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

1 September 2009

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

1 September 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General in Norway

The Secretary-General today is on his way to visit the polar ice rim, while onboard a Norwegian boat, the Svalbard.

Earlier today, the Secretary-General and Mrs. Ban visited a Norwegian Zeppelin Station, a research centre where the air in the Arctic region is being monitored, in part to determine the effect of greenhouse gases and other pollutants.  The Secretary-General was able to look at the glaciers, and said that the effects wrought by climate change were visible and alarming.  With less than 100 days from the start of the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, the Secretary-General has been making it clear during his visit that what he has seen can help to show the world why we must seal a deal.

**Statement on Elections in Gabon

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, which we issued last night on the elections in Gabon:

The Secretary-General welcomes the peaceful participation of the people of Gabon in [Sunday’s] presidential elections.   He calls upon all Gabonese to continue to support the democratic process, to ensure the will of the people is respected, and to heed the appeal by the interim President of Gabon, H.E. Ms. Rose Francine Rogombé, for calm and responsibility as the vote counting process continues.  Again, that was issued last night.

** Darfur

The new Force Commander of the African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Lieutenant General Patrick Nyamvumba of Rwanda, has assumed duty today.  The new Force Commander, who arrived in the mission area on 24 August, paid a series of familiarization visits to UNAMID peacekeeping troops and civilian staff.

General Nyamvumba was appointed by the Chairperson of the African Union Commission and the Secretary-General to succeed General Martin Luther Agwai, who was UNAMID’s Force Commander since the establishment of the mission.  And we have more details about him in a press release upstairs.

**Security Council

The United States has assumed the rotating presidency of the Security Council for the month of September, and United States Ambassador Susan Rice is holding bilateral meetings today with other Council members on the programme of work for the month ahead.

We expect that Council members will hold consultations tomorrow on the programme of work.  Then, at about 12:30 p.m. tomorrow in this room, Ambassador Rice will talk to you about the Council’s work over the coming month.

** Yemen

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reports that a humanitarian crisis is unfolding in Sa’ada city, in northern Yemen, where the situation is deteriorating by the day.  The agency is gravely concerned about the fate and well-being of the civilian population trapped inside the city as a result of fierce fighting between Al Houthi forces and Government troops, which is now entering its third week.

UNHCR says that one of its top priorities is the opening of humanitarian corridors in northern Yemen, which would allow civilians to leave the conflict zone, and humanitarian workers to deliver much-needed humanitarian aid to thousands of displaced people.  To date, more than 35,000 people have been displaced in and around Sa’ada town.  In total, the agency estimates that some 150,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been affected by the fighting since 2004.  Despite the ongoing fighting, UNHCR’s local partners have registered 2,200 IDP families to date in Sa’ada city and nearby villages.

The refugee agency says that it urgently needs $5 million to respond to the emergency in northern Yemen.  These funds would allow it to provide protection and much-needed assistance for some 70,000 IDPs over the next four months.  And we have more details in today’s UNHCR briefing notes.

Also, UNICEF has distributed water filters, jerrycans, hygiene kits and water purification tablets to 1,000 displaced families in Haradh.  And the World Health Organization (WHO) mobilized one trauma kit to Amran to support 100 surgical interventions.  In addition, locally purchased medicines were sent to health units in Amran and Haradh in the Hajjah Governorate.

** Somalia

The UN refugee agency reports that 16 people have drowned in the Gulf of Aden over the weekend in two separate incidents involving smuggling boats sailing from Somalia.

Some 44 passengers were on board the first boat that capsized early Saturday night after the smugglers began to push the passengers overboard into the waters off the coast of Yemen.  Thirty-four passengers made it to shore.  Seven bodies were recovered and buried in a nearby cemetery by UNHCR’s local partner agency.  On the second, it is believed that the smugglers, fearing detection by the Yemeni authorities, forced some 42 passengers to swim to shore.  Thirty people made it but others reportedly drowned.  In the past five days, a total of 17 boats carrying 835 people arrived in Yemen after making the perilous voyage across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa.

Still on Somalia, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that civilians continue to be the victims of heavy fighting in the Somali capital, Mogadishu.  Some 3.8 million people -- that is half the Somali population -- are still in need of livelihood and humanitarian support.  The situation is made worse for thousands of people by a drought crisis in the Mudug, Galgaduud, Hiraan and Bakool regions.

** Afghanistan

Simultaneous events were held today in four cities in Afghanistan to launch the 2009 campaign for International Peace Day, called “What Are You Doing for Peace in Afghanistan?”  This year’s campaign will feature a number of peace initiatives as well as a polio immunization drive that is intended to reach millions of children.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Kai Eide, called on all Afghans to take part in this campaign, saying:  “We all have a unique opportunity to mobilize people in the name of peace.”  We have a press release upstairs with more details.

Also tomorrow, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) will launch its Afghan Opium Report for 2009, which examines sharp drops in opium cultivation, production and prices.  And we have an embargoed press release on the report upstairs.


The final text of a new treaty has been agreed upon by a group of 91 countries during talks brokered by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  The treaty aims to close fishing ports to vessels involved in illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

FAO notes that the “Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing” will be the first ever global treaty focused specifically on the problem of illegal fishing.  FAO hopes that the agreement will help block illegally-caught fish from entering international markets, thereby removing an important incentive for some fishermen to engage in illicit fishing.  And we have more on that upstairs.

**Security Council President’s Briefing

And like I said, tomorrow at about 12:30 p.m., we expect Ambassador Susan Rice of the United States will talk to you about the programme of work for the Security Council.

That’s all I’ve got.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Do you have any further details on the North Korean arms that were seized by the [ United Arab Emirates] en route to Iran?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, actually that’s a matter where the relevant information would be held by the Security Council Sanctions Committee dealing with the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], which as you know is chaired by Turkey.  So they would have any further information.  We don’t have any particular comment on how Member States comply with the resolutions of the Security Council.

Question:  Does the Secretariat recognize that as an event that has taken place? Do you see it did take place?

Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, the information has gone not to us, but to the Sanctions Committee, and so it would be the Turkish Mission that would have that.

Question:  Farhan, two reports that I want to refer you to yesterday.  One was that the Israeli attack that was reported last night near Gaza.  Another report was attributed to, I think, UNRWA [the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] or something, that there was a protest over there in Gaza on the education of the Holocaust by UNRWA.  Is that in UNRWA’s report?  Is that right?  Do you have any…?

Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of the details on that, that is not quite what I’ve got.  But what I can tell you is this:  the Holocaust is not included in the curriculum in Gaza, according to the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA.  In Gaza, as in all fields where UNRWA works, UNRWA utilizes the curriculum of the host countries as its core curriculum.  UNRWA has included an additional human rights component since 2002, and it will continue to teach human rights within the constructive, positive and apolitical environment it promotes in its schools.  The focus of the human rights curriculum is the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  And that’s the information I have on that.

Question:  What about the Israeli jets attacking the crossing?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have any update on that, no.

Question:  Farhan, does the UN have a specific statement on the recent smoking bans being imposed by the Iraqi Government and also on the US military?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t.  As you know, the United Nations, and at our Headquarters, does have a smoking ban in place and that is in line with the resolutions worked on by the General Assembly.  And so that’s instituted here.  But we wouldn’t have a comment on that in other areas.  Obviously, you’re also aware of the information the World Health Organization (WHO) has put out about the dangers of smoking.

Question:  There is a story today by Betsy [Pisik of the Washington Times] quoting [Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security] Gregory Starr at some length about lack of safety in 20 UN locations, specifically Iraq and in Afghanistan, saying that the UN refuses to say who was disciplined for the Algiers bombing for…  First, could you say why the UN wouldn’t, in the spirit of accountability and transparency, report what was done after the Algiers bombing?  And two, as with regard to Iraq, could you confirm that the UN in Basra used mercenary private contractors, mercenaries provided by the United Kingdom, and reimbursed them, that therefore never itself as the UN paid mercenaries but did in fact use them?

Associate Spokesperson:  On your second question, I don’t have any confirmation on that.  I’d need to look into it.  On the first question, the basic point here is that we need to respect due process for all of the cases involved.  We have no comment on the individual cases that we were dealing with until due process has been fully followed.  And so these are cases where we have been doing the follow-up at the management level, but we would not be able to make any comment on specific individuals until that due process has been followed.

Question:  Are you saying that all six are appealing, because the article says, maybe you can deny that, that six people were disciplined for it.  Are they appealing or is the process completed?

Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, I wouldn’t have any comment on the specific nature of each case until the due process has been followed through.

Question:  Overall, what I didn’t understand about the interview is, if Mr. Starr has been in place now for three months and there have been a number of requests to have him come and do a briefing, is it possible to get him to do a briefing rather than this sort of a one-off interview where you learn that 20 sites are unsafe in the UN system?  It doesn’t seem like…

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I was there at that interview, and it’s not quite the case to just leave it at the idea that some sites are unsafe.  He has been looking at various sites.  He made the point that from what he has seen, we need to make security improvements at a number of areas, and he specified where those are.  At the same time, he made the point very clear to Betsy that he believes we’re capable of providing security for our staff around the world, and that he believes that even though the UN, by the nature of its work, needs to operate in very dangerous areas, he believes that we are able to go to those areas and provide them and ensure security for our staff.  But he wants to improve that.  That’s one point. 

Your other point is you want him to talk to reporters.  As he showed from talking to Betsy, he is willing to, and so if other people are interested, certainly I’ll do that.  If you want, the sense I get here is that you want him to do a briefing in Room 226; is that the impression I get from you?

Question:  Why not?

Associate Spokesperson: Okay, then that’s the request I’ll convey over to him.

Question:  Are you suggesting the report was inaccurate?

Associate Spokesperson:  The what?

Correspondent:  Betsy’s report.

Associate Spokesperson:  No, no, I am not saying that it was inaccurate in the points he made.  I’m just saying that he made a larger argument, and the larger argument was that he believes that we have the ability to carry out our work safely.  At the same time, he wants to see improvements, in particular, from what he’s seen in his first months on the job, he really wants improvements in some key areas.  There are certain parts of the world -- and this is a point he made very strongly to Betsy -- where for years the United Nations had by virtue of its reputation been regarded as off-limits by a variety of armed groups, both for the United Nations and for international humanitarian groups.  In recent years, you’ve seen that that is no longer the case with some extremist groups.  And so we need to take more precautions than we used to.  And his point is that that is something that we will do.

Question:  Farhan, when is the Secretary-General going to have his monthly press conference?

Associate Spokesperson:  Tentatively, he’s scheduled for the 17th of September.  We’re trying to lock that down.

Question:  May I ask about, there is this draft report on the ERP, or Umoja project, has emerged, in which it seems to say that it’s a nearly $300 million UN programme that is both over budget and behind schedule.  Is that your understanding of where it stands?

Associate Spokesperson:  What is the ERP Umoja project?

Correspondent:  It’s the computer overhaul, the attempt to integrate 400 separate UN computer systems.  It’s been bouncing around for almost 15 years, the Fifth Committee has voted a lot of money for it, but this report has emerged saying that there’s nothing accomplished.

Associate Spokesperson:  Let me check and see whether there is anything to that.

Question:  Can I ask one more thing?

Associate Spokesperson:  Okay, sure.

Question:  It goes back to something that Michèle had said, I guess it was late last week on this, Ms. [Susana] Malcorra’s comments, I guess, in Uganda about the ability of the UN to track down the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).  It was said… there was a clarification that she didn’t say that a mandate was needed to be changed.  There has been additional coverage in the New Vision [newspaper] in Uganda saying that that’s exactly…

Associate Spokesperson:  We’ve seen the additional coverage and we stick with what was said on Friday.  What we said on Friday was the accurate quote.

Question:  So the Secretariat or [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations] has all the tools it needs from the Security Council to get the LRA, it’s just not being accomplished?

Associate Spokesperson:  The quote that we put on the record on Friday still stands.  Thanks very much.  Have a good day now.

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