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

28 May 2009

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

28 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 Briefing Today

There is going to be a bit of congestion over briefings rights now, because I was just told that Ambassador Churkin, the Security Council President, will be heading to the stakeout shortly, at 12:30 p.m.

And also here as the guest at the noon briefing, we’re going to have 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 provide a humanitarian update on the situation in Gaza.

So what I hope to do is to get through my briefing so you can then go out and listen to Ambassador Churkin if you can, and then we’ll hold the briefing by Mr. Gaylard until after the Security Council President is finished.  I think that’s the best I can do.

**Statement on Somalia

[The following statement on Somalia was issued after the briefing:

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the continuing armed attacks against Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government.  This campaign of violence is aimed at the forceful overthrow of a legitimate government which has reached out to its opponents in a spirit of reconciliation, through an “open door” policy and negotiations.  The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the growing numbers of civilians killed, wounded and displaced as a result of these attacks. 

In the face of this ongoing threat to the peace process, Somalia’s government is appealing for international assistance, and the Secretary-General wishes to strongly and urgently echo that appeal.  He calls on the international community to follow through quickly with the urgently needed financial and other forms of support recently pledged in Brussels to both the Government of Somalia and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  The Secretary-General further urges the international community to provide direct bilateral assistance to the Government. 

The Secretary-General believes there is a unique window of opportunity for peace in Somalia, but the situation is fragile and international assistance is needed now.]

** Pakistan -- Humanitarian Update

Let me start with Pakistan.  The United Nations and the humanitarian community are now focusing on disease prevention, provision of summer shelter and support to local host communities in their latest efforts to bring much needed assistance to the nearly 3 million people displaced by fighting in the North-West Frontier Province. 

International humanitarian agencies and Government officials report that the registration of all the internally displaced persons, or IDPs, is one of the most critical challenges affecting the quick delivery of aid to those in need.

There is also serious concern that overcrowding in IDP camps could lead to the spread of diseases, because of poor hygienic conditions and unsafe water supplies, especially in unplanned or spontaneous camps.  Agencies also continue to work to protect tents and other shelters from the very high daytime temperatures at this time of the year.

Humanitarian officials continue to appeal for urgent international support for the displaced person.  They say there has been a poor response so far to the $543 million humanitarian appeal launched last week.  [As of yesterday], only about $88 million of this amount has been provided or committed.

And at 3 p.m. today, here in Room S-226, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, will be here to brief on the latest regarding the revised humanitarian appeal for Pakistan.  That’s 3 p.m. this afternoon.

**Security Council

And here at UN Headquarters, the Security Council is holding a meeting this morning on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Council members were briefed by the new High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina Valentin Inzko.  Before them was Inzko’s report to the Secretary-General -- his first since taking office.

And this afternoon at 3 p.m. the Security Council will hold a formal meeting on its recent mission to Africa.

As you’ll recall, a Council delegation visited Addis Ababa for meetings with the African Union, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Liberia in a week-long mission which lasted from 14 May to 21 May.  Speakers will include the Ambassadors from the United Kingdom, the United States, France and Uganda, who led different steps of this mission.

After that meeting, the Council intends to hold consultations on the interim report of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  And that should be followed by other matters. 

** Cyprus

Turning to Cyprus, talks between the Cyprus leaders continued today in Nicosia under UN auspices.  Speaking after the leaders’ meeting, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, noted that they had been a “very friendly discussion”, which lasted an hour and a half.

The leaders touched on economic matters and will continue discussing that subject when they meet again next Wednesday, Downer said.

In response to questions about why the talks on economic matters were lasting relatively long, Downer said that the subject was not contentious, but that there was a lot of material to deal with.  He reiterated that the momentum of the talks was satisfactory and that strict timetables would only make the negotiations more difficult.  And he added that he remained “cautiously optimistic” about the process.  And there is more on this upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.

** Burundi

On Burundi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, is calling for urgent support for newly demobilized children in that country.

Now that the 340 children formerly associated with the FNL (Forces Nationales de Libération) have been released from the Gitega Demobilization Centre, she says they must receive long-term support to ensure their sustainable reintegration into their communities.

Coomaraswamy is calling for the demobilization of another 44 children who still remain with the FNL dissidents in two additional assembly sites.  And there is a press release on this upstairs as well.

** Myanmar -- Post Nargis

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says that a three-year Italian-funded FAO programme to improve the long-term food security of 32,000 poor fishing and farming families in Myanmar has been signed.

The programme will assist Myanmar to develop sustainable small-scale fisheries and aquaculture livelihoods in coastal mangrove ecosystems and improve rice production.  Many of the beneficiaries are victims of last year’s devastating Cyclone Nargis that killed some 150,000 people.


The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) reports that it is funding a new health initiative for prisoners at a Becora prison in Timor-Leste.

This project will provide quality services and accurate and updated information for the prisoners in the areas of HIV, AIDS and sexually transmitted infection.  Its holistic approach to all prisoners and prison staff will also ensure a way for prisoners to move forward when they leave the prison.  And there is a press release from UNFPA on that.


The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has issued an order leaving former Chadian President Hissène Habré in the custody of Senegal, where he’s under house arrest for alleged crimes against humanity and torture.   Belgium had, in February, lodged a request to bar Habré from leaving Senegal while his trial is pending.  It had also sought to have him extradited to face charges in Belgium, citing, among other things, procedural delays in Senegal’s handling of the case.

In its order, the ICJ found that “there does not exist, in the circumstances of the present case, any urgency to justify” Belgium’s bid.  However, the Court also stressed that today’s order leaves unaffected Belgium’s right to pursue the case should new facts emerge.

Habré has been living in Senegal under house arrest for close to 20 years, the Court noted.  It also said that Senegal has given assurances it would not allow Habré to leave the country pending a final ICJ ruling on the matter.  And there is a press release and background on the ICJ website.

**United Nations International School Graduation

And this afternoon, the Secretary-General will attend the Graduation Ceremony for the Class of 2009 of the United Nations International School (UNIS).  The 122 graduates in this year’s class represent 53 nationalities and speak 34 languages as their mother tongues.  The graduation ceremony will take place at 3 p.m. in the General Assembly Hall.

** Japan

The Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that, this weekend, a drama about UN refugee agency’s Tokyo office will premier on Japanese TV.

Japanese national TV broadcaster NHK is expecting millions of viewers to tune in to the show called “Plastic Sheeting in the Wind”.  In the process, they will learn about UNHCR and refugees in Japan, as well as around the world.

Japan is UNHCR's third largest donor and it announced last year that it will become the first Asian country to accept refugees for resettlement under a pilot programme due to start in 2010.  And you can read more about that on the UNHCR website.

**Press Conferences Today

As for press conferences for today, at 1:30 p.m. today, we have Sheila Sisulu, World Food Programme’s Deputy Executive Director for Hunger Solutions, and Henk-Jan Brinkman, the Programme’s Senior Adviser for Economic Policy, will be here to brief you on the subject of hunger amid the financial and food crises.

And, as I mentioned earlier, at 3 p.m. here, John Holmes, Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, will launch a revised humanitarian response plan for Pakistan.

As I stated in the briefing, we’ll have the guest, who today will be Maxwell Gaylard, the Deputy Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, and you’ll have Ambassador Churkin at the stakeout in a couple of minutes.

That’s what I have for you.  Actually, you know what?  I forgot probably one of the most important things to flag for you, which is a curtain–raiser for tomorrow, 29 May.


It is the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, and the day is being marked by UN peacekeeping missions around the world.

This year, the theme is:  “Women in Peacekeeping:  The Power to Empower”.

As the theme suggests, the focus this year is on recognizing the crucial role played by women to create conditions for lasting peace in countries affected by conflict.  It is important to note that more and more women are joining peacekeeping operations as civilians, police advisers and military personnel.

A series of events and activities are planned in all UN peacekeeping operations.

Here at UN Headquarters, the events begin at 9:15 am, when the Secretary-General will join the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, for a wreath-laying ceremony in the South Gallery of the Headquarters Lobby.  This event will honour the 132 peacekeepers who lost their lives last year while serving in peacekeeping operations.  These peacekeepers will then be honoured posthumously with the Dag Hammarskjöld Medals in the Trusteeship Council.

In total, more than 2,500 peacekeepers have made the ultimate sacrifice for the cause of peace since the start of UN peacekeeping.

Also taking place here at UN Headquarters tomorrow will be a photo exhibition and the screening of a Peacekeeping Day film, which is available on YouTube and can also be accessed through the DPKO website.

And at the tomorrow’s Noon Briefing, we will be having as our guests, both the head of Peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, and Susana Malcorra, the Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Field Support.

**Statement on Georgia

[The following statement on Georgia was issued after the briefing:

The claim by the Georgian Permanent Representative that the Secretary-General amended his report on Georgia in response to “Russian blackmail” is categorically rejected.  The statement itself is very unfortunate.

The principal concern of the Secretary-General in the drafting of his Report has been that all concerned parties should engage on the substantive issues in question, more specifically on a mechanism to guarantee safety and security in this troubled region.  The adoption of the title was meant to avoid unnecessary politicization of the debate among members of the Security Council and reflected his view of what all members could live with.

The Secretary-General rejects any suggestion that any threats were made to him in this connection.]

And that’s what I have for you.  Anything for me?  Yes, Tarek.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, please Marie.  Any readout of the meetings between the SG and Ambassador Rice this morning?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Unfortunately, I tried to get one before the meeting but the senior advisers and the Secretary-General have a back-to-back meeting right after that one, so I was not able to get one.  But I’ll get you one after the briefing.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  Do you have any readout as to what the meeting between the Secretary-General and the American Ambassador, was it about North Korea?

Question:  That’s what I’ve just asked!

Question:  What? You did?  Oh, I’m sorry!

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll get you a readout immediately after the briefing.  I’ve asked for one, it’s just that they’re still tied up in the next meeting.  Matthew.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said they discussed issues of mutual concern.  These include the follow-up on the Secretary-General’s visit to Sri Lanka, humanitarian problems in Pakistan, the Security Council deliberations on the draft resolution on Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the recent Security Council mission to Africa, including the fight against sexual violence, and preparations for the 22 September climate change high-level meeting at the United Nations.]

Question:  [inaudible] any questions with regards to the flash appeal and everything should be asked of Mr. Holmes, right?

Deputy Spokesperson: I think that’s the purpose of his… yes, his…  But he also launched the appeal I think earlier today.  So if his remarks are already out there…

Question:  He launched the appeal again?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the idea was to re-launch it, in New York today because they want to get more funding, obviously, quickly for the appeal.  Yes.

Question:  Sure, Marie.  Yesterday after the vote by the Human Rights Council to send more funding to Sri Lanka, and not to call an investigation, Human Rights Watch put out a statement saying: “Secretary-General Ban shares the blame for the Human Rights Council poor showing on Sri Lanka”, taking him to task for his statement that the Government was doing its utmost and making tremendous efforts.  I wonder first, if the Secretariat or the Secretary-General has a response to Human Rights Watch statement, and whether what his comments are on the vote in the Human Rights Council to not call for an investigation of the death of over 7,000 civilians.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the Secretary-General has been very clear both in public and perhaps more clearly in private and very forcible on this issue of accountability.  He went to Sri Lanka, as you know, as one of the first leaders, as the first world leader to go and you were on the trip, and you know exactly what he was saying there, both to gain the humanitarian access, to discuss these issues of accountability with the leaders there, to seek the mid-term solutions and the long-term political reconciliation.  I mean, he was there on all those fronts.  And as far as the Human Rights Watch remarks that you mentioned, having not seen them in full, and I don’t have the direct reaction because we have not seen it in full from Human Rights Watch, I do have to say, based on what you’re saying, that they don’t seem to have any idea what the Secretary-General is doing behind the scenes on this issue.

Question:  They have one other line in there… thanks for that response… they say: “unlike Pillay, Ban also failed to press for an international inquiry”.  Does the Secretary-General, did he, and does he favour an independent inquiry into the conduct of both sides in that war or a self-investigation by Sri Lanka?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just answered your question, I think on that.  Mr. Abbadi, and then…

Question:  May I follow up on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  I mean, I heard what the Secretary-General said.  And he said that all war crimes anywhere should be investigated and he said that if there were any, they should be looked into by the appropriate body.  It would appear that the Human Rights Council is the appropriate body; they’re not going to do it.  So the question is who is going to look into it?  It’s not clear at this point.  Who is going to do that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think at this point I have to direct your questions on that to the Human Rights… the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Human Rights Council itself.  The Human Rights Council decision, as you know, is a decision taken by the members of that Council, while the High Commissioner for Human Rights herself has been very vocal in her call for an investigation, and I believe that she is still very much pursuing that.

Question:  But the Council isn’t going to do it, so the question is still out there…

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’d have to refer you at the moment to the High Commissioner for Human Rights, who is the one who’s made that call and is sticking by that call.  Yes.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that the Secretary-General has repeatedly said wherever serious and credible allegations are made of grave and persistent violations of international humanitarian laws, these should be properly investigated.

The reporters were also informed that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, while noting that the Human Rights Council will not agree to set up such an inquiry at this point, more information will come out, more evidence will emerge about what did and did not happen.  So, an international inquiry could still happen further down the line.  The Office also said that international human rights law is quite robust -- there are different ways and means to get to the truth and provide some measure of accountability.  Sometimes it takes years, but this session and this resolution do not close any avenues.]

Question:  Thank you, Marie.  Marie, on Western Sahara, why isn’t the fifth round being held?  What are the obstacles and what is the Personal Envoy doing at this stage.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any updates on the Western Sahara beyond what was last discussed at Headquarters when the Security Council met.  But we can look into that for you.

Question:  Marie, there are some concerns that asbestos abatement has began in the Library, first and second floors, while the Library is still open.  A number of staff members and the staff union have said that they don’t believe that it’s sealed off and they believe that that it’s unsafe, and that the interpreters here that work in the Security Council don’t want to continue working there while the construction is going on in the building.  Does the Secretariat have any response to these concerns by staff for their own safety as regards asbestos?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Absolutely. You’ve been talking to the Capital Master Plan people about this… I know that Michael Adlerstein has talked to you about this issue, as well, and they take it very seriously.  And I think what they have told the staff in the repeated town hall meetings is that they have every confidence in the people who are carrying out this work.  And I understand that Mr. Adlerstein is having another town hall meeting, I believe it’s tomorrow, in which he will be taking questions and concerns and will be addressing them fully to the staff.  And he will be briefing you, I believe next week -- I don’t have the date, but he will come and give you an update on the Capital Master Plan, because there will be a lot of moves coming up in the weeks ahead.  So, he’ll let you know what exactly is happening.

Question:  Is that town hall meeting open to the press, unlike the last one?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, you know the standard procedure about town hall meetings.  Yes, anything else?  Yes.

Question:  If I can quickly return to Sri Lanka.  I think the question that [inaudible] what everyone else was asking, is the Secretary-General going to stop any call for his own independent investigation if the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights does not succeed in beginning one of their own?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, let’s see what happens there first.  I don’t have any immediate comment on that.  I mean, other than the fact that the Secretary-General’s views have been voiced very strongly on it while he was there.

If there is nothing for me, if you could wait a few minutes, we’re going to have Maxwell Gaylard to brief you.  So if you need to go and see the Security Council stakeout, maybe this is a good time to do that.

* *** *

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