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

24 August 2010

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

24 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.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the incident in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Secretary-General is outraged by the rape and assault of at least 154 Congolese civilians, during an attack by armed elements of the Mai-Mai and the Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda (FDLR), in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  This is another grave example of both the level of sexual violence and the insecurity that continue to plague the DRC.

The Secretary-General reiterates his call on all armed groups in the DRC to lay down their weapons and join the peace process.  The Secretary-General further calls on the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to investigate this incident and bring to justice the perpetrators of these crimes and renew efforts to bring an end to insecurity in the eastern part of the country.

The United Nations supports the efforts of the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to fight impunity and ensure the protection of civilians from violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, including all forms of sexual and gender-based violence.

Given the seriousness of the incident, the Secretary-General has decided to dispatch immediately Assistant Secretary-General Atul Khare, the Officer-in-Charge of the United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations to the DRC.  He has also instructed his Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, Margot Wallström, to take charge of the UN’s response and follow-up to this incident.

I also have a statement by Ms. Margot Wallström, who, as I say, is the Special Representative for Sexual Violence in Conflict, in which she says she was shocked to learn of the horrific rapes of at least 154 people in a number of villages in North Kivu.

She goes on to condemn the rapes in the strongest possible terms and adds:  “It should be noted that this incident represents a very extreme case in terms of its scale and the level of organization of the attacks.  This terrible incident confirms my general findings during my recent visit to the DRC of the widespread and systematic nature of rape and other human rights violations.  She said similar information was also being confirmed regularly by UN, NGO, and civil society sources, stressing the fact that Congo remains one of the grave situations of concern that requires priority attention and response of the international community.

She adds that the UN is trying to ensure a more rigorous monitoring of sexual violence and other human rights violations as a way to identify perpetrators and ensure that action is taken against them by the Government of the DRC, the Security Council, and others.

Those who committed these terrible rapes, she says, must be brought to justice.

** Somalia

Augustine Mahiga, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, condemned in the strongest possible terms the attack on a Mogadishu hotel today, in which several civilians, including Members of Parliament, were killed.

Mahiga said, “These callous, brutal acts, which were clearly aimed at causing maximum bloodshed to innocent people, defy rational comprehension.  Those who are responsible for these murders are only interested in causing destruction and misery to the Somali people.”

He said that the peace process would continue in Somalia, despite the attempts by a violent minority to disrupt it.  Such violence will only serve to increase the determination of all friends of Somalia to help bring a quick end to the conflict and to provide Somalis with hope for the future, he said.  We have a press release with more details.

** Pakistan

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that monsoon floods are continuing to displace millions of people in southern Pakistan, with some 800,000 people only accessible by air.  More helicopters are urgently required.  The Office adds that the floods have now affected an estimated 17.2 million people, with at least 8 million people needing lifesaving assistance.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that medical supplies covering the needs of 2.2 million people have been delivered, including medicines to treat 90,500 cases of diarrhoea.

The World Food Programme (WFP) says that it has delivered food to 1.75 million people as of this morning, with 150,000 people being reached daily if conditions permit.  The World Food Programme has commitments now for about 30 helicopters, including the ones it is already using.

The $460 million emergency response plan is now 59 per cent funded; that amount does not count an additional $62 million in pledges.

**Security Council

The Security Council held consultations this morning to receive an update on the work of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  Council members are considering an extension of the mission’s mandate.  Atul Khare, the Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Council on recent developments in Lebanon.

The Security Council has also scheduled a briefing in consultations on the work of its Sanctions Committee dealing with resolution 1718 (2006), which concerns the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  That committee is chaired by Ambassador Ertuğrul Apakan of Turkey.

**Secretary-General — Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Lieutenant General Babacar Gaye of Senegal as Military Adviser for Peacekeeping Operations.

He replaces Nigeria’s Lieutenant General Chikadibia Obiakor whose tour of duty ends on 2 September.  We have more information on Lieutenant General Gaye in my office.

That’s it from me.  Questions, please.  Yes, Edie?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, a follow-up on something that you said yesterday, also relating to the rapes in Congo.  You said that the FDLR attackers blocked the road and prevented villagers from reaching the nearest communication point.  I’m wondering why the peacekeepers didn’t force the rebels to dismantle the road blocks, since I thought that one of the points in their mandate was that they had the right to use force to protect civilians.

Spokesperson:  As we understand it, there’s one main road in the area.  And the attackers prevented any villagers from reaching that road and, thus, from coming into contact with traffic along this road, which is also used by commercial vehicles.  So that’s the picture that we have at the moment.  I just wanted to add at this point that we would expect tomorrow to have, by either audio- or video-link, a briefing from a senior official in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to provide more details on this.  Yes.  Yes, Tala?

Question:  Martin, on Somalia, with the report that was launched by the Secretary-General on pirates and the jurisdiction that’s now being applied to combating crime in terms of piracy, the question I have is, there have never been direct links necessarily made between the pirates and al-Shabaab, and can the UN, rather than just condemning the attacks, find the root of the…the cause of al-Shabaab and try them in these courts?  Because if there is a jurisdiction already in place and you have those resources in Kenya now, why not just look for the culprits, and these are crimes they’re committing, and try them?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think we’ve said that those responsible should be brought to justice.  That, I think that goes without saying.  I think we’ll possibly have something more to say on this subject in the next couple of days, but not right now.  Matthew?

Question:  I’m sorry, it’s only ‘cause it’s follow-up to Edie’s question on the DRC.  The Guardian today has a story quoting William Cragin, of the International Medical Corps, which is providing medical assistance to the victims of these rapes, saying that, quote “UN workers knew rebels that occupied Luvungi town, the day after the attack began, on 30 July”.  So, I’m just, I mean I heard all these, these lengthy statements, but I wonder, is this something that the UN has, has disputes?  That, that they were, in fact, because then, it all seems to be premised on that the…that those being attacked couldn’t reach the road, whereas the…this individual who has been treating women seems to say that the UN and aid workers were aware of the presence.  How do you square these two and why didn’t they act…

Spokesperson:  Well, here’s the chronology.  On 12 August, MONUSCO’s North Kivu office received reports from an international medical NGO, which provided medical care and said that 68 victims had been identified and assisted.  And that same day, this information was relayed to the provincial Ministry of Health and also in response, the mission took immediate action.  So, that was 12 August.  On 13 August — the next day — MONUSCO, the North Kivu office of the Mission, deployed a joint protection team to the area.  And that team stayed there from 13 to 17 August.  Also on 13 August, the North Kivu office of the Mission shared the information that it had received with the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and requested their deployment to the area.  On 14 August, the North Kivu brigade launched a fact-finding mission to the area.  On 18 August, the preliminary findings of the joint protection team were reported within the mission and a decision was then taken to send a fully fledged human rights investigation mission.

On 21 August, a strategy to coordinate the response to the sexual violence was established, jointly by the Mission, UNICEF, UNHCR and the medical organizations that were already present on the ground.  And then on the 24 August, the North Kivu office finalized the preparations for the deployment of the human rights investigation missions.  Support staff had already been sent from the joint human rights office in Kinshasa, on 23 August, and this investigation mission is planned to be deployed tomorrow.  And as I’ve already mentioned, Atul Khare, the Assistant-Secretary-General, who is the Officer-in-Charge at the moment of peacekeeping operations, is being dispatched immediately to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Margot Wallström has been instructed by the Secretary-General to take the lead in coordinating the response.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  Thanks for that…I just wanted…on this idea that the only way that MONUSCO could know would be villagers getting out to a road.  Has there ever been a consideration of either, like, I don’t know what it would be, flares, satellite phones, some…what, what steps does MONUSCO take to, to ensure that the pop…civilians it’s supposed to protect can reach it, you know, even if there’s a blockade of a road?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I mentioned yesterday, this is quite a large area that we’re talking about and the Mission obviously does patrol.  That’s clear.  But it’s a vast area that is covered.  And it’s unfortunately common for incidents to go unreported, for the simple stark fact that people fear reprisals.  That is, unfortunately, the case.  The suggestions you’ve made about ways that people in remote locations could sound the alarm, I’m sure, are the kind of things that people will look at.

But let’s be clear.  This is a large area, a limited number of peacekeepers, who do patrol regularly.  They cannot be everywhere at the same time.  The people may be some way from the road and not able to immediately contact those who might be able to help them.  As the Secretary-General has said, you know, he’s outraged by what’s happened.  And it’s a level of the seriousness of this incident, is an indication, I beg your pardon, of the seriousness of this incident that he has dispatched immediately the Assistant-Secretary-General for peacekeeping operations to investigate on the ground, with the people who are already there, of course.  Yes, please?

Question:  I have a question on the Niger crisis.  I need additional information.  Oxfam International reported yesterday that the issue of [inaudible] the nearly 8 million people, which is approximately the same number of people waiting to get humanitarian assistance in Pakistan, are facing hunger and [inaudible], due to recent flooding.  And I know that the UN already gave $15 million for 1.7 million people and I was wondering if you had any information of [the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] intending to deploy additional resources.

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that the World Food Programme has been sounding the alarm now for quite a few weeks.  And indeed a month ago already, Josette Sheeran, the head of the World Food Programme, was in Niger.  John Holmes, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, was also there.  And they said very clearly at the time precisely this:  that this was a disaster in the making and an under-funded response was what we had at the moment.  We desperately need more help to be able to help people on the ground.  This still remains an under-funded crisis.  This is the case.  And I know that colleagues in the World Food Programme and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs take this extremely seriously.  As I say, they have been speaking out about this for any number of weeks now.  And we do need to see a stepping-up in the response from the international community to help people.  As you say, the numbers involved are extremely alarming.

Question:  Just a quick follow-up.  [inaudible] from your colleagues at the World Food Programme that they have limited their food distributions to approximately 40 per cent.  Do you think this is helping?

Spokesperson:  I would ask my colleagues from the World Food Programme to contact you or you can contact them directly to get an update.  What I do understand is that the focus, because of this lack of funding - full funding for the help that’s needed - the focus has to be on the most vulnerable.  That’s the reality.  But I would ask you to contact the World Food Programme.  I’m sure that they would be able to give you even more up-to-date information.  Yes, please?

Question:  Matthew’s question made me wonder, when there is a peacekeeping mission, is there a protocol, a chain in every mission on how local communities may ask for help?  What are they supposed to, I mean, I imagine Bosnia is different from Congo, do you have telephones or radios or flares?  They need help, what do they do?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, it would depend on the mandate of the individual mission.  It depends what job they have been given by the Security Council to carry out in a given area.  But wherever they are, a common theme will be to liaise with the local community, because that’s ultimately the reason they are there.  Whatever the specific mandate, they are there to help the people in some shape or form.  The exact details of how they go about that in each individual location, I would not be able to give you now.  But I think the important point is that, in this particular case, there are routine patrols that are carried out.  It’s a large area and when escorts are requested, they are provided.  The operating base from which this peacekeeping group were working was never informed of the attack by either the population or the local authorities.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  The Palestinian Ambassador has written a letter to the Secretary-General yesterday.  The Secretary-General, the President of the Security Council and also the President of the General Assembly have been drawing attention to these continued incidents of desecration of this cemetery, old Palestinian cemetery over there in East Jerusalem, Mamilla Cemetery.  Has the Secretary-General got any response to his letter that he has written, that he has been writing since April?

Spokesperson:  Let me see whether that letter has been received.  That’s the first thing.  The second thing is that, as I’ve said, the statement by the Secretary-General at the weekend and the Quartet statement at the tail end of last week, I think cover quite a lot of ground on these kind of things.  Yes?

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the letter had been received.]

Question:  Another related question.  The Israeli authorities have asked Google’s Wikipedia to revise its language in there, not to use words like “Israeli occupied territories”, to refer to the West Bank and Gaza and so forth, “Israeli occupied territories”, use some other word as, I mean “disputed territories” or something like that.  Where do…what’s the UN position on such language?

Spokesperson:  That’s really between the Israeli authorities and Wikipedia.  That’s not for me to comment on, for the United Nations to comment on.  I think the language we use is pretty well known.  Yes?

Question:  Sure.  I have one on the Congo and then Sudan, but just when you said this thing of escorts are provided, I’m just struck by this.  The International Medical Corps, first I wanted to know, is that the international medical group that your statement refers to?  That reported on 13 August?

Spokesperson:  I believe so, but I would need to check.

Question:  Cause in today’s Guardian, he’s again…Mr. Cragin says that they gained access to the village on 4 August, when the, when the people helped pull out, which then makes…if they went in without any military escort it makes it seem that it was pretty…by that point it was safe enough to have unarmed humanitarians go into the village from the 4th onwards…

Spokesperson:  What I said, Matthew, is that escorts are provided on request.

Question:  Sure.  No, no, ab…absolutely, no I’m not disputing…

Spokesperson:  If they don’t request it, then we don’t provide it.

Question:  Right, right.  No, absolutely.  I’m just wondering how, between 4 August and whatever, the 13th.

Spokesperson:  Twelfth.  The 12th, Matthew.  The 12th.

Question:  Do these patrols, what are these patrols…

Spokesperson:  The 12th.

Question:  Okay.  How often do these patrols go out that they’d be unaware of this type of an attack within 18 miles of the base?

Spokesperson:  As we’ve said, it’s an outrage that it took place.  It’s utterly unacceptable that something like this should take place.  And the peacekeepers were not informed of the attack by either the population or the local authorities.  The…as I’ve said, the chronology is as I’ve given you, which is on the 12th, when the North Kivu office received reports from an international medical NGO.  Whether it’s this specific one, I would need to check.  Yes.

Question:  Alright, that’s good.  I guess then…apparently, we’ll learn more in coming days about the whole…

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, it is our intention to have someone available to brief you.  We are working on the logistics of that.  But we are fully aware of the significance of this, the gravity of this, and we want to be able to help you to understand what’s happened and what is being done.

Question:  And I wanted to also about…yester…I mean it’s not your, your…I think at the time that you said it, we all believed it would be true that Mr. Khare would do a stakeout.  But as it turned out, I believe that he did not do a stakeout.  So the questions on Sudan that he was going to answer were, were…on behalf of the Secretariat, weren’t answered, so I want to ask what I was going to ask yesterday again, and it has to do with statements by the Sudanese Permanent Representative.  On this issue of a lack of access by the UN to Jebel Marra in Darfur, he said that it’s not due to Government blockage, that the UN is free to go, that he’d like the UN to coordinate and that they would be willing to provide escorts to provide…to go to this part of Darfur that the UN apparently hasn’t been in since February.  What’s the UN’s response to that?  Is it…do they dispute that they could be going?  I mean, he’s saying that they could go, so I’m just wondering what the, what the UN’s reasoning for not going is.

Spokesperson:  Let me find out.  I don’t have anything for you on that right now, but let’s find out.

Question:  And he also said, on this issue with this apparently ongoing issue of the UNHCR and FAO officials in west Darfur, he confirmed that the basis for asking them to leave, in the case of UNHCR people, is the distribution of rape detection kits.  So I wanted to, I mean, he said that that’s the local Government’s reason.  Are the individuals leaving?  And again I wanted to ask you, does the UN believe that, particularly in light of this Congo situation, that, as part of its mandate, it can distribute, and stands up for its right to distribute, rape detection kits in conflict-ridden areas, like west Darfur or the Congo?

Spokesperson:  To my knowledge, the position remains the same as I told you when you last asked the same question, if I remember correctly, last week.

Question:  Well, I think [inaudible] they hadn’t left yet, but I was just trying to see whether you understand why they’re being asked to leave.

Spokesperson:  I think you asked the same question at that point, including about the reason.  The position to my knowledge remains the same.  Should I have any more information, I would obviously want to provide that.  Yes, Masood?  And then I’m coming to you.

Question:  I just wanted to ask one question about, which is about Indian-occupied Kashmir.  Today, there is a report that 68 people have been killed since the, this sort of, uprising began over which everybody is trying to pacify, or bring under control.  The Secretary-General has he any position as yet, or is he just continues to have no comment, as you said last time?

Spokesperson:  The latter rather than the former, Masood.  Next question.

Question:  What did you say?  I didn’t hear.

Spokesperson:  The latter rather than the former.

Question:  Just to clarify, you’re saying there were no peacekeepers in the area during the raid?

Spokesperson:  Sorry?

Question:  You’re saying there were no peacekeepers in the area during the raid at all?

Spokesperson:  What I said was that, as I mentioned yesterday, there is a base, a small base.

Question:  Well, because the AP in their report, they quoted someone as saying there were 25 peacekeepers in the villages and they did what they could against the 200 to 400 rebels.  So, were they there or were they not?

Spokesperson:  I have also seen media reports.  I’m telling you what I have available about the movements, as I understand them at the moment.  As I’ve said, there are a number of points here that the North Kivu office was alerted, received reports from this medical NGO on the 12th…

Question:  Did they receive reports from anyone else prior to that?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that they received reports on that date.  That’s what I can tell you and that they, on receiving that information, they took immediate action.  So, that, that was the trigger to start to take action, which they did in the way that I described in this chronology, if you like.  The other thing is, as I did mention, the operating base was never informed of the attack by the population or the local authorities.  I mean, I think it’s clear that it’s a matter for the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to investigate urgently and bring those responsible to justice.

You know, that’s clearly a hugely important factor and I think it’s a sign of the gravity of the situation that Assistant-Secretary-General Khare will be going immediately to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and also that Margot Wallström — whose own statement we have available in full, I paraphrased it when I read it out — she’s been asked by the Secretary-General to take charge of the follow-up here and the UN’s response.  And I’m sure that she will then be able to report back, along with the Assistant-Secretary-General, providing more details of this.  The point here is that this was an unprovoked attack on civilians in a remote location and it’s outrageous that it took place.  And we want to understand more of the details.  As we have more information, we will be able to provide it to you.

Question:  And you said yesterday that they were receiving medical and psychosocial care.  Who is providing that care?

Spokesperson:  This is a combination of the Mission and other players, actors there.  I mentioned UNICEF and UNHCR, for example, and there are other medical organizations, including NGOs, on the spot.  I don’t know, or have all of the names of those organizations involved.  Yes?

Question:  Back to Kashmir, I didn’t understand what you said in response to…

Spokesperson:  Right, sorry if I’m being cryptic.  I mean, no comment.  That’s what I mean.  Yes.

Question:  Will the Secretary-General not even call on India to use, not to use deadly force against peaceful demonstrators?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I say, if we have something to say, I’ll let you know.  But we don’t have anything to say on the matter.

Question:  One more on Congo and then something on Myanmar.  But just on a separate issue of the three Indian peacekeepers that were killed, it’s been reported that the Congolese Army has said that they have arrested two individuals, members of the Pareco rebel group and they’ve charged them with having organized the murder of the peacekeepers.  I just wonder at what point is the UN…one, are you aware of that and does the UN feel that the right people have been charged and when is the UN going to speak about what the, the…you know, who is responsible for that attack?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General, as you know, asked the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to investigate this matter and bring those responsible to justice.  We are actively following the various press reports regarding the Congolese efforts in this matter, but we are not going to comment on an investigation that is under way.

Question:  Okay, and also…I just wanted to ask on Myanmar, maybe you’ll have an answer, a response to this.  There’s a…there’s a controversy about the UN’s main development programme in Myanmar, which is a $100 million programme run by UNDP, that’s been subject to an independent assessment mission report that was highly critical.  It said very little is being accomplished.  Money may be being diverted to mil…to the military Government.  Helen Clark has said that this report…it’s not…apparently, it’s asked for a shortened version and wants to go forward.

I just wonder, what’s the coordination between this major UN system development programme in Myanmar and the good office’s role of Vijay Nambiar?  And, and in response to this curtailment of the post-Nargis development, I got a response from your Office saying they’re doing it in some other state, northern Rakhine State, there’s some other development, but is…is it true, as is reported, even on ReliefNet, that aid workers are going to find it nearly impossible to be in the country when the elections take place in November.  Many people say that’s the reason for cancelling the Nargis programme, so it’s…

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, if Helen Clark has commented on this, then I would defer to Helen Clark.

Question:  No, no I’m not asking you to second-guess Helen Clark’s…I’m just wondering is there any coordination between the Secretariat’s Good Office’s role and UNDP?  Is there any?

Spokesperson:  There’s always coordination, Matthew.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson: Thank you.

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