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

21 April 2010

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

21 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 on Rapprochement of Cultures

At 3 o’clock this afternoon, the Secretary-General will speak at a UN event to mark the International Year on the Rapprochement of Cultures, which is intended to highlight dialogue and understanding among peoples and faiths.

He will say that dialogue among cultures, civilizations and religions is crucial to fulfilling the central objectives of the United Nations Charter, also crucial to upholding human rights and advancing development.  And he will note recent initiatives to foster understanding, such as the Alliance of Civilizations, which will be built on as a major forum next month in Rio de Janeiro.

**Secretary-General on Death of Antonio Samaranch

The Secretary-General, like many, was greatly saddened to hear the news of the death of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the former President of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).  The Secretary-General is writing to Mr. Samaranch’s family and to the IOC President.

**Board of Inquiry

In recent days, I’ve received a number of questions about the process by which the Afghanistan Board of Inquiry did its work.  I’d like to say in response that there is a standard operational procedure for such boards and that procedure was followed with this Board.  The Board of Inquiry is confidential, in that it is an investigative report that includes the names of witnesses, representation of evidence and other such information.  Making this information public could compromise the integrity of the process and put people who spoke with the investigators at risk.  However, as I have said here already, the UN frequently briefs on the findings of major boards of inquiry, and we will certainly ask for a senior official to do so in this case.

Once the report is finalized, it will be shared with the Secretary-General and his Executive Office.  The findings of the report will also be shared with the Government of Afghanistan, and we will work closely with any competent requesting judicial authority and investigative body.  The United Nations has also been, and will continue to be, in constant contact with Mr. Maxwell’s family, both in person and by telephone.


For those who did not see it, we issued a press release yesterday afternoon announcing the Secretary-General’s appointment of Norman Girvan of Jamaica as his Personal Representative on the Border Controversy between Guyana and Venezuela.

Mr. Girvan’s role will be to assist Guyana and Venezuela in resolving this long-standing controversy.  His appointment responds to a request from the parties to resume the Secretary-General’s good offices, which were suspended in 2007 due to the death of the Secretary-General’s last Personal Representative, Oliver Jackman.

The Secretary-General commends the parties for seeking to resolve their differences through dialogue, and looks forward to learning of the progress that they make with the assistance of Mr. Girvan.  The full press release with his biographical details is available in my office.


We also have in my Office an embargoed press release from UNICEF on the latest UN-Water Global Annual Assessment of Sanitation and Drinking Water (GLAAS).  This is a report which is being launched today by UN-Water and the World Health Organization (WHO).

**Guest Tomorrow

Tomorrow, John Ging, Director of UNRWA Operations in Gaza, will be my guest at the noon briefing.

**American Idol

And a quick announcement: tonight at 8 p.m., the TV show American Idol will broadcast a special “Idol Gives Back” show highlighting the work of the United Nations and the UN Foundation.  The show will give viewers the opportunity to donate to featured UN Foundation programmes that then support the United Nations, including Haiti relief and empowering women and girls in Ethiopia.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, Martin, thank you.  Tomorrow is the fortieth anniversary of World Earth Day, and I was wondering if it is possible to get, well, first of all, statistics about recycling here at the UN.  And also, more specifically, my understanding is that there is no recycling for plastic, glass or metal here at the United Nations.  Can you confirm or inform that?

Spokesperson:  I’ll try to find out -- I don’t know sitting here right now.  We certainly recycle plenty of paper in my office.  Let’s find out the answer to the broader question that you are asking.  Thank you.  Yes.

Question:  I wasn’t clear about were the SG will be at 3 o’clock.  Will it be in this room or at the stakeout or…?

Spokesperson:  This is an event.  It’s not actually… it’s not in this room.  This is an event -- I can’t remember the exact venue -- it’s somewhere in this compound.  I’m sure that we can tell you afterwards exactly where it is.  But it is not here in this room.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  It’s speaking at an open UN event, as I said, it’s not a stakeout.  Yes.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the event on the International Year of the Rapprochement of Cultures would take place in Conference Room 2 in the North Lawn Building.]

Question:  [inaudible] said that the UN Secretary-General Cyprus Special Adviser, Mr. Downer, is going to be here next week.  Can you tell us the exact time and date when he will be meeting with the Secretary-General?  And is there going to be any press opportunity to see him and talk to him?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know yet exactly when he will be coming.  But we can find that out for sure.  That’s the first thing.  The second thing is that I would anticipate that Mr. Downer will be able to speak to journalists at some point during his visit.  I can’t say exactly when, but I would anticipate that he would do that.  We’ll need to confirm it, however.  Okay, further questions?  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  I wanted first to… I have a question about Sudan from yesterday, but I wanted to follow up on this Afghanistan Board of Inquiry questions.  One is that a witness to the events has come forward and said that Mr. Maxwell was killed for his gun, that the Afghan national forces wanted his high-end assault rifle, and therefore killed him to take it.  They say it’s a… the gun is a Heckler and Koch g36k assault rifle.  What I wanted to know is, even as this is going on, does the UN have in its possession at the end of those events the weapon used by Louis Maxwell in defending the other staff members?  And also, is the Secretary-General, I think I’d asked this in a written question I sent to you, before Ms. [Susana] Malcorra convened this Board of Inquiry, was the Secretary-General aware of this issue and did he approve of the composition and mandate of the Board of Inquiry?

Spokesperson:  Well, let’s roll back a little bit.  As I have said, the Board of Inquiry is finalizing its report.  It has not yet done so.  It has not yet been presented to those, as I outlined, who would be presented either with the report or with the findings, depending on who it is.  So, I can’t say here and now what the findings are, because that report has not been finalized and has not been handed over.  Therefore, on a very specific question such as the weapon, I cannot give you an answer to that.  This is a Board of Inquiry…

Question:  [inaudible] factual question [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  It may be a factual question, Matthew, and let us be really clear about one thing, I seem to recall that you have written somewhere that management of information is one thing, but cover up and lies are another.  Well, let me say here and now that this is pretty outrageous and also insulting.  We’re talking about the death of one of our staff, a UN security officer who helped to save many lives.  It’s our responsibility, it’s our duty to find out the facts.  That is exactly what we are doing.  And this is a Board of Inquiry; everything is being done as it should.  And once this has been finalized and given to those who need to know first, there will be a briefing, I am sure, as I have said, this has been done in the past.  And there will be an opportunity for you to ask further questions.

Question:  That’s from a communication actually from UN staff in Kabul who, when they initially raised this, said that they had been asking the Secretariat to raise this to the Afghan Government for months with no action.  So, just so, you can say it’s outrageous, but I am saying…

Spokesperson:  No, that’s…

Question:  …those who work there…

Spokesperson:  Matthew, Matthew, let’s be really clear.  Let’s be really clear: what’s outrageous is what you wrote in your blog, not what you’ve just put to me.  And I have just quoted you this one…

Question: [inaudible] believe that the Secretariat has covered up the death of one of their colleagues because it is inconvenient to raise it to the Afghan Government.  Your response is that it is outrageous.  That’s…

Spokesperson:  No, it’s outrageous what you wrote.  It was not a quote, it was not a quote.  It’s what you wrote in your blog.

Correspondent:  Okay, fine.

Spokesperson:  And it was not a quote from someone.

Question:  I didn’t know that this was a forum for you to critique articles, but I just wanted to know [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  No, it is, because it is possible for me to respond to you in the same way that it is possible for you to respond to me.  What I am trying to tell you is that -- let me finish.  The UN lost a number of people, including the security officer, Mr. Maxwell, who had saved many lives.  We want to know what happened.  We’re looking into this.  We want to know what happened.  There is a Board of Inquiry that has looked into this and it is finalizing its report.  That’s the most important thing that we’re trying to find out.  We want to know.  You want to know, we want to know.  And when the Board of Inquiry has finalized its report, then those who need to know first of all, would be told.

Question:  When was the UN going to say publicly that they were aware of an alternative theory of the death of Louis Maxwell and three other staff members?

Spokesperson:  There is a Board of Inquiry that has been working on this for a long time.  You’ve seen the timeline.

Question:  But you’ve also said that if only in cases where, depending on the finding, it may or may not be made public.  If this inquiry were done, and I think this was the sense of staff in Kabul, if the inquiry were done and the UN decided to conclude that there wasn’t conclusive evidence that Louis Maxwell was killed by Afghan national forces, would the UN have ever said anything publicly about this?

Spokesperson:  There is no need for the United Nations to -- let’s put it this way, the United Nations wants to know.  Colleagues want to know.  Friends want to know.  Family want to know.  We want to know.  He was our guy.  We want to know what happened.  And the Board of Inquiry is doing, and has been doing, the job that it was asked to do, which is to find out.  There is a due process here that is being followed.

Question:  Due process for who?  For the Afghan national, unnamed Afghan national forces, that’s what I know; I mean due process usually means the accused.

Spokesperson:  It means following the procedure for, with -- as I have said to you -- standard operational procedure for these kinds of boards within the United Nations.  And I have said here before, that if warranted, this will be taken up with the Afghan authorities -- the findings.

Question:  Okay.  I know, I understand.  Just to be clear, I just want your quote.  To those who feel that the lack of any public statement by the UN from -- since October -- about this issue despite their knowledge amounts to a cover up, what would you say?

Spokesperson:  Absolutely not the case.  Absolutely not the case.  This is a Board of Inquiry that was set up to look into what was obviously an extremely tragic event, and to ensure that, to the extent possible, we find out what happened.  My point was to you Matthew, very specifically, about one line in your blog that was not a quote from people, it was something that was just written there.

Question:  [inaudible] I don’t quote them because they’re speaking off… they believe that the UN would retaliate against them.  I mean, that’s… maybe you are unaware of those concerns.  I wanted to ask about Sudan, because I think we may have exhausted this, at least for today.

Spokesperson:  Well, I am happy to take any questions Matthew, and you know that.  I just simply wanted with this, the Board of Inquiry, to be clear on where things stand.  The report is being finalized and the UN has frequently briefed on findings of other major boards of inquiry, and I think we can be fairly certain that the same thing will happen this time.

Question:  Okay, great.  On Sudan, the missing or kidnapped peacekeepers in Darfur, it is now being reported that South African Government has been negotiating with the group and the group has said that they will release the peacekeepers once the election results are released in Darfur.  There are also reports that this group, both by the name of its founder and otherwise, are a somewhat Government-supported militia.  What I wanted to know is whether the UN has had any involvement in these discussions between the South African Government and the hostage takers or, and whether, what it would say to a trail of evidence that seems to indicate that the hostage takers are in fact in some way initially created by or affiliated with the Government of Sudan?

Spokesperson:  I have mentioned here before that the UN is concerned for the well-being of the four people, the four South African peacekeepers who are missing.  And I have also said that the UN has been liaising with the Government of Sudan and, as in other such cases, it’s the responsibility of the host Government to ensure the safe return of people in such circumstances.  And beyond that, I don’t have any comment at the moment.

Question:  Of the concern that this liaising, that in fact, I mean, there’s also been, a UNAMID Spokesman has said that the Government knows who the hostage takers are, so that’s why I am assuming that that’s a UN-wide position.

Spokesperson:  At the moment…

Question:  Is that a matter of concern to the UN; that the host Government is aware of and allegedly is connected to the hostage talkers, is that of some concern?

Spokesperson:  At the moment, there are two things.  One is that the overriding concern is, again, for our people on the ground.  And for that reason, I don’t have anything further to say.

Question:  But you will, I mean once they’re released maybe you will…?

Spokesperson:  The whole aim of the game is for our colleagues to be returned safely.  Any other questions?  Yes.

Question:  Thank you, Martin. [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Just as a general tip to people in the room, the microphones that help me to hear what you’re saying are in actually the rows further to the front.  Just for future reference, not for now, but for future reference, it really helps if you’re sitting in the lower rows here in the Auditorium.  But I can hear you fine.  Please, go ahead.

Question:  Thank you.  Last week, the Secretary-General met with the Acting Nigerian President in Washington, D.C., and in the report of the Nigerian Government on that meeting, they said that the Secretary-General has offered to visit Nigeria in June.  I wanted to confirm this from the UN and also to ask specifically what kind of assistance has the Secretary-General offered the Nigerian leader at the meeting?

Spokesperson:  Well, we had a readout on this, which I think we circulated quite widely last week, and I am happy to do that again after this briefing.  I don’t have it with me right now, but I am happy to give you…

Question:  I got the readout, you know, really that doesn’t address my questions.

Spokesperson:  Well, that is the information I have.  It’s usual practice, as I think you know, that we would not say a long way in advance yes or no whether the Secretary-General is going to visit somewhere.  We don’t do that.

Question:  And could you also give the details of the assistance that he…?

Spokesperson:  I think that the readout does address that particular part of your question, as I recall.  But I don’t have it with me right here and now.  But we can follow up afterwards, I am very happy to do that.  Okay, thank you very much.

Question:  Can I ask… I wanted to ask a Congo question and one about access to this building, if it’s possible?

Spokesperson:  You can, yes, okay.  Last two, sure.

Question:  In the Democratic Republic of the Congo where the Government re-took the airport that had been taken by rebels or was ascribed to ethnic tensions, a Congolese human rights group has said that the Government killed 11 civilians during its re-taking of the airport.  I am wondering, since the UN has such a, you know, big presence in the Congo and works with the Government, are they aware of this and are they going to anything to look into this alleged killing of civilians by the Government?

Spokesperson:  We’ve heard the report, but we can’t confirm this information.

Question:  But is the UN going to look into it, I guess, is my question.  It’s within its mandate to look into that.

Spokesperson:  At the moment, what I can tell you is that we can’t confirm this information.

Question:  Does it have, I mean, I know that MONUC -- I’m sorry to -- has a human rights component and has a mandate to protect civilians.  Would this, would looking into alleged killing of civilians by the host Government fall within the mandate of protection of civilians?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I can say is that at the moment we cannot confirm this.  But it doesn’t preclude what you are saying that it is being looked into.  But what I can tell you at the moment is what I have told you.

Question:  There are also, there is -– and you may have been aware of this –- there was a coalition of non-governmental organizations that wrote to the Secretary-General in late February complaining about, that the new, both the new building and certain new policies have acted to exclude NGOs from the work of the UN in ways not heretofore seen for 30 years, the quote one of them has given.  The Secretary-General wrote back a letter that doesn’t have many of the groups that satisfied, or at least from what I have been able to make out.  What I wonder is what steps, given, you know, the statements that the UN makes about NGOs and their importance to civil society, etcetera, what is the UNs response to this seemingly widespread concern of being increasingly excluded from the work of the UN?

Spokesperson:  Well, I will come back to you with more on that shortly, but not right now.  I will come back to you with more on that.  I would simply say that now that non-governmental organizations, civil society, form an integral part of the dialogue that goes on within and around the United Nations -- and their voice is crucial -- the Secretary-General has been consistent in, wherever he travels, meeting representatives of civil society from non-governmental organizations as well as with Government and other officials.  And that applies here at the United Nations Headquarters, too.  As I say, I will come back to you with more on the very specific question, but I just wanted to make it very clear that the work that non-governmental organizations do, the work that they do is clearly appreciated, and as I say, is an integral part of the dialogue that goes on within the Organization and around it.

Question:  Just to tie [inaudible] so, as you seek that answer, it seemed like people were speaking about this, the most recent CSW [Commission on the Status of Women] meeting and saying that unlike any previous such conference that many of the, even people that were accredited and invited to come were unable to access any of the meetings or even get into the building.  So I just want to make it, just to tie it to that overarching statement how it actually is implemented.

Spokesperson:  Sure.  And I mean, I think we also understand that some of this could be quite clearly related to the renovation work that’s going on in this building and the changes that that has brought, including for example where this briefing takes place.  There have been changes that are there as a temporary measure and that could explain some of the difficulties, unintended consequences, so to speak, of a renovation that is, as you know, fairly large and not yet completed.  But let me come back to you with the specific information that you are seeking.

Question:  [inaudible] your Office’s access to the Security Council consultations?

Spokesperson:  I told you before Matthew, that this is something that you could ask the President of the Security Council about.  This is a matter for them.  But, as I have also told you, we -- meaning my Office -- have a role to play in ensuring that the Secretary-General is up to speed on what is happening. And as I say, further to that, it would be better for you to speak to the President of the Security Council.

Question:  That’s exactly why I was asking for the update.  If you regain access or if there is some development, it seems like you know…

Spokesperson:  If there is a development you would know about it.  Okay.  Thank you.

* *** *

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