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

30 October 2009

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

30 October 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.

** Afghanistan

Good afternoon all.

Jossie Esto was a Philippina volunteer who worked for the UN Development Programme (UNDP) election team; Lewis Maxwell was a close protection officer from the United States; Lawrence Mefful was a UN security officer from Ghana; Lydia Wonwene was a UNDP volunteer elections officer from Liberia.  To these four names, we must add one more person whose identity still needs to be confirmed.

The Secretary-General paid tribute in a UN town hall meeting to these UN staff members who were killed in an attack on a guest house in Afghanistan on Wednesday.  A moment of silence was held in memory of the five dead staff members.

The Secretary-General said that the United Nations is urgently reviewing the security environment throughout Afghanistan.  He is exploring the feasibility of bringing in additional security units to guard UN facilities and guest houses.  Also, the United Nations will be consolidating its staff now scattered among many different locations and may suggest that personnel not directly engaged in critical duties be relocated over the coming weeks.  A senior UN official will travel to Kabul to express sympathy and solidarity with the staff.

This afternoon, the Secretary-General will brief the General Assembly and ask for rapid action on the UN security budget.  We expect to make his remarks available to you after they are delivered.  He noted at the town hall meeting that, so far this year, 27 civilian personnel have lost their lives to violence, more than half of them in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  But he stressed his determination to carry out the UN’s work, saying: “Let us remember.  Let us honour.  And let us continue.”

**Security Council

The Secretary-General briefed the Security Council on Afghanistan yesterday afternoon, and he told reporters afterwards that he had told Council members about the heroism of the security officers of the UN Mission there.  For at least an hour, and perhaps more, they held off the attackers, fighting through the corridors of the building and from the rooftop, giving their colleagues time to escape.

The Secretary-General said that the purpose of his briefing was to assess the situation in Afghanistan and put in place more effective protection for UN staff as they perform their crucial tasks.  He told the Security Council that the United Nations is considering a number of immediate short-term measures, including the consolidation of UN staff in Kabul and around the country. 

The Security Council then adopted a presidential statement, expressing its strong condemnation of the 28 October terrorist attack.  The Council stressed the need to ensure the security of UN staff and its support to this end.  It expressed support for the measures already taken by the Secretary-General in this regard and looks forward to the further detailed proposals by him.

Over the weekend, Viet Nam’s Security Council presidency will end, and Austria will take over the rotating presidency of the Council for the month of November.

**Statement on Honduras

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Honduras.

The Secretary-General is encouraged by news from Tegucigalpa that an agreement was reached last night between President [José Manuel] Zelaya and the de facto authorities in Honduras to resolve the country’s political crisis.  He hopes Honduras is now on the path to the full restoration of democratic, constitutional rule.


On the Sudan-Darfur…

The lack of a sustained commitment from all the parties to the Darfur conflict in Sudan to achieve a political agreement remains a major challenge to bring peace and stability to Darfur.  This is one of the key messages delivered by the UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, when he addressed a summit of the African Union Peace and Security Council in the Nigerian capital, Abuja, yesterday.

Le Roy stressed that a political agreement for Darfur is also necessary in view of the national elections scheduled for April 2010.  But Le Roy warns that a political solution cannot be imposed.  It must be negotiated with serious concessions from all sides in order to achieve concrete solutions to concrete problems.

Le Roy stated that the UN would be reviewing the report of the AU’s High-Level Panel on Darfur, chaired by former South African president, Thabo Mbeki, especially in the areas concerning the AU-UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and the joint mediation efforts of the two organizations.

** Lebanon

On Lebanon, Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, met today with Ammar Moussawi, the head of the International Relations Department of Hizbullah.  He said afterwards that the United Nations remains very concerned by the incidents that have taken place in south Lebanon, including the firing of a rocket from the village of Houla and also the Israeli counter-fire on the same village.

Williams warned that there is concern that recent incidents could easily destabilize the situation in southern Lebanon and increase the threat of potential conflict.

Yesterday, he met with the leader of the Lebanese Forces, Dr. Samir Geagea.  He said afterwards that they discussed the formation of a new Government and the delay that this process has faced since the parliamentary elections on 7 June, now almost five months ago. 

** Yemen

An unknown number of displaced Yemeni civilians have been killed and wounded during an exchange of fire in northern Yemen yesterday, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reports.

UNHCR says it is shocked and saddened by the latest reports of the loss of life and indiscriminate targeting of Yemeni civilians forced to flee their homes.  As the conflict enters the fourth month with no signs of abating, the latest incident adds urgency to UNHCR’s repeated appeals for a ceasefire and the opening of humanitarian corridors in northern Yemen.  Those steps would allow civilians to leave the conflict zone and enable humanitarian workers to deliver much needed aid to thousands of IDPs [internally displaced persons] in this remote part of the country.

Civilians, including some 35,000 IDPs, in and around the city of Sa’ada remain trapped by the fighting and are unable to reach safer parts of the country.  UNHCR is also calling on Saudi authorities to offer safe shelter and assistance to vulnerable displaced Yemenis who may seek refuge across the border as they flee the heavy fighting in the north.

**United Republic of Tanzania -- Burundi

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, reports that today marks an important milestone in its efforts to end one of the longest-running refugee sagas in the world, with the return home of 400 Burundians who fled to Tanzania in 1972.

The returnees are scheduled to leave Katumba, one of the so-called Old Settlements in western Tanzania, today, marking the end of a year-and-a-half-long voluntary repatriation programme.

Since March 2008, UNHCR has been working with the Tanzanian Government in helping the refugees to return home.  Under the same programme, 162,000 Burundian refugees have applied for Tanzanian citizenship and 29,000 have been naturalized since August.  The Tanzanian Government aims to complete the process by the end of the year for the remaining applicants.

With the gradual return of peace in Burundi, more than half a million Burundian refugees have returned home, including more than 430,000 from camps in Tanzania.


The United Nations Forum on Forests is holding a special session today to adopt a landmark decision.  That decision is expected to help spur financing for sustainable forest management in countries worldwide.  The meeting will take place from 3 to 4 this afternoon in Conference Room 4.

**Deputy Secretary-General Travels

The Deputy Secretary-General, Asha Rose Migiro, will be in Beirut early next week to chair the thirteenth Regional Coordination Mechanism meeting.  The meeting is convened by the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA).  Discussions will focus on enhancing collaboration amongst UN system organizations to produce results more effectively and efficiently.  While in Lebanon, the DSG is expected to meet with national and regional authorities.

From Beirut, the DSG will proceed to Addis Ababa later next week, where she will chair another Regional Coordination Mechanism meeting, this time convened by the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA).  As in Beirut, discussions will consider how the comparative advantages of different components of the UN family can be mobilized more effectively to deliver results for the Member States.  While in Addis Ababa, the DSG is expected to meet with national and regional authorities, as well as representatives of the African Union Commission and the New Economic Partnership for African Development, NEPAD.

**The Week Ahead

And we have upstairs for you the week ahead at the United Nations.

Sunday will be the first day of Austria’s presidency of the Security Council, as I mentioned earlier.

On Tuesday, the Secretary-General is expected to be at Windsor Castle, in the United Kingdom, where he plans to deliver a keynote address at a gathering of religious leaders on the role that faiths can play in tackling climate change.

At 12:30 on Tuesday, in Room S-226, Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting, Permanent Representative of Austria and President of the Security Council for November, will brief on the Council’s programme of work for the month.

The Secretary-General will be in Athens, Greece, for an official visit.  While there, he will help open the third Global Forum on Migration and Development.  He is also expected to address the Greek Parliament and he will be there also on Thursday.

And this is all I have for you.  Thank you.  Margaret.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, I have a few questions on all the security stuff that’s been going on related to Afghanistan.  First of all, can you give us a readout from the Chief Executives Board (CEB) meeting from this morning when he met with heads of agencies and things?

Spokesperson:  He met with them to discuss the same thing that he has been discussing with the Security Council, and he will be discussing with the General Assembly this afternoon:  first, a report on the situation and a discussion on how we can better face the security challenges that we are facing right now.

Question:  Are they going to put together some sort of action plan or…?

Spokesperson:  Well, they will certainly be putting together an action plan.  As you know, the CEB is meeting also tomorrow and you have already heard, so if there is anything specific in terms of an action plan, part of the action plan from the Secretary-General yesterday.  We will give you more details as we go along and after more consultations on the issue.

Question:  And then, today’s briefing with the General Assembly, you said we could have his comments after, so is it a closed session?

Spokesperson:  It is, well it’s an informal session.  The decision to keep it closed or open is a decision by the General Assembly.  It’s not a formal meeting of the General Assembly, but we will have the remarks available for you. 

Question:  [inaudible] I have a few.  And then this morning, the Secretary-General said at the town hall that some non-essential personnel might be relocated in the coming weeks in Afghanistan, so are they going to be relocated in Afghanistan or outside?

Spokesperson:  Well, for the time being, we are thinking of consolidation of the staff into more secure quarters.

Question:  So they will all stay, nobody’s leaving?

Spokesperson:  We don’t know at this point.  At this point, no decision has been taken there on whether they will be leaving or not.  But for the time being, everyone is staying and waiting to; it just will be better deployed.  [Later the Spokesperson added that staff not directly engaged in critical, election-related duties are being encouraged to take leave during the period leading up to and immediately following the second round of voting on November 7th.]

Question:  And then the official… He said that he is sending a senior official to Kabul to express sympathy and solidarity.  Who is it and will they be doing any sort of security review while they are there?

Spokesperson:  Well, they will be doing security review while they are there, but I don’t know at this point who that will be.

Question:  And you don’t know when they are going?

Spokesperson:  No.  I don’t at this point.

Question:  Can I follow up again?

Spokesperson:  Yes, sure.  Khaled and Betsy.  Yeah, go ahead.

Question:  Just on Afghanistan, again, we were told that the SG basically briefed the Council’s members yesterday on how the incident happened.  But did you receive any explanation?  How come a battle goes on for an entire hour without any support coming, whether from the Americans, the ISAF or the Afghani Government itself?

Spokesperson:  We have heard the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General did say that we were a little taken aback by the fact our security officers died or were wounded fighting by themselves.  But, I have to say that the Afghan guards were killed from the start, because they were the outside people guarding the guesthouse.  So, they were killed first.  Then we didn’t get reinforcement until about an hour later, from all the information we have.  We cannot assess yet why.  We have to find out why.

Question:  But like you know, speaking to the UN staffers, did they consider that the responsibility to protect is that of the local authorities and the international troops there, so if your staffers don’t feel safe or have a proper explanation, how would you explain this to them? 

Spokesperson:  We are trying to get explanation on why it happened.  We are trying to take measures for this not to happen anymore.  So, I think the fact that it took so long for reinforcement to come was certainly a cause of concern yesterday, and which was openly expressed to the Security Council, and which was expressed to you at the stakeout yesterday.

Question:  At the UN you don’t inform…?

Spokesperson:  Both, we got some ISAF came in afterwards.  So did the Afghan police.

Question:  So, I mean, you don’t inform the ISAF of the locations of the UN staffers, just to provide you with protection?  That’s not the way the story works?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’m not going to comment on specific security measures.

Question:  No?

Spokesperson:  Khaled, you can understand that.  Of course we’ll inform them to the extent that we will definitely ask for the support of the international community that is right now in Afghanistan, the security forces that are in Afghanistan to protect our staff.  Of course, the same way we have asked the Afghan Government, and the Secretary-General, as you know, spoke to President Karzai on these lines, to have better protection for our people.  So, we have been doing it.  We have been talking.

Question:  I meant before the accident.  ISAF did not know where the locations of the UN staffers are, so that they can provide them with more protection…?

Spokesperson:  Of course they knew.  Yes.

Question:  Regarding Afghanistan, as well.  Can you confirm that the Secretary-General is requesting some half a billion of US dollars in additional…?

Spokesperson:  No, I understand that the number is $40 million.

Forty.  Four, zero, for security?

Spokesperson: Four zero, yes for security, additional security.   Yeah, on top of the security budget that was proposed.

Question:  And another request.  The replacement of the inspectors for the elections.  I understand that the Europeans are hesitant to send a new…?

Spokesperson:  You mean the monitors that the European Union has?  I cannot confirm this.  I am not the European Union.  I cannot say one way or the other.

Question:  [inaudible] he’s talking about the Afghani election officers.

Spokesperson:  You’re talking on the Afghan election officers.  You have monitors from the EU, you have the UN supporting the efforts of the Afghan authorities to go to the elections and you have…

Question:  No, personnel?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  Whose personnel?

Question:  The European ones.

Spokesperson:  Yes.  That has no relationship with the UN.  I don’t understand your question.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Yes, Betsy.

Question:  Back to Kabul for a minute if you don’t mind.  There had been 93 guesthouses and there is talk about consolidating them.

Spokesperson:  Yes.  Sure.

Question:  Does each of the guesthouses have their own security detail?

Spokesperson:  Yes they do.

Question:  Times 93?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Okay.  The interest in possibly taking on professional help to keep these places safe, is it possible to outline a little better what sorts of form that would take?  I mean, are you looking at Blackwater or…?

Spokesperson:  No, for the time being, this is an option which the Secretary-General is exploring.  We are exploring all possible options to keep our people safe.  There are security firms in Afghanistan itself and a number of NGOs depend on the security firms for their own security.  Exactly who will be doing it and how it will be done is going to be determined in the next few days.  Yes, Betsy.

Question:  What is the status of the investigations into Algiers?  That would have been the one in December 2007.

Spokesperson:  Yes. I can get to you the latest that we have on where we are on this.  Okay.  Yes.

Question:  This morning, the town hall, it was billed as a town hall; usually a town hall is a question-and-answer sort of informal forum.  There was no opportunity for the staff to ask questions.  Maybe they had security concerns.  I was wondering why that was, and also, on the podium was the Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security, and he did not make any comments even though UNICEF spoke and other…

Spokesperson:  Well, UNICEF and UNDP spoke for the victims.

Question:  Okay, but why didn’t the USG for Safety and Security speak?  People want to hear from him.

Spokesperson:  The idea was to pay tribute to the people who had fallen.  In terms of the questions, I’m sure there will be possibilities for staff to get answers to their questions.  This morning was really more of a tribute to the people who fell, who were killed, than it was a Q and A on security issues.  And there is no doubt that the questions that the staff have, which are really quite legitimate questions, will be answered.

Question:  And was anyone from the Staff Union invited to be part of that?

Spokesperson:  Well, everyone from the staff was invited.

Question:  No, Staff Union, because there was no representative from the Staff Union.

Spokesperson:  No, No.  Not specifically.  But we were linked, as you know, to different venues within the UN system, different headquarters, so that most of our staff could participate.  Yes Masood.

Question:  Michèle, what I understood from what the Secretary-General was telling us yesterday at the stakeout that there has been a brainstorming meeting and meeting of heads of all the departments.  In that meeting, what basically was being discussed was how to protect the UN staff and how the operation should be able to continue, because you can’t afford to walk out of there because of elections happening and so forth.  Can you give us some specifics as to what has emerged specifically as far as the security questions are concerned and boosting up?  And also, is there an introspection being done as to why, this United Nations, which was always considered to be a friend and suddenly is being considered now as an enemy and these attacks are taking place, some introspection as to what has gone wrong?

Spokesperson:  Well, you know, in terms of the general reflection, this has been happening at the UN for a long time, as we have been targets.  Betsy, I am glad she raised the issue of what happened in Algiers.  This is not the first time that the UN is a target.  So, in terms of the specific measures that were discussed, I’m not at liberty to discuss this with you.  The specifics will not be discussed publicly.  Okay.

Question:  What I’m saying is, what about the other question?  There must be, I mean, all said and done, there must be some sort of introspection, some sort of assessment being done.

Spokesperson:  It is happening.  It is happening.  The discussion is happening.

Question:  [inaudible] the fact that these incidents keep repeated and every time you make a committee to review security measures, maybe ask for some extra money, but then you have another attack again.  I mean, doesn’t this reflect that there isn’t a comprehensive plan to deal with security issues, because every time there is a committee and every time…?

Spokesperson:  It’s not a committee.  Khaled, you have to realize that we have one office at the UN in charge of security.  The problem -- and it is what is being discussed at the General Assembly this afternoon -- is a problem of resources.  We don’t have the resources to adequately protect our people.  Ten-fifteen years ago, it was a different story, to the extent that the UN was not the target.  Right now we are getting to be one of the main targets, particularly in the case of Afghanistan on the issue of the elections.  The UN is a target, which we were not a few years back.  And you have had some questioning done in the Brahimi report.  Some questioning has been occurring in the past on why it happened, and Masood, you are right, there are some basic reasons, which have to be examined, and which are being examined.  Okay, thank you all. Yes Denis.

Question:  Are there copies available of the Secretary-General’s remarks at the Anti-Defamation League’s dinner last night?

Spokesperson:  Yes, we’ll make sure you have them, sure.

Question:  I’m sorry Michèle, but again, I mean, among the discussions that you’re holding to review the reasons, I mean, has it like come up that like maybe because of alliance with certain policies that the UN is becoming more targeted, before backing what seems to be an unpopular election or backing an occupation in Iraq?  Are these among the reasons that maybe the UN is being overexposed politically?

Spokesperson:  Of course, that is being discussed.

Question:  And what’s the result towards that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’ve said that the discussions are ongoing.  How can you have results at this point?  No.  The discussions are ongoing.  I mentioned the Brahimi report that had mentioned some of the reasons, and the Brahimi report was not yesterday.  This is an ongoing discussion and of course the issue of politics is linked to it.  Yes.

Question:  Two things about the [Democratic Republic of the] Congo.  There’s a report of 47 police of the Government being killed in an attack in northern Congo.  Is that something that MONUC is aware of?  Is it going to assign peacekeepers there?

Spokesperson:  Well, we got the media reports, and from what I gather, it was in western DRC and it’s an area where MONUC has limited presence.  As you know, more than 95 per cent of the MONUC forces are concentrated in eastern DRC, so MONUC is trying to obtain more information and at this stage we can’t confirm these figures, the 47 that you mentioned.

Question:  Okay.  Also in the Congo, the Government’s Minister of Communication [inaudible] has been quoted as saying the Government will do nothing about Bosco Ntaganda as long as the operation is ongoing in eastern Congo.  Given that Mr. Bosco Ntaganda is indicted by the ICC, and the UN is working with the Government of the Congo, what do they make of the Government saying that they have no intention and are still working with an indicted war criminal?

Spokesperson:  Well, we have said we would not be working with that specific person whenever that person is involved in specific actions, the UN would not be part of those actions.

Question:  Now that the Government has said openly that they are not arresting him, because he’s part of their operation, doesn’t it change things a little bit?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s a statement.  I’m talking about our own action on the ground.

Question:  And also in Guinea, there’s a report of 11 hunger strikers being arrested and disappeared by the Government, even before the Secretary-General appoints this new investigation commission.  Is the UN monitoring Guinea?  What does it know about these 11 people?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that specific information on that, but I can tell you that UNOHCHR –- Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights -- is actively monitoring what is happening there.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  There’s sort of a few things that came up.  One is that it’s reported that, for UNIFIL, Israel has asked Italy and Mr. Graziano to stay on longer as Force Commander than had been anticipated.  Is that true, and when is Mr. Graziano or Italy supposed to turn it over to Spain?  Is that a known…?

Spokesperson:  At this time, I have read the reports.  I know of the controversies around the issue.  I cannot give you a definite answer.

Question:  Who decides what country leads a UN peacekeeping mission?

Spokesperson:  Well, this is usually done in collaboration with the countries contributing troops.

Question:  So, does Israel contribute troops to UNIFIL?  What’s Israel’s role in choosing who should be the leading country?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think it’s the case.

Question:  So you think the report is false?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Just one Haiti question.  This thing of the Prime Minister being voted out by the Senate, it’s said that this throws the country into turmoil or may, I don’t know what you think of it.  What does MINUSTAH think of this?  Will this have any impact on its mandate in the country?  Does it see it as a danger?

Spokesperson:  At this point, I don’t think it does.  The relationship is a steady one.  I don’t think there is any problem.  The worries expressed by the article you mentioned are of course legitimate worries or concerns.  However, it is a decision taken by the Haitian Senate and what the consequences will be, will depend on how fast a new Government is named.  Whether there is any instability at all is to be determined by what is going to happen in the near future.  Yes Laolu.

Question:  Thank you Michèle.  I wanted to ask, what is the reaction of the United Nations to the AU Peace and Security Council meeting that was held this week, in Nigeria, regarding the Darfur conflict?  A panel held by former President Mbeki has come up with the idea that there should be a hybrid court that would consist of Sudanese and international justices to undo the crimes that is going on there.  How does the UN perceive this proposal?

Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t have a reaction at this point.  The question was asked of me yesterday.  This is a matter that is in front of the AU Security Commission, so we are not really giving a specific opinion on that at this point.

Question:  But the UN has backed a special court in the past. Actually that is the current court in Sierra Leone, which seems to be something like that.  Why would the UN not be having an opinion about it?  Is it that you are still looking at the situation, or the UN is just standing out of it?

Spokesperson:  Well, for the time being we’re standing out of it, yes.

**Statement on Guinea

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General on the establishment of the International Commission of Inquiry on Guinea.

As announced on 16 October, the Secretary-General has decided to establish an international Commission of Inquiry to investigate the facts and circumstances of the events of 28 September 2009 and related events in their immediate aftermath in Conakry, Republic of Guinea.

The international Commission will comprise three members: Mr. Mohamed Bedjaoui of Algeria, as Chairman; Ms. Françoise Ngendahyo Kayiramirwa of Burundi; and Ms. Pramila Patten of Mauritius.

Mr. Bedjaoui is an Algerian diplomat and jurist.  He served as Minister of Foreign Affairs and as Algeria’s Ambassador to France and the United Nations, among other postings.  He has also served as a Judge on the International Court of Justice and as President of Algeria’s highest judicial authority, the Constitutional Council.

Ms. Kayiramirwa is a former Minister of National Solidarity, Human Rights and Gender, and former Minister for Repatriation, Reintegration of Repatriates and Internally Displaced People.  She has also served with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda as Adviser on gender issues and assistance to victims.

Ms. Patten is a member of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  She has published extensively in the area of violence against women and the rights of children.  She is a barrister at law.

The three members of the Commission are expected to travel shortly to New York to meet with the Secretary-General, and will then travel to Geneva and Guinea to carry out their work.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights will provide support to the Commission.

And this answers partially your questions.

Question:  Russia raised in the consultations a question of how this was going to be paid for.  Has that been determined?

Spokesperson:  I will get the information for you.  I don’t have it, on who will be paying for it.

Question:  [inaudible] there’s a fund called the Unforeseen Expenses Fund.  If that turns out to be what it is…  If we could get some report of how that’s spent.

Spokesperson:  I’ll try to find out exactly how it’s going to be funded.

Okay.  This is all I have for you.  Thank you.

* *** *

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