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

20 July 2010

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

20 July 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 in Afghanistan

The Secretary-General opened the International Conference on Afghanistan in Kabul this morning, saying that the Conference marks the true beginning of a very fundamental transition.  He told the Afghan people that the officials gathered in Kabul today share their aspirations and understand their frustrations.  And he delivered a personal message to the Afghan people:  to unite in the national interest.

The Secretary-General said that, just as Afghans are taking greater responsibility for governance and development, so must they take greater responsibility for security, as well.  Improving security for Afghans is not just a matter of physical protection, he added.  It also requires accountability for serious violations of human rights — those happening now and those that took place in the past.

At the end of the day, the Secretary-General gave the Conference’s closing remarks, saying that never before have we had a more concrete vision of Afghanistan’s future.  Now we must focus all our energies on making this vision a reality.  We have his remarks in my office.

**Security Council

B. Lynn Pascoe, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, briefed the Security Council this morning on the Secretary-General’s recent report on Eritrea and its dispute with Djibouti.  He said that those two States had decided to resolve their border conflict through a negotiated settlement, in an agreement they signed last month in Qatar.  Since then, he said, the Prime Minister of Qatar reported that Eritrean troops have withdrawn from the areas of Ras Doumeira and Doumeira Island.

Pascoe commended the recent steps taken by Eritrea and Djibouti on the border issue, and added that the Secretary-General has offered the United Nations technical support, should it be requested.  We have his remarks in my office.

The Security Council followed up with consultations, including on the work of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea.

The Council President will read a press statement afterwards.

** Kyrgyzstan

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that she has information that security forces in southern Kyrgyzstan have been responsible for repeated human rights violations — including arbitrary detention, torture and ill treatment.  She added that their actions threaten the fragile peace and re-establishment of the rule of law there.

Pillay said that large numbers of people — most of them young men, and virtually all of them Uzbek — have been arbitrarily detained in ways that not only demonstrate flagrant ethnic bias, but also break many of the fundamental tenets of both Kyrgyz and international law.  The High Commissioner said her team in Kyrgyzstan had received reports of detainees being tortured or ill treated immediately upon being taken into detention, either by police, military or local militia forces.

Pillay said the current situation underscored the need for ongoing monitoring of the human rights situation, especially in the south.  The High Commissioner also stressed the urgent need for a thorough international, independent and impartial investigation into the events in June.

**Democratic Republic of the Congo

The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, is visiting the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda this week to draw attention to the needs of displaced Congolese civilians.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Guterres will visit the Equateur and North Kivu provinces, where he will be joined by WFP’s [World Food Programme] Executive Director, Josette Sheeran.  The two officials will then proceed to Kampala to stress the need to ensure humanitarian access to Congolese IDPs [internally displaced persons] in their meetings at this weekend’s African Union Summit.

Violence in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has displaced some 1.85 million people internally and forced 450,000 refugees into neighbouring countries.  Widespread insecurity has also blocked humanitarian access in several areas.  So far this year, UNHCR says it has recorded 116 attacks against humanitarian workers.


The World Food Programme said it is massively expanding its food aid operation in Niger to reach up to 8 million hungry people.  Those include farmers who lost crops and livestock in a drought which WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran has called an unfolding catastrophe.

Sheeran is in Niger today to assess the scale of the needs and the challenges in her agency’s efforts to boost its operations, especially those aimed at feeding vulnerable children.  Although the food crisis in Niger has grown gradually worse since September 2009, WFP says it has received less than half of the $213 million it needs to address the crisis.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Tomorrow, our guest at the noon briefing will be Mark Bowden, the UnitedNations Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator for Somalia.  He will be here to give you an update on the situation in Somalia.

So that’s it.  Questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Does the UN consider IHH [Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief], a charity organization in Turkey, as a terrorist organization?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comment on that.

Question:  Does it or does it not?

Spokesperson:  I said I don’t have any comment on it.

Question:  Are we going to get an answer on that tomorrow?

Spokesperson:  Let’s see, but I don’t have any comment on it right now.

Question:  On yesterday’s question regarding the workforce in the United Arab Emirates, have you got anything on that?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have an answer yet.  It’s being worked on, and on the other question, on Gaza, we’re working on an update both with UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) to give a snapshot of where things are.  But I don’t have it right now, but it is being worked on.  And ditto, the other question you had asked.

Question:  I wanted to ask about Sudan and [Vijay] Nambiar, versus [Inga-Britt] Ahlenius, on which you may have something.  On Sudan, I know that the Secretary-General, when he went to Kampala, said that African leaders, or leaders in general, particularly with countries that are members of the Rome Statute, should cooperate with the ICC [International Criminal Court].  Sudan has said that [President] Omer Al-Bashir, it is his intention to travel to Chad this week.  Chad is a member of the ICC.  Does the Secretary-General believe that Chad should execute the arrest warrant on Omer Al-Bashir when he travels to Chad?

Spokesperson:  As we’ve repeatedly said, the ICC is an independent judicial body; it is not under the UN.  It’s not part of the United Nations, so the Secretary-General does not have to comment specifically on every aspect of the ICC’s work.  That’s the first thing.  The second thing is that he’s made clear that where there is a specific request that’s come from the Security Council for individuals to be taken into custody if they are facing charges, then that should be carried out.  But it’s up to individual countries that are signatories to the [Rome Statute] of the ICC.  It’s for them to decide how they act.  It’s not for the Secretary-General to give instructions to individual countries.

Question:  I’m sure you are aware of this controversy of the exit memo by Ms. Ahlenius and Mr. Nambiar’s response.  At least as of now, Nambiar’s response to it says, makes various criticisms, but presents as a defence of the Secretary-General that he has been, among other things, on accountability, that he has strengthened whistleblower protections and held people accountable.  Maybe you could describe what the strengthening of the whistleblower protections are, and state, for example, if Alan Doss, with an OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] report sitting on Ban Ki-moon’s desk for a while now, was he held accountable?  Was Shabaan Shabaan, with a pending case, and the court decision, I guess, is there some opportunity, seeing now Mr. Nambiar’s response to the press on these issues, to dig into them a little bit and either have them come give a briefing, or to substantiate what is said in his memo?  And also to get a copy of the 50-page Ahlenius exit?  Only the cover page is online.

Spokesperson:  That’s presumably thanks to the journalistic endeavours of the Washington Post correspondent.  There is the three-page summary there that you’ve been able to read.

Question:  Nambiar’s thing is a public document, right?

Spokesperson:  Mr. Nambiar’s, the Chef de Cabinet’s, document is out there, it’s also linked on the Washington Post and the foreignpolicy.com sites — as you quite rightly say, that this is the Chef de Cabinet on behalf on the Secretary-General, addressing specific points that had been raised by Colum Lynch in his researching and writing of the pieces that he did.  So the response from Mr. Nambiar very specifically is geared to the questions that Mr. Lynch had raised.  And as you also mentioned on accountability, there are any number of different measures that had been undertaken, not just by the Secretary-General.  I think this is an important point, that this is part of a process that is constantly evolving.  Accountability is something that has been there from the start, and successive Secretaries-General have sought to improve it, to strengthen it, in different ways.  This Secretary-General came into office with precisely that aim, to strengthen accountability and transparency.  He has been doing that; the specific examples that Mr. Nambiar has quoted speak for themselves.  I will relay your request to him.  He’s probably watching now and has heard it himself.

Question:  More generally on this memo, this is a fairly strong assault, from a fairly senior individual who has since left the O)rganization.  Does the Secretary-General believe there is any truth to this, or does he refute everything the letter suggests?  It’s not just calling into question specific issues or incidents but the leadership overall.

Spokesperson:  We received Ms. Ahlenius’ report on Friday, that’s when we got it, and the Secretary-General will be the first to say this Organization has a long way to go to fully implement the changes that are needed.  So it’s precisely in that context that we are studying, including the Secretary-General, we are studying closely, this end–of-assignment report for the substantive elements in there, which can be looked at in a constructive way.  But I’ll just say one thing overall, that every Secretary-General is clearly trying to strike a balance between being a Chief Administrative Officer — in other words responsible for the Secretariat, for the running of the Organization, that’s on the one hand, Chief Administrative Officer of the UN — but on the other really providing global leadership, and a global, visible leadership on the big questions.  And he’s been doing that, including in Afghanistan today, co-chairing with President [Hamid] Karzai a major conference.  This is a fast-changing world, and I think you only have to take a cursory look at this Secretary-General’s record on leadership, on the big questions, to see that he has achieved a lot and is clearly actively engaged on anything from climate change to gender empowerment, Haiti, Gaza, Afghanistan, disarmament — he has shown true leadership on these matters. 

But any change that you introduce — and answering Matthew’s question on accountability and on some of those changes that were brought in — any change, of course, is difficult, particularly in an organization of this size.  And change anywhere can bring with it, face, resistance.  That doesn’t mean that change is not necessary.  It is.  And really the way the world has changed, the post-cold war world has changed, means business as usual at the UN is just not an option.  You have to look forward, to push forward, to drive things forward.  Business as usual would be a prescription for irrelevance, which is one of the words that Ms. Ahlenius refers to, I believe.

Question:  The article mentions dozens of vacancies in top postings, for instance, the Chief of Investigations for OIOS.  Is there a reason?  What is the rationale behind the vacancies?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is concerned about these vacancies and in particular he wants to fill this Director of the Investigations Division, as quickly as possible.  In fact, the post was vacant, as Mr. Nambiar makes clear in his note, which I’m sure you’ve read, [which is] linked to the both the Washington Post and foreignpolicy.com articles.  The post was vacant from 2006, but the vacancy notice did not go out until 2008.  That was under the jurisdiction of the Office of Internal Oversight Services.  The Secretary-General wishes to fill that position very soon with a good candidate, and the same goes also for the Head of OIOS, the Under-Secretary-General position, the head of OIOS.  That position needs to be filled, and will be filled quite soon.

Question:  It seems like a lot of this revolves around Robert Appleton, who used to be the head of the Procurement Task Force?

Spokesperson:  One fifth of it revolves around that.

Question:  This isn’t the softball I’m throwing you, Martin.  Is it true that Russia and Singapore have opposed Mr. Appleton being considered for any post within OIOS?  And if not, could this be, is the Secretariat aware of opposition by Russia, Singapore, and other countries investigated during Mr. Appleton’s tenure?

Spokesperson:  First of all, we wouldn’t necessarily be privy to any country’s preference or opposition necessarily, I’m certainly not aware of that kind of pressure being brought to bear, and what I can say is that this one case that is repeatedly referred to, and as I said takes up a large chunk of this end-of-assignment report, which is an internal management tool; a very valuable management tool is the way that one likes to look at these end-of-assignment reports, when they are put together in the right constructive fashion.  But what one also has to stress is that this is not one particular individual, this is about due process, about the rules for recruitment within the Organization as a whole, not just for one division, department, one part of the Organization.  This is a standard rule that applies to all appointments throughout the system, within the different departments and divisions and so on, that there are.  That’s the way it is.

Question:  In regards to the 21 allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse, does the UN know of action being taken to penalize the offenders?

Spokesperson:  You are talking about the report from yesterday from DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations]?  I would refer you to them; I am sure they would have more details.  As you know, the way that it works, they would have more details on this.  But more generally, the way that it works is that people who have been accused of such violations – where there are such allegations — the people are repatriated to their countries, and it’s up to the national authorities in each country to investigate and to prosecute, and for any sanctions to be levied there, nationally.  The UN, if you like, is finding out about this, or is tipped off, and then makes sure that the national authorities know about it, and of course, where someone is proven to be guilty, the UN would be very keen to ensure that person is then punished for the crime that has been committed, where a person’s been found guilty.  But it’s of course for the UN to put these allegations to the national authorities to follow up and investigate.  But it is for the national authorities to follow through.  We keep an eye on it but it’s for them to follow through.  In the specific cases you mention, I’d ask you to have a word with DPKO, or DFS [Department of Field Support], please.

Question:  I want to ask about Sri Lanka and then the DSG [Deputy Secretary-General], unrelated.  On Sri Lanka, on this Panel of Experts, I saw them yesterday in the North Lawn Building, so I wanted to nail down, does this mean that the four-month clock for them to produce the report has begun?  Also I’m aware they met with Mr. [B. Lynn] Pascoe and Mr. [Nicholas Fink] Haysom.  Did they meet with anyone else?  They went into the DC-1 building; are they going to have offices there?  What’s the staffing going to be?  Is Jessica Neuwirth, in fact, going to lead the staff?  What can you now say about the Panel, now that they were all three here and met yesterday?

Spokesperson:  The Panel of Experts who will be advising the Secretary-General on Sri Lanka are indeed in New York.  Well-spotted.  They’re here for three days of initial meetings and briefings.  They are meeting amongst themselves, as I believe you were privy to, and with their staff, and as you also said, they would be meeting with senior Secretariat officials.  But contrary to what you are saying, the four-month clock did not start in the North Lawn Building when they were chatting.  It does not start from this first series of meetings.  They are constituting the Panel, pulling together the small staff team that will be working with them full-time for the duration of the work of the Panel.  And no, you’re wrong on who is the Chief of Staff of the Panel of Experts.  The Chief of Staff of the Panel of Experts, which is under the umbrella of OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights], is Richard Bennett, who until now was the Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal.  He also held a similar position in Afghanistan before that.  You asked who else the Panel members will be meeting; well, it includes the Under-Secretaries-General for Political, Humanitarian and Legal Affairs, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Chef de Cabinet, and as you also already saw or guessed, the Political Director in the Office of the Secretary-General. 

Just finally on the staffing, you asked about details on staffing; we don’t go into details on staff on a technical level, but as I said, it’s a small staff, they will be working full-time for the duration of the Panel, and it includes people who obviously have the appropriate experience in relation to the topic at hand.

Question:  With the Nambiar memo, do these OHRM [Office of Human Resources Management] rules apply to the selection of the staff?

Spokesperson:  This is under the umbrella of OHCHR.

Question:  You may or may not have an answer to this.  Yesterday, there was a meeting between the Deputy Secretary-General and the Foreign Minister of Rwanda, who some believe is a candidate for the UN Women post.  In the event, it seemed like there was a photo-op; it was listed on our schedule.  UN Photo went there and took a photo.  For what it’s worth, I was then allowed to then go, asked Media Accreditation, they called, security screened me, I went upstairs and at the last moment I was told this is UN Photo only.  So I’m not crying foul so much as I didn’t understand what the protocol was — when the Secretary-General does these meetings that are photographed by UN Photo, independent photographers can go as well.  Is it different with the DSG and why would it be different?

Spokesperson:  When it’s listed, without getting too technical, and maybe people are bored anyway, but boring people with, everybody with the details of this.  It’s an important question of principle that you are raising, but the way you’ve come at it is actually through a technical route, if you like, and actually the daily programme of the Deputy Secretary-General listed it as a photo opportunity, which means UN Photo, which means the UN photographer.  It doesn’t mean open house for you or for anybody else; it’s for the UN photographer, or a UN photographer.  When it’s for the international media, it will be listed as such, as being open for the international media.  So that is probably a slight misunderstanding and we can just try to be more specific about that.

Question:  If it’s a meeting, why would the UN limit media coverage to its own media, which some see as something as some Member States do, but it’s generally not…?

Spokesperson:  The UN Photo Service, if you like, is providing photos for use by everybody; the photos are available, you can find them on the website, there is an archive of photos and so on.  In the vast majority of cases, that is so; there may be some exceptions where photos are taken and they are not on the website.  The vast majority are out there.  But the more fundamental point that you’ve raised is about the DSG’s schedule and the Secretary-General’s schedule.  They have a range of appointments every day, as you well know, many of them back to back from morning ‘til night.  Not everything is open, in the sense that journalists or, indeed, the UN photographer can pitch up and be there.  It’s for their respective offices to decide and advise which of the different items, the different meetings on the schedule are going to be open, in the sense that they are available for journalists to cover on the spot.  And then we are able to liaise with them — and when I say we, I mean our colleagues in the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit — to make it happen.  But sometimes there can be misunderstandings, and that appears to be what happened yesterday.

Question:  Is there a readout, given the DSG was the one in charge of the UN yesterday, is it fair to ask what the topics at least, or the readout of the meeting with the Foreign Minister of Rwanda were?

Spokesperson:  It’s always fair to ask and I will find out if there is a readout for you.  All right, anything else?  Okay, thank you very much.

[The Spokesperson later provided the following readout:

H. E. Louise Mushikiwabo, Foreign Minster of Rwanda, paid a brief courtesy visit on the Deputy Secretary-General on Monday 19 July 2010 at United Nations Headquarters.  The Minister reiterated her country’s commitment to the Millennium Development Goals and her President’s commitment to fully carrying out his role as a Co-Chair of the Secretary-General’s Group of Millennium Development Goals Advocates.  The Minister also conveyed a suggestion emanating from the recent meeting in Madrid that consideration be given to holding a further such meeting in Africa of the Millennium Development Goals Advocates.  The Deputy Secretary-General thanked the Minister for her country’s promotion of and work on the Millennium Development Goals.  The Deputy Secretary-General and the Minister then briefly discussed the upcoming African Union Summit in Uganda, which they would both attend.]

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