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

31 July 2009

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

31 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 Statement - Iraq

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning bombs attacks against Shia mosques in Baghdad.

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the bomb attacks on five Shia mosques in Baghdad today which have left dozens dead and wounded.  Attacks against places of worship cannot be justified by any political or religious cause.  These attacks appear to be aimed at provoking sectarian strife and undermining stability in Iraq.

The Secretary-General appeals to the Iraqi people to remain steadfast in their efforts to resolve difference through dialogue and achieve national reconciliation.  The United Nations is committed to helping the Iraqi people in this important endeavour.

That statement is upstairs.

** Myanmar

The Secretary-General yesterday met with the Permanent Representative of Myanmar, Than Swe.  In the meeting, the Secretary-General reiterated his clear expectation and that of the international community, that the Government of Myanmar will give careful consideration to the implications of any verdict in the trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and exercise its responsibility to ensure her immediate release.

The Secretary-General also reiterated the international community’s high expectations that the Government of Myanmar will act in Myanmar’s interest by taking timely and positive steps in follow-up to the specific proposals which he made during his recent visit to Myanmar, starting with the release of all political prisoners.

After reporting the Secretary-General’s messages to his authorities, the Permanent Representative of Myanmar informed us that the verdict was being postponed.


As the conflict in Afghanistan intensifies and spreads, it is taking an increasingly heavy toll on civilians, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a midyear report on the situation of civilians in armed conflict.

That report, compiled by UNAMA’s Human Rights Unit, recorded 1,013 civilian deaths in the first six months of 2009 ‑‑ a 24 per cent increase compared to the same period in 2008.  Between January and June of this year, about 59 per cent of civilian deaths were the responsibility of anti-Government elements and 30.5 per cent were the responsibility of pro-Government forces.

The report adds that air strikes remain the largest cause of civilian deaths attributed to pro-Government forces during the first six months of 2009, resulting in the reported deaths of 200 civilians.  Meanwhile, some 400 casualties were the result of the indiscriminate use of improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks by anti-Government elements.  And we have more details in a press release upstairs, and the full report can be found online.

** Pakistan

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that, as of yesterday, more than 600,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) in north-west Pakistan had left camps or other locations.  That leaves some 1.6 million people who have not yet returned from displacement and who will continue to require humanitarian assistance.  Also, even as people leave camps for the displaced, an additional 1,500 families have arrived at IDP camps in Jalozai and Familo since 3 July.

To assist the people who are returning to their homes, UNICEF has distributed 8,600 hygiene kits and 270,000 Aqua tabs, which can benefit approximately 60,000 returning persons.  Health agencies have already sent necessary medicines and supplies to the district of Buners and Swat.  They plan to support 14 public health facilities and four mobile clinics in Buners.

As of 26 July, 1,167 schools out of a total of 4,739 schools that were occupied by IDPs have been vacated due to the rapid return of the displaced.  OCHA says that getting all children back into learning environments, especially in time for the beginning of the new academic year, poses a massive challenge for the Pakistani Government and the humanitarian community.  Schools being used as shelters must be repaired and equipped with new furniture and teaching and learning materials.

** Nepal

On Nepal, we have upstairs notes from a press briefing by the Secretary-General’s Representative in Nepal, Karin Landgren.  She delivered that at a press conference there today.  Among other things, she said that the fact that the peace process has fallen behind is a matter of urgent concern.  She said the political leaders indicated that their focus, in this mechanism [for the peace process], would include the new constitution; and this is especially important in light of the consensus that will be needed on establishing Nepal’s new federal structure.

Landgren also said that Nepal’s peace process has had many successes since its inception.  It is critical that all parties show restraint in words and in actions, with strict adherence to the peace agreements, to re-establish the necessary confidence and that they articulate a common vision of the peaceful path ahead.  And she stressed that the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) will be doing all it can within its mandate to help the parties make progress in the peace process.

And her press remarks are upstairs.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Concerning the Democratic Republic of the Congo, civilians continue to flee fighting in the South Kivu region of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).  UNHCR now estimates that 56,000 civilians have been displaced since 12 July.  The agency says they are running from a Government military campaign against Rwandan rebels and allied groups.  It had last week placed at 30,000 the number of civilians displaced by the military operation in the Ruzizi plain, near the border with Burundi.

UNHCR also reports that rebel attacks on civilians have continued despite the Government’s military presence, most recently on 29 July, when the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda rebels looted homes in a village whose only hospital was also ransacked.  The widespread insecurity, UNHCR notes, is hampering the provision of humanitarian aid to those in need.

**Security Council

Today is the last day of Uganda’s Security Council presidency and there are no meetings or consultations of the Council scheduled.

Tomorrow, the United Kingdom will take over the rotating presidency of the Security Council.  We expect the incoming Council President, UK Ambassador John Sawers, will brief you on the programme of work for August next Tuesday at 12:30 p.m.

**World Food Programme

The World Food Programme (WFP) says it could have to cut back its humanitarian air service in parts of Africa due to a dramatic shortage of funds.  The UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS), which is operated by WFP, carries aid workers to emergency operations where they provide vital assistance for hundreds of thousands of people.  But WFP warns that the air service to Chad will run out of funds by 15 August, and by 30 August for Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.

In Chad, for example, an average of 4,000 humanitarian passengers fly on the air service each month to provide assistance to 250,000 Darfurian refugees and 180,000 internally displaced persons in eastern Chad.  The Humanitarian Air Service operates in Chad, Sudan, Somalia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, the Central African Republic, West Africa and Afghanistan, with a 2009 budget of $160 million.  So far this year, the service has received less than $40 million in contributions.  And there is more in a press release on this upstairs.

**Children and Armed Conflict

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, has welcomed the signature of an action plan by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) in the Philippines.  The action plan sets concrete and time-bound steps to prevent the recruitment and use of children and to separate any children who may be found among its forces.  It also ensures unimpeded access to monitoring teams and provides for children to be reintegrated into civilian life.

The Special Representative said this signature showed that the protection of children is a priority beyond any political or other agenda.  But, she added, compliance will require close follow-up and the continuous support of the international community.  And there is a press release on this upstairs.

**Economic and Social Council

In Geneva today, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) wrapped up its work and suspended its 2009 substantive session.  Please note that we’re using the word “suspended”, since, as you know, ECOSOC can choose to reconvene at any time during the year.

During this latest session, which lasted one month, ECOSOC focused on public health, and several initiatives were put forth to help meet global public health goals.  Among other topics, ECOSOC also addressed the special concerns of countries emerging from conflict.

In concluding remarks, Sha Zukang, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, said that the session clearly showed that ECOSOC provides a unique platform for weaving together the various strands of the development agenda for more effective implementation.  And we have more on that upstairs.


World Breastfeeding Week will start tomorrow.  This year’s theme stresses the importance of breastfeeding as a lifesaving intervention, especially during emergencies.

In a statement, World Health Organization (WHO) Executive Director Margaret Chan says that, in all situations, the best way of preventing malnutrition and mortality among infants and young children is to ensure that they start breastfeeding within one hour of birth.  She added that they should breastfeed exclusively until six months of age, and continue breastfeeding with complementary foods up to two years and beyond.  WHO adds that emergency preparedness plans should include the training of health workers to support mothers during emergencies.

And today in Nigeria, UNICEF Director General Ann Veneman also highlighted the importance of breastfeeding, saying it was an excellent source of nutrition for infants in emergency situations.  Veneman is in Nigeria for a four-day visit where she launched the first ever National Child Health Week in that country.  Child Health Week will support a package of high-impact, low-cost child survival interventions, such as immunizations and the delivery of insecticide treated mosquito nets.  There is more on that upstairs.

**‘We Must Disarm’ Short Film Competition

The United Nations is launching tomorrow a competition for the best short film on the issue of nuclear disarmament and/or non-proliferation.  This is part of the ongoing “We Must Disarm” campaign and of the 100-day countdown to the International Day of Peace on 21 September, launched by the Secretary-General on 13 June.

The UN is looking for short videos from anyone, regardless of skill or experience, to submit their work by Thursday, 10 September.  Winning films will be shown at United Nations Headquarters in New York and posted on the online platforms supporting the Secretary-General’s campaign.  And we have more details upstairs.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

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

Some of the highlights:

On Monday, we’ll have the annual Heads of Military Components Conference, organized by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ (DPKO) Office of Military Affairs, and that will last until 7 August; on Tuesday, you’ll have Security Council consultations on its programme of work and, like I said, we expect Ambassador John Sawers at 12:30 p.m. to brief you on that topic; on Wednesday, the Security Council is expected to hold an open debate on United Nations Peacekeeping Operations; on Thursday, the Security Council is expected to hold an open debate on Women, Peace and Security; and at noon that day, General Martin Luther Agwai and Lieutenant-General Babacar Gaye, Force Commanders of the peacekeeping missions in Darfur (UNAMID) and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), respectively, will hold a press conference in this room.

**Briefings in August

And last, my favourite note for the day:  I know a number of you are going on holidays next month.  For now, we are expecting that, over the month of August, we will provide noon briefings three days out of every week ‑‑ namely, on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.  On Tuesdays and Thursdays, we don’t expect to brief for now.  Of course, if events require otherwise, we might go back to daily briefings.  But if things remain calm, I hope you appreciate the slightly more mellow August schedule.

And with that, that’s it for me.  Are there any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, I was wondering if the delegation of Myanmar indicated why the verdict was delayed?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have anything from them directly on this.  However, as I pointed out at the start of this briefing, we were informed about this from the Permanent Representative of Myanmar after he’d reported the Secretary-General’s messages back to his authorities.  They had met, as you know, at 5 p.m. yesterday.

Question:  Apparently in the last 24 hours there have been some more significant movement to negotiations for President [Manuel] Zelaya to return to Honduras, and that in fact this is being encouraged; this compromise will allow him to come back with some limited powers, and had been encouraged by the US.  Is there any comment at all from the Secretary-General?

Associate Spokesperson:  On this, our basic comment is that we’ve been supporting the efforts by the Costa Rican President, Oscar Arias.  And we certainly hope that the parties will continue to work with President Arias, and will continue to hold dialogue with each other on the basis of his plan, and we’re hoping that they will resolve their differences as soon as they possibly can.

Question:  Is there any response from the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] to the Secretary-General’s statement that he will be glad to support negotiations in some way?

Associate Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any response from them.  You can ask the DPRK.  On that, the point I’d like to stress is that the Secretary-General made clear in his remarks to the press on Wednesday that he believes that six-party talks still can provide a good way for the solution through dialogue of the situation on the Korean peninsula.

At the same time, as he said to you, he had noted the willingness of the DPRK authorities to engage in direct dialogue with the United States, and he stressed that such willingness was important, since it is necessary to resolve the situation in a peaceful manner, through dialogue.

Question:  I had asked you on Monday about a violent incident between a UN employee and security in [Building] DC-1.  You’d said, among other things, that he was a frustrated jobseeker and that the hiring process was in accordance with rules.  Since then Inner City Press has obtained a copy of an e-mail from Alan Doss to United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) asking them the job in question be given to his daughter and that leeway be given to him to convert from UNDP contract to DPKO to get around rules, essentially.  I am wondering what, since Alan Doss is Secretary-General Ban’s envoy to the Congo, what the response is going to be; if the Secretary-General thinks it’s appropriate to have USG’s lobbying for jobs for their family members, and also why the jobseeker was tackled by three staff members and pepper-sprayed before he allegedly bit one of them.  What training has DSS [Department of Safety and Security] been given to eject, in this case essentially, a whistleblower from the building?

Associate Spokesperson:  First of all, I challenge the use of the word “whistleblower”.  This was someone who was engaged in violence; in a violent altercation, and so DSS was responding to that.  This is what DSS themselves informed me about.  Second, on the question of Alan Doss and this job search, UNDP have said they will handle any questions, so I’d refer you on to UNDP.

Question:  My question is, one, since Alan Doss has appeared here numerous times as Ban Ki-moon’s envoy in the Congo, can you confirm that he in fact was a UNDP contractor until 1 July when, in part to have his daughter to work at UNDP…?  It’s a Secretariat question; I don’t think it’s legitimate to say UNDP will answer for Alan Doss or for Security.

Associate Spokesperson:  I disagree, and UNDP has said that they will answer questions on this; so I’d refer you over to Christina over in UNDP.

Question:  They’ve e-mailed me and said they won’t answer and that, because it’s subject to legal proceedings, there are no answers at all.  So I am asking, I guess, for the response as to Alan Doss.  Where is the answer…?

Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, try with Christina.  She said that she’d handle all questions on this.

Question:  There was something about the cement being able to go into Gaza for the rebuilding of the UN sites, and there is some more material about when that will start to happen, or has it started to happen and…?

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, we’re not in a position at this time to confirm or deny this report.  The UN is still awaiting an official Israeli reply to its proposal for materials to be allowed in for a number of UN projects.  Our Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, is scheduled to meet with Israeli authorities in the coming days to discuss the subject.

Question:  Since the Secretariat and UN-related agencies are considered to be separate bodies, would it not be inappropriate for the Secretariat or UNDP to comment on the decisions made by the other body?  How would that work, because they are separate?

Associate Spokesperson:  You can get into these discussions with each other about that.  Like I said, UNDP has said that it’s handling the questions on this, so I will leave it to them.

Question:  Also, In the UN, I’m interested, Alan Doss, who is going to answer for that?  UNDP?

Associate Spokesperson:  UNDP is handling the questions.

Question:  Can I ask you also; you said that the UN has suspended its operations in Baluchistan and Pakistan.  Can you confirm that?  There is a quote from the Baluchi Liberation United Front saying this is because the UN failed to implement promises made to secure the release of John Solecki.  That’s a quote from them.  So, number two, first, have they suspended and two, what are the commitments made and owed by the UN?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, in terms of UN operations, yes, we unfortunately did have to scale back our operations in Baluchistan, which we regret, especially as we were about to set in motion several programmes, including a couple of new projects related to agriculture, education and supporting women’s issues.

Regarding threats from the Baluchistan Liberation United Front, the United Nations takes all threats against its staff very seriously, so we are also looking into this particular case.  As you know, we are also continuously assessing the security situation and making adjustments to how we continue our operations.  And beyond that, I wouldn’t be able to go into specifics about our security posture on the ground.

Question:  Can I ask one more question?  It has to do with the building.  There was an area, a flight up from here on the third floor, where the ceiling collapsed and, at least as of yesterday, people were walking by it; there was yellow police tape around it.  Yesterday there was guy with a gas mask working on it, and then a red tape went up saying “asbestos”.  What safeguards are in place?  Was asbestos found?

Associate Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  Why were people allowed to keep walking by it?

Associate Spokesperson:  Okay, the background for this is a few days ago.  In the third floor hallway of the Conference Building, approximately 10 square feet of gypsum plaster fell from the ceiling.  This was caused by water leakage from the machine shop on the fourth floor as a result of condensation in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment on that floor.

The gypsum plaster did not contain asbestos; the asbestos in that area had been abated some years earlier.  The asbestos abatement consultant of the UN, ATC Associates, took samples which confirmed that the material that had fallen down was, indeed, free of asbestos.

Last night, as a precaution, 150 square feet of original plaster containing asbestos were abated, because it had become wet and might fall in the future.  After taking the number of air samples prescribed by Host Country rules and regulations, ATC Associates declared early this morning that the third floor hallway met all applicable criteria for re-occupancy.  And so that resolves that.

Question:  The red tape that said “asbestos”; that was just put up as a precaution?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, we have some precautionary measures.  But like I said, the gypsum plaster did not contain asbestos.

Correspondent:  Just one last one… [interrupted]

Associate Spokesperson:  This is the last question or the penultimate last question?

Question:  Yes it is.  It’s just a question about the signing yesterday of the disabilities Convention.  It appeared to many of us there that OLA [the Office for Legal Affairs] demanded the pen back from William Kennedy Smith, to whom it was given, the signing of the US…  The thing that was said was that the OLA keeps a single pen for all Member States to use to sign all treaties.  So I wondered, is that the case?  If you don’t know, can you find out, and the basis of it?

Associate Spokesperson:  I am not aware that we have just one pen.

Question:  All right.  But he offered to buy more pens, but…  Can you find out?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  The Secretary-General had issued a statement in April calling for calm after riots broke out in [the Republic of] Moldova in opposition to Communist Party rule in the parliamentary elections.  Since the New York Times today reported that it appears that the Communist Party may have lost the latest elections in [the Republic of] Moldova, do you think there will be any statement made by the Secretary-General on elections in this country?

Associate Spokesperson:  At this stage there is no statement expected.  We would probably wait for the final results, which as you know, have not yet been tabulated.

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

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