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

27 May 2009

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

27 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 Today

My guest today is Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, who will be here to brief you on eighth session of the Forum, which is due to wrap up this Friday.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Pakistan

I am going to start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General on the bombing earlier today in Lahore, Pakistan.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the bombing today in Lahore, Pakistan, in which some 30 people were reported killed and 250 others wounded.  No cause can justify such indiscriminate terrorist violence.

The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the victims and wishes those injured a speedy recovery.  He expresses his solidarity with the Government and people of Pakistan.

** Pakistan -- Humanitarian Update

Also on Pakistan, a senior representative of the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Pakistan, has said that the number of people displaced by fighting in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province, is now close to 3 million.

In an interview with UN Radio, UNICEF Deputy Representative Luc Chauvin warned that displaced civilians still face a humanitarian catastrophe unless the international community responds urgently to the recent appeal for funds launched by the UN and the humanitarian community.

You may recall that just last week an appeal was launched in Islamabad for some $543 million to provide urgent assistance to the civilians displaced by the Government’s offensive against militants in the North-West Frontier Province.

And, as of last night, that’s Tuesday night, 16 per cent, only 16 per cent of that appeal has been pledged.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR), meanwhile, reports that about 10 per cent of the displaced are living in camps and the rest are staying with friends or in communal buildings, such as schools.  UNHCR continues to assistance to people in camps, as well as those living outside camps.

The UN refugee agency has started to distribute bricks to each family for building individual kitchen stoves in the camps.  The stoves will allow the displaced people to cook their own meals with rations provided by the World Food Programme (WFP).

** Sri Lanka

And on Sri Lanka, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, since the Secretary-General’s visit to Sri Lanka, an interim measure has been agreed whereby aid agency vehicles, including trucks, can now travel in and out of all Menik Farms zones.

OCHA also notes that it has been announced that the military will relocate out of the camps, turning over all camp management activities to civilian authorities.

Meanwhile, overall needs remain acute in the camps.  Health posts, doctors and medical personnel and water and sanitation facilities are the greatest needs at this time.  Most people arrived in the camps with nothing, so distributions of non-food items such as plates, cups and other basic household goods are also priorities when the trucks are re-entering the camps.

The overall scale of the humanitarian operation remains huge.  For food alone, 900,000 meals are provided daily -- that’s three meals per day to around 300,000 people.  The common humanitarian action plan for Sri Lanka in 2009 requested $155 million.  It is still only 39 per cent funded.

** Sri Lanka – Human Rights Council

In Geneva, just moments ago, the Human Rights Council wrapped up its eleventh special session, which dealt with the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka.  It adopted a resolution with 29 votes in favour to 12 against, with 6 abstentions.

By that resolution, the Human Rights Council urged the Government of Sri Lanka to continue strengthening its activities to ensure that there is no discrimination against ethnic minorities.

It also welcomed the Sri Lankan authorities’ resolve to start a broader dialogue with all parties, in order to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka, based on consensus among and respect for the rights of all the ethnic and religious groups inhabiting it.

The Human Rights Council also urged the international community to cooperate with the Government of Sri Lanka in reconstruction efforts, including by increasing financial aid.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has released a new report on movement and access restrictions in the West Bank.

In that report, OCHA notes that a number of Israeli measures, such as expanding checkpoints and building alternative roads and tunnels, are further entrenching the mechanisms used to control and restrict Palestinian movement.  Such measures exact a price from Palestinians in terms of land loss, disruption of traditional routes and deepening fragmentation of West Bank territory, the report says.

OCHA has documented and mapped 634 obstacles blocking internal Palestinian movement and access throughout the West Bank.  This is a slight increase from the number reported in its last report on this topic.

Israeli settlements remain the most important factor shaping the system of movement and access restrictions in the West Bank, according to OCHA.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory -- Guest Tomorrow

And the guest tomorrow here, will be Maxwell Gaylard, the Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process and the UN Coordinator for humanitarian and development activities in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and he will be here to brief you and give you a humanitarian update on the situation in Gaza.  And that’s tomorrow here at the briefing.

** Darfur

On Darfur, the security situation in Darfur is relatively calm today, according to the UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).

Yesterday, the Mission evacuated 19 seriously injured victims of the latest fighting in the Umm Barru area of North Darfur.  The Mission also delivered medical supplies to civilians in the area.

UNAMID also sent out 69 military patrols in the past 24 hours, while its police force conducted another 85 patrols to ensure the safety of civilians.  Meanwhile, some 40 police officers from Sierra Leone today joined the Mission’s ranks in El Fasher, with another 22 expected to arrive tomorrow.  The Mission intends to deploy them across Darfur after a two-week induction programme.

**Security Council

Here at UN Headquarters, the Security Council held consultations this morning on Georgia and other matters, you might have just heard.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Johan Verbeke, briefed Council members on the Secretary-General’s report pursuant to Security Council resolutions 1808 (2008), 1839 (2008) and 1866 (2009).

**Press Conferences Today

And at 2:30 p.m. this afternoon, Alexander Lomaia, the Permanent Representative of Georgia, will be here to brief you in connection with that report.  That’s today here at 2:30 p.m.

**Cyclone Aila

Concerning Cyclone Aila, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that, according to Government reports, the death toll in Bangladesh has risen to a 100 people.  OCHA also says that 6,410 people were injured.

The UN Resident Coordinator in Bangladesh with individual United Nations agencies and non-governmental organizations have been providing technical support to assess the impact of the cyclone and the needs of the population in the 14 affected districts.

So far, the Governments of Bangladesh and India -- also affected by the cyclone -- have not formally requested international assistance.  In a statement yesterday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said that the United Nations stands ready to assist either country if required.

** Somalia -- World Food Programme

On Somalia, the World Food Programme (WFP) is setting up a field office in central Somalia.  With over 1 million people in need of food and assistance, WFP is bridging the gap after a key non-governmental organization was forced to pull out last year due to insecurity.  The local elders and authorities have signed security assurances to protect the WFP staff and its local members.  And there’s more on the WFP website on this.

** Somalia

At yesterday’s noon briefing we were asked about UN support to police personnel and the Somalia Transitional Federal Government.

And we have this response: The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has been providing training to civilian police officers in Somalia, under internationally approved guidelines with emphasis on community-based policing practices.

Some donors are supporting payment of stipends to UNDP-trained police.

So far, 2,775 police personnel have undergone this internationally approved training by UNDP for the Transitional Federal Government.  These are the only police personnel who are eligible for the payment of stipends, which is paid according to strict human rights and financial accountability standards.

I see that our guest has arrived.  I will try to get through this quickly so we can turn this over to our guest.


Just to flag for you, tomorrow in The Hague, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will issue an order in response to a filing by Belgium questioning Senegal’s compliance with its obligation to prosecute Hissène Habré.

Habré, a former President of Chad, has been accused in a Senegalese court of massive human rights abuses committed by his regime during the 1990s.

[ Belgium contends that negotiations between the two States “have continued unsuccessfully since 2005” and that it reached the conclusion that they had failed on 20 June 2006.   Belgium states, moreover, that it suggested recourse to arbitration to Senegal on 20 June 2006 and notes that the latter “failed to respond to that request […] whereas Belgium has persistently confirmed in Notes Verbales that a dispute on this subject continues to exist”.]

Belgium filed the complaint to the ICJ in February, seeking among other things to have Habré extradited to Belgium to face criminal charges should Senegal be found unable or unwilling to do so.  For its part, Senegal has asked the Court to dismiss the Belgian filing, saying its judiciary is competent to carry out the prosecution.

**Secretary-General in Scandinavia

And the Secretary-General, just to give you an update on his travels, has left Helsinki, Finland, this morning, and is now on his way back to New York.

He met earlier today with former President and UN Envoy Martti Ahtisaari, as well as Finland’s Minister for Foreign Trade and Development, and a group of Finnish non-governmental organizations.

**Secretary-General Appointment -- Central African Republic

And I have two appointments by the Secretary-General. 

The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Ms. Sahle-Work Zewde of Ethiopia as his new Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Peacebuilding Support Office in the Central African Republic (BONUCA).  This Office will be succeeded by the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office (BINUCA).

Ms. Zewde would be the second woman to be appointed as a Special Representative by the Secretary-General and will replace François Fall.  The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. Fall’s tireless efforts to help stabilize the situation in the Central African Republic.

Ms. Zewde brings to this position years of experience in the African Union’s initiatives in conflict prevention and peacebuilding.  She has over 20 years of diplomatic service as an ambassador, and is currently the Permanent Representative of Ethiopia to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).  And we have more on her bio upstairs.

**Secretary-General Appointment -- Afghanistan

The second appointment is for the Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan.  The Secretary-General has appointed Robert Watkins of Canada.

Mr. Watkins will also serve as the UN Resident Coordinator and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Afghanistan.

He replaces Bo Asplund of Sweden, who will be completing his assignment this summer.  The Secretary-General is grateful to Mr. Asplund for his dedicated service for the past two years in Afghanistan.

Mr. Watkins brings to this position broad experience in preparing and managing responses to complex humanitarian emergencies and post-conflict recovery programmes in the Middle East, the Caribbean and Europe/CIS.  Since 2006, he has served as United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator and the UNDP Resident Representative in Georgia.  And we have more on his bio upstairs, as well.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And two press conferences to flag in addition to the ones I flagged to you earlier during the briefing. 

Here in 226, tomorrow at 11 a.m., we’ll have Rob Vos, Director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division at Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), who will launch the joint United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (ECA) and the African Union Commission report “Developing African Agriculture through Regional Value Chains”.

And at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow, also here in 226, we’ll have Sheila Sisulu, the WFP Deputy Executive Director for Hunger Solutions and Henk-Jan Brinkman, WFP Senior Adviser for Economic Policy, who will be here to brief you on the subject of hunger amid the financial and food crises.

And before I turn to my guest, questions for me?  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The $155 million for Sri Lanka, you said 39 per cent has been funded.  That’s in the country right now, or that’s just a commitment?  When…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, funded means funded.  Pledges are money that has been pledged but has not arrived.  But, funded means funded.

Question:  But 39 per cent is in the country right now?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We could double-check, if OCHA is listening they could, if they can double-check and confirm with me, but normally funded means that the money has been given.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Maybe at the top of the briefing you did give a statement.  Was there [inaudible] Secretary-General’s response to the terrorist attack in Pakistan this morning?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, we had a statement.  Let’s go in the back, Nizar, Rhonda and then Dennis.

Question:  Okay, recently, I mean yesterday, there was an arrest in south Lebanon of one of the UNIFIL staff in Lebanon spying for Israel.  And there were two other infiltrations, two people, spies running from Lebanon into Israel.  Is UNIFIL doing anything to stop that and are they screening their staff to find out if there are more spies among them?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The answer to your question on that comes from UNIFIL itself, and they say -- this is UNIFIL talking: We have been notified by the Lebanese authorities about separate arrests of two locally recruited staff members of UNIFIL on 26 May 2009 in connection with investigations into alleged dealing with Israel.  UNIFIL and the Lebanese authorities are in contact in this regard.

UNIFIL is assisting the Lebanese authorities in ensuring that the investigative process takes its own course in conformity with the letter and spirit of the agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Lebanon on the status of UNIFIL.

And that’s all I have for you, because I just got this.

Question:  How about the two spies who ran into Israel?  Is UNIFIL doing anything to bring them back into Lebanon?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Nizar, I have nothing beyond this guidance that just came in from UNIFIL on your question.  Rhonda?

Question:  Yes, I wondered if the Secretary-General has given any thought to having an envoy to deal with the tremendous tension that is developing on the Korean peninsula and to have an envoy go deal with both of the countries.

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General’s position on this has been spelled out loudly and clearly in the numerous press encounters and statements that he has issued in the last few days and, for the most recent, if you can go up and take a look at his rather lengthy comments on the subject that were posted from his most recent press encounter on this matter.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Marie.  First, you said that the access to the camps is now better.  The head of the Red Cross, Jacob, let me be sure to get his name right here, Kellenberger has said today in Geneva that even the Red Cross doesn’t have access to many of the camps, and his quote is that people in the camps are being interned for security reasons.  So, I guess, I mean, how do we square the UN saying everything is getting better, and the Red Cross, that rarely speaks on these matters, saying that they don’t have access and that people are being interned, in a sense with camps that are funded with UN money.  What is the UN’s response to that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t think the UN is saying that everything is getting better.  In fact, John Holmes, yesterday, was here precisely to tell you about the desperate needs on the ground and the need to get aid to the people, not only in the camps, but in all areas and to the thousands and thousands who need it.  What we also flagged to you is the appeal… that aid needs to get there, you know, as quickly as possible.  There was some news that we reported to you directly from OCHA, so if you need more information on that, you should probably follow up with them directly.

Question:  I just want to ask this one thing, because it seems the Red Cross says that they have access to some camps and they don’t have access to others.  Is the UN claiming that it has access to all camps, i.e. that it has access to camps that the Red Cross doesn’t?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I did not say that, I just read to you the note, you were still walking in, so why don’t you follow up with OCHA afterwards?  Dennis?

Question:  Thank you, Marie.  Is there any update on the Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission to Gaza and has the team left and did they get permission to enter Israel?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything further than what Mr. Goldstone said to the press in his last press encounter, and I think he did give a ballpark date when he was hoping to get there.  With that, I think we’ll…

Question:  Marie, I want to ask a question about a contract that the UN is entering into for outside legal counsel to defend a claim by PCP International.  They’re paying an outside legal firm, it appears, $500,000, and then Headquarters’ committee on contracts now shows there are significant irregularities in it.  Can you explain on what basis?  Doesn’t the UN have its own legal department?  When does it hire outside firms and, in this case, if you can look into it, why were the safeguards of procurement overridden?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is the first I hear of this, so we’ll have to look into it for you.

On that note, we have our guest, the Chairperson of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and I’ll invite her up here so she can speak to you.

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