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

5 August 2009

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

5 August 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.

**Statement on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  That statement was issued much earlier this morning.

The Secretary-General welcomes the release of the two American journalists during the visit to Pyongyang by former United States President Bill Clinton.  He appreciates the decision of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to release them as a humanitarian consideration, responding to the repeated calls by the international community.  The Secretary-General commends and congratulates former President Clinton for his successful humanitarian mission.

Taking this opportunity, the Secretary-General reiterates his hope that dialogue will resume at the earliest possible time between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the parties concerned towards resolving outstanding concerns, including the nuclear issue.

** Myanmar

On Myanmar, at 4:30 this afternoon, the Secretary-General will meet with the Group of Friends dealing with Myanmar, to discuss recent developments there, including his visit to that country early last month.

Once that meeting is done, the Secretary-General intends to speak to you in a press encounter outside Conference Room 7.  We’ll let you know when he will head to the stakeout some time around 5:30 p.m.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning is holding an open debate on UN peacekeeping.  The debate began with a discussion of the non-paper issued last month by the Departments for Peacekeeping Operations and Field Support on the challenges that peacekeeping faces.

Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, said that the non-paper highlights the importance of effective partnership and identifies areas where the peacekeeping partnership is currently not united:  robust peacekeeping; the protection of civilians; and critical peacebuilding tasks for peacekeepers.

Le Roy said that he is confident that, in the coming months, we can arrive at a revitalized partnership that sets out a common vision for UN peacekeeping and shared commitment to strengthen it.

Susana Malcorra, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, outlined the progress made on her Department’s Support Strategy, which aims to improve the response to the evolving and increasing needs for support to field missions.  The strategy foresees new and innovative ways of delivering support and managing risk. 

Those statements are upstairs.  The open debate is expected to continue into the afternoon.

**Security Council on Tuesday

Tuesday afternoon, the Security Council received its first briefing from the Secretary-General’s new Special Representative for Iraq, Ad Melkert.  He told the Council in an open meeting that the withdrawal of multinational forces from Iraqi cities and their replacement by Iraqi security forces is an unparalleled moment of opportunity, but also one of great sensitivity.

Melkert added that, although statistics tell the story of a downward trend in the overall level of violence, there is still an unacceptably high level of indiscriminate attacks on civilians.

He also noted the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq’s priorities, including preparations for national elections in 2010 and the issue of disputed areas.  He stressed that dialogue, rather than precipitous decision-making, should be the way to deal with such issues.

Security Council members also heard from the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, about the latest developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in Sudan.

Afterward, the Council President, United Kingdom Ambassador John Sawers, said that Council members condemned the “grave attacks” in Southern Sudan over the weekend that have killed at least 185 people, many of them women and children.  He expressed particular concern that the attacks seemed to target women and children and involved the use of sophisticated weaponry.

** Darfur

On Darfur, the Joint Special Representative of the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Rodolphe Adada, met today with representatives of a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs).  The leader of the camp was murdered earlier this week along with his wife.  Adada and his hosts discussed how to improve security measures and protect the IDPs at that camp.  Adada also invited camp residents to work with the mission to jointly ensure safety and security by sharing information and making community policing a priority.  Camp leaders are now expected to meet with UNAMID police officers to further explore these options.

Meanwhile, the mission says that 151 Ethiopian peacekeepers have arrived in Darfur and another 151 are expected tomorrow.  When fully deployed by September, the new Ethiopian deployment will include 800 peacekeepers, which will bring the total Ethiopian contribution to well over 1,400 troops.

And in related news, the Joint Chief Mediator for Darfur, Djibril Bassolé, is in Tripoli, where he is meeting a number of Darfur rebel movements willing to engage in peace talks with the Government of Sudan.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the DR Congo, the Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says it has dispatched some 40 joint protection teams in the eastern Kivu provinces since February.  The teams, set up earlier this year, include child protection, civil affairs and public information officers.  They are tasked with helping provide better protection to civilians.  They do that through means including early warning systems to identify potential threats to civilians, which would allow peacekeepers to react rapidly to counter them.

The Mission also reports that its chief, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Alan Doss, was in Kigali on a working visit this past weekend.  He met with President Paul Kagame, as well as the foreign and defence ministers.  They discussed disarmament, the UN-DRC joint operations against illegal armed groups in eastern DRC, and voluntary repatriation of Rwandan nationals currently living in the DRC to their country.  On the latter, the Mission says that 1,284 former Rwandan rebels and their dependents have returned home since January, while the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has helped repatriate some 11,500 Rwandan civilians in the same period.

Meanwhile, the Mission has sent to the east an evaluation mission to look into strengthening preventive measures against sexual exploitation and abuse involving UN peacekeepers.  The evaluation is expected to produce a report very soon.

** Madagascar

On Madagascar, the senior UN political adviser on Madagascar, Tiébilé Dramé, is part of an international mediation team brokering talks that began in Maputo, Mozambique, today aimed at peacefully resolving the political crisis in Madagascar.  The mediation effort is being chaired on behalf of SADC [Southern African Development Community] by the former President of Mozambique, Joaquim Chissano, and includes envoys from the UN, the AU [African Union] and the Francophonie.

** Kenya

On Kenya, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres, while visiting a sprawling, overcrowded camp complex in north-east Kenya, put a spotlight on the “dramatic” Somali refugee crisis and called on the international community for more help.

Guterres, who is on an official three-day visit to Kenya, also described the Dadaab camp on Tuesday as “the most difficult camp situation in the world”.  Located some 90 kilometres from the border with Somalia, the three camps at Dadaab were built to house some 90,000 people.  Today, they are home to more than three times that number, mostly Somalis.

UNHCR says the long-term refugee population urgently needs improved infrastructure, including water distribution networks, and expanded services such as health and education.  It also needs more room for expansion.

During his day-long visit, Guterres highlighted UNHCR's priority areas.  He called for urgent improvements in conditions in the camps by putting more resources into water, sanitation, health, nutrition and shelter.  You can read more about this on the UN Refugee web site.


In Guinea, the UN is concerned that clandestine drug production may be widespread in Guinea.  This follows the findings of a mission carried out by Interpol and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), in close consultation with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for West Africa.

Among the evidence -- the best found by the UN in West Africa to date –- were tools for making counterfeit antibiotics, substances used to produce ecstasy, and solvents commonly used in cocaine and heroin processing. We have more on that upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And then, tomorrow there will be no noon briefing but there will be a press conference at noon by 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.  They are in New York this week to attend the annual Heads of Military Components conference. 

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, number one, I want to find out, do you have any latest update on Pakistani IDPs at all?

Spokesperson:  Well, actually you got the latest yesterday from our office.

Question:  In view of this latest development in North Korea, and it seems that the North Koreans are softening their attitude and maybe… Has the Secretary-General at any point explored the possibility of appointing an envoy, a UN special envoy, like Mr. Annan had?

Spokesperson:  Well, not at this point, we don’t have anything on that yet.

Question:  And the other thing I just wanted to ask, probably you read that in Somalia the pirates had taken a ship, a German ship and they got the ransom.  And it seems that they have again after that incident, they have again started, taken a ship for ransom.  Is there something that the Secretary-General is going to ask the international community to do…?

Spokesperson:  Well, actually you know that there are efforts under way, legal efforts to support the Kenyans in particular, who are dealing with the judicial aspects of the process.  When pirates are arrested a lot of them are sent back to neighbouring countries for the different cases to be processed.  And as I had mentioned at another time during one of these briefings, we have had support from the Office of Legal Affairs (OLA) going to Kenya.  Mrs. O’Brien [of OLA] went to Kenya and, you know, she worked on this issue with the neighbouring countries to see what can be done.  That’s the only part of it that the UN is actually involved with.  We’re not involved in actually policing the seas ourselves, directly.

Question:  Policing the seas is not the option?

Spokesperson:  No, right now it is being done by a number of Member countries of the United Nations who are doing it on their on and actually coordinating their actions, in terms of intervening in the high seas to get those pirates.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  There are these reports that the camps set up for Hondurans just across the border in Nicaragua where Mr. Zelaya is, that Nicaragua has asked for UN for support to these camps.  Have you received any information on this?  Has a request been made and has any UN assistance or monitoring mission sent there or taken place?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of, but of course we can check with DPA or the refugee agency whether there was anything done on that account.  As far as I know, no, so far.

Question:  Can I also ask, the Human Rights Watch has asked the Secretary-General to set up an inquiry into the killing of 17 Action Contre la Faim aid workers three years ago and also other human rights abuses.  They say that the Government hasn’t done anything.  The request is specifically to the Secretary-General.  Is he aware of that call?  And given that he visited the country and said that he’d be monitoring it, what is, you know, what is his response?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any specifics on that.  Of course we can try to find out whether there was a specific request that was made officially to the Secretary-General.  I can try to find out for you.  Yes, Louis.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General sent a congratulatory letter to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yet?

Spokesperson:  No, he has not.  As you know, he sends a message to every Head of State and Government upon inauguration, and a customary letter on this occasion will be sent to President Ahmadinejad, as well.

Question:  Can you give us any sense of what it will say, you know, what’s the standard format for such a letter?

Spokesperson:  The standard format is just acknowledging the person’s accession to a new term of office or to a term of office.  It’s just a standard letter which of course we will make public once we have it.  I don’t know at this point whether it will be made public by the other side, the people receiving it, but usually that’s the way it’s done.  It’s done by the receiving end of the letters.  But we do it as a matter of course for all heads of state who are either doing their first mandate or the second one.

Question:  Will you let us know when the Secretary-General sends it?

Spokesperson:  It’s going to be today.  Yes, Pat.

Question:  Certainly the release of these two journalists is welcome news.  There is some debate though, as I am sure you know from the news, as to whether D.C. had a role in this, and that raises a question in my mind, did the UN have any role in this, because it’s said to be Bill Clinton’s initiative and his [inaudible], which is wonderful.  But did the UN have any role as far as you know?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think the Secretary-General answered that question.  I remember it was asked at his last press conference, and he said, and I am quoting him:  “On two occasions I’ve conveyed my strong wish and appeal even to the DPRK authorities that they should look at this issue and release them even on humanitarian grounds.”  That’s all I can say at this point.  Yes, George.

Question:  With regard to the visit of the various Generals, any possible change in the availability of General [Claudio] Graziano to us?

Spokesperson:  We have asked.  Just this morning we asked and we should be getting an answer soon.

Question:  I know he was said to be unavailable, but it might change?

Spokesperson:  Yes, it might change. We’re trying to see whether there is a possibility.   And we’re pushing for it, believe me.  Yes.

Question:  On this situation in Afghanistan, as you know, there were attacks that took place yesterday [inaudible] reported very widely, and the Secretary-General’s representative has, I mean, in the past just called for some sort of reconciliation of what’s going on.  In the election that is about to happen over there, how active of a role will Mr. Kai Eide [inaudible]  I mean play over there, because at this point in time it seems that it is [inaudible]…

Spokesperson:  Well, the UN is supporting the electoral process, and we can get the specifics for you on exactly what is being done on the UN side.  But, of course, there is a role for the UN in the electoral process in helping and supporting.

Question:  I mean, doubts are being cast if the elections can be held free and fair at all given the hold that the warlords have over there.  What is it that the United Nations can do to facilitate [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll let you know what is being done, you know.  And on the political front, as you know, Kai Eide is very active on the ground.   Yes.

Question:  Was there any statement from the Secretary-General on Afghanistan’s attack yesterday on… at three…?

Spokesperson:  No, we didn’t have any statement.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Michèle, in the trial of Lubna Hussein, the UNMIS [United Nations Mission in the Sudan] worker that the… both protesters and one of her lawyers were apparently beaten up in front of, or beaten by the police in front of the court.  I’m wondering what, even if UNMIS or the UN is monitoring that, if they have any comment on that, and also if there is yet an answer on whether, was she both a private journalist and UNMIS employee at the same time as was reported, or there was some…?

Spokesperson:  She was an UNMIS employee.  As you know, she said that she would not be claiming immunity and she wanted to have the case tried in court.  Of course, we respect what she wants.  However, there is an agreement signed by the UN, the peacekeeping mission there and the Government.  And we’re still waiting for answers to know whether or not the immunity still holds.  And that’s what we have to find out.  We don’t have an answer yet.  As you know, the trial has been postponed.

[Later, the correspondent was further informed that the United Nations has informed the Sudanese authorities that, as a United Nations staff member, Lubna Ahmed al-Hussein is covered by immunity from legal process.  There is an agreed procedure between the host Government and the United Nations for dealing with cases in which the Government believes that a staff member has committed a criminal offence.

In such cases, the Government is required to report the matter to the United Nations, which in turn will conduct any necessary investigation and, upon the Government's request, decide whether to waive immunity.  In the present case, the United Nations has not received any request for the waiver of the staff member’s immunity.

Immunity is afforded not only to protect the staff member, but the interests of the United Nations in a broader sense.  It is, therefore, not up to a staff member to waive his or her immunity.  That is the sole prerogative of the United Nations.]

Question:  And I wanted to ask, I am sorry to say this, but this question that’s arisen about… In the Council today they’re talking about peacekeeping and leadership.  I just wanted to know, on the question that arose about Alan Doss and when he became a DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] employee.  You’ve said, Farhan said Friday UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] would answer it.  You said Monday that they’d answer it.  But, still they haven’t answered.  So, that’s why I am asking.  It seems like it’s a straight factual question and that the information is in this building.  Do you have an answer to that?

Spokesperson:  All I can tell you is that UNDP is reviewing the issue, that’s all I have really.  I don’t have a definite answer for you. I know that UNDP is reviewing the issue, that’s all I can say at this point.

Question:  But doesn’t DPKO know?  I mean, the e-mail that was released said that he asked, he said that 1 July he was going to transfer to DPKO from UNDP, but he wanted them to hire his daughter prior to that and sort of play with the rules.  So, it’s just factual, while they review that, that’s fine.  But it seems like DPKO or your office should be able to know when someone…

Spokesperson:  Well, we’re trying to ascertain the facts, that’s what I am saying, Matthew.  I am not evading your question, I just don’t have the facts yet.  And if I have them, I will give them to you as soon as I have them.  In this specific case, as I said, I was told by UNDP that they are reviewing the case.  That’s all I was told today.  I asked the question.

Question:  I mean, the guy who sort of raised this complaint that the job was improperly given has like a criminal trial date on 10 August, you know, that’s going to be released.  He says that there is some connection between these two.

Spokesperson:  Well, you know, I have to say about that incident, you know the one that you have mentioned several times here.  There was a serious nature to the security incident that took place on 22 June in the DC-2 building.  And the incident resulted -- and I found that out yesterday -- resulted in the injury of one of our UN officers, whom I might add was transported to the hospital because of the severity of his wound.  So, I was not aware of that fact when I spoke to you yesterday.  Now I know that the man was hospitalized.  He has since had to do several tests for specific diseases as a result of the wound, which was extremely stressful for everyone involved.  He was out on sick leave after the incident, based on the hospital’s request.  So this is what I have.  It was much more serious than was originally reported to us.  And so I just wanted to underline that fact.

Question:  [inaudible] I had asked Farhan, maybe now that you know this you can tell.  The dispute seems to be whether security used pepper spray on the individual prior to what appears to be a biting or vice versa.  Do you have any information on that?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have the details on whether pepper spray was used or not.  It was a violent incident and the individual was violent, as I can testify.  The person was bitten.

Question:  [inaudible] my question is related to the upcoming elections in Afghanistan.  Does the Secretary-General think that it will be free and fair in this ongoing situation in Afghanistan?

Spokesperson:  Well, Kai Eide, our special envoy is working on making this so.  I think we’re all working on making this happen, making this a free and fair election.  Whether it will be or not, we cannot prejudge it.  Yes, thank you all very much.

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