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

10 August 2009

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

10 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Guest at Noon Today

The guest today will be Catherine Bragg, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, who will be here shortly to brief on her just-concluded trip to the Central African Republic.

**Secretary-General in Republic of Korea

The Secretary-General is currently in the Republic of Korea.

Today, in Seoul, he addressed the World Federation of UN Associations.  He noted that we are living through an age of multiple crises. But none of these problems can be solved by any single nation acting alone, he said.

Talking about helping countries meet the Millennium Development Goals, the Secretary-General said:  “This is not charity.  It is solidarity.”  He added that, in our interconnected world, it is also an expression of enlightened self-interest since we are all in this together.

Referring to Darfur as a case study in both the success and shortfalls of the new multilateralism, the Secretary-General said that, when the UN has a mandate, it will fulfil it.  But when the Members States give the United Nations a mandate, they must fulfil their obligations as well.  That means ensuring that the UN has the resources needed to do the job, and to see that job through to the end, he said.  We have upstairs his full remarks.

And also today, the Secretary-General met with a young patient at the National Cancer Centre.  A seventeen-year-old, who is suffering from a rare form of cancer, had told the Make-A-Wish Foundation that her wish was to meet the Secretary-General.

After she told the Secretary-General that her dream was to become a diplomat, he told her not to lose courage.  He added that she could become a messenger of hope for all children throughout the world suffering from illness and hardship.    

**Climate Change

Meanwhile, an informal weeklong UN negotiating session on strengthened international climate action started today in Bonn, Germany. 

The consultations are part of a series of gatherings being held this year by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  The meetings are designed to culminate in an ambitious and effective international climate change deal in Copenhagen in December.

Addressing the session today, UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said:  “Time is running out.  The challenge of this session is to narrow the text down and we have an enormous amount of ground to cover.  The current text is riddled with square brackets.  It is worrying that there is so much to do with so little time left.”

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General, speaking in Seoul today to the World Federation of UN Associations, stressed that climate change is “the greatest collective challenge we face as a human family”.  And he noted that we have less than ten years to halt the global rise in greenhouse gas emissions if we are to avoid catastrophic consequences for people and the planet. 

The Secretary-General added that, this December, in Copenhagen, we have a chance to put in place a climate change agreement that all nations can embrace.  We must seize this once-in-a-generation chance, he said.  We have his remarks upstairs.

** Afghanistan

Turning to Afghanistan, insecurity is having a serious impact on preparations for Afghanistan's upcoming elections, especially for women.  That’s according to the United Nations and the country's human rights body, which added that despite attacks and threats, Afghans are eager to take part in the polls.

A report co-authored by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) found that insecurity has severely limited freedom of movement and constrained freedom of expression for candidates and supporters. Insecurity is also hampering their ability to campaign openly through public gatherings or door-to-door visits.

Upstairs, you will find a transcript of a press conference held in Kabul over the weekend outlining the main elements in this report.

** Pakistan

And turning to Pakistan, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, since mid-July, 765,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) -- or 33 per cent of the total -- have returned to their places of origin.  As a result, during the past week, four additional camps have closed down, bringing the total number of closed camps since the return process began to nine.

At the same time, continuing military operations in the Upper Dir district have caused additional displacement, which has led the UN refugee agency, or UNHCR, to set up additional camps in other areas.  In coordination with the World Food Programme, UNHCR has also identified four potential sites for humanitarian hubs to distribute food and basic supplies to returning IDPs.

UNICEF has already started repairing 100 schools.

And the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has conducted damage assessments, which have shown that grain, fruit and vegetable production has been seriously affected by the conflict.

OCHA notes that the revised Pakistan humanitarian response plan, which requested $542 million, is currently 44 per cent funded.  There is more on this upstairs.

** Darfur

On Darfur, the Joint Special Representative of the UN-African Union mission there, Rodolphe Adada, has met the Chairman of the African Union High-Level Panel on Darfur, former South African president Thabo Mbeki.  The meeting took place this past weekend in Addis Ababa where the two officials discussed recent developments in Darfur, including the ongoing peace process.  The Panel is expected to submit its final report to the African Union in September.  Meanwhile, the mission says that with the arrival of 38 additional Ugandan officers, its police strength now stands at more than 2,140, which is just over 50 per cent of the required force.  It also said that it has handed 11 cheques to a number of its implementing partners in order to advance its so-called Quick Impact Projects initiative.  Recipients include non-governmental organizations and civil society groups in South Darfur.  And you can read more about this in the notes from Darfur today.

** Great Lakes

The Secretary-General’s message to the Third Summit of Heads of State and Government of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region was delivered earlier today in Lusaka, Zambia, by his Special Envoy for Great Lakes Region, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General welcomed last week’s meeting between the Congolese and Rwandan leaders and took note of the exchange of ambassadors by their two countries.  He also said that the March agreement between the Democratic Republic of the Congo Government and armed groups in the Kivus represents a significant step forward.  You can read more about this in his message upstairs.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

On Côte d'Ivoire, September will be decisive for the electoral process in Côte d’Ivoire, the head of the UN mission in that country said yesterday in Ouagadougou where he attended the seventh meeting of the follow-up committee to the Ivorian peace agreement.  Choi Young-jin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Côte d’Ivoire, also noted that the final voter registry should be available in September, by which time the country’s readiness to hold the presidential election in November can be fully assessed.  September will also offer an opportunity to assess efforts to reunify the country.  Choi exhorted the parties to respect the deadlines in the electoral process for which 6.5 million voters have already registered.

Meanwhile, the UN mission said that it has trained some 500 local cocoa farmers in money management.  The workshop took place last week in a town near Abidjan.  Côte d’Ivoire, as you know, is the world largest producer of cocoa. 

** Haiti

Former United States President Bill Clinton, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Haiti, spoke at the Second Annual Congress of the Haitian Diaspora in Miami yesterday.  In his remarks, the Special Envoy reiterated his commitment to help Haiti as the country expands job opportunities and essential services.  He called for more private sector investment, and announced plans to conduct an international business and trade mission to Haiti in October.

Clinton also said that with recent developments, including the likely adoption of renewed aid legislation in the United States Congress and a recent $1.2 billion in debt relief, “we have a unique opportunity to act now to reclaim Haiti’s proud past while shaping a better future”.  There is a press release from his office upstairs.

** Somalia

And a conference of former senior Somali military and police officers has identified the key factors behind the collapse of the country’s security institutions and proposed security stabilization mechanisms and options.

The conference, held in Washington, D.C., was co-chaired by Somalia’s Minister of Defence, and the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, with representatives of the African Union also attending.  And you can read more about that upstairs.  They explored options for restructuring the Somali security forces within the framework of the Djibouti peace process.  


The UN Global Compact Group is heading a project with the United States Environmental Protection Agency to clean up contaminated wasteland at a military shipyard near San Francisco.  The new complex will house a climate change think tank called the “UN Global Compact Sustainability Center”, a conference centre and UN offices.  And there is more information on this upstairs.


The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) today reports it has signed a partnership with a Jordanian-based company to promote information and communications technology in the Arab region.  It is planning to create a web-based portal to support education, science and culture in the region, by making available digital surveys, digital reporting and digital resources.  And we have more on that upstairs.

**Indigenous People Day

And just flagging for you, something this afternoon at UN Headquarters; as you know, yesterday was the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People.  Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro will open the observance of the Day today at the UN Headquarters with a message from the Secretary-General.

The Secretary-General, in his message, emphasized the vulnerability of indigenous peoples to HIV and AIDS, which is the focus of this year’s observance.  He noted that:  “It is essential that indigenous peoples have access to the information and infrastructure necessary for detection, treatment and protection.” 

The observance, which will include a welcoming ceremony, cultural performance and a panel discussion on this year’s theme, will take place from 2 to 5.30 p.m. in Conference Room 4.  We have both the Secretary-General’s message and more information on the observance available upstairs.

That’s what I have for you.  We have Catherine Bragg, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, who is already here to talk about her recent trip to the Central African Republic.   Before I turn to her, I shall take a few questions.  Louis.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Marie.  I have a question about the biting incident.  I went to the Court this morning downtown with a couple of my colleagues, and there’s a question that needs to be cleared up and it has to be cleared up by the Secretariat.  I got some useful information from UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), but one key question is whether the man who was alleged to have bitten the security officer was pepper-sprayed first or whether he bit the security officer before he was pepper-sprayed.  And given the fact that biting is something that one only does in a sort of act of desperation when an arm is already in front of your face, I find it difficult to believe that he was sort of, you know, an offensive biter, so to speak.  So I am wondering if we can get a precise course of events at the time of this incident.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think that the course of events is something that is now being looked after by the local authorities, so I will have to refer your questions to the New York County District Attorney’s office for now.

Question:  In there, it’s just there isn’t anything that, you know, we need to know… We need to know what, you know, we know what the alleged, what the defendant says, but, you know…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the case is now going on, I have nothing further to add than what we have already said on this matter.  James.

Question:  [inaudible] the criminal case is going on.  I mean, this man was a UN contract employee.  Doesn’t he have some immunity?  Who lifted the immunity?  Did Helen Clark lift the immunity?  How come he was arrested?   Can you specify, was it Ban Ki-moon who lifted the immunity?  Was it Helen Clark who lifted the immunity?  And also, he today rejected a plea deal, therefore the case will go to trial.  Is the UN willing to present witnesses, including the security guards, Nikita Alezondar the boss, A.J. Chibar the boss’s boss, Rebecca Doss, possibly Alan Doss, will these people be… will the UN be willing to present these witnesses at a trial?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Two things on that, James.  The only thing I can say on the latter part of your questioning, is I have nothing to go beyond what we said on Friday about Rebecca Doss.  The process through which she was hired is currently being investigated by UNDP’s office of audit and investigations…

Question:  That’s not what I am asking, I’m asking about the criminal process…

Deputy Spokesperson:  …and that is right now with the local authorities and I have to refer your questions to them, and I have nothing further to…

Question:  The question was whether the United Nations was willing to present witnesses to back up its claim that this man assaulted a security officer.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not sure that we even have a first-hand report yet on what happened, today.  So let me look into that for you and get back to you.  Matthew.

Question:  Well, so was there a UN person in court?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.

Question:  So how are you going to get a first-hand report?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll get a report then I’ll get back to you about…

Question:  A second-hand report.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll get back to you, James, I’ll get back to you about your question.  You just came back from there, and it was…  Anyway, I’ll get back to you if there is anything further or more substantive to say on the matter.  Matthew.

Question:  Just a quick follow-up on that.  You did say that the whole thing is being investigated by UNDP’s office of audit and investigations.  [inaudible] some of the complaints about Alan Doss is no longer affiliated with UNDP as of 1 July.  I know that, I mean the person who filed the complaint with OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services), is this something that OIOS can look into?  Who has jurisdiction over Alan Doss and basically the issues that have been raised?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Right now we’re all awaiting the outcome of the investigation that UNDP is conducting into the matter, as he was affiliated with UNDP at the time.

Question:  And the security guards, obviously, Marie, work for the Secretariat, not for UNDP.  Is there any investigation of the behaviour of the security guard?  There seem to have been three security guards and there were some photographs I saw today concerning how badly Mr. Baroncini was beaten up.  Is there any explanation, or really an investigation on why it took three security guards, such a lot of physical force, including pepper spray, to remove somebody from their office?  And has any action, such as reassignment or anything been taken against any of the security guards involved?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I will look into that for you.  Okay, with that…

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that the Department of Safety and Security was conducting an inquiry into that incident as part of standard operating procedure.]

Question:  May I ask just one more?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Since we started asking about this more than two weeks ago, is it possible to get a briefing by Helen Clark, and separately, with Gregory Starr of DSS (Department of Safety and Security)?  I mean, maybe you don’t have the answers, but we have been asking for answers for some time, and these are the individuals involved, I mean…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I know that you’re in touch with UNDP, UNDP is in touch with you on this, and my understanding is that they will not have anything further to say until their investigation is completed.

Question:  [inaudible] the incident took place on 22 June, it’s now 10 August.  It’s almost two months.  UNDP have said that their review is ongoing.  How long do you expect the review?  And is Ban Ki-moon happy that the UNDP takes almost two months to investigate what looks like a relatively simple thing to investigate?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll have to follow up with UNDP to ask them when their investigation is going to…

Question:  No, my question was is Ban Ki-moon happy with the process as it’s being conducted by UNDP?  Ban Ki-moon wanted, originally, UNDP to be subject to the OIOS jurisdiction, which UNDP refused to do.  The question is, does Ban Ki-moon have confidence in UNDP’s ability to investigate itself, or would he like to extend the jurisdiction of OIOS to UNDP?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the UNDP is currently conducting this investigation, and…

Question:  That’s not my question.  My question is, is Ban Ki-moon happy with the ability of UNDP, the performance of UNDP investigating itself, or would he like to extend the jurisdiction of OIOS to UNDP?  That’s my question.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no reason to believe, right now, that Ban Ki-moon is not happy with the state of investigation being conducted by UNDP.  With that, I am going to [handover to] now to Catharine Bragg, who is here to talk to you about her recent mission to the Central African Republic.  So, please stay on for her briefing.

**Statement on Madagascar

[Following the briefing by Ms. Bragg, the Deputy Spokesperson read the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Madagascar:

The Secretary-General welcomes the signing in Maputo yesterday of agreements providing a framework for resolving the political crisis in Madagascar.  He congratulates the four leaders -- Andry Rajoelina, Marc Ravalomanana, Didier Ratsiraka and Albert Zafy -- for committing to a peaceful transition under a Government of National Unity.  He urges them to quickly agree on its composition and on the establishment of the institutions of the transition leading to credible elections and the restoration of democracy and the rule of law in Madagascar.

The Secretary-General congratulates former Mozambican President Joachim Chissano and the Joint Mediation Team for Madagascar composed of the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC), the International Organization of the Francophonie (OIF) and the United Nations, for their successful efforts to facilitate these agreements.  He joins them in appealing for all political actors in Madagascar to build on the Maputo consensus and to work for the prompt implementation of the agreements.

The United Nations is ready to support the implementation of the agreements, in cooperation with the African Union, SADC and the OIF and with the assistance of the International Contact Group and the wider international community.]

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