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

24 February 2010

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

24 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.

**Guest at Noon

We have as our guest today Tony Banbury, who is the Acting Principal Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), who is here to update you on the situation in Haiti.  Then after Tony has finished with his part of the briefing, I will be happy to take questions on other matters.  And I have a few things that I can tell you as well.

So please, Tony, thank you and welcome.

[Briefing by Anthony Banbury on Haiti issued separately.]

I just have a few points and I’ll be happy to take a couple of questions not related to Haiti, I guess.

**Statement on Darfur

The following statement was issued yesterday by the Spokesperson.

The Secretary-General welcomes the Framework Agreement for the Resolution of the Conflict in Darfur, which was agreed by the Government of Sudan and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) on 20 February 2010 in N’Djamena and signed this evening in Doha.  The Agreement represents an important step towards an inclusive and comprehensive peace agreement for Darfur, which will address the underlying causes of the conflict and the concerns of all Darfurian communities.

The Secretary-General looks forward to the full implementation of the Agreement’s provisions, and encourages all parties to engage in the inclusive Doha peace process with flexibility and political vision, and to agree on a definitive political settlement of the Darfur crisis.  The United Nations and the African Union-United Nations Joint Chief Mediator will continue to assist the parties in their efforts to achieve this important objective.

** Darfur

And the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has confirmed that some 1,500 people were displaced from their homes in January as a result of renewed fighting in the Jebel Marra region of West Darfur.  The mission says that volatile security conditions prevailing in that region in January had made it impossible for aid workers to verify reports of displacement and deliver relief goods.

But following the signing yesterday of the Darfur Framework Agreement between the Government and the Justice and Equality Movement, the mission expects that aid workers will gain greater access to all parts of West Darfur.  It says that plans are already afoot to send in more fact-finding teams and relief supplies.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General this morning spoke at a Security Council meeting on drug trafficking and organized crime, saying that such crimes affect almost all aspects of the UN’s work.  He said that Member States have united to fight pandemics, poverty, climate change and terrorism, and they must do the same to counter organized crime.  He urged Member States to strengthen the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime, now in its tenth year, notably through the establishment of a monitoring mechanism.

Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) also addressed the Security Council, saying that vulnerability to organized crime can be reduced most effectively through development and security.  At the same time, he said, we cannot just throw money or troops at this problem.  Peace and prosperity also depend on justice, including the legal frameworks and judicial institutions needed to ensure the rule of law.  And we have both statements in my office.  And Mr. Costa will come to the Council stakeout following the meeting.

**International Narcotics Control Board Annual Report

The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) released its annual report today, and in it, the Board warns that the use of so-called “date-rape drugs” is on the rise -- partly due to sexual abusers trying to circumvent more rigorous drug controls by using substances not restricted by international drug conventions.  And we have copies of the press release available from the International Narcotics Control Board available in my office and online, where you can find the whole report.

**Secretary-General’s Message to United Nations Environment Programme

The Secretary-General has urged Ministers of Environment and environment experts from across the world to reject the last-ditch attempts by climate sceptics to derail negotiations by exaggerating shortcomings in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) fourth assessment report.

In a message to the eleventh Special Session of the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Governing Council and Global Ministerial Environment Forum -- which opened today in Bali -- he said participants should tell the world that they unanimously agree that climate change is a clear and present danger and that they are continuing negotiations under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.  The Secretary-General also urged all parties to remain engaged, to increase the level of ambition and to focus on implementation while negotiations continue.  We have the full message in my office.

**Secretary-General’s Remarks to Disarmament Advisory Board

The Secretary-General will be addressing -- very shortly, actually -- his Advisory Board on Disarmament Matters, and in his remarks he’s expected to highlight the Board’s important role ahead of the 2010 Review Conference of the Parties to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, which is being held at UN Headquarters in May.  In addition, he is expected to commend the Board for placing disarmament and non-proliferation education on its agenda as this too has enormous importance, not just for the future of any single treaty, but for the future of international peace and security.  And we have copies of those remarks available in my office.

** Middle East

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, called on Israeli President Shimon Peres today to discuss efforts to resume Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, the situation in the West Bank and the continuing crisis in Gaza.  Serry received an assurance from President Peres that Israel intended to fully respect religious rights in places of worship.

The Special Coordinator also underscored the Secretary-General’s deep concern at the situation in Gaza.  Serry stressed that the blockade of Gaza was undermining legitimate commercial activity while empowering an illicit tunnel economy.  He appealed for Israel to respond positively to the long-standing proposal of the Secretary-General to complete stalled UN construction projects in Gaza, and urged that the UN be more empowered to help the civilian population.

** Afghanistan

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative on Children and Armed Conflict, today briefed the press in Kabul on her visit to Afghanistan.  She said that 346 children were killed in the conflict in Afghanistan last year. And of those, 131 were killed by aerial strikes, 22 by Special Forces raids and 128 by anti-Government elements.  She said that she would engage in discussions with the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan army to see what can be done when they encounter children in military operations.

Coomaraswamy also expressed her concern about children in detention, adding that Afghanistan’s Minister of Justice is giving unimpeded access to prisons and juvenile centres to all child protection actors of the UN.  She said the Minister of the Interior had said a special unit was being set up to investigate violence against girls, boys and women.  And we have the transcript of that press conference in my office.

**Press Conferences

And just a couple of details on a press stakeout this afternoon and press conference tomorrow:

This afternoon at 4:15 p.m., the Foreign Minister of Argentina will speak to reporters at the stakeout position on the second floor of the North Lawn Building, and that will be following his meeting with the Secretary-General.

And tomorrow at 11 a.m., Melvyn Levitsky, a Board member of the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) will hold a press conference on the findings of their 2009 annual report.  And he will discuss the growing drug-related violence in Mexico and the spike in illicit US-grown cannabis.

At 1 p.m. tomorrow, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs will hold a press conference, with representatives of Liberia, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, about the 2010 World Programme on Population and Housing Census.

So that’s what I have for you and I’m happy to take questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  About two years ago the Department of Political Affairs received $65 million from the General Assembly to conduct preventive diplomacy.  And since then they have engaged in a number of fact-finding missions and mediation in the Mediterranean, in Africa and other areas.  But we don’t hear anything about the Falkland/Malvina Islands conflict.  And as you just said, the Secretary-General… the Foreign Minister of Argentina will see the Secretary-General this afternoon, probably on that issue.  Is the Secretary-General concerned about possible hostilities regarding this area?

Spokesperson:  You’re right that the Foreign Minister of Argentina is seeing the Secretary-General this afternoon.  We’ve said that already.  And two things: firstly, the meeting is at the request of the Foreign Minister of Argentina, and it will be for the Foreign Minister of Argentina to bring up whatever matters he wishes to bring up.  The second point is that the Secretary-General will be in listening mode, and that’s all I have to say on the matter at the moment.

Question:  The DPA has undertaken any mediation or any study regarding this conflict?

Spokesperson:  We will have a readout after the meeting with the Foreign Minister of Argentina with the Secretary-General, and at that point maybe there will be an answer to that particular part of your question. 

Question:  Martin, I’d like to just follow up on the question I’ve been asking for the past two days about your position on the assassination of the Hamas activist in Dubai, if there is any?

Spokesperson:  As I’ve mentioned to you, the Secretary-General is aware of this matter.  And he has taken careful note of the statements of EU leaders in this regard.  The United Nations has no official information on the matter, and we expect that it should be followed up through international law enforcement cooperation.

Question:  If I might follow up, I mean, like the EU have sort of implied that there is a kind of an extrajudicial killing of a person in another country.  What’s the UN’s position on this?  I mean, so far?

Spokesperson:  What I’ve said to you is that the Secretary-General has taken careful note of statements of the EU in this regard.  That’s it.

Question:  To go back to the meeting with the Argentinean Foreign Minister, if he does ask the Secretary-General for the UN’s help in resolving the dispute over the Falkland Islands, what can the UN actually do about that dispute?  Argentina claims that Britain is in contravention of an existing UN resolution that forbids unilateral action in disputed waters.  Is that true?

Spokesperson:  The first thing is that the United Nations is always available for mediation, always available.  But there is a key caveat, and that is of course that this mediation, as the word implies, is between two or more parties.  And those parties, those sides, must request mediation.  And not just one, but the sides, the parties, to any disagreement or whatever it may be.  So that’s as a general principle.  On the second part of your question, there are General Assembly resolutions.  This is not something that I want to get into right here and now.  I’ve mentioned it already.  The Secretary-General is going to be in listening mode when he has his meeting with the Foreign Minister this afternoon.

Question:  It’s been reported that there is a motion set to be tabled by the General Assembly criticizing Britain for allowing exploratory drilling to go ahead.  Is that true?

Spokesperson:  You’d have to ask the General Assembly that.  I’m sure that my colleague Jean Victor Nkolo, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, could help you with that. 

Question:  I have two questions, one, Afghanistan, and the other one on climate.  In Afghanistan, the UN-affiliated Electoral Complaints Commission to which the UN, in a previous round, has appointed three commissioners to make it a quasi-independent or international presence.  President [Hamid] Karzai has just said… has issued an order suspending UN participation or foreign participation, which has given rise to some criticism.  Does the UN remain somehow connected to the body?  Does the UN or UNAMA have any comment on that change?

Spokesperson:  I think you know that UNAMA has already spoken about this publicly.  And essentially, the United Nations is still studying this decree, legislative decree.  And we would hope -- and UNAMA has already said this -- that the decree is in line with the Constitution and also with what Parliament and civil society has called for regarding reforms of the electoral system.  And, as you know, at the London Conference, the Afghan Government and the international community jointly committed to ensuring the integrity of the 2010 parliamentary elections.  If you are looking for more detail, I would urge you to speak to my colleagues in UNAMA who have been speaking publicly about this.  I am giving you a potted digest, if you like.

Question:  I also heard that previously on the controversy surrounding the IPCC, you’d said that the Secretary-General didn’t have to comment on that.  Now, with the statement that he has issued in Bali, does this mean that anyone thought that there was a problem with the inclusion of WFF information in the report about when Himalayan glaciers would melt?  Was the IPCC itself thought that anyone that raises that is a climate sceptic?  I’m just wondering how to read the statement.  Does he feel that the process of the IPCC can be improved or doesn’t need to be improved, and that anyone that complains about it just a climate sceptic?  And what does he say about the ongoing issue of whether Mr. [Rajendra] Pachauri should disclose outside business information just to make a clean showing and put the controversy behind the IPCC?

Spokesperson:  The first thing is, the way to read the Secretary-General’s statement is from top to bottom, and I would urge you do to that.  The second thing is that, on the question of climate change, is it happening or is it not happening?  The answer is very clear, it is happening and the science is also very clear.  The science is not disproved by some errors, however important it is that those errors are straightened out.  But the science is not disproved by some errors in a very large assessment report.  So that’s to deal with that part of your question.  To come back to the part of the question about business dealings and disclosure, this is something that he himself, Mr. Pachauri has spoken about himself, and I have no need to elaborate further on what he himself has said.

Question:  I’m just wondering, yesterday at the stakeout, Ameerah Haq, the Secretary-General’s Representative to Timor-Leste, you know, reiterated that…

Spokesperson:  Is this on climate change?

Correspondent:  It is, actually.

Spokesperson:  Okay.

Question:  She said that the outcome of the Copenhagen Conference was to her, as a global citizen, a disappointment.  And it just seems, I remember when the Secretary-General came back he was saying it’s not as bad as it seems.  It’s a good step forward.  I mean, is he aware of that?  Does he agree that it is a disappointment?  Are there differences of agreement, of opinion within the UN system on [climate change]?

Spokesperson:  Well, Matthew, if you want to try to chip away between different people saying different things at different times, you could do that pretty much every day, and maybe you will.  But it’s very clear that people did not get what they were looking for in Copenhagen.  The Secretary-General has been very clear about that.  And many people have said that it was disappointing that it was not enough.  Of course we wanted more.  The Secretary-General wanted more.  But he also has said that we need to be quite upfront and we need to be very positive about what was achieved.  And if you look at what might have been, had there not been the level of movement that there was in Copenhagen, then things would look even worse.  Nobody has said that this is precisely what everybody wanted.  Many people -- Yvo de Boer, Janos Pasztor -- who sat here right after the Copenhagen Conference with Bob Orr and spelled out what the role of the United Nations had been in getting to a good point, but that it was not good enough; that more needed to be done.  So, it’s very easy to try to push a wedge between two different people…

Correspondent:  It’s not a wedge.  The Secretary-General is making a change since the assessment he gave us himself on his return.  I appreciate your answer.

Spokesperson:  I think you know what the Secretary-General said at the time, and he has been consistent in what he has said, and so have other people.  It’s quite clear that there is still a long way to go, but that quite a lot was achieved in Copenhagen.  Not enough, but quite a lot. 

Question:  In the case of Shaaban v. Abboud, I understood that the Secretary-General appealed the decision of the court and my question is whether the Secretary-General believes that the court was unfair against Shaaban.

Spokesperson:  This is something that is still in the works, and so I am not going to comment further on that.  I can come back to you later if there is more.  But I am not going to comment further beyond what’s already been said here.

Question:  Any readout on Mr. Barak’s meeting with the SG?  I mean, I was hoping maybe we can get something at the briefing.

Spokesperson:  Well, the meeting, as you know, was going on just before this briefing started.  And this is what I can tell you.

The Secretary-General spoke this morning with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, and they discussed the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as well as the situation in the region.  They discussed ongoing efforts to restart Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.  In this context, the Secretary-General regretted certain recent developments on the ground, including new demolition orders in East Jerusalem and the inclusion of holy sites in the Occupied West Bank on an Israeli heritage list.

The Secretary-General also expressed his concern with the situation in Gaza and his disappointment that Israel has not accepted the UN's proposal to kick-start civilian recovery.  He underscored the need for Israel to take positive steps on the entry of reconstruction materials into Gaza.

On Lebanon, the Secretary-General raised the ongoing discussions on the village of Ghajar and hoped there would be speedy progress on the UNIFIL proposal for an Israeli withdrawal, as called for in Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).  He also urged an end to Israeli overflights and expressed his continuing concern at the lack of progress over the disarmament of armed groups in Lebanon. He further expressed his concern at the recent rhetoric in the region and its potential to escalate tensions.

So that’s what I have for you from that.

Question:  Anything about Iran or about Goldstone?

Spokesperson:  I have read you what I have.

Question:  The new Government has been established in Ivory Coast which does not include the opposition.  How is the Secretary-General reacting to that situation?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think there two things here.  One is that the Secretary-General has been following this very closely and is in close touch with his Special Representative on the ground, Choi Young-jin, who has been involved in helping with the mediation efforts.  The second point is that you said the opposition was not included.  They are to be included.  Some have already been named to the Cabinet.  Others are expected to be named between now and tomorrow.  And at that point, I would expect that we would have something more to say on the matter.

Question:  On Gaza, this week, Egypt has announced its intention to finish the wall, and actually on the ground finishing that wall that would stop entry of goods through the tunnels.  So far, the Secretary-General has said nothing about that issue, although he was asked about it several times.  Is the closure of Gaza country-specific?

Spokesperson:  Actually, it’s not true that the Secretary-General has said nothing on that.  We’ve made it very clear that there should be unimpeded access to Gaza for reconstruction materials.  That’s not country-specific…

Question:  About the issue of Egypt…

Spokesperson:  That’s not country-specific.  I don’t remember mentioning a country there.

Question:  He was asked in the press conference a few weeks ago about this and he declined to answer.  And I’m asking now, is that a problem?

Spokesperson:  I know it’s not a problem and I’ve given you an answer.

Question:  I am asking specifically about Egypt’s building a wall to close the tunnels that are, have been, an alternative entry of goods to Gaza.  Is that a problem for the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  The answer is that the Secretary-General has said that there should be unimpeded access for reconstruction materials to Gaza.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  It’s not country-specific.

Question:  But it was in the case of Iran?

Spokesperson:  I’ve said what I need to say.

Question:  On Cuba, yesterday, a Cuban political prisoner called Orlando Zapata Tamayo died after 85 days on hunger strike in prison.  And people in Cuba and Latin America in general are very shocked by this event and they consider it as a clear human rights violation.  My question is, does the UN have a comment on this issue or will have a comment on this issue?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is aware of the case.  We don’t have anything to say at the moment.  But he is aware of the case.  We don’t have anything to say at the moment.

Question:  But will you say something?

Spokesperson:  I said he doesn’t have anything to say at the moment, and I will look into it.

All right, thank you very much.

* *** *

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