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

15 May 2009

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

15 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.

** Côte d’Ivoire Statement

We first have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Côte d’Ivoire.

The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement by the Government of Côte d’Ivoire of 29 November 2009 as the date for holding the long-awaited presidential election.  The Secretary-General notes that this date was set based on advice received from the Independent Electoral Commission.  He urges all Ivorian parties to respect this date and to work together to complete the remaining tasks related to the electoral process.

The Secretary-General assures the Ivorian parties that the United Nations will continue to provide the necessary support to help them organize and conduct free, fair and credible elections, including through the certification mandate of his Special Representative for Côte d’Ivoire.

And we have of course that statement upstairs in French.

**Security Council

The Security Council just started consultations on Somalia.

It is discussing a draft presidential statement, which it expects to adopt today, as they will hold a formal meeting after consultations.

** Somalia

Also on Somalia, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is deeply concerned about the week-long clashes in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. 

It says that this latest fighting -- some of the heaviest seen this year between forces loyal to the Transitional Federal Government and opposition groups -- has so far claimed the lives of more than 135 people and left 315 injured.  The Agency also says that the rate of displacement is rapidly increasing as the conflict escalates.  An estimated 30,000 people have already fled the capital.

UNHCR reports that hospitals in central Mogadishu are overwhelmed by the large number of casualties.  Meanwhile, some people have been trapped in their homes for days, unable to flee because of the raging street battles.

According to UNHCR, those who are able to escape speak of indiscriminate nightly bombings of residential areas and the targeting of civilians.  Among these newly displaced are families that had recently returned home following a period of relative peace in Mogadishu.  There is more in the UNHCR briefing note upstairs.

**Security Council -- Formal Meeting

I have just received a note to let you know that the Security Council formal meeting starts in 10 minutes to adopt the presidential statement on Somalia.

** Sri Lanka

We have a statement on Sri Lanka of the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Mr. Francis Deng.

Both sides in the current fighting in Sri Lanka have been repeatedly urged by the Secretary-General to respect international human rights and humanitarian law obligations, particularly to prevent unlawful killings and accord protection to civilians and detainees.  Women and girls are particularly vulnerable to excesses of conflict and the Government has a legal obligation to give them special protection.  The two sides should be reminded that individuals can be held personally responsible for war crimes and other international crimes committed in the course of conflict and which attract international jurisdiction.  The Government should allow the United Nations and other international humanitarian and aid organizations full and unfettered access to all civilians and detainees in places of detention and processing centres, including all sites for the internally displaced.

It is not too late for the Government and the LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam) to put an end to an increasingly brutal conflict and pursue a reconciliatory and peaceful path with the ethnic Tamil population.  This polarizing conflict is identity–related, with ethnicity and religion as deeply divisive factors.  It will not end with winners and losers, and it cannot be ended solely through a military victory that may not be sustainable in the long run unless legitimate grievances are addressed.  The LTTE must immediately cease holding human shields and let civilians leave the conflict area.  The Government is urged to work with the international community to initiate a political process to create a national framework in which all Sri Lankans can co-exist as equal citizens. 

That’s a statement from the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, Francis Deng.

**Sri Lanka Update

On Sri Lanka, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today reiterated that the loss of civilian life and the situation of civilians trapped in the conflict zone are unacceptable.  OCHA also spoke out today against the use of heavy weapons and of civilians as human shields.  According to OCHA, at least 50,000 people remain trapped in the conflict zone.  Yet the 2009 Humanitarian Appeal for Sri Lanka remains only 39 per cent funded.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) has started providing cooked meals at a Government screening point to feed thousands of desperate people fleeing the conflict zone.  The agency says that, for many, this will be the first hot meal they have had in days or perhaps much longer.  WFP is now feeding almost 200,000 internally displaced persons in northern Sri Lanka.

For its part, UNICEF is supporting international efforts to provide water for drinking and cooking to displaced Sri Lankans.  And the World Health Organization is providing medicines and equipment to bolster surgery capacities to health facilities for the displaced.

In related news, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said today that it believes some sort of independent commission of inquiry is essential given the conduct of this war and the number civilians who have been killed.

You have that information also upstairs.

** Myanmar

On Myanmar, we told you yesterday that the Secretary-General was gravely concerned about the news that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been moved to the Insein Prison to face criminal charges.

Today, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay issued her own statement, deploring Aung San Suu Kyi’s ongoing persecution, and calling for her immediate and unconditional release.  Pillay said that the continued detention, and now this latest trial, breach international standards of due process and fair trial.

Pillay added that the Myanmar authorities might claim that Aung San Suu Kyi has breached the conditions of her detention.  But they have actually broken both their own laws and their international human rights obligations.  Aung San Suu Kyi should not be detained in the first place, the High Commissioner said.

We have her full statement upstairs.

** Pakistan

On Pakistan, as the number of people uprooted this month by the current conflict in north-west Pakistan nears 1 million, the High Commissioner for Refugees says that the speed and size of the displacement makes it "absolutely essential" that the international community mount an immediate and massive humanitarian response.

António Guterres is on the second day of a three-day mission to Pakistan to show solidarity with the Pakistani people and to assess his agency's humanitarian response.  He noted that the almost 1 million displaced people so far registered this month by authorities and UNHCR are in addition to another 550,000 uprooted people who fled fighting since last August.

When asked by reporters if the huge numbers of displaced people could destabilize Pakistan, Guterres replied that while UNHCR focuses on the humanitarian aspects of the current crisis, "obviously this is a region where the geo-political context cannot be ignored".

UNHCR, which has had a major presence in Pakistan after decades of helping Afghan refugees, started distributing aid from stocks in the country as soon as the dimensions of the current crisis became clear.

Meanwhile, the acting Humanitarian Coordinator and UNICEF Representative in Pakistan, Martin Mogwanja said a major funding appeal would be launched next week to the international community.

Mr. Mogwanja also said the situation in the conflict areas was not known.  He said due to the security considerations, all the NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and humanitarian workers had left the conflict zone.  With regard to safe corridors, the humanitarian community was considering this, but it was very difficult to make the necessary contacts and obtain the necessary guarantees of safety and security. 

There is more information in the Geneva briefing notes available in my office.


Today, 15 May, marks the International Day of Families.  The commemoration this year focuses on the important role of mothers for families and communities around the world.

In a message, the Secretary-General underlines the critical role of mothers in the family.  He adds that they are a powerful force for social cohesion and integration and are also caregivers and breadwinners for their families.  Yet, he says, women continue to face major –- and even life-threatening -– challenges in motherhood.

Stressing the timeless importance of mothers and their invaluable contribution to raising the next generation, the Secretary-General says that we can secure a better future for all by rewarding their efforts and enhancing their living conditions.

We have his full message upstairs.

**Vesak Day Celebrations

The commemoration of the Buddhist Day of Vesak will be held today from 4.30 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the ECOSOC Chamber.

The Secretary-General is scheduled to attend the opening ceremony.  In his opening remarks, he is expected to talk about how the Buddha’s spirit of compassion and his timeless teachings can help us navigate the many global problems that we face today.  The Secretary-General will reiterate that global problems such as the financial crisis, climate change, pandemics, terrorism and other international threats prove that the fates of all people are linked. 

**World Information Day

And then looking ahead, Sunday will mark World Telecommunication and Information Society Day.  The theme this year is "Protecting Children in Cyberspace”.

In a message to mark this occasion, the Secretary-General says that the virtual world has exciting possibilities for nurturing children and helping them grow into creative, productive adults.  But, he adds, we must mind the pitfalls that could scar them for life.  He urges policymakers and industry leaders to find the means to make the rapidly evolving virtual world safe for everyone.

**United Nations Spouses Bazaar

And then, as you probably noticed today in the South Lobby of the UN Headquarters, the “United Nations Spouses for Women in Conflict Areas” is hosting a fundraising bazaar to benefit women and children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Afghanistan and other conflict areas.  Over 60 Permanent Missions are participating.  Mrs. Ban Soon-taek, spouse of the Secretary-General, is the Patron of the event.  And the Secretary-General actually went downstairs a little earlier today and visited the bazaar and spoke to the women who are organizing that fundraising.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

And we have upstairs The Week Ahead, and just to flag that, on Sunday, the Secretary-General will be in Manama, Bahrain, to launch the 2009 Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction.

On Tuesday, he will be in Geneva, Switzerland.  There, after addressing the Conference on Disarmament, he will participate in the World Health Assembly and meet with representatives of vaccine companies.  The Secretary-General will also hold a joint press conference with WHO (World Health Organization) Director-General, Dr. Margaret Chang.

On Wednesday, at 11 a.m. in Room-S226, Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and Susana Malcorra, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, will brief you on the latest developments and challenges in peacekeeping. 

And on Thursday, the Secretary-General will be in Washington, D.C., where he will speak at the commencement at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies ( SAIS).

The guests at the noon briefing will be Angela Kane on Thursday, Under-Secretary-General for Management, and Jun Yamazaki, Assistant Secretary-General and Controller.

And this is all I have for you today.  Yes, Masood.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, I just want to find out, I mean, according to some reports, lots of Pakistanis are directly contributing to the United Nations fund because they trust the United Nations more in alleviating the plight of the refugees.  That’s one question.  Do you have any idea as to who will keep accounting of such money contributed to the United Nations?  Do you accept such money?  And the other one is that this flash appeal has not been issued as yet?

Spokesperson:  No, not as yet.

Question:  And it will be issued on Monday or Tuesday?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I don’t have an exact time for it.

Question:  And do we have any idea how much it will be?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  But we can try to find information that you asked for about the funds given by individual Pakistanis to that fund.  We’ll try to find out for you.

[The Spokesperson later added that the United Nations humanitarian appeal would be launched next week, but that the amount had not yet been determined.]

Question:  Through the United Nations, UNHCR, UN officials…  I mean, all I want to find out, how is the accounting kept for that, if at all, it is a donation being made directly to the United Nations; people at this point in time, for some reason, trust the United Nations more than they trust their own Government.  That’s the reason I am asking you.  So do you know about that?

Spokesperson: Well, I don’t know when.  I am going to ask the question for you.  The answer is not with me.  I have to ask the people who actually handle that fund to tell me.

Question:  I want to ask on Sri Lanka a couple of things.  One is what’s the status of the delivery of this WFP food that on Wednesday it was said that it was trying to get in?  Has this ship been able to land with the food?  And also if there is…?

Spokesperson:  You mean into the conflict area?

Question:  Correct.

Spokesperson:  No.  As far as I know, it hasn’t been able to.  What WFP has been doing is delivering food to the [displaced].

Question:  Okay.  And also, I mean, the Government there has said that, this is it, 48 hours, they’re going to either “free all the people in the conflict zone, or get the remaining Tamil Tigers”.  I guess, what exactly is Vijay Nambiar’s mandate while he is there, given that he is there in the time frame that the Government has set to complete its military action?

Spokesperson:  What he is doing is essentially pushing forward the Secretary-General’s agenda, what the Secretary-General had asked; and you know what he had asked.  He had asked that… [interrupted]

Question:  Is he asking the Government not to do this final offensive or not?

Spokesperson:  He had asked for restraint, and he had asked for negotiations.

Question:  Okay.  And the last thing; I heard yesterday that it’s the Secretary-General’s…you know, not position.  Is it a fact that while he was a South Korean diplomat that he came to know President Rajapaksa and…  How much, how would you describe the relationship between Ban Ki-moon and President Rajapaksa? 

Spokesperson:  I think that relationship is based on what the Secretary-General wants for the civilian population of Sri Lanka.

Question:  But did he come to know him when he was a South Korean diplomat, from the tsunami?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I can try to find out for you… [inaudible] before this.

Question:  The figures that you gave us earlier on Pakistan, IDPs are, one, more than, what -- 1.6 million…  

Spokesperson:  Almost a million.  Oh, yes, with the ones that were there before, yes, you’re right.

Question:  So, what I’m saying, are there any latest figures available as to how many people are…  because they’re running…  and…

Spokesperson:  We don’t have exact figures; this is an approximation which I gave you.  So you can have that, of course, that note.

Question:  The Pakistani Army has given…  lifted the curfew for people to flee.  And, I mean, obviously, there again, they become IDPs, will you be having new figures…?

Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t know.  I mean, the situation on the ground is evolving.  As you know very well, Masood, I cannot predict when we’ll have new numbers and what those numbers will be.  We’ll have to wait until we have more information from the ground.  And to the extent that we can evaluate what is happening, the UN is not everywhere in Pakistan, and we can evaluate, of course the IDP population, but it is a situation that is evolving daily, hourly.  So it’s very difficult for me to give you a very specific time when we will get more information.  Yes, Tarek.

Question:  Thank you.  Is there an official request made yet for the Israeli Government by Mr. Ban Ki-moon to pay compensation for the damage and the deaths, lives, which happened during military operations in Gaza?

Spokesperson:  As I said earlier, it is a matter that is under discussion right now.  So there are no specific dates at this point.

Question:  It’s under discussion with the Israeli side, you mean, or?

Spokesperson:  Yes, indeed.  Yes.

Question:  Going back to Sri Lanka, over the past few days 525,000 tons of food has been turned away because of the fighting.  This is obviously an immense amount of food.  Is there any estimate on how long the displaced people can last without continuous food shipments?

Spokesperson:  We have been saying for quite a few days now that they have been without food.  We cannot predict…  We don’t have the information on that pocket where the conflict is taking place right now.  So we cannot give you more information than what we have already given you.

Question:  Michèle, I wanted to ask you about the Secretary-General’s schedule today.  There are a lot of appointments, but about a couple of them, one, Zalmay Khalilzad, the meeting at 5.45 p.m.; what’s the purpose, what’s the scope of that meeting?  Is that about, I mean, given that he doesn’t work for the US Government, he works for Khalilzad Associates.  What’s the Secretary-General looking to get out of that meeting?

Spokesperson:  It’s a personal call.

Question:  Oh, it’s a personal call.  Okay.  And also, Robert Fowler, it was said that once Mr. Fowler recoups, that he might speak to the press.  Will that be possible today?

Spokesperson:  It’s up to him.  No, not today.  He will be meeting with the Secretary-General; it’s a courtesy call this afternoon and this is the first, as you know, the first time he is meeting the Secretary-General since his release from captivity.  So, he is debriefing with the Secretary-General and other senior officials in the Organization on his ordeal.  As you know, he is still the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Niger.

Question:  Okay.  And then, this is something about [inaudible]…  but it’s a…  You know, I had asked before about the contract with VSG that runs UNTV.  Can you confirm that now the UN is actually paying their salary rather than VSG, but that neither pension nor health benefits are being paid by the UN?  That the people that work in the UN and UN Television are now without pension payments and without health insurance, and what the UN’s plan is to deal with this now nearly bankrupt UN contractor.

Spokesperson:  You can address your question directly to the people involved…

Question:  Who are those?  I had written to Ms. Kane in the past and she said ask at the noon briefing, so that’s why I am asking here.

Spokesperson:  Oh, she said ask at the noon briefing?

Question:  She did.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  As soon as I get the answer for you, I’ll find out what the new situation is at this point.

Question:  Does anyone know what happens to this… [inaudible] food, because this happens pretty much throughout the world.  I mean, whether it’s going to Africa or Asia…?

Spokesperson:  This food is not wasted.  You can be sure that there are other needy people who actually get that food.

Question:  So it is diverted to…

Spokesperson:  Sure, of course.

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Thank you.

* *** *

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