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

30 March 2010

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

30 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.

I have a couple of statements attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Bhutto Commission

The first is on the Commission of Inquiry dealing with the assassination of Benazir Bhutto.

The Secretary-General has accepted an urgent request by the President of Pakistan to delay the presentation of the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the facts and circumstances of the assassination of the former Pakistani Prime Minister, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, until 15 April 2010.  The Commission has informed the Secretary-General that, as of today, all relevant facts and circumstances have been explored, and the report is now complete and ready to be delivered.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Cyprus

The second statement I have is on progress in the Cyprus talks.

The Secretary-General congratulates the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders, Messrs. [Dimitris] Christofias and [Mehmet Ali] Talat, respectively, on their joint statement issued today 30 March 2010.  The statement highlights the two leaders’ stronger than ever commitment to a settlement and notes that important progress in the chapters of governance and power-sharing, European Union matters and the economy has been achieved.

The Cyprus problem has remained unresolved for too long.  Both Mr. Christofias and Mr. Talat are leaders with courage and vision and they have taken enormous political risks to carry the process forward.  The Secretary-General calls upon them to continue their work to find a solution to the Cyprus problem, which would take into full consideration the legitimate rights and concerns of both Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots.  A settlement is in the interest of all Cypriots, leading to stability, reconciliation and greater prosperity for Cyprus.  It would also represent a critical peace dividend for the entire region. The United Nations is committed to continue supporting the negotiations, and stands with the people of Cyprus as they work towards finally resolving this longstanding problem.

**Haiti Conference

As you know, the High-Level Donors’ conference -- “Towards a New Future in Haiti” -- will take place here at United Nations Headquarters tomorrow.  The goal of the Conference, as you heard yesterday at our briefing, is to secure the financial resources necessary for Haiti’s recovery.

The Secretary-General will make opening remarks, as will United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Haitian President René Préval.

The Conference will be co-chaired by Brazil, Canada, the European Union, France, and Spain as leading donors to Haiti.  To date, 136 countries are expected to participate.

The Prime Minister of Haiti, Jean-Max Bellerive, will also present the country’s needs and its plans for recovery.

There will be a press conference following the close of the Conference.  The Secretary-General, the Secretary of State, President [René] Préval and the co-chairs will participate in that press conference.

**Haiti Update

The United Nations is continuing to provide emergency humanitarian assistance on the ground in Haiti.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says this assistance must go on alongside reconstruction efforts.  The Humanitarian Appeal for $1.4 billion is itself only 48 per cent funded to date and, according to OCHA, it has stagnated following an initial rush by donors.  The Office says that the generosity shown in the first months has to continue.

Also in our office, you can find a press release on the latest operations by the World Food Programme (WFP) in Haiti, and another press release from UNICEF on the need to put children at the centre of rebuilding efforts in the country.  UNICEF is holding a panel discussion on this subject today at 1:30 p.m.


Today in Kabul, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights launched a report on the human rights dimension of poverty in Afghanistan.  Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries in the world, with one third of its population living in absolute poverty.  The report notes that it also has the second highest maternal mortality rate in the world, with 25,000 women dying each year because of complications associated with giving birth.  This is the highest single cause of death in Afghanistan.

**Press Conferences

Just a couple of press conference:  At 12:45 p.m. today, the newly appointed Resident and Humanitarian Coordination for Niger, Khardiata Lo N’Diaye, will hold a press conference about the situation in Niger.  And at 1:15 p.m., the Department of Economic and Social Affairs will hold a press conference about a new report published by Consumers International about supermarkets and labour conditions in developing conditions.

And as I have mentioned, there will be a press conference after the Haiti Donors’ Conference tomorrow.  We will have a full schedule of all of the press events in the margins of tomorrow’s Haiti Donors’ Conference later in the day.  And please do pass by our office or check the Media Alert for more details on that.

So, that’s what I have for you.  Questions?  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I missed your announcement at the very top; perhaps you’ve already said this, but why is the report delayed?

Spokesperson:  I’ll read it again.  The Secretary-General has accepted -- and then I’ll try to answer your question -- the Secretary-General has accepted an urgent request by the President of Pakistan to delay the presentation of the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the facts and circumstances of the assassination of the former Pakistani Prime Minister, Mohtarma Benazir Bhutto, until 15 April 2010.  The Commission has informed the Secretary-General that, as of today, all relevant facts and circumstances have been explored, and the report is now complete and ready to be delivered.

So to answer your question why, because the President of Pakistan submitted an urgent request for a delay and the Secretary-General accepted it.

Question:  Did he say why it was urgently needed to have a delay, the President?

Spokesperson:  No.  The request was made for the delay, the Secretary-General accepted that.  I think that it would be for the Pakistani authorities to explain why the urgency.  As I have also noted, the Commission made clear to the Secretary-General that all the relevant facts and circumstances have been explored and that the report is complete and ready to be delivered.

Question:  Martin, two questions:  first of all, is that standard procedure that the Secretary-General delays United Nations reports at the request of a Member State?  And then a follow-up, if I might.

Spokesperson:  Why don’t you ask the follow-up straight away?

Question:  Okay.  The follow-up is that there’s reports that the UN has closed its offices in Pakistan for three days in fear that there might be some violence in retaliation for the delivery of the report.  I wondered if you could confirm that.  AFP is reporting it, citing a UN spokesperson.  Anything you can tell us about that?  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Let’s start at the bottom and work up.  On the closure of the offices, this is something that is, as I have seen in the reporting attributed to the Spokesperson for the UN, or part of the UN in Pakistan, I need to look into exactly what was said by the Spokesperson there.  So, I don’t have any further details.  I have seen the reports as you have, but I don’t have any further details.

Question:  You can’t confirm it?

Spokesperson:  I can’t because I have read the reports as you did, and I am waiting to find out more about that.  As… [interrupted]

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  No, it did not.  No, it did not, no.  Otherwise I’d be able to say something about it.  Or at least I would hope that I could say something about it.  As for whether it’s standard procedure, maybe we need to get the chronology right.  This was an independent commission set up by the Secretary-General.  It was a request that came from the authorities, the Government in Pakistan.  Therefore, if a request is received by the Head of State and Government of a country, then the Secretary-General has to consider that.  And he has decided to accept this request for a delay in the presentation of the report.  Yeah, that’s what I can say on the matter.  Yes.

Question:  Does it mean that the Commission’s mandate has been extended to 15 April, or only the report will be filed as well as… the Commission has already said that work is complete, ready to be released.  Now, the thing is what kind of urgency is there?  Is the Secretary-General bound to accept the request of the President of a country, or just can go unilaterally to complete the mandate of the Commission?

Spokesperson:  Well, two things:  as I have made clear, the Commission says that the report is complete and ready to be delivered.  Okay.  So, it’s done.  They have completed the work that they needed to do, and it’s ready to be delivered.  The Pakistani authorities, the President himself, made an urgent request for the delay to the presentation of the report.  I would ask you, as I am sure you’re intending to do anyway, to ask the Pakistani authorities why they asked for the delay.

Question:  But how about the mandate of the Commission?  The Commission finishes its job by 31 March, as mandated.  Does the Commission continue to work until 15 April?

Spokesperson:  I’ve told you, the report is complete and is ready to be delivered.

Question:  So, what does that mean?

Spokesperson:  It means what it says; that the report is ready.

Question:  Could it be edited before it’s released?  Is it being shown to Pakistan?  And is it going to be released on 15 April in the form that it is ready to be delivered today?

Spokesperson:  No, that’s the whole point, it’s being delayed.  That the presentation [inaudible interruption]… It’s with the Commission…

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  No it has not.  Not it has not.  No it has not.

Question:  [inaudible] being further edited?

Spokesperson:  Wait a minute, wait a minute.  Let’s try to do… I fully appreciate your interest in the subject matter, but I need to take one question at a time, otherwise I can’t answer.  So, yes, Masood, I will come back to you, okay.  Yes.

Question:  [inaudible]… asked this question earlier of you when I said that apparently the Pakistan Government is requesting this delay because it wants certain people to be interviewed, certain people they have discovered, and you said you’d find out from the Commission.  [interrupted]

Spokesperson:  What I actually said, if I recall, was that we’re on track; that it was ready to be delivered on time.

Correspondent:  But the thing is, when I had asked you that question about the delay you said that they’re still on time.  But at that point in time there was a delay being asked for.  That delay, you did not confirm or you didn’t deny or confirm that that delay has been asked.

Spokesperson:  At that point, there had been no request for a delay.  There had been no request for a delay to the proceedings, and, as I told you, the Commission was on track to deliver on time and it has.  Yes.

Question:  Is the report going to be published in full on 15 April?

Spokesperson:  I can’t tell you whether it will be published in full on 15 April.  It will be published.  Whether it will be precisely on that day, I do not know.  But it will be published.

Question:  It could be released to the Pakistan Government on 15 or before that, it can be given to the Pakistan Government before that?  Just the report?

Spokesperson:  The point is that the Commission has completed its work and it has… the report is ready to be delivered.  The authorities in Pakistan, the President, as I said, have asked for a delay in the presentation of the report.  On 15 April is the day that it will be presented.  Okay.

Question:  My question is simply this:  whether this report can be sent to the Pakistan Government before, or since it is complete and ready to be delivered… [interrupted]…

Spokesperson:  That’s not the intention.

Question:  …Pakistan Government before?

Spokesperson:  That’s not the intention, that’s not the intention.

Question:  So, the Pakistani Government won’t see the report before 15 April?

Spokesperson:  That’s not the intention, no.  That’s not the intention, for it to be seen before… [interrupted].

Question:  What’s the intention?

Spokesperson:  The intention is that it will not be seen by the Pakistan Government until the 15th; that’s the intention.  They have asked for a delay; that’s what will happen.  Yes.

Question:  Should we understand that the Secretary-General finds good reasons to delay the report?

Spokesperson:  Sorry, who understands?

Question:  Should we understand that…?

Spokesperson:  Should you understand?

Question:  …that there are good reasons for the Secretary-General to delay the report?

Spokesperson:  What you should understand is that there was an urgent request from the President and the Secretary-General accepted that request.  On what… the reasons behind the request, you have to ask the Pakistani authorities, not me. 

Question:  [inaudible]… the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General would not have accepted the request if he didn’t think that there were good reasons for doing so.

Question:  Martin, in terms of the shutting down of the offices, are you prepared to confirm that?  At least I’ve read reports from the Spokesperson indicating that it was a security risk.  Are you prepared to confirm that it was a [interrupted]?

Spokesperson:  I’ve already said no.  I’m not because I need to find out more.

Question: Okay.  And the second part of my question is, I have also read some reports that 15 April is actually just one of many times that the Pakistani Government has called for that report to be delayed.  That there may be further delay in terms of 15 April.  Are you aware of that?  Is the Secretary-General prepared to say that is the last and final date?

Spokesperson:  The time frame, as I’ve mentioned, is 15 April.  I know that the commissioners themselves, their report is ready.  They’re ready to go.  There was a request, that request has been accepted.  Beyond 15 April, I cannot sit here and prejudge precisely what’s going to happen.  But the intention, as stated here, is that on 15 April it will be possible to present the report, which, as I say, is already complete.  Yes.

Correspondent:  I’m sorry, I am getting confused now.  So…

Spokesperson:  Right.

Question:  …the Pakistani Government…

Spokesperson:  So am I.

Question:  …will not see the report until 15 April?

Spokesperson:  Correct.

Question:  They have asked them to delay a report that they don’t even know what’s in it?

Spokesperson:  They don’t want the report presented until the 15th; they won’t see it until the 15th.

Question:  And they don’t know what is in it, of course?

Spokesperson:  They don’t know what’s in it.  Neither do I.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General know what’s in it?

Spokesperson:  No, he does not.  Not yet.

Question:  But, Martin, could you say, will there be any possibility or attempt for the report to be added to, re-written or in any way changed by anybody, whether the current Commission or any other people between now and 15 April, or is it simply going to sit as is, locked up in a safe waiting to be released?

Spokesperson:  The latter rather than the former.  It’s complete.

Question:  And you can say unequivocally that the Secretary-General has not agreed [inaudible]…?

Spokesperson:  Well, look, you can… Here’s an idea:  you can also ask Ambassador [Heraldo] Munōz if he wishes to clarify this.  [interrupted]

Question:  [inaudible cross-talk]

Spokesperson:  No, he is not.  No, he’s not.  No.  I think you would agree that there is little point in doing that.

Correspondent:  Or you could tell us why it’s delayed.  [laughter]

Spokesperson:  There is little point in him doing a press conference on something that has not yet been presented.  What I am suggesting is that he is available.  He is the Ambassador of Chile, as you know, he is available.  He could explain if necessary the position on that very precise point that you have made.  But my understanding is, and the guidance that I have is that this is complete, it’s done, it’s not to be added to.  Yes.

Question:  Martin, does really, the Secretary-General believe that the request of the Pakistan President has been made in good faith?  And has there been any precedent in the past when such reports are delayed?

Spokesperson:  I have no idea about precedent in these matters.  In general, reports, inquiries, in general what I can say is that if you receive a request from the President of a country, you look at it and you take it seriously and you reflect on it and then you decide.  This is what the Secretary-General has done; on advice.

Question:  Martin, can we see the contents of that urgent request, the request from the President; when it was received and when it was decided?  Because as of last night, everything was all on schedule.  But now I think, did he receive this?  Did the Secretary-General receive this request from the President of Pakistan this morning?  And what kind of urgency has been communicated to the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  You must ask the Pakistani authorities.

Question:  You won’t tell us when you received the request?

Spokesperson:  Overnight.  Yes.

Question:  Overnight?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  I beg your pardon, Giampaolo has been sitting here very patiently.  And then Ali after Giampaolo.

Question:  I want to understand if the Secretary-General agreed simply on releasing the report 15 days later?

Spokesperson:  In essence that’s right, yes.

Question:  That’s it?  For the reason that we don’t know, but that’s what it is? 

Spokesperson:  In essence, that’s right.

Question:  …to read this same report, not today, but 15 April?

Spokesperson:   Correct.  As I said, the report is complete and it’s ready to be delivered.  Ready. 

Question:  Was the request in writing or on phone?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know that.  Yes.

Question:  I actually wanted a clarification on the gentleman, the second point, actually, that was my question regarding the institutional memory, whether we know that in previous times somebody did ask for that kind of, call it, that favour, but a request, serious request, as you mentioned.  Can we recall anything like that?

Spokesperson:  As I’ve said, I do not know that off-hand.  I’d need to look into it.

Question:  Can your good assistants check on that…?

Spokesperson:  I should think as we are speaking now, they’re making a note of it and we’ll look into it.  Masood.

Question:  Martin, do you know that Ambassador [Abdullah Hussain] Haroon met with the Secretary-General this morning?

Spokesperson:  Did he…?

Question:  Did he meet with the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  There were two meetings scheduled for around now.  One with the commissioner…the head of the Commission of Inquiry, Ambassador Munōz, and there is also a meeting planned with the Permanent Representative of Pakistan, correct.  Both of those meetings, one took place about as I came into this room, the other is due to start very shortly.  Yeah, that’s what I can tell you.

Question:  So, they haven’t been cancelled?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge.  Yes.

Question:  You were saying in such situations, when the President of a country submits a request, they look at it carefully and decide from there.  But if the Secretary-General didn’t read the report, did he just went off the President of Pakistan’s word?

Spokesperson:  As I said, the Secretary-General has not seen the report.  He has not seen the report.

Question:  So he just went off the word of…?

Spokesperson:  What would be so troubling about that to you?

Correspondent:  No, I was saying that, that, that you said the…

Spokesperson:  I’m just trying to understand what the question means.

Question:  Right.  [inaudible]… President of a country submits a request you look at it carefully, closely and you decide.  But if he didn’t look at the report, if he didn’t read the report and decide for himself, so I’m just asking if he went off of the word of the President of Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  All I can say is that, first of all, I don’t know about whether this sets a precedent.  I’d be surprised if it does, but I do not know.  My colleagues will look into that.  But if the President, the Head of State, the Head of Government of a country, contacts with an urgent request for something that is about to happen, then you listen and you, on guidance, decide what you’re going to do.  The advice that the Secretary-General received and the decision that he took was to accept the request.  Yes.

Question:  Sorry, you said that the Secretary-General has not read the report yet?

Spokesperson:  Correct.

Question:  And does he plan to read it before the 15th?

Spokesperson:  I can’t answer that. 

Question:  Why wouldn’t he read the report before he decided whether to delay it?  I mean, shouldn’t he know what the contents are in case there is something urgent in there?

Spokesperson:  The report was compiled by an independent commission.  The report is to be submitted to the Secretary-General, who then submits it to the Pakistani Government, in the person of the Permanent Representative, and also conveys, for information, to the Security Council, the same report.  And at some point, soon after that, it is also published for the rest of the world to see.

Question:  So does that mean it’s still in the hands of the Commission?  Who is holding the report right now?

Spokesperson:  The Commission.

Question:  You mentioned that the report would also be given to the Security Council. 

Spokesperson:  For information.

Question:  Right.  So…?

Spokesperson:  It’s not a Security Council-mandated inquiry.  It would be given to them for their information when it’s presented.  In other words, on or after 15 April.

Question:  Martin, my question remains unanswered.  Now, the Commission’s mandate expires 31 March.  Now, if they will be holding the report, in what capacity, because after 31 March, either the Secretary-General has to extend the mandate of the Commission to re-write the report, edit the report or keep the report.  But otherwise, under what capacity they are going to hold that report until the 15th in their custody?

Spokesperson:  I hear your question, and it remains unanswered until I can get an answer.  I don’t have one now.

Question:  Martin, will you also ask Ambassador Munōz, since he is very much unavailable to us --  I’ve been trying to get hold of him --  [inaudible]… he did receive the request from certain authorities in Pakistan that there are certain army officers who have just been arrested [inaudible]… regards to Ms. Bhutto’s murder.  Is that correct or not?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know the answer to that.  I think the ambassador himself would be able to answer that when he is available, okay?  I don’t have the answer to that.

Question:  Martin, maybe it’s a stupid question, but the fact that you said that… [interrupted]

Spokesperson:   No stupid questions in here.  [laughter]

Question:  Well, no.  But the report is done; it’s sealed.  Is there any way to protect the report; to secure the report from now to the next 15 days, even a month?  To make sure that whatever they said is final, is final today, cannot be, could not have a different ending in a week, or two weeks, or three weeks because of the fact that the gentleman is saying that the authority of the Commission expired?  Is there a mechanism?  I am asking, not a guard or something, to keep the report, put it in a safe, in a bank, or whatever, and pull it back in 15 days when the Secretary-General decides that, you know, it’s time to read it?

Spokesperson:  My understanding is that it is safe.

Question:  Okay, thank you.  [laughter].  Point taken.  But still leaks are going around?

Spokesperson:  If you have a copy, you can show it to me, Matthew.  [laughter]

Question:  Has anyone in the Secretariat, not just the Secretary-General, has anyone in the Secretariat seen either the final or draft report?  And will you tell us between now and 15 April if anyone in the Secretariat, the Secretary-General or otherwise, sees the report?  Is that something that you can, given the doubts that may come to exist about whether it was changed?

Spokesperson:  If I am at liberty to tell you, then I will.

Question:  If you are not at liberty, will you tell us that you are not at liberty?  I mean… [laughter]

Spokesperson:  That’s called the moral maze.  What I mean is, if I am told I am at liberty to tell you, then I will of course tell you.  Do you understand what I mean?

Question:  I suppose so.  But then, so then… So, on the 15th then we’ll ask you, did anyone see it, and then you will answer that?

Spokesperson:  Sure.  Look, as you know, the commissioners have been working to put together the report, and they have worked extremely hard to put it together.  They have worked with a team, and those people have been providing the technical assistance, if you like, to compile the report.  Okay.

Question:  And the team are paid by the UN or are UN staff?  Who is the team?

Spokesperson:  Pass.  I don’t know.

Question:  Can you find…?

Spokesperson:  This is an independent inquiry… [interrupted]

Question:  Staffed by the UN or DPA or no…?

Spokesperson:  As I said, the three commissioners, as you well know, they have travelled to the region; they have had support in doing so.

Question:  Right.  But I just want to be like… is it, has there been any UN Secretariat staff involvement in staffing their work or arranging their travel?  You see what I mean?  It’s called independent, but who is actually doing the background for them?

Spokesperson:  The Commission is independent.  It was established by the Secretary-General, at his request.  And the report is being provided to him.  So, clearly, assistance will have been provided to help them to provide the report.  The exact details, I don’t know the exact details.  I am just telling you that they have been helped with the logistical support to compile the report.

Question:  [inaudible]… maybe, you may not know it right now.  But has anyone -- just the same question that I asked -- has anyone in the Secretariat seen the final report ready to be delivered, or a draft of the report?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know that.

Question:  Will you commit to find that out or say if you can say it?

Spokesperson:  If the information is available to be publicly shared, then I will do so, okay?  I think you understand what I can do and what I cannot do. I try to do my best, okay?  Yes.

Question:  One technical question, Martin.  Does the Commission’s mandate expire now that the report is finished?  Because, as our colleague was pointing out, like let’s say they did want to interview some of these army officers or something, will that require an extension of the mandate for them to do anything else?

Spokesperson:  We just had that question…

Question:  But I am not clear on it; the answer?

Spokesperson:  Well, the answer was that I don’t have the answer to that.

Question:  But did their mandate expire, yes or no?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the answer to that.  The intention was that today the report would be delivered, and as you say, that would be the end of the mandate.  I don’t know the answer to this, given the latest wrinkle.  I need to find out.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  Can somebody in the Secretariat, or you, vouch for the fact that nobody other than the Commission members have seen the report?

Spokesperson:  I cannot sit here and vouch for that because I do not know.

Question:  So how do we know that findings have not been leaked out to A,B,C,D or to the Pakistani Government?

Spokesperson:  The intention is, look, the Secretary-General has not sent the report.  The Pakistani Government has not seen the report.  So it’s with the commissioners.  The intention was for the commissioners or Ambassador Munōz to hand the report to the Secretary-General today.  Because of the urgent request that was received, that was not done.  This will now be done on 15 April, according to this.  Yes.

Question:  The way it has been, you know, overnight, urgency has been declared, the way Secretary-General has decided, don’t you think this cast a shadow on the fairness and independence of a UN-appointed commission in Pakistan [inaudible]… this report is released out of the locker?

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s still in the locker at the moment, and this is an independent commission.  The three commissioners, with the assistance I have alluded to, have worked extremely hard to gather all the information that they could on the circumstances concerning the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.  It’s ready.  It’s ready.

Question:  Can you say that it is secured inside the United Nations building?

Spokesperson:  No, because I don’t know that.  I don’t know.  I mean, don’t write that, because I didn’t say that, okay?  I don’t know where it is.  My understanding is that it is safe.

[Later, the Spokesperson announced that the Secretary-General did not meet this afternoon with the Ambassador of Pakistan, as had been previously scheduled.  He also further clarified that neither the Secretary-General nor the Government of Pakistan has seen the Commission of Inquiry's report, and neither will see it until it is presented on 15 April].

Spokesperson:  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Let me ask a non-Pakistan question, if it’s okay? 

Spokesperson:  Are there any non-Pakistan questions today?

Question:  There are actually, there are.  [laughter].  The President of Sudan…

Spokesperson:  But we have not much time left, because we have another press conference coming up in like, five minutes.

Question:  Given all the things that the UN has said about the importance of these elections in Sudan, I wonder what the response of the UN is to President [Omer Al-]Bashir saying that if the SPLM, the Sudan Peoples' Liberation Movement, boycotts, opposes or presumably asks for a postponement of the Sudanese election, that he won’t hold the referendum on the possible independence of South Sudan?  It seems to be like everything has come to a head here.  What is the UN doing about this possible “problemization” of the CPA and the whole kit and caboodle in Sudan?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, Mr. [Haile] Menkerios, the Special Representative, said yesterday that these elections were in a critical period for Sudan and these elections coming up in April are a crucial part of that.  As you also know, the timing of the election in April -- the timing, the exact timing of that -- is a matter for the Sudanese Government and the election authorities there.  The United Nations is providing the technical assistance for those elections.  You’ve mentioned the problem of the potential for delay; the UN does not have a formal view on a delay, except to say that, as the Secretary-General has already said, and I think you’ve asked me about this before, that if any delay does not mean that the technical challenges that confront us now will be removed.  So, that’s the only element where we have spoken about the impact of a delay.

Question:  May I ask another question about Iraq?

Spokesperson:  Sure, different country, yeah.

Question:  Different country.  Nouri al-Maliki has directly criticized Ad Melkert, saying, “if I were in Melkert’s position and in front of this wave of problems, I would have said you should go all the way through to detect fraud,” he says, but Melkert has said well, it’s difficult because of time.  What does the UN make of, you know, this critique of Mr. Melkert and UNAMI [the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq]?

Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Melkert himself has spoken quite clearly on that.  He issued a statement already, yesterday in Baghdad.  I can read it to you, if you like.  But it is publicly available; I can give it to you afterwards if you prefer.  But basically, it is saying that the United Nations, its role in the elections was to advise institutions impartially.  And this is what the UN has done throughout the electoral process.  And that the next stage leading to ratification by the Federal Supreme Court is entirely an Iraqi responsibility, and only at the request of the Government would the United Nations provide technical assistance and expertise for those further stages.  And what the UN has done throughout the electoral process is to provide this impartial assistance, and to support the Independent High Election Commission Board, and the Board has the sole decision-making power.  And also, an important point that Mr. Melkert makes is that the Board -- the international, the independent, I beg your pardon, High Election Commission Board -- has been unanimous in declaring the final results after reviewing complaints.

Question:  Okay, thanks.  I really appreciate that.  I just wanted to ask you sort of an overall question; maybe you can…  It seems like, given the, at a minimum, the confusion, if not the critiques made of the UN in three recent elections -- Afghanistan, currently in Sudan and then in Iraq -- by people in power like Maliki, by Sudanese opposition groups and by UN, then-UN staff members like [Peter] Galbraith, does the UN, you know, feel comfortable with the way it has been approaching these elections?  Is there some need to be clear on what its role is and isn’t?  Why… how can… if all three, certainly the Afghanistan one, have resulted in something of a setback for the UN’s reputation?  What can the UN do about this?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, there are many elections where the UN provides assistance that go swimmingly, and you hear nothing about it, and therefore you don’t need to ask me questions about it.  We’ve been very clear about the difficulties in Afghanistan; very clear indeed about what happened and what needs to happen next time to ensure that things are more transparent and that election fraud and other difficulties can be really eliminated or reduced.  It’s difficult to draw a link between each of these and therefore to say that the UN, as you were suggesting in your question, is not handling elections right.  Each of those different elections, the ones already held and the ones to come, present considerable challenges in transitional countries.  That’s why the UN is providing the technical assistance in each case, precisely to help those countries.  Do we get it right all the time?  No, we don’t.  Do the people on the ground try their very best to get it right?  Yes, they do.  Do we draw conclusions and try to do things better next time?  Yes, we do.

Question:  What are we going to have tomorrow on the stakeout?  Probably I missed that on the…

Spokesperson:  I said that we would provide more details about that.  That’s it, yeah.  Thanks.

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