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

5 March 2010

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

5 March 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.  And I think there is an expression in show business: “How do you follow that?”

**Secretary-General in Chile

But just to reiterate that the Secretary-General has indeed actually arrived in Santiago, on a visit to Chile to show solidarity with the Chilean people as they deal with the destruction caused by the earthquake on 27 February.  And you’ve heard plenty about this already, I think.

But, he said on arrival that the United Nations stands ready to help provide any assistance that the Chilean Government requests, immediate and long term.  And now is the moment, he added, for the United Nations and the international community to stand with Chile and its people.

This afternoon the Secretary-General will meet with President [Michelle] Bachelet and President-elect [Sebastián] Piñera, as well as senior Government officials in charge of national disaster and emergency humanitarian assistance.  Tomorrow he will travel to Concepción to see for himself the situation there.

** Iraq

As you know, millions of Iraqis will head to the polls on 7 March to elect a new Council of Representatives, in an exercise that has been supported by the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).  Later this afternoon, we will have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning those elections.  And the noon briefing guest on Monday will be the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ad Melkert, who will talk to you about the elections via videoconference from Baghdad.

**Security Council

This morning, Joseph Mutaboba, the Secretary-General’s Representative in Guinea-Bissau, briefed the Security Council in an open meeting, saying that this year could be a turning-point for that country.  He said that Guinea-Bissau is experiencing a relatively stable political environment and growing international attention, which is a window of opportunity that should not be missed.  He continued to brief the Council in closed consultations afterwards.  The Council is expected to issue a press statement on Guinea-Bissau.

At 3 o’clock this afternoon, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy will inform the Security Council about his recent visit to Chad, in closed consultations.  He may also discuss Darfur.  Once those consultations have ended, Mr. Le Roy has said that he will speak to reporters at the Council stakeout.

** Haiti Update

In Haiti, the World Food Programme (WFP) starts today the second phase of a general food distribution.  New coupons are being given out today and the distribution of a full food basket will begin in Port-au-Prince tomorrow. The operation will target 1.9 million beneficiaries in and around Port-au-Prince and will run through the end of this month.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that, in addition to food, emergency shelter, site management and sanitation continue to be the priorities.  OCHA adds that, to date, 425 sites have been assessed -- housing an estimated 606,000 people in Port-au-Prince, Leogane, Gressier and Jacmel.  Also according to OCHA, protection monitoring teams are visiting an average of eight displacement sites per day.

**Pascoe’s Travel to India and Nepal

The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, will travel to India and Nepal next week.   He will be in India on 9 March for discussions with Government officials on a range of regional and international issues. He then travels to Nepal from 10-12 March.  In addition to visiting the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), Pascoe will hold meetings with senior Government officials and political party leaders to discuss the state of the peace process and encourage forward movement in the period ahead.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

And talking about the period ahead, The Week Ahead, 8 March is International Women’s Day.  At 11:15 a.m., there will be a press conference by the United Nations Global Compact and the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) to announce the launch of the UNIFEM-UN Global Compact joint initiative, which is called “Women’s Empowerment Principles”, and this offers guidelines on how to empower women in the workplace.

And, as you know, on 9 March, on Tuesday, at 10 a.m., there will be a ceremony in memory of the United Nations system staff members who were killed in the Haiti earthquake, and that will take place in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.

At 12 p.m. on that day, Edmond Mulet, the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Haiti, will be at the noon briefing here to update correspondents on the situation in Haiti.

And on Wednesday, 10 March, we will have Filippo Grandi, newly appointed Commissioner General of UNRWA as the guest of the noon briefing.

Okay, so that’s what I have for you.  I can take some questions.  Please.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, Martin, is there anything to say today regarding the attack by Israeli forces on worshipers in Al-Aqsa Mosque?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything for you on this.  Obviously, any violence at this time -- rather critical time -- is to be looked at very carefully.  But I don’t have anything specific for you.

Question:  But the Secretary-General usually considers that as a threat to peace and security in the region.  Does this apply…?

Spokesperson:  As I’ve said, anything that leads to increased tension in the region at this time is something that needs to be carefully looked at.  Obviously any tensions are something that the Secretary-General will want to be aware of, and is made aware of.  I don’t have anything more specific for you just at the moment.  Matthew.

Question:  Sure.  I have two questions, Liberia and Sri Lanka.  On Liberia, there is this controversy about the incident in Lofa county that’s arisen about whether the UN peacekeeping force there took sides between the two groups, and even religions, it’s alleged.  There continue to be these reports and it looks like the SRSG there has challenged reporters to not ask the question.  So, I wanted to ask here, what is the UN’s response to reports, pretty widespread in Liberia, that the UNMIL improperly took sides during rioting in that region?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I am not going to second-guess the Special Representative if he is speaking on the ground, which is where it should be.  What I would say, as a general principle, is that any of our peacekeeping operations, or other missions on the ground, are there for all the people of the country, and they work in a dispassionate manner, not taking sides.

Question:  [inaudible] I guess my question is…

Spokesperson:  Like I said, like I said, I am not second-guessing what the Special Representative is saying on the ground.  I am saying, as a general principle, an obvious general principle, that where there is a United Nations mission on the ground, the reason they are there is to be serving the people of the country in general, and not in some partisan fashion.

Question:  I want to ask on Sri Lanka, if I could?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Yesterday you read out the… here that Navi Pillay had called for an investigation of events during the conflict.  Since then, the Minister of Human Rights and Disaster Management has rejected that and has said, once again, that Sri Lanka will not further investigate what took place.  Since the Secretary-General had said that he believes the investigation should take place, and if not, he will name a panel.  It’s still a little unclear to me what he said he would do.  Has the Secretariat taken note of this pretty open statement by the Minister of Human Rights of Sri Lanka that they would not investigate the events?  And if so, what would Mr. Ban do?  Is Mr. Pascoe, as part of his trip to India and Nepal, that he considers performing the trip that had been mentioned to Sri Lanka?  And finally, there are reports in the Sri Lankan media about the Foreign Minister of the country writing to “a senior official”, who I am told is Vijay Nambiar, requesting a job for his son with the United Nations Secretariat.  Are you… Can you confirm, you know, get an answer, yes or no, if that took place?

Spokesperson:  On the third one, I’ll find out, I don’t know anything about that.  On the first two, as it happens…  Well, let’s start with the question about Lynn Pascoe; why isn’t he going to Sri Lanka on this particular trip?  Mr. Pascoe does still intend to visit Sri Lanka fairly soon, but we don’t have the dates for that yet.  And it’s not a part of the trip that I just mentioned -- otherwise I would have mentioned that to you.  And, as it happens, the Secretary-General spoke by telephone with President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa yesterday evening, and he informed the President of his intention to go ahead with the establishment of a panel of experts.  He also explained that such a panel would advise him -- meaning the Secretary-General, that’s very important, Matthew -- on the way forward on accountability issues relating to Sri Lanka.

I’ll just repeat that last sentence, because it is important that you get this right: he also explained that such a panel would advise him -- the Secretary-General -- on the way forward on accountability issues related to Sri Lanka.  Okay.  And on the other question, I’ll try to find out.

Question:  I’m just wondering if this, I mean, if it is what you said, why this wasn’t read out as part of a kind of readout.  Has he had other communications in the last couple of days with presidents of countries informing them… I mean, it seems like it’s big news, I’m glad that you read it, but I’m wondering…

Spokesperson:  You’ve asked me a question about the panel of experts, I have some information I can give on that question.  It’s as easy as that.  Yes, please.

Question:  I have some questions about Chile.  And so, you announced that the Secretary-General will meet the Chilean President and the next President.  And when will he meet, at what time will he meet the Chilean President?  And do you have any plan to release any statement about the meeting?  And, as far as I know, OCHA has not released a flash appeal concerning assistance for Chile.  So, do you think at the meeting with the Secretary-General, do you think the Chilean side will make some announcement about giving the authorization to release the flash appeal by, from OCHA?

Spokesperson:  Starting with that last part first, I am not here to speak for the Chilean Government.  You just had the Chilean Ambassador here, you could have asked him that.  But, clearly, what I have also said is that the United Nations will respond if asked by the Chilean authorities.  And I have no idea what the Chilean President is going to say in that meeting with the Secretary-General.  I’ve said -- and we’ve said consistently -- that we’re ready to help.  That is why the Secretary-General is going there to express not just his solidarity with the people, but to reiterate the UN’s [readiness], the UN as a whole, including the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to provide assistance, both immediate emergency assistance and longer-term assistance.  You’ve heard also from the Ambassador here a reiteration of the list of the very specific items that have been requested by Chile.  And as you also heard, OCHA is coordinating the response from countries to that very specific list of items, whether it is field hospitals or temporary bridges, generators, this kind of thing.  On the flash appeal, to come back to the beginning, this is a matter for the Chilean authorities to raise, and if they do, then we’ll be listening and ready to respond.  Yes?

Question:  Martin…

Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon.  And on the timing of the meeting, I don’t know that right here and now, but I can tell you afterwards for sure.

Question:  Martin, I had asked you last week also about this construction of museum of tolerance over Palestinian graves, and that what is the reaction of the Secretary-General.  You said you have no guidance at this point in time.  Have you had any reaction as yet or you’re still waiting for the guidance?

Spokesperson:  I’m always seeking guidance, certainly.  (Laughter)

Question:  But the thing is, I mean, there is no reaction, absolutely?

Spokesperson:  At this point, that is the short answer.

Question:  A museum of tolerance being constructed over the graves of Palestinians does not…?

Spokesperson:  Masood, if I had something, I would be able to tell you.  I don’t.  Okay.  Yes?

Question:  The Chilean Ambassador said that the Secretary-General might be taking part in this telethon, I believe this evening in Chile.  Is that in fact happening?  Can you say anything about that?

Spokesperson:  I think it’s conceivable that it will happen.  I don’t know what, the reason I say that is because I don’t know what’s happened since my colleagues, including the Secretary-General, landed, which was while we were sitting here.  So, I don’t know whether plans have changed in the meantime.  But it was certainly something that was being looked into as part of the programme.

Question:  Is this something that’s been organized by the Chilean Government?  This is not a UN telethon in any…?

Spokesperson:  No, no and not organized by the Chilean Government.  I think it’s organized by a Chilean TV station, as I have understood it.  But, I’m sure that they could explain it better to you.  And this would, if it happens, it would be the Secretary-General taking part in a larger event.  It’s not his event, and it’s not built around him.  He would be taking part in it, if that happens.

Okay, Matthew.  I’m just going to answer about Liberia in more detail, because I now have it.

The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) has refuted claims that its forces were partial -- which is what I was saying in principle, and they’re doing it very specifically here -- in last weekend’s violent incident in Lofa county.  And the Head of UNMIL said UNMIL troops acted promptly and supported no side in the violence.

And having first heard about a violent demonstration in Konia town, a batch of UNMIL Formed Police units was quickly deployed in the town.  And on the morning of the violence in Voinjama, both military and police forces intervened to restore calm.  And she described the incident as unfortunate and said it was based on what she called unfounded rumours -- this is talking about the Head of UNMIL -- unfounded rumours that spread from Konia to Voinjama.

The UNMIL boss said that the Lofa incident, which has ethnic undertones, shows that more challenges still remain, despite the progress made so far in maintaining peace and security in Liberia.  And she said that, while the UN is in Liberia to keep the peace, it is up to Liberians themselves, regardless of religious and ethnic affiliation, to decide whether they want peace.

And UNMIL has confirmed that shotguns and firearms were actually used in the violence by the mob, and that resulted in four deaths.  And the UNMIL Police Commissioner, Gautam Sawang, said three bodies were distinct because of the bullet wounds, but the other one has yet to be established.

And that’s what I have for you from Liberia.

Question:  And two non-peace-and-security UN questions.  One is about this case the Brzak versus UN sexual harassment case.  After you’d… Rachel Mayanja, who is the Special Adviser on Gender Issues to the Secretary-General, sitting where you are, said that, you know, the UN only invokes immunity if it’s for the good of the Organization, and seemed to be saying that it was invoked in this case to get the case dismissed in order so that the UN could carry out its own investigation of the facts.  Also, the deputy head of Equality Now had said clearly this morning that she believes the Secretary-General should have waived immunity in this case, or still should.  I guess I’m wondering, does… does… is that why the UN didn’t invoke immunity?  Is there some investigation we’re unaware of going on about this, you know, 2005 alleged sexual harassment?  Or how did it benefit for the Organization to quash the case, rather than have it heard by a court?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, I gave you my answer the other day, and a slightly elaborated answer was then subsequently distributed to correspondents.  And I don’t have anything to add to that.

Question:  [inaudible] but I guess… I mean… I will try to… I guess… Ms. Mayanja is then speaking for the Secretariat or not speaking for the Secretariat?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, I’ve said what I’m going to say on it.

Question:  Okay, fine.  The other was about, and some people here, various correspondents have raised this, that the furniture and various things that are in the building now that, this is not about the move, it more has to do with 38 floors of desks and chairs and everything that is sort of left in the building now that it is being emptied.  Some people wondered whether the UN is either going to donate it to people that need it or sell it to cover costs that are trying to be, in some cases imposed on journalists, I just wondered if you could give us a sense, what’s going to happen with all the stuff left in the building, and has there been any attempt by the UN, given what it says about environmental issues, to recycle anything?

Spokesperson:  Furniture where, sorry?

Question:  Within the whole Secretariat Building.  The 38 floors of office furniture, we’ve been informed is basically just going to all be destroyed.  It seems strange to people, so, I am wondering if you have any…

Spokesperson:  Well, let me check with the Capital Master Plan people exactly what the answer is to that.  But my understanding was that the intention was to re-use a lot of furniture where it was feasible to do so -- in other words, if it’s not falling apart.  But, let me find out.  That was my understanding. Let me find out what the answer is.

Question:  I’d appreciate it.  Maybe they have some statement on what’s being done, because there is all this talk of it being a green building, but when you actually walk around, the way things are now, it seems it’s a little hard to believe that.

Spokesperson:  Okay, all right.

Correspondent:  All right.

Spokesperson:  You have a question?  No.  Any further questions?  Oh, sorry, yes, I didn’t see you there.

Question:  Do you have anything from Mr. Robert Serry on Jerusalem, the situation in Jerusalem?  You know, over 30 people, mostly over 50 years of age, have been hurt, injured by bullets from the Israeli army.  Do you have anything from Robert Serry or any action from him?  Is he doing any contact to stop this violence against the worshipers?

Spokesperson:  Let me find out.

Question:  You mean the United Nations has not heard about this?  For eight hours now this incident happened.

Spokesperson:  Let me find out.  Let me find out what I can.  Robert Serry may well have said something, I am not aware of it.  Let me find out.  Okay, thank you very much.  Have a good weekend.

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