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

8 June 2010

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

8 June 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

and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Press Conference Today

Along with me is Jean Victor Nkolo, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  And both of us will try to get our things done by 12:30 p.m., when you will have Ambassador [Zahir] Tanin here to speak to you about Security Council reform.

**Secretary-General in South Africa

The Secretary-General has arrived in South Africa, at the start of his second trip to the continent this month.  He will meet President Jacob Zuma of South Africa for bilateral talks, later this hour.

He will then join President Zuma and other dignitaries at a “Sports for Peace” gala dinner.  He is expected to make remarks there, in which he will highlight the unifying power of sport and underscore the importance of the Millennium Development Goals.  We have his remarks under embargo in the Spokesperson’s Office.

Very early on Wednesday morning, the Secretary-General will fly to Bujumbura for an official visit to Burundi.  He will meet the President, Pierre Nkurunziza, and other officials.  He will also meet members of the United Nations mission, BINUB, and other United Nations staff, as well as visit a Burundian battalion that serves with AMISOM, the African Union Mission in Somalia.  He will then travel on to Cameroon late that evening.


We have been asked since yesterday about reports that Israel may reject any international investigation into the 31 May incident involving the flotilla.  First, we have not yet received an official response from Israel.

We would like to underscore the Secretary-General’s considered view that credible international involvement is crucial to a prompt, credible, impartial and transparent investigation, as called for in the Security Council’s presidential statement of 1 June.  The Secretary-General understands that Israel is still considering how and if to bring an international element into the investigative process.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning is holding consultations on non-proliferation, to discuss matters concerning a draft resolution on Iran.  Council members also discussed the Iran draft resolution yesterday afternoon, also in consultations.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

I have an appointment for you.  The Secretary-General has appointed Youssef Mahmoud of Tunisia as his Special Representative for the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT), effective from 1 June 2010.  Mr. Mahmoud will succeed Victor da Silva Angelo of Portugal, who served as Special Representative until the end of March 2010.

Before his arrival in Chad, Mr. Mahmoud served for three years as Executive Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB).  Immediately prior to that, he was the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for the peacekeeping mission that preceded BINUB.  And we have more information on Mr. Mahmoud in the Spokesperson’s Office.

** Kenya

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has urged the Government of Kenya to try once again to establish a Special Tribunal to fight against what she described as “the current almost total lack of accountability for the terrible events that took place in the wake of the December 2007 elections”.

Pillay made the comments to the press at the end of a three-day visit to Kenya.  She added that the involvement of the International Criminal Court in the investigations is limited, as it would only be able to address a small number of high-profile cases of people suspected of war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.  And we have copies of her remarks available both online and from the Spokesperson’s Office.

** Guatemala

We put out a statement yesterday afternoon following Carlos Castresana’s announcement that he will be leaving the Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, known as CICIG.  The Secretary-General intends to proceed with the appointment of a qualified replacement who can build on the progress achieved to date and lead the Commission through the remainder of its mandate.

The Secretary-General expresses his hope that critical policy recommendations of CICIG will be implemented soon, and that the Guatemalan Government ensures that key positions in the justice sector are filled with qualified candidates.  And the full statement is available in our office and online.

** Libya

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has received instructions by the Libyan Government to cease its activities in Libya and close down all its offices in the country.  UNHCR has said that it very much regrets this decision.  UNHCR has been doing major work in Libya to protect, assist and find durable solutions for the refugees and asylum-seekers present in the country.

The agency is still trying to negotiate its presence in Libya and remains hopeful that a positive solution could be found.  UNHCR is the only existing asylum system in Libya, and this move would leave a huge vacuum for the thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers already present in the country, and for those who continue to arrive every week.  And we have more details in the Geneva briefing notes.

**World Oceans Day

Today is World Oceans Day.  In a message to mark the event, the Secretary-General calls upon Governments and citizens around the world to acknowledge the enormous value of the world’s oceans to humanity and to do their part in ensuring their health and vitality.

The Secretary-General says that oceans are integral to sustainable development and an important frontier for research.  If we are to fully benefit from what they have to offer, we must address the damaging impacts of human activities, such as over-exploitation of resources, climate change, pollution and piracy.  We have copies of his speech available both online and from the Spokesperson’s Office.

Also, World Ocean’s Day is being marked with several activities at United Nations Headquarters.  This afternoon, at 3 p.m. in North Lawn Building Conference Room 1, there will be a round-table discussion on the “UN Convention on the Law of the Sea 15 years after its entry into force”.  And this evening, at 6 p.m. in the General Assembly Hall, there will be a screening of the Disney nature feature Oceans.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Like I said at the start, at 12:30 p.m., here in this room, Ambassador Zahir Tanin, the Permanent Representative of Afghanistan, will brief on Security Council reform.  And before that, we will have Jean Victor Nkolo, the Spokesperson of the President of the General Assembly.

Tomorrow at 11:30 a.m., here in the Library Auditorium, we’ll have a briefing featuring Edward Peck, a former United States diplomat who was aboard the Gaza flotilla.  He will be joined by Ambassador Paul Badji of Senegal and Ambassador Riyad Mansour of the Palestine Observer Mission.  The briefing is being organized by the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.  And there’s more information in my office.

And at noon, Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of UNAIDS, will be our guest at the noon briefing.

That’s it for me.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Farhan, has the Secretary-General been in touch with the Libyans?  When you say UNHCR is coming to negotiate its presence there, what’s being done right now?  Is it an inter-agency process?

Associate Spokesperson:  There are essentially two things that are happening.  On the one hand, UNHCR is working with the Libyan authorities, and what they’re trying to do is find a way that they can prevent this expulsion from actually happening.  At the same time, the Secretariat is also using our own contacts at the appropriate level, and we’re pressing the case with the Libyan authorities for UNHCR to stay where they are.

Question:  Is there a specific reason that they cited or were there a number of reasons for the expulsion?

Associate Spokesperson:  You would have to ask the Libyans.  This is something that they have…  I believe this first came up a few months ago.  But they had suggested that there was no agreement at the time for a UNHCR role in the country.  At the same time, UNHCR has had a lengthy and very valuable role in Libya, and we’re hoping that that continues, and UNHCR is working to achieve that.

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  Last week, when the SG did a stakeout about the Gaza flotilla raid, he confirmed that he’d sought an assessment and advice from the Secretariat’s own lawyers.  Can you confirm that this advice indicated that Israel’s actions contravened several articles of the Law of the Sea, particularly those in Part VII of the treaty governing behaviour on the high seas?

Associate Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm that.  As I believe the Secretary-General also indicated when he said that, he did not believe it was appropriate to share the advice he receives from his Legal Counsel, which is frequently the case that he receives advice in confidence from his Legal Counsel, and that helps him analyse the events that follow.  But we don’t have any particular details, nor has OLA [Office for Legal Affairs] shared that.

Question:  Is that a standard procedure for legal advice for the Secretariat to be kept secret and not, like…?

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s standard procedure that not all of the advice that’s provided by the Legal Counsel in its role as Legal Counsel is made public.  Much of this, as with any lawyer’s advice to a client, is not necessarily put into the public domain.  It is part of what the Secretary-General uses as his assessment of the situation at hand, however.

Question:  Just on these reports that North Korea has shot and killed three Chinese civilians across the border and injured one.  Given that it’s a cross-border incident and other things happening on the peninsula, is the Secretariat aware of that, and can they confirm that?  And what do they think of that?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’re aware of the report.  We cannot confirm this because we don’t have a presence at that border area.  But certainly, we are aware of the report, and I will see whether there is anything further we have to say as we obtain further information.  But at this stage, the information we have received is only at the level of media reports.

Question:  Also, I wanted to ask, the Secretary-General was recently in Kampala for that International Criminal Court conference.  It’s been announced today that Uganda is in fact inviting Omer al-Bashir, although he is indicted by the ICC, to the African Union Summit meeting in Uganda.  Does the Secretary-General, given the comments that he made while there, what does he think of that invite by an International Criminal Court member State?

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, all Heads of Government can be invited to an event of this nature.  However, of course, our previous stand concerning President Bashir still holds, and those views remain the same.

Question:  I just wanted to ask whether you have a specific itinerary for the Secretary-General’s planned trip to Nigeria this month.

Associate Spokesperson:  There is nothing to announce at this stage.  I do expect that in the coming days we will be able to announce a third leg of travel to Africa that will be made by the Secretary-General.  But that announcement is not yet ready.

Question:  Yesterday, I had asked you about this screening of a film, Three Idiots, in the ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council] Chamber.  You said, “Speak to the sponsors”.  I sent you the article that pretty much described it.  But there is also a new article in which it is said that the United Nations Department of Management contacted the director and requested the screening.  So, in fact it’s something, at least according to one, this public report, the Department of Management itself was involved in setting up the event and may even, in some sense, be the sponsor.  So I am wondering, can you confirm that attendance was charged and how does it comply with United Nations rules?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, to revisit this, we did talk to the Department of Management, and the information we’ve received is that the Department of Management was not involved in the organization of this event.  The movie was organized and screened under the auspices of the UNSRC/SPICE-Indian Club, a United Nations staff recreation club.  The UNSRC/SPICE-Indian Club should be approached for details regarding the event.

Correspondent:  So, this account in India Today that said the Department of Management got in touch…

Associate Spokesperson:  As I have just said, the Department of Management was not involved.  Like I said, the UN has several staff recreational clubs and this is one of them.

Question:  That includes, let’s say staff members of the Department of Management, maybe in a dual role…?

Associate Spokesperson:  I have said what I have said.

Question:  Okay.  And also, do you have a readout of the Secretary-General’s meetings while he was in D.C., other than the one they put out a speech for?

Associate Spokesperson:  I believe my colleague Marie [Okabe] might have some readouts.  I’ll try and get anything further from her.  I don’t believe there were readouts necessarily of each and every meeting, though.

Question:  A list of meetings would be good, who he met with.

Associate Spokesperson:  Certainly.  And as you know, now that that trip is over, we put out press releases, SG travel notes, and those travel notes will have descriptions of all the various meetings.

And with that, Jean Victor.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

**General Assembly President Official Visit to Turkey

We start with the official visit of President Treki to Turkey.

Ali Abdussalam Treki, President of the General Assembly is on an official visit to Turkey from 7 to 9 June at the invitation of Abdullah Gül, President of Turkey.

Earlier today, President Treki met with Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Prime Minister of Turkey.  Their talks focused on the recent Israeli attack on the humanitarian flotilla and on future steps for establishing an international, independent and credible investigation into that incident, which resulted in the killing of nine Turkish nationals.  The Prime Minister also thanked President Treki for his letter expressing condolences to and solidarity with Turkey.  The two sides also discussed a number of issues on the United Nations agenda, in particular the efforts to promote dialogue among civilizations.

Yesterday, President Treki and President Gül held bilateral talks.  They addressed important issues on the agenda of the General Assembly, including efforts to reform the United Nations, in particular the revitalization of the General Assembly and reform of the Security Council.  Both Presidents reaffirmed the need to strengthen the United Nations and its General Assembly.  Many ideas were discussed, including those pertaining to giving more power to the General Assembly in the selection process of the Secretary-General, as well as the role the General Assembly plays in promoting international peace and security, development, human rights and rule of law.  Dr. Treki briefed President Gül of his initiatives to hold high-level meetings in the General Assembly to address global challenges, including water, disarmament, international piracy, peacekeeping and peacebuilding, transnational organized crime, as well as the situation in the Middle East and the question of Palestine.

President Treki also briefed President Gül on the preparations for the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals in September 2010.  President Gül confirmed his participation in this summit.

Yesterday evening, President Treki attended the State dinner hosted by the Prime Minister of Turkey in honour of the Heads of State and Government, heads of delegations and foreign ministers attending the third Summit of the Conference on the Interaction and Confidence-building Measures in Asia (CICA).

If you have questions…  That’s what I have got for you today.  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  What steps is Mr. Treki taking in order to advance an international probe into the Gaza aid flotilla raid?

Spokesperson:  President Treki is consulting with Member States, as he has been doing with the leaders of Turkey and before that with other leaders, such as in Qatar, that he visited recently.  We do not have specific steps at this stage per se.  We have to leave it at the statements that we issued in the past few days.

Question:  Can I follow up? Why does the President believe that the investigation that has been authorized by the Human Rights Council in Geneva will be insufficient?

Spokesperson:  President Treki didn’t say that.

Correspondent:  Well, if you’re trying to organize a second probe, then I guess that means that you believe that the probe that has sort of been authorized is not going to do its job properly.

Spokesperson:  You have to refer to the resolution that was adopted by the Human Rights Council in Geneva, and you have to refer separately to the statements made by President Treki over the past few days.  Any other…

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Not necessarily.

Question:  Why not?

Spokesperson:  Why should they have?  The Human Rights Council adopted a resolution.  President Treki made statements, including a statement that was issued before that resolution was adopted.  So the President speaks on behalf of Member States, and there is something that has reached the level of taking steps, as you referred to, in the General Assembly per se.  We have to leave it there for the time being.  Yes.

Question:  The confusing part is that the Human Rights Council has asked for an independent investigative committee.  I guess the question is, why wouldn’t that appease the President if it is an independent committee that’s outside the United Nations kind of organized body.  I mean, if he is looking for a separate investigation why not coordinate with the Human Rights Council?

Spokesperson:  The President of the General Assembly has called for an independent and credible investigation even before the Human Rights Council in Geneva adopted its resolution.  And there is no contradiction between the position that the President has taken and that of the Human Rights Council.  I don’t see any.

Question:  Well, in terms of just coordinating an independent commission, I mean, in terms of value and assets and resources, why wouldn’t just one independent investigation be enough?  Why are there separate investigations going on? If it’s impartial, and it’s independent, is it not…  I guess what James is saying, and I am just following up, it’s confusing.  I mean, why would there be separate investigations if they’re all impartial?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t think it is confusing in our own mind.  What the President has stated is very clear:  There is a need for an independent, credible investigation.  The Human Rights Council has put out a resolution that was adopted in Geneva.  I don’t see any contradiction or any confusion between the position that the President took and the resolution that was adopted.  Whether… Yes.

Question:  [inaudible] that the investigation authorized by Geneva is either not independent or not credible.

Spokesperson:  That is your own conclusion; absolutely your own conclusion.

Question:  Does the President believe that the investigation authorized by the Human Rights Council is, will be, independent and credible?

Spokesperson:  We will have to cross that bridge when we get there.

Correspondent:  The bridge is here.  I’ve just asked you the question.

Spokesperson:  The President made a demand for an independent and credible investigation even before the Human Rights Council adopted its resolution.  And that was made on Monday last week, shortly after the attack.  So, the President has made his own statement.  The Human Rights Council has adopted a resolution, and what the President believes is not contradictory, and there is no hidden message that the President is trying to put out there, absolutely not.  There is no confusion in our own mind.  I think we are creating something that is not there, if you don’t mind me saying.

Question:  But the Iranians are there.  Is he planning on meeting with any Iranian officials, as I understood that they’re meeting with the Turkish Prime Minister?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’re keeping you posted on the visits that the President is conducting from one country to another.  He was in Qatar, he was in Saudi Arabia now he is in Turkey.  If and when he goes and meets with leaders of another Member State, we will let you know.  Yes.

Question:  [inaudible]  Since the Human Rights Council is a body of the General Assembly, does the President think that the Human Rights Council is limited in its [inaudible], or that the investigation required has to go beyond the job of the Human Rights Council, maybe to being a criminal investigation?  Is that where the mindset of the President is?  Namely, that the Human Rights Council is limited only to focus on human rights issues?  Does the President want a far, you know, wider investigation, possibly criminal?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think we’re going a bit too far and too fast, maybe ahead of ourselves.  The President made a statement, made a demand for an international, credible and independent investigation.  This has been repeated over the past few days.  The Human Rights Council adopted a resolution.  There is no contradiction in terms between the two, and I don’t think we can expect the President to pronounce himself on an investigation that is yet to be established and conducted.  So we have to cross that bridge when we get there.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  On this question of Libya expelling the UN refugee agency, I just wonder if the President, given that he was Foreign Minister of Libya and a special or senior adviser to Muammar Gaddafi, does he see any role for himself in trying to ensure that the country for which he served in both those functions doesn’t expel the UN system in this way?

Spokesperson:  Well, the President, in this whole matter, is not representing the Government of Libya.  He is in his capacity as President of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly.  I can confirm that the Office of the President of the General Assembly received a letter from the Head of UNHCR, Mr. [António] Guterres on this subject.  But I really cannot say more at this stage.

Question:  As PGA, but do you think, in particular, as a former Libyan senior diplomat with an ability to somehow solve this important issue?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s a conclusion that you may be drawing, but…

Question:  Can you release the letter?

Spokesperson:  For the time being, the President has not even seen the letter yet.  He is resting; he is in Turkey.  I think we’ll have to get there when he has seen the letter and we ask him if he has a statement or an opinion to make.  He received the letter in his capacity as President of the General Assembly.  As you know, UNHCR is a subsidiary body that reports to the General Assembly, and it is in the capacity of Dr. Treki as President of the GA that this letter was received.

Question:  [inaudible] ask him to take some action with regard to his former senior advisee, Muammar Gaddafi?

Spokesperson:  You will understand that I cannot comment on the content of the letter for the time being.  Yes.

Question:  [inaudible] has there been a request by any nation to convene a special session of the General Assembly over this issue of the flotilla?

Spokesperson:  As I came into this briefing, I did not get any trace or document that will refer to such a formal request.  Therefore, the answer is no.  But I will check again and, if something comes up, I’ll definitely let you know.

Correspondent:  [inaudible] the talks in the corridors [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  Well, that is part and parcel of the culture of the General Assembly; consultations, talks and so on.  But then you have a formal process of submitting specific requests through specific channels that will open the door to some specific proceedings in the General Assembly.  That has not happened yet.  Any further questions?  I wish you…  Yes.

Question:  In the conversation with the Turkish President, you said that there was talk about reform of the Security Council.  Can you tell us if there was some new idea, I mean about it?  What was new from what we know so far about this?

Spokesperson:  Not that specifically.  I’d rather let you ask further specific questions to Ambassador Zahir Tanin, who will brief you in a few minutes on the subject of Security Council reform.

Thank you.  I wish you a pleasant and good afternoon.

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