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

27 July 2010

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

27 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.

**Security Council

The Joint Special Representative of the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Ibrahim Gambari, briefed the Security Council in an open meeting this morning on the situation there.

He said that the mission is now finalizing its preparations for a process of internal political dialogue in Darfur, to support the Doha peace process.  The peace process, he says, has received an important boost with the recent signing of an agreement between the Government of Sudan and the Liberation and Justice Movement.

Meanwhile, the mission is nearing full deployment for its military, police and civilian personnel.  However, Gambari also noted “with grave concern” a sharp increase in criminal acts and attacks against UN and humanitarian personnel.  We have copies of his remarks in my Office.

The Council is now in closed consultations on the same subject, and we expect Mr. Gambari to speak to you at the Security Council stakeout position after that.  I understand that could be quite soon.

Still on Darfur, the Secretary-General’s latest report is now available as a document, both online and in hard copy.

** Kyrgyzstan

The United Nations and its humanitarian partners in Kyrgyzstan launched a revised flash appeal today, seeking $96.4 million for humanitarian assistance in the southern regions of the country, where last month’s violence affected some 400,000 people.

The revised flash appeal is to help ensure the protection and well-being of the 400,000 people who have been directly affected by the violence.  The original appeal for $73 million was launched in early June to mobilize life-saving assistance.

The United Nations refugee agency, UNHCR, today is also calling on local and central authorities in Kyrgyzstan to improve the situation and the return conditions for 75,000 remaining internally displaced persons who were uprooted during the violence.

UNICEF said that an estimated 100,000 children have been displaced by the violence.  UNICEF has airlifted about 200 metric tons of health, nutrition, water, sanitation and education supplies.  UNICEF has so far raised 40 per cent of the approximately $11.8 million needed to cover children’s needs.

** Afghanistan

The UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) is deeply concerned about reports of civilian casualties in Rege, in Helmand Province, on 23 July.  It is essential that the current investigations by the International Stabilization Assistance Force (ISAF) and the Afghan Government are completed in a thorough, transparent and timely manner, and that the findings are made public as soon as possible.  UNAMA’s human rights office is also gathering information on this matter.

Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, once again highlighted the need for all sides to meet their obligations to protect civilians.

The UN Mission in Afghanistan emphasizes that all parties to an armed conflict have responsibilities under international law to protect civilians and minimize the impact of their actions on the civilian population and civilian objects — such as schools and hospitals.  We have more information on this in a press release from UNAMA.

** Middle East

As I mentioned in response to a question yesterday, the Secretary-General yesterday submitted to the General Assembly his second follow-up to the report of the UN Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict.  In it, he notes that he received documents from the Israeli, Palestinian and Swiss Missions, following requests for written information from each of them.

The submissions received from those parties, the Secretary-General says, total approximately 382 pages.  For technical reasons, he is unable to issue the documents or his observations at the present time.  He will report further as soon as the technical process of translation is completed.

**Deputy Secretary-General — African Union

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro yesterday addressed the gala dinner of the African Union Summit in Kampala on the subject of maternal health, the Summit’s main topic.  She said that maternal health is a barometer of a nation’s state of development and of its future.  She also said that the stigma associated with HIV is still causing many deaths across Africa, even though there is enough medical knowledge to prevent mother-to-child transmission.  Of the 430,000 babies expected to be born with HIV this year, 90 per cent will be in Africa.  “We must prevent this,” she said.  “What we need is the moral and political will.”

Prior to that, the Deputy Secretary-General spoke at the working session of the African Leaders Malaria Alliance.  She said that the United Nations is their partner in the effort to rid Africa of the deadly disease.  The fight against malaria, she said, is an integral element of the Secretary-General’s Joint Action Plan for Women’s and Children’s Health, which will be finalized for the Millennium Development Goal Summit in September.  We have copies of her remarks available. 

Okay.  Questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Is there a reaction on the part of the Secretary-General to the decision of the African Union Summit to beef up its presence in Somalia?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, this is the result of a summit meeting involving African Union leaders.  Prior to any increased deployments, according to the African Union communiqué, it’s expected that the African Union will send a formal request to the UN Security Council to increase AMISOM’s troop level to the 20,000 that’s been mentioned.  The Secretary-General has consistently said that stability in Somalia is crucial and he has been very complimentary of those countries that have already committed and provided, and actually deployed, troops.  And he’s encouraged — such as Burundi, for example — and he met some of those troops when he visited the country recently.  And he’s also encouraged other countries that have proposed deploying troops to do so, to help with what is obviously a desperate situation there.  We heard last week, indeed, from the UN Somalia humanitarian aid coordinator on precisely that subject.  Other questions?

Question:  Martin, do you have any update on Gaza, because although Israel has opened some of the land routes, they’re still not allowing any aid to come in through any sea routes at all.  And David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, called it a virtual prison.  So is there an update of what is happening in Gaza, because on one side the land route is there, but still the people of Gaza are suffering?

Spokesperson:  Well, let’s be very clear that the Secretary-General understands and shares the desire of many people around the world with regard to helping the people of Gaza.  And he’s consistently expressed his deep concern at the unsustainable and unacceptable conditions in Gaza, and he’s also called for an end to the blockade and the full implementation of Security Council resolution 1860 (2009). 

As I’ve said here before, he’s pleased with the recent progress that’s been made in easing Israel’s closure of the Strip.  But equally, as I’ve also said, he’s stressing that much more needs to be done to revive the economy, to allow for civilian reconstruction, to restore exports — which don’t exist at the moment — and to ensure the movement of people in and out of the Gaza Strip.  The United Nations is actually at the forefront of efforts to bring about these changes, and the Secretary-General remains fully committed to ensuring respect, by all parties, of their obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law. 

It’s important to stress, as we’ve said, that the Secretary-General wishes to see Gazans and all Palestinians have normal relations with the outside world, including routine access.  To this end, he believes that all parties should work urgently for a restoration of Palestinian unity and for a two-State solution.

Question:  A follow-up on that.  Do you consider that the situation in Gaza is still a humanitarian crisis or after the opening of, partly opening, or allowing some aid to come, has it changed?

Spokesperson:  We continue to believe that the conditions there are unsustainable and unacceptable.

Question:  A humanitarian crisis?

Spokesperson:  Clearly, there is a huge amount that needs to be done; really, a huge amount that needs to be done.  People are living in dire conditions.  They would like to be able to resurrect their economy, to rebuild their houses and to be able to move freely.  The Secretary-General and the United Nations agree with that and are working hard for that to happen.  Yes?

Question:  Martin, there’s this decision to award Guido Bertucci $700,000 for irregularities in the promotion process and the refusal by OLA [Office for Legal Affairs], it’s reported, to explain the Secretary-General’s reasoning in that case.  You’re quoted as saying that you’re going to appeal.  What are the grounds of that appeal?

Spokesperson:  That’s correct.  I understand that an appeal of the judgement will be filed shortly.  That being the case, I don’t have anything further to add.

Correspondent:  I guess I mean, and I’m told that you said that before, but given questions that have arisen about what seemed to some to be kind of automatic appeals, is there a way… without prejudging how it’s going, I understand it’s a matter under litigation, but usually litigants will say, “We’re appealing on X ground”.  That’s not at all prohibited in any legal system that I’m aware of.

Spokesperson:  I said what I’m going to say on this.

Question:  I wanted to also ask you, there’s another of the Wikileaks documents that’s directly and somewhat troubling, or to some, troubling.  It’s a document concerning meetings between UNAMA’s office in Jalalabad and the United States military to plan joint actions.  And some wonder whether that’s appropriate for the United Nations.  I understand that you work with ISAF, but this is directly with the United States military.  I can give you the code number of it, but I wanted to know generally, does UNAMA meet in any kind of regular way, directly with the US military, without other ISAF people present, and work with them on what seem to be military moves?  And does it put staff at risk to be doing that?

Spokesperson:  Well, unless I’m mistaken, United States forces are part of ISAF.  So, I’m not quite sure I understand your question.

Correspondent:  I think that there’s structures… there’s ways that they meet with ISAF, but this is a particular… I’ll go over it…

Spokesperson:  You don’t need to do that.  If you haven’t done so already, I guess you could check with UNAMA directly.  I’m sure they’d be able to help you.

Question:  Okay, because it seemed like a policy question of… many people had said, the UN, obviously it’s not going to be… it doesn’t purport to be impartial in Afghanistan between ISAF and the insurgents.  But the question is: becoming totally identified with one combatant’s military — does it, in fact, put people at risk?

Spokesperson:  As I said, the United States and the other forces are part of ISAF.  Unless I’m misinformed, they are part of the International Stabilization Assistance Force.  That’s the first thing.  The second thing is that the United Nations has a crucial role to play and is leading the coordination of the civilian efforts on the ground there, in Afghanistan.  Many colleagues are involved in that.  That, clearly, requires careful coordination and mandated coordination with ISAF.  Other questions?

Question:  Martin, I asked the question a couple of weeks ago as to when the Secretary-General will be able to give a press conference before he goes on vacation.  Have you had time to consult with him?

Spokesperson:  Let’s find out.  Thanks for raising it.

Question:  I don’t know if you have a readout on this, and I have one that maybe you’ll respond to, but there are these reports of a helicopter in Darfur being taken by rebels with Russian pilots and people on board.  Is that something that… it wasn’t discussed at the briefing because it didn’t take place in the reporting period, but is that something you have… your office has been, has any information on from UNAMID?

Spokesperson:  How about asking Mr. Gambari?  He is going to be at the stakeout, so why don’t you ask him?

Question:  Okay.  He will do a stakeout?

Spokesperson:  I’ve said already that Ibrahim Gambari will do a stakeout.

Correspondent:  Great, okay.  And this is sort of a policy question.  There was recently a ship stopped by India that was containing weapons from UNMIL (United Nations Mission in Liberia), in Liberia, from decommissioned weapons from various peacekeeping battalions — Bangladeshi and otherwise.  And the Indians said that it didn’t have the right paperwork and they found it somehow suspicious.  It’s called… the something Aegean, MV Aegean.  But…

Spokesperson:  The Aegean Glory.  The Aegean Glory.

Correspondent:  Okay, there we go.  This came up in the ATT [Arms Trade Treaty] Conference of whether the United Nations itself has any kind of best practice or policy about weapons that it takes into countries for peacekeeping missions, ensuring that they’re registered, that they’re numbered and that they’re all taken out and don’t…

Spokesperson:  Here’s what I have for you, Matthew.  A UN-contracted ship carrying surplus Pakistani and Bangladeshi military equipment and Nepalese military vehicles, belonging to UN peacekeeping troops, sailed from Monrovia, Liberia, on 18 May.  The cargo was being returned upon completion of their deployment in the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).  All cargo on board has UN markings and is being shipped under the authority of the United Nations.  Upon arrival in India, the ship was held by the Indian customs authorities, claiming suspicious military cargo.  As I understand it, DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and DFS [Department of Field Support] are working closely with Indian authorities to ensure the release of the cargo and to review the procedures that caused this confusion.

Question:  But normally, if a battalion goes to a country, don’t they bring their own weapons and then take them back with them?  But, what was different in this case that they…?

Spokesperson:  Not necessarily.  Not necessarily.  Not all countries have their own ships.  And I’m not sure that Nepal has a coastline, Matthew.  So therefore, a ship can be…

Question:  Were the weapons going back to Nepal?

Spokesperson:  Their military vehicles, in that case.  Just to give you the picture, this ship, called the Aegean Glory, was scheduled to sail from Liberia, as I said, and arrive in Pakistan, in Karachi, and then India, Calcutta, and then proceed to Bangladesh, to Chittagong.  Yes?

Question:  Did the captain digress, basically, from the route?  He went to Nepal first and then was going back to Pakistan, is that the reason why it was…?

Spokesperson:  Apparently, apparently, a unilateral decision to alter the route was taken without consulting with the United Nations and that’s why it arrived in Bangladesh first and then went on to India.  This resulted in the Pakistani cargo still being on board the ship when it arrived in India.  That was obviously not the original plan.  As I told you, the original plan was to go first to Karachi, then to Calcutta and then to Chittagong.  The situation was, apparently, I’m advised, further complicated due to inadequate communication between the ship’s captain and the Indian authorities.

Question:  The captain, was he allowed… did he seek the permission from the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon?

Question:  Did the ship’s captain seek the permission from the United Nations to change the route at any point in time?

Spokesperson:  I told you, it was a unilateral decision, without consultation with the United Nations.  I would point out this was a while back.  As we noted, the ship set sail on 18 May from Liberia.  There could be, in the meantime, a further update.  If there is, then I’ll let you know.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  The overall question… the question, because this was more recent.  In the Arms Trade Treaty Conference that just took place, many of the NGOs expressed concern that peacekeeping could be a loophole to the treaty in the sense that… and also, separately, that they felt that DPKO doesn’t sufficiently ensure that all weapons that are taken in for peacekeeping battalions are, in fact, removed, counted, the type of things that the treaty is looking for to make sure that… so I just wonder, does DPKO have a policy to that effect, that all weapons that come in, leave?

Spokesperson:  Both DFS and DPKO are going to be briefing you in the near future and I think they will be able to address that directly and with far greater expertise than I could ever do it.  Okay?  Alright, thank you very much.

Question: What is the status regarding the independent inquiry mission on the freedom flotilla, the Secretary-General’s panel?

Spokesperson:  We’ve repeatedly said, Nizar — I’m happy to repeat it again — that the Secretary-General’s proposal remains on the table, very firmly on the table.  The Secretary-General is looking for a positive response from the countries concerned as soon as possible.

Question:  And it’s not coming yet?

Spokesperson:  As I say, the Secretary-General has said repeatedly, and I’ve said it repeatedly, the proposal remains on the table.  He has actively reached out to Israeli and Turkish leaders to discuss this matter and continues to do so, as do other United Nations officials.  Yes?

Question:  Just one more question on that ship.  Did the United Nations Secretariat eventually have any sort of conclusive discussion with the Indians to allow that ship to leave and return the…?

Spokesperson:  This I do not know.  As I say, it could be that there have been further developments, and if that’s the case, I’ll be happy to let you know.  Alright?

Question:  One [Inga-Britt] Ahlenius question.  One that I think you’re going to like, not to say that you don’t like the other ones.  There was an investigation that was done by OLAF, by an outside party, of the disappeared or removed hard drive of Robert Appleton’s computer once he left the service of the PTF [Procurement Task Force].  This was confirmed by Appleton himself in a response that he sent me that, in an abundance of caution, OLAF was called in to investigate the case of the missing hard drive.  I just wonder, number one, if there’s… since this was some time ago, whether there’s been an outcome of that inquiry by OLAF, since it was an outside inquiry?  And two, whether you can say if that played any role whatsoever in the decision by the Secretary-General to not follow Ms. Ahlenius’s request to hire Robert Appleton for the position for which she proposed him?

Spokesperson:  Let me find out about that.  I don’t have anything for you on that, but let me find out.  Thank you.  Alright, thank you very much.

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