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

13 August 2010

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

13 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.


Humanitarian organizations in Pakistan are working round the clock to deliver life-saving assistance to at least 6 million people in need, but far more funding is required to do this in a timely manner.

Martin Mogwanja, Humanitarian Coordinator for Pakistan, said that relief supplies must reach women, men and children as soon as possible, to avoid further deaths caused by waterborne diseases and food shortages.  The death toll has so far been relatively low compared with other major natural disasters and we want to keep it that way, he added.

We have a press release from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) with more information on that particular aspect of the flooding in Pakistan.

The World Food Programme (WFP), as of last night, had reached 430,000 people with a one-month food ration.  Today, distributions will start to be rolled out in the provinces of Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan.

Over the past three days, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has helped to vaccinate nearly 13,000 children, pregnant women and lactating women against measles, polio and tetanus in different places affected by the floods.

And the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has found that 78 refugee camps across 17 districts in the province have been overwhelmed by flooding, erasing more than 12,500 homes and leaving 85,500 refugees homeless.  Over the coming weeks and months the UN refugee agency will help refugee families and affected Pakistani communities return to their homes.

**Week Ahead

We won’t be issuing a Week Ahead for the forthcoming week, but we have two items to flag.  On Tuesday, the Security Council will meet on the Middle East and on Thursday, 19 August, the United Nations will mark World Humanitarian Day.

**Acting Deputy Spokesperson Ad Interim

I’m very pleased to announce that the Secretary-General has decided to appoint Mr. Farhan Haq as Acting Deputy Spokesperson ad interim, to replace Marie Okabe, who, as you know, was assigned to the UN Information Centre in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Haq joined the United Nations in late 1999 and has served with the Spokesperson’s Office in progressively responsible positions ever since.  His contribution has proved invaluable to each Spokesperson he has served, including this one.

Prior to joining the United Nations, Mr. Haq worked for eight years as a journalist in print, TV and radio.

I’m happy to take questions.  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Can you confirm, Martin, that the Secretary-General is going to Pakistan over this weekend?   And that he will be travelling…?

Spokesperson:  I can confirm, Masood, that the Secretary-General intends to travel to Pakistan, to see for himself the flood-hit areas and to demonstrate the support of the United Nations and the international community for the people and Government of Pakistan.  However, the arrangements for that trip have not been finalized.

Question:  Is it true he’s not taking any press with him?

Spokesperson:  There are no journalists travelling with him on this occasion.

Question:  Is he travelling on Sunday or Saturday?

Spokesperson:  You heard what I said.  The arrangements for the trip have not been finalized.  Yes?  Any further questions?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  I wanted to ask, it’s just been announced overnight that in Myanmar, they will have the election on 7 November.  Aung San Suu Kyi will still be under house arrest and it’s said that 25 per cent of the seats are set aside for the military.  Many people have criticized it as sort of a sham election.  I’m just wondering, given this good offices role and otherwise, what the United Nations view of this date and the elections are.

Spokesperson:  I expect to have something to say shortly, but not at the moment.

Question:  I wanted to ask, also on Myanmar, when the Secretary-General spoke on Myanmar and he said “my Special Adviser”, this was a reference to Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar?

Spokesperson:  Correct.

Question:  And the office that’s on the third floor — that’s the same office, that says “DPA Special Adviser to the Secretary-General”.  They just put up a new sign here for the third floor like above us on…

Spokesperson:  I haven’t been to the third floor.  Yes?  Further questions?  Yes, Khalid?

Question:  Have they finished their investigation in the clash that happened between the Lebanese and the Israeli armies, so that the Security Council can hold a session, as expected?

Spokesperson:  Let’s find out.  I think if they had then I would know about it, and, as you have heard, once they have completed their investigation, they will be reporting to the Security Council.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Martin, the situation in the occupied Kashmir continues to deteriorate and there have been reports all over. and today you will see a front page report in The New York Times also.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  About the situation that is going on over there where several people have been killed?

Spokesperson:  Masood, no.  Yes?

Question:  Martin, do you have anything on the banning of worshippers under 50 from going to the Al-Aqsa Mosque today in Jerusalem?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that at the moment, Nizar, no.  Yes?

Question:  On Sudan and also Sri Lanka.  Regarding Sudan, following yesterday’s statement that Ibrahim Gambari [the Joint African Union-United Nations Special Representative for Darfur] did not threaten internally displaced persons (IDPs), another report has surfaced there.  The quote had him saying that the IDP spokesman, Yagoub Fouri, says that Mr. Gambari refused a letter the IDPs had written and wanted it delivered to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.  It also quotes a Sudanese newspaper, Al-Sahafa, saying that Gambari said it’s really only a matter of time until the six are turned over if conditions are met.  Those are two separate issues.  I’m pretty sure Mr. Fouri did say this, about the letter, but can you state whether Mr. Gambari was aware of a letter that the IDPs in Kalma camp wanted it delivered to the Secretary-General and whether any such letter was delivered to the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of that particular part of your question.  I can give you an update on Kalma camp and that is that the number of people seeking protection near the UNAMID Community Policing Centre appears to be decreasing, suggesting that the overall security situation in the camp is normalizing.  For example, the main market of the camp has resumed activity.  But the humanitarian situation continues to worsen since the interruption of aid now 13 days ago.

There are acute shortages of water due a lack of sufficient fuel to power pumps.  And, as we’ve mentioned before, the rainy season and poor sanitation are the root causes for spread of disease.  Two camp clinics are functioning, but both are facing severe shortages of medicine.  And I can also tell you that UNAMID, the United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur, held a meeting with envoys of the Shura Council representing various ethnic groups to discuss the political and humanitarian situation in Kalma.  But on the specific point that you mentioned about the letter, I’d have to find out — I don’t have anything on that.

[The Spokesperson later said that no such letter has been yet received by the Secretary-General.]

**Statement on Myanmar

I can come back to Myanmar for you.  A statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

The Secretary-General has taken note of the announcement by the Union Election Commission of Myanmar that general elections will be held on 7 November 2010.

The Secretary-General reiterates his call on the Myanmar authorities to honour their publicly stated commitments to hold inclusive, free and fair elections in order to advance the prospects of peace, democracy and development for Myanmar.

As essential steps for any national reconciliation and democratic transition process, the Secretary-General strongly urges the authorities to ensure that fundamental freedoms are upheld for all citizens of Myanmar and to release all remaining political prisoners without delay so that they can freely participate in the political life of their country.

That’s what I’ve got for you.

Question:  Does he think Aung San Suu Kyi should be able to participate in the elections?

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s what it says, “to release all remaining political prisoners without delay so they can freely participate in the political life of their country”.  And the Secretary-General, as you know, has been a leading voice in expressing both the UN’s and the international community’s concerns and expectations and encouragements around this process, including the need for Myanmar to take steps to ensure that these elections — the first in 20 years — are credible and inclusive.  But he has also been very clear that the UN respects the decisions of all parties with regards to the elections.

Question:  Does the good offices office here have any role in the election whatsoever, not formally monitoring it, but what will be taking place here between now and 7 November?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General mentioned on Monday that he and his Special Adviser have been deploying every effort in respect to urging the authorities to, as we’ve already said, live up to commitments and to ensure that these elections are credible and inclusive.  And I can tell you that the Secretary-General and his Special Adviser remain closely engaged with Myanmar authorities, but they do feel that this process requires more cooperation from Myanmar and all concerned.  As the Secretary-General mentioned on Monday, he will be able to elaborate further on the UN position on this when he reports to the General Assembly on this.

Question:  I have a question about Sudan, please, South Sudan, actually.  The talks between the Government and South Sudan are going on and they seem to be facing some problems, with some people from the Government of South Sudan saying the referendum might not take place.  I was wondering if the UN is involved in the current talks between the two sides and what’s your assessment of the possibilities of postponing the referendum?

Spokesperson:  Let me find out if we have anything extra to say beyond what we said yesterday.

Question:  I know you’ll be a little upset, but I’m just going to be a little persistent on this, what is the reason for the Secretary-General’s reluctance to issue any statement, after having issued a statement on Kashmir, and then withdrawing it?  What was the reason?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything to say on that Masood.

Question:  On the release of the ships of the flotilla from Israel to Turkey, did they also release the equipment of the cameramen and the press corps?

Spokesperson:  Who’s “they”?

Correspondent:  The Israelis.

Spokesperson:  Well, ask the Israelis.

Question:  Sorry to continue on this, Martin, but as I remember, the United Nations has requested all the film and videos to be used as evidence, as I remember.

Spokesperson:  Well, what I’ve said is that, if it’s been handed over, then you could ask the Israeli’s what’s been handed over.  If I get any further information, I’ll be very happy to share it with you, but you might want to try them first.

Question:  You may have some response to… In Sri Lanka, number one, the former General, Sarath Fonseca, who, it is said, that orders were given to kill surrendering individuals, has now been convicted and court-martialled.  It’s not clear what the sentence will be, but I’m wondering, between that and Sri Lanka’s own panel beginning and various parties, including the International Crisis Group, saying it’s not credible, whether the UN is monitoring that?  Does it have any response to it?  Has the UN’s own panel begun now that the four-month clock…?

Spokesperson:  Monitoring what?

Question:  I guess the trial of a high-profile possible witness to war crimes and Sri Lanka’s own panel.  If Ban Ki-moon’s own advisory panel hasn’t begun yet, who here is monitoring that?  Or has it begun and I’ve missed it?

Spokesperson:  On the question, the first part — and I’ll have to go back quite a long way because there are quite a few questions jumbled up together there — on the court-martial you mentioned, we do not have any new comment on this process.  As you will recall, following Sarath Fonseca’s arrest, the Secretary-General urged the authorities to follow due process of law and provide all the necessary protections and guarantees for his safety.

With regard to the experts you mentioned — the panel of experts — they will be able to start their work quite soon, and we will be able to give you more details, but not at the moment.  But, obviously, in the interim, the United Nations is of course aware of the domestic commission that has started its work in Sri Lanka.

Question:  Essentially the focus of it has been on the breakdown of the ceasefire, nothing about the final stage of the conflict?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, we are aware that it’s started and that’s where I want to leave it on that particular point, and just to add, as I said already, that the panel of experts will be meeting, I’m sure, quite soon, but I can’t tell you exactly when at the moment.

Question:  Something from yesterday and I just feel the need to follow it up.  I personally witnessed, earlier this week, this author, this Tom Plate, saying that his third book will be about Ban Ki-moon.  I’ve gone back and found that he said in July, in writing, that his third book of his will be about Ban Ki-moon.  So, I just want to get to the bottom of it.  You said no commitment was made.  Is this Tom Plate at a mission of a major country here saying things that are not true, or is there some definition of the word “commitment” that I’m missing?

Spokesperson:  I don’t speak for Tom Plate, I speak for the Secretary-General.  And what I told you yesterday remains the case, the Secretary-General has made no commitment to Mr. Plate or to anyone else.

Question:  But has he had discussions with him that would lead Mr. Plate to say, in writing and publicly at a mission of the United Nations, that he…?

Spokesperson:  He’s made no commitment to Mr. Plate or anyone else. 

Question:  If he does, will you announce it here?  I don’t want to keep pestering you about it, but it seems pretty clear that he’s going to go…

Spokesperson:  You can pester me as much as you like, Matthew, because the answer will remain the same.

Question:  That it’s off?  That it’s not happening?

Spokesperson:  That’s not what I said.

Question:  But if the answer will remain the same, that he “hasn’t made any commitment”, then it will never happen and then we’re done with it, it seems to me.

Spokesperson:  I’m choosing my words very carefully here, Matthew, okay?  I’ve got what I have to say here, which is that he’s made no commitment to Mr. Plate or, indeed, to anyone else.  We can’t look into a crystal ball.  We cannot foresee the future.  Maybe you can, you seem to be very good at that…

Question:  My question was, if I could ask you once here to say if that does change that you would announce it here then I won’t have to keep asking you “has he made a new commitment”, or “is there a commitment”.  You see what I meant? That’s what I was asking.

Spokesperson:  It’s the same with any piece of information, if it changes, it’ll change.  But what I can tell you now is that he’s made no commitment to Mr. Plate or anyone else with regard to a book.  That’s what I can tell you.

Thanks.  Good afternoon.

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