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

24 June 2010

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

24 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.

**Secretary-General at Global Compact Summit

The Secretary-General addressed the third Global Compact Leaders Summit this morning, telling the assorted business leaders and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that the Global Compact has become the world’s largest and most ambitious initiative of its kind during its first 10 years.  Corporate sustainability is becoming a by-word in companies across the world.

He said that, at the G-20 Summit meeting this weekend in Toronto, you are likely to hear leaders of the world stress the need for austerity and budget consolidation at a time of crisis.  But, he said he would argue exactly the opposite:  that we can’t afford not to invest in the developing world.  Global economic growth, he said, requires investment in the developing world.

The Secretary-General also spoke to the press there, saying that the goal for the Global Compact is to have 20,000 participants by the year 2020.  At the same time, he noted that in the past two years, we have de-listed more than 1,300 companies for failing to communicate progress in implementing the Compact’s principles.  The Secretary-General asserted that the Compact may be a voluntary initiative, but that doesn’t mean it lacks teeth.

** Kyrgyzstan — Security Council

The Secretary-General instructed the Department of Political Affairs to brief the Security Council today to express our continuing concerns about Kyrgyzstan, and the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco, provided that briefing in consultations this morning.  He noted that, while the situation in Osh and Jalal-Abad cities has calmed, inter-ethnic tensions and rumours of impending violence persist.

He said that the United Nations is providing technical assistance to the Kyrgyz electoral authorities, who are committed to conducting the referendum on 27 June.  The United Nations is encouraging every effort to ensure both an inclusive and technically sound referendum, in which internally displaced persons could be able to vote.

Fernandez-Taranco observed the need for measures by regional organizations aimed at preventing a recurrence of violence and fostering an environment conducive to reconciliation and rebuilding.  There is a full readout of the briefing in my Office.

** Kyrgyzstan — Humanitarian Update

On the humanitarian front, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the public transportation is working in the city of Osh and both Kyrgyz and Uzbek people are seen in the streets.  However, some city districts remain closed.

OCHA says that the Kyrgyz border service has reported a further increase in returns of refugees from Uzbekistan, with more than 50,000 returning yesterday.

The location of more than 130,000 internally displaced persons has been confirmed.  There are 15 locations where more than 100,000 people are without homes and now accommodated in schools, kindergartens, or in the open, while others are living with host families.  The overall estimated number of internally displaced persons in Kyrgyzstan remains at 300,000.

In Uzbekistan, the sizeable return of refugees to Kyrgyzstan continues, but there are no confirmed returnee figures.  There are at least 92,000 refugees registered.  We have more on this and the humanitarian aid being provided by the UN agencies in press releases available in my Office.

**Security Council

The Security Council has wrapped up its mission to Afghanistan today, and the head of that mission, Ambassador Ertuğrul Apakan of Turkey, spoke to reporters before the delegation departed from Kabul.

He said that the Council members were briefed on various challenges related to the legislative elections scheduled for 18 September.  Free and fair elections are necessary, he said, adding that the Council members welcomed the strong participation of women candidates.

They also emphasized the importance of economic and social development for the future of Afghanistan and welcomed the trend to improved local governance.  And the Council members encouraged the Afghan authorities to further their efforts to uphold the rule of law and human rights, particularly women’s and children’s rights.  We have those press remarks available in my Office.

** Afghanistan

The United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) responded today to the announcement of the final list of candidates vetted by the Afghan electoral bodies to stand in the elections.  Out of 2,577 candidates, 13 candidates appear to have been excluded for having links to illegal armed groups.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Staffan de Mistura, said:  “The process of vetting has not produced a satisfactory result so far.”  He said that the Vetting Committee could have done a more thorough job, and at this stage, we are disappointed.

The United Nations remains committed to supporting the Independent Election Commission and Electoral Complaints Commission technically and logistically as required over the coming months.

** Darfur

The African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission in Darfur (UNAMID) says it has received reports of tribal clashes in West Darfur.  Although the number of casualties has not been confirmed, UNAMID says 20 persons were reportedly killed and more than 25 injured.  The Mission is closely monitoring the situation and calls on both parties to cease hostilities.

Meanwhile, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General, who is also the Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Georg Charpentier, says the United Nations and its partners are very concerned at the increasingly insecure environment in Darfur in which the humanitarian community serves the people of Sudan.

The steady deterioration of security conditions, particularly in the past two months, is not only affecting the population, but directly targets the humanitarian community. Repeated kidnappings of humanitarian staff and the killing of peacekeepers, as well as vehicle hijackings and banditry, seriously impede overall humanitarian access, according to the statement, which we have in my Office.

**Global Commission on HIV

The UN Development Programme (UNDP), with the support of the UNAIDS Secretariat, launched the Global Commission on HIV and the Law in Geneva today.  The Commission’s aim is to increase understanding of the impact of the legal environment on national HIV responses, with a focus on how laws and law enforcement can support, rather than block, effective HIV responses.

The Commission will gather and share evidence about the extent of the impact of law and law enforcement on the lives of people living with HIV and those most vulnerable to HIV.  It will make recommendations on how the law can better assist universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.  And we have more on that in a press release.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

One press conference tomorrow here in at 11 a.m., the President of ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council], Hamidon Ali, and the Director of the Office for ECOSOC Support and Coordination, Nikhil Seth, will give a curtain-raising press briefing on the 2010 ECOSOC high-level segment, which takes place from 28 June to 2 July.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, two days ago during the Secretary-General’s press briefing, he mentioned that, in his conversation with the Uzbek President Islam Karimov, Karimov told him that they have resources only for three or four days to maintain the refugee camps.  I was just wondering, did the Secretary-General have some follow-up conversation about, particularly, the situation in the camps in Uzbekistan?

Spokesperson:  He personally has not had a follow-up with President Karimov.  But, as you’ve heard from me today and from others, and from me as well on previous days, there is now a flow of aid — aid flights — both into Uzbekistan and into Kyrgyzstan providing the humanitarian aid.  Obviously, there remain some difficulties in Kyrgyzstan on actually distributing that with the pace that we would like to see.  That’s the first part.  The second part is that, as you will all also have heard, quite a few of those people who crossed into Uzbekistan are now returning back to Kyrgyzstan and, one assumes, would take some of the pressure off of trying to provide the aid inside Uzbekistan.  But I’m sure that my colleagues from OCHA would be able to give you a fuller readout, if you need it.

Question:  What’s Mr. Ban’s position on the resignation of General [ Stanley] McChrystal?  Does he believe that this would affect security and stability in Afghanistan?

Spokesperson:  This is not something that we would comment on.

Question:  Argentine Foreign Minister Hector Timerman will be meeting with Ban Ki-moon today.  Is there any particular reason why he’s here?  And will he be giving a press briefing?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether he is going to be giving a press briefing, we can certainly find out.  And also, I am not absolutely certain why he is here in town.  There are a number of big events going on at the moment, not least the Global Compact, which I mentioned.  And also, there has been a meeting of the Socialist International.  There are other gatherings here, but I’m sure that the Argentine Mission could tell you why.

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  The Summit on Millennium Development Goals is only a few months away, and we have had summit after summit after summit for the achievement of these Goals.  Clearly, the Secretary-General is trying to mobilize the entire international community, including the NGOs, to push for the achievement of these goals.  Does he expect any concrete decisions at this Summit, for example, States allocating 1 per cent of their GDP [gross domestic product] to fighting poverty, or does he expect other summits to follow up at the next summit?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has made very clear that, while, of course, this Millennium Development Goals Summit in September is a good opportunity to take stock, much more important will be precisely as you’ve mentioned — a very good point — the need for something that’s really very action-oriented, and an action plan, so that countries commit to deliver on specific actions, and not only that, but there is road map on how you do that.  And that’s certainly what’s being looked at now.  The negotiations in the background are already under way on putting together a document — and the Secretary-General has spoken about that — putting together a document which would contain, very importantly, specific action-oriented points so that countries metaphorically sign up, so that they know what it is that they have committed to, and that is publicly visible too.  On the specifics about a figure, that remains to be seen.

Question:  Martin, what is the latest situation regarding the humanitarian crisis in Gaza?  Is there an easing of the movement of goods into the Gaza Strip?

Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General has noted that he’s encouraged by the new approach by the Israeli authorities on access for goods into Gaza, but that we want to see how it’s actually implemented.  That’s the key, how is it being implemented?  I think it’s too early to say whether there has been a visible, tangible difference on the ground.  My colleagues from UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East], I’m sure, would be able to give you that sense, that feeling, from being on the spot.  But, as of now, this is something that we still need to keep a very, very close eye on.  It’s obvious that there is a real need.

Question:  According to Mr. [Ehud] Barak recently, he said that there is no blockade at all of Gaza, and there has never been.  Of course, UNRWA was concerned about this, and they mentioned that there is blockade and there is little trickling of extra goods.  Is the UN going to do anything about that, in order to implement the resolutions?

Spokesperson:  As we’ve said repeatedly, the Secretary-General has said it, Mr. [Robert] Serry has said it, Filippo Grandi has said it, and many others, too, that what we’ve seen — the change in the lists, for example — is an encouraging step, but that we need to see a fundamental shift in this policy, so that the goods can get into Gaza in an unfettered way.  And of course, we’re not just talking about goods, but people too.  There is an obvious and fairly desperate need for supplies to be available in Gaza in the way that you’ve mentioned.  That’s something that’s being looked at very closely.

Question:  But this situation has been going on for over three years.  Why does the United Nations and the Secretary-General consider the flotillas, which are carrying only aid, as provocation?

Spokesperson:  Because there are established routes.  And this is not just the Secretary-General, this is the Quartet speaking.  The Quartet, as you know, in the statement that was issued earlier this week, made very clear that there should be access, but that there are established channels for doing that, and there is no need for there to be an unnecessary raising of temperature and tensions by seeking to use another route.  The channels are there, it would be good to be able to use them effectively.  I hear what you’re saying.  The Secretary-General understands the difficulties that there have been, and he’s been very vocal in saying that there needs to be a change.  There has been a shift.  We need to see more than a shift.

Question:  What did he tell Mr. [Saad] Hariri yesterday when he called him regarding the flotillas?

Spokesperson:  I haven’t anything further to add to the readout, which you’ve already received, simply that they did discuss the topic, amongst others, as you know.

Question:  Several questions — Kyrgyzstan, the Global Compact and Sri Lanka.  On Kyrgyzstan, I wanted to know, you’d said that this idea whether the UN is aware that those who fled the country, the violence in the country and now in Uzbekistan refugee camps, you’d find out whether the UN knows whether they can vote or not on Sunday.  And also, I wanted to know, because I’ve heard this from UN officials, but I’d like to get it on the record, that the UN is aware that the draft constitution would outlaw political parties based on ethnicity, i.e., Uzbek or otherwise, and whether these points were raised by Mr. Taranco to the Council.  When he left, he said there would be some briefing, but there was no briefing by the [Security Council] presidency or anyone else.  I just wondered, if we could get a better… What did he say to the Council?  Was he aware of these two things, and how is the UN comfortable going forward with an election that would exclude 80,000 people and on an issue that directly affects them?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, as you’ve pointed out, Mr. Fernandez-Taranco briefed the Security Council, that was a closed consultation.  We are providing a briefing in the form of a written note, which is more extensive that what I read out to you earlier.  That’s available.  You will be able to see that when you leave this room.  That’s available.  Secondly, the UN is not observing the elections, we’re providing technical advice to the Central Election Committee, including on the need for this to be an inclusive process and for there to be a technically sound vote.  And we obviously are not only aware of the importance of the referendum, but of the challenges, the additional challenges that there are in the light of the violence that’s been evident to everybody in the south of Kyrgyzstan, and of course, also by the displacement of a large number of people. 

Specifically, as we understand it, the displaced people in Uzbekistan, voting for them, this is not provided for, apart from the logistical challenge that that would entail to organize on short notice; it would also have required a diplomatic agreement between the Kyrgyz Government and the Uzbekistan authorities.  So that is not provided for.  However, what we have been doing, my colleagues in Bishkek have been encouraging the Kyrgyz authorities to do everything possible to be inclusive and to facilitate the participation of displaced persons.  One example of that is that mobile polling stations are going to be used, and also, another example is there has been a decision to allow voters to vote at any polling station and not just the one that they were registered at.  This will allow displaced people within Kyrgyzstan to vote, as long as their papers are in order.  And obviously, this is a very fluid time in Kyrgyzstan, and we continue to follow that very closely.

Question:  I just wanted on this issue — papers being in order — there are several reports with people’s names attached saying that their passports and other identification documents were destroyed by Kyrgyz Government troops.  What is the UN, given that the Government seems to be its partner in all this, what does it say?  Does it not believe those reports?  Is it investigating those reports?

Spokesperson:  What I can say is that we understand that the Kyrgyz authorities are trying to help to replace destroyed papers as quickly as possible, although, obviously replacing all destroyed before 27 June may be difficult.  But that is an undertaking that they have given, to try to do that.

Question:  These will be fast, I just wanted to ask on Sri Lanka, given after following your announcement, the Secretary-General’s announcement, the Foreign Minister, G. L. Peiris, has said that there will be no visas granted to the individuals on the panel and a variety of other things.  But I am just wondering, what’s the UN response to… I don’t know if this is the phrase on the table, they seem to, not only be rejecting it, but saying outright there will be no visas given.  What does the Secretary-General have to say about that?

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s going to be up to the panel to decide whether they intend to go to Sri Lanka or not.  It’s not required to make visits to Sri Lanka.  It is not required.  The panel of experts, the three experts are going to advise the Secretary-General — this is not a fact-finding mission, this is not an investigation, it is not an inquiry, it is not a probe.  It is a panel of experts to advise the Secretary-General.  Visits to Sri Lanka are not essential — are not required for those experts to be able to do the job they’ve been asked to do for the Secretary-General.  Should they decide that they do indeed need to go to Sri Lanka, that would be for them to decide, and we would tackle it at that point.

Question:  I thought you’d said when you announced it that one of their goals was to speak to concerned officials of Sri Lanka?

Spokesperson:  That’s right.

Question:  Do you think… Will they do it by phone?  I’m most interested in Sarath Fonseca, who has said that, as an involved official at the time, that he may be a witness to crimes of war.

Spokesperson:  Again, as we’ve said, this is not an inquiry, this is not a probe, it is not an investigation.  Therefore, it is not a question of speaking to witnesses in that sense, because it is not an investigation.  We’ve said, as you rightly pointed out, that the Secretary-General has asked the panel to advise him on the implementation of the commitment on human rights accountability, and that under that mandate the panel hopes to cooperate with concerned officials in Sri Lanka.  You’ve mentioned at least one modern method of speaking to concerned officials without actually having to go to Sri Lanka, and there are others as well.

Question:  Martin, how do you describe the attacks on the Turkish army and the Turkish city, Istanbul, recently?  Several attacks happened recently in Turkey, in Istanbul, and in some military bases.  How do you describe these attacks?

Spokesperson:  Any attacks on civilians that are terrorist attacks are to be condemned.  And we would extend our sympathies to those who were killed or wounded and to the victims’ families, too.

Question:  Is there information about who are supplying, providing these attackers with weapons and training and other things?  Do you have any idea?

Spokesperson:  That’s not something that — obviously we keep an eye on these things, but I think that you could ask the Turkish authorities about that.

Question:  And do you have any statement from the United Nations regarding these attacks and…?

Spokesperson:  I’ve just said…

Question:  You’ve just said, but earlier, you did not issue any statement on that.

Spokesperson:  We could issue statements every day, several times a day.  And I have just expressed the concern of the United Nations about that particular incident in Istanbul.

Question:  Martin, I was just going to go back to the question I asked before about the Millennium Development Goals.  As I said, the Secretary-General is making great efforts in mobilizing the international community to help implement the objectives of the Millennium Development Goals, and I am particularly interested in the fight against poverty and hunger.  What are United Nations Information Centres doing in the field around the world to promote the Secretary-General’s efforts at mobilizing the international community?

Spokesperson:  Huge amounts, huge amounts!  Just for example, when the Millennium Development Goals report was launched here in New York, there were parallel events at UN Information Centres around the world, with notable experts and other figures in each location to be able to answer questions posed by journalists in those places.  So that’s one way.  Another way is, for example, that an opinion piece written by the Secretary-General on the G-20 summit, which obviously, from our perspective, is a key component in getting us the Millennium Development Goals and to the Summit in September — that so called op-ed piece, that opinion piece has been, through the UN Information Centres, widely published in many papers around the world.  So those are just a couple of examples, and there are many others.

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  There in the Washington Times this morning, John Bolton, who was, you know, supportive of Ban when he was initially elected Secretary-General, came out with a very harsh criticism of Ban, criticizing his efforts to pursue the flotilla investigation, saying that it’s not legitimate, that the Council never authorized this, and proposing withholding funds, something the US did quite a while back.  And I just wanted to see if the Secretary-General had any response or reactions or views on that?

Spokesperson:  The former Permanent Representative of the United States is entitled to his opinion.

Question:  I apologize if you mentioned this earlier, but I was just wondering if you could give us some idea of what you’re expecting the Secretary-General to do in Istanbul over the weekend.

Spokesperson:  He is not going to be doing anything in Istanbul over the weekend, he is going to be in Toronto.

Question:  For some reason, I have a Turkish correspondent telling me that he’s going to be in Istanbul tomorrow, but I presume he must be mistaken.

Spokesperson:  I think they call that a bum steer.

Question:  I have the press report of the meeting yesterday, which unfortunately I missed.  It said that the Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group will have its first meeting next month. Do you expect that Prime Minister [Jose Luis] Zapatero and President [Paul] Kagame will be here or will it just be…?

Spokesperson:  Be here?  No, I think it’s going to be in Madrid.  I think the Secretary-General mentioned that, and he also said that he would be there.  So that’s going to be an important gathering, quite a high-powered bunch.

Question:  This military team which has arrived from Lebanon — can you tell us briefly what are they meeting, and what are the subjects they are talking about?

Spokesperson:  I’d have to find out.

Question:  Fast and furious.  One is a sort of an in-the-building situation.  Some staff members have raised concern that the UN day care that they’ve run here for 38 years, at least that’s the number that’s put on it, is now being discontinued on two days’ notice to the affected staff members.  And they seem to think this is inconsistent with everything that’s been said about work-life balance and making it easier for women to work in the UN.  What’s the reasoning, particularly for the limited notice given to the staff members using that day care centre?

Spokesperson:  What I can say, I can’t really address the question of notice.  That’s something that we could seek further guidance on.  But what I can say is that it’s clearly linked to the renovation that’s going on in this building and the lack of appropriate space for children to be looked after.

Question:  These staff members have pointed to an unused, or virtually unused space in [building] DC-1, and said that it seems from the notice that was put on i-Seek that the only concern is that they’d have to have licenses and somehow be up to New York City standards if they held it off premises.  Does this imply that for 38 years it was somehow sub-par?  I guess they view there was no dialogue given and there seems to be space.  I’m just wondering, I don’t know, you didn’t make a decision to close it, but I’m wondering…

Spokesperson:  That’s for sure, that’s for sure.

Question:  Who did, actually?  Who did make the decision?

Spokesperson:  Let’s find out.

Question:  Okay. And then, just very fast.  I asked Mr. [Robert] Orr yesterday about the report that this Global Compact Summit is in part funded by Petro-China, which is a Chinese Government firm that’s fallen under fire for its work in Sudan and Darfur.  His response is that the funders of the conference are publicly available.  But I’ve looked as best I can, and I cannot find them at all.  So, I am wondering, if, one, should you believe, does the Secretary-General believe in all the transparency that he talks about, that the funders of this Summit should be made public, and if so, where are… can you make them public?

Spokesperson:  Well, I was just at the Global Compact Summit over on Times Square, and there was a big poster right outside the entrance that listed the countries that are financially supporting the Summit that’s going ahead.  And I’m sure that other details are available.  I will ask my colleagues who work at the Global Compact office to see what they can come up with.  Anything else?

Question:  One thing on Liberia.  There’s a report that a Pakistani UN peacekeeper fired his weapon at an UNMIL [United Nations Mission in Liberia] facility, leaving one civilian seriously injured.  Is that, what’s the thinking?  It seems from the reporting that what he fired on was actually an Indian peacekeeper.  What’s the UN’s thinking, and if there is a board of inquiry, will the results be made public?  What can you say about this troubling friendly-fire event?

Spokesperson:  Well, actually, well first of all, there are two incidents.  The first incident was on 8 June when a Lieutenant from the UNMIL Pakistani military contingent at the Zwedru Airfield started shooting in the vicinity of, and at, the neighbouring UNMIL Indian formed police unit compound.  There were no injuries or casualties as a result of the incident.  The Indian police officers on duty did not return fire.  The alleged shooter is in custody and has been relieved of all military duties, and the incident is being fully investigated.  And the military officer involved will be repatriated on disciplinary grounds and barred from participating in any future UN peacekeeping operations.  And both the Indian and the Pakistani Governments have been kept fully informed of the actions taken in this matter.

The second incident was on 22 June, and that was between 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., and this was a fatal shooting incident that occurred at a water treatment plant near the Pakistan battalion camp in Voinjama.  And the incident involved a non-commissioned officer and a private — both belonging to UNMIL’s Pakistani battalion No. 14.  And it led to the death of the private.  The details of the circumstances leading to the shooting are not yet determined, and UNMIL has instituted an immediate and full investigation.

Question:  Thanks for all the detail.  Is there any idea that the two incidents are connected?  I understand they happened on different days, but, or is it just something’s going to hell in a hand basket?

Spokesperson:  No, no, no.  Well, I didn’t say that.  As far as we know, they’re separate.  But as you’ve heard, there are investigations into both.

Question:  Okay, thanks.

Spokesperson:  Yeah.  Anything further?  Okay.  I wish you a good afternoon. Thank you.

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