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

31 August 2010

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

31 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 General Assembly President


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 and welcome to the briefing.


Our guest today is Margot Wallström, who is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict. 

Later, after my part of the briefing, we will also have Jean Victor Nkolo here, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.  So, I understand, Ms. Wallström, you have a few opening remarks.  Then we’ll open up for questions. 

[After Ms. Wallström’s briefing, Mr. Nesirky resumed the daily press briefing.]

Ok, just a couple of other points. 

**Secretary-General on Human Trafficking

Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General spoke at the launch of the Global Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons here at UN Headquarters.

Describing the Plan of Action as a clarion call, he said that despite steps taken to stop human trafficking, a common, coordinated and consistent approach must be taken across and a Plan of Action will help to achieve exactly that.

The Plan will engage Governments and criminal justice systems, civil society, the private sector, the media, and concerned citizens.  Under the Plan, the fight against human trafficking will become part of all the UN’s broader development and security policies and programs.

The Secretary-General urged Member States, the private sector and philanthropists to contribute generously to the United Nations Voluntary Trust Fund for those who are trafficked, especially women and children.

** Pakistan

An estimated half a million women affected by the floods in Pakistan are expected to give birth during the coming six months, according to the World Health Organization (WHO).  One month after the gradual onset of the devastating floods, reproductive health remains a significant concern across Pakistan’s flooded areas.  After conducting assessments of maternal, neonatal, and child health, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) has established labour rooms in selected areas.  Also the UN Population Fund’s teams have assisted in approximately 5,600 safe deliveries so far.

Pakistan’s floods have so far affected an estimated 17.6 million people, 70 per cent of whom are estimated to be women and children.  We have more details in a press release from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

And also, the Executive Directors of UNICEF and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) have called on the international community to step up their support for the victims of the floods in Pakistan.  Anthony Lake of UNICEF and Josette Sheeran of the World Food Programme made their call following a joint visit to one of the worst affected parts of the country.  And we have a press release on that.

** Sudan

The UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that the three Russian aircrew members who were abducted on Sunday in Nyala, South Darfur, were safely released earlier today.

The Mission adds that, on Monday, a UN-African Union Mission in Darfur team met with several community leaders at the Kalma camp for displaced persons to discuss reconciliation among opposing sides following the violent incidents in the camp in July.

During the meeting the Mission called upon all camp leaders to reconcile their differences in the interest of the displaced people, to live in peace and receive humanitarian assistance.

**Security Council

Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council extended the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) by one year, until the end of August 2011.

And today is the last day of the Russian presidency of the Security Council.   Tomorrow, Turkey will assume the Council’s rotating presidency for the month of September.

**DPI/NGO Conference

The Department of Public Information is holding a conference with non-governmental organizations (NGO) and that’s under way in Melbourne, Australia, right now.

In a video message to the Conference, the Secretary-General thanked the participants for coming together to advance global health and the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  He told the gathered NGOs, “We at the United Nations not only value your activism — we depend on it.”

He particularly welcomed the Conference’s focus on women’s and children’s health.  The Secretary-General said that was the area where we are most behind, although evidence shows it is also where we can get the biggest return on our investment.  We have the text of his video message available in my office.

A few questions, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Do we know the name of the company the Russians worked for?

Spokesperson:  Say again?

Question:  They were private, a private aircraft company?

Spokesperson:  They worked for an air transport company called Badr Airlines, and they in turn were working on contract to a company that supplies peacekeepers from UNAMID.

Question: They are not part [inaudible].

Spokesperson: Say again?

Question:  They are not private airlines own by [inaudible] by any chance?

Spokesperson:  I have no idea.

Question:  I’ll ask you the same question I asked Ms. Wallström.  Can you give us more insight into the Congolese Government’s role in the follow up to the rapes?

Spokesperson: You heard the answer from Ms. Wallström.

Question:  But, she didn’t really know.  

Spokesperson:  As I say, you heard her answer.  And you also heard what Ms. Wallström said earlier in the statement and what the Secretary-General has said in the statement.  That it’s incumbent on the authorities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to investigate this incident, which took place on their territory.  Obviously, the UN Mission and other members of the UN system are looking into this matter in the way that Ms. Wallström described.  In other words, this is to look at what the UN can learn from this, what could have been done better, what will be done better in the future.  But the primary responsibility for bringing people to justice, that rests with the Government. 

Question:  But she said that it was a two-pronged approach.

Spokesperson:  That’s right.  I just said that again.

Question: So, they’re trying to get the names, but like you said, the primary responsibility lies with the Government.  But the UN investigation team is also investigating the incident?

Spokesperson:  The UN team is a joint investigation team.  That is not a criminal investigation.  That’s to try to establish the facts related to the UN’s mission on the ground, to learn from that and also, in so doing, to try to establish facts, what actually happened.  But the primary responsibility for bringing people to justice, that very clearly rests with the Government, with the authorities of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  That’s the twin-track approach that Ms. Wallström was talking about.

Question:  You indicated that the three Russian who are experts were released.  Do we know who their abductors were and under what conditions they were released?

Spokesperson:  No.  I don’t have any further details on that.

Question:  On a meeting about Kalma camp, has there been any indication of south Darfur state’s government on planning to move the camp?   

Spokesperson:  What was the last bit of your question?

Question:  On the UNAMID meeting in Darfur, on the Kalma camp, is there any indication of South Darfur State’s Government’s plans to go ahead and move the camp?  Or is there any mention of that given the update on that?

Spokesperson:  No, not at the moment.  But if we do, we’ll certainly provide it.  We realize that there’s a continued interest in what’s happening there and the scale of that.

Question:  The Rwandan Foreign Minister today sort of reconfirmed their threat to withdraw all of their peacekeepers from UNAMID and said that they had given order to the Rwandan Force Commander to draw up contingency plans for the immediate withdrawal.  It’s unclear to what extent this is bluster, whatever, I don’t know.  Do you have any comment to make on what’s been said this morning?

Spokesperson:  We’re aware of the media reports that you’ve referred to that are out there today and I would simply repeat what I said yesterday, that is, that United Nations peacekeeping operations very much appreciate Rwanda’s troop contribution as well as their performance under UN command.  As I also mentioned yesterday, the latest figures show, from 31 July, that Rwanda has 3,485 soldiers in Darfur and 143 police officers and 24 staff officers there and in other locations. 

Question:  So, you’ve been in direct contact with the Government of Rwanda to assess…

Spokesperson:  That’s not what I said.  I said that we’re aware of the media reports.

Question: But you have not been in touch with the Government?

Spokesperson:  We’re aware of the media reports. 

Question:  There have been some statements by a spiritual leader in Israel, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.  He’s the leader of the Shas movement.  He has 17 members in the Israeli Knesset.  He basically says that he wishes that President Abbas dies and that the Palestinian people vanish.  The United Nations previously have issued statements, like when Iranian President commented on Israel or said some statements.  Does the UN have any reaction to Rabbi Ovadia Yosef about the use of statements?

Spokesperson:  We’ve also seen and heard those reports.  The Secretary-General has made clear that negotiations are the only way for parties to resolve final status issues.  And he would call on both sides to show leadership and courage and responsibility to realize the aspirations of both peoples.  This is clearly an opportunity, meaning, via direct talks, which will be starting this week, that must not be wasted.

Question:  Is there any particular reaction to the statements of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef?

Spokesperson:  Not at the moment.  We’ve seen the reports but not at the moment.  If we have a specific response then we’ll let you know.

Question: Would you consider this like sort of a hate speech, a racist speech?

Spokesperson:  Like I said, Khaled, I don’t have a specific response right now.  If we do, I’ll let you know.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon?

Question:  But surely the Secretary-General has [inaudible]?

Spokesperson: As I said, I don’t have anything specific at the moment.  What I have reiterated is that there was a statement that was put out by the Secretary-General on the 21st about the peace process.  If I have anything further, then of course I’ll see.

Question:  I want to ask about Rwanda.  Is DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] going to study about what happens to UNAMID if 3,000 Rwandan troops left?  Will it continue or what would the impact be?  Could you withstand this? 

Spokesperson:  Could we what?

Question:  Can you withstand this withdrawal in the short-term until you replace them?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you at the moment is what I’ve already said, that the UN and the peacekeeping operations of the UN in particular very much appreciate the contribution of Rwanda in the form of troops and also their performance.  I don’t have anything further to add to that.  If DPKO, my colleagues from the peacekeeping operations department, have something further to add then clearly I’ll let you know. 

Question:  Any update when the report is due?

Spokesperson:  No.  You will have heard probably what my colleague Rupert Colville said in Geneva, that there’s no fixed date yet, but we hope it will be very soon.  But, there’s no fixed date yet.

Question:  Yesterday, you said soon.  Now it’s very soon. 

Spokesperson:  Ok, I think I said in due course quite soon, if you want to go back and look at the transcript.  I looked at it before I came here, in due course quite soon.  There is no fixed date.

Question:  I want to ask about Afghanistan and Sudan.  On Afghanistan, just factually there’s a report of a rocket attack on a UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] facility in Kandahar.  I just wanted to know if you’re aware of that and also whether UNAMA has made any agreement to pull staff out of Kandahar if and when this portended NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] assault takes place.

[The Spokesperson later said that UNAMA had confirmed that there were a number of explosions in Kandahar city at around 8 p.m. in the evening, 30 August.  The Mission said it was not clear what the targets were.  UNAMA added that its compound was not hit by any explosions, and no staff were hurt.]

Spokesperson:  On the first, I’m not aware of that.  I can find out.  On the second, we don’t comment on security arrangements involving our staff and you know that, Matthew.

Question:  I’m wondering just in terms of humanitarian.  Technically, if an occupying force says in advance we’re going to make an assault, does the UN just say fine or do you ask about humanitarian…? 

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t think the UN just says fine, Matthew.  I think the UN takes a close look at it and it liaises with other people, whether it’s from ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] or the Afghanistan authorities.  But precisely what measures are taken, are not really something that one talks about.   

Question:  On Sudan, I wanted to ask two things about UNMIS, actually.  So they’re about South Sudan and/or Khartoum.  I’ve been told that in two recent incidents, for example there was the Girifna activist, the youth activists that were arrested by the Government, for being pro-democracy.  That, in fact, they called the UN.  They called UNMIS and asked for to be, when they were surrounded by the national NISS, and were told that UNMIS would only respond during normal office hours and in turn were arrested.  In another incident, a Darfuri student was in the morgue, having been, it’s alleged, tortured to death.  The UN was told to come to the morgue and witness this, and was told it was Friday and a holiday and would not come.  So, I’m just wondering, does UNMIS have a policy of not responding to even alleged torture deaths on weekends?  And why is it that Mr. [Haile] Menkerios, as much of the press corps in Khartoum and Juba are complaining, has only had a single press conference and says there’s no need to, actually.  I mean that’s a separate one.  People there are unable to get an answer.  I guess if you can get an answer from UNMIS, if it’s true they didn’t respond and, if they didn’t, why they didn’t respond to these two very troubling human rights incidents.

Spokesperson:  I think colleagues have heard this just as I have and I’m sure we’ll be contacting UNMIS to see what kind of response there is and to what extent there is anything to these reports and, if so, what that response is.  

Question:  Just for the record, does the UN work on the weekends?

Spokesperson:  Any mission that has a presence in the country that is not limited to office hours.  That is obvious.

Question:  I got the answer about the new administrator of OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs].  I just want to know if she…  

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

Question:  I got the answer yesterday on the new administrator of OCHA that she’s starting on the 6th.  I just want to know whether she intends to visit Pakistan immediately afterwards or at a later date.

Spokesperson:  As I said, I don’t know the answer to that.  I think that would be something for her to decide once she’s started her job, which she has not done yet.  If my colleagues in the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs have any more information, I’m sure that they would let you know in the same way as they did yesterday on the start date. 

Question:  Going back to Europe and Kosovo, a resolution that is proposed from Serbia in the General Assembly.  I’m hearing back and forth between European Union members.  When does that come?  Do we know the date when it’s going to be presented to the General Assembly?  Can you answer that?  How much is your office, office of the Secretary-General involved in that?  Is it being consulted?  Where does it stand?  Do you have any input, any idea?

Spokesperson:  I would defer to my colleague Jean Victor on whether this has reached the General Assembly yet or not, or when it might.  As I mentioned here before, the Secretary-General here and others within the Secretariat are obviously aware of what’s going on and remain briefed on it.  That’s what I can tell you.

OK, thank you very much.  Jean Victor?

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

As you heard earlier with Martin, this morning, the President of the General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon formally opened the high-level meeting to launch the United Nations Global Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons.  The plan of action was adopted by the General Assembly in resolution 64/293 of 13 July 2010 after a broad and consultative process. 

In his opening remarks, the President said that the plan of action is intended to foster consultative action to defend the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  By adopting the plan of action, Governments have resolved to take concrete action to prevent trafficking in persons, to protect and assist victims, to prosecute related crimes and to strengthen partnerships among Governments, civil society and the private sector, including the media.

The President commended Member States for their efforts and commitment to address this critical issue, urging Member States and civil society to work together to implement the plan of action.  The President remarked that “when the history of this horror of human trafficking calls, we cannot let this period be remembered as one in which the global community knew but did not act”. 

The guest speakers were Dr. Saisuree Chutikul, Chair of the National Committee on Combating Trafficking in Children and Women, from Thailand; Maria Grazia Gianmarinaro of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), she’s a Special Representative of the OSCE and Coordinator for Combating Trafficking in Human Beings; and Dr. Aleya Hammad, Co-founder and Board Member of the Suzanne Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement.  President Treki’s statement has been posted online on our web site. 

There was a welcome performance by artist Primitiva, a Chamorro and native of Guam in the Marianas Islands in the western Pacific Ocean.  She sang “E Ala E”, a song for justice and freedom.  The song means “arise” in native Hawaiian. 

That’s what I have for you today.  Follow up questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Actually, just to repeat the question of my colleague on whether they are going to have that resolution of Serbia on the agenda of the General Assembly.  Do we know the date?  I’ve heard from diplomatic sources that Serbia is hesitant to put the requesting date because they are not aware which date the doors of the United Nations will be closed because of the [inaudible].  Can you tell us, which date is going to be closed and how is that going to work?  

Spokesperson:  I really cannot comment on what is heard in the corridors of diplomatic sources.  What I can tell you is that, tentatively, it is scheduled for 9 September, and I will beg that you continue to check in the UN Journal or that you can continue to check with me if there is any change in due course.  That’s what we know for the time being.

Question:  You heard my question that I made to Martin.  I’m hearing that there’s amendments being added and requested.  Are you aware of that?  Is there anything coming through you or to you or to the General Assembly office or to the General Assembly President regarding that same resolution? 

Spokesperson:  I do not have, as far as I know, coming to this office any specific amendment.  What we know for the past two days already and the tentative scheduling of this session is for 9 September and the draft resolution that has been forwarded.  It is a normal thing that, in this kind of procedure, there are ongoing discussions among Member States.  I think you would be better off, really, checking with those who submitted the resolution fromSerbia.  What I can tell you is what is the status, as we speak for now, and I don’t have the details that you are referring to, for the time being. 

Question:  What is the procedure?  How late or how many days in advance or prior to that can changes be made or be requested from various States or parties?

Spokesperson:  A change can be effected on the eve or even the same day.  It depends on Member States.  Everything is really possible.  You have to continue to check in the UN Journal or check with me.  Just send me an email at nkolo@un.org and we’ll keep on informing you.

Question:  As you know, there’s an important meeting that will be taking place in Washington on 2 September to search for a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  The Middle East issue is on the agenda of the General Assembly.  What role is the President playing in this meeting in Washington, if any?

Spokesperson:  The President is fully engaged in contributing to a solution to all the ongoing and lingering issues with regard to peace in the world.  In so doing, he will abide by the existing General Assembly resolutions on all these matters, including the situation in the Middle East, which is very central to the agenda of the General Assembly for the sixty-fourth session.  Of course, this remains a very important issue to be dealt with and the President continues to remain fully engaged.  But I’m not very sure that on this very specific meeting, the one that you refer to, on 2 September that he is directly engaged as such.  But he continues to be a facilitator whenever possible and whenever requested by Member States in all ongoing crises.

Question:  Maybe you recall that Ambassador [Zahir] Tanin of Afghanistan, did he say that in any point in time that before the General Debate, that he will have some sort of briefing on Security Council reforms? 

Spokesperson:  Yes, Masood, we’ll try to go back to Ambassador Zahir Tanin and find out if he has something new and if this can be done in the very short time that remains for this session.  We’ll go back to him on that.

Question:  Just wanted to check, when was the last time the President of the General Assembly talked to some of the players, for example somebody from Serbia or Kosovo, on these resolution, if anytime recently?

Spokesperson:  I’m not sure that it happens exactly like that.  For the time being, we have a draft resolution.  You have to de-link it from any existing draft resolution.  But the President continues to consult.  He’s been meeting with visitors.  He’s been meeting the President of the Security Council for the month of September.  He met the President of the Security Council for the month of August.  He’s been meeting visiting leaders from Georgia, from other countries.  He is continuously engaged in all these issues.  But we have somehow to be careful in linking it so directly to what is still a draft resolution.  

If there are no further questions, I wish you a good afternoon. 

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