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

13 May 2009

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

13 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.

**Security Council

The Under-Secretaries-General for Political Affairs, Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support all briefed the Security Council in an open meeting this morning about UN efforts in Somalia.

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe said that today’s meeting comes during a critical moment for Somalia.  Despite the heavy fighting of the last few days, he said, we have witnessed in recent months new-found reasons to hope, and the Somali people have the best chance in two decades to end their suffering and move towards a better and more stable future.  The latest surge in violence is clearly a response to the Government’s strategy to reach out and build a critical mass in support of peace, Pascoe said.

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy informed the Council about the three-phased approach the Secretary-General has outlined for UN engagement in Somalia, saying that the incremental approach is the right strategy for Somalia at the present time.  It is important to emphasize that this is a flexible strategy, he added, and not one based on a rigid timetable.  Le Roy added that it remains the assessment of the Secretary-General that deployment of a UN peacekeeping operation at this stage, in the absence of these conditions, would be a high-risk option, and that an ill-timed mission would fail.

Under-Secretary-General for Field Support Susana Malcorra told the Council that the gains achieved in building peace by the Somali leaders and the international community must not be lost.  The current situation on the ground evidences that Somalia’s nascent and yet fragile peace process must be protected.  Among other things, she said, the disbursement of donor pledges must be expedited.

The open meeting has been followed by consultations, also on Somalia.  Mr. Pascoe says he will speak to you at the stakeout on Somalia afterwards, and we’ll let you know when this is taking place.  It should be, I assume, in a few minutes.

** Somalia

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has accused those who launched the recent attacks on the capital, Mogadishu, of attempting to topple the legitimate Government through a coup d’état.  He described the attackers as extremists who know do not have the support of the Somali people, and he accused them of bringing in foreign fighters who have no connections to the situation in Somalia.

Ould-Abdallah has already strongly condemned the fighting that flared up late last week in Mogadishu between Government forces and Islamist fighters, leaving scores of people dead and forcing hundreds to flee the capital.

** Pakistan

The Secretary-General met with the President of Pakistan, as you know, Asif Ali Zardari, yesterday afternoon, and they discussed a range of topics, including the regional situation and movement forward on the Commission of Inquiry looking into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

Speaking to reporters afterwards, the Secretary-General said that they had discussed the humanitarian situation in north-western Pakistan, particularly in the Swat Valley.  He said, “I expressed my concern and I expect President Zardari to take all necessary care to protect the civilian population.”  The United Nations, he said, is ready and will stand by to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance.

On the humanitarian front, a cargo jet chartered by the UN refugee agency yesterday delivered 120 tonnes of additional relief supplies for immediate distribution to those fleeing the fighting in the north-west.  The supplies were loaded onto seven trucks and taken to UNHCR's warehouse in Peshawar, and then distributed to various sites hosting displaced people in the North-West Frontier Province.

The refugee agency says that it is responding as quickly as possible to meet the basic needs of the displaced people, adding that it needs to support them morally, psychologically and materially, and ensure they can feel the solidarity that is being extended to them.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says it has received more than $500,000 to help meet emergency health needs for almost 550,000 people displaced in north-west Pakistan since August 2008.  But new violence is threatening to displace a further 800,000 people, potentially exacerbating the humanitarian crisis and taxing an already overstretched health system.  A three-member WHO team has travelled to Pakistan to strengthen the country office's response to the current crisis in the Swat, Lower Dir and Buner areas.

** Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka, heavy fighting in the conflict zone is reportedly continuing, with heavy casualties, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

OCHA says it has been informed by the Government of Sri Lanka that it will soon issue ID cards to the internally displaced persons (IDPs) once the registration process is completed.  These ID cards will allow IDPs to travel outside camp locations for employment, purchasing provisions and other essential activities.  Currently, over 20,000 IDPs have already registered for IDs and the process is ongoing.

Since the recent large influx of IDPs, many of the camp management duties in camps have been taken over by the military.  The United Nations continues to emphasize the need for the camps to be managed by civilians, and reiterates the need for more civilian police, including women police and police from the Tamil community.

In Menik Farm Zone 2, around 30 per cent of children under the age of five reportedly suffer from moderate malnutrition, while 20 per cent suffer from acute malnutrition.

** Darfur

We’ve just received the following:  The African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur reports that UNAMID forces observed Sudanese Government aircraft bombing targets north of Um Baru, a North Darfur town that has been the scene of recent fighting, shortly after 10 a.m. this morning.  Five shell explosions were heard.  Mission troops and police advisers in the area are continuing to monitor the situation.

In recent days, members of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) have clashed with the Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minawi faction (SLA) in and around Um Baru, and Mission troops also observed aerial bombings in the town area on Monday.

** Sudan

The UN Deputy Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Southern Sudan, Lise Grande, has expressed serious concern at the reported killing of over 60 women, children and men in Jonglei state in southern Sudan this month, following attacks between two ethnic groups.  The latest killings occurred soon after the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, visited southern Sudan.

It is reported that 57 people were wounded in the attack, the majority of which were children, some in critical condition.  More than 1,500 people have been displaced.  The UN has sent a mission to the area to assess the situation, and the South Sudan Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (SSRRC) is mobilizing food assistance to be distributed to the displaced people.

Meanwhile, the UN Mission to Sudan (UNMIS) says that about 120 personnel representing civilian, military and police components of UNMIS will be temporarily deployed to the affected counties.  UNMIS personnel will assist the local communities in restoring dialogue between the concerned communities in order to prevent further deterioration of the situation and address the underlying causes of the conflicts.

**Human Trafficking

Trafficking in weapons, drugs and blood diamonds has long been on the UN agenda.  Now, we must add people to that list.  That’s what the Secretary-General told the General Assembly’s thematic debate on human trafficking this morning.

He added that today’s meeting was a call to action.  In that context, he said that, first, we need to criminalize human trafficking.  All countries must ratify the UN anti-trafficking Protocol.  Second, he added, we must prevent victimization by teaching people about their rights and protecting them.  Third, we need to reduce demand.  Fourth, there must be an end to impunity.  And finally, we must protect the victims, he said.  We have the full text of the Secretary-General’s speech in my Office upstairs.

**Sustainable Development

The Secretary-General also addressed the opening of the high-level segment of the seventeenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development this morning.

He said that the idea of sustainable development, advanced 20 years ago by the United Nations, remained as valid as ever.  He added that this idea of an integrated and comprehensive approach to development showed how to address climate crisis, the food crisis, as well as the energy crisis.  That approach also contains durable solutions to the financial crisis and global recession.

Stressing the importance of tackling climate change, he said that the December climate negotiations in Copenhagen should enable the international community to pursue climate action on all fronts.  To that end, he said, he had invited all Heads of States and Governments to a high-level event on climate change on 22 September, right here in New York.  We have already announced that before.

The Secretary-General also underlined the importance of food security, saying the food crisis was not yet behind us.  The decisions taken here, he stressed, must help to revitalize agriculture and support the productivity and resilience of small farmers, in particular, to achieve food security for all.


Over in Timor-Leste, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Timor-Leste, Atul Khare, and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão today decided that the resumption of primary responsibilities for the conduct of police operations by Polícia Nacional de Timor-Leste (PNTL) will commence in the District of Lautem on 14 May.

The Prime Minister and Khare also agreed that appropriate action will be taken by the Timorese authorities, in accordance with applicable laws and procedures on all non-certified Police members.

** Lebanon

Yesterday, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) received from the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) technical strike data and related maps on the cluster munitions fired by the IDF over Lebanon during the 2006 conflict.  Technical experts from UNIFIL are currently examining and assessing the data received.  UNIFIL will be handing over the data to the Lebanese Armed Forces.

**Marine Waste

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) presented a report today at the World Oceans Conference in Indonesia, on global efforts to prevent further coastal park and marine wastes.  Over 120 nations are gathering at the Conference to boost the health of the global marine environment.  UNEP reported on past initiatives that were successful in cutting back on marine wastes and also made a number of recommendations to address the problem in the future.  Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, said smart market mechanisms can transform the economics of sustainability.  We have a press release on that upstairs.

**Law of the Sea

And the Commission on the Limit of the Continental Shelf says that it had by midnight last night received some 50 individual or joint submissions from coastal States parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.  Midnight marked the deadline agreed in May 1999 by the States parties to the Convention to file their claims to the continental shelf beyond their “exclusive economic zone” provided for by the Convention.

States that were unable to meet last night’s deadline may still pursue their claims under a residual mechanism administered by the Commission on the Limit of the Continental Shelf.

And we will have here in this room at 1:30 today the Secretary of the Commission, Mr. Hariharan Pakshi Rajan, to brief you on this issue.

**Secretary-General -- Soccer

And in a few minutes, the Secretary-General will speak at an event to present the organization Play 31 with the funds raised during last month’s benefit soccer match.

You’ll recall that the Secretary-General attended this charity game between UN ambassadors who made donations to benefit "Play31", an organization that uses the power of soccer -- or football as most of the world says -- to bring together people who have been torn apart by armed conflict.  The Secretary-General is expected to underline the positive force of soccer for development and peace, noting, for example, that football has become a regular feature of peace operations around the world.


And the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has awarded the 2008 Félix Houphouët-Boigny Peace Prize to the President of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.  The announcement was made in Paris this morning.

The jury said it had decided to give the Prize to Lula da Silva for his actions in pursuit of peace, dialogue, democracy, social justice and equal rights, as well as for his valuable contribution to the eradication of poverty and the protection of minorities’ rights.  There’s more in a press release upstairs.


And then on “Envision:  Addressing Global Issues through Documentaries”, a forum jointly produced by  the United Nations Department of Public Information (DPI) and the Independent Filmmaker Project (IFP), will take place tomorrow and Friday, 14 and 15 May 2009, at the Directors Guild Theatre in New York City.  Envision combines film presentations with live-audience discussions on pressing global issues related to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).  This year’s focus is on the MDGs and their impact on women.

The Secretary-General will deliver opening remarks.  Speakers include Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, fashion model and activist Christy Turlington, and filmmaker Jonathan Demme.  The programme is available on the web.  A press release is also on the racks upstairs.

And I was just informed that Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe is expected at the Security Council stakeout in about five minutes.  A little bit less now.  Let’s say three minutes.  So you have just three minutes to ask questions.

**Press Conferences Today

And I want to announce that at 12:45 p.m., Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime; Nestor Arbito Chica, Minister for Justice and Human Rights of Ecuador; and Saisuree Chutikul from the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women will be here to brief on the interactive thematic dialogue of the General Assembly on “Taking collective action to end human trafficking”.  That’s at 12:45 p.m.

At 1:30 p.m., Hariharan Pakshi Rajan from the secretariat of the Commission on the Limit of the Continental Shelf, as I said earlier, will brief you on submissions by States parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

And at 2:30 p.m., there will be another press conference relating to the interactive thematic dialogue of the General Assembly on “Taking collective action to end human trafficking”.  It will be by Ambassador Andrei Dapkiunas of Belarus and Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz of Egypt, who will be here to discuss a global plan of action on preventing trafficking in persons.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And then our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Yvo de Boer, who is the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.  He will be here to provide an update on the climate change negotiations.  Some of you had asked for this.

Following that at 1:15 p.m., Ambassador John McNee of Canada will brief, in his capacity as the President of the Economic and Social Council’s Ad-Hoc Advisory Group on Haiti, on the Group’s recent visit to Haiti.

And at 4 p.m. tomorrow, -- that’s a pretty heavy day -- Nirupam Sen and Michael Clark, senior advisers to the President of the General Assembly, will brief on the upcoming UN Conference on the World Financial and Economic  Crisis and Its Impact on Development.  The briefing will focus on Asia and the Pacific region.

Yes.  I will just have time to take two questions.  Yes, Matthew.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Okay, well ... On Sri Lanka, there was ...

Spokesperson:  As usual you have ten!

Question:  I do, actually, have, but I’ll ...  On Sri Lanka, it was said a few days ago that this ICRC ship was taking in metric tons of food.  There are some reports that the ship has not landed, that the food didn’t arrive and that even wounded people can’t get out.  Did that food arrive, and if not, what’s being done to feed the people trapped there?

Spokesperson:  Well, we have already said quite a bit about what is being done.  In terms of the ship itself, I don’t have the information right now.  I’ll try to get it for you.

[The correspondent was later informed that, earlier today, an ICRC-flagged ship carrying 25 tons of food turned back due to fighting in the conflict zone after the ship was also unable to reach its destination yesterday.  An additional 500-ton shipment of mixed food commodities is ready for departure from Trincomalee this evening.  Another shipment of 25 tons of food is planned for tomorrow.]

Question:  Has there been any movement on the outstanding invitation to the Secretary-General to actually visit Sri Lanka and to try to get ... (inaudible)?

Spokesperson:  It’s still being considered.

Question:  Okay.  I have a question on the Congo, but I wanted Mike ...

Spokesperson:  Yes, go ahead, Mike.

Question:  Can we do this later?  I mean, if you want ...  (inaudible) to your questions, but mine is on Gaza.  With the Security Council calling for establishment of a Palestinian State, the Secretary-General just releasing the summary of that report which indicates Israel did intentionally strike UN facilities, the ball seems to still be in the Secretary-General’s court to move this forward.  What does he plan to do now that we have another month until the Security Council meets on this issue?  What does he plan to do to keep the momentum going?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, there is already a Human Rights Council [Fact-Finding Mission] that is going to go there.  Judge [Richard] Goldstone will head that Mission, which is going to be about the whole of the Gaza issue.  As you know, the Secretary-General’s report was specifically on things that happened, damages and people who were wounded, in the UN compounds.

Question:  Well, Israel is already saying they’re disregarding the Human Rights Council, I mean, it seems that the Secretary-General still has the ... (interrupted)

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General keeps on pushing the issue and he will keep on pursuing it and pushing it.

Question:  On the Congo, Oxfam put out a report saying that the UN support of the Congolese army has resulted in the displacement of tens of thousands of people in North Kivu, and now in South Kivu.  They also said that the UN should rethink working in that way.  I wanted to ask about that memo; there is a memo showing that Bosco Ntaganda, who is the deputy coordinator.  It’s minutes from an FARDC meeting of 4 April ... (inaudible).

Spokesperson:  You had said Bosco earlier.

Question:  Yes, Bosco Ntaganda, the indicted ICC war criminal.  There are minutes that show that he’s working with the FARDC on this very initiative.  I sent it to Mr. Doss, so I’m ... I know there was a previous answer saying that MONUC has never seen the document.  But, I mean, I think they have now seen the document.  So I am wondering what they say.

Spokesperson:  So if you sent the request to Mr. Doss, why don’t you get the answer from them?

Correspondent:  I am still waiting for the answer, that’s why I am asking you.

Spokesperson:  Okay, well, in terms of the Oxfam report, I have to say that we fully share the Oxfam concern about the threats and attacks by the FDLR.  MONUC is doing everything it can within the limit of its resources to protect civilians under imminent danger.  And it’s true that this illegal criminal group has clearly stepped up its violence, and, in response, we increased pressure by the DRC and Rwanda and the international community as a whole.  So we certainly share Oxfam’s concerns.

Question:  But they seem to say that the UN should rethink that the displacement is not only caused by the FDLR, but by the way the Congolese army is fighting them; that this is something that needs to be rethought.

Spokesperson:  We have a specific mandate as you know, in the Congo, and that specific mandate is to support the legitimate forces of the Congolese Government.  She later added that the UN stands by our 30 January statement, that MONUC will not support operations with the FARDC in which Jean-Bosco Ntaganda plays a role.  Both the MONUC Force Commander and SRSG have made this clear to their interlocutors at senior levels of the DRC Government and military.  These interlocutors have assured MONUC that Bosco does not figure in the chair of command for operations in the Kivus.  MONUC has no executive law enforcement powers to execute the arrest warrant, but is on record that it is prepared to assist the DRC Government in arresting Bosco should it decided to do so.  Okay, thank you all very much.

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