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

19 August 2009

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

19 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.

It’s nice to see more of you here, and more people in the building today!

**World Humanitarian Day

Today is the UN’s first observance of World Humanitarian Day.  The General Assembly established the Day last December to highlight humanitarian work worldwide, including the dangers that aid workers face while carrying out their missions in conflict zones.

The 19th of August, as you know, is the date in 2003 that the UN office in Iraq was bombed.  Twenty-two people lost their lives, including Sergio Vieira de Mello, who at the time was the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq.

This morning the Secretary-General attended a wreath-laying ceremony and observed a moment of silence to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the Baghdad bombing.  He then launched the first observance of World Humanitarian Day.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General noted that, last year, more humanitarian workers were kidnapped, seriously injured or killed during violent attacks than ever before.  This is unacceptable, he said.  In fact, he added, just yesterday, he mourned the deaths of two Afghan UN staff members along with more than half a dozen others killed in a suicide attack in Kabul.

Today, we remember their sacrifice, he said.  And we also recognize the millions of people who count on us for their very survival.

In light of today’s anniversary of the Iraq bombing, the Secretary-General said he is saddened that the violence in that country continues.  In that context, he referred to what he called an “appalling” string of attacks today in Baghdad, which took the lives of scores of innocent people.  We have his full remarks upstairs.

And also as part of his observance of World Humanitarian Day, the Secretary-General viewed an exhibit featuring images of aid workers.  He also signed a commemorative book, in which he wrote that he pledged to do more to protect all those vulnerable to disaster, as well as the brave and selfless aid workers who rush into danger so that others may be safe.

**Secretary-General Statements on Afghanistan

And just on Afghanistan, as you know yesterday, we did have a statement on the latest deaths there, and early this morning the Secretary-General, we did have another statement on Afghanistan, which I will read out into the record, attributable to the Spokesperson.

The Secretary-General encourages all Afghan women and men eligible to vote to cast their ballot in the upcoming presidential and Provincial Council elections on 20 August 2009.  He notes that, by participating in these elections, the Afghan people will help Afghanistan strengthen its democratic institutions, bring fresh vigour to the country’s political life, and ultimately reaffirm their commitment to contribute to the peace and prosperity of their nation.

The Secretary-General also calls on all candidates, their supporters, political party agents, and domestic and international observers to continue to cooperate with the Independent Election Commission, other relevant Afghan institutions and international stakeholders supporting electoral preparations, to ensure a smooth and successful electoral process.

**Secretary-General Statement on Death of President Kim Dae-Jung

In addition to those two statements, we also had a statement yesterday afternoon for those who may have missed on the death of Kim Dae-jung, the former President of the Republic of Korea.

**Security Council

Now turning to today, here at UN Headquarters, the Security Council held a meeting on the Middle East.  It is now holding consultations on that same topic.

Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Oscar Fernandez-Taranco briefed Council members this morning.  He noted that, during September, the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates assistance efforts of individual donors to the Palestinian people, and Quartet principals are expected to meet on the margins of the general debate.

The latter will also consult with the members of the League of Arab States follow-up committee on the Arab Peace Initiative.  He added that the Secretary-General looks forward to these meetings as important benchmarks for progress in the renewed effort by the international community this year to achieve concrete movement forward on the political, security and economic tracks.

Fernandez-Taranco said he welcomed Israeli actions and statements regarding steps to ease movement and access in the West Bank.  This is essential if change is to become truly transformative, he said.  But he added that continued Israeli settlement activity in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is a matter of grave concern.

He also noted that consultations are ongoing with the Israeli authorities regarding the UN proposal to start early recovery construction activities for schools, homes and health clinics in Gaza.  We hope for and expect a clear answer on the proposal from the Israeli Government very soon, he said.

On Lebanon, the Assistant Secretary-General said the overall situation in the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) area of operations had remained generally quiet.  But Israeli air violations continued on an almost daily basis during the reporting period.

Fernandez-Taranco concluded by urging all parties to respond positively to efforts under way to create the conditions for the early resumption and early conclusion of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, as well as to efforts to promote progress towards comprehensive regional peace.  And we have his full remarks available upstairs.

** Darfur

And on Darfur, the UN-African Union mission there has welcomed an advance party of 46 Jordanian police officers into its ranks, with the remaining 280 expected later this month.  The Jordanians will be deploying in El Fasher and two destinations in North Darfur.  The mission says the advance party will set up equipment and living facilities for the larger contingent due to arrive on 28 August.  Nine police officers from the Philippines and another eight from Namibia also joined the mission yesterday.  Mission police are tasked with protecting civilians, supporting aid agencies and with various law enforcement assignments.

The mission also informs that it has held roundtable discussions with the signatories to the Darfur Peace Agreement and Declaration of Commitment.  Joint Special Representative Rodolphe Adada chaired the meeting yesterday in El Fasher, which was attended by the members of the international community and a Government delegation headed by Minni Minawi, a special assistant to the President and a signatory to the peace deal.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

In Côte d’Ivoire, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative is visiting the interior of the country to assess the impact of the UN mission’s micro projects initiative and to see the progress made so far in data processing from the identification and voter registration operation.

The Special Representative was in Bouaké yesterday, where the mission has financed projects to help with the reintegration of ex-combatants of the Forces Nouvelles, young people at risk and women affected by the conflict.  He said that the main objective of micro projects -- which was to guarantee a peaceful pre-electoral environment -- had on the whole been achieved.  Choi Young-jin, the Special Representative, also visited a coordination centre in charge of the data processing ahead of the elections.  And you can read more about that upstairs.

** Yemen

And in response to a question asked this week about Yemen -- the person who asked may not be here -- the Secretary-General is concerned about an escalation of hostilities in the north of Yemen and the reports that civilians are trapped in the middle of the conflict.

The Secretary-General appeals to all sides to facilitate delivery of humanitarian assistance to the affected areas.  He hopes that the situation in northern Yemen will soon be resolved by peaceful means and that the fighting will cease.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) has sent enough medical supplies for 200 surgical interventions for persons with trauma injuries in Yemen.  It will send more supplies next week.  WHO has also sent additional medical staff from its regional office in Cairo to support the emergency health operations in Yemen.  In addition, WHO and UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) are jointly coordinating a combined health and nutrition cluster response to the emergency there.

And that’s what I have for you.  Anything for me?  Okay, let’s start way in the back.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  How will…  [Kai] Eide made a statement about Afghanistan, the elections there.  He urged everyone to participate, as many people as possible.  How will they know how many people participated when there is a media blackout?  And what’s the UN’s position on that blackout?  Does he endorse it?  What are the facts?  Does he think that this is going to be [inaudible] safety?

Deputy Spokesperson:  First of all, on the reported ban, I did just have a communication with the UN Mission team on the ground, and they are saying that they are stressing the need for Afghanistan’s voters to have access to information and they’re making this point to the Afghan authorities.  So I just got this and I have nothing further on this.

Question:  Just a follow-up.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  This is a media blackout.  The Department of Interior issued statements directly to the media indicating that they will censor any coverage of terrorist attacks, Taliban attacks on voters and they’re actually prohibiting journalists from covering voting booths.  What is the…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, clearly, you know I am completely aware of what you’re saying, which is why I checked with them right now.  But right now, right before I came here, the only message I got is that they’re in touch with the Afghan authorities.  So if I get anything more on this, we’ll squawk it and get it to you.

Question:  We should definitely get to them, because I don’t understand what in touch with the Afghan authorities means.

Deputy Spokesperson:  They’re stressing the need for the voters to have access to information, and they’re making a point that is also being made to the Afghan authorities.  That is exactly what I have and I really don’t have any further information on this, but they will come back to us.  Yes.

Question:  Just a follow-up, Marie. 

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Is the UN actually monitoring or helping monitor the elections in Afghanistan?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think we answered that question.  There is a fact sheet up there with precisely what the UN is doing in these elections.  They are providing a support role to the Afghan Independent Election Commission.  Yesterday, the Special Representative for the Secretary-General in Afghanistan again held a very extensive press conference in which he outlines the support role and the challenges being faced by the Mission and people on the ground there.  Yes.  I’ll come to that side of the room in a second.

Question:  There are reports that the Taliban has threatened to chop off the fingers of anyone who votes.  Is anything set up to protect the voters from retaliation by the Taliban?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, there is a fact sheet detailing what sort of measures are in place.  Of course, security measures are not something that the United Nations has been mandated to do, but the security forces are on the ground.  I know that there are a lot of -- I’m speaking a little bit off what the UN is doing, but my understanding is that there is a lot of bilateral assistance that has gone into, for instance propping up and paying for additional police forces, so that they can precisely be there to protect the voters to the extent possible.  Yes, in the back, Masood and the gentleman to your left.

Question:  In this kind of present ongoing situation in Afghanistan, could you say [inaudible] the legitimacy of the election in this kind, that the Secretary-General is encouraging the voters to participate in.  Do you think it’s fair in this kind of an occupied country?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know if I quite understand your question, but I think the Secretary-General’s statement speaks on its own.  And again, I would like to refer you to the fairly comprehensive statement and press conference by the Special Representative who does outline precisely what these elections are about and what the UN is doing to try to encourage the most participation possible.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  Marie, according to all reports from Afghanistan, the violence has significantly risen as the election nears.  I know that the UN has expressed its work methods as far as the vote is concerned, but has there been any latest report from Mr. Kai Eide or anybody else about the violence that has escalated and which may hamper the vote in Afghanistan?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General and Kai Eide both had statements in response to the latest wave of violence.  The Secretary-General has spoken out three times since this weekend on this issue, including just a few minutes ago downstairs.  Kai Eide yesterday appealed to those who threatened the violence, the use of violence to allow Afghans to choose who their future leader would be.  And again, there are a number of points that the Mission has been outlining, and because there’s been so much interest, maybe I can read you a few of what the Mission itself is saying.  They’re saying that these are the first Afghan-led election since the 1970s.  They’re among the most complex held elections attempted anywhere and they present unique challenges, not least in security.  They do note that the campaign period so far has been remarkable.  They do say that the turnout in insecure areas may be low.  The insurgency has been doing everything it can to pressure people to stay at home.  But, every effort has gone into making these elections as inclusive as possible. 

The elections have three principal goals:  to deliver credible results, to help Afghanistan strengthen its old democratic institutions and traditions and to bring fresh vigour to the country’s political life.  And, fraud cannot be allowed to steal the outcome.  And from then on it does outline other specific measures that have gone into place.  Mr. Abbadi and then Matthew.

Question:  I have got two questions.  I notice that in issuing the statement regarding the killing of the two Afghan UN staff members in Afghanistan, the Secretary-General did not condemn this act.  Why?  And the second question, it has been reported that the U.S. President Barack Obama would submit a framework proposal for peace in the Middle East.  Is the Secretary-General aware of this, has he been aware of this before?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We obviously look forward to hearing from President Obama as we do all the Member States leaders at the General Assembly, and the Secretary-General condemns all suicide attacks on innocent civilians.

Question:  A follow-up, Marie to Mr. Abbadi’s question.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  But is President Obama consulting with the Secretary-General concerning the outlines of his reported plan on the Middle East peace process?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know specifically the answer to that, but I do know our people and their people are always talking about the way forward on the Middle East and all other subjects that are of mutual concern.

Question:  On Afghanistan and something else.  The UN Spokesperson AleemSiddique was quoted there as saying that Afghanistan “needs more competent politicians and fewer warlords”.  So the question is:  does that refer to General Dostum or not?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Actually, I forgot to mention to you, Matthew, there are two questions that you had yesterday.  One, the answer to General Dostum is actually answered by the Special Representative in that press conference yesterday.  And the other question you had yesterday about… you had a question about the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea sanctions panel, and that answer is also in the letter that the Secretary-General sent to the Security Council.

Question:  I wanted to ask, there is a pretty widely reported leaked memo of the Norwegian Government by Mona Juul, who is the Deputy Permanent Representative here, in which she summarizes and says that Ban Ki-moon lacks moral voice and authority, that many countries view him as a single termer, and that the trips to Myanmar and to Sri Lanka were failures and that civilians in Sri Lanka are being slaughtered.  I’m sure you’re aware of it.  What does the Secretary-General think of this assessment and how does it impact his planned trip to Norway at the end of this month?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We have seen the same reports that you have.  We do not know the veracity of the reports to which you refer, and so I would suggest that you follow up with the Norwegians for further information on that.  Sorry, the second question was? 

Correspondent:  Whether it impacts his trip, and specifically…

Deputy Spokesperson:  First of all, we have not announced the Secretary-General’s next travel plans.  However, for those of you… the Secretary-General has been considering a visit to the Arctic Rim for some time as part of his, as you know, his efforts, one of his top priorities is to seal the deal in Copenhagen this December, and so preparations are still ongoing for that trip.  In the back, and then the man behind Matthew.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any plans to travel to South Korea following the death of the former President?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General just returned from South Korea last night after a rather lengthy visit there.  Yes.

Question:  How long was he there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He was there since the [9th of] August.  Yes.

Question:  Does that mean that the trip to Norway could be cancelled?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I did not say that, I said that the Secretary-General…

Question:  That’s why I am asking.

Deputy Spokesperson:  We have not announced any trips by the Secretary-General yet.  As you know, the Secretary-General has been considering a trip to the Arctic Rim and those plans, preparations are still ongoing for that trip.

Question:  It seems that, I mean, the Foreign Ministry of Norway has pretty much acknowledged the veracity of the memo.  He has been asked about it, and he said “we read these assessments.  They’re what they are.”  The Huffington Post has put it online, so I guess…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, I have nothing beyond the answer to that question.  I have nothing beyond what I said for anybody else on that same subject.  Matthew, I mean Masood.

Question:  Marie, I just want to point out one thing.  Yesterday, I had asked you a question about Benazir Bhutto’s commission, I asked you whether it’s working.  Now it’s reported, I mean, you said because of security reasons you are unable to disclose their movements and so on.  They’re already in Pakistan, all their movements are being reported, and that is where supposedly the danger lies.  Why is it that we at the United Nations are so mum, and over there they are so vocal?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think that in any sensitive trip into insecure areas -- as you can see of any world leaders going to places that on the ground the conditions are rather insecure -- the confirmation of an arrival can only take place once that visit has started.

Question:  Yes.  No, no, I do realize that, but at least we can be told about what are they doing over there.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Be in touch with Ben Malor in our office and he will give you more details.  I don’t have anything further right now, today.

[She later added that the Commission staff will be in Pakistan during the coming weeks, and will be carrying out the inquiry, in keeping with its mandate.  They will be holding meetings and collecting documents in order to determine the facts and circumstances of the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.]

Question:  Okay.

Question:  I wanted to ask about this letter from the G-77 to the Secretary-General about the 22 September climate change event.  They seem to be saying that they think it’s top-heavy with developed world people, and that, you know, that there should be a greater emphasis on allowing developing world leaders to participate.  One, can you confirm receipt of that letter from the G-77, and what is the Secretary-General going to do in light of its critique?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll check that for you, I don’t have confirmation right now.  And the gentleman behind you had another question.

[She later confirmed that the letter had been received. She added that the Secretary-General, on 6 August 2009, in an informal briefing to Member States on this Summit, noted that the opening plenary will feature speakers representing both developed and developing countries, including the most vulnerable countries.  The Secretary-General has assured Member States that the Summit will be balanced and inclusive and has stressed the need for the full participation of all countries in order to address climate change.]

Question:  If the Secretary-General does not go to Norway later this month, will you then say that this memo will have any impact on that decision?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You’re asking me hypothetical questions to which I’ve already given my answers to.  All right, last question, Matthew.

Question:  I wanted to ask whether you can confirm if Australian peacekeepers have been barred from the UNAMID (African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur) mission by failure to get visas from Sudan.

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll check that, we’ll check that.  Okay, with that, have a good afternoon.  See you on Friday.

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