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

21 October 2010

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

21 October 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 Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General addressed the Security Council’s formal meeting on Somalia this morning, and told the Council that the situation in Somalia remains fragile, but there remain glimmers of hope.

He noted that, notwithstanding recent internal divisions, the Transitional Federal Government remains committed to peace and reconciliation.  He urged the Parliament to endorse the new Prime Minister so as to allow a new Government to come into place without delay.

At the same time, he noted the obstacles that Somalia faces, with two million people needing emergency aid, including 1.4 million who have been displaced internally since 2007.  Also, continuing insecurity and conflict in parts of the country are attracting foreign extremist elements.

The Secretary-General encouraged the Council to take bold and courageous decisions necessary to enhance the capacity of the African Union Mission, AMISOM, to deliver more effectively on its mandate.  In return, he urged the Somali authorities to consolidate their efforts and unite against the threat of extremism.  We have his remarks in our office and the meeting is continuing in a closed session.

**Secretary-General on Women

The Secretary-General spoke at the Global Event on the Open Days for Women, Peace and Security this morning, and he praised the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action and Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) as landmark steps in dealing with that issue.  But today, he added, we must admit that we have failed to build sufficiently on these conceptual foundations. 

The Secretary-General said that women still face obstacles to engagement at all stages of the peace process.  And sexual violence remains an all-too-common tactic of war and often continues well after the guns fall silent.

However, he added, the architecture for women, peace and security has been enhanced by the appointment of nine women as Special Representatives or Deputy Special Representatives.  Meanwhile, the United Nations is developing tools to improve the implementation of resolution 1325 (2000).  The new entity, UN Women, will help to accelerate the implementation of resolution 1325 (2000) through better coordination and strengthened activities in the field, he said.  And we have his remarks in our office.

** Middle East

Robert Serry, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, said today that the reports concerning new Israeli settlement housing units in the occupied Palestinian territory are alarming.  He said that renewed settlement construction, which is illegal under international law, runs contrary to the international community's repeated appeals to the parties to create conditions conducive to negotiations, and will only further undermine trust.  We continue to strongly support efforts to create conditions for the resumption of successful negotiations.

** Western Sahara

Christopher Ross, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, today left the region of Tindouf, the second stop after Algiers in his current visit to North Africa.  Yesterday, he held a series of discussions with senior officials of the Polisario Front, including its Secretary-General.

The discussions addressed the need to overcome the status quo, the requirements of the negotiating process, and the pace of work in managing confidence-building measures.  The Polisario Front confirmed its readiness to attend the next round of talks, which is intended to be held early in the coming month.

Ross is now heading to Nouakchott and then to Rabat to complete the preparations for the next round of talks.  And we have more details in a press release.

** Cyprus

Today UN deminers in Cyprus achieved a significant milestone, having now cleared and destroyed 25,000 landmines on the island.  Since late 2004, teams of deminers associated with the UN Mine Action Centre in Cyprus (UNMACC) have been working on the island to rid the 180 -km-long buffer zone of landmines that were originally laid during the outbreak of violence in 1974.

Lisa Buttenheim, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Cyprus, said that reaching this milestone will, hopefully, serve as a prelude as we move towards our stated goal of a mine-free buffer zone and, eventually, a mine-free Cyprus.  And we have a press release with more details.

**Press Conferences This Afternoon

We have a few press conferences this afternoon that will take place here in the Library Auditorium:

At 12:45 p.m., just about 40 minutes from now, there will be a press conference by the United Nations Association of New York to highlight their 2010 Humanitarian Awards.  The awards will honour the work of individuals and corporations to further UN Millennium Development Goal number 8 on global partnerships.

At 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier de Schutter, to discuss threats posed by the increasing pressures on lands, and the importance of land redistribution for the realization of the right to food.

And at 2 p.m., there will be a press conference by the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana, to discuss the upcoming elections in that country.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And then, taking a deep breath, we have a very busy day with press conferences tomorrow.

At 10:30 a.m., there will be a press conference by Richard Falk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories.

At 11 a.m., there will be a press conference about the 2010 Citizen Ambassadors Campaign and the visit of the newly designated Citizen Ambassadors to the United Nations.

At 11:30 a.m., the President of the General Assembly, Joseph Deiss, will hold a press conference.

At noon, our guest at the noon briefing will be Catherine Bragg, the Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will brief on her recent visit to Haiti.

At 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference by Mr. Abdelhamid El Jamri, Chairperson of the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, and Ms. Raquel Rolnik, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living.

And last, at 3:15 p.m., there will be a press conference by Walter Kälin, Special Rapporteur on the rights of internally displaced persons.

That’s it from me.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  It is expected that the informal discussions on Western Sahara will take place next month in November.  Where will they be taking place?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We don’t have any details to share right now.  A lot of the times, as you know in the past, these informal discussions have taken place in the New York area.  That could happen in the future, but I don’t have a specific announcement.  We do intend to make an announcement shortly because we are hopeful that the talks could take place in the early part of November.  Yes?

Question:  Sure, I wanted to ask questions about Burundi and Ethiopia, but I wanted to ask first, this 1325 since it seems to be the day; there are two issues that arose at a press conference earlier today that both have… there is a question for the Secretariat.  One has to do with in Nepal.  There is a Nepali peacekeeper, Colonel Basnet, who the DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] returned to Nepal because he had been charged with the murder of a girl prior to his service.  One of the civil society leaders had said that their request to DPKO is that he hasn’t been prosecuted; the military has refused to prosecute him and that the idea is that DPKO should do more than simply return somebody who is an accused murderer, but should in fact ask the Nepal military to put him on trial or perhaps not accept further Nepalese peacekeepers or in some way condition it.  I wanted to know, what is DPKO’s response to this call by one of the UN’s certified…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, in the past we have already responded about Colonel Basnet, and certainly he was repatriated.  We did call for follow-up action by the national authorities.  As you know, he falls within the jurisdiction of the Nepalese military command and the national authorities.  And so it is their part to follow up.  But we have been pressing for that.

Question:  Is the UN… Is it aware that in fact he hasn’t been prosecuted, and what does that say about the quality of military justice in Nepal as regards to further deployments by Nepalese?  Is the UN doing all that it could?  Apparently civil society feels that it is not.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The United Nations is doing all it can, but certainly the Nepalese authorities also need to follow up and they need to take this matter as seriously as we have taken it.

Question:  The other one has to do with Sudan.  It’s said by one of the people brought here that there is in fact less women’s participation in the Doha Round run by Mr. [Djibril] Bassolé than there was in Abuja, that the LJM [Liberation and Justice Movement] has no committee chairpeople that are women and that there is a failure to engage civil society that’s tried to bring both JEM and the Abdul Wahid movement into it.  So it seems to be a critique.  Maybe you can’t do it from this podium, but does the UN feel that there is more participation of women in Doha than Abuja or less?  And if so, how do you explain it?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, what we will do on that is we’ll check with Mr. Bassolé and see whether he has anything to say about that.

Question:  The Secretary-General this morning is receiving Mr. Tang [Jiaxuan], former Councilman from China.  What is the subject under discussion?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe it is a courtesy visit.  I am not aware that we would have a readout, but I’ll check if there is any possibility of one.

Question:  I want to ask you on Burundi, if you don’t mind.  Earlier this week, I asked you about Charles Petrie leaving his position on 1 November in Burundi.  And you’d said it was personal, but he is not being PNG’ed.  Since then, I have seen… I have read… I have obtained here in New York a copy of his resignation letter.  And I wonder if… I don’t know if you have seen it, but he speaks about the case of Callixte Mbarushimana, saying that he wants to look at the UN’s failure in that and that he is going to work on Somalia, but not through the UN, but from European donors.  I guess what I want to know is, is that really a personal reason, or is that in fact a kind of indictment of the UN system by a long-standing official and what’s your response to it?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, two points.  Number one, I think you should follow up with Mr. Petrie about what his reasons would be andabout his views on the case of Mr. Mbarushimana.  The second point, as you know, is we have spoken out about the case of Mr. Mbarushimana, who has since this — in recent days, as you know, Mr. Mbarushimana has been handed over by the French authorities for action by the International Criminal Court, and we have welcomed that.  So, we are very hopeful that in fact we will now be able to see some justice in the case of Mr. Mbarushimana, and we had been pressing on that over the course of this decade.

Question:  But beyond contacting Mr. Petrie, I just wonder if you will indulge me, his letter to the Secretary-General basically makes an offer that he proposes to conduct an assessment of the UN’s failures in the case since ’94, in that he was employed in Angola, that he was employed by the UN in Kosovo when it was known that he had some involvement in genocide.  And so the question is:  Is the Secretary-General going to take him up on his offer to do a kind of a true end of assignment report on that, or is he just now out in the cold and out of the UN system?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comment about Mr. Petrie’s letter.  What I can say is that, right now, what we’re looking forward to is to see whether Mr. Mbarushimana will be tried.  And of course, we will, we’re very cognizant of the need to respect due process in that, but we had certainly been very hopeful that the sort of charges for which he had been accused would be tried.  And so now we are looking forward to see that this actually happens.

Question:  I have one more question on Ethiopia, if you don’t mind.  There is a Human Rights Watch report that came out yesterday saying that, accusing Ethiopia of denying food aid, in some cases UN-funded food aid, to opposition groups, Ogaden and others.  Ethiopia has come back today and said, dismissed the report and said that the UN has verified and can verify the non-political distribution of aid throughout the territory of Ethiopia.  And I just wonder, since a large part of this report actually talks about the UN and the UN’s food aid and Ethiopia is citing the UN in its defence, what does the UN make of this charge, that in fact people that are living in opposition strongholds are denied, can’t get food aid?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we take this report by Human Rights Watch very seriously, and we are at present looking into it.  I don’t have any further details on that at this point to share beyond that.

And with that, have a good afternoon, everyone.

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