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

18 December 2009

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

18 December 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  Welcome to the briefing.

**Secretary-General in Copenhagen

The Secretary-General spoke at an informal high-level session at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen today, and he told world leaders:  “The finishing line is in sight.”  He said that the world has never before been united on such a scale.  “We are closer than ever to the world’s first truly global agreement to limit and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

With just hours remaining to close the final gaps, the Secretary-General implored leaders to seize this opportunity.  “Now is the time for common sense, compromise and courage.”

The Secretary-General worked through most of last night and today with world leaders who are negotiating the final text of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.  And in a press encounter on Thursday evening, the Secretary-General said:  “This is one of the most complex and complicated and most difficult processes that you may imagine, but I have not seen anything that indicates that we cannot seal the deal in Copenhagen.”

** Western Sahara

And yesterday evening, as you know, we issued a statement in which we said the Secretary-General is greatly relieved that Ms. Aminatou Haidar is now back home in Laayoune, ending the impasse that led to her hunger strike of more than a month.  He is grateful for the efforts of all the parties involved in finding a solution to this situation.

The Secretary-General had urged repeatedly that humanitarian concerns prevail in this case, and he appreciates the action Morocco has taken in this regard.  He expresses his hope that the parties will now work with his Personal Envoy, Mr. Christopher Ross, to resume negotiations in the near future towards a settlement of the Western Sahara issue.

** Lebanon

The Maritime Task Force of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is currently involved in a major search-and-rescue operation at sea, after a Panamanian-flagged ship sank off the coast of Lebanon.  The operation began yesterday evening and continued through the night in difficult weather conditions.  Maritime Task Force ships have so far rescued 35 survivors and recovered eight bodies.  Three more sailors have been rescued by other ships.

The UNIFIL Force Commander, Major-General Claudio Graziano, said that UNIFIL’s Maritime Task Force peacekeepers are doing their utmost to save lives.  And we have a press release with more details about this operation in my Office.

** Pakistan

The UN refugee agency reports that, as military operations intensify in the Orakzai region of north-west Pakistan, an estimated 40,000 people have sought refuge in the neighbouring district of Hangu in recent weeks.  The internally displaced people are mainly staying with extended family and kin networks or being hosted by local families, as is the pattern in this part of Pakistan.

The refugee agency has sent 100 all-weather tents to reinforce Government supplies at a nearby camp, as well as family kits of relief supplies, such as sleeping mats, blankets, quilts, kitchen sets and jerrycans.

** Yemen – Refugees

The refugee agency is also saying that more than 74,000 Africans, fleeing desperate situations of civil war, political instability, poverty, famine and drought in the Horn of Africa, reached the shores of Yemen this year.  And this figure represents a 50 per cent increase over an already record-high figure of 50,000 arrivals in 2008.

Many would-be refugees have been beaten, raped, killed or just thrown overboard into shark-infested waters.  In addition, the overloaded and overcrowded rickety boats sometimes capsize, resulting in the drowning of many aboard.  According to the latest statistics, 309 people drowned or did not survive the trip this year alone.

**Migrants Day

Today is International Migrants Day.  And in his message marking the Day, the Secretary-General says that migration can be a positive and empowering experience for migrants themselves, and for both the home and host societies.

But he notes that too many migrants suffer discrimination, exploitation and abuse.  The Secretary-General says that migrants are frequent targets of hate speech, harassment and violence.  They are also unfairly blamed for crime and economic difficulties, and are subjected to widespread discrimination.

The Secretary-General calls on Governments to protect the human rights of migrants and to put human rights at the heart of migration policy.  He further urges States to raise awareness of the positive contributions migrants make to the economic, social and cultural lives of their host countries.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has said that, though the situation in Somalia appears discouraging, the international community should not give up on its moral obligations and responsibilities to Somalis.

Speaking in Jeddah, in Saudi Arabia, he called for further assistance for the Transitional Federal Government to make it a more credible partner to its own people and to the international community.  He also urged the international community to do more to be physically located in the capital, Mogadishu, in order to be closer to the victims of the country’s many years of instability and insecurity.

He also called for more attention to be paid to the voices of the Somalis, the neighbouring countries and Somalis in the diaspora, who send back some $1.2 billion annually in remittances.


Today in Dili, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Security Sector Support and Rule of Law, Takahisa Kawakami, presided over a ceremony marking the resumption of primary responsibility for the conduct of the Police Intelligence Service of the Timorese national police.

The Government and the UN Mission [Integrated] in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) are implementing the resumption process in a gradual manner -– district by district, unit by unit.  Assessments of further districts and units are conducted by joint teams comprising representatives of the Government and the Mission.

**Press Conferences on Monday

So, on Monday, the Secretary-General will speak at the Security Council stakeout at 9:30 a.m., following his trip to Copenhagen.  And at 11 a.m., the Indonesian Foreign Minister will hold a press conference here in this auditorium.

**Week Ahead at United Nations

The Week Ahead:  Not so many events, as you can imagine, given that it’s a holiday week and Friday is an official UN holiday.

But in addition to the Secretary-General’s appearance at the stakeout at the Security Council, there will be a briefing on the African Union’s panel report on Darfur, and there will be a private debate on the same subject.  The Security Council is also expected to adopt resolutions on the United Nations [Organization] Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC); on the Development Fund for Iraq/International Advisory and Monitoring Board; on the 1267 resolution’s Monitoring Team; and on the United Nations Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF).

So, that’s what I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I wanted to know, there is this controversy about whether the Secretary-General has asked leaders to stay on in Copenhagen past today, where it seems like this guy, the EU’s Stavros Dimas, has said that Ban Ki-moon did make such a request, and your colleague Ms. [Marie] Okabe has said that he didn’t.  So I know, you’re probably going to follow Ms. Okabe, but what exactly, how does the EU misunderstand what the Secretary-General said?

Spokesperson:  Well, you need to ask the EU that.  I’m not going to contradict Marie Okabe, who is with the Secretary-General in Copenhagen and said very clearly that the Secretary-General did not say this.

Question:  The deadline for sealing the deal which he has been calling for is what time, according to …?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has said, as you heard me say earlier, that this needs to be done.  The time is now; this is when it needs to be done.  I don’t recall saying that there was a specific deadline.  What he is saying is that it needs to be done quickly.  Everybody is watching, the world is watching.  Now is the time to seal the deal, that’s what he said.  And you need to ask the EU representative where that came from.

Question:  And can I just ask one thing?  You mentioned his relief at Aminatou Haidar being returned.  Yesterday, the Security Council said that it reached a consensus on holding a briefing on Western Sahara.  Do you know, does Christopher Ross intend to come to New York, and if so when?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know if or when he’s planning to come.  We can find that out for you for sure.

Question:  I thought actually Mr. Ross’s office is in New York, he’s here?

Spokesperson:  Look, I don’t know where he is located right now, whether he’s in town or not.  We’ll find out if he’s going to do some kind of briefing, then we’ll find out.

[The Spokesperson later added that it is up to the members of the Security Council to determine when a briefing on Western Sahara will be scheduled.]

Question:  About this report yesterday on Afghanistan, which you had said that you had not received instructions from the office as to how to respond to this story in the New York Times that Mr. Peter Galbraith, that he was trying to replace Mr. Karzai, and that he had made plans to do that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you know that we circulated remarks in response to the questions that were asked here yesterday.

Correspondent:  One response about the Palestinian question, not on this one.

Spokesperson:  This was circulated quite widely, I believe.  The reason Peter Galbraith’s appointment as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) was terminated was because the Secretary-General determined that such action would be in the interests of the Organization.  And then we added, further elaboration would not be appropriate at this time since Mr. Galbraith has chosen to challenge the termination of his appointment.  That’s what we said.

Question:  So you don’t have anything further to say on that?

Spokesperson:  No.  The answer to your question is my second sentence:  Further elaboration would not be appropriate at this time.  Okay?

Question:  One follow-up on that?  Just on that exact issue.  Given that Vijay Nambiar was quoted this week, in the New York Times, as saying that the reason was that Galbraith was going to Joe Biden.  When did Galbraith begin this challenge to his termination and at what venue of the UN is he challenging it?  I mean, did it begin after Nambiar’s comment, and before your statement, or before Nambiar’s comment or …?

Spokesperson:  Like I said, any elaboration on this is not appropriate because he has chosen to challenge the termination.

Question:  In a UN Dispute Tribunal, or do you know where he’s challenging it?

Spokesperson:  This is what I can tell you.

Question:  Did you say that there will be a Security Council briefing on the Guinea report?

Spokesperson:  No, I didn’t.

Question:  And do you know who is going to do this briefing on Monday?

Spokesperson:  Guinea reports on Monday …

Question:  I thought you said that the Security Council on Monday will have a …

Spokesperson:  Not on Guinea, I don’t think.

Question:  Congo?

Spokesperson:  Congo.

Question:  Oh, Congo. Sorry.

Spokesperson:  Yes.  But on Guinea, I mentioned already yesterday that the Secretary-General has received the report and is reviewing it.

Correspondent:  I saw Guinea on the Council’s calendar, so I thought that maybe there was a briefing, after all.  Sorry.

Spokesperson:  We can check for you, but I’m not aware of that.

Question:  Just to go back to the statement on Aminatou, has the United Nations played a role in the deal that was reached or was it purely a Spanish-Moroccan thing?  There are some news reports said that this is a deal sponsored or facilitated by the United Nations.

Spokesperson:  Well, as we’ve been reporting to you, and as I have been saying from here, the UN’s been actively involved diplomatically over the last several weeks along with others -- not just the United Nations.  And as you know, it’s not part of Christopher Ross’s Security Council-mandated role, but for humanitarian reasons, he’s been involved in numerous bilateral discussions with Morocco, the POLISARIO Front, Spain, France and the United States in an effort to find a solution that would enable Ms. Haidar to return home.  And as you also know, the Secretary-General and his staff have held discussions with the Spanish Foreign Minister and with the Moroccan Foreign Minister and asked them to make all kinds of efforts so that this could be resolved.  And as you also know, the Secretary-General offered that the United Nations could take action to help resolve this and to help with those efforts.

Question:  So was it the UN action that helped the …?

Spokesperson:  For the final terms to resolve the crisis and, for example, the logistics of transporting Ms. Haidar home, the UN did not have a direct role.  But as I say, as I have been saying quite often from here, and as the Secretary-General himself said in a different venue, they were working very hard with the interested parties to try to resolve this.

Question:  In Lebanon and the Maritime Force helping out, were they, was the Force asked to help or did they volunteer?  And just on a housekeeping measure, are we going to have briefings every day next week?  Minus Christmas, of course.

Spokesperson:  Okay, well, let’s deal with the easy bit first -- the housekeeping.  We will be briefing, or I will be briefing, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, yes.  And to answer the trickier bit on UNIFIL, it may well be in the further details that we have upstairs.  Let me see. 

[The Spokesperson later said that the Maritime Task Force acted after receiving a distress signal from the Lebanese Navy on Thursday night.]

Question:  There is an Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary matters (ACABQ) report out that says that the Office of the Under-Secretary-General for Management, the travel budget was increased by nearly 500 per cent and was overrun by 250 per cent, and ACABQ says that it regrets that these overruns have continued and seeks an explanation.  I’m wondering if you, maybe not off the top of your head, but whether there is some explanation for this seemingly more than double-cost overrun?

Spokesperson:  We’ll have to look into that.  Off the top of my head I’m still struggling with all the acronyms, so thank you for helping me with that.

Question:  I’m sorry to ask this, but on this camera business, the cameras on the second floor, they’re still there.  So you’d said that they’re going to be moved.  I guess I wanted to know two things.  Obviously, I want to know, are you aware of when they’re going to be moved?  And also, you’d mentioned earlier in the week that this footage from these and presumably other cameras in the building can be accessed by OIOS -- the Office of Internal Oversight Services -- since one of their functions is at times to investigate whether documents were leaked to the press.  This is I guess where I want to highlight the concern of the footage, can you say what’s the purpose of OIOS getting access to footage filmed by those and other cameras in the building, and whether it excludes the ability of whistleblowers to expose wrongdoing?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, on when the cameras are being taken away, my understanding was that it was going to be taking place very quickly.  I’ll find out what’s going on.

[The Spokesperson later added that workmen had said that they intended to relocate the cameras over the weekend.]

And I also mentioned there would be the opportunity for representatives from the United Nations Correspondents Association to meet with the relevant folks from that particular security part of the Capital Master Plan team.

Question:  Do you think they can answer the question about OIOS? [inaudible] to get an answer why they access …?

Spokesperson:  I’m coming to that bit.  As I think I mentioned when we talked about this before, it’s only in very unusual circumstances, special circumstances, that the Oversight people would be seeking access to this kind of material.  We can find out, I don’t know how much they’re likely to tell us, but we can certainly try to find out in what circumstances that would be.

Correspondent:  That would be great.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Any other questions?  No?  Okay, well I wish you a good weekend and we’ll see you on Monday, I hope, at the stakeout.  Thank you very much.

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