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

22 September 2010

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

22 September 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.

So good afternoon everybody.

**Guest at Noon

My guest today, as you can see, is Michelle Bachelet, the newly-appointed — take a deep breath — Under-Secretary-General for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.  Put more crisply, the head of UN Women.  It’s a great pleasure to have you here, Ms. Bachelet.  And the floor is yours.

[Ms. Bachelet’s briefing issued separately]

Thank you very much indeed, Ms. Bachelet.  We all felt the energy in the room.  And I will continue with the rest of my briefing when Ms. Bachelet has left the room.  Thank you very much.

Ms. Bachelet:  Well, thank you very much.  You’ll be seeing us.  Thank you.


Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t get a round of applause very often.

Ms. Bachelet:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  I am carrying on with the rest of the briefing.  So, I just have a couple of more items for you.

**Women and Children’s Health

Speaking at the second meeting of the Millennium Development Goals Advocacy Group this morning, the Secretary-General said that when it comes to raising public awareness and mobilizing political will, there’s a need for eloquent voices, inspiring leadership and creative minds — and the Secretary-General said that the outstanding accomplishments of the advocates made them obvious choices and they’re especially well placed to hold leaders accountable for sticking to their commitments.  And he also called for their support for an initiative he is launching later today:  the Global Strategy for Women’s and Children’s Health.

The Secretary-General will be addressing the launch at around 2:30 p.m., and he is expected to note how in many parts of the world, women have yet to benefit from advances that made childbirth much safer nearly 100 years ago — and with millions of children dying from malnutrition and diseases which have been treatable for decades.  He’s expected to stress how these realities are simply unacceptable and the twenty-first century must be and will be different.  He said the Global Strategy provided a clear road map for making a fundamental difference in millions of lives. 

And we have much more available on this from my office.

** Sudan

In response to a request from the parties to Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the Secretary-General has appointed a panel to monitor the upcoming self-determination referenda for Southern Sudan and the Abyei Area, headed by former President of the United Republic of Tanzania Mr. Benjamin Mkapa.  The two other members of the panel are Mr. Antonio Monteiro, former Minister for Foreign Affairs of Portugal, and Mr. Bhojraj Pokharel, the former Chairman of the Election Commission of Nepal.

The panel will make periodic visits to Sudan in the run-up to and during the scheduled holding of the referenda in January 2011.  Panel members will engage with all relevant actors, including the parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, the referendum commissions, civil society and observer groups.  The panel will follow key referenda processes, as well as the political and security situation.  In addition to reporting to the Secretary-General on the conduct of the referenda, the panel will work directly to enhance confidence in the process by encouraging the parties and the relevant authorities to take corrective measures to resolve any significant problems or disputes that may arise. 

The forthcoming referenda are extraordinarily important for the future of Sudan.  The Secretary-General is confident that the panel can play a helpful role in encouraging credible, Sudanese-led processes that reflect the will of the people of Southern Sudan and of the Abyei Area.

The support being provided by the Secretary-General through the panel is independent of the UN Mission in Sudan’s substantial programme of technical, logistical and security assistance for the two referenda.

** Middle East

The Secretary-General hosted a meeting, as you know, of the Middle East Quartet yesterday, and it ended with the principal members issuing a statement expressing strong support for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which can resolve all final status issues within one year.  The Quartet also confirmed its determination to support the parties throughout the negotiations and in implementing an agreement.

** Somalia

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, said that the resignation of the Somali Prime Minister is yet another manifestation of the serious disputes within the Transitional Federal Institutions.  Mahiga expressed the hope that the Institutions will now put an end to the internal divisions, which have crippled the Transitional Federal Government’s ability to carry out its essential tasks.  The Somali leadership must remain united and focused on its work. We have a press release with more details.

** Haiti

Food production in Haiti is slowly recovering but still remains significantly below the levels that existed prior to the January 2010 earthquake, according to a report of a joint assessment mission by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

Our guest tomorrow at the briefing will be Michel Kazatchkine, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

And I can take a couple of questions.  Yes, please.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Martin, my name is [inaudible name] from the Moroccan TV.  I have a question about a political issue, if you don’t mind, about Mustafa Ould Salma.  He is the Director of the POLISARIO Front.  He said in a press conference that he was, he is, supporting the Moroccan autonomy plan in the Sahara, and now he is detained.  Because of his declaration he is detained in the POLISARIO Front camps, the Tindouf camps in Algeria.  We’d like to have your reaction about this and what can the UN do in this affair?  Thank you very much.

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any specific reaction on that.  Thank you for the question.  We’ll see if we can find out more.  If we have something further, then we would be happy to help you.  But I don’t have any comment on it at the moment.  Okay.  Alright.  Please.

Question:  Yesterday the Secretary-General issued a statement on India and Pakistan, I mean on Kashmir situation in Indian-occupied [inaudible] asking for…

Spokesperson:  Well, let’s first be clear.  You asked, or rather your colleague asked me a question, and I answered the question.

Question:  Yes.  In response to a question, what I am saying is after that the Secretary-General has asked for calm on all sides [inaudible].  I mean, the thing is the situation continues to be bad in the occupied [inaudible].  Is there anything that the Secretary-General can do to bring that situation to calm and bring about some sort of understanding between various forces, to bring to the Security Council that not many are affected and killed?

Spokesperson:  Well, you heard my answer yesterday, speaking for the Secretary-General. And I think that that’s where we are.  He, as you noted, he called for calm and restraint among all concerned, and I think that’s where we are.

Question:  Let me follow up this thing.  An Indian delegation representing all the political parties, high-level delegation, went to Kashmir in a desperate move to defuse the situation and the crisis.  The answer from the Kashmiri leadership was that “we want UN-sponsored plebiscite, right of self-determination”.  Now it seems the domestic, this issue cannot be solved domestically.  Does the Secretary-General offer his good offices to resolve this issue?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I have said, you asked me a question yesterday, a question, or at least with variations that you’ve asked quite often in recent days, or maybe even weeks.  You got an answer yesterday, namely that the Secretary-General regrets the latest loss of life, and he calls for an immediate end to violence and urges calm and restraint by all concerned.  That’s it.  Okay.

Question:  He doesn’t plan to offer his good offices?

Spokesperson:  The answer that I can give you is what I have just read out.  Okay.  And what I gave you yesterday.  Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  [inaudible] following the Secretary-General’s meeting with King Muhammad VI.  He said that, he referred to a further meeting and forthcoming unofficial meeting on the conflict.  When will that take place?

Spokesperson:  This is something that’s still in the works, and I’m sure that when there is a date, and if there is a date for it, we will let you know.  But this is something that is still in the works.  Matthew.

Question:  I have some questions.  One is, it has to do, I guess it has to do with this morning’s meeting of the MDG Advocacy Group.  Relatedly or not, and maybe this is a separate question, Spain has just sought the extradition of a Rwandan former general from South Africa on charges of having killed Spanish aid workers and for crimes during the conflict in the 90s.  Given the previous pretty much confirmed report that when the Advocacy Group met in Madrid, Mr. [Jose Luis Rodriguez] Zapatero was averse to meeting with his Co-Chair, Mr. [Paul] Kagame, can you — I heard what the Secretary-General said that Mr. Zapatero was called back on an emergency basis — to many, given the track record and given what happened in Madrid, it’s a little, it seems a little shaky.  What exactly is the emergency to which Mr. Zapatero…

Spokesperson:  Exactly, well what, so you believe that the Secretary-General is not speaking the truth?

Question:  No, that’s not what I said.  I said that because the previous meeting didn’t come off for reasons stated by Spanish sources to be human rights-related, and given that this new indictment has been announced only today, I guess I just want to know what Mr. Zapatero was going back for?

Spokesperson:  Well, you know what I am going to answer, Matthew.  That if…

Question:  [inaudible] Mr. Zapatero [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  Well, you don’t have to ask Mr. Zapatero.  I think that there is a fully-staffed Permanent Mission of Spain here in New York, if I am not mistaken, and I am sure you could ask them.  You heard what the Secretary-General said about the reason why Mr. Zapatero unfortunately could not be there.  If you wish to pursue that question, please do contact the Spanish authorities.  That’s the first thing.  And the second thing, Matthew, because I do remember that you asked another question, on the second point that you made, again this is a matter for the Spanish authorities.  This is not something that you could expect the United Nations to comment on.

Question:  [inaudible] his group of superheroes and advocates, I think it is fair to ask did the two men meet while they were in New York?  And does it see it as an ongoing problem for his group of superheroes that the two Co-Chairs seem to have this problem.  That’s what I am asking. 

Spokesperson:  Well, your phrase, not mine.

Question:  Superheroes?

Spokesperson:  So, they are advocates and they’re joined by other people who are equally passionate about advocating for the Millennium Development Goals, including on some of the topics that Ms. Bachelet was also talking about — maternal and children’s health.  There is going to be a rather major development this afternoon with the launch of this Global Strategy.  And I think that that’s where people’s attention should be focused on, the culmination of three days of extremely high-level meetings involving dozens of Heads of State and Government, all of them committed to trying to push forward on bridging the gap that there is so that we can reach the Millennium Development Goals on behalf of the billions of people around the world.  Next question.

Question:  Yeah, on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It’s reported that in Duru, that there was abduction and attack by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), and that Force Commander of MONUSCO, [Chander] Prakash, flew on an emergency basis.  This is earlier this month; I am not exactly clear of the date, in part because it took place right next to a peacekeeping base.  Can you confirm that, number one that the LRA is thought to have made this attack, and how close it was to a base, and what Mr. Prakash found?

Spokesperson:  I’ll ask DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations].  Thanks.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  [inaudible].  Yesterday the press conference by the Quartet was cancelled.  Was it only a technical glitch that cancelled it or was there something happening between the Quartet, because Hillary Clinton was not there — Secretary of State — she did not come there?

Spokesperson:  No, not at all.  The State Department has spoken very clearly about Ms. Clinton’s participation in the Quartet.  She was of course there.  Anybody who was in the North Lawn Building yesterday afternoon from about 1:20 p.m. will have known that there was a power failure.  Not everywhere in the building, and it didn’t affect everything, but what it did affect was the broadcast systems, including the audio/visual systems, interpreting, and it also knocked out the lifts, the elevators, meaning that all those attending the Quartet meeting and others used the stairs.  What I’m trying to say is that the conference room where the press conference was scheduled to take place could not handle a press conference.  That’s the first thing.  The second thing is that the Quartet meeting itself was running late by a little more than half an hour.  This meant that they had to proceed directly from there to the meeting with the League of Arab States’ ministers and others.  They needed to keep to that schedule, and it’s as simple and as prosaic as that.  As you know, the statement was issued, and covers all of the areas that you would expect.

Okay, thank you very much. 

Question:  I want to follow up [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Can I ask in French?

Spokesperson:  You won’t get an answer in French.  You probably ask…

Question:  No, you can answer it in English, no problem, but can I ask it in French?

Spokesperson:  Right, you can try.

Question:  Okay.  You understand French?

Spokesperson:  I do.

Question:  Okay, perfect.  [Asks question in French]

Spokesperson:  Well, the mapping exercise report is scheduled to be published, as we have said, on 1 October.  Simultaneously, any comments that are received, written comments that are received from the concerned countries, will be published too, and that means available online.  So that’s the first thing.  The second thing is that, in the wide range of bilateral and other meetings that the Secretary-General has had, he’s covered all kinds of topics, and I cannot specifically say whether this has been raised in some of these meetings or not.  But he’s had a wide range of bilateral meetings, including with leaders from some of the concerned countries.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  [inaudible]  In preparation for the referendum in January, I have heard that DPKO or UNMIS [United Nations Mission in the Sudan] is saying that there are going to be 600 new positions in the electoral team, and that these are largely going to be filled by somehow through UN Volunteers.  So what I didn’t understand is how these people, one I guess is to confirm that.  But two, how are these people being recruited and does volunteers — usually volunteers seems to mean unpaid.  Are these people paid and is the use of UN Volunteers just a way to get around UN recruitment rules?

Spokesperson:  Let me ask the people working on this, okay? 

[The Spokesperson later said that UNV volunteers are not considered staff of the United Nations and therefore do not receive a salary.  They do however receive a volunteer living allowance to provide for their living costs.  While not being considered staff members, UNV volunteers are however fully integrated in the UN security system, with the same protection measures accorded to staff, and are covered by medical and life insurance.  Since 1994 UNV volunteers have been involved in over 50 election/referendum processes, all over the world, including in previous UN-supported election processes in Sudan.]

Correspondent:  On the switch question about power lines.  I mean, I understand things happen. 

Spokesperson:  Yes, they do.

Question:  But given that the building is totally brand new and quite a bit of money was spent building it, is there some reaction from the UN that on probably its most important day so far in the new building, that such a thing could happen; that the Quartet press conference would be cancelled?  I mean what steps are being taken to find out?  Is there some recouping of money from Skanska, or who made the mistake that led to the cancellation of the Quartet press conference?

Spokesperson:  Well, let’s look at the big picture here, Matthew.  Yes, it was not desirable that the journalists who had been expecting a press conference were disappointed that the press conference did not take place.  But there were many other meetings that were taking place in that building at that time where people were working without microphones in some cases; meetings that had already started and continued after the power failed.  So, it’s a bigger picture.  Nobody is thrilled that, as you say, yesterday of all days that there was a technical glitch of that kind.  And I know that people are looking into this.  It was a short-circuit — if you want to get technical — in a major circuit breaker box, and there was also a failure in a rented back-up generator.  And the short-circuit was caused by a cable with damaged insulation.  And I can tell you that people were working from when this first happened, at 1:20 p.m., working very hard to solve this and to fix it, and power was eventually restored throughout by 8:00 in the evening.  So, people…

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I never was very good at do-it-yourself, so I don’t know the details.  But on your specific point, we can ask CMP, the Capital Master Plan people, what the score is. 

Okay, we’ve been here a very long time.  Thank you very much.

* *** *

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