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

9 February 2010

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

9 February 2010
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, everybody.  If you could switch off your mobile phones, that helps a great deal.  Thank you very much.

**Guests at Noon

So I’d like to welcome our guests for today’s press conference.  As you can see, we have with us the Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro; and Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations; and Margot Wallström, who is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Armed Conflict.

And they are here to talk to you about a matter of really high priority for the Secretary-General and the international community in general, and that’s clearly the fight to end sexual violence against women in armed conflict situations.  And so, first of all I’m going to pass the floor to the Deputy Secretary-General.  And I think each of our guests will have a few words, and then the floor will be opened for questions; and we have about half an hour. 

So please, Deputy Secretary-General.

[Briefing by Deputy Secretary-General Migiro, Under-Secretary-General Le Roy and Special Representative Wallström issued separately.]


So perhaps I can just give you a little update on Haiti, and I am also happy to take a couple of questions.

In Haiti, shelter and sanitation remain the main priorities, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  And OCHA says that more than 1.2 million people live in spontaneous settlements and more than 460,000 people have left Port-au-Prince for outlying areas.  It stresses the need to increase aid going to these areas to help the resident rural population support the displaced persons.

And the Office also says that regional distribution hubs are being established to relieve congestion in Port-au-Prince, and that the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) is establishing a passenger service to locations within Haiti to spread aid efforts throughout the country.

And concerning the overall food distribution, the World Food Programme (WFP) says that the system now in place is working well.  Nearly 1.9 million people have received food assistance since the beginning of the response, including nearly 1.1 million in Port-au-Prince in the last eight days through the new distribution system.

There have been reports claiming that one of the World Food Programme food distribution sites, in Pétionville, was hit by a fake coupon scam. And the World Food Programme informs us that food distributions are proceeding at all of their 16 fixed sites in Port-au-Prince.  And furthermore, yesterday the distribution in Pétionville was briefly suspended, but not due to fake coupons, but so that WFP and its partners could refine the distribution system.

And finally, as you probably know, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie is in Haiti today, after visiting the Dominican Republic yesterday.  She has travelled there to register her personal support for the humanitarian effort that's been underway since January's earthquake. And her purpose in making this visit is to bring attention to the continuing dire needs of Haiti and its people.


On Pakistan, the humanitarian community operating in Pakistan has launched a $537 million appeal to respond to the immediate needs, over a six-month period, of the vulnerable populations in the north-west of the country.  Last year’s response plan enabled the humanitarian community to reach more than 4 million people in need of assistance. And that includes some 3.1 million people who were displaced from their homes in north-western Pakistan last year.  And we have a press release with more details.

**Secretary-General/Olympic Truce Message

[The Secretary-General is calling for a worldwide cessation of hostilities for the duration of the twenty-first Winter Olympic Games, which start in Vancouver this Friday.  The truce is in the spirit of what the Games’ founders did in ancient Greece some two-and-half thousand years ago.]

And we have copies of his message available from my office.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And there are a couple of press conferences tomorrow, one at 12:30 p.m. that will be on the International Year of Biodiversity.  And panellists will speak to you about the need for conserving biodiversity.

And also, at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference by UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] for the launch of their publication, which is entitled:  Education under Attack.

So I’m happy to take a couple of questions. Thank you. 

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, just to follow up on that, is the Secretary-General going to go to Vancouver?

Spokesperson:  No, he’s not going to Vancouver, no. 

Question:  Martin, despite this appeal to the [inaudible] Flash Appeal for Pakistan, now, what has been happening ever since that attack in December on WFP, when the United Nations retreated, there has been a lack of news from Pakistan as far as the United Nations [inaudible] is concerned.  Especially, there is not even recognition of the consistent terrorist bombings over there, which used to be earlier the case.  Now, I’d like to know, are those officials who had gone from Pakistan into Dubai or elsewhere, are they coming back or are they still elsewhere or relocated elsewhere?  And is the profile going to go up, or it’s going to still stay down until you verify the situation in Pakistan is better? 

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, security was assessed very carefully, and certain measures were taken and some of them that you’re referring to.  You can also see by the size of the appeal and the number of people that the UN agencies are aiming to reach.  Now, I wouldn’t call that a low profile.  That’s a lot of money that is required and to reach a lot of people.  As for the details that you asked about -- who has returned and who has not returned -- we can find that out for you.  But I don’t have that right now.

Question:  No, I mean, while I see that Flash Appeal myself, but the thing is, you can make a flash appeal but people still may not be there on the ground to implement it.  Unlike Iraq, where similar action happened, terrorist actions happened, but the United Nations didn’t withdraw all its officials elsewhere.  I know some people went to Jordan, but it was still active.  What has happened in [the] case of Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, security was very carefully reviewed and assessed.  Certain measures were taken, and as I also said, I think it’s quite clear that if there is a flash appeal for money of that size, it’s not just about the money.  You need to have that money pledged and receive the money.  But then you actually need to use it.  And the intention is to use that to reach a lot of people.  And that suggests to me that it’s not a low profile.

Question:  President [Idriss] Déby of Chad has been quoted -- I know previously there has been some discussion of his request not to extend the MINURCAT [United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad] mission, but he has a quote out -- saying that the civilian part of the Mission was tasked with developing the border, but “a year later, no project has been undertaken, so the MINURCAT is a failure,” said Déby.  And I’m just wondering, is he incorrect?  Was there a development component of MINURCAT, and what do you make of the President of Chad saying nothing took place? 

And I just wondered, yesterday when I asked about this arrest in Sri Lanka of the candidate [Sarath] Fonseka, I guess at that time it wasn’t yet clear.  It’s been pretty much confirmed now and the President has suspended Parliament and called for an election while his opponent is in jail.  So I’m just wondering, I understand you have, there has been a similar statement issued a number of times, but is the UN, as things seem to be deteriorating, what’s the UN thinking of doing?

Spokesperson:  Okay, well, I can answer the second question on MINURCAT; the President of Chad speaks for himself.  It’s not for me to comment on what he says.  What I can say is that, as you also know, there was an assessment team that was sent by the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) to speak to the Government.  And they are going to provide their assessment to DPKO and to the Secretary-General, and we’ll see where it goes from there.

Ultimately, as you well know, any mission, wherever it is deployed, is there with the approval of host Government.  And that’s the bottom line.  But, clearly when there is a job to be done, we work very closely with the Government to try to ensure that we can do the work that either we’ve been mandated to do, or that needs to be done.

On Sri Lanka, as I mentioned already yesterday, the Secretary-General is following developments in Sri Lanka with concern.  And he has learned about the arrest yesterday of General Fonseka.  And he urges the authorities to follow due process of law and provide all the necessary protections and guarantees to his safety.  And he underlines the importance of ensuring a positive political climate as the country prepares for parliamentary elections and in the interest of peace, stability and reconciliation.  I can also tell you the Secretary-General intends to speak with President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa in the coming hours and will maintain close engagement through his senior advisers.

Question:  Do you clarify whether… I remembered yesterday, I had this question about a call made by the Foreign Minister to the Secretary-General trying to cancel the [Philip] Alston press conference here that was reportedly transferred to Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar.  So I asked whether Nambiar… he is among the senior advisers, but you remember you said… I thought you said you were looking into that.  I know it’s a smaller issue than the one you’ve read…

Spokesperson: Yeah, it’s much smaller, Matthew, and we’re looking into it.

Question:  On Haiti, who is the lead actor on the ground in Haiti?  Is it the United Nations?  Is it the United States State Department?  Is it the Minister of Health of the Haitian Government?  What I’m saying, let’s say I have a group of doctors who want to go into Haiti, to whom should we speak?  The UN, the United States, or the Haitian Government?  Who is running things down there?  One.  And two, Mr. Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General, I was a bit confused at his response with regards to the peacekeepers who are accused of rape or who are repatriated because of rape.  Apparently he said something to the effect that some sort of diplomatic protocol has to be observed before they can be named, there is some sort of sensitivity to their feelings, or something like that before they can be named.  Because I would like to know: who are these people whore were involved in the sexual molestation of little boys and little girls in the Congo and Haiti?  Who are they?  We need to know their names, we need to know the disposition of their cases.

Spokesperson:  On the second one, Mr. Le Roy answered the question, and if you needed further information, I think you could probably get that from DPKO, from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  On the first one, specifically, who is running the show, the answer is very straightforward, and I think I answered it yesterday, that Haiti is a sovereign country.  The Government of Haiti is running the show.  But there is a clear coordinating role that also involves the United Nations.  The United Nations has a clear responsibility to help the Haitian Government and the Haitian people, and that’s why we were there long before the earthquake struck, and will be there long afterwards.  The intention is for the United Nations to coordinate with the Haitian Government. Everything that is done on the ground in Haiti is done in coordination with the Government.  There are meetings every day in different formats with the Haitian Government involving the MINUSTAH mission on the ground. As to the role of the United States, the United States has a supporting role, a very important one, in helping to ensure that aid is properly distributed. And that’s the division of labour that there is.

Question:  Some clarity, here?  When you said…

Spokesperson:  It’s pretty clear to me.

Correspondent:  No, no.  But you said the Haitian Government is in charge.

Spokesperson:  That’s right.

Question:  Is the Haitian Government in charge of their airspace?

Spokesperson:  The Haitian Government is in charge of what’s going on, on the ground.  As you well know, they asked, as a sovereign Government, they asked the United States to run the airport for them.  They’re actually running it in concert with… There are Haitian officials there and there are United States military personnel there who are running the airport for the very obvious reasons that you know.  And this is not about who controls the airspace. This was a sovereign Government, the Haitian Government, asking for assistance from the United States, and got that assistance. 

Question:  One other thing:  is there a threat that the United Nations will cut off all aid to Haiti’s hospitals if in fact the aid is not, the help is not given to people free of charge?

Spokesperson:  I have seen the same reports that you have, and the same information… As far as I know, this is the case, that the UN clearly is providing medicine, drugs, other medical equipment and supplies to Haitian hospitals.  And clearly the expectation is that the medical care that’s provided using those supplies is provided free of charge.

Question:  And if hospitals are known to be not giving help free of charge, the aid will be cut off?

Spokesperson:  You have seen the quotes the same as I have.

Question:  Would it be possible to check on what happened to the drug smugglers and drug dealers in Haiti?  Did the earthquake hinder their operations?  Are they still functioning?  Did any of their mansions topple off the hills?  I’m just curious if anybody has any idea.

Spokesperson:  Okay, this sounds like something for the UNODC [United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime].

Correspondent:  Well, they are not necessarily on the ground.

Spokesperson:  No.  I know that they are not, but they watch it very closely.  So we’ll see what we can find out.

Question:  Something for Michèle to look into. [laughter]

Question:  Does the Secretary-General -- you may not have a response to this -- but does the Secretary-General have a response to the Philippine Government hauling in 200 people in response to a massacre last year?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything for you on that, except that clearly the Philippines has a judicial system that is operating and let’s follow the due process of law here.  Edie, sorry, yes.

Question:  Can we get a readout on the Secretary-General’s phone call with President Rajapaksa?

Spokesperson:  As and when it takes place.

Question:  Yes, after it takes place?

Spokesperson:  Okay, yeah, last question.

Correspondent:  Whatever that follow-up is, I’d like to get as well.

Spokesperson:  If a readout is provided and people ask for it, they get it.

Question:  Okay, great.  I wanted to ask you a question about Cyprus. Since the Secretary-General’s trip, one of the political parties, EDEK, which had at the time complained about his visit to Mehmet Ali Talat in his “presidential palace” in northern Cyprus, they have now broken from the Government, and their quote is, due to the “negative results of Mr. Ban’s trips”. For some reason, back at the time, I wasn’t, it was never clear to me, did the trip initially envision visiting Mehmet Ali Talat in his “presidential palace”, or was this a last-minute change of plans?  And what does the Secretariat have to say about those in… Greek Cypriots who saw this as a breach of previous precedent and now apparently there is at least one part of a party leaving the Government?  What’s the explanation of that?  Just specifically that visit, and where they did it with Mehmet Ali Talat.

Spokesperson:  Well, I think that, as you well know, there is a lot of political symbolism involved in dealing with the Cyprus problem.  But our focus is very clearly on the political talks, and we do not want to get side-tracked by that particular debate.  What’s much more important is to ensure that the political talks continue.  I don’t have anything to say about the fate of the coalition and who is leaving or who is not leaving.  What I can say is that our focus is very firmly on the talks that have been taking place, and that will continue.  Much more importantly, Mr. [Dimitris] Christofias has said very clearly that those talks will be continuing.

Question:  On the idea of side-tracked, maybe I’ll just leave it at this.  I’ve been told by someone there that the intention had been to visit Mehmet Ali Talat at his house, and at the last second they rolled out the red carpet in front of the presidential palace and a decision was made by either Mr. [Alexander] Downer or the Secretary-General to just go with the flow.  And I know you don’t want to get side-tracked on that, but it’s become…I s that accurate or is that not accurate?

Spokesperson:  Well, all I can tell you is that I was there and I didn’t see any red carpet being rolled out, okay?

Just on Chad, I can tell you that it is, of course, regrettable that the Government of Chad has requested the withdrawal of MINURCAT, and attributing it to, as you quoted, the “failure” of the United Nations Force.  The United Nations Force most definitely is not a failure. And as of today, the Force is at 70 per cent of its authorized strength, and is highly visible and is actively establishing its presence throughout the area of operations through the conduct of long- and short-range patrols and the escort of humanitarian actors. And the Force has provided a deterrence necessary to open humanitarian space and provided conditions for the training, mentoring and deployment of the Chadian Détachement Intégre de Sécurité (DIS), which provide security in and around the refugee and IDP camps.

Question:  Martin, one more, if you…

Spokesperson:  I said that that was the last question, okay?

Correspondent:  Okay, so this is the last question.

Spokesperson:  As a special favour to you.  As I said to you yesterday, it really helps, rather than lurking right at the back, if you come and sit down in the front because then I can see you.

Question:  I will next time, thanks. I just wanted to ask you if it’s possible, if you know where we stand, where the United Nations stands, on continuation of talks on the name of [the] Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia?  Apparently, Mr. [Mathew] Nimetz is set to go to the region.  Can you confirm that?  And the Deputy Foreign Minister of Greece mentioned to us last time that he tackled that issue with the Secretary-General.

Spokesperson:  As you know, Mr. Nimetz is indeed engaged in dealing with the name issue, and I will need to check what his movements are.  But he clearly remains engaged in that, speaking to all the concerned parties, whether it’s in Athens or Skopje.  Okay, I’ll see what I can find out.  [He later added that Ambasador Nimetz is working to find a mutually satisfactory time to visit the region in response to invitations from both Governments.]

Spokesperson:  Okay, thank you very much.

* *** *

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