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

1 July 2009

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

1 July 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.

**Secretary-General in Japan

The Secretary-General, in his meetings with a wide range of Japanese leaders and people today, emphasized the need to “seal the deal” at Copenhagen and said he cannot imagine a truly effective response to this challenge without Japan’s leadership.

The Secretary-General held a meeting, and a working dinner, this evening in Tokyo with Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso.  He said afterward that he had reaffirmed his conviction of the need to resume dialogue on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, including the Six-Party Talks, and expressed the UN’s readiness to provide any assistance required.  He also discussed Myanmar, which he will visit later this week, and expressed his appreciation for Japan’s support to his efforts there.

The Prime Minister briefed the Secretary-General on Japan’s latest contribution to UN peacekeeping and the Secretary-General expressed his appreciation for its decision to take part in the UN Peacekeeping Operations’ Standby Arrangements.

The Secretary-General began his day in Tokyo with a breakfast with Japanese business leaders from the Keizai Doyukai and the Global Compact Japan Network, who are playing a leading role to bring a new era of responsible and sustainable business.  He then had a lively exchange with students at Tokyo University.

The Secretary-General also had an opportunity to reach out to the next generation of Japan’s leaders by being interviewed on a children’s news programme.  And he met with a special group of Japanese celebrities who are working hard as UN Goodwill Ambassadors to mobilize support for victims of poverty and oppression around the world.

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will depart for Singapore, and then travel to Myanmar on Friday.

** Iraq

On Iraq, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, (UNAMI), issued a statement today, angrily condemning the deadly bomb attack in al-Shourga market in Kirkuk, which killed and injured dozens of innocent people.  The Mission said the attack was yet another attempt to provoke reactions that would lead to sectarian and ethnic conflict.

The UN Mission extended its sincere condolences to the families of the victims and wished a speedy recovery for the wounded, and it called on all groups “not to respond in the fashion that the killers want them to do: with revenge”.

We have that statement upstairs.

** Pakistan – Bhutto Commission

On Pakistan, the six-month mandate of the Commission of Inquiry into the facts and circumstances of the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has formally begun today.  The Commission is composed of three members with Ambassador Heraldo Muñoz of Chile as the head.  He is joined by Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia and Peter Fitzgerald of the Republic of Ireland.  The Commission will soon be making its first visit to Pakistan.  The date of this visit is yet to be finalized.

** Georgia

Earlier today in Geneva, Johan Verbeke, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Georgia, participated in a press conference, along with his counterparts from the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  The press conference followed today’s round of the Geneva International Discussions.

A joint communiqué was read out on behalf of Verbeke and the other two co-chairs of the Discussions.

In remarks to the press, Verbeke said that there had been a very concrete result today.  He said that the Abkhaz side ‑‑ which had always been committed to a prevention mechanism ‑‑ had indicated that they would now move to the implementation stage.  Proof of that was that on 14 July there would be a first consultative meeting in Gali under UN auspices, Verbeke added.  Participants of the Discussions agreed to meet again on 17 September 2009.

** Western Sahara

On Western Sahara, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, has completed his second trip to the region since his appointment, at the beginning of the year.  He was in Madrid yesterday where he met with Spain’s Foreign Minister, on the final leg of the week-long tour.

Ross made previous stops in Algiers, Tindouf, Nouakchott and Rabat, and said that he was optimistic about an upcoming informal meeting intended to pave the way for a fifth round of negotiations.  He added that such a meeting would make an important contribution to the search for a resolution to the conflict, which has gone on too long and is hindering the work which needs to be done on regional integration.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, (MONUC), has deplored the prison break that occurred this past Friday at the Aru Central Prison, in the north-eastern Ituri province.  This is the second reported prison break in the [Democratic Republic of the Congo] in less than a month.

The Mission says prison conditions at Aru and across much of the country remain well below international standards.  It again called on the Congolese Government to improve conditions and strengthen security at all detention facilities.

Meanwhile, the Mission says that more than 10,000 Rwandan refugees and former rebels have been repatriated since January.  The Mission explains that the bulk of returnees are civilian refugees but the number also includes some 1,100 former fighters.


The Force Commander for the UN/African Union Mission in Darfur, (UNAMID), General Martin Luther Agwai, has continued to visit troops across Darfur.  Today General Agwai visited an Egyptian Battalion deployed in Ed Al Fursan in South Darfur.  His new Deputy, General Duma Dumisani has also been out in the field visiting the South Darfuri towns of Nyala, El Daein and Muhajeriya.

In the meantime, the Civil Affairs Section of UNAMID has held a one-day workshop on Social Peacebuilding in Nyala.  The key issues that were tackled included, how to solve land disputes among different groups, transitional justice, as well as how to prevent clashes between farmers and pastoralists.  The workshop was attended by civil society organizations, government officials and participants from Nyala University.

**Deputy Secretary-General Addresses African Union Summit in Libya

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro earlier today delivered an address, on the Secretary-General’s behalf, to the thirteenth ordinary session of the Assembly of the African Union in Sirte, Libya.

Noting the meeting’s theme of addressing the role of agriculture in African food security and economies, she said progress towards the Millennium Development Goals remains inadequate.  She also said that climate change, violent conflicts and the resurgence of non-constitutional changes of governments continue to imperil the lives of millions across Africa.

“Clearly, we meet at a critical time,” she said, exhorting the Heads of State and delegates at the meeting to mobilize action to protect the poorest and most vulnerable ‑‑ and prevent more from joining their ranks.

**Security Council

With the start of a new month, we have a new Security Council President; with Uganda replacing Turkey in the Council’s rotating presidency.

Ambassador Ruhakana Rugunda of Uganda will hold bilateral consultations with Council members today on the programme of work for July.  He then expects to brief the media in this room tomorrow, at about 12:30, about the schedule for the coming month.

Democratic People’s Republic of Korea – WFP

The World Food Programme, (WFP), says due to the limited amount of resources received, it will drastically scale back its operations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

WFP Spokesperson in the DPRK, Lena Savelli, in an interview today to UN Radio, said the agency will now be focusing on operations in only 57 counties in the country, instead of the 131 counties it had planned to feed originally.  This will bring down the planned number of beneficiaries from 6.2 million to 2.27 million.  Current resources are sufficient to be at around this level of distribution through to October, but the programme ends in November.

At time of launch, the programme was valued at $504 million to reach all of the hungry people in the DPRK.  But so far, WFP has received only $75 million and it has been forced to cut out much of its operations.

**United Nations Tribunal

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) says it has transferred nine prisoners from the UN Detention Facility in Arusha to Cotonou, in the Republic of Benin.  The prisoners will be serving the remainder of their sentences there.

The transfer comes as a result of decisions adopted in May by the President of the Tribunal after signing relevant agreements with the Government of Benin. The Tribunal says the prisoners are now in the custody of Beninois prison authorities and have begun serving their sentences at a detention facility in Porto-Novo.

**River Blindness

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that a clinical trial is being launched in three African countries of a new drug that could eliminate river blindness.  According to the agency, river blindness is a devastating illness that has plagued 30 African countries for centuries.  Over 100 million people are at risk of infection.

The development of the new drug is being carried out by Wyeth Pharmaceuticals and the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, which is sponsored by UNICEF, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the World Bank, as well as WHO.  We have more on that upstairs.


Agricultural experts are warning against more severe food crises in Africa, unless extensive and long-term efforts are made to prevent them.

During UNCTAD’s meeting on food security in Africa, which has just ended in Geneva, they said that the African farming sector had been neglected for years.  They called for a massive, well-funded programme to support small-scale farmers who produce the majority of Africa’s food.  The gathering also stressed how climate change added to Africa’s food crisis, by bringing droughts and floods.  There is a press release upstairs.


And also, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), along with the World Bank, are concerned that family planning and other reproductive health programmes vital to poor women have fallen off the development radar.  The global economic crisis, they say, has markedly compounded the lack of funding for such programmes, thus jeopardizing the achievement of the Millennium Development Goal for maternal health.

UNFPA estimates that more than 500,000 women die each year during pregnancy and childbirth from mostly preventable and treatable medical problems.  Calling for an increased investment in women, UNFPA Executive Director, Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, said that “it is not a lack of knowledge that is hindering progress; it is a lack of political will to protect the health and rights of women”.

This is all I have for you today.  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, did you receive any letter from Lebanon regarding the report of Mr. Ban Ki-moon on 1701?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  Not yet?

Spokesperson:  Not yet.

Question:  Another thing; what’s the position of the United Nations regarding the hijacking of the Greek vessel which was going to Gaza?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the information on that.  I’ll try to get it for you.

Question:  [inaudible] been three days now, almost three days…

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any reaction on it at this point, but I will let you know.  I will get the information.  Yes.

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  You mentioned that Mr. Ross is so optimistic about the issue of Western Sahara.  Can you tell us what signs of optimism he saw during his meetings to the region; and why couldn’t he set a date yet for the next informal meetings between the Polisario and the [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  You can go to us upstairs and we can give you what we have in terms of the decisions that were taken and the discussions that took place.  Beyond that I do not have any information for you.  But you have upstairs a communiqué from the discussion group.  Yes.

Question:  Michèle, on the IDPs, you have been giving the updates on the UN appeal.  Last time you said that only 35 per cent of the appeal has come in so far.  Has this been increased to 40 per cent or it’s just 35 per cent?  Do you have any update on that?

Spokesperson:  On Pakistan, let me check for you.  I have some figures here; let me check whether there has been an increase on this.  [Checks some papers.]  No, no new figures.  What I have is the distribution of food rations, but nothing else.  The only thing I have is that we have enough supplies for the next two months despite a 51 per cent funding shortfall.

Question:  Fifty-one per cent?

Spokesperson:  Yes, shortfall, in the $162 million emergency operation in Pakistan, which was the amount that was quoted during the appeal.

Question:  The other thing that I wanted to ask you was:  I asked this question about the helicopters and you said for the African Union-UN force in Sudan the helicopters have not been provided to them.  And you said if there are at any point in time additional helicopters sent to them you will have such information.  No such helicopters have gone?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the type of helicopters we requested, we don’t have them.  We have received, I gather, six helicopters from Ethiopia.  But I’ll try to find out more for you on those helicopters.  Actually you can address your request to DPKO.

Question:  To DPKO?

Spokesperson:  To find out what was received and what type of helicopters were received.  Yes, Pat.

Question:  In Singapore, for a long time Tommy Cole was the man to talk to. I don’t know if he’s still the man to talk to.  Who are the names of [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, you have to go to the mission and find out.  Yes, in back there, yes.

Question:  The new UN staff union contracts come into effect today; why were the permanent contracts abolished?

Spokesperson:  Why were the permanent contracts abolished?

Question:  What’s the UN stance on what the union is saying about how they have no protection now with the continuing contracts?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think what we should do is have someone here to talk to you about those management issues.  And we can certainly arrange that since a number of reforms are effective today, including a new internal justice system, including a number of new reforms, particularly reducing the number of contracts from about a dozen to three types of contracts.  But we can get some additional information for you, and we can get someone to brief you on that.

Question:  Michèle, Mr. de Mistura, the Iraq Special Envoy, is there going to be replacement soon?

Spokesperson:  As you know, there is someone replacing him for the time being, that is his deputy, Andrew Gilmore.  We don’t have an announcement yet for his replacement.  Yes, Tarek.  We expect it soon.

Question:  Yes, Michèle, I’m not sure if you were asked this yesterday or not.  Is Mr. Ban Ki-moon going to send an envoy to Iran to investigate the acts of violence which followed the presidential elections there?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.

Question:  There was a request by human rights groups.

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  But is he going to congratulate Mr. Ban Ki-moon [sic] for winning the presidency or [interrupted by another correspondent who corrected him]

Correspondent:  Mr. Ahmadinejad.

Question:  Ahmadinejad, sorry.

Spokesperson:  Well, you know, as I said earlier, I said it two days ago, this is a matter for a country to decide.  Mr. Ahmadinejad is recognized as being the Head of State; he will be dealt with like with any other Head of State, of course.

Question:  But he was yesterday officially recognized, or the day before yesterday…

Spokesperson:  Yes, but we usually, you know, the usual way we operate is that we usually congratulate a Government when it comes into place.  At this point Mr. Ahmadinejad is still on his current term.  And he won’t start his new term until, if I understand this correctly, until the end of July.  [Later, the Spokesperson added that once a Government is seated, it would receive a congratulatory letter, but that has yet to happen in this case, since the mandate is yet to start.]  Yes, Khaled.

Question:  Just to follow up on that.  Since the SG has issued a statement expressing his concerns about the elections there, now that things seem to be settled from the Iranian side, isn’t like, another reaction needed from the SG…?

Spokesperson:  No, there is no reaction needed, you know.  I have always said it is something for a country to decide for itself.  As I said earlier to you, Khaled, the main problem that the SG had, and he expressed it had to do with post-electoral violence.

Question:  So any post-electoral violence in any country, we should expect a statement from the SG?

Spokesperson:  Well, we have put out statements on post-electoral violence in quite a few countries.  Yes.

Question:  I understand from you that by July end Mr. Ban Ki-moon is going to send like a letter to the Iranian President?

Spokesperson:  But we always do.  We always do that!  I was asked that question yesterday about Prime Minister Hariri.  When Prime Minister Hariri is inaugurated; when his new Government starts, he will receive a letter of congratulations, the way we do for every Head of State who starts a mandate.  It’s a standard procedure.  You see, the UN does not determine government, the UN does not recognize Governments.  The UN deals with existing Governments.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  If I can follow up on that.  What then is the position of the UN on who is in power in Honduras?

Spokesperson:  Well, in this specific case, the Secretary-General has expressed his stance on this.  He has said ‑‑ and you saw his statement ‑‑ that he asked for the return of constitutional order in Honduras.

Question:  But the Supreme Court of the country has said that the ouster of the president was legal.  So, if a country has to decide for itself [interrupted]

Spokesperson:  Well, for the time being we still stand by our announcement; what we have said before.

Question:  And how about the agencies; the UN agencies?  Can we get some idea of what UN agencies are active in Honduras and who they are dealing with in the current Government?

Spokesperson:  Well, they’re dealing with people essentially.  I mean most of the UN agencies work for humanitarian purposes on the ground.  They work with people; they work on issues of development, on issues of… and from what I gather, this work continues.

Question:  Okay, I wanted to ask [interrupted by another correspondent]

Question:  Specifically, [interrupted]

Spokesperson:  I don’t know which…  They don’t have to be in contact with Government people all the time.  This is not the case.  They have a programme that they are working on.

Question:  At this point in time [inaudible] the United Nations still recognizes the previous President as still being in power?

Spokesperson:  As I said, the United Nations is not in the business of recognizing government.  However, the Secretary-General said in his statement that he wished for the return to constitutional order and the re-instalment of the President.

Question:  No matter what the Supreme Court in Honduras said, right?

Spokesperson:  This is what the SG has said and we stand by that.  If there are any changes, then I will let you know.  Yes.

Question:  On the Myanmar trip, AFP is quoting a Myanmar official saying it’s unlikely the Secretary-General will meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  I’m wondering, what would indicate the success of the trip?  What’s he hoping to accomplish?  For some reason, maybe I’ve missed it, but I haven’t heard, like, what are his goals going in and how will he measure the success of the trip?

Spokesperson:  Well, I extensively talked about it.  About the four goals.  Matthew, you were here; that was two days ago.  [Later the Spokesperson spelled out these areas of concern:  the release of all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi; the resumption of dialogue between the Government and Opposition as a necessary part of any national reconciliation process; the need to create conditions conducive to credible elections; and the need to consolidate and build on the joint humanitarian effort launched further to Cyclone Nargis.]

Question:  So when he leaves, how will we know whether it was success or a failure?

Spokesperson:  Well, he is going [interrupted]

Question:  If he leaves and she’s still in jail.  Is it a failure or is it a success?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, he has expressed four areas of concern.  These areas of concern, if you want to have them again, I can of course [interrupted]

Question:  [inaudible] happened to be moved forward during his trip.

Spokesperson:  He expects that, yes.

Question:  Okay.  And I wanted to ask you some things on Sri Lanka.

Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  He’s said previously that he’s concerned in monitoring the issue of both the doctors that were detained, and also these two UN staff about which still nothing has been said.  Has the UN been able to accomplish, particularly on its own staff members, anything in terms of getting them either, you know, released or brought before a court or anything like that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I know that the UN Country Team has hired a lawyer who has visited them.  And we can confirm that they are still detained in Colombo.  And really, we have our lawyer working on that with them.

Question:  Okay.

Question:  On this Benazir Bhutto’s inquiry commission, will that commission be meeting here at the United Nations first before it departs?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information, but as soon as I get it, you can have it, sure.

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.

Question:  Michèle, one question, please.  Is the SG involved in any way in the case of the two North Korean [sic] journalists who were jailed in North Korea?  Is he using his good offices [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well he has.  He has spoken about it in private with a number of people who could be influential in having them released.  I cannot say any more about this.

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Thank you so much.

* *** *

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