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

19 April 2010

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

19 April 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.

**Secretary-General ’s Remarks

The Secretary-General gave a couple of speeches this morning:  One on the challenges for the international community and the role of the United Nations.  That was at a General Assembly session on disarmament and world security.

And then the Secretary-General also made some remarks at the ninth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

And we have copies of both of his sets of remarks.

** Afghanistan

Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, met today with Fazel Ahmad Manawi, the new Chairperson of the Independent Election Commission (IEC).  De Mistura congratulated Manawi on his appointment, saying that he was looking forward to working with him in the months ahead.  De Mistura added that these elections must be an improvement on the previous elections of last year.

He also said that with the appointment of Manawi and the endorsement of the Implementation Guidelines, he had recommended to the international community that they release funds, as soon as feasible, to allow electoral operations to begin.  De Mistura pledged the full technical and logistical support of the United Nations to the upcoming parliamentary elections. We have a press release with more details, as well as the transcripts of the weekend press conference by the Special Representative.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today has issued its monthly update on conditions in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  It reports that, in the West Bank, rioting and other incidents over the past month resulted in four Palestinians killed and 349 injured, as well as 44 injuries among Israeli forces.

The Gaza Strip also saw a significant increase in casualties, the Office reports, with four deaths and 39 injuries there, as well as damage to civilian homes and agricultural property, most of it as a result of a series of air strikes launched by the Israeli Air Force.

Poor living conditions were exacerbated in Gaza this month by deterioration in the supply of electricity.  This stemmed from the continuing decline in the import of fuel to the Gaza power plants, following a funding crisis that began in December 2009.  And separately, the UN Special Coordinator’s office reports that crossings into Gaza will be closed today and tomorrow.

** Cambodia

The Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Patricia O’Brien, met this morning in Phnom Penh with Cambodian Deputy Prime Minister Sok An, to further the cooperation between the Royal Government of Cambodia and the United Nations on the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

The Deputy Prime Minister and the Legal Counsel confirmed their strong support for the Chambers and their intention to continue to work closely together in a spirit of mutual cooperation and understanding to ensure that the legacy of the Court is preserved.

They expressed their concern about the financial situation, including the cash flow, of the Chambers.  Now that its budget for 2010 to 2011 has been approved, they called upon the international community to come forward with contributions and pledges to both the national and the international components of the Court.

**Crime Congress

The twelfth United Nations Congress on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice has wrapped up in Salvador, Brazil, with the adoption of a Declaration that calls for Member States to adapt their criminal justice systems to a changing world.

In the Salvador Declaration, Member States underlined the necessity of respecting and protecting human rights in the prevention of crime and the administration of criminal justice.  The Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, welcomed that, noting our shared responsibility to place human rights at the heart of the justice system.  UNODC has a press release with more details.

** Darfur

Aid agencies have been unable to reach civilians in some parts of South Darfur due to continued instability there.  Georg Charpentier, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, said that the lack of access is most acute in the Eastern Jebel Marra region.  Charpentier also noted that with the approaching dry season, it is becoming more urgent to gain access to all civilians living in difficult circumstances in the region.  Civilians there have until recently been provided UN aid, including food, water, and medicines.

**Press Conference Today

At 1:15 p.m. today, the incoming Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, Mr. Carlos Mamani Condori, will be here to brief you on the ninth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and will give an update on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And then at 12 p.m. tomorrow, Carlos Castresana, Commissioner of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, will be here to brief you on the efforts of the Commission.

So, any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, two questions, actually: Regarding the new round of the talks between The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia under the auspices of Mr. [Matthew] Nimetz, Ambassador Nimetz, and the Greeks -- whether the Secretary-General thinks that this is progress, what’s going on, or it is a sort of stalemate, because it is going on for 17 years without any concrete results, one would say.  And another one:  any comment from the Secretary-General in regard of his recent very huge effort, I would say, on Cyprus, in regard of the election of the new Turkish leader, who is a little bit, some could say, different than Mr. [Mehmet Ali] Talat?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the first one, the modalities for the next meeting are still being worked out.  So, I don’t have anything further to say on that particular topic.

Question:  But does the Secretary-General think that this is still progress, or is he concerned that this is really going on and on and on, without any results?

Spokesperson:  Well, at the moment, as I’ve said, they’re still working on the modalities.  So, there is nothing further on that at the moment, the modalities for a meeting, so I don’t have anything else for you on that. 

On the second question, the important thing here is that the negotiations are conducted under the auspices of the United Nations on the basis agreed by the two sides, and as defined by the relevant Security Council resolutions.  And the United Nations expects the talks to continue, and will work with both sides to determine a date for the resumption of those negotiations.  I can tell you that the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General, Alexander Downer, will be in New York next week, and he will be discussing the Cyprus issue with senior United Nations officials.  And just on the final aspect of your question, the selection of the Turkish Cypriot leader is, of course, a matter for the Turkish Cypriot community.

Question:  Did the Secretary-General call the new leader and congratulate him?

Spokesperson:  Not to my knowledge.  I think the first thing is the Special Adviser will be in New York next week and will be able to discuss this Cyprus issue in general.  Okay.  So, other questions?

Question:  Yes, my question is on Venezuela again.  I already know that you have received a letter from the Intra-American Press Association.  But now, my question is what are you going to do with that letter?  Is this issue going to be included on the Secretary-General’s agenda soon?  And are you willing to watch over press freedom in Venezuela?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, yes, you’re right that the letter was received and we did let people know that that was the case. The second was, as I mentioned, UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization] has very clear mandates dealing with the freedom of the media.  And I think that it would be -- if you haven’t done so already -- I think that’s a good place to start to ask what the UN system as a whole is doing in this regard. I think UNESCO is a good place to start.  Okay.

Question:  Sure, Sudan, and then Afghanistan.  On Sudan, the so-called Sudan troika -- it’s the United Kingdom, Norway and the United States -- they put out a statement this morning by the United States State Department, saying that the elections in Sudan failed to meet international standards, and this, the quote I wanted to ask you about:  “We regret that the National Elections Commission (NEC) did not do more to prevent and address such problems prior to voting.”  Since it was described that the UN was providing technical assistance to the NEC, what does the UN say of this criticism implicitly of its own work, working with the NEC and the statement that elections didn’t meet international standards?

Spokesperson: I think there are two things here.  One is that, most importantly, the elections, despite the reported irregularities and other difficulties, took place without any major incident of violence.  I think that’s important to note.  The second is that, you’ve mentioned it yourself, the UN’s role was indeed to provide technical assistance.  And the UN did so.  It was for the National Election Commission actually to conduct the elections and that’s what they did.  Anything beyond that is trying to divide things a little bit, and I don’t think that that’s the way that we would see it.  We would see it as the UN providing electoral assistance, technical electoral assistance, and then it was for the National Election Commission to then conduct the elections.

Question:  But how does the UN judge the efficacy of its technical assistance other than by the performance of the entities to which it provides technical assistance, you know what I mean?  I am not actually trying to divide it.  I am trying to say, if you’re in the business of helping the entity, what’s the response to the criticism of what they, are you saying that the NEC didn’t follow the advice of the UN or…?

Spokesperson:  No, I said what I said.  Matthew, I think one of the points here is that we’ve said all the way along that this is extremely complex and an extremely challenging exercise for all concerned.  And what we’ve been providing is advice on fairly technical matters, including voter registration, and the counting, and tabulation and announcement of results, and training plans and materials, this kind of thing -- and helping to provide assistance, technical assistance for voter education.  But ultimately, it is the National Election Commission that makes the decisions and then runs the process.

Question:  Also on Sudan, I wanted to -- last week there were these reports of a ransom demand for the missing peacekeepers, and the group that’s listed as making the demand turns out to apparently be kind of a Government proxy; it’s really a rebel group.  It was accused of being a pro-Government entity in Darfur.  I’m wondering, since this time has gone by, what can you say about the status of these peacekeepers?  And there is one South African media account saying that the UN has requested a media ban of any discussion of this hostage taking.  Is that accurate or not accurate?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that our colleagues on the ground there are clearly very well aware of the fact that four of our peacekeepers, police officers as you pointed out, South African nationals, are missing.  We are clearly in contact with the Government of Sudan and, as in all such cases, it’s the host Government that is the one that is responsible for helping to ensure that people being held or missing are returned safely.

Question:  Okay.  So, I mean, this idea that there is a media ban, is there a media ban?

Spokesperson:  I have told you what I’ve told you, which is that the United Nations is working with the host Government; it’s for the host Government to do its utmost as in all such cases to help to ensure that people who work for the United Nations are returned.

Question:  In reference to Afghanistan, some have criticized your constituting of the Electoral Commission as having reduced the authority of international participants.  Does the UN or the Secretary-General have any comment or concern with respect to that -- that again, the perception that the [Hamid] Karzai Government is going to have more influence over the ultimate decisions of that commission for the upcoming parliamentary elections?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I just mentioned to you at the beginning of the briefing, Staffan de Mistura, who is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, has been working quite closely in talks that went on last week with Government representatives in Afghanistan.  You’ve heard what he has had to say -- what Staffan de Mistura has had to say over the weekend.  He is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and therefore, I think he has encapsulated quite clearly what our position is.  And it’s spelled out in quite some detail.  I would refer you to the transcript of the press conference, and the Press Release that was put out.  The bottom line is that Mr. de Mistura has said, has recommended to the international community that the funds that are needed to kick off this electoral process should be released as soon as feasible so that the election operations can begin.

Question:  Does he concede, either in a briefing or through other channels, that there has been a weakening of the international community presence and participation in that commission, according to reports?

Spokesperson:  I think the best thing there is to go back to what Mr. de Mistura has said, that is very clearly spelled out in his remarks and in the press release.  I don’t need to paraphrase what he said here.  I would simply add that Mr. de Mistura has made clear that the elections this time around must be an improvement on the previous elections.  Okay.

Question:  On Afghanistan, in continuing questioning on this death of Louis Maxwell and the other UN staff -- the guest house, you said last week that there was a high-level Board of Inquiry.  I wanted to know what, and I had asked, somehow I didn’t… by high level, what’s meant?  Are there any outsiders, an independent body?  I’ve heard that it’s actually just DFS [Department of Field Support] employees, all of whom report to Susana Malcorra.  Can you, if that’s not true, I would like to know.  But, what does high-level mean, and will its report be made public or what will happen with its report?  Under what mandate was it set up?  I searched through various GA [General Assembly] and other documents, and there seems to be three kinds of boards of inquiry, none of which this one falls under.  So I just, I guess I wanted to know…

Spokesperson:  What are the three?

Question:  Say again?

Spokesperson:  What are the three?

Question:  Ooh, hang on a second; I have them written down here.  Do you…

Spokesperson:  We don’t have to go into it right now, but there are three different types…

Question:  Yeah, yeah.  I mean, I’ll send these to you, but it wasn’t, you said, I think last week, you’d said that you know these are set up.  So, I have to admit, maybe to my detriment, I don’t know actually know how they’re set up.  But on this one, I would like to know whether it’s all DFS employees and whether it will be made public when it concludes its investigation.

Spokesperson:  Three things:  one is that the Board of Inquiry’s draft report has been completed, the draft.  But that does not mean that it is finalized to go the Secretary-General.  That’s the second point.  The step after it is finalized would be for it to go the Secretary-General.  Whether it’s subsequently made public is something that I can’t answer here and now.  I would need to find out.  I don’t know the answer to that right now.  Clearly, there is a lot of public interest in this, and I’m sure that that would be taken into account.  And as for the make-up of the board, who is on the board, I can’t give you names and numbers.  What I can tell you is that, my understanding is that it is not exclusively in-house.

This is what I can tell you now -- to my understanding, as far as I know, this is not exclusively a board with in-house members.  But the most important thing here is that regardless of the Constitution, the way that it is set up, it has the very clear aim of trying to understand precisely what happened.  These are very tragic circumstances, and this was aimed to do an extremely thorough job to find out exactly what happened.

[The Spokesperson later added that it is standard procedure to convene a board of inquiry in cases such as this.  This particular board was convened under the authority of the Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Field Support and was comprised of external and internal senior personnel with relevant backgrounds and Afghanistan expertise (security; investigations; agencies, funds and programmes).  It was led by a former senior Australian Federal Police Officer.

The procedure for the conclusion of the board of inquiry is as follows:  the board finishes and submits the draft report for legal comment.  The report is then given back to the board for further action (as required) and/or sign-off.  Once the report is signed off on by board members it is considered finalized and it is presented to the convening authority, in this case the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, for further action as warranted.  The actual boards of inquiry are not made public in order to protect the confidentiality of the investigation.]

Question:  When this first came up last week, it was said that there is a Board of Inquiry and that it will be done in due course.  When was this draft completed, and what are the steps between where it stands now -- the draft?  Was it completed over the weekend, or had it already been completed before these questions arose last week, and what steps between now and the Secretary-General getting it?

Spokesperson:  When a draft report is completed, then it is clear that it is reviewed.  And, then, before it is submitted to the Secretary-General, it is reviewed.  That’s a normal, if you like, checks-and-balance kind of procedure that you would have with any report.  Other people look at it and then it is finalized to go to the Secretary-General.

Question:  [inaudible] because, like when you say reviewed, I had asked, by who, just because last week we had the experience of the [Heraldo] Muñoz Bhutto panel; they did their report; they didn’t show it to anyone until they gave it to the Secretary-General.  So, it was an outside report…

Spokesperson:  That’s right.

Question:  In this case, is it Susana Malcorra reviewing it?  Is it UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan]?  Is it the Afghan national forces?  Who reviews it?

Spokesperson:  I cannot give details to you on that right now.  I am sure I will be able to.  I need to establish exactly what hoops I jump through.

Question:  Something totally unrelated -- there is this climate change conference in Bolivia that’s beginning tomorrow.  There is a climate change conference being set up by Bolivia and other members of the ALBA group.  I won’t analogize it or anything, I just wondered whether anyone in the UN system, whether Mr. [Janos] Pasztor or Yvo de Boer’s existing office, whether anyone has been invited to go and whether there is any UN representation at this regional or semi-global climate change conference in Bolivia, Cochabamba, Bolivia?

Spokesperson:  I’ll find out.  Okay, anything else?  Thank you.

[The Spokesperson later said that Alicia Barcena will represent the United Nations at that meeting and will read out a statement on the Secretary-General’s behalf.]

* *** *

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