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

18 March 2010

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

18 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General in Russian Federation

In Moscow today, the Secretary-General met with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, and they discussed the situation in the Middle East, including tomorrow’s meeting at the principals’ level of the Quartet.  They also talked about nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, climate change, peacekeeping operations, UN-Russia cooperation and the joint declaration that was signed earlier in the day between the United Nations and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO).

The Secretary-General also held talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov on the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, peacekeeping, the CSTO, Somalia and Russia-UN cooperation.  They held a press encounter afterwards, in which the Secretary-General stressed the need for direct peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

After that meeting, he signed the joint declaration between the United Nations and the Collective Security Treaty Organization with that body’s Secretary-General, Nikolai Borduzha.  The Secretary-General said that he saw potential for enhanced cooperation with the CSTO in a number of areas of common interest, including counter-terrorism, drug trafficking and conflict prevention.

Later in the afternoon, the Secretary-General received an honorary degree from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations.  He delivered an address, saying that the world needs Russia’s creative engagement across the United Nations agenda.  And he also took some questions from students.

**Statement on Israel

While he was in Russia, the Secretary-General put out the following statement concerning the rocket attack into Israel:  The Secretary-General condemns today’s rocket attack from Gaza which killed a civilian in Israel.  All such acts of terror and violence against civilians are totally unacceptable and contrary to international law.

**Security Council

Alain Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, today presented the Secretary-General’s recent report on Afghanistan to the Security Council in an open meeting.  He noted that, in the midst of a military surge and heightened military tempo, we face a crowded political calendar in the months ahead.

Le Roy said that we must not underestimate on the one hand the importance and on the other hand the complexity of initiating a political process of reconciliation and reintegration.  That is a process that should continue to be Afghan-led, he added.

And he noted that the Security Council will debate the mandate renewal of the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) in the next few days, adding that the Mission’s staff are continuing courageously to implement UNAMA’s mandate with determination.  And we have his remarks in the Spokesperson’s office.

Mr. Le Roy has said that he will speak to reporters at the Council stakeout once this morning’s meeting on Afghanistan has ended.

Before its meeting on Afghanistan, the Security Council adopted two resolutions.  In one, the Council decided to hold an election on 29 June to fill a vacancy on the International Court of Justice.  In the other, it extended the terms of some ad litem, or short-term, judges serving on the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.

At 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Security Council will hold consultations on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Council members will receive a briefing from Under-Secretary-General Alain Le Roy.

** Darfur

Speaking in Doha earlier today, the Joint Special Representative and Head of the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Ibrahim Gambari, welcomed the signing of the framework agreement between the Government of Sudan and the Liberation and Justice Movement.  Gambari said he was particularly happy that this agreement comes barely a month after a similar deal between the Government and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).  We have a press release in our office.

Meanwhile, here at Headquarters, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has planned a background briefing by two senior officials on Sudan’s upcoming elections.  The background briefing will be held tomorrow, Friday, from 2:15 p.m. until 3:30 p.m., on the 15th floor of the DC1 Building, in the Hédi Annabi Conference Room.  And for more details, please talk to our Public Affairs colleagues in DPKO.

** Sierra Leone

In his latest report on the work of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone, the Secretary-General welcomes the recognition by President Ernest Koroma that corruption poses a serious threat to the country.  He also welcomes the Anti-Corruption Commission’s swift response to take on the problem.  While there have been improvements in the political climate, the Secretary-General regrets that fostering political tolerance and promoting non-violence remain difficult.  He urges the political parties to build trust and mutual confidence while abiding by the code of conduct, as well as the provisions of the related joint communiqué they signed in April 2009.

**Deputy Secretary-General

We have upstairs copies of Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro’s address this morning to the Special Meeting of the Economic and Social Council with the Bretton Woods Institutions, the World Trade Organization and UNCTAD.  The Deputy Secretary-General completed her address to that meeting a short while ago.

** Rwanda

An appeals chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has affirmed the conviction and sentence of Simon Bikindi, a former singer and composer, on charges of direct and public incitement to commit genocide.  Through his songs and during stage performances, Bikindi had exhorted Hutu extremists to exterminate the ethnic Tutsi minority.  And we have information on the Tribunal’s website.

**United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat)

Some 227 million people in the world have moved out of slum conditions since 2000, according to the new UN-Habitat report on the State of the World Cities 2010-2011.  UN-Habitat says that this means that Governments have collectively surpassed the Millennium development target by more than double.  It adds that the trend is the result of slum upgrading.

However, UN-Habitat also stresses that 55 million new slum-dwellers have been added to the global urban population since 2000.  The progress made has not been enough to counter the growth of informal settlements in the developing world.  The report notes that without drastic action, the world slum population will probably grow by 6 million each year.  And there is more on this in our office.

And that’s it for me.

Like I said, Mr. Le Roy expects to come to the Security Council stakeout once the formal meeting on Afghanistan’s morning session has concluded.

Do we have any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure, Farhan, I have two questions:  Darfur and Sri Lanka.  In Darfur, I hear what you read out about this new agreement by the Government of Khartoum.  First, I wanted to know whether the UN, there was that ambush, whether they’ve actually gained access to the Jebel Marra area and can state, and can either confirm or unconfirm the level of civilian deaths that the rebels had said took place?  And also, there’s this report that the Government, despite its agreement with the Justice and Equality Movement, has re-arrested 15 JEM, and JEM has called for a postponement of the elections.  Does the UN have any response to that development?

Associate Spokesperson:  Okay, well, on your second question first.  We don’t have confirmation of the re-arrest of members of the Justice and Equality Movement.  However, we hope that the JEM and the Government will implement the framework agreement of 21 February in good faith and make further progress towards comprehensive and inclusive talks, even though the 15 March deadline that was set by the Government has now passed.  Regarding access to Jebel Marra, you’re quite right that we were seeking access there.  I’ll try to get an update from UNAMID and see whether we have that.

Question:  And I wanted to ask about Sri Lanka.  Actually, I think I emailed you this question yesterday, but I’m still seeking an answer.  You have been quoted, and so has Martin [Nesirky], in saying that this panel that the Secretary-General said he’s going to appoint to advise himself about accountability in Sri Lanka wouldn’t be named very soon.  Then on Monday the Secretary-General said there will be no delay, so there’s a lot of confusion about whether or not those two statements are inconsistent, which to many it seems to be.  What is his plan?

Associate Spokesperson:  By “to many”, you mean to you?

Question:  No, no, I mean, read the press in Sri Lanka.  They’re saying he’s in contradiction, he can’t make up his mind.  When is he going to name the panel?  Is it going to be after the election?

Associate Spokesperson:  I can’t tell you when the panel will be named.  Right now, like we had said over the weekend, the initial work has to do with developing the terms of reference, and the Secretary-General is consulting widely including with the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  He is quite correct in saying that there will be no delay in setting this up but right now the stage we are at is the terms of reference.  Once we have gotten to that, once we have gotten past that point…

Question:  How long will the delay take?  I mean I guess that’s what people are unclear about.  Usually when somebody says “no delay”, that means its going to happen soon.  Could it be six months?

Associate Spokesperson:  “No delay” means he is working on it right now.  We just don’t have an announcement to make just yet.  Like I said, the work at this stage is on the terms of reference and then beyond that he’ll get to the phase of announcing names.

Question:  Have you responded to the NAM [Non Aligned Movement] letter yet?  This will be the last one on this one.  Has there been a UN response to the NAM letter and when there is will you say…

Associate Spokesperson:  There will be a UN response to the letter by the Non-Aligned Movement, yes.  That should be going out fairly soon.

Question:  I’m sorry; could you repeat the topic of the background briefing tomorrow at 2:15?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yeah, it’s on Sudan, it’s on the elections in Sudan, and we’ll have two senior officials speaking to you in the DC1 building tomorrow afternoon concerning the arrangements for the elections in Sudan.

Question:  I have a question on the population relieved from the slum area, the 237 million population which have been removed from the slum population or slum living area.  When is the latest date?

Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of that, the point is that what Habitat was saying is that there’s been an improvement, an upgrading in the condition of some of these slums.  So what that means is that, although people may not necessarily have moved out of those areas, those areas have been upgraded so they have moved out of what’s known as slum conditions.  At the same time, there’s been a growth in the number of informal settlements, so 55 million new slum-dwellers were added to the urban population over the past decade.  There’s more details in the Habitat report.

Question:  This is a number collected from, it’s a country specific number, and then we combine them together so we get a UN number, right?

Associate Spokesperson:  I believe there are country-specific numbers in the overall Habitat report.  You’d have to look at the report, but I think they have numbers by country.

Question:  I wanted to ask this also, I tried to ask you this by e-mail regarding MONUC [the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo], which is being discussed by the Council this afternoon.  When does the contract of SRSG Alan Doss expire, and what is the update on the OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services], the investigation of alleged nepotism that began last summer?

Associate Spokesperson:  The OIOS investigation is ongoing.  Once it concludes we’ll have something more to tell you.  But it’s ongoing now.  As for his contract, if you could check with our DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] colleagues they might be able to tell you.  I don’t know exactly when that ends.

Question:  And is there a Group of Friends, can you confirm a Group of Friends of the Secretary-General for Myanmar meeting for 25 March, and state when he got the letter from Gordon Brown and what it says?

Associate Spokesperson:  The letter from Gordon Brown, we recorded it two days ago; that would be Tuesday.  And as far as that goes, yes, we can confirm that there will be a meeting of the Group of Friends on Myanmar, and that will be on the morning of 25 March.

Question:  Is there any information or comment you would like to issue in relation to the Bretton Woods, the Economic and Social Council’s meeting on the Bretton Woods, on the financial area?

Associate Spokesperson:  In our office right now, we do have the Deputy Secretary-General’s remarks to that meeting.  So that’s one bit of detail.  But yesterday, you weren’t here for it, but the current President of the ECOSOC, the Ambassador of Malaysia, did brief the press about this meeting that’s happening right now.  And you could look at the notes of yesterday’s press conference and he has some more details for you there.

Question:  You mentioned the agreement signed between the UN and CSTO while the Secretary-General was in Moscow.  I wanted to know, is that agreement, is that a public document?  And relatedly, is the UN memorandum of understanding with NATO, about which Russia complained at the time and complained recently in this room, is that a public document?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether either of these are public documents.  I will check whether they will be made into them.  The Secretary-General did, however, speak, make some public remarks at the signing of this document with the CSTO today, and so we’ll try and get that from Martin, who is travelling with the Secretary-General.  Once we have that, we’ll put it out this afternoon.  [The agreement between the United Nations and CSTO was later issued as a document.]

Question:  And I just wanted to ask, there was something that came up last week, there is a case in the UN dispute tribunal, Bertucci v UN, in which Judge Adams has ordered that a UN official who made a certain decision come to the tribunal.  This hasn’t happened, and I went to the hearing on the 23rd floor this morning, at which Judge Adams said he is going to issue a default judgement against the UN for what he calls unlawful behaviour by the Secretariat.  So I had asked Martin before; he said he would look into it.  What is the Secretariat’s reasoning for openly disregarding an order of a judge in its own justice system?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, we don’t tend to give comments about legal proceedings while they’re still under way.  So I don’t know for sure whether we would have any comment to make about this, but I will try to check with our colleagues in Legal Affairs to see whether there is anything we can say.  But as a general rule, while these procedures are going on, we wouldn’t have any public comment to make, anything that could be construed [interrupted].

Correspondent:  Whether there is a filing or what the defence is to Mr. Bertucci’s claims, I could understand your not commenting, but it does seem pretty extreme when a judge says you’re acting unlawfully, it might be important for the UN to say, “Here is why it’s not unlawful.”

Associate Spokesperson:  Yeah.  I’ll see whether there is something we can say, bearing in mind the fact that that case is still under way.

And with that, good afternoon.  And like I said, Mr. Le Roy does expect to speak to you at the Council stakeout once this morning’s Afghanistan meeting is done.

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