out of the crisis.

The Secretary-General reiterates that the only solution is the resumption of dialogue among all parties.  He calls on them to fulfil their commitment to resolve their differences within the framework of an inclusive process.  Such dialogue should aim at an agreement on the framework for the transition and the modalities for speedy, credible elections leading to a legitimate Government.

We have copies of these statements upstairs.

** Sri Lanka

And on Sri Lanka, we remain concerned that military operations in the conflict zone have continued throughout the last week of April and into May.  According to reports from those remaining inside the conflict zone, fighting has intensified with both light and heavy weapons being used, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

As of today, more than 188,000 people have crossed out of the conflict zone, with the vast majority accommodated in internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in Vavuniya.  Over 186,000 are in camps and some 1,700 wounded and their caregivers are in hospitals.

There has been no report of displaced persons on their way to the camps since 27 April, although delays in confirming numbers mean that official counts lag behind realities on the ground.  We continue to estimate that some 50,000 or more people are still trapped in the conflict zone.

In Vavuniya, there have been positive developments in addressing basic needs for the influx of IDPs.  Among them, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been able to accelerate food distribution, and the Government of Sri Lanka has agreed that cooked meals should be provided at the Omanthai screening point.

In Jaffna, response in the camps has been stepped up in the area of health, including the treatment of chicken pox, the provision of toilets, hygiene kits, temporary teaching space and supplementary food.  Also, work to protect civilians and to facilitate family reunifications is ongoing.

**Security Council

And as you all know, in its first consultations for the month, the Security Council met this morning and adopted its programme of work for May.

You just heard from Ambassador [Vitaly] Churkin of Russia about the Council’s work over the coming month.  And he said that a meeting on the Middle East would be held on 11 May under the chairmanship of the Russian Foreign Minister, with other foreign ministers and the Secretary-General invited to attend.

Tomorrow, the Security Council intends to hold an open briefing on the work of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).

** Pakistan

The UN system has been responding to the recent unrest in parts of north-western Pakistan by scaling up support for the hundreds of families who have fled from their homes.  In close collaboration with Pakistan’s National Disaster Management Authority, the UN agencies have increased their assistance to cater for another 1,000 families in the Jalozai camp, and are preparing to provide support for another 5,000 families.

The number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is uncertain, but it is likely to be increasing.  To cater for these, three more possible camp sites have been identified by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), and the refugee agency is currently assessing the sites to set up camps.

The UN has been providing humanitarian assistance to IDPs in the North-West Frontier Province since late last year.  In spite of the challenging operating context, the agencies and clusters have been successful in meeting the priority needs of a majority of the displaced, with food and essential services provided to some 350,000 IDPs in February alone.

** Lebanon

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, is visiting the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), as we mentioned to you on Friday, and spoke to the press today, taking note of recent media reports.  We have a copy, I think, of his updated remarks upstairs.

**Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group began its fifth session this morning in Geneva.  The session will last for two weeks.

You’ll recall that the Universal Periodic Review is a State-driven process, held under the auspices of the Human Rights Council.  It involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years.  We have more on that upstairs, as well.

** Gaza -- Human Rights Council

And on Gaza, many of you have been asking for updates on the independent fact-finding mission, which the Human Rights Council is setting up to investigate international human rights and humanitarian law violations related to the recent conflict there.

The four-member fact-finding team is in Geneva this week to plan its work before heading to the region.  While in Geneva, the members plan to hold a wide range of discussions, including with representatives of the concerned parties, Israel and Palestine; other Member States; civil society; and UN agencies.  This is the first time the members are meeting collectively, face to face, since they were appointed in early April by the President of the Human Rights Council.

You’ll recall that the team is being led by Richard Goldstone, former Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunals for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.

We don’t have further details on the upcoming mission yet, but our colleagues in Geneva are trying to organize a press encounter for the team towards the end of the week there in Geneva.

** Sierra Leone

And on the Special Court for Sierra Leone, the Trial Chamber there has dismissed in its entirety a motion for acquittal filed by the defence team of Charles Taylor, the former President of Liberia.  Through this ruling the Court has made it clear that it expects Taylor to answer on all 11 counts of his indictment for war crimes allegedly committed during the civil war in Sierra Leone.

The Court also ordered Taylor’s defence team to be ready to open its arguments in late June.  Taylor is expected to take the stand in his own defence at that hearing.  Under the Court’s rules, the accused should be the first witness to testify in a defence case.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission there (MONUC) says it has helped extract 23 children from the ranks of armed groups in North Kivu in recent weeks.  At least four of these children were most recently associated with the Government Army, whose ranks they joined as members of the CNDP, the National Congress for the Defence of the People.  The Mission explains that the children landed in Government ranks as a result of an accelerated integration process that brought a majority of CNDP fighters into the Congolese Army following a peace deal between the Government and the CNDP.

** Haiti -- Economic and Social Council

And on Haiti, the Advisory Group of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) on Haiti today starts a four-day official visit to Haiti.  The Group will explore the best ways to assist the development efforts of the Haitian Government and will also look at the coordination of international assistance given to Haiti.

During its visit, the ECOSOC delegation will meet with many Government officials, including the President and Prime Minister of the country.  This is the third visit of the ECOSOC Advisory Group to Haiti -- the last one was in April 2007.  And there is more information on this upstairs, as well.

**Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons

Here at UN Headquarters, the Preparatory Committee for the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) began its third session.  This is the last of three sessions of the Preparatory Committee that will be held prior to the 2010 Review Conference.

In his remarks today at the opening session, the Secretary-General stressed that, while the world is facing multiple crises which prove that we live in an interdependent world, nuclear weapons remain an apocalyptic threat and the world cannot afford to place disarmament and non-proliferation on a backburner.

The Secretary-General also said the change has come in recent weeks, but is unfolding against a backdrop of multiple threats that, while urgent, tend to obscure the urgency of the disarmament and non-proliferation agenda.

The Secretary-General also welcomed the joint commitment by both [Russian] President [Dmitry] Medvedev and [ United States] President [Barack] Obama to fulfil their obligations under article VI of the NPT.  He expressed particular encouragement that both countries are committed to rapidly pursuing verifiable reductions in their strategic offensive arsenals by replacing the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with a new, legally-binding pact.  You can get his statement upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office, as well.

**Screening of “The Strangest Dream”

And on a related item, there will be a screening of The Strangest Dream today, Monday, 4 May, at 6:30 p.m. in Conference Room 1.  This is the story about Joseph Rotblat and the Pugwash Conference’s efforts to halt nuclear proliferation.  There is a press release on that which you can pick up upstairs.

**United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

And finally, the global downturn that reduced foreign direct investment by some 15 per cent last year will probably intensify in 2009, especially for developing countries, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).  We have more on this upstairs as well.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And as I mentioned, we’re expecting today, shortly, Dr. David Nabarro, our Senior UN System Coordinator for Influenza.  He will be here to update you on the outbreak of Influenza A (H1N1).

And tomorrow at 11 a.m., here in Room 226, the Secretary-General plans to be here to hold his monthly press conference.  And there will be no noon briefing tomorrow.

That’s what I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  When does the Secretary-General plan to brief the Security Council on the report of the Gaza Board of Inquiry?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing further on that yet.  As soon as I have an update, I will let you know.

Question:  This is the six month anniversary of when the General Assembly passed a resolution prohibiting smoking in UN Headquarters and other offices.  Can you just outline the steps the SG have done to enforce this resolution and say whether or not he believes it’s been a success so far?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I haven’t gotten an update today for your anniversary piece, so let me look into that for you and I’ll get you more on that afterwards.

Question:  The meeting with the Human Rights Council this week, do we have a list of any of the confirmed people, NGOs, members of Government that they will be meeting with when they undertake their mission to Gaza?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just read you an update on their meetings there and for further details I think you probably need to contact them directly.  But, they are just starting this week and towards the end of the week they will have a press briefing there.  So you’ll probably get a readout of all the contacts that they’ve had throughout the week.

Question:  What precautions has the UN taken to protect its own staff in the event of a more severe pandemic and continue to function?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, last Friday the Deputy Secretary-General met with the staff and during that time we had the head of the Medical Service, as well as WHO, brief on those measures.  But, I think, if you don’t mind, why don’t we wait for David Nabarro, he is the System Coordinator on Influenza and I think he’d be the best place to get [information].

Question:  Two questions.  On Afghanistan, there are these reports that Kai Eide met with Hamid Karzai and asked him not to appoint Mohammed Farhim as his running mate, given human rights concerns against him.  Can you confirm that that Kai Eide did that?  It quotes a UN, a diplomatic source near Eide as saying that.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have seen the press reports, but I don’t have anything on that.  Your second question?

Question:  On Sri Lanka, there are the reports of the hospital, the last remaining hospital in the conflict zone, being shelled.  Given how widespread these reports are, has the UN been able to either find anything out about that?  And also do they have any response to the Government of Sri Lanka saying that the UNOSAT photos which were then leaked and then pulled back in, show shelling of the conflict zone by the Government air force?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think that on your questions, on both questions about the activities in the conflict zone, our reports are not independent confirmations, so I don’t think I have anything further than what the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has given us and what I read earlier, which is our continued concern for the heavy fighting in the zone and its impact on the roughly 50,000 or more people we fear are trapped in there.  As for information as to whether we can confirm an attack on a hospital you mentioned; again, because we’re not in there, I don’t think we have first-hand confirmation of that.  But, the fact remains that we’re very, very concerned about the humanitarian situation of those who are left inside that zone.  The question about the satellite imagery, I think there is an update that has been provided by UNOSAT, which I can provide to you later.  And my understanding is that they’re releasing some of these images, that’s the latest I had heard.

Question:  [Inaudible] my question.  I heard over the weekend that there hasn’t been the possibility of rebuilding or dealing with the devastation in Gaza and what was pledged because of the closure of the border crossings.  I wonder if there is any thought being given to doing an airlift, or doing something, because I wondered if there is precedence to having such devastation and then leaving it the way this is being left.  So, is there anything going on with regard to the Secretary-General, with regard to dealing with figuring out some way to deal with this problem?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on any proposal for an airlift.  I think these questions have been posed to John Ging in the past, he has answered them.  All I can tell you is the repeated reports that we give you about the situation on the ground, in which we do flag the same concerns that you do, and that our agency partners are doing everything they can on the ground to help the people.  And on the political front, the Secretary-General and others are fully engaged to try to bring an end to the humanitarian suffering on the ground.

Question:  When the Security Council takes this up, will there be some effort by the Secretary-General to bring this to the Security Council debate on the issue?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General’s envoys, when they brief the Security Council on the Middle East, every time they brief the Council, vast portions of the briefing have focused on the humanitarian situation on the ground and ways forward and to try to alleviate their plight.  So, I think that effort will continue.

Question:  What, quickly, the NPT, can we have a briefing about the issue of the NPT since this conference is going on?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We will definitely look into that for you.  With that, we have David Nabarro, who just walked in.  So I am going to invite him up here. He is the UN System Coordinator on Influenza. 

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