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

5 August 2010

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

5 August 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 Japan

The Secretary-General spent what he described as “a profoundly moving day” in Nagasaki.  He has now started his visit to Hiroshima, where he will become the first Secretary-General to attend the Peace Memorial Ceremony, on the sixty-fifth anniversary of the atomic bombing tomorrow.

In Nagasaki Thursday morning, the Secretary-General toured the Atomic Bomb Museum and met with a number of survivors.  He said his visit to Nagasaki had strengthened his conviction that nuclear weapons must be outlawed, and he urged all nations to support his five-point action plan for nuclear disarmament and to agree to negotiate a nuclear weapons convention at the earliest possible date.

The Secretary-General and his wife also laid a wreath at the monument located at ground zero in Nagasaki and visited a separate memorial for Korean victims.

We have his remarks at those sites, as well his remarks to the press, in my Office.  And, later today, we’ll also provide embargoed copies of his Hiroshima remarks.

**Pakistan Flooding

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that it estimates that some 4.5 million people have been affected by the flooding in Pakistan.

In the north-western districts alone, people are finding housing in some 310 collective centres, like schools and mosques, 5 informal camps and some 100 roadside encampments.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that about 100,000 homes have been destroyed and 50,000 damaged in the north-western districts, while another 25,000 homes have been destroyed and 48,000 damaged in Punjab.

So far, the office says, a total of 20,000 tents have been distributed to families in need, and some 700,000 people have been reached with tanker water, while 22,000 families have received food supplies.  Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) is warning of a potential outbreak of acute diarrhoea.

While the local Emergency Relief Fund and the Central Emergency Response Fund have already made resources available, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is considering what sort of appeal might be appropriate.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) until the end of July 2011.

And, after that, the Council went into consultations, to hear a briefing by Miroslav Jenča about the work of the UN Regional Centre for Central Asia, which he heads.  And, as you just saw, the Council President, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia, read a press statement appreciating the work of that Regional Centre.


Major General Alberto Asarta Cuevas, the Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), chaired an extraordinary tripartite meeting yesterday with senior representatives of the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Force.  The UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams, also attended that meeting.

Following the tripartite meeting, Major General Asarta said that both the parties renewed their commitment to the cessation of hostilities and to UN Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).  He added that the situation has returned to normal, and quiet prevails in UNIFIL’s area of operations at this time.

We have a press release with more details available.

**Côte d’Ivoire

The mission in Côte d’Ivoire (UNOCI) says it has taken note of the announcement of a new date for the holding of the country’s presidential election.  The Ivorian Government earlier today confirmed 31 October as Election Day, following up on a proposal by the Independent Electoral Commission.

The UN mission, meanwhile, is urging stakeholders in the electoral and reunification processes to set up a credible timetable to deal with planning and other challenges before 31 October.  And, in that regard, the mission says that the next crucial step will be the publication of the final voters’ list.  It also reiterated its availability and readiness to assist with the process.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

And tomorrow at noon, my guest will be Margot Wallström, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

Questions, please?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  There are, as you indicated, some positive developments in Africa.  One of them is the setting of the date of the presidential elections in Côte d’Ivoire after it has been postponed since 2005.  The other one is happening in Kenya, where it looks like the vast majority has voted in favour of the Constitution and that the elections went peacefully.  Is the Secretary-General pleased with these positive developments in Africa?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is aware of the provisional results, and we don’t have any immediate comment, but obviously, we’re following it very closely, given the importance of that referendum for Kenya.  And then, we’ll obviously be looking to see the official results when they’re published.

Question:  I just wanted to find out, when you were briefing at the top, did you give a figure as to how many people have been affected?  Was it 4.8 million, 4.5 million…?

Spokesperson:  This is an estimate, and everybody knows — the Government of Pakistan included — that it’s very difficult at the moment to provide precise figures, given the logistical difficulties, and this is a major catastrophe that is still unfolding.  But the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is saying that they estimate some 4.5 million.  But, this is a rough estimate and clearly, it’s very difficult to provide precise numbers.

Question:  But, in that reference, did they talk anything about WHO’s effort to stem what they are expecting, the outbreak of disease now?

Spokesperson:  WHO seems to be pointing to the possibility, and the danger, of potential outbreak of acute diarrhoea, and that’s the key area of concern for them among many others, at the moment.  Yes?

Question:  Ambassador Churkin just announced that the Security Council will meet again on the situation in Lebanon when UNIFIL ends its investigation.  So I was wondering whether there’s a deadline for this investigation to end, and also, what exactly they’re investigating, if it’s possible to know, why the incident happened or who’s responsible?

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of a specific deadline that they have set or being set.  They’re looking into the circumstances of what happened, and as you heard, I heard him too, Ambassador Churkin say, once that investigation is completed, then they will meet to discuss again.  I don’t have any further information on that.  Should I receive some from colleagues, then obviously we’ll let you know.

Question:  I just wanted to find out, on this situation obtaining in Kashmir, on which the Secretary-General is reluctant to make a statement as yet.  There are some more killings that happened yesterday and the day before, and the violence seems to be unabated.  Does he have anything to say about that?

Spokesperson:  At the moment, I don’t have anything further to add to what I’ve already said.  It’s getting to be a tune which is familiar to you by now.  So, I’m not sure that it’s worth me repeating it again here, but I don’t have anything further to add beyond what I’ve already said here.  Okay?  Other questions?

Question:  Yesterday, during the briefing by Mr. [Alain] Le Roy, he mentioned as a side comment — I want to make sure I understood it correctly — that humanitarian groups have not had access to the Kalma camp in Darfur for four days, he apparently said.  So, I’m wondering, is that the case?  And what does OCHA have to say about it, and what is the UN doing to restore this access to the camps?

Spokesperson:  You can ask OCHA what they have to say about it.  UNAMID’s [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] freedom of movement in Nyala remains difficult.  In Kalma, as I understand it from what my colleagues are telling me, the situation remains tense and there’s sporadic firing that can be heard.  And UNAMID continues to be engaged at all levels to resolve the situation peacefully and to try to ensure security for the displaced people and civilians, in general.  With this in mind, UNAMID has stepped up patrols and is on high alert.  With regard to access for humanitarian groups, I don’t have anything to add now, beyond what Mr. Le Roy said here yesterday, but I’m very happy to try to find out more.

Question:  Yes, it seemed the kind of thing OCHA — if things are as he portrayed them — four days is a long time.

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, I’m sure that OCHA, as always, has its finger on the pulse and would be prepared to help you.  Generally speaking, of course, we would be very keen to ensure that humanitarian organizations have the access that they need, but I would need to find out a little bit more to see if we have something beyond what Mr. Le Roy said yesterday.

Question:  Also wanted to ask this issue of the UN’s role in the investigation or investigations of the cause of the violence in southern Kyrgyzstan.  Ambassador Churkin just said… [Security Council] President Churkin said that there are two investigations going on, that Jenca is briefing — we’re waiting to hear from Jenča himself — but it’s unclear to me what the UN’s role… there seems to be an international component to the investigation, but is that the UN, is it just the OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe]?  Do we know what the UN is actually going to do?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think I tried to spell it out, obviously not well enough for you, where things are.  Yes, there is a domestic inquiry, as Ambassador Churkin said, and there is, in the making, an international inquiry, or an inquiry with international involvement.  As I mentioned to you before, the UN is in conversation with other organizations — regional organizations — including the OSCE and the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly, about what that investigation would look like and also what the role of the United Nations would be in helping with any such investigation.

Question:  Is it possible to hear from Mr. Jenča while he’s here in New York?  Ambassador Churkin said it’d be good, he thought maybe we’d be hearing from him at the stakeout, but how long is he in New York, and is it possible, given all these issues, to have him here or there?

Spokesperson:  As I understand it, he won’t be available this time, but he will be back in September, when he will be available.  So that’s what I can tell you.  Okay, other questions?  Yes?

Question:  It appears that, in Afghanistan, some 32 civilians were killed this morning in an action by NATO forces.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on that?

Spokesperson:  I think that the incident that you’re referring to is not something that happened today, but it’s the Afghan Government comment on an incident that happened before.  And I would need to check with my colleagues at our Mission in Kabul before giving you anything further on that.  I don’t have anything at the moment.

Question:  On Blackberrys and then Iraq.  In the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and now it looks like some other countries, there are proposals to not allow people to use these Blackberrys, which I know, in the UN system, many UN staff are given them, the service is paid for by the UN.  I wonder if the UN intends to abide by these proposed restrictions on the use of these communication tools and if the UN has any thoughts on the propriety of a Government in banning the use of a pretty widespread communication tool in order to be able to, without any warrants, read e-mails and text messages?

Spokesperson:  Let me find out.

Question:  This came up yesterday, and I was unable to resolve it at the stakeout; with the US pulling out of Iraq, but UNAMI remaining, there was some discussion of who was going to provide security for UNAMI itself, and the Iraqi Ambassador said to one of our colleagues that he believes that the UN is not going to rely entirely on Iraq and may, in fact, use private contractors.  And he said if so, they have to comply with all the Iraqi rules, the post-Blackwater rules.  I’m just wondering, if you know, is that the case?  Is UNAMI going to, is it even possible that they would use private military contractors to provide them with protection?

Spokesperson:  I have to ask UNAMI.  As you know, Mr. [Ad] Melkert was here yesterday.  He also spoke at the stakeout yesterday.  I do realize that it was at the same time that you were sitting here.  So let’s see what we can find out.

Question:  A follow-up on that.  Melkert provided to the Security Council yesterday figures in terms of logistical, financial, personnel — did he ask for specific things in the meeting with the Security Council yesterday?

Spokesperson:  As you know, we are not in the Security Council Chamber, so I don’t know.  We can try to find out, we can try to find out for sure, but I’m not privy to it right now.

Question:  I’m confused about this flotilla incident inquiry.  As the Secretary-General revealed there are four people — one from New Zealand, who is the chief of the Panel, and then his deputy is from Colombia, and the two national sides, the Turks and Israelis.  Turks and Israelis will give their report to the president of the Panel, and then the deputy chief, and they’ll review about it, and if not satisfied, they’ll ask for elaborations, some details, clarifications on some items.  And then what will happen?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, the Israeli and the Turkish members are members of the Panel.  It is not as if they are working in isolation; they’ll be working as part of the Panel, which, as you pointed out, is going to be chaired by Geoffrey Palmer, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, and co-chaired by the outgoing President of Colombia [Alvaro Uribe].  As I’ve repeatedly said, the Panel — so all four — will receive and review the reports, these two national investigations which you’ve referred to — the Israeli domestic investigation, the Turkish investigation — and then they, the Panel members, will be able to ask for clarifications and for further, additional information.  And, also, as I’ve said before, the Panel will be able to examine and identify the facts and the circumstances and the context of the incident.  So that’s the next part of the part, if you like, and, finally — because this is not just looking back but looking forward — it is the Panel’s job to consider and recommend ways to avoid similar incidents in the future.

And, what’s really important here is that the Panel has yet to meet, that it will be doing on 10 August, as we have said, as the Secretary-General has said.  And, when they meet, they will be able to discuss their specific working arrangements, which will address some of the points that you have raised.

Question:  Your emphasis is only to prevent further such developments in the future, but that is secondary.  There are nine people dead.

Spokesperson:  I said that it’s not just looking back, but looking forward, looking to the future.  That doesn’t mean… this is a Panel of Inquiry into an incident that occurred on 31 May 2010.  Everybody knows what happened in that incident; therefore, it is looking back at that incident and, as I’ve said, it’s looking into the facts of that incident, the circumstances.  So, it’s looking at what happened; it’s not as if it’s ignoring what happened, but, crucially, in international relations, it’s important to establish what happened, but equally important to draw lessons from that.  It’s not to say, absolutely not to say, that it’s right to say that it’s not looking back at what happened; it is.

Question:  So the new Panel will wait until the Israelis finish their investigation, so this committee, that includes the former Irish leader and the Canadian lawmaker…?

Spokesperson:  Well, there are two investigations going on — the Turkish investigation and the Israeli investigation.  It’s self-evident that the Panel will need to see the completed reports to be able to review those reports and to ask for additional information.  But that doesn’t mean that it can’t work in the meantime, based on the information that is already available, and that’s precisely what the third point that I mentioned is about: examining and identifying the facts, circumstances and context of the incident.  And, it’s also implicit that, by having a first progress report by the middle of September, clearly the aim is for the Panel to be able to at least establish some of its own working methods and to be able to tell the Secretary-General how far they’ve got with that.  But it’s obvious that they do need to be able to see the reports to be able to request additional information, in the final analysis.

Question:  So they can’t request additional clarifications until after the national investigations are completed, but they can use information that is readily available in the meantime?

Spokesperson:  It will be for the Panel to meet, as they will do on 10 August for the first time and to establish precisely how they’re going to go about this.  But, it’s implicit that you can only ask for additional information once you have seen the reports.  But, that doesn’t mean that, in the meantime, you can’t be examining and identifying the facts that are already publicly available and look at the circumstances and the context.  So, let’s have the Panel get together and establish how they are going to work specifically in going through those different steps.

Question:  Do you have any updated information as to when the Secretary-General will take his vacation and as to when he would be able to give his monthly press conference?

Spokesperson:  On the first question, I’m not yet sure if or when the Secretary-General will take vacation.  As soon as I have some firm information, I will let you know.  On the second, the Secretary-General will, I’m pleased to tell you, give a press conference on Monday, this coming Monday, at 11, sitting here.

Question:  An organizational question, you probably won’t be able to answer this, but maybe someone who is listening, and throw your weight behind this.

Spokesperson:  I don’t weigh very much, sorry.

Question:  The other day Ambassador Churkin came to the stakeout and his arrival was squawked as he was opening his mouth to speak, which highlights the problem of not having the Spokesperson’s Office in the Security Council.  But there’s another problem.  In the beginning, when we moved to the new Security Council space, or when the Security Council moved there, there was a camera that showed the door, there was a second UN TV camera that showed the door of the Security Council, people coming out, which, given the distance it is from the press area, was good, because we could monitor who was coming in and out.  And, for events where it’s a big event, people like to have the shots of people going in and out.  Can we get that camera back there to help us monitor what’s going on from afar?  It’s good to be down there, but sometimes it’s just not realistic when people have to be working in their offices.

Spokesperson:  I’m inclined almost to treat this as a virtual briefing in the sense that the people who need to hear the question or the request that you’ve made will hear it and may or may not act on it.  I’m talking about the camera.  But I hear what you’re saying, and I know what you want to see. I think you will understand my support is there. 

On the first part, Evelyn did raise this yesterday at the briefing.  And I don’t think there’s much point in reiterating what I said then, except to say that, clearly, if my Office does not have access to the Security Council room during consultations, then we need to ensure that we do have a very quick understanding and quick signal that the President of the Security Council is coming to the stakeout.  You’re absolutely right that there’s no point squawking as someone is speaking, but if we only get the information at that point, we’re just trying to do the best we can to alert you when we can.  It needs to be in real time.  I understand that as well as anybody.  I think you would probably agree, given what I used to do before I became a Spokesperson.  So I think it’s really important, and I’ve already had a conversation in my Office about how we could try to improve that.

Thank you very much.

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