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

22 July 2010

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

22 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.

**Guest at the Noon Briefing

As you can see, we have, by video link, Catherine Pollard, who is the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management, and I also see there Angela Kane, Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Management (press conference issued separately).

Before I turn the floor over to you and give the journalists a chance to ask some questions, I do have just a few things to read out.

**Secretary-General Statement on Advisory Opinion on Kosovo

The International Court of Justice has delivered today its advisory opinion on the question “Is the unilateral declaration of independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo in accordance with international law?”

The Secretary-General will be forwarding the advisory opinion to the General Assembly, which had requested the Court's advice and which will determine how to proceed on this matter. 

The Secretary-General strongly encourages the parties to engage in a constructive dialogue.  The Secretary-General urges all sides to avoid any steps that could be seen as provocative and derail the dialogue.  (Please see Press Release SG/SM/13023)

**Secretary-General’s Meetings

The Secretary-General is back at UN Headquarters following his visits to Madrid, Geneva and Kabul.  Immediately on his return yesterday afternoon, he met with United Kingdom Prime Minister David Cameron, who was making his first visit to the UN Headquarters.  They discussed a number of issues, including Afghanistan, the situation in the Middle East, climate change, and preparations for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) Summit in September.  The Secretary-General praised the United Kingdom’s high level of commitment and leadership on the MDGs and hoped that the country's position could serve as a model for other countries to follow.

**Secretary-General’s Senior Advisers Meeting

This morning, the Secretary-General met with his senior advisers to brief them on his trip and other matters.

I can tell you that he did raise the matter of the end-of-assignment report of the outgoing head of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), Inga-Britt Ahlenius.  The Secretary-General noted that the end-of-assignment report is supposed to be a management tool.  It is meant to allow all senior advisers to learn from the frank thinking and advice of a departing senior manager, Ms. Ahlenius.  As we all know, it is an internal document.  Regrettably, the Secretary-General said, the report was leaked. 

The Secretary-General said he believed in collective leadership.  Leadership comes from teamwork.  He said he did not expect his senior advisers would always agree with him.  That is the beauty of the United Nations, he said:  many nations, backgrounds, experiences and wisdom, all coming together.  We need collective vision and solidarity, he said.  He said that was why he had always welcomed constructive criticism.  But as public servants, there are rules and procedures.  In this case, a trust, a bond, had been broken, he said.

The Secretary-General said that we are carefully reviewing the report.  The Deputy Secretary-General and the Chef de Cabinet are leading the internal review process.  The Secretary-General said where there is room for improvement we will take action.  Where there are inaccuracies — and there are significant inaccuracies — we will set the record straight.

The Secretary-General made clear he had always told Ms Ahlenius that she had full independence, but operational independence does not mean being above the rules that apply to all of us.  The Secretary-General said that in every senior appointment — in every UN department and agency — he insists that there be at least three candidates for the post, at least one of whom should be a woman.  That is the only way to ensure that the workforce culture of the UN reflects the full diversity, gender balance and strength of our modern world.

I will have some other items to go through after our session with Ms. Kane and Ms. Pollard, and so I’d like to stop at that point and hand the floor to both of you.  I don’t know if you have any introductory remarks or if you prefer to go straight to questions.  [After that briefing, the Spokesperson continued the noon briefing.]

**Deputy Secretary-General at African Union Summit

The Deputy Secretary-General will depart today for the African Union Summit to be held in Kampala, Uganda, from 25 to 27 July.  She will represent the Secretary-General at the Summit, which this year focuses on "Maternal, Infant and Child Health and Development in Africa".

She will address the African Union Assembly on the theme of the Summit, as well as political issues of concern in the region, including Somalia and Sudan.  The Deputy Secretary-General will also hold bilateral meetings with a number of Heads of State.  In addition, she will participate in side events taking place on the margins of the Summit.

**Security Council

The Security Council adopted a presidential statement on Guinea-Bissau this morning, expressing concern at the current security situation and threats to constitutional order.

The Council called on the Government of Guinea-Bissau to release immediately all those detained in the events of 1 April 2010 or prosecute them with full respect for due process.  And the Security Council also expressed serious concern about the continued growth in drug trafficking and organized crime, which threatens peace and security in Guinea-Bissau and in the subregion.

** Cyprus

The Cypriot leaders met today at the UN protected area in Nicosia, and concentrated their discussions on the issue of property.  This discussion will be continued on Monday by the representatives in the presence of the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Alexander Downer, and then the leaders will meet again next Wednesday on the property issue.

In remarks to the press after the meeting, Downer said that he believes the process of talks on Cyprus has good momentum.  He said that he believes the leaders are showing a lot of commitment to meeting and to talking about issues.  We have those remarks in my Office.

** Yemen

The United Nations remains concerned about the humanitarian situation in Yemen, where resources are not commensurate with humanitarian needs.  So far this year, we have received only 36 per cent of the $187 million required for assistance to Yemen.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that aid workers have increased their efforts to reach civilians in the conflict area, taking advantage of a recent lull in fighting.  However, the unpredictable security situation continues to restrict full access to those in need.

The UN estimates are that there are 340,000 internally displaced persons in Yemen.  And OCHA says there is an urgent need for more food aid, water, sanitation, and basic health care. 

** Kyrgyzstan

More than 1,100 people in the cities most affected by violence in southern Kyrgyzstan last month have started work on repairing roads, cleaning up irrigation systems, removing litter and restoring parks, as part of an initiative by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and local municipalities.

Following the crisis that displaced some 400,000 people in the region last month, UNDP has launched a cash-for-work programme in the cities of Osh and Jalalabad, which is intended to bring short-term jobs to unemployed young people and women.  UNDP has more information in a press release.

** Gaza

Today, 7,203 children in Gaza simultaneously bounced 6,000 basketballs, doubling the previous Guinness Book of World Records record set in 2007.

The Director of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East(UNRWA) in Gaza, John Ging, said:  “We have to await the final verdict from the Guinness Book of World Records, which we hope will come in a matter of days.  But certainly we know the figures and the chances look good.”

Questions and Answers

Question: The talks between Israelis and Palestinians have reached a crucial stage.  Now, what steps can the Secretary-General take or will be able to push this process forward meaningfully?  Between all the reports and everything, everything is stalled.

Spokesperson:  Yesterday evening, Senator [George] Mitchell placed a call to the Secretary-General, and they obviously discussed the proximity talks.  I can tell you they agreed the proximity talks are indeed hugely important and they are a step on the road to the direct talks which everyone is obviously talking about.  The Secretary-General assured Senator Mitchell that he would be doing his utmost to play his part to do what he can, to speak to the relevant parties to encourage the parties to move towards direct talks.

Question: I know this is a conversation you are telling us, between the Secretary-General and Senator Mitchell; I appreciate that.  What are the steps that the Secretary-General himself is taking?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’ve just said he will do his utmost and he’s assured Senator Mitchell that he will be playing his part in reaching out to the parties.  That’s what he’s been doing, that’s part of the leadership that he’s shown on this matter.  He’s received many phone calls, placed many phone calls, had many visitors — he’s been to the region.  He remains, individually and, crucially within the Quartet context, fully engaged in this topic.

Question:  It has been the tradition of the Secretaries-General of the UN to attend regularly the Organization of African Unity, now the African Union Summit meetings.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has not always attended these summits. What is currently before his attention?  What priorities is he addressing now, from attending this forthcoming Summit?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General attended the African Unit Summit in Addis Ababa at the start of the year.  The Deputy Secretary-General is attending this Summit on his behalf.  That’s a normal and logical division of labour.  The Secretary-General has plenty on his plate here in New York, dealing with the kind of topics I’ve just mentioned, not least the Middle East, but many other topics that you’re fully aware of.

Question: Mr. [Nick] Birnback isn’t around and the press releases and the reports are a bit ambiguous.  Last year, maybe in 2008, scores of Sri Lankan peacekeepers based in Haiti were expelled because of sexual abuse.  So does the UN know how many of them were prosecuted in their home country, and if not, why?

Spokesperson: This is something that DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and DFS [Department of Field Support] are tracking and I would need to seek guidance from them.  If Mr. Birnback isn’t there I’m sure his colleagues will be able to help you, and I will follow up after the briefing.

Question:  On his way back from Kabul, the Secretary-General touched down briefly in Abu Dhabi, had a bit of tarmac diplomacy with officials there.  Do you know who he met with and what they spoke about?  Second, on the International Court of Justice ruling on Kosovo, it’s an interestingly good precedent, but does it trump any kind of internal reassessment in the United Nations, even if it’s a research report about the way the United Nations deals with breakaways?  Does the International Court of Justice really have implications as to how you deal with Somaliland, South Ossetia, Abkhazia, Cyprus, these kinds of areas?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General — and by definition, therefore, the same applies to me — does not pronounce on the merits of the judgments of the International Court of Justice.  I would refer you to the second paragraph of the statement I read out at the beginning, which says that the Secretary-General will be forwarding the advisory opinion to the General Assembly, which had requested the Court’s advice and will determine how to proceed on this matter.

Question: On Abu Dhabi?

Spokesperson: I’ll find out.  [He later said that the trip to Abu Dhabi was in transit from Afghanistan, adding that the Secretary-General attended a dinner hosted by the United Arab Emirates Foreign Minister.]

Question:  I wanted to follow up on the country-specific critique that is in that Ahlenius cover letter.  I didn’t mean to say that Myanmar was the only one, but of the country names that appear on that letter, Myanmar is the first one, the second is Darfur.  So I’m going to ask a question about each of them.  In Darfur we heard earlier this morning from a Security Council perm[anent] rep[resentative] who wanted to be on background, that recently where UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] peacekeepers were attacked, UNAMID was unable to come to their support because the Government of Sudan said they could only use their helicopter with 48 hours’ notice, prior notice that they would use them.  So this seems pretty troubling, and I’m wondering why, if it’s true, which I’m assuming it is, why UNAMID or the UN hasn’t said anything publicly.  Can you confirm that in fact the UN allowed itself to be blocked even from coming to the aid of its own peacekeepers and didn’t go public with that outrageous [act]?

Spokesperson:  I’ll find out.  [He later informed the correspondent that the incident was mentioned in the Secretary-General’s recent report on UNAMID, in which the Secretary-General described the incident and added:  “The Government must also remove all obstacles to the use of UNAMID aerial assets, including the military helicopters stationed in Nyala.  Government restrictions on the helicopter unit have significantly hindered UNAMID’s military operations and capacity to respond to armed threats and emergency medical evacuation needs.  UNAMID peacekeepers wounded in recent attacks bled to death when rapid response and medical evacuation flights were denied authorization.  This should never happen again.”]

Question:  And the other one, on Myanmar, there’s a lot to be said, but there’s a recent report, Bloomberg and Jane’s Intelligence Review, which is respected in the field, giving more credence to Myanmar developing nuclear weapons.  A whistleblower, to coin the phrase, has left the country and has produced photographs of a facility near the new capital.  Does the UN have any, either the good offices role?  What is the UN’s knowledge of that, given that the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] is unable to inspect?  And two, what really has been accomplished through this good offices role in the past six months?  We have heard very little, and that may be part of Ms. Ahlenius’ critique.

Spokesperson:  First, the Secretary-General has been outspoken about what is going on in Myanmar, first on the elections, the need for the elections to be transparent and inclusive, and for all the political actors to be able to take part if they so wish.  He’s also been very outspoken on the need for the release from house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  Also, on the first part of your question, this is something, whether allowed into the country to inspect or not, the International Atomic Energy Agency would be keeping an eye on, and let’s see what the agency has to say about that.  [He later added that the IAEA had said:  “The IAEA has seen the media reports and continues its analysis of information on Myanmar, as it does with information on other countries.”]

Question:  On this [Alan] Doss report, actually there is a final determination to take no action.  I’ve been asking here a lot of times, I think Farhan in your absence had said, “Oh, when we have something to say, we’ll say it.”  There was a final report that was confirmed by Mr. [Farhan] Haq as being one of improper action, not by UNDP but by Mr. Doss.  Was a decision nevertheless reached to impose no discipline, and if so, how can it be explained away?

Spokesperson:  You heard what Ms. [Catherine] Pollard said and I don’t have anything further to add to what she had to say.

Question:  Is it true, did the OIOS report not find wrongdoing, despite the confirmation from here?

Spokesperson:  Three things here.  One, Ms. Pollard has just spoken about this and you heard what she said.  She was fairly specific and direct about it, in answering your question.  Second thing is that we’ve already said from here on a number of occasions what the position is, so I don’t need to elaborate on that.  The third is that, despite all that, I will go away and see what else there is that we can find out and tell you.  Thank you very much.

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