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

28 August 2009

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

28 August 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

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

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 in Austria

The Secretary-General arrived in Vienna, Austria, today and gave a keynote speech at a ceremony organized by the Austrian Government to mark the thirtieth anniversary of the United Nations headquarters in Vienna, known as the Vienna International Centre.

He spoke of the importance of the work of all the Vienna-based UN organizations, adding:  “From outer space to the human heart, this Vienna International Centre has done far more than witness history; it has brought great progress to our world.”

The Secretary-General added that, from Austria, he will be travelling to the Arctic to spotlight the challenge of climate change.  He said:  “We have about three months until the United Nations Climate Change Conference in December in Copenhagen ‑‑ three months to reach an agreement that will determine the future of our planet.  We must seal the deal.”

Today the Secretary-General also held a meeting with the Federal Minister for European and International Affairs, Michael Spindelegger and attended a working luncheon hosted by the Foreign Minister.  (He also spoke to the press.)

Following a private visit to the Austrian President’s summer residence, the Secretary-General will then go to Tyrol where he will address the Alpbach Retreat 2009, which focuses on the theme, “The UN Security Council and the Protection of Civilians:  Improving Effectiveness and Accountability”.

**Secretary-General Polar Rim

And also on climate change, as you know, the Secretary-General will be in Svalbard, Norway, next week, to see first-hand the impact of climate change on the Arctic.

During his two-day visit there, the Secretary-General will first go to Ny-Alesund, in the north of the Svalbard archipelago, to visit polar research stations, before he travels further north.  He will make his way to the Norwegian polar research vessel, The Lance, located at the Polar Ice Rim.  There, he will get additional scientific updates and information on ice as a regulator of the Arctic Ocean and the world’s climate.

Also during his trip, the Secretary-General will visit the Global Seed Vault, a secure seed bank which houses duplicates of unique varieties of the world’s most important crops.  Finally, he will participate in a public seminar focusing on the global impact of a melting Arctic.

**Climate Change

Still on climate change, there are now only 100 days left before the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen.

To mark this day, the United Nations is launching Global Climate Week from 21 to 25 September.  The Secretary-General is calling on communities around the world to take advantage of that week to encourage leaders to seal a fair, balanced and effective agreement on climate change.  Events are planned in more than 120 countries for this first Global Climate Week, which coincides, as you know, with the Summit on Climate Change convened by the Secretary-General here, in New York, on 22 September.

The United Nations is also encouraging communities, businesses and individuals to add their voices to the “Seal the Deal!” campaign during Global Climate Week by signing the online Climate Petition.  The Petition will be presented by civil society to the Governments of the world in Copenhagen.  There is more in a press release upstairs.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

On the DRC, the Ugandan rebel group, the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) continues to cause large-scale destruction and displacement in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.  The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, says at least 125,000 people are known to have been driven out of their villages by the Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, in the last three weeks alone.  The agency says a staggering 540,000 Congolese have been uprooted in the Orientale province by deadly LRA assaults since September 2008.

The rebel group is accused of widespread killings, kidnappings of civilians and raping of women.  During the same period, the rebels have reportedly killed some 1,270 people and abducted 655 children in the Orientale province.  They have also destroyed hundreds of homesteads and pillaged health centres, schools and other public buildings.  The LRA has also forced an estimated 8,000 Congolese to flee to neighbouring South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

** Yemen

On Yemen, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, reports that the situation in Sa’ada city in northern Yemen remains dramatic.  The fighting is ongoing, and the town has been practically cut off from the rest of the world for a week now.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has called for opening humanitarian corridors in northern Yemen that would allow civilians to leave the conflict zone and humanitarian workers to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid to thousands of displaced people in that remote part of the country.

The residents, as well as those displaced in Sa’ada city, are unable to leave.  The state of emergency is still in force.  Many people are living on assistance from friends and relatives who had been able to store food.  Together with the authorities, UNHCR has registered 700 families in Sa’ada city and, if security permits, the agency plans to distribute initial aid to some 370 families tomorrow.

Meanwhile, in Al Mazrak camp in Hajjah governorate, internally displaced persons are slowly settling down.  UNHCR has distributed tents, plastic sheets, and other supplies to the displaced people in the camp.  It has conducted profiling and verification of 865 displaced families and provided them with much-needed assistance.

** Lebanon

The Security Council, acting on the request of the Government of Lebanon, yesterday unanimously decided to extend the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, for a period of one year, until 31 August 2010.

This morning, UNIFIL handed over to the Israeli authorities a man who was identified as an Israeli citizen, who apparently suffered from a mental condition, who had crossed the Blue Line from Israel into Lebanon on Tuesday.  The hand-over process was done in accordance with the existing liaison and coordination arrangements between UNIFIL and the parties.

**Typhoon Morakot

In response to Typhoon Morakot, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, this week fielded two UN disaster assessment and coordination missions, each to Beijing and to Taipei.  The two missions are to assess residual humanitarian needs for which international assistance could be mobilized and ascertain whether OCHA with its partners could support the authorities in preparing for future disasters.

Arriving in Taipei on 24 August, the first UN disaster assessment coordination team visited the seven most affected villages where search and rescue operations are still ongoing.

**UNHCR - Myanmar

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR, is concerned about reports that between 10,000 and 30,000 refugees have fled Myanmar’s north-eastern Shan State in recent weeks into China’s Yunnan Province.

UNHCR is currently liaising with the authorities to investigate what their needs are.  The information that the refugee agency received is that as many as 30,000 people may have taken shelter in Nansan County since 8 August, and that they were fleeing fighting between Myanmar Government troops and ethnic minority groups.

UNHCR says local authorities in Yunnan Province have already provided emergency shelter, food and medical care to these refugees.  The refugee agency reiterates its readiness to provide support to the authorities in responding to the needs of these refugees.

**Nepal – Human Rights

In Nepal, the United Nations Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, OHCHR, once again urged the Government of Nepal to conduct a comprehensive human rights vetting as part of its peace process.

In his meeting with the acting Chief of Army Staff on Thursday, OHCHR Representative in Nepal Richard Bennett reiterated concerns about the lack of progress on accountability for serious human rights and international humanitarian law violations committed by the Nepalese Army during the conflict.

He stressed that, until an independent and impartial vetting mechanism is put into place, the promotion, extension, or nomination for UN service of individuals against whom there are credible allegations of involvement in human rights violations should be suspended.


On the health front, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria, Ray Chambers, recently returned from a high-level mission to Tanzania and Uganda and updated the Secretary-General yesterday on malaria control progress so far this year.  Chambers expressed confidence that the Secretary-General’s goal of providing universal access to malaria control interventions by the end of 2010 can be reached.

Chambers reported, among other things, that lifesaving long-lasting insecticide-treated mosquito nets are now available to 52 per cent of the endemic population in sub-Saharan Africa.  Chambers’ mission to Tanzania and Uganda was undertaken along with Dr. Margaret Chan, the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), as well as a representative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Chambers and Chan met with the President of Tanzania, the President of Zanzibar, the Vice-President of Uganda, and local malaria experts.  They also visited urban and rural health centres focused on fighting malaria.  The delegation visited a research and training centre where trials of a new malaria vaccine are in progress.  They also saw a paediatric ward in Zanzibar where empty beds indicated malaria’s decline.

Chambers praised the Tanzanian President’s leadership, which has helped launch the African Leaders Malaria Alliance, an organization of African Heads of State committed to strengthening malaria-control efforts within their own countries and engaging the global community on malaria-related policy priorities.  We have more on that upstairs.

**Economic and Social Commission for Asia and Pacific

The United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, UNESCAP, is organizing a green growth capacity seminar to be held in Thailand from 31 August to 5 September.  Forty-five Government officials from around the region are gathering to learn how to implement low-carbon green growth solutions in response to the current economic, climate, and environmental crises.

**Former Yugoslavia

Available as a document is the sixteenth annual report on the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, ICTY.  The report cites the progress made in expediting the Tribunal’s work, with 86 cases now fully completed.

So far, the Tribunal has concluded proceedings against 120 accused, out of 161 indicted.  Appeals proceedings are ongoing for 12 people, while another 21 are currently on trial and four accused persons are at the pre-trial stage.  Unfortunately, two suspects ‑‑ Ratko Mladić and Goran Hadžić ‑‑ remain at large.

** Rwanda Tribunal

I have a correction to an answer I gave on Monday concerning the death of ICTR Prosecutor Shyamlal Rajapaksa.  According to ICTR spokesman, Roland Amoussouga, ‑‑ I spoke to him this morning ‑‑ the investigation has ruled out any foul play and has concluded that Mr. Rajapaksa died of causes linked to his previous health conditions.  The police report did not find any evidence of murder.  Toxicology reports are still awaited to determine the exact cause of death.  We have asked for a copy of the autopsy report, and we hope to have it available for you.

**Lord’s Resistance Army - Malcorra

In response to a question I received earlier also, we have checked with USG Malcorra’s Office.  She was apparently misquoted in remarks concerning the Lord’s Resistance Army.  Ms. Malcorra was answering a question about UNMIS, not about MONUC.

What she actually said was:  Member States with very capable forces are conducting offensive operations against the LRA.  The UNMIS mandate is primarily focused on supporting the CPA implementation and the Mission has limited capacity and resources for such a large territory.  However, the Mission continues to assist ‑‑ within its means ‑‑ to facilitate access of the humanitarian community in high-threat areas.

In MONUC’s case, that Mission has a more robust mandate to support the Congolese Armed Forces’ (FARDC) efforts to counter LRA activities and it has been, and will continue to do so.  The additional forces which have been authorized by Security Council resolution 1843 will help in these efforts, but MONUC still requires helicopters that are the ideal capabilities to support operations against LRA.

So, those are the quotes reflecting what she said.  And she was answering a question about UNMIS [in Sudan], not about MONUC [in the DR Congo].

** Week Ahead at United Nations

We have upstairs for you The Week Ahead at the United Nations

Just a little preview:  on Sunday, the Secretary-General will deliver the keynote address at the Opening of the Political Symposium of the European Forum Alpbach, in Austria.

On Monday, 31 August, the Secretary-General will be in Oslo, Norway, where he will meet with, among others, the Norwegian Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.

On Tuesday, the United States will assume the monthly rotating Presidency of the Security Council.

On Thursday, the Secretary-General will be in Geneva, Switzerland, to participate in the opening of the high-level segment of the World Meteorological Organization’s Third World Climate Conference.

And this is all I have for you today.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On what you just said about Ms. Malcorra, there is an AFP story and it says:  “Clearly the mandate for us to go after the LRA is not within the current Security Council mandate.”  Is it that she never said that?

Spokesperson:  Well, she didn’t say that.  What I read to you is what she said.

Question:  Is that what she meant or she said?

Spokesperson:  That’s what she said.

Question:  Okay.  So, she didn’t mention the Security Council mandate?

Spokesperson:  No.  From what I gather, I got the quote earlier because we asked to have the exact quote.

Question:  And the thing on the nephew of President Rajapaksa, how did that come about that on Monday it seemed that the preliminary finding is that he’d been murdered and now it’s not?

Spokesperson:  Well, apparently that was what was reported in some newspapers.  We had no official reports in, really.  The reports started coming in as the investigation went on.  The autopsy was performed and the autopsy has ruled out any foul play.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  He was found dead on the floor in the morning.

Question:  And since we’re on this kind of gruesome topic, the UNMIL employee in Liberia, Mr. Fosnight:  there are now reports there saying that he didn’t, that it wasn’t natural causes, that he stabbed himself, and again, reiterating that he had engaged in similar abuse in Sierra Leone, and the UN knew about it.  You’d said that the UN knew nothing and, I guess, that he died of natural causes?

Spokesperson:  I can check for you exactly what we have on that.   [The Spokesperson later added that the United Nations knew nothing about any past activities of the deceased staff member.  The cause of his death is still being investigated with an autopsy to be conducted in the next few days.]

Question:  Also, I’ll show you, there is a pretty detailed article that’s come out in Liberia saying how he was found, you know, the whole thing.  I’m just wondering, because I know that the UN tried to get out in front of it with a statement of the press release you read out.

Spokesperson:  I know that he was put under house arrest, and what I said the other day stands.  Yes.

Question:  The gentleman handed over by UNIFIL, did they say why, what the specifics were on that?

Spokesperson:  It said he was apparently a deranged individual who crossed the border.  Yes.

Question:  This week the Portuguese president of the European Commission, Barossa, he Barosso, made a positive statement on the twentieth anniversary of the Baltic Wave, which was a human chain of 2 million peaceful Estonians, Latvians, Ukrainians holding hands across three countries in a bid to restore Baltic independence.  Do you think the UN Secretary-General would issue any statement recognizing the peaceful methods used by the Baltic people on this historic anniversary?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have anything for you on that.

Yes, Masood first and then we go to you.

Question:  Michèle, there are two reports.  One report says that about 1.9 million of the IDPs have now basically returned home, and basically quotes all the [inaudible], including UN agencies also.  And then there was one report yesterday that the United Nations health agencies have said that the clinics and so forth are being destroyed between the conflicts and so forth.  Now that basically what’s happening is everybody has gone back, and [inaudible], in the bottom it also says that Mr. Ripert, the new envoy [sic] will do something about this.  What, if anything, can he do now, now that everybody has gone back?

Spokesperson:  Well, his mandate concerns also reconstruction, and this is what you should be aware of, and that’s what I said when I read the actual mandate that Mr. Ripert has.

Question:  So you confirm now that according to latest reports 1.9 million people have gone back…?

Spokesperson:  But you have received that information.  It was sent to you, right?

Question:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  So?

Question:  Two questions.  One is about climate change, about the high-level meeting on 22 September.  Can you update about which personalities are going to be here, politicians, which are going to be the [inaudible] they are going to have, because I know there are big discussions now and I hear that some countries from G-77 are not really happy how it is going to be held, this meeting about climate change?  That is the first question.  Again and again about Gadhafi’s issue, to know which is exactly the rule about taking part.  How are you dealing with this polemic about where he is going to stay…?

Spokesperson:  To answer your second question, I have already answered it.  I said we have nothing to do with it, there is an agreement between the United Nations and the host country about visiting authorities or visiting Heads of State or visiting representatives of any country.  It is a matter for the host country.  There is nothing more I can add on this.

On your first question about climate change, and more specifically you wanted to know what the summit will be like:  we don’t have information, yet.  I do know that about 100 Heads of State have confirmed that they will be here.  In terms of the actual format and who will participate in the round tables, we don’t have that yet, and we will have an update for you as soon as we have all the answers in.

Question:  What about this [inaudible] of issue I have been told about some countries from G-77 are like not really happy how things are going to be filled here, that maybe they feel like a little bit apart from some kind of meeting with some big countries with the Secretary-General.

Spokesperson:  Well, I think the people that the Secretary-General is meeting are not only big people, as you said [inaudible].

Question:  Yeah, yeah, it’s about like a separate meeting with high Heads of State of high-level representative from a concrete country, few countries, not only with all…

Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether the Group of 77 has publicly expressed that feeling, but I can find out whether there has been any public expression or any official expression of their displeasure that I am hearing from you.  [The Spokesperson 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, she said.]

Okay, thank you all.  Yes.

Question:  Can I just ask you one question.  There is a pretty detailed report out about a UN employee, Bruno Bastet and that he was receiving welfare housing payments in France while living in New York in a condominium and he was also receiving rental subsidy from the UN.  I wanted to just ask two things about it.  I wanted to ask first, why does the UN or what is the Secretariat’s thinking on paying rental subsidy to people that actually own, you know extremely expensive apartments?  They don’t get rental subsidy if they live in the apartment they own.  But, if they rent it out to others and rent another apartment, then they receive rental subsidy.  Does this seem reasonable to the Secretariat or…?

Spokesperson:  Well, this is a matter, you know, as concerned that matter, you know the matter of the staff member’s rental subsidy, in the case of Mr. Bastet, that could be reviewed through the UN internal process to determine the accuracy and completeness of any statement and claims submitted by Mr. Basted.  So, that’s what I can say.  In terms of the actual, I can get some additional information for you on rental subsidies, but usually rental subsidies are given for a certain number of years to staff members coming into the system, and they are done according to the statements made by the staff member.  [The rental subsidy declines gradually over a seven-year period, so that eventually the staff member must adjust fully to the local market.]  And you can get, of course, full information on this.  I think you can find this on our website, about the policy on subsidies.

Question:  What I mean, because I think Marie was asked about it yesterday, because she is quoted in this report and she says it’s entirely legal for a UN official to own property, but nonetheless apply for rental subsidy to live elsewhere.  And I guess I am just asking, you know, whatever the specifics of Mr. Bastet is, does that policy make sense that…  Is the purpose of the rental subsidy to give it to somebody that can own, that only lives in rental housing?  Or does this create an incentive to actually, as they say, build a real estate empire?  Like somebody could own three buildings and still be getting a rental subsidy from the UN.  Is that…?

Spokesperson:  I’ll try to forward that question for you to the people in charge.

Question:  Okay, great, thanks a lot.

Spokesperson:  Okay, thank you so much.

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