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

15 July 2009

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

15 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.

**Guest at Noon

Our guest at the noon briefing today will be John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs.  He will be here shortly to brief you on his recent trip to Pakistan.

**Secretary-General in Sharm El-Sheikh

The Secretary-General this morning addressed the high-level segment of the Fifteenth Summit of the Non-Aligned Movement, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.  He told the leaders that conditions have drastically changed since the Movement was founded, but the world again faces complex crises threatening development and security.  We need to look to the Non-Aligned Movement’s founding principles to address today’s challenges, he asserted.

The Secretary-General said that the Non-Aligned Movement’s commitment to peace naturally led it to place high value on a world free of weapons of mass destruction, and he urged the Movement to keep up that fight.

All countries are feeling the effects of the financial crisis, he added, but some developing countries are suffering most, including millions of people living in the NAM States, particularly those emerging from conflict.  He stressed the need for truly free and fair trade to stimulate recovery and spur growth.

And the Secretary-General stressed the need to examine peacekeeping and peacebuilding holistically, which the United Nations is now doing as it presents its “New Horizons” peacekeeping review, as well as a peacebuilding report.  We have his speech upstairs.

Yesterday, after arriving in Egypt, the Secretary-General met with Libyan leader Muammar Al-Qadhafi.  They discussed major challenges in Africa, including Sudan, Chad, Ethiopia-Eritrea, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Today, he met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.  They discussed the way forward in the Middle East, climate change, Sudan and Somalia.

In his meeting with President Mahinda Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka, the Secretary-General raised the issue of improvements in the conditions in the internally displaced persons camps, and also brought up the arrests of UN staff.

The meeting with Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani included discussions of the Bhutto Commission, which is visiting Pakistan this week, and upcoming meetings of the Group of Friends of Democratic Pakistan.

**Women in Crisis Management

Also in Sharm el-Sheikh today, the Secretary-General spoke to the First Ladies Summit on women in crisis management.

He said:  “We need to view women as agents of change.  This is what we are doing at the United Nations.  We advocate for women, but more than that, we involve women.”

He noted that, under his tenure as Secretary-General, more women have been appointed to senior positions than ever before, nearly tripling their number in top managerial roles.

Accompanying the Secretary-General in Sharm el-Sheikh, his wife, Mrs. Ban Soon-taek today participated in the First Ladies Summit convened by Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak, the First Lady of Egypt.

In her remarks, Mrs. Ban stressed that when women have social equality and assurance to be able to make their own decisions, they can help solve the world’s many problems.  She added that women hold the key to tackling the financial crisis and the problem of hunger, but the question is how to turn that key and unlock the solution.

She urged all the First Ladies of the NAM States to take their influence and combine strengths to help the world’s women, so as to benefit their children, as well as change the entire world for the better.

**Deputy Secretary-General

On the subject of managerial roles for women, the Deputy Secretary-General told the Group on Equal Rights for Women in the United Nations (GERWUN) that achieving gender equality is an integral part of the reform of the United Nations, and will undoubtedly help build a staff that is mobile, multifunctional, flexible and accountable ‑‑ one which lives up to the highest ethical standards.

The United Nations must both be on the cutting edge of change and practice fully what we preach, she said in remarks delivered at UN Headquarters yesterday.

A working mother herself, the Deputy Secretary-General acknowledged that combining a career with family life is difficult.  Finding the right balance between professional advancement and motherhood, between work and life, is the toughest challenge we face, not least because we have to admit that we cannot achieve a perfect balance.

She noted that women tend to be underrepresented in the more substantive fields such as political and peacekeeping, a fact often attributed to the stereotyping of women and their situations and capabilities.

She noted that the Secretary-General is insisting on progress, and the issue is gaining momentum where it was lacking before.  We have her remarks as we as that of the Secretary-General upstairs.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Lords Resistance Army-affected areas, Joaquim Chissano, briefed the Security Council in consultations this morning.  It was his last briefing to the Council, as he steps down from the position to which he was appointed in December 2006.

Chissano shared his observations about the state of the Juba peace process and the impact of the military operations by Uganda and countries of the region against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), which followed the failure of LRA leader Joseph Kony to sign the Final Peace Agreement.

Chissano said the operations had uprooted and disrupted the LRA, and represented a new determination by regional countries to collectively deal with the dangers posed by the LRA.  But he also noted that the operations had triggered “vicious” LRA reprisals in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Southern Sudan.

Chissano said the LRA leader had given the impression that he has little interest in the peace process.  But Chissano also stressed that opportunities for peaceful re-engagement with the LRA should be pursued alongside military action.  Kony’s direct engagement would be the measure of the credibility of any discussions, Chissano said.

Chissano also said the peace agreements should be implemented no matter the prevailing circumstances.  He noted that within northern Uganda people are already experiencing the dividends of peace and that those dividends should be consolidated.

Following consultations, the Security Council President, Uganda’s Ambassador, delivered an oral press statement.

He said Council members:  commended Chissano’s work; called on the LRA to seize the opportunities to sign the Final Peace Agreement; and appreciated Chissano’s readiness to be available when the time comes for signing the Final Peace Agreement.

The Council then went into the formal chamber to adopt a presidential statement on Afghanistan.  According to that statement, the Council welcomed the Afghan-led preparation for upcoming elections.  It also stressed the importance of the elections being free, fair, transparent, credible, secure and inclusive.

** Georgia

Turning now to Georgia, the UN’s Chief Military Officer and Senior Police Adviser have now left what was formerly the area of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia.

Their departure is part of the Mission’s liquidation phase, which includes the withdrawal of its military and police personnel.  This follows the Security Council’s lack of agreement to renew the Mission’s mandate ‑‑ which led to the Mission effectively ceasing its functions in mid-June.

According to the drawdown plan, all civilian staff will also be leaving in the near future, with the goal being to completely close the Mission by November 2009.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Johan Verbeke, yesterday chaired the first meeting under UN auspices of the Incident Prevention and Response Mechanism.

You’ll recall that this mechanism came about as a result of the last round of talks in Geneva.  The purpose is to bring together the Georgians, Abkhaz, and Russians, as well as representatives from the UN and European Union, on a periodic basis to discuss security matters.

Yesterday’s meeting took place in the town of Gali.  Among other things, it was agreed to set up a “hotline” to prevent future incidents.  Participants also agreed to meet on a bi-weekly basis.  The next meeting, also to be held in Gali under UN auspices, will take place on 28 July.  We have more on that upstairs.


In Geneva today, UNICEF launched the Early Childhood Development Kit designed to help meet the needs of young children affected by emergencies.

The tool for young children displaced or affected by war and natural disasters is the first of its kind within the humanitarian community, said UNICEF’s Executive Director, Ann Veneman.

The kit is a box containing 37 different items that can be used by some 50 children up to 6 years of age.  The materials include dominos, colouring pencils, construction blocks, hand puppets, puzzle blocks and memory games.  UNICEF says the kit encourages development and social interaction while giving children a sense of property.

The new kit will complement UNICEF’s School-in-a-Box and Recreation kit, which has become part of the agency’s standard response in emergencies.  There is more in a press release upstairs.

**Women Refugees

Tomorrow and Friday, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) will hold a two-day seminar, here at Headquarters, on sexual violence and discrimination against women refugees, especially in war-torn conflict areas.

Refugee women from Bhutan, Zimbabwe and Liberia will testify, as well as internally displaced women from Chechnya and Kenya. You can find out more on this upstairs.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

And our guests at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning and Dr. David Nabarro, Senior UN System Coordinator for Avian and Human Influenza and Coordinator of the High-Level Task Force on the Global Food Crisis.  They will discuss global food security issues and Influenza A (H1N1).

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, [inaudible] the Secretary-General’s meeting with the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Mr. Gilani, and as you said that they discussed the Bhutto Commission.  The most important, that I think, the pressing question in Pakistani-India relations is the Kashmiri issue.  Did the two discuss also the Kashmiri issue?  I mean, in that meeting between the Secretary-General and the Pakistani Prime Minister, did they also discuss the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan?  Because that’s the most important…

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t think the issue came up.  I don’t have a detailed readout of the meeting.  But what I have doesn’t seem to indicate that.

Question:  And has he met with the Indian Prime Minister also?  Will he be discussing…?

Spokesperson:  We would have been told about that if it had been the case.  We have, as you know, Farhan Haq over there, and this is the report that he gave us today. I know that he is supposed to meet later today with the Malaysian Prime Minister, the Nepalese Prime Minister and the Cuban President.  But I don’t see a meeting scheduled with the Indian Prime Minster.

Question:  Well, I mean, can he know, Farhan, whether the Prime Minister of Pakistan asked the Secretary-General to offer his good offices for mediation between India and Pakistan over this issue?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that, no.  I am not.  And, as you know, I can only repeat what we have in terms of the readout of that meeting.  It says that the meeting with the Pakistani Prime Minister included a discussion of the Bhutto Commission and upcoming meetings of the Group of Friends of Democratic Pakistan.  On the issue of Kashmir, if it had been discussed, I think we would have been aware of it.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  Michèle, as you noted, the Secretary-General had a number of meetings with a number of Heads of State at the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting on a number of issues, but I did not hear anything about Middle East negotiations.  Did the Secretary-General take up the subject with anybody, or does he plan to do so?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think the issue came up in most of his bilaterals, but be sure that we will let you know if it does come up in his discussions.  I think it would have been mentioned if it was the case.  Yes, James.

Question:  I don’t know if I missed that from a previous, but do you know what happened to the Japanese shrine downstairs?

Spokesperson:  It has been transported to ‑‑ I said it before ‑‑ to the North Lawn. And the bell will be rung at the same time, when, as you know, we have the Day of Peace.

Question:  Did you say that today, sorry?

Spokesperson:  No, I said that last week.  It must have been 10 days ago.  But don’t worry, the Peace Bell is secure.  It’s safe.  In fact, on the site, I think the CMP [Capital Master Plan] site, you can see pictures of how they transported it.  It’s on the North Lawn.

Question:  Michèle, just to find out, in that article in the Wall Street Journal yesterday, it was suggested that at some point the United States has urged the Secretary-General to assert himself on the international scene. How is that pressure applied or what, in fact, if that in fact happened or not?

Spokesperson:  Well, you know I cannot comment on press reports.

Question:  I see.  But you don’t deny or…

Spokesperson:  I have nothing to say.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  On Mr. Chissano, a couple of us tried to speak with him after his briefing, but he was unable to speak…

Spokesperson:  Yes, he doesn’t feel well.  Actually he went to the briefing anyway this morning, but he was not … he was scheduled to have a stakeout with you but he could not do it.  He is not in good health right now.

Question:  So ‑‑ I’m sorry to hear that ‑‑ that’s why I’ll ask you and maybe you will know, and maybe you won’t.  Is the office he is maintaining in Kampala, is that now closing down?

Spokesperson:  From what I gather, yes.

Question:  Because you said, because they’ve tried to say that he’ll still be sort of in waiting in case Kony reappears.  But you’ve said that he’s stepping down.  What is his role?  Is he going to retain any UN role after today?

Spokesperson:  Well, not at this point.  There might be something in the future.  But there is none at this point.

Question:  And I guess I wanted to add, I would have asked him this, but Jan Egeland when he was here had said that the UN should somehow keep up mediation, that despite how bleak it looks with Joseph Kony not speaking, what’s the … some have said that by him stepping down just means that military is the only solutions. What’s the UN’s‑‑

Spokesperson:  No, it doesn’t mean that.  It means simply that the usual roads for mediation were closed; what we had set up could not work out.  So we stopped what had become useless.

Question:  Are there other attempts by the UN…

Spokesperson:  I am sure there are.  But I cannot comment on anything more.

Question:  Can I just ask on Georgia.  You mentioned Georgia and close down of the Mission there.  Right now there is a US warship off the coast of Abkhazia, and the President of Russia is visiting South Ossetia.  So, some have said, does the UN ‑‑ I understand that they don’t have a Mission there any more ‑‑ a lot of people have said that this is kind of a big tension.  What does the UN think of these two moves:  warship off the coast by the US; and the Russian President visiting this contested territory?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’ve just talked about a mechanism that has been set up to face just this type of situation.  So the mechanism is there, and I am sure they will be discussing issues of that sort.

Question:  I’ve heard that Mr. Verbeke may actually go, return to the foreign service of Belgium.  If he does, is this an actual UN post like liaison to the Geneva talks, or is it just him personally doing that?

Spokesperson:  No, he is on a UN mission there.

Question:  So, it’s something that the Secretary-General would continue, would consider continuing even if Mr. Verbeke himself didn’t do the work?  Does the UN see a role for itself?

Spokesperson:  At this point, we don’t know.  It’s too early to say.  Right now, I told you what the state of affairs is, where we are, and the fact that this mechanism has been created to avoid other incidents, other violent incidents.  I think this is the most important thing at this point.  What will happen in a few months, I cannot tell you.  Yes, Khaled?

Question:  Yes, Michèle, I don’t know if you had made an announcement before, but is there any confirmation of the expected round of talks between Morocco and the Polisario?  We’ve been hearing all sorts of reports of meetings in Vienna and other European capitals…

Spokesperson:  As soon as we have something on that ‑‑ I was asked the question last week ‑‑ as soon as we have something new, I will let you know.

Question:  There was a report in today’s papers, like by the Polisario representative, saying that the next round is supposed to take place somewhere in Vienna.  Can you confirm that?

Spokesperson:  No, I cannot at this point.

Question:  Can we get Mr. Ross for a briefing, ever?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I’d have to ask him.

Question:  As a UN Special Representative…

Spokesperson: I don’t decide for him.  I’d have to, of course, ask him.

[The correspondent was later told that the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara has returned from his trip to the region.  He is now working with the parties to determine a date that is practical for all, in order to hold the first round of informal meetings, with the objective of preparing the fifth round of negotiations.]

Question:  I wasn’t clear at the beginning, did you say‑‑ I know that the Secretary-General and the Bhutto Commission were both in Pakistan this week‑‑

Spokesperson:  No, the Secretary-General is not in Pakistan.

Question:  Not in Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  He is in Sharm el-Sheikh.  He met in Sharm el-Sheikh with the Prime Minister of Pakistan.  That’s what I said.

Question:  Michèle, just a follow-up.  Did the Prime Minister of Pakistan and the Secretary-General discuss the IDPs [internally displaced persons] situation in Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  [inaudible] but you’ll have more on the humanitarian situation in a few minutes.  Mr. Holmes will be here shortly.

Question:  Perhaps my question should have been:  did they touch on the Bhutto Commission when they talked?

Spokesperson:  Yes, they did.  That’s what I said.

Question:  Okay.  And where can we find out what they talked about?

Spokesperson:  You cannot have more details than what I have told you.  On meetings between the Secretary-General and Heads of State, what I give you is the subject they discuss, and I don’t go beyond that; I usually don’t.

Question:  Well, the Bhutto Commission is taking so long, first of all to be established ‑‑

Spokesperson:  The Bhutto Commission is on its way to Pakistan.  That’s what we said yesterday.  Marie gave you a full briefing on what the Commission is doing.  The Commission is this week visiting Pakistan, and we’ll get more information as soon as they come back.  There is someone from the Spokesperson’s Office accompanying the Commission, and as soon as we have more, we’ll let you know.  Yes, Khaled?

Question:  Michèle, just to follow up on Masood’s question concerning the Wall Street Journal article.  Because it’s almost midterm, past midterm by the SG, there has been this growing number of articles assessing his performance.  Some diplomats are even thinking maybe he should reconsider some changes to his team and his policy, and his attitude towards international issues.  Is the Secretary-General considering any of those changes in midterm?

Spokesperson:  I cannot answer that at this point.  The Secretary-General, of course, is aware of some of the positive and the negative aspects of some of the assessments that were published, and he is constantly assessing his team, constantly assessing the work being done.  So it’s a constant thing which is not linked to his two and a half years.  As you know, he has asked all his senior advisers to submit regular performance evaluations, which are to be done every two years, and they are going to be on each of the UN websites.  You will be able to see how each one evaluates their own performance, and it will be a public thing.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Following on Khaled’s question on the Western Sahara, is the Secretary-General disappointed that the borders between Morocco and Algeria have not been opened, as it was expected as an element of confidence-building?

Spokesperson:  At this point, I don’t have anything on that.  As you know, there is a mediation under way, and I don’t think that the Secretary-General will second guess the mediation taking place at this time.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  [inaudible]…you said that the Secretary-General spoke with the President of Sri Lanka about the detained staff.

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  I just wanted to, and it’s related to this issue that came up in Sudan that he was asked about, about the UN staff member that was sentenced to lashes for wearing pants ‑‑ that woman reporter.  Is it the UN’s position that national staff members that are hired in countries like Sudan or Sri Lanka but hired by the UN to do the work of the UN in the country, are they immune from such treatment, detention by Governments or not?  I’m trying to find out ‑‑

Spokesperson:  No, this is what we have to argue, case by case.

Question:  But the UN believes that it’s this?

Spokesperson:  Yes, to us, our national staff deserves the same protection as our international staff in terms of treatment of that sort.  In the case of what happened in Sudan, we have lawyers from UNMIS working with the journalist, who is, as you know, a full-time staff member of the UN.  They have been working with her in the courts.

Question:  And in Sri Lanka, it is fair, I know you’re not going to say what the President of Sri Lanka said, but is it the Secretary-General’s position that those two UN staff members should never have been detained because they’re immune?  Because they have been held for about a month now.

Spokesperson:  I don’t know, in this specific case, whether immunity came up.  I can check on that for you, on that specific case, whether this is one argument that has been used.  Regarding the Secretary-General, I will not tell you what he said exactly, and of course, I cannot tell you what the President said.

Question:  It must be a bit late for this question, but on the Secretary-General’s trip to Myanmar, did Ban know beforehand that he wasn’t going to be allowed to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, or did he find out while he was there?

Spokesperson:  No, he did not.  They told him that before he went that he had to address the question directly to General Than Shwe, which he did.

Question:  Because the Myanmarese Ambassador to the Security Council this week said the decision had already been made, and it was a decision by the courts.  So is what the Ambassador said ‑‑

Spokesperson:  No, no, no.  There was no decision by the court.  There was a decision by the court that had nothing to do with the Secretary-General’s meeting her.  The court is another issue.

Question:  This is what the Ambassador for Myanmar told the Security Council.  So are you suggesting what the Ambassador told the Security Council is not true?

Spokesperson:  No, I am not saying this.  I think you misread what the Ambassador said.  The Secretary-General went there and he was to address the question directly to General Than Shwe, which he did.  And he was told in return that there was a judicial process on and that this had to be decided by the courts.  That’s what was said.

Question:  But Myanmar already knew beforehand that the judicial process was … that the trial was in process.  So their decision wouldn’t have changed; it would have been the same whenever you’d have asked them.

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know, because the Secretary-General said he was still hoping that he could get some answers, and a possibility to meet her, from the General.

Question:  Has Mr. Gambari indicated to Mr. Ban that there was a likelihood or an opportunity that he would be able to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi?

Spokesperson:  He told him that that would have to be decided by General Than Shwe.  Okay, I’ll be back in a few minutes with Mr. Holmes.

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