Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly

18 August 2010

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly

18 August 2010
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

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

and the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, everybody.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Democratic Republic of the Congo

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the deaths of three MONUSCO peacekeepers.

The Secretary-General is saddened by the deaths of three Indian peacekeepers serving with the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUSCO), who were killed early this morning following a surprise attack by a group of unidentified armed men on an operating base in Kirumba in the eastern province of North Kivu.  At least six additional UN military personnel were injured in the attack, three of them critically.

The Secretary-General conveys his sincere condolences to the Government of India and to the families of the three soldiers.  The Secretary-General condemns the assault and calls on the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to launch an immediate investigation into this incident and ensure that the perpetrators are swiftly identified and brought to justice.

The Secretary-General would like to take this opportunity to commend the men and women serving in MONUSCO in various capacities, for their efforts to protect civilians, facilitate humanitarian assistance and bring peace to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

** Middle East

The second follow-up report of the Secretary-General to the report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict was issued yesterday.

The report contains inputs received from the Israeli and Palestinian side on the efforts which they have undertaken so far to investigate allegations of violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the Gaza conflict.  It also contains a summary of the consultations conducted by the Government of Switzerland regarding the convening of a Conference of the High Contracting Parties.

As he states in the report, the Secretary-General believes that international human rights and humanitarian laws need to be fully respected.  It is his hope that resolution 64/254 has served to encourage investigations by the Government of Israel and the Palestinian side that are independent, credible and in conformity with international standards.


Turning to Pakistan, the Secretary-General will brief the General Assembly tomorrow afternoon on his recent visit there, as well as its humanitarian needs.

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the funding response to the floods is improving, but much more is needed.  The effort must be sustained in the days and weeks ahead in order to have the resources to reach the people who desperately need help.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the scale of the response is still not commensurate with the scale of this disaster of almost unprecedented magnitude.  The Office estimates that at least 6 million to 8 million people are currently in desperate need of emergency aid, among them 3.5 million children.

Many affected communities are still waiting to receive basic assistance with food, clean water, basic sanitation and health care.  The Office says a second wave of deaths caused by waterborne diseases such as diarrhoea and hepatitis can still be prevented, but only with the financial and material resources that are needed.  Even as flood waters are receding from some areas, new floods are affecting others, particularly in the south, and rains could continue for another month.

** Darfur

The UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that aid groups were allowed today into the South Darfur Kalma camp for internally displaced persons, after being denied access yesterday by local authorities, who had cited security concerns.  The mission also says that it is dispatching a team to the region around the town of Kass, in South Darfur, to look into reports of deadly tribal clashes.  The fighting is believed to have occurred on 16 August and reports suggest that at least 25 people were killed.

** Haiti

The Special Envoy for Haiti, former US President Bill Clinton, is presently in Haiti and this morning held meetings with Government ministers and representatives of UN bodies, partner NGOs [non-governmental organizations], and private-sector donors.  The meetings focused on education, energy and debris management initiatives.  The Special Envoy also met with the leadership of the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH.

**Secretary-General’s Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Mr. Zachary Muburi-Muita of Kenya as the Head of the United Nations Office to the African Union, based in Addis Ababa.  This Office was established by the General Assembly on 1 July 2010.  We have more information on that appointment in my Office.

And — as if on cue — talking of the General Assembly, Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, is here, and he’ll brief you after me.  So, questions, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Regarding this assassination in DRC — and I use the word “assassination” rather than shooting, because, apparently, these attackers were armed with knives or sticks or something — do you have any more details?  How did it happen?  Were these troops asleep?  Was it night?  Morning?  Did they defend themselves?  How could this occur through knives and sticks and things like that?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that today, which is the 18th, at about 1:50 in the morning — so that’s 10 until 2 in the morning local time, so in the middle of the night — a MONUSCO company operational base in Kirumba, North Kivu, as I mentioned earlier, this is about 28 kilometres north of Kanyabayonga, and it was manned by Indian peacekeepers.  This base was attacked by a group of 55 to 60 unidentified people, and they were armed with machetes and spears.  A number of peacekeepers engaged the attackers and forced them to retreat.  But, during the attack, as you have heard, three Indian soldiers were killed and at least six were wounded, some of those critically.  The attackers also stole two weapons during the attack.  The motives of the attackers are unclear.  That’s what I can tell you.

Question:  I’d like to move to a different subject, the follow-up report issued by the Secretary-General.  You mention in your statement, you said something — that the Secretary-General encourages Palestinians and Israelis to hold independent and credible investigations.  But what’s the Secretary-General’s assessment of the two reports he has received?  This is a report that he is sending to the GA, so what is he telling them, except that he hopes this will encourage…?

Spokesperson:  Well, he has conformed to the request of the General Assembly, which is to transmit their responses to the General Assembly, and this he has done.  That’s what he’s done.

Question:  They also asked for his assessment, because they might ask him again, because that was the scenario of the previous resolution.

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has not been requested to express his views on the responses that were received.

Question:  He’s not supposed to say whether these are independent, credible investigations or not?  He’s just supposed to take them and hand them to the GA?

Spokesperson:  Well, there are two things here.  One is that, under the General Assembly resolution, he’s asked to receive those responses and transmit them to the General Assembly.  This he has done.  Under a separate resolution of the Human Rights Council, the Secretary-General is asked to pass the required information to the Human Rights Council’s committee of independent experts, and this he will be doing today.

Question:  On this thing you just briefed us on about OCHA in Pakistan, OCHA has been saying that they have the facilities and the wherewithal to distribute the food, but they don’t have the food and medicines and so forth.  Is that right?  Is that where the problem lies now?

Spokesperson:  This is certainly a part of the challenge that’s faced by the Pakistani authorities and by the international community, including the United Nations.  And that’s one reason why the Secretary-General wanted to see for himself and also why there will be this session of the General Assembly tomorrow.  This is an opportunity for the Secretary-General to spell out precisely what the situation is on the ground with the latest update.

Clearly, since the weekend, there has been an increase in the pace of pledges to the appeal, but still we are short of the target, if you like, and, as you and other have pointed out, there are so many people who need help.  And it’s not just a question of the money; it’s a question of tents, food, water, medical supplies.  And then, coupled with that, we cannot play down the challenge that there is to the logistics because so much of the infrastructure — roads, bridges and so on — has been washed away.  

Question:  My follow-up question on this will be that this situation did not exist just three or four days ago.  But suddenly it has emerged and it has been talked about by OCHA and UN agencies.  Did this situation emerge now because there are a lot more people to take care of?  Or is it because, logistically, it’s just not possible? 

Spokesperson:  I think my colleagues from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs would be able to give you a little bit more detail on the sequencing of this.  But I think the key point here is that this is a crisis, a catastrophe that continues to unfold, and the challenges, the difficulties, are likely to change with time.  That’s obvious.  And as there are so many people — as I mentioned, 3.5 million children alone — it’s clear that to provide the supplies will be a major challenge.  That’s quite clear.  Tents, water, food and medical supplies for these kinds of numbers — it’s really tricky.  And I’m sure that the Secretary-General will be able to provide more details when he speaks to the General Assembly tomorrow.  In the meantime, I’m sure that my colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs could give you more details too.

Question:  Still on tomorrow, could you give us an overview of what’s going to be happening and what kind of times and who we expect to hear from?   And, on Pakistan, the money, the funding and the aid pledges seems to be one of the big issues here.  Given that it is the holy month of Ramadan, and that countries in the region are traditionally good donors for this kind of thing and there has been speculation about whether or not they’re getting involved, is there going to be a mention from the SG of an appeal from Muslim countries?

Also, back on the funding again, there’s a slight question about whether the money is going through the United Nations.  I’m particularly interested in the funding that was announced by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.  It’s a sizable amount of money they are raising in Saudi Arabia, but is it part of the UN funding or is it separate from that? 

Spokesperson:  On the running order for the General Assembly tomorrow, Jean Victor is your man.  I’m sure he will be able to tell you.  I know that the Secretary-General will have a number of bilateral meetings and we will be aiming to give you readouts on those meetings as quickly as we can after them.  And I believe that some of the people who will be present — ministers — may be considering going to the stakeout position just outside the General Assembly.  Obviously we will be able to provide details once that’s firmed up.

On reaching out to specific groups, I think the Secretary-General has been quite clear that there has already been enormous generosity from the international community.  But obviously, the Secretary-General was able to confirm with his own eyes and his own conversations on the ground on Sunday what was already apparent to the international aid community, including United Nations people on the ground, that, generous though the funding has been so far, much, much more is needed.  It’s not for us to specify one group or another, but simply to urge all countries, and indeed individuals, to contribute to the best of their ability.  And as for the Saudi pledge, I would defer to my colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who track this kind of funding and can tell you where it sits.

Question:  Can I just ask one question on the funding?  From what has been said so far, the United States is the number one contributor, with $79 million.  But no other country is being mentioned.  So what you’re saying is that the figures are coming in?  The figures will be with OCHA now, country-by-country, as to who has contributed the most to Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  I think that the figures are publicly available, and I’m sure that OCHA would be able to help you with that.

[The Spokesperson later added that OCHA has updated figures on its website, at http://fts.unocha.org/pageloader.aspx?page=emerg-emergencyDetails&emergID=15913]

Question:  I wanted to ask about DRC follow-up, Sudan and Sri Lanka.  On this attack in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the FARDC — the Congolese army — has said that it was either FDLR [Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda] or Mai Mai rebels.  I guess I wanted to know… I understand that by saying “either”, that shows that they don’t know, but is the UN aware of any other rebel groups operating in the Kivus that can produce 60 fighters at a time?  And unlike in Sudan, where it seems like it’s never said who did what, does the UN intend to name which group was responsible for this killing of peacekeepers?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, it’s standard after any incident of this nature for there to be an investigation within the UN system.  That’s in addition to the investigation which the Secretary-General has asked the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to carry out.  So I’m sure that in the course of the investigation by the UN, this will be looked into.  At the moment, we’re saying, as I mentioned, an unidentified group.

Question:  Will that be a board of inquiry, like in the Louis Maxwell case?  And will it be made public when it’s finished?

Spokesperson:  I think it’s for our colleagues in DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and the Department of Field Support to do what they need to do in accordance with the usual procedure.

Question:  On Sudan, there’s been for a couple of days un-clarity about the Government’s — local or Khartoum, its unclear — expulsion of UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and FAO [Food and Agriculture Organization] workers from West Darfur.  FAO has now confirmed that one of its workers has been expelled for getting signatures for an anti-hunger petition.

And at UNHCR, it seems they were being expelled for distributing rape detection equipment.  That’s how it’s described in the Sudan Tribune, that they distributed equipment to monitor rape of women in Darfur and were expelled on those grounds.  Can you confirm that these people were expelled, that those were the grounds?  Does the UN believe that its system personnel have the right to both investigate rape and distribute this anti-rape equipment?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that we have still received no official notification of any expulsions or reasons for them, and discussions with the Government are continuing.  Some issues have already been resolved, and others are being pursued.  We can’t say any more for the moment.

Question: Then why is it that… FAO has said… there seems to be a split then between the Secretariat and FAO…

Spokesperson:  Well, then, the last sentence I read out probably helps you: “We can’t say anything more at the moment”.

Question:  Alright.  Also on Sudan, this Scott Gration, the US Special Envoy for Sudan, has flown there to address the North-South referendum issues.  Somebody was telling me that somehow DPKO coordinated with him or there’s some UN role in this trip.  Is that the case?  Are you aware of that?

Spokesperson:  Let me find out.

Question:  And finally on Sri Lanka, this was in the testimony of Sri Lanka’s own lessons learned panel.  The Defence Secretary, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the brother of the President, in open testimony, as reported by The New York Times, blamed the UN for the death of civilians in the final stages of the conflict, rather than the Government.  I just wonder if the UN has any… given Ban Ki-moon’s own panel that may or may not have begun, that’s my other question, whether this four months has begun… but what’s the response to the Defence Secretary of Sri Lanka blaming the UN for the death of civilians in Sri Lanka?

Spokesperson:  We’ve seen the media reports, as well, and we don’t have any comment on them.  On the second part of your question, the clock has not yet started.  We expect it to do so shortly.

Thank you very much.

Briefing by the Spokesperson of the President of the General Assembly

Bon après midi, good afternoon.  Welcome to our visitors, bienvenu a nos visiteurs.

**General Assembly Meeting on Pakistan

Following queries from correspondents regarding tomorrow’s event at the General Assembly, please note the following:

The President of the General Assembly, His Excellency Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, has convened a plenary meeting of the General Assembly tomorrow, Thursday, 19 August.  The meeting, which will start at 3 p.m., will be an opportunity to express solidarity and to further mobilize the support of Member States and the international community for Pakistan in light of the recent devastating floods that has caused heavy loss of life, displacement and damages to homes, livelihoods, environment and infrastructure.

The international community is stepping forward in support of the efforts of the Government and the people of Pakistan.  The United Nations and many Member States are already providing emergency relief and assistance on the ground.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has launched an initial appeal for $459 million for immediate relief.

The President of the General Assembly calls on all Member States to contribute to this effort.  Time is of the essence in saving lives and reaching out to the affected populations with the required assistance.  More needs to be done now in this emergency phase, while a much greater and sustained commitment and support would be required for long-term rehabilitation and reconstruction.

Statements are expected by the President of the General Assembly, the Secretary-General, Member States and Observers, aside from the action on the draft resolution.  High-level participation is expected.  Also, kindly note that this is not a “special session”, it is the 110th plenary meeting of the sixty-fourth regular session of the General Assembly. 

That’s what I have for you today.  Questions?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Have you confirmed attendees, particularly, maybe from the Member States of Pakistan and the United States?  And second question, I notice that you said the special session begins at 3 p.m. and I was just wondering if — a lot of us have deadlines, which are before then — it would be possible to get copies of the comments of the President and the Secretary-General in advance, under embargo.

Spokesperson:  On the attendees, I have specifically refrained from giving names since the list is far from closed.  We are still working on that, but as I was leaving my office, we were at around 28 speakers, so far.  But when this list is concluded and when we have more work done on that, we’ll come back to you with more specifics.

Regarding comments from the PGA [President of the General Assembly] in order for you to meet your deadlines, we’ll do the best we can and possibly provide you with an embargoed statement well in advance.  Yes?

Question:  Who will be the first speaker after the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Well, when we have the list set, we will be able to provide you with the list of speakers, but I can tell you that the President of the General Assembly will speak, then the Secretary-General and then Member States.  Now, the order of Member States will come into the list that we hope to finalize in the next few hours.

Question:  Has the President of the General Assembly scheduled any bilateral meetings with [United States] Secretary of State Hillary Clinton?

Spokesperson:  Well, I do not want to confirm any specific bilateral right now with any high-level participant.  I can tell you that the President is on his way back to New York — he should be here today — and when some of these bilaterals are confirmed, we will definitely let you know.  And we’ll also have a readout of these meetings when they happen.  Yes?

Question:  I’d like to ask about the SG [Secretary-General’s] report on Goldstone that Martin just announced.  I was wondering whether it’s your understanding as well that the SG role is simply to take the answer of both sides and transmit them without issuing any assessment of whether these investigations are credible or  not in the first place.  Is this what the GA [General Assembly] asked the SG, simply to act like a postman and deliver the responses of the two sides to the GA?

Spokesperson:  I really cannot add on anything that is already set on paper with regard to the Goldstone proceedings, and the expectations of the General Assembly with responsibility of all the stakeholders in this process.

Question:  So after they receive the report in the GA, what’s the next step?  This is the second time, you asked the GA for a report; are you going to ask him for a third report?

Spokesperson:  I hear you.  Member States will decide.

Question:  Would the President of the GA plan to do something after getting the response of the SG?

Spokesperson:  Let us take it in stride.  Let us receive the report first and we will take it from there.  Sure.

Question:  [inaudible] where the report is.  Is it still being delayed in its being passed to the GA as a result of translation?

Spokesperson:  On that part of the question, you may want to ask the Secretariat.  It is really a technical matter.

Question:  Is the General Assembly President concerned about the delay in receiving the document on schedule?

Spokesperson:  The word “delay” really is yours, I wouldn’t use that.  I would only say that the President of the General Assembly has not expressed any concern so far, as I know.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Jean Victor, I wanted to know if the President of the General Assembly or his Office has received a letter from Cambodia about the Cambodia-Thai border dispute.  It’s reported in Cambodia that the Prime Minister wrote to the General Assembly President saying that Thailand had threatened to use force to resolve the border dispute.  I just want to know if you have the letter and what your response to it is.

Spokesperson:  Well, I just came back yesterday from a trip to Africa.  When I go back to the office right after this briefing, I’ll check and come back to you on that.

Question:  And also, there’s two resolutions I wanted to ask you about.  One of them is this revitalization of the General Assembly resolution, which I’ve seen various drafts of, which would, among other things, require candidates for Secretary-General election or re-election to come before the GA.  Do you know, what’s the status of that?  Will it come to a vote in this current session?

Spokesperson:  It’s difficult to say.  I think we have to go back to where the process stands and maybe we can see if a briefing is possible on this very important process of the revitalization of the General Assembly, which as you know, is part of the reform of the United Nations.  Yes?

Question:  Also, there’s a lot of talk about the Serbian-proposed resolution about the International Court of Justice (ICJ) decision on the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo.  Has the President of the GA or his staff met with Serbia or Kosovo about when it would be introduced, if it will be introduced?  Where does it stand?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the President has been away.  He was invited by his Excellency [Denis] Sassou Nguesso, the President of the Congo, for the jubilee celebration of Congo’s independence.  I will check what has been happening when he was away, if anything at all and come back to you on that.

Question:  As you know, the President of the General Assembly is very concerned with the crisis and the disastrous situation in Pakistan.  Is he giving any thought of travelling to Pakistan at any time?

Spokesperson:  We will definitely ask him the question when he comes back today.  First and foremost, let us have the important meeting tomorrow and see how we can further galvanize the support of the international community and Member States. 

If there is no further question, thank you very much.  I wish you good afternoon, bon après midi a tous.  Merci.

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