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

21 July 2009

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

21 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Responsibility to Protect

The Secretary-General this morning presented his report on the Responsibility to Protect to the General Assembly, saying that it is high time to turn the promise of the responsibility to protect into practice.  He said that we have an opportunity to ready ourselves for the moment when our collective capacity and will are again tested by the sort of horrors that took place in Rwanda.

The Secretary-General said that the strategy outlined in his report rests on three pillars: State responsibility; international assistance and capacity-building; and timely and decisive response.  The report, he said, seeks to situate the responsibility to protect squarely under the UN’s roof and within the UN Charter, where it belongs.  The report asserts that prevention, for practical and moral reasons, should be job number one.  It involves engaging Member States in a discussion about how to sharpen UN capacities for early warning and assessment, and encouraging each of the UN’s principal organs to play its distinct and appropriate role in developing and implementing the responsibility to protect.

The Secretary-General called on Member States to let the General Assembly do what it does best: to provide the venue for a continuing search for common ground on a multilateral strategy that works.

And we have his remarks upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning is holding consultations on peace and security in Africa.  Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe briefed Council members on recent developments concerning Eritrea and Djibouti.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Chad- Sudan

Yesterday, we issued the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning Darfur and bombings along the Chad-Sudan border.

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the increasing violence in West Darfur and along the Chad-Sudan border. 

The Secretary-General is disturbed by reports that bombs dropped by Chadian aircraft have struck locations in the vicinity of Umm Dukhum in West Darfur on 16 July.  These events put the lives of Sudanese civilians at risk and could increase the tensions between the two countries.  The Secretary-General condemns the incident and takes note that the Government of Sudan has rightly responded through diplomatic means.  He urges both Governments to show restraint and make greater efforts to improve their relations.

The Secretary-General is also gravely concerned by the reports of bombings by the Government of Sudan on rebel positions in the Jebel Moon area of West Darfur, which took place on 18 July.  He calls on the Sudanese Government and all parties to the conflict to cease military actions, comply with Security Council resolutions in this regard and to commit to a cessation of hostilities.

The Secretary-General reiterates that the only solution to the conflict in Darfur is through an inclusive, political settlement.

That statement is available online and upstairs.


Also on Sudan, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reports that Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, is on his way to Abyei on the eve of the ruling of the Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration on Abyei.

The Mission says that the Special Representative believes that action has been taken to ensure that the Abyei road map area will be cleared of armed elements, other than the Joint Integrated Unit and the Joint Police Integrated Unit.  Qazi welcomes the latest developments as reassuring.  There are fact sheets on Abyei for those who are interested.

** Somalia

We may have a statement later today concerning Somalia and the attacks we reported on for you yesterday.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says that as the number of Somali civilians driven out of their homes by the conflict in Mogadishu rises, growing insecurity is making it increasingly difficult for aid workers to gain access and provide assistance to the latest victims of the Somali civil war.

UNHCR estimates that some 223,000 people have fled Mogadishu since the beginning of May, and about 20,000 have fled in the last two weeks alone.

The agency says that, for example, this week’s scheduled distribution of 4,000 UNHCR aid kits in Mogadishu and outlying areas had to be postponed due to security concerns.  In addition, due to the latest incidents in Baidoa and Wajid, UNHCR’s assistance in the adjacent region has virtually ground to a halt.

UNHCR says that it is deeply concerned about the plight of the large number of internally displaced people who have found refuge south-west of the capital, in a congested strip of land with little or no basic facilities.  There is a lack of adequate shelter, sanitation facilities and clean drinking water, adds the agency.

And there is more in the UNHCR briefing notes upstairs.

** Lebanon

Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, has held a series of meetings over the past two days with senior Lebanese officials to discuss the recent incidents in which, he said, there have been clear violations of resolution 1701 (2006).  He met yesterday with Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, and earlier today with Assembly Speaker Nabih Berri.

After meeting Hariri, Williams said: “Any resolution from time to time faces many tests and challenges.  There have been some testing incidents in recent days.”  He called on all parties to renew their commitment and to exercise the utmost restraint.  He added, after meeting Prime Minister Siniora, that we need to address the issues and not see any escalation, which would be bad for resolution 1701 (2006)and for Lebanon.

And we have his remarks upstairs.

** Iraq

On Iraq, the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees, L. Craig Johnstone, is in Iraq today as part of a five-day mission to review UNHCR’s operations for returnees, refugees and internally displaced people and to hold a series of meetings with Iraqi officials.

In his meetings, Johnstone acknowledged the improvement in security inside Iraq and described the situation as much healthier compared to his last visit two years ago.  He also urged the Iraqi Government to engage more with Iraqi refugees outside of Iraq and to include them in national reconciliation efforts.

The Deputy High Commissioner also commended the Iraqi Government for implementing a compensation package for returnees and internally displaced families.  He stressed, however, that much more needs to be done, and he added that there will not be a solution to the Iraqi situation as a whole until the plight of displaced people and refugees has been resolved.

And we have more details in today’s briefing notes from UNHCR.

** Cambodia

On Cambodia, the latest report by the United Nations Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking shows that the financial crisis in Cambodia has led to signs of an increase in women entering the sex trade, driven primarily by declining working conditions.

The report shows that during the crisis, women have entered the sex trade, coming from situations where there have been declining working conditions, such as in the garment sector, where they have experienced long working hours and low pay.  And it also shows that debt bondage to sex establishment owners has increased, with an increasing proportion of cash going towards remittances to families.

**Humanitarian Appeals

Humanitarian appeals have received the best funding of all time by mid-2009, but $4.8 billion are still required to respond to the world’s most severe crises.  That’s according to the United Nation’s Mid-Year Review of Humanitarian Appeals, released today in Geneva.

Forty-nine per cent of the funds needed have been received.  Funding required for global crises has escalated sharply from $7.8 billion in the original 2009 appeal launched in November 2008 to an unprecedented $9.5 billion, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

For example, funding requirements to meet humanitarian needs have risen by $187 million in Kenya, by $341 million in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and by $103 million in Iraq.  Requirements for humanitarian operations in Pakistan soared from $55 million to $542 million, OCHA adds.

John Holmes, the United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that, if just a fraction of the hundreds of billions of dollars recently committed by Governments to private financial institutions were allocated to humanitarian action, the humanitarian appeals could already be fully funded.

And we have more information on this upstairs, including notes of a briefing by John Holmes in Geneva.

**Arab Human Development Report

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) today released the Arab Human Development Report 2009.

According to the report, a widespread lack of human security undermines human development in Arab countries.  It adds that human security in the region is often threatened by unjust political, social and economic structures; by competition for power and resources among fragmented social groups; and, in some cases, by the impacts of external military intervention.  The report was prepared by independent scholars drawn from the region.

And we have more on it in my Office.


The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) is warning that a killer disease is destroying fish stocks around the Zambezi River Valley in Zambia.  The sickness is threatening the food security and the livelihood of the surrounding rural populations.  FAO says this particular disease is one of the most serious aquatic diseases affecting fish.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that the elimination of river blindness is now becoming feasible.  More than 37 million people are infected with river blindness.  Most of them live in poor, rural African communities.

And we have the press releases on those two topics upstairs.

**Press Conference Today

Today, at 1 p.m. today, there will be a press conference by the Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the Committee’s current session.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Then tomorrow, at 11 a.m., Gareth Evans, former Australian Foreign Minister and Co-Chair of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty; Juan Méndez, the former UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide; human rights activist Jacqueline Murekatete; and Thelma Ekiyor from the West Africa Civil Society Institute will all be here to brief on the General Assembly plenary session on the Responsibility to Protect.  That session took place, as you know, today.

And the guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Angela Kane, the Under-Secretary-General for Management, who will brief on the efforts to make the UN a smoke-free environment.

**“New Horizons” Initiative

Also we want to know whether any of you would be interested in a background briefing about the “New Horizons” initiative concerning UN peace operations.  If you are, please come upstairs to the office and let us know, and we’ll try to see what the level of interest is so that we can arrange a background briefing on that topic.  That’s it for me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I just want to know on this situation in the Middle East on this nuclear situation in the Middle East that Iran keeps on developing the nuclear programme, saying it has a right to peaceful nuclear energy, while Israel on one hand keeps on threatening Iran and thinking that this is a threat to its sovereignty or its livelihood.  So in that event… just recently, even the United States Vice-President Mr [Joseph] Biden said that it would not stand in between Israel if it attacks Iran.  What is the Secretary-General doing in view of these threats and these ominous rising clouds of nuclear war, if you please?

Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General has repeatedly called for a negotiated resolution to the issue of Iran’s nuclear programme.  The Security Council, as you know, has also been seized of the matter and continues to review it.  But the Secretary-General has certainly called on all parties to work together on a negotiated solution, and he, of course, continues to call on Iran to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and with all the relevant resolutions of the Security Council.

Question:  Has he taken note of the threats coming from Israel, from various Israeli ministers and officials, that they will attack Iran very soon?

Associate Spokesperson:  Certainly he would like all parties to refrain from rhetoric and to deal with the situation through negotiations and through diplomatic efforts.

Question:  Any reaction from the Secretary-General regarding the Israeli projects of building settlements in East Jerusalem?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, as far as that goes, I’ll just refer you back to the repeated statements by the Quartet, of which the United Nations is a member, concerning our own concerns about settlement activity.  As you know, we find all settlement activity in the Occupied Palestinian Territory to be unhelpful, and the Secretary-General has repeatedly asked for them to halt.

Question:  It’s reported that the Government of Ethiopia has taken the licence and ordered out of southern Ethiopia, Médecins Sans Frontières and some gender rights NGOs.  Does the UN know about this, and what do they have to say about it?

Associate Spokesperson:  I am not aware.  You might want to check with the groups involved.  It would be up to them initially, I believe, to react.

Question:  I guess my question is, when this happened in Sudan, the UN reacted immediately.  But it seems if it happens in other places, there is no reaction.

Associate Spokesperson:  We would need the information first.  Like I said, it would be up to Médecins Sans Frontières, I believe you mentioned, and other groups to react first, and we’ll see what they’re doing.

Question:  Perhaps belatedly, over the weekend, Action Contre la Faim -- it’s this French NGO -- denounced the Sri Lankan Government’s ending of an inquiry of how 17 of their workers were killed, and they called for an international inquiry, including calling on the UN to take action.  Since the UN -- John Holmes and others -- had said they were closely watching that investigation, what do they say now that it’s over, and the group concerned calls it a whitewash?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’ll check with OCHA what kind of particular response they have on the issue concerning Contre la Faim.  As far as that goes, there has been no UN investigation into this, as you are aware.  We’ll first monitor events on the ground, and we do continue to monitor a wide range of issues concerning how the Government of Sri Lanka has followed up on the commitments that the Secretary-General had outlined in his letters.  As you know, the Secretary-General met with President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa last week on the margins of the Non-Aligned Movement summit, and he brought up again the sort of actions we had wanted taken in Sri Lanka.

Question:  Just one more on that.  I wanted to know, there was a report in the Times of London saying that, in the camps in Vavuniya, up to 1,400 people have died, and the AP has also reported that the conditions are very dire in terms of health.  What’s the UN, if they’re closely monitoring, are they monitoring both the health and the level of deaths inside these camps?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, that of course depends on the level of access we have.  We don’t have necessarily the most precise information about things like death tolls.  At the same time, we do have tremendous concerns about the humanitarian conditions in the camps, and that was in fact one of the topics that the Secretary-General raised with the Sri Lankan President last week.

Question:  Farhan, you were there when the Secretary-General was in Sharm el-Sheikh at the Non-Aligned Movement meeting.  Did the Secretary-General and the Prime Ministers of India and Pakistan at any point in time discuss the Kashmir issue, or did that never came up for discussion?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General did not meet with the Indian Prime Minister.  He did meet with the Pakistani Prime Minister.  It may have come up in passing, but that wasn’t the focus of their discussion, no.

Question:  The focus of the discussion was just IDPs [internally displaced persons], or…?

Associate Spokesperson:  There were a number of issues, including relations between India and Pakistan, including support for the work of the Group of Friends of a Democratic Pakistan, and also the work of the Bhutto Commission.

Question:  Can you confirm that the helicopter that crashed in Afghanistan, killing the civilians on board, was doing a UN mapping mission?  Is that your understanding?

Associate Spokesperson:  That’s not my understanding, but I’ll check with UNAMA [the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan].

Question:  Okay. And also, since you gave sort of a readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting with the President of Sri Lanka, in advance of his trip to China, is it possible to know whether he intends to raise the issue of the unrest in western China and in Xinjiang Uighur autonomous region?

Associate Spokesperson:  He’s already made some comments about this, as you know, in some recent press encounters.  It’s too soon to predict what issues he’ll raise, but we’ll certainly give you the readouts once those meetings take place.  Okay, have a good afternoon.

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