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

21 June 2010

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

21 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

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everybody.  Welcome to the briefing.


My guests today, on my right, Bob Orr, who is the Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning; and then Jomo Kwame Sundaram, who is Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development at the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA); and then on my far right Olav Kjørven, Assistant Administrator of the UN Development Programme and Director of the Bureau for Development Policy.  And they’re here to give you a preview of the Secretary-General’s messages for the G-20 Summit, which he will be attending next weekend, and also to highlight various points related to the Millennium Development Goals Report for this year.

**Quartet Statement

Before I hand the floor to Bob and to Jomo and Olav, I have two statements.  One is a Quartet statement on Israel’s actions on Gaza.  And the full statement is available in my office; I will just highlight a few points.

The Quartet reaffirms that the current situation in Gaza, including the humanitarian and human rights situation of the civilian population, is unsustainable, unacceptable, and not in the interests of any of those concerned.

Consistent with [its] objectives, the Quartet and the Quartet Representative have worked with Israel, as well as consulting the Palestinian Authority, Egypt, and other concerned parties, to effect a fundamental change in policy in Gaza.  The new policy towards Gaza just announced by the Government of Israel is a welcome development.  The Quartet notes that the elaboration of further details and modalities of implementation will be important in ensuring the effectiveness of the new policy.

And the Quartet stresses the importance of United Nations and other international interventions, as well as the work of local non-governmental organizations, to be expanded in Gaza to meet urgent civilian needs, and calls on all parties to fully enable this work.

As I said, it is a fairly lengthy statement; I’m not going to read it all out here but it is available for you.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on UNAMID

And I have a shorter statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the deadly attack on UNAMID peacekeepers in West Darfur.

On 21 June, unidentified armed assailants attacked an African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) security detail in Nertiti near Zalingei, Western Darfur.  Three UNAMID military personnel were killed and another wounded in the resulting exchange of fire.  All UNAMID casualties were from Rwanda.

This incident follows a deadly attack on UNAMID peacekeepers on 7 May, in which two UNAMID peacekeepers were killed.  Since the establishment of UNAMID in January 2008, 27 peacekeepers have been killed in hostile actions in Darfur.

The Secretary-General deplores these attacks on peacekeepers in Darfur and calls on the Government of Sudan to continue to make every effort to apprehend the perpetrators and bring them to justice immediately.

The Secretary-General expresses his condolences to the families of the peacekeepers who lost their lives and to the Government of Rwanda and reiterates his appreciation for their service and commitment to the search for peace in Darfur.

So, that’s what I have for you right now.  I’ll be happy to take some questions at the end.  But I’ll hand over now to Bob and Jomo and Olav.  Please, Bob.

[Press Conference by the three guests issued separately.]

**Security Council

Okay, I have just a couple of other points for you, and I am happy to take some questions, too, of course.

The 15 members of the Security Council today arrived in Kabul to assess the situation in the lead-up to the Security Council debate on Afghanistan that’s scheduled for late this month.

The Security Council’s visit is also to demonstrate their continued support for the Government and the people of Afghanistan as they strengthen the foundations to ensure a sustainable peace for all.

The Security Council will review progress made by the Afghan Government, with the assistance of the international community, assess the implementation of relevant Security Council resolutions and will look ahead to issues on the agenda for the Kabul Conference.  And we have a press release with some more details.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Ms. Joan Elise Dubinsky of the United States as the Director of the Ethics Office.  Ms. Dubinsky succeeds Mr. Robert Benson of Canada.  Ms. Dubinsky most recently served as the Director of Ethics, BAE Systems, Inc., and prior to that, she’d worked for many years in other posts specializing in ethics, compliance and organizational development.  And we have more information on Ms. Dubinsky in my office.

** Kyrgyzstan

A quick update on Kyrgyzstan.  A planeload of aid from the World Food Programme (WFP) arrived in the city of Osh today; it was carrying food rations for 30,000 people, as well as telecommunications equipment to support the humanitarian response to the crisis.  The World Food Programme is opening a humanitarian hub at Osh airport to act as a staging post, receiving assistance for the whole humanitarian community.

Today’s flight included 20 metric tons of high-energy biscuits, an armoured car, body armour and emergency telecom equipment, as well as prefabricated office equipment to set up the humanitarian hub.  It follows the arrival yesterday of the first plane delivery of shelter and non-food relief from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.  UNHCR has already flown in 240 tons of aid for refugees in Uzbekistan.

The World Food Programme also brought a planeload of supplies to Andizhan, in Uzbekistan, over the weekend, and this included 40 metric tons of high energy biscuits, which is enough to provide a daily ration for 75,000 people.  More flights are planned over the next few days, and we have more information in a number of press releases in my office.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Tomorrow — just a couple of press conferences — tomorrow at 2 p.m., here in the Library Auditorium, there will be a background briefing on the Millennium Development Goals Report 2010, which was referred to during the earlier part of the briefing today.

And at 3 p.m., there will be a press conference by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) about bringing energy services to the world’s poor.  It will highlight the approach taken in Nepal and how that could be replicated.

So, that’s what I have, and I am happy to take questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Regarding Kyrgyzstan, the United States envoy over there, Mr. [Robert] Blake, and other people are calling for some sort of investigation into what happened in this crisis, and how these Uzbeks were being massacred and so forth.  Is that something that the United Nations can support?

Spokesperson:  Well, Miroslav Jenča, who is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, and who gave the briefing by audio link on Friday, said quite clearly in my recollection that there would certainly need to be some kind of investigation that would need to be combined with a reconciliation effort.  But that for now the focus is on what I have just been talking about; which is getting aid to the people who need it.

Question:  Martin, there are reports that damage, regarding the spill from the Mexican Gulf — it’s not only harming American soil, but rather West Africa.  I wonder whether the Secretary-General has anything to say on that, whether he is concerned at this?

Spokesperson:  Well, clearly the Secretary-General is keeping a close eye on this.  And I know also that our colleagues in the UN Environment Programme have been monitoring this very closely.  I’ll see if we have anything more specific to say on that.

Question:  Martin, can we have a readout from the meeting of the Secretary-General with the Israeli Defence Minister?

Spokesperson:  We’ll certainly try for that.  We’ve asked for that, and we’ve also asked for a readout — as I suspect that might be your next question — on the meeting later in the afternoon; the separate meeting, of course, with Mr. [George] Papandreou, the Prime Minister of Greece.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  On the Alliance of Civilizations, you will recall that I had asked twice if the staff of the Alliance could give us a briefing, and to my knowledge that has not occurred, especially after the important meeting of Rio — the recent meeting of the Alliance.  Could you please renew the request to the staff of the [ Alliance of] Civilizations?

Spokesperson:  Indeed, indeed.  In fact, what we’d hoped to arrange, and it clearly hasn’t happened yet, was a post-conference or post-summit briefing on the outcome of that conference.  But let me see what’s happened there.

[The Spokesperson later added that a briefing by a senior representative of the Alliance office had already taken place.]

Question:  Sure. I guess I want to ask on this panel on Sri Lanka, can you confirm that beyond Mr. Darusman, that the other two members are Yasmin Sooka and Steven Ratner?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that we’ll probably be making an announcement tomorrow.

Question:  All right, all right.  I wanted to ask on Kyrgyzstan, and also on Uzbekistan.  There was the arrest of an ethnic Uzbek human rights activist, Azim Khan Askerov, who was charged with inciting racial hatred, for filming some of the violence and saying the Government may in fact be complicit in it.  Does Mr. Jenča or the UN system have any concerns that an ethnic Uzbek human rights activist making a charge would in fact just be arrested, and what does that say for the possibility of an investigation?

Spokesperson:  Well, what I can tell you is that the UN on the ground in Bishkek has, as part of the UN system there, a regional office of the Human Rights Commissioner.  And I am sure that her colleagues on the ground in Bishkek will be looking into questions of that sort.

Question:  There have been two journalists so far arrested in Uzbekistan for covering the border issues.  One was Aleksey Volosevich, who was arrested literally for just going to the border to cover the ethnic Uzbeks caught at the border; and then another journalist, Vasily Markov, who went to cover the arrest, who was himself arrested.  I’m wondering if this is of concern.  I know that the Secretary-General spoke with President [Islam] Karimov, congratulating him on letting some through, but what does the UN think about journalists being arrested for covering the plight of refugees on the border?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know the specifics of those cases.  But, as we’ve said before, and the Secretary-General has said before:  freedom of the media is a fundamental right.  And clearly, trying to portray what’s happening on the ground in difficult circumstances is not an easy job, and is one to be commended.  But, I don’t know the specifics of those cases.  I am sure that my colleagues, again in Bishkek, would be looking into that.  That’s what the regional centre is for; the Human Rights Commissioner’s regional centre is there.

Question:  I’m sorry, did you say that Papandreou will be holding a briefing or held a briefing?  Papandreou, is he going to address us?

Spokesperson:  First of all, this afternoon, this is a meeting with the Secretary-General.  I am not aware of any media opportunity, meaning stakeout, with the Secretary-General.  That’s not happening.  But, I would ask you to check with the Greek Mission on what his own individual plans are. 

[The Spokesperson later added that Prime Minister Papandreou would brief the press at 5:30 pm.]

Question:  Yesterday, Iran hanged a major terrorist leader, I think from Jundullah.  Do you have any reaction to Iran’s hanging of this terrorist leader?  Do you have any reaction to that at all?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have any reaction on that.  No.

Question:  I want to ask you about this, these various reports of the UN moving its staff out of Afghanistan.  I know it was in the SG’s report, but then there seems to be more said by spokespeople here and there.  How many UN staff, and how is it, I guess, what more can you say about it?  It’s said that several dozen staff will be moved to Kuwait.  But you said that won’t in any way impact the work of the UN.  So it leads one to wonder what the people are doing or…  And I have also a question on Lewis Maxwell.  I know that there was this UN Board of Inquiry report that went to the Government.  Has anything been done to the UN’s knowledge by the Government to investigate the death of UN staff member Lewis Maxwell, reportedly by friendly fire of Afghan national forces?

Spokesperson:  On Mr. Maxwell, I’d have to find out more from my colleagues in the Mission there, and from other colleagues here in the Secretariat who have been dealing with that.  I don’t have any update on what Afghanistan may or may not have been doing after receiving the report, or the briefing on the report, I should say.  With regard to the Secretary-General’s recent report on Afghanistan, it makes quite clear that this is, needless to say, a highly volatile environment that our people are working in, and because it’s so volatile, the security is so volatile, that makes it a major risk both for UN personnel and for the operations that they conduct.  So, what happened was that the [UN] Mission, and the United Nations Country Team, which of course is not the same thing as the Mission, reviewed activities, this was at the request of Headquarters, and this was to see which activities were sufficiently critical to warrant the presence of international staff while balancing that presence against the security threats that they face.  And so the Mission did review staffing levels to ensure that those present in the country were provided with secure premises.  And the review did not foresee any significant reduction in the actual number of staff members in Afghanistan at any given time.  So, essentially what’s happening is that some staff — we’re not putting a number on it — some staff who carry out administrative work are going to be able to do that work, not in Afghanistan, but elsewhere.  And that frees up secure accommodations, secure premises for people whose role is critical, their presence is critical on the ground.  So that’s why you won’t see a significant difference in the overall numbers.  Some people are going to be working on administrative matters away from Kabul or Afghanistan; they don’t need to be there to do that job.  This provides space in secure premises for those who do have a critical job to do on the ground.

Question:  Does that indicate UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] is actually now filling vacancies, like having new employees, and so you need space and the people are moving out?  Or that somehow the security situation in the UN’s view has deteriorated since people came back after the previous withdrawal?

Spokesperson:  I think you’d have to ask UNAMA that.  And I am pretty sure that they will give you an answer, because I know that they are…

Question:  They put a number on it?

Spokesperson:  As I say, I would defer to my colleagues on the ground in Kabul who have a very detailed picture of this and can help you.  Okay?

Question:  Any chance that you can share with us what is going to be on the agenda with Mr. Papandreou?  Any main issue or something?

Spokesperson:  Not in advance, no, because, much as I would like to be, I am not a fortune-teller.  But there will be some kind of readout afterwards.  Okay, thanks very much.

* *** *

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