Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

3 March 2010

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

3 March 2010
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

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

and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, everybody.

**Press Conferences Today and Tomorrow

Jean Victor Nkolo will be back up here again after my briefing just to brief you on something to do with the General Assembly.

And then at 12:30 p.m., Rachel Mayanja, the Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, will moderate a press conference to mark International Women’s Day, and the 15-year review of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.  So, we’ll try to keep this quite short.

At 1 p.m., the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) will be holding a press conference about a new publication called The World Map of Women in Politics 2010, which is a joint publication by the IPU and the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women.

And at 2 p.m., the Minister for Women and Children’s Affairs of Ghana will be here to brief you on efforts to promote gender equality and empowerment of women in Ghana.

At 11:40 a.m. tomorrow, there will be press conference about a new micro-donation initiative called “Massive Good” that will allow travellers to give $2 towards the health-related Millennium Development Goals.  And we have more information on that in my office.

**UNIS-UN Conference

And just a heads up that the theme of the thirty-fourth annual United Nations International School-United Nations Conference is “Bioethics: Striking a Balance”.  And that conference is being held on Thursday and Friday at the Trusteeship Council Chamber.

**International Women’s Day Observance

The Secretary-General has just addressed the Commission on the Status of Women high-level event marking International Women’s Day.  He said that as a son and husband, a father and grandfather to girls, and as UN Secretary-General, it is his duty to fight for gender equality and women’s empowerment, which are fundamental to the very identity of the United Nations.  We have copies of his remarks in my office.

** Chile – Earthquake

On Chile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the situation in the main affected areas is still critical.  Access to food and the restoration of electricity and drinking water are still the top priorities.

As far as the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) is concerned, the Commission headquarters suffered no serious structural damage, but parts of the main building continue to pose a security risk for staff members.  For this reason, many divisions will be relocated throughout the headquarters to areas that are in suitable condition.

And staff whose offices are in good condition will return to work tomorrow, while the remaining staff will return gradually as repairs advance and staff safety is ensured.

The Secretary-General is in contact with the directors of the UN agencies in Santiago. And I can tell you that all of the staff of the Commission and those of the 14 other UN agencies with a presence in Chile have been accounted for.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes arrived in Gaza yesterday, as part of his four-day visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Holmes witnessed the conditions in Gaza, one year after the end of Operation Cast Lead, as well as the local efforts to alleviate the suffering of the population.  He said that it is disturbing to see that the unacceptable blockade of Gaza has continued.  Holmes called on all parties to the conflict to allow the unimpeded provision of assistance to those in need.

And at a press conference yesterday, Holmes recalled the case of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who has been held incommunicado for nearly four years, and repeated the United Nations call for his immediate release.  And Holmes has scheduled meetings in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem today.

** Iraq

We have some fact sheets available in my office about the work that the United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) has been doing to support preparations for the national elections that are scheduled to take place on 7 March.

So, that’s what I have for you.  I’m very happy to take questions.  I’m conscious that we do have another press conference at 12:30 p.m., and that Jean Victor needs to speak to you as well before that.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  After the visit to Gaza by Under-Secretary-General John Holmes, and speaking of officials in Israel and other areas, will he be briefing the Security Council on the situation in Gaza?

Spokesperson:  I’d need to find out.  He will certainly be able to report back when he is here.  What form that takes, I don’t know yet.

Question:  I’m just curious, Martin, why the Secretary-General chose to mark, and the UN chose to mark, International Women’s Day today, which is 3 March, when International Women’s Day is 8 March.

Spokesperson:  I think you’d have to ask the organizers of this, the Commission on the Status of Women.  I really don’t know why that is.

[The Spokesperson later said that the United Nations is holding the International Women’s Day official observance today to take advantage of the presence of so many gender ministers who are present for the Commission on the Status of Women session.]

Question:  Yes.  I wondered if there is some area of the UN that is looking into having buildings built so that during earthquakes, they aren’t damaged, that this is possible and there is a lot of understanding of how you do that.  And I just wondered about the process within the UN towards having that as a goal and finding out, figuring our how to do that.

Spokesperson:  Well, staff safety is clearly a priority.  Also, looking at building standards is also an important part of the work of the Department of Safety and Security.  And that’s where it sits.

Question:  Martin, would you know the percentage of women at the high-level jobs here at the UN?  Is there like 50 per cent, like Kofi Annan said?

Spokesperson:  It depends what your definition of high level is.

Question:  Like Under-Secretary-General, Assistant Secretary-General, you know, high level.

Spokesperson:  I can get you some exact figures, of course.  I’m happy to do that, because I know that that’s pretty easy to get hold of.  What I would say is that the Secretary-General has been very forward-leaning, I would say, in appointing women to senior positions.  And I think that that will continue and that you will see that continuing even in the coming days.

[The Spokesperson later added that, overall, the number of women in senior posts -- at the rank of Deputy-Secretary-General, Under-Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General -- has increased by 40 per cent during the last three years.]

Question:  Two questions, MONUC [the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] and, separately, sexual harassment.  On MONUC, the national staff union of MONUC has written to Alan Doss and others, saying that they’re beginning a work stoppage running for three days, saying that there are pay disparities and that their work is being undermined by MONUC.  What is the response of MONUC to the charges or demands of their national staff?

Spokesperson:  Well, I would ask you to speak to MONUC directly about that.

Question:  Isn’t DFS [Department of Field Support] here?  Sorry.

Spokesperson:  I know.  I would ask you to speak to MONUC directly about that.  And I would also point out that, as I understand it from my colleagues in MONUC, there has not been a work stoppage.  There was a peaceful protest by a small number of national staff and casual workers, but not a work stoppage.  There are a couple of thousand staff, national staff, who were at work normally.  So, there was no work stoppage.  I would ask you to speak to MONUC about this, okay.

Question:  Okay.  And I also wanted to ask…

Spokesperson:  Well, you can ask another question in a second, okay.  Yes.  There are lots of questions and not much time.

Question:  I apologize if this was covered during the briefing.  But does the Secretary-General have any comment on the Cynthia Brzak v. UN decision of the of Court of Appeals, which just essentially reaffirmed the UN’s immunity, particularly in light of the celebration of International Women’s Day and all the events around it?  Is he willing to waive that immunity and allow the sexual harassment suit to go forward?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comment on that.

Question:  Well, is that something that has been taken up with him, given the timeliness of it?  I mean…

Spokesperson:  I have no comment on that, okay.

Question:  If possible, could we get a comment on that?

Spokesperson:  I think it is implicit in my answer that I will try to do that.  I don’t have anything now, okay.  I am choosing my words carefully.  The two words are “no comment”.

Question:  You’ll have something to tell us, though, because this is very timely right now?

Spokesperson:  How long is a piece of string?  I will do my best.

Question:  Thank you.  Martin, since we did have the Special Representative of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Mr. Matthew Nimetz, in the region recently on the issue of the name of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  Do you have any comment on that?  And also, since Mr. Matthew Nimetz is almost 17 years dealing with this, do we have any figures, numbers or so, how much did he spend beside his salary of $1-a-year for the travelling, and other costs, et cetera?

Spokesperson:  Well, those figures, I know that my colleagues are providing to you.  I think in a nutshell, as we have mentioned in conversations together, and as you’ve just mentioned, there is the notional $1-a-year, so you’ve done the sums yourself on that part of it.  The other part relates to actual travel, and travel within country is generally handled by the host authorities.  And travel to the region is handled by the United Nations and a per diem, an entirely standard per diem daily allowance, is also paid.  Those figures I know that my colleagues have been putting together for you.  So, I don’t have a bottom-line dollars-and-cents figure.  But as I said, that’s being provided for you.

Question:  For the record, I didn’t receive it yet, I am waiting for that, and since this would be a story for the radio, we would appreciate a sound bite from you with us.

Spokesperson:  I can give you a sound bite any time, Erol.

Question:  My question is about the earthquake in Chile.  Do you have any idea about when OCHA [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] will release a flash appeal?

Spokesperson:  As has been mentioned here before, I’m happy to say it again; a flash appeal would come in coordination with the Government of Chile.  They need to say what it is they want, and what form it should take.  And if that is the way that it looks like they want things to go, then that’s what OCHA will deal with.  At the moment, to my knowledge, there has not been a specific request from the Government of Chile for a flash appeal.

Question:  Have you rebuilt the destroyed schools in Gaza after the Gaza war last year?

Spokesperson:  I didn’t hear the first part of your question, the acoustics are not right…

Question:  Did you resume the rebuilding the schools of UNRWA [the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] in Gaza?

Spokesperson:  Did we resume building?

Question:  Yes, because you received $10.5 million from Israeli authorities.  Did you resume rebuilding these schools?

Spokesperson:  The key constraint here, as I think you know, is not whether you have money in the bank, but whether you have bricks and mortar to build or to rebuild.  And construction supplies have not been able to get in, as you well know. And so, that’s a constraint and that’s one of the reasons, obviously, why Mr. Holmes is in the region, to look at that.

Question:  So these pupils haven’t been back to school?  Did they, since the…

Spokesperson:  I would ask you to speak to my colleagues in UNRWA to get real up-to-the-minute and on-the-spot snapshots of what’s happening with schooling.

Question:  Yesterday, I asked about UNIFIL [the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon] and the report on the abducted Lebanese shepherd.  Did you get any information about that?

Spokesperson:  I have a little bit of extra information on that.  What I would say, as you well know, that report, the Secretary-General’s report on [resolution] 1701 (2006) is not yet out.  Let’s start there.  What I do have is a little bit of guidance from UNIFIL about this Lebanese shepherd who was briefly apprehended by Israeli forces near the Blue Line. And it goes like this:

On 31 January, a Lebanese shepherd was apprehended by the Israeli Defense Forces about 1 kilometre south-west of UN position 4-34 in the Shaba’a Farms area.  Due to the distance and poor visibility on account of hazy conditions, the incident was not observed by UNIFIL observation post sentries.

UNIFIL’s immediate concern was to secure the release of the shepherd.  Early next morning the Israeli Defense Forces handed over the shepherd to UNIFIL, which in turn handed him over to the Lebanese authorities.

Due to the lack of evidence on the ground and the contradictory statements from the parties, the UNIFIL investigation was not able to determine the exact location of the incident and, consequently, remained inconclusive as to the nature of the Blue Line violation.

So, that’s what I have for you, okay.

Question:  But you don’t have any information whether he has been tortured, whether there were bruises on his body after his release and there is no mention in the Secretary-General’s report about that?

Spokesperson:  As I said, the Secretary-General’s report is not out yet.  What I have here is the guidance from my colleagues in UNIFIL.  And if you want to follow it up further with UNIFIL to see if they have any more information for you, you’re very welcome to do so.

Question:  I have a question about Darfur.  And just on that, I’d like to know the difference why you give guidance from UNIFIL, but say call MONUC about something that has to do with the UN’s own… I just wasn’t clear about that.  But I’m going to ask you about Darfur.

Spokesperson:  But, Matthew, it’s very clear.  It’s very clear indeed, Matthew. It’s when I have guidance, simple as that.

Question:  But you said you spoke with your colleagues in MONUC?

Spokesperson:  Yes, there is a difference between speaking to my colleagues in MONUC and having the guidance, okay?

Question:  Okay. Okay.  Got you.  On Darfur, what I wanted to ask is, there is a lot of controversy right now about the access by UN agencies and NGOs to the Jebal Marra area?  Doctors of the World say that 100,000 people have been displaced, 200 killed.  What I’m wondering is, has the UN gained access to it, and what does the UN say about Khalil Ibrahim of JEM [the Justice and Equality Movement] now saying that he will walk away from the peace deal that the UN praised, if other rebel groups are included in it?

Spokesperson:  Well, UNAMID has sent out verification patrols to the area, and further information will follow.  And the reason that those patrols have been sent out is that, yesterday, Tuesday, 2 March, in an important breakthrough in a meeting with UNAMID, the Government committed to granting UNAMID access to the area.  And UNAMID obviously has not been in the area, and so is still not in a position to confirm the various reports by the media on the fighting and the extent of the humanitarian crisis and also reports of civilian casualties in the area.

So far, the Abdul Wahid faction of the SLA [Sudan Liberation Army], which has, as you know, reported on the fighting in Jabel Marra, has not allowed UNAMID full access to the area in order to verify and confirm these reports of fighting.  The leadership of the faction should extend full cooperation to UNAMID, if the group is to continue reporting on civilian tolls to the media.

Question:  What about the developments on the peace agreement that the UN praised so much?  Were they aware at the time that they praised it that JEM thought they were the only ones to have a deal with the Government?  Because they have said that they are going to walk away.

Spokesperson:  Who is “they”?

Question:  They, JEM… Khalil Ibrahim, the leader of JEM, has been quoted as saying that that deal only holds if they are the only rebel group to sign with the Government.  Now, I’m just wondering if Mr. [Djibril] Bassolé, or [Ibrahim] Gambari or the Secretary-General were aware of that when they praised the deal?

Spokesperson:  I think there are a couple of things here.  One is that this is a process that continues, a peace process that continues.  And the second is that it’s not for me or for the United Nations to second-guess what is motivating the JEM people to say what they’re saying.

Question:  Martin, can you confirm this report, these reports that are floating around that the President, this outgoing President of Chile, will be offered a United Nations post when she leaves office?

Spokesperson:  Masood, I had that question yesterday.  You can read about it in the transcript, okay.

Question:  I have a question.  The financial crisis meeting which was scheduled to be held by the end of February should be concluding now.  So my question is, do you still say there will be any, I mean opportunity for them to [inaudible] and during their discussions, closed-door discussions, to know if the European situation, financial instability, has been discussed?

And besides that, I will appreciate if you have a brief comment on Under-Secretary-General Holmes’ visit to Israel and Palestine this time.  Do you foresee any other objective which should be, or would be, achieved beyond what you have briefed us?

Spokesperson:  On the meeting on the financial crisis, I’ll need to find out about that.  I don’t know the answer to that.  On John Holmes, I’ve given you a brief overview.  I’m sure that Stephanie Bunker would be able to give you some more details.  Yes, last question.

Question:  You know the Secretary-General has already declared that he will be attending the meeting of Quartet in Moscow.  Does he have any particular reason for optimism regarding this, the outcome of this meeting this time?

Spokesperson:  Look, the Quartet meeting was announced by Minister [Sergey] Lavrov of the Russian Federation already last week.  And we have confirmed that the Secretary-General will be attending that Quartet meeting.  The Quartet meeting at that level, it’s not about optimism or pessimism.  What it’s about is meeting at a high level to be able to talk about what the latest developments are.  You have seen some of the latest developments yourself, I am sure, including what the League of Arab States has been saying and what the Israeli response to that has been.  That’s, if you like, positive mood music.  But this is an important meeting at the principals’ level, and it’s not a question, as I say, of optimism or pessimism, it’s a question of being able to look at the developments in recent weeks and months, and to be able to make an assessment of where things stand.

Question:  Does it have a specific agenda?

Spokesperson:  The Quartet meeting has been called for all the members of the Quartet, it’s not a question of having an agenda which is put out in advance.  As I said, it is assessing where you are and what’s been happening in recent weeks and months.

Jean Victor, I think I need to hand over to you.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thanks again, Martin.

The President of the General Assembly, H.E. Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, wrote to H.E. Mrs. Verónica Michelle Bachelet, President of the Republic of Chile.  In his letter to President Bachelet, President Treki recalled that, over the weekend, he called on the international community and all Member States to deploy all possible efforts to urgently assist Chile in the aftermath of this catastrophe.  President Treki is heartened by President Bachelet’s personal resolve and dedication, as well as the fortitude and perseverance of the people of Chile in coping with this tragedy.  President Treki also paid tribute to the Government of Chile for assisting the affected population under these challenging circumstances.  The President of the General Assembly is encouraged by the solidarity, determination and goodwill shown by the entire international community to stand with Chile in this difficult hour.  I would like to recall that last month, President Treki also wrote to the President of Haiti, President Préval, after the 12 January earthquake.  In his letter to the Haitian President, Dr. Treki praised the resilience of the Haitian people, and commended the efforts deployed by the Government of Haiti, as well as the UN system and entire international community.

That’s what I have for you today.  Yes, Dr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  You indicated just now that the President wrote to the President of Haiti, Mr. Préval, regarding the situation in Haiti.  Did he receive an answer back?

Spokesperson:  I will double-check.  As I came into this briefing room, I haven’t checked that yet.  An answer might have been sent, or may not have arrived.  But I will double-check that.  Yes.

Question:  There was the vote in favour of the resolution on Friday and continuing for five months the activity…

Spokesperson:  [inaudible]

Correspondent:  The Goldstone, yes, the Goldstone.

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  And my question is, in the original Goldstone Report, there was the request for a monitoring group of experts in order that the report given at the end of the time would have some expertise involved in determining whether the reports meet standards or not.  I wondered if there is any concern about having a way of monitoring these investigations.  Is there anything within the General Assembly, since the General Assembly remains seized of this, to decide whether the Secretary-General or somebody, or the Security Council, should be asked to have some monitoring group of experts?  Amnesty International asked that the Secretariat do this.  But I would guess if I asked the Secretariat they’ll say, the General Assembly did not request it.  So, I wondered if the General Assembly is giving any thought to this and if there is any way of taking this into consideration and doing something about it.

Spokesperson:  I hear you.  You’re right to state that the General Assembly remains seized of this matter, but I simply cannot add anything to the resolution that was adopted on 26 February, simply because it is a resolution that stands on its own, and that is self-explanatory.  It’s a resolution that was adopted following the previous resolution on the same subject.  So, it’s really self-explanatory and, I will suggest, it is comprehensive.  And I am not in a position to add anything to that resolution.  I presume, and I assume that if you read it carefully again, you will see that it responds to the concerns that you have just expressed.

Thank you, and good afternoon.

* *** *

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