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

24 July 2009

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

24 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.

**Secretary-General in China

The Secretary-General called today on China to be a global leader in combating climate change, the main focus of his two-day working visit to Beijing and Xi’an.  The Secretary-General addressed the challenges posed by climate change when he met with Chinese President Hu Jintao, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao and with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi.

In the morning, he participated in the launch of the “Green Lights” programme, which promotes energy-saving lighting that could cut China’s energy consumption by 8 per cent.  He said that China’s approach to climate change can demonstrate to the world that the country is ready to take up a global leadership role in the twenty-first century.  By investing in green economy and green growth, he asserted, China has an opportunity to leapfrog over decades of traditional development based on high polluting fuels.

“Without China, there can be no success this year on a new global climate framework,” the Secretary-General added, referring to the UN climate summit taking place this December in Copenhagen.

The Secretary-General also spoke to the alumni of the UN-China Advanced Leadership Programme, an initiative supported by the United Nations.  He told them that China is already establishing itself in the greater use of renewable energy, with its renewable energy investments second only to Germany’s.  He said that China is well positioned to be a leader in what is shaping up as one of the main global marketplaces of the future.

In his bilateral meeting with President Hu Jintao, the Secretary-General discussed the Copenhagen Summit this December, as well as the September Summit on climate change in New York.  With Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, he discussed the mitigation efforts to be undertaken by developing countries and the role of China in helping African countries to achieve the Millennium Development Goals. 

During his extensive meeting with Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi, the Secretary-General discussed climate change, UN and Security Council reform, the Millennium Development Goals, and China’s achievement in lifting 300 million people out of poverty.  They also spoke about the financial crisis, disarmament, non-proliferation, counter-terrorism, peacebuilding and peacekeeping questions.  Some regional issues were also discussed, including Myanmar, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as well as Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Somalia.

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will travel to Xi’an in China before going to Mongolia on Sunday.

**Statement on Mauritania

[The following statement was read out later in the briefing:

The Secretary-General takes note of the announcement by the Constitutional Council of the final results of the presidential elections in Mauritania.

The Secretary-General would like to invite the Mauritanian people and their leaders to consolidate the democratization process and reconciliation, including through the pursuit of the inclusive national dialogue as provided for in the Dakar agreement. He also wishes to give his assurance that the United Nations will continue supporting efforts in this area.

And that statement will be available upstairs.]

**Security Council

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy briefed the Security Council in its open meeting this morning on the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), and he said that there have been several changes in the security situation in Darfur in recent months.  Large-scale violence and displacement of civilians are no longer seen, although localized attacks continue.  Meanwhile, he said, there has been deterioration in the relations between Sudan and Chad.

The evolution of the crisis, Le Roy said, does not in any way diminish the tragedy of Darfur or lessen the suffering of the 2.7 million displaced people, but it does require that the United Nations adapt its approach in order to be effective.

He warned that, in the five years since the Security Council addressed the crisis, we are no closer to a solution than when the issue was first taken up.  He said that the Sudanese Government must make serious concessions and illustrate its commitment to Darfur through active investment in its people and infrastructure, while the rebels must compromise among themselves and agree on a serious platform for discussions.  And we have his remarks upstairs.

**Secretary-General Appointment

Also regarding UNAMID, I have the following appointment to announce.

The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his joint agreement with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission to appoint Lieutenant General Patrick Nyamvumba of Rwanda as Force Commander of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), with effect from 1 September.

General Nyamvumba will lead the mission’s military component and assist in the continued implementation of UNAMID’s mandate at this critical juncture.  He succeeds General Martin Luther Agwai of Nigeria, who has served as Force Commander since the establishment of UNAMID.

The Secretary-General would like to take this opportunity to express his gratitude to General Agwai for his exemplary service during his tenure with UNAMID.

General Nyamvumba brings to UNAMID extensive leadership and operational experience and we have more information in his bio upstairs.


I would like to categorically deny reports that Hamas are in control of the aid effort in Gaza and that John Ging, the Director of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), has left his duty station in response to death threats from Hamas.  Those reports are entirely false.

At no stage has Mr. Ging ever fled Gaza, and his track record in the face of previous threats and attacks is a matter of public record.  Any suggestion that Hamas has any control or influence over UNRWA aid is similarly baseless.

UNRWA emphasizes that it is guided by universal UN principles and values and distributes its aid directly to the refugees on the basis of need and irrespective of the challenges faced.  The Hamas de facto Government has no influence whatsoever on who receives assistance from UNRWA, and it has respected the independence of UNRWA.

I’d also like to reiterate that the Quartet, in its statements, has called for unimpeded access for the supplies needed for the recovery and reconstruction of Gaza.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

A Government military campaign against illegal armed groups has uprooted some 35,000 people in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  That’s according to estimates by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), which adds that most of the displaced persons are seeking shelter with relatives and at public buildings, including churches and schools.

UNHCR says that the sweeping military campaign has brought to more than half a million the number of civilians fleeing the violence since January.  Overall, there are more than 1.8 million civilians displaced by violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  UNHCR is also concerned that continuing fighting will cause delays in its repatriation of refugees from Tanzania. Many of the Congolese refugees volunteering to return home are from South Kivu.

Meanwhile, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) says it has dispatched a fact-finding mission to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo to strengthen preventive measures against sexual exploitation and abuse by peacekeepers.  The fact-finding team will visit UN bases as well as internally displaced persons camps in North Kivu.  It is expected to report to Mission leadership later this month.

**Influenza A (H1N1)

The World Health Organization (WHO) today said in Geneva that the spread of the Influenza A (H1N1) virus is continuing.  The death toll stands at around 800 now, with 160 countries and territories reporting lab-confirmed cases.  WHO said it still doesn’t know how the virus might change over the next weeks.  But it does expect its activity to increase during the coming winter.  The agency added that the highest percentage of deaths is still being reported among adolescents and young adults.

Regarding vaccines, WHO said it expects the first doses to be available for human use in the northern hemisphere’s early autumn.  It added that it has been promised 150 million doses from two manufacturers.  WHO’s priority is still to get as many vaccines as possible to the least developed countries -- especially health-care workers there, since they are the most exposed, and since, if they fall sick, the whole health system breaks down.

In terms of airport checks and travel restrictions, WHO said today that such practices aren’t the most efficient way to use public health resources.  After all, many people can spread the virus even if they’re not showing symptoms.  Also, people who are coughing or have fever may not have H1N1.  WHO maintained that it’s better to concentrate public health resources on identifying and treating severe cases that need medical attention.  And there is more on this in the Geneva press briefing notes upstairs.

**Climate Change

Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, today spoke to UN Radio.  He said that a number of developing countries, which are already being directly affected by climate change, need financial support in order to adapt.  In that regard, he said he didn’t think there would be an agreement at the UN Climate Change Conference this December in Copenhagen without significant financial resources being allocated for both mitigation and adaptation.

De Boer added that, over time, until the year 2020, the world could need as much as $200 billion a year to limit the growth of emissions, and as much as $100 billion to adapt to the impacts of climate change.


The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is calling for the widespread adoption of “green agricultural practices” to benefit the world’s rapidly growing populations in multiple ways.  Such practices will help to combat climate change, eradicate poverty, boost food production and provide sustainable sources of timber.

The call was made at the launch of the Second World Congress of Agroforestry, which will be held in Nairobi from 23 to 28 August this year.  UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner says that “addressing the range of current and future challenges requires an accelerated transition to a low carbon, resource-efficient green economy for the twenty-first century”.  And we have more on this upstairs.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

Also upstairs we have available “The Week Ahead at the United Nations”.  A few things to flag for you.  On Monday, the Security Council will hold an open debate on the Middle East.

On Tuesday, there will be a background briefing by senior UN officials on the internal non-paper entitled “A New Partnership Agenda: Charting a New Horizon for UN Peacekeeping”.  And that background briefing will take place at 10 a.m. in the 37th floor conference room.

And on Wednesday, 29 July the Secretary-General will hold his monthly press conference at 11 a.m. in this room, and there won’t be any noon briefing that day.

And that’s all I have for you.  Do you have any questions?  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  My question is about Iran.  Iranian human rights activist and Nobel Peace Laureate Shirin Ebadi sent a letter to the Secretary-General asking him to travel to Iran or send a representative.  Do you know if he has any plans to do that or if he has a reaction to her request?

Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of that, I don’t have any travel plans to announce either by the Secretary-General or by any senior official.  At the same time, the Secretary-General, on a number of occasions has made his position clear on the situation in Iran, including in his last statement of 22 June 2009.  And the issue of several hundred detainees is being addressed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and by Special Rapporteurs with a special focus on the need for due process.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  Maybe 10 days ago there was a report issued by Mr. Ban Ki-moon about Darfur, and he talked about the deterioration in the security conditions there, and especially what he called sexual violence against civilians.  And as you mentioned, Mr. Le Roy, in his briefing to the Security Council today, said violence is no longer seen in Darfur as it used to be.  My question is, do you think we have two different readings of the security situation there?  And also regarding the concessions he asked the Sudanese Government to make, can you give us what concessions, what exactly he wanted Khartoum to make in order to facilitate the peace negotiations?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, well, first of all on the concessions, Mr. Le Roy’s entire speech is upstairs, and you can go upstairs and see precisely what he is calling for.  I gave a synopsized version just now.

In terms of the violence, no, there is no difference.  Mr. Le Roy was in fact presenting the reports that the Secretary-General has issued on Darfur to the Security Council.  What he was suggesting is that the nature of the violence has changed from the extremely large-scale attacks we’d seen a few years in the past.  At the same time, he’s stressed that there is still violence.  So we’re not suggesting that attacks, including rapes, do not continue.  That certainly still happens.

Question:  Has there been any effort to really count the number of casualties since this whole crisis began?

Associate Spokesperson:  In…?

Question:  In 2003.  Did the United Nations do any effort to really calculate how many people were killed, and how they were killed? 

Associate Spokesperson: There have been several such exercises.  As you may know, a few years ago there was a high-level panel headed by Judge Antonio Cassese that went to Darfur to determine the nature of war crimes, crimes against humanity and others, and they had accumulated some information at that time.  Since then, the issue has been handed to the International Criminal Court (ICC).  And it’s the ICC that has tried to compile evidence, including the figures of the dead.  So for the most up to date figures I’d suggest you ask the ICC.

Question:  Just with regard to that, can I ask a follow up?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Just that the figure is often quoted of John Holmes and 400,000 [dead], and that’s been seriously disputed because that was an extrapolation of the high point back in the early 2000s, and then just saying that continued, and you’ve just said it hasn’t continued and it’s known it hasn’t continued. So is there any effort of John Holmes to straighten that out so that he is not quoted with an inaccurate figure?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, at this point the question of what has happened in Darfur, including the death tolls, is something that is to be tried in the International Criminal Court.  They have issued, as you know, indictments, and they will be pursuing the matter further.  So we would await what sort of evidence is presented there to get a more definitive count in terms of both death tolls and other atrocities.

Question:  Two questions: Srebrenica and Sri Lanka.  In their debate on R2P [the responsibility to protect] today in the General Assembly, issue was taken with the Secretary-General’s report on the topic, saying that he refers to a genocide in Rwanda and mass killings in Srebrenica.  One of the ambassadors said that in fact Srebrenica was ruled by an international tribunal as having been genocide.  So they criticized the report for using these different words. Is there some reason why the Secretary-General was reticent to use the word “genocide” with respect to Srebrenica?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, we’re not reticent to use that word. The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) has in fact, in its convictions of several senior officials, come to the ruling that what transpired in Srebrenica was genocide.  And so we have no dispute with the judgement by the ICTY on that.

Question:  So to the ambassador who had questioned why the phrasing was the way you just say that was just…?  What’s the response?

Associate Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t parse the phrasing of individual paragraphs of a UN report.  But certainly in the past we have been very clear in agreeing with the rulings of the ICTY.

Question:  Can I ask you one thing on Sri Lanka, if you don’t mind?

Associate Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  Since it was said that the Secretary-General was closely monitoring the compliance with the joint statement and all of this, it’s just come out that the Foreign Minister of the country has now said that the commitment made, including while the Secretary-General was there, to allow 80 per cent of those in the detention camps to return home by the end of the year no longer holds, that it’s going to be a lower number.  Has the UN taken note of that and what’s the response to that?

Associate Spokesperson:  We have always expected the Government to abide by the commitments that have been reached on this particular matter. Beyond anything further, I’d check whether OCHA has new reaction to the latest comments.  I don’t know whether we necessarily would react to the very latest comments that you just cited, though.

Question:  Do you have any comments regarding this human organ trade between Israel and America and the recent scandal which emerged yesterday?

Associate Spokesperson:  We have no comment on this case, which, as you know, the arrests were just made. It remains to be prosecuted.

Question:  Farhan, did you at the top of the briefing speak about the Pakistani IDPs, the situation?

Associate Spokesperson:  You didn’t miss anything on that.  We don’t have any information further to what you received, I believe yesterday, on this.

Question:  No update?

Associate Spokesperson:  No update today on that, no.

Question:  Okay.  I also want to know what you said on the Middle East, the debate is going to take place on Monday.  Is there any update on the status of the 12,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails?  Has there been any update on the issue of settlements? Anything that the Israelis have done differently other than continue with the building?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have anything further to say on this just yet.  Obviously every time we have these briefings to the Security Council, we do provide the latest updated figures.  And so I expect that on Monday we will have some updated figures for you.

Question:  On Monday?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  What about for Friday?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, since it’s Friday, I don’t know just yet what we’re about to say on Monday.  But we’ll have all the updated information about the Occupied Palestinian Territory at that time, and we’ll put out that speech.

Question:  But do you have anything to say on Friday on the…?

Associate Spokesperson: There is really nothing we have to say, no.

Question:  Nothing? And nothing on the settlements also?

Associate Spokesperson:  No.  But before we take any further questions I’d like to read the following on Mauritania, which has just been approved.  [reads statement, now included above]

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  You know, regarding these R2P discussions here in the General Assembly, Mr. [Miguel] d'Escoto, the President of the General Assembly, clearly expressed his views on this new norm, and among other things, he said it might be used as a threat to the sovereignty of States.  I was wondering if there is any comment from Mr. Ban Ki-moon, especially as he showed much enthusiasm for this norm to be implemented and to be adopted.

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, yes, there were comments.  As you may know, Ban Ki-moon earlier this week did himself speak on the responsibility to protect, and so has his Special Adviser, Ed Luck.  And they have made it clear that the responsibility to protect should not be seen in any way as a threat to national sovereignty.  In fact, what it’s designed to do is to help provide a way to protect the civilians of each country while adhering to national sovereignty.  And the way it has been outlined in the Secretary-General’s report makes it clear that it is in concordance with respect for sovereignty.

Question:  Yes, but what I am asking about, this report and the views of Mr. Ban Ki-moon have been made before the statements of Mr. d’Escoto.  So, is there any response to Mr. Ban Ki-moon?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, the General Assembly President speaks for himself, and he is entitled to his views.  But the views of the Secretary-General and of Mr. Luck remain those as expressed in their respective speeches.

Question:  These two issues with regard to Gaza, several people have referred to the fact that the Gaza situation, the border crossings are still closed and that the attack on Gaza happened as part of this R2P and the failure of the international community to even take that into account.  And I wondered if there is anything further that the Secretary-General was doing with regard to any of it, or UNRWA is doing anything further with regard to getting those border crossings opened and being able to get the re-building going on.

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, we continue to work as hard as we can at a variety of levels, from UNRWA on the ground, up through to the Secretary-General, to obtain the opening of all border crossings, not just to humanitarian aid, but also to commercial traffic.  At this stage, the Secretary-General continues to press on this case.  As you know, he also took up the issue within the format of the Quartet in Trieste, Italy, just about a month ago.  And so, yes, we do continue to pursue this, and we will, as I mentioned brief the Security Council again on Monday.

Question:  When he was here briefing the [Security] Council, Alan Doss said in his comments that the UN was heartened by the decision by the Congolese Government or army to take action against five individuals that Ross Mountain and others had named to the Government as having been or accused of rape and other abuses.  But since he spoke, AFP has quoted the Congolese Army as saying that four of the five remain employed by the army and are “taking part in operations against rebel forces”. What was Alan Doss congratulating them for?  Was it his understanding that they would keep serving in the army, and are these operations in which the UN is cooperating?

Associate Spokesperson: On that, I do have some fairly lengthy guidance for you.  If you want I can share that with you afterwards.

[The correspondent was later informed that, in his briefing to the United Nations Security Council on 10 July, the Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Alan Doss, noted that President Joseph Kabila had given instructions for the removal of the five officers (mentioned in the AFP story of 23 July) from command positions, and that the Defence Minister had instructed the military prosecutor to initiate legal procedures against them.  In his statement, Doss said: “We shall continue our advocacy on this issue and we have made it very clear that we cannot engage in or support operations with units that show a blatant disregard for international humanitarian law, or where there is a significant risk that they may do so.”  Doss also said he was pleased that the Government and Army Command had taken measures to reinforce military justice, and that several FARDC soldiers accused of crimes in the course of the current operations had been tried and sentenced.]

Question:  Did you ever get an answer on Afghanistan, on the helicopter that crashed with the civilians on it?  I think you said you’d ask UNAMA [the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] whether there was any UN mapping operation.

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, from the information I received I am not aware that it was involved in work for UNAMA.  It seemed to be a different operation.

Question:  I guess it’s a Filipino Minister of Migrant Affairs that was quoted as saying that it was on a UN system mapping operation.

Associate Spokesperson:  I didn’t receive any information to indicate that this was… It certainly wasn’t a UN helicopter, and I didn’t receive any information to indicate that it was doing work for UNAMA.

Question:  Do you have an update on the compensation, Mr. Ban Ki-moon requesting Israel to pay for its military operation and the damages it made in the Gaza Strip?

Associate Spokesperson:  We continue to pursue that issue with the Israeli authorities.

Question:  Is there any further information or readout about what was discussed with the Foreign Minister, particularly about UN Security Council reform and with regard to the DPRK?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, that was a fairly extensive readout; that’s all we’ve got on that.

Question:  Will there be anything further?

Associate Spokesperson:  That’s it.

Question:  Farhan, on this IDP situation in Pakistan, should I assume that since there is no update from you the situation continues to be normal.  I mean, insofar as they’re going back, and you said yesterday that 324,000 had gone back or are ready to go back…?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, we wouldn’t call this a normal situation.  Certainly, there is a very large displacement situation for which we have tried to acquire a substantial amount of aid.  Even for those people who are returning to their homes, as Marie, I think, pointed out yesterday, we’re trying to find ways to find them support and shelter. And of course for that, we still require a certain amount of funding for the months ahead.  The figures haven’t changed since what we told you yesterday, but yes, we’re continuing on with our work to provide the necessary assistance, particularly as we try to relocate people who have been staying with families or communities in the area.

Question:  So the funding had not changed since…?

Associate Spokesperson: Not since yesterday, no.

Question:  And the thing that I pointed out, that the operation in Waziristan basically still has not begun, and when it begins there is going to be a massive displacement that will take place…

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, let’s not put the cart before the horse. If something like that happens, certainly we will try to be prepared to respond to it quickly, and will deal with it at that point.

Question:  A somewhat general question:  Have you all said anything about Said Djinnit being in Niger and the mission I guess he is undertaking trying to look into the President there trying to have a referendum for a third presidential term?  It’s described as an AU/UN/ECOWAS operation.  What readout do you have of his involvement there?

Associate Spokesperson:  The only thing really to say there is that Mr. Djinnit has been in Niger.  He, along with his African Union and ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] counterparts, met with officials, including some from the opposition, tried to meet with people from the Government in an effort to try and make sure that any concerns about the constitutional reforms in Niger would be handled in a peaceful way using dialogue. We don’t have anything further to say about that at this stage.

Question:  Does the UN think that the President there dissolving various bodies in trying to extend his term -- is that something the UN is concerned with? Or is it just concerned with violence?  Like if he could do that without violence, would that be okay?

Associate Spokesperson:  At this stage, like I said, Mr. Djinnit is reaching out to the various parties.  We don’t have anything further to say about the situation at this particular point in time.

Question:  I just wondered, how do you contrast the situation to that in Honduras?  It looks pretty similar, actually, and seems like it’s a different reaction by the UN.  So that’s why I am asking.

Associate Spokesperson:  We try not to draw parallels between situations that are actually rather dissimilar.  As you know, in Honduras, the President was forced to leave the country; that’s when our involvement stepped up.

Question:  Manuel Zelaya is supposed to be going back with a huge, massive, other Hondurans.  Is there any update on his return to Honduras at all?

Associate Spokesperson:  He has not returned to Honduras.  If something changes…

Question:  Walking, he’s walking back?

Associate Spokesperson: …if something changes on the ground we could react at that point, but at this stage, what the UN’s involvement is, is that we continue to try and support efforts.  As you know, the most recent efforts were by the Costa Rican President, Oscar Arias, to bring the parties to dialogue. We’ll see where we go from there.

Question:  But you don’t have any kind of contacts with the current Government now in Honduras, right? Do you have any kind of contacts with the Government in Honduras right now, or…?

Associate Spokesperson:  The only thing to say about that is that the Government that is recognized in the UN system is the Government of President Zelaya.

Thanks.  Have a good weekend everyone.

* *** *

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