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

24 August 2009

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

24 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.

**Secretary-General Travel

The Secretary-General will travel this Thursday to Austria.  He will then go to Norway and Switzerland.

In Austria, the Secretary-General will commemorate the thirtieth anniversary of the Vienna International Centre and meet with Vienna-based UN organizations and staff.  He will deliver the keynote address at the opening of the Political Symposium of the European Forum Alpbach.  He will also meet with the Federal President and Foreign Minister of Austria and with the Prime Minister of Liechtenstein.

The Secretary-General will then go to Oslo, Norway, for an official visit where he is scheduled to meet on 31 August with the Norwegian Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.

From Oslo, the Secretary-General will travel to Svalbard, in the Arctic Ocean, to see first-hand the impact of climate change in the Arctic.  Over the course of his two-day trip, he will visit polar research stations and the Global Seed Vault, get the latest updates on issues relating to the thinning ice and make his way to the Polar Ice Rim.

The Secretary-General’s last stop will be Geneva, Switzerland, where he will participate on 3 September in the opening of the high-level segment of the World Meteorological Organization’s (WMO) Third World Climate Conference.

**Secretary-General Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Jean-Maurice Ripert of France as Special Envoy for Assistance to Pakistan.  The Special Envoy will report to the Secretary-General through the UN Development Group Chair.  The position has been established by the Secretary-General to assist the Government of Pakistan and the international community in responding to the present humanitarian, recovery and reconstruction needs relating to the country’s displacement crisis.

The Special Envoy will promote, together with the Government of Pakistan and relevant international partners, in particular the Friends of Democratic Pakistan, a strategic, coherent and comprehensive approach to supporting the humanitarian, recovery and reconstruction needs of crisis-affected areas.  As a senior UN official in the country, the Special Envoy will work closely with the Resident Coordinator and the Humanitarian Coordinator to implement a comprehensive UN approach to returns, recovery and reconstruction.

Mr. Ripert has had a long and distinguished diplomatic career with his Government on UN-related issues and brings to this challenging assignment a wealth of experience in the international forums and a solid track record in consensus building.

Mr. Ripert currently serves as the Permanent Representative of France to the UN in New York.  We have more information in his bio upstairs.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, today urged all the candidates in last week’s elections, their supporters, and voters to be patient, so that the Electoral Complaints Commission can carry out its work and make decisions on the complaints that have been received.

“You must respect this process,” he said, while visiting the Commission’s headquarters in Kabul.  “Respect also means demonstrating patience.”

He said that the Electoral Complaints Commission has his full confidence.  Responding to a question about the volume of complaints, Eide said that he was concerned about every irregularity but emphasized that the Commission would do all it can to address and correct them.

** Côte d’Ivoire

In Côte d’Ivoire, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Choi Young-Jin, today visited the main centre for voter identification in Abidjan.  He said the work was going in processing data from the identification and voter registration operation.

This visit by the head of the United Nations Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) comes after his mission to the interior of the country last week, which we had flagged for you.  As you recall, Choi then visited identification coordination centres in Bouaké, Séguéla, Daloa, Issia and San Pedro.


Today is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and its Abolition.

Marking the occasion, Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), said in a message that the day provided the international community with a unique opportunity to reconcile the duty of remembrance and the duty of history.

He stressed the importance of respecting the diversity of memories, cultures and perceptions in the study of slavery and the slave trade, while searching for shared references.  He added that this could be achieved through quality education and also through policies for safeguarding the cultural heritage that portrays the diversity and complexity of this history.  The full message is upstairs.


On Timor-Leste, finally in Dili today, the inaugural Tour de Timor bicycling race began and 24 of the cyclists participating come from the UN Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT).  The Mission is also providing logistical support to race organizers and helping national police maintain security along the course.

Over the next five days, about 330 entrants from nine countries will contest the 455 kilometre course before returning to Dili on Friday.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Timor-Leste, Atul Khare, says that the fact that the country is staging the race, following the violent unrest of 2006, “speaks volumes for the progress made over the past three years”.  He said that Tour de Timor will be a showcase for the friendliness and energy of the Timorese people, and the beauty of the nation.

And this is all I have for you today.  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  En Français, s’il vous plait.  Deux questions.

Spokesperson:  Oui, j’écoute.

Question:  À partir de quand l’Ambassadeur Ripert commence son travail d’Envoyé Spécial?  Deuxièment, est-ce qu’on peut espérer des élections en Côte d’Ivoire en octobre alors que cela fait des années qu’on nous dit qu’il va y avoir des élection en octobre?  Est-ce que [le Président] Gbagbo va enfin accepter qu’il y ait des élections “free and fair”, comme on dit?

Spokesperson:  En ce qui a trait à M. Ripert, nous n’avons pas encore de date précise à laquelle il commencera son travail avec le Pakistan.  En ce qui concerne la Côte d’Ivoire je peux seulement vous dire que nous faisons tout ce que nous pouvons ‑‑ je parle des Nations Unies ‑‑ pour que cette date [du 29 novembre] soit respectée.  Est-ce qu’elle le sera effectivement?  Ça, l’avenir seul nous le dira.  Il ne nous est pas possible à nous de déterminer la date des élections.

Yes, Masood.

Question:  Michèle, first question:  When the Secretary-General goes to Norway, will he discuss this controversial letter written by a top Norwegian official about the Secretary-General’s performance at the United Nations where she criticizes the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Foreign Ministry of Norway has come out with their own statement.  It is an internal matter for them.  This is not for the Secretary-General to comment on.

Question:  Basically the letter is all about the Secretary-General.  It’s nothing about anything else.  So why…

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s an internal memo, and that’s all I can say.

Question:  I understand that.  On this appointment of Mr. Ripert, why, I mean, of course, why did he pick up a man from France?  Why not from somewhere else?  Why was France picked up?

Spokesperson:  I think it is said in our text, you know, it’s essentially about his experience in conflict resolution situations and the fact that there is a huge task, as you know, to be done right now in Pakistan, and reconstruction is one of the places where I think Ambassador Ripert will use his expertise.

Question:  But Michèle, one more question about this report, which is making big news in Israel, about this Swedish newspaper saying that Israeli soldiers harvested for organs from Palestinian, which was condemned by Mr. Netanyahu.  Do you have anything to say about it?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have any comment on that whatsoever.  I am aware of the reports.  I do not have any comments on that.  Yes.

Question:  Just to follow up on Ripert and Pakistan; will he, has he had orders like, or investigative committees like the one looking into the assassination of Benazir Bhutto?  Is that part of his job?

Spokesperson:  No, it is not part of his job.  As you know, the commission that was established on the assassination of Mrs. Bhutto is something that is an independent commission, which is functioning completely separate from the reconstruction and humanitarian assistance effort.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  On the issue of Mr. Al-Megrahi that was returned to Libya and the controversy around it.  Some have said that Muammar Al-Qadhafihas in the past and would have this year, pitched his tent on the North Lawn but for the construction.  Is that the case?  What’s been the history in the past when President Qadhafi comes where he puts his tent?  Has he put it on UN land, and will he be here this year?

Spokesperson:  I can check…  No, it’s not going to happen this year.  I can check for you what has happened in the past.  I don’t have the exact information, but we can check that for you. I know it is customary for him, whenever he moves around, to go with his tent.  I don’t know what will be done in this specific case.

[The spokesperson later said that according to UN Protocol, the planned visit by Muammar Al-Qadhafi will be the first by the Libyan leader to UN headquarters.]

Question:  Okay.  And has anyone in the UN system had any response on the appropriateness of both the release of Mr. Al-Megrahi and his, the way he was received upon his return to Libya?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have any comments on that.

Question:  And I want to ask you about this:

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  A cousin of the President of Sri Lanka, Rajapaksa, died in Tanzania.  Was apparently an employee, or a prosecutor for the court on the Rwandan genocide.  His mother has said that the UN is somehow covering it up and that there is some UN investigation of his death and some issue around the payment of the insurance.  What’s the UN’s response to this, I guess, response by a relative of the President of Sri Lanka?

Spokesperson:  Well, in this specific case, as you know, he was working for … as a prosecutor.  We could only confirm that he was found dead in his home and that there were preliminary findings, police findings is that he has been murdered.  This is all we know.  The investigation is being done with the Tanzanian and Sri Lankan law enforcement officials.  So, I really don’t have anything more to say, as long as they have not really reported to us on exactly the facts of the case.

Question:  She seems to say something about insurance.  Is there any difference in the payment of UN insurance based on the cause of death?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of, and I can…

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  …of course, we can check that.  At any rate, it is hypothetical…

Question:  Sure.

Spokesperson:  …to the extent that we don’t have yet the result of the investigation.

Question:  And I just wanted to ask.  Marie had said … now it’s, I don’t know, about 10 days ago … that the Secretary-General took these allegations about Mr. Doss, the job that UNDP ‑‑ the whole nepotism issue seriously, and he expected to receive a report on his return to New York.  I am wondering, has he received this report yet?  And if not, when is he going to receive it?

Spokesperson:  Well, you know, I asked the question today and the answer I got is that he has not received the report yet, and is still expecting it from UNDP.

Question:  Because, the thing is, when she said it, she said it was somehow different than the UNDP one.  She said he expected to receive it upon his return to New York.  That’s why it sort of seemed to be maybe just an update on what had had happened, or why the investigation is taking so long.

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, he has received nothing new about the case.  Yes.

Question:  Thanks, Michèle.  Do you have any update on the fighting in northern Yemen?  And does the SG support a ceasefire between the rebels and Government forces to allow aid delivery?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General certainly would support any possibility of getting some assistance to the civilian population.  I don’t have any details.  We asked for additional details, we did not get any from the UN about what is happening on the ground right now.  But, as soon as we have more, we will let you know.  Yes.

Question:  Three things.

Spokesperson:  Three things!  Yes.

Question:  Somalia, Haiti and Afghanistan.

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  The Final Call is still a bit perplexed on the response from Mr. Ould-Abdallah.  Around 29 July he was there submitting in this room about his relationship with a 15-page memorandum of understanding that it seems that he had some sort of way in designing it between Kenya, Somalia and the UN on who was going to control the continental shelf of Somalia.  The Somalian parliament voted the whole thing down unanimously.  It said that there was no jurisdiction in that.  But, however, with the research that we’ve done, we found that there has been no credible response from Mr. Ould-Abdallah or anyone else here in the UN on how the UN can fix itself in that kind of role, sort of facilitating that kind of agreement.  So, we would like to know if we could get a better response.  On Haiti, there has been an issue, and there have been demonstrations in this country over the fact that the Haitian Parliament has, in fact, voted to up the minimum wage.  We’re wondering if the UN, since it has security issues and some sort of developmental issues, is the UN going to take any … participate at all, on either side?  Either on the parliamentary side, the business side or the people on the ground?

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s strictly a matter…  Well, the third question first! [laughter]

Question:  Afghanistan:  I notice that there has been nice language around the particular conflict in this particular election, which we have not seen in the Zimbabwe election, and we definitely did not see it in the Iranian election.  So, I was just wondering why, at this point?  Is it because the UN is so closely involved in this election that it’s being very classy in how it uses its words, you know, let’s be patient?  In Zimbabwe it was like the man, Mugabe is a traitor; we didn’t see that kind of patience of language.  So, I’m wondering if there is, uh, what route shall we go; I hate to call it a double standard, but we’re kind of wondering what’s going on.  Why such kid gloves with Afghanistan, when there wasn’t with Zimbabwe or Iran?  That’s it!

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Pat, you have an answer for him?

Question:  Yes.  Mugabe is a nutcase!  [laughter]

Question:  Is that the UN position?

Spokesperson:  Let’s first start with Somalia.  About, you know, the participation of Ould-Abdallah in the final document that was voted down, as you said.  The fact that it was voted down is an internal matter. It’s a matter for the Somalis.  We’re not getting involved in this.  What part the UN played in it, I think Ould-Abdallah, when he was here, was pretty clear with you on exactly what role he played and what role the UN played.  I cannot say anything more because the decision, the final decision in the case of parliament is a decision for the Somalis.  About Haiti, it’s a decision for the parliament of Haiti.  At this point, I think you have your own information, which is not quite true.  President Preval sent the … refused to sign into law the complete law saying that there should be a progressive increase in the case of the workers in the garment industry.  And, as far as I know, so far the parliament has accepted, in a secret vote, Preval’s objections.

Question:  I think that the concern here in the diaspora is will the UN troops get involved if this thing escalates?  I mean, right now, it’s a labour issue.  If it escalates, will the UN, I guess that gets us really too far ahead, I hate to even ask, but people are concerned.

Spokesperson:  It’s hypothetical.  I think there will be, I think right now, things have calmed down tremendously.  They were very, very heated in the last … they have been in the last three weeks over the whole issue.  There were people for and against and, or against the sudden increase in ‑‑ not against increasing the minimum wage, but against increasing it so rapidly.  So, that was the whole issue.  The demonstrations, the UN did not intervene, the demonstrations were pretty much taken care of by the Haitian police, and people were free to demonstrate.  So, your hypothetical question, if something will happen that will make it necessary for the UN police or MINUSTAH to intervene, is really a hypothetical question.  And your third question about Afghanistan, a double standard, I think in this specific case, whenever we have always said the same thing about elections in a country.  We usually say that we’ll wait for the electoral council or the electoral commission of that country to come up with the final results, and final decisions before we can take into account, before anyone should take into account the protest against supposed fraud.  So, this is all I can say at this point.  I don’t think it is any different.  You mentioned Haiti earlier, when we had the elections in Haiti they did support the electoral commission, and support and wait and ask people to wait for the results.  I don’t think it’s new.  Thank you.  Yes.

Question:  I’d like to follow up on Somalia.

Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  I guess, on Ould-Abdallah, some are saying that Ould-Abdallah has personally invited the participation in the process in Somalia of Muhammad Ali Semanta, who was a warlord during the 80s Black Hawk Down era.  And he actually has a human rights case against him.  Is there some way to know that’s what many people in Somalia are saying.  But it seems to be difficult to know what Ould is doing.

Spokesperson:  Well, you just have to ask him.

Question:  I know, but there has been some difficulty.  Even on that issue of the Law of the Sea treaty it took like three weeks and finally [inaudible] that one.  So I wanted to ask you, just a simple yes or no whether he’s invited Mr. Semanta, and if so…

Spokesperson:  Well, I cannot answer yes or no if I don’t know, right?

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  So, in this specific case, I have to ask Mr. Ould-Abdallah.

Question:  Okay, perfect.  Okay, great.  And just one other thing on Mr. Ripert.  Is that a USG?  What’s the level of the appointment?

Spokesperson:  It should be a USG, yes.

Question:  And, so, it seems to me now there’s three French USGs:  Le Roy; Guéhenno, and Ripert.  Are there more?

Spokesperson:  I can check for you.  I don’t have that number.

Question:  Because, I mean, I spoke to Mr. Guéhenno at one point and his post for Regional Cooperation, it didn’t seem like any work is being ‑‑ it’s not his fault; but no tasks have been assigned to him.  So I wondered if that’s changed since.  I mean…

Spokesperson:  I can find out.

Question:  All right.  Just for a piece on French USGs.

Spokesperson:  Okay.

Question:  Michèle, I just want to follow up.

Spokesperson:  Yes, sure.

Question:  That the Secretary-General’s Spokesman’s Office will not step up to defend the Secretary-General on the allegations levelled against him by the Norwegian…

Spokesperson:  Well, I say it again, this is a diplomatic matter.

Question:  And is that absolute that this is a personal matter between the United…there is no way…

Spokesperson:  This is an internal matter for the Norwegian Government, and the Foreign Ministry; the Foreign Minister of Norway said clearly his own point of view.  Whether, you know, there was a memo written in that tone, it is something for them to deal with.

Question:  [inaudible]…

Spokesperson:  I cannot comment on that.  If you ask me to step up to defend the Secretary-General on a number of issues where he has been wrongfully accused of different things, I will do so, and I… [interrupted]

Question:  Are you saying he was rightfully accused?

Spokesperson:  I am not saying that.  I am saying it is an internal thing which I will not comment on.  That’s all I am saying.  Thank you.

* *** *

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