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

5 June 2009

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

5 June 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Pakistan

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning the bombing in Pakistan.

The Secretary-General condemns today’s bomb attack in a mosque in the Upper Dir district of Pakistan, which reportedly killed at least 30 people.  He rejects such indiscriminate and reprehensible acts of violence and extends his condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government of Pakistan.

And that statement will be available upstairs.

** Pakistan

Also, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) estimates that 20,000 more people are believed to be fleeing the conflict areas in and around the Swat valley in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province (NWFP).  They are heading for safer ground in the Mardan, Charssada and Peshawar districts.  The new exodus follows the lifting of a curfew on the region earlier today.  To accommodate the newly displaced, UNHCR is working with local authorities to develop two new camps established earlier this week.

Camps supplied by the Refugee Agency in Mardan have reached capacity and the new arrivals are being directed to sites that are further afield.  To pay for operations in Pakistan through the end of 2009, UNHCR is seeking an additional $67 million out of a total appeal budget of $105 million.  And we have more details in today’s UNHCR briefing notes.

**Secretary-General in Washington, D.C.

The Secretary-General has wrapped up a trip to Washington, D.C., this morning and is on his way back to New York, where he will participate this afternoon in an informal interactive discussion with the members of the Security Council on Sri Lanka.

This morning he discussed climate change with US Energy Secretary Steven Chu.  They talked about international cooperation to deal with climate change, including mitigation efforts in developed countries and efforts to bring in the broader international community, including through cooperation with developing countries.

Yesterday the Secretary-General met with US Vice-President Joseph Biden.  They discussed US financial support for the United Nations, a topic on which the Vice-President was supportive.  They also talked about Pakistan, including the humanitarian situation there; Afghanistan; the Balkans; Sudan, including the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and Darfur; Sri Lanka; Myanmar; the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK); non-proliferation and disarmament; and climate change.

The Secretary-General also met with a bipartisan group of Senators in a meeting hosted by Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin.  The Secretary-General spoke of the need for US leadership on climate change and discussed US financial support of the United Nations.  They also discussed issues ranging from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Darfur to Iran.

** Japan – Readout

Last night the Secretary-General had a telephone conversation with Taro Aso, the Prime Minister of Japan, about the recent situation on the Korean peninsula following the nuclear test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and they also talked about climate change.

The Secretary-General reaffirmed his conviction of the urgent need to resume dialogue, including the Six-Party Talks concerning the DPRK.  And he expressed the UN’s readiness to provide any assistance required.

Regarding climate change, the Secretary-General thanked the Prime Minister for his country’s strong commitment to resolving climate change through its strong domestic actions and support for reaching an effective, inclusive, international agreement.

The Secretary-General stressed the importance of showing leadership by setting an ambitious mid-term emissions reduction target for his country for 2020.  He further underlined the importance of this being in line with the targets, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said are necessary to avoid potentially catastrophic consequences from climate change.   Japan has said it will announce its mid-term targets soon.

The Secretary-General welcomes Japan’s leading role in setting an ambitious domestic target, as it could well influence the targets set by other countries and generate critically needed positive momentum in the UN climate change talks.  And the full readout is available upstairs.

**Security Council

In an open meeting this morning, the Security Council heard from the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, about his continuing investigation into the alleged crimes committed in Darfur.

Moreno-Ocampo said that, over the coming six months, his office will continue to monitor crimes and to galvanize efforts to arrest fugitives.  He said he does not plan to open a new investigation during those six months.  He also noted the responsibility of the Government of Sudan to arrest indicted suspects.  His full statement is upstairs.

Following that open briefing, the Security Council continued its discussion of the Court’s actions regarding Darfur, in a private meeting.

** Sudan

Meanwhile, General Martin Luther Agwai, the Force Commander of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), today visited the North Darfur town of Umm Barru to assess the situation there following the recent deadly clashes between Sudanese Government forces and members of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).

During his visit, General Agwai met with the Mission’s military and police personnel deployed in the area.  The Force Commander was briefed on the general security situation in the area following the fighting last month.  He also held discussions with civilians who moved to the vicinity of the UNAMID camp site near Umm Barru as a result of the clashes.

** Somalia

More and more Somalis are continuing to flee the capital, Mogadishu, because of the continued heavy fighting in the city between Government forces and armed opposition groups.  According the UN refugee agency, the latest number of people forced out of their homes in the city is now more than 96,000.

The majority of the newly displaced are still in the city, looking for shelter in more secure areas because they have no means to leave.  Another group of internally displaced persons has fled to the so-called Afgooye corridor, about 30 kilometres south-east of Mogadishu.

According to UNHCR’s local partners, other displaced Somalis continue to flee the country, with many risking their lives travelling with smugglers across the Gulf of Yemen.  Hundreds are travelling into Ethiopia and in recent weeks neighbouring Kenya has seen a doubling of the number of new Somali arrivals to nearly 200 a day.

UNHCR continues to rush assistance to the displaced.  The agency is leading a task force to coordinate the activities of all the humanitarian actors dealing with this new emergency.

** Mauritania

In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General welcomed the signing of the agreement between the Mauritanian parties in Nouakchott.  The agreement constitutes a solid basis for a return to constitutional order and the consolidation of democracy in Mauritania.  He congratulated the parties for the spirit of compromise demonstrated during the negotiations.

The Secretary-General will closely follow developments in Mauritania leading up to the presidential election scheduled for 18 July 2009.  And the full statement is upstairs and on the web.

** Zimbabwe

In Zimbabwe, there are indications that the cholera outbreak that has claimed the lives of more than 4,000 people is now on the wane, with the number of cases and deaths continuing to fall.  But the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stresses that concerted efforts are still required in specific areas which continue to report a high number of new cases.

As of the end of May, the cumulative number of cholera cases since August last year stood at 98,429, with the number of deaths stabilizing at 4,276.  New cases are still being reported, mostly in Harare, Manicaland and Masvingo Provinces.

OCHA highlights the fact that the problem of lack of safe water and sanitation facilities, which was the main cause of the epidemic, has still not been addressed in most parts of the country.

**World Environment Day

Today is World Environment Day.  The theme this year is “Your planet needs you”.

In a message to mark this occasion, the Secretary-General says that while the Earth faces the grave threat of climate change, there is an opportunity to change course.  He calls on Governments to “seal the deal” for a new climate agreement in Copenhagen, in December.

The Secretary-General adds that the planet needs more than just action by Governments and corporations.  It needs each of us, he says -- encouraging all people to take concrete steps toward making the planet greener and cleaner.

Mexico is the host this year of World Environment Day.  Most celebrations are taking place in that country but other activities are being held worldwide.  The global premiere of the new film HOME, by photographer Yann Arthus-Bertrand, will be one of the major worldwide events taking place, with more than 100 screening locations around the world.

Also on World Environment Day, Ethiopia, Pakistan and Portugal have announced that they will promote low-carbon, green growth by joining the Climate Change Network -- an initiative led by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) aimed at global action to de-carbonize economies and societies.

And UNEP has a new report out today which says that boosting investments in the conservation, rehabilitation and management of the Earth’s forests, peatlands, soils and other key ecosystems could deliver significant cuts in greenhouse gas emissions.  And there is more on World Environment Day upstairs.

**Climate Change -- Bonn Talks

In Bonn, countries are continuing their discussions on an international climate change deal, to be agreed in Copenhagen next December, in a constructive spirit, according to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

It also says that the United States, Japan, Australia and Tuvalu have requested the UN Climate Change Secretariat to circulate their proposals for a new international climate change treaty to the capitals of the world by Saturday evening.  Costa Rica has also just announced that it will submit the full version of the existing negotiating text.

Meanwhile, negotiations in the Kyoto Protocol Working Group are focusing mostly on the issue of reduction targets for industrialized countries post-2012.  UNFCCC says that these discussions are moving forward well.  It adds that the Group is examining the tools available to industrialized countries, such as the rules for the use of land and forests by rich countries, in order to meet their future commitments.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Guinea-Bissau

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Guinea-Bissau.

The Secretary-General is dismayed by the news of the assassinations of a candidate in the forthcoming presidential elections in Guinea-Bissau, Mr. Baciro Dabo, and of a Member of Parliament and former Minister of Defence, Mr. Helder Proenca, along with others.  The Secretary-General is concerned about the emerging pattern of killings of high profile personalities in Guinea-Bissau.  Coming so soon after the assassinations of President João Bernardo Vieira and General Tagme Na Waie, these criminal acts are a tragic setback for efforts to restore the rule of law and democratic processes in the country, but they should not be allowed to deter the forthcoming presidential elections.

These developments underscore once again the importance and urgency of conducting a thorough, credible and transparent investigation into the circumstances surrounding the assassinations in Guinea-Bissau.  The United Nations will be consulting with national authorities and the International Contact Group on Guinea-Bissau to explore what more needs to be done to end impunity and restore respect for the rule of law in the country.

Most urgently, the Secretary-General conveys his deepest condolences to the affected families and calls on the national authorities, including the country’s military, to ensure that the human rights of all citizens are upheld and protected.  And that statement will be available upstairs.

**World Health Organization

The World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending the global use of rotavirus vaccines in immunization campaigns.  This would provide protection against the most common cause of lethal diarrhoea -- a virus that is responsible for more than 500,000 deaths a year among children.  Eighty-five per cent of these deaths occur in Africa and Asia.

This new WHO recommendation extends an earlier one on vaccination in the Americas and Europe, where clinical tests had demonstrated the safety and efficacy of using this vaccine.  New data has now evaluated the vaccine’s efficacy in countries with high child mortality.  WHO says that this new policy will help ensure access to the vaccines in the world’s poorest countries.  And there is more on this in a press release upstairs.

**World Food Programme -- Walk for Hunger

In an effort to raise awareness and money for hungry school children in some of the poorest countries in the world, the World Food Programme (WFP) is leading the seventh annual Walk the World event this Sunday in some 70 countries.  Among those who will participate in the walk are employees from supporting companies, their friends and families, celebrities, local dignitaries, WFP employees and, in some countries, the children who have actually benefited from the WFP school feeding programme.  And there is more on this upstairs.

** Haiti

Next Monday, the Secretary-General and former US President Bill Clinton will be holding a joint press conference at 11:15 a.m. in room 226, to formally announce President Clinton's appointment as UN Special Envoy for Haiti.  The Secretary-General will speak briefly about the need for a Special Envoy for Haiti and why he appointed former President Clinton in this capacity.  Former President Clinton will then deliver remarks on his vision for his role as Special Envoy.  And a short Q&A session will follow.  [The Spokesperson later announced that the event had been postponed, and would not take place on Monday.]

**Press Conference on Monday

Also on Monday, there will be a press conference here at 1 p.m. to mark World Oceans Day.  The press conference will address challenges regarding the world’s oceans.  Following that, at 3 p.m. in the Trusteeship Council, there will be an expert panel discussion on the theme of this year’s commemoration of the Day –- “Our oceans, our responsibility”.

**The Week Ahead At the United Nations

We also have The Week Ahead at the United Nations upstairs.

In addition to what I have just told you about, on Tuesday, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy will begin an official travel to West Africa that’s lasting until 23 June.  That trip includes visits to Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso and Liberia.

On Wednesday, 10 June, at 10 a.m., in the General Assembly Hall, the General Assembly will hold a plenary meeting to elect the President of the General Assembly for the sixty-fourth session.

And on Thursday, 11 June at 11 a.m. in S-226, the Secretary-General will hold his monthly press conference in this room.

And that is all I have for you today.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, do you have anything to add, or did you say at the top of the briefing, on the arrest of this gentleman at the airport, the UN staffer, at the airport on sex charges, child porn charges?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.  The only thing I really have to say about this is that the United Nations is aware of the arrest, and Mr. Ortega-Osona has been placed on administrative leave, in accordance with established procedures until further action is taken.  And we have no further information at this time.

Question:  A follow-up, please?  Just on that, because he was initially arrested in Canada, if I am correct, and this came up some time ago.  And now they searched his computer in New York.  Was this individual that was arrested in Canada for child [pornography] a UN employee of DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs], child porn on the flash drive -- the question is, did the UN ever search his computer here?  Was anything done to maintain evidence here or did they leave that to the US attorneys?

Associate Spokesperson:  As I’ve said, there is no further information to provide at this time. 

Question:  What steps has the UN taken since the arrest?

Associate Spokesperson:  You understand that when I say that, I mean literally that.  There is no further information to provide on this particular case at this time beyond what I’ve just said.

Question:  Can you explain why the Secretary-General is meeting the Security Council essentially in secret this afternoon, in the dimly-lit basement of the UN, where hardly anyone goes, to brief on his recent trip to Sri Lanka?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, this is not unusual or unprecedented.  There have been informal interactive discussions by the Security Council members.  This is done in coordination with requests coming from the members of the Security Council.  So I’d ask you to address your questions to them about the formats of this.  They’re the ones who decide on the formats of their meetings.  But the Secretary-General will brief them, as he did, by the way, brief the members of the General Assembly earlier this week, and as you know, we mentioned what his briefing was at that time.

Question:  [inaudible] put out a statement at all about the accusations against him and Mr. Vijay Nambiar that they knew the death toll was more like 20,000 in those final two weeks and that they pushed it to one side?  They tried to downplay that?

Associate Spokesperson:  First of all, no, the United Nations did not try to downplay the information that we were receiving.  To the extent that we have information that we can verify about what’s going on in Sri Lanka, we’ve tried to put it out, including through the briefings here, through our public statements and through the discussions that the Secretary-General has had.  In terms of further details, the Secretary-General will be holding these discussions with the members of the Security Council, and I believe the Sri Lankan Permanent Mission will also be present for these discussions.  I don’t want to pre-empt what he has to say, but he will have those discussions and we can see what’s said after that.

Question:  Can the Secretary-General speak to the press after the meeting?  And why did UNTV, it’s not even on the media alert?  I mean, I think that’s part of what he’s [the correspondent] referring to.  It’s not…

Associate Spokesperson:  No, no, that’s not the case.  As far as I am aware, there is going to be a stakeout this afternoon.  I’ve been aware of arrangements for a stakeout, so there should be something there and we’ll see who comes to the stakeout at that point.

Question:  I wanted to know, there is an article that’s appeared, saying that the Sri Lankan Ministry of Disaster Management is raising to the UN questions about the OCHA report, questions raised about the 13,000 missing IDPs (internally displaced persons) from one OCHA report to the next, 27 May to 30 May, and raising issues about…  I want to know whether you’ve received these contacts and whether you’ve acted on them.

Associate Spokesperson:  I believe we made it clear earlier this week that in some cases there were discrepancies that arise from the double-counting of people, including, for example, people who had been displaced more than once.  So there are efforts to rectify, to take into account, that possibility.  But beyond that, any further information that the Secretary-General has to provide, he will share with the members of the Security Council.

Question:  [inaudible] the Government has said there that they’re going to contact the UN about the reports based on these figures.  And I wanted to know whether the Government has contacted the UN?

Associate Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that.  You might want to check with the Permanent Mission here.

Question:  I was just wondering if the United Nations will be monitoring the elections due to take place in Lebanon on Sunday, and any particular measures taken also by UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] on this occasion?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of the Lebanon elections, I believe the Secretary-General’s most recent report on the implementation of resolution 1559 (2004) mentions our own involvement and our preparations.  Certainly we will do our best through UNIFIL, as well as through the work of our officials on the ground, to help maintain calm for the elections period.  And the Secretary-General, in that report that I just mentioned, had stressed the importance of these elections and the need for calm elections.

Question:  Farhan, did you have any updates on the IDPs in Pakistan today, and the United Nations…?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, in fact.  The room was nearly empty when I started this briefing.  So you may not have heard this.

Correspondent:  You started at 12 sharp, something we’re not used to!

Associate Spokesperson:  My mom always told me, if you can’t be nice, be punctual.  [Laughter]  But we do have that information, and the UNHCR briefing notes are upstairs.  But the basic point is that the UN refugee agency is estimating that 20,000 more people are believed to be fleeing the conflict area.  And there are some more details that we have available upstairs.

Question:  Do you have any more information that would reveal Washington’s mood on climate change, from the recent discussions of the Secretary-General?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, that too is something that we mentioned earlier in this briefing.  The Secretary-General met with the [ United States] Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, this morning, in fact.  And they had a very good, productive discussion about climate change.  We can provide you with those details as well.

Question:  On the meeting with the Secretary-General with Vice-President Biden, was the issue of the two American reporters, who may or may not be going on trial, discussed?  And was the Secretary-General’s expertise called on, as somebody who knows a great deal about North Korea, in these discussions?

Associate Spokesperson:  We had a readout that we shared yesterday on this.  And yes, they did discuss the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  I don’t have any details about the specific case of the two Korean-American journalists, but certainly the DPRK did come up.

Question:  One last verification -- are there official UN electoral monitors for Sunday’s elections in Lebanon?  I mean, because the Arab League is sending a delegation, and the African Union.  Sorry, not the African Union…

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t believe that we specifically monitor the elections in Lebanon.  I think our assistance comes in a different form.  I can show you… There’s a few paragraphs in the 1559 (2004) report from a few weeks ago that details the assistance that we’ve given.  If we go upstairs, I can show you that.

And with that, I wish you all a good weekend.

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