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

26 October 2010

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

26 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 Martin Nesirky, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

So, good afternoon, and welcome to the briefing.

**Noon Guest

My guest today is Valerie Amos, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and she is here to brief you on her recent trip to Niger.  So please, the floor is yours.

[Press conference by Under-Secretary-General Amos is issued separately]

So, let me carry on with a few other items, and then I am happy to take questions.  And I’d also like to welcome our visitors today from China.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General has just arrived in Phnom Penh, in Cambodia.  And at the start of his Asia trip earlier today, the Secretary-General met with Prime Minister Abhisit of Thailand in Bangkok.  They discussed issues cooperation between the UN and Thailand, including Thailand’s contribution to United Nations peacekeeping operations.  The situation in Myanmar was also discussed, along with UN-ASEAN [Association of South-East Asian Nations] cooperation in the context of the forthcoming summit between ASEAN and the UN in Hanoi, Viet Nam, on Friday. 

The Prime Minister briefed the Secretary-General on the national reconciliation efforts in Thailand.  The Secretary-General said many of the issues that led to the recent violence and loss of life could best be resolved through committed and genuine national dialogue, and he encouraged the Prime Minister to continue with these efforts.  The Secretary-General also expressed his hope that any human rights violations would be addressed in a transparent manner, which will make the society even stronger and more participatory in dealing with the social and political matters.

Speaking to reporters at a press encounter afterwards, the Secretary-General was asked about the elections in Myanmar, and he expressed his sincere hope that the elections will be inclusive, transparent and credible.  He added that even now, by releasing the political detainees, the Myanmar authorities can make the election more inclusive and participatory.  The Secretary-General said that he will have a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Thein Sein of Myanmar while he is in Hanoi, and we have his remarks online.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General addressed the Security Council by video message this morning, to mark the landmark adoption ten years ago of Security Council resolution 1325 (2000) on the role of women in peace and security.  He said that the recent horrifying mass rapes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are just the latest reminder of the challenges we face, and of the vital importance of fully implementing resolution 1325 (2000).

The Secretary-General said that resolution 1325 (2000) will never be implemented successfully until we end sexual violence in conflict.  We must hold those responsible to account, whether the crimes are committed by State or non-State parties.  He called on the Security Council to take appropriate steps to end impunity.

Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of UN Women, presented the Secretary-General’s report on follow-up to resolution 1325 (2000), and she said that 10 years after its adoption, significant achievements are difficult to identify or quantify.  The report, she noted, recommends a comprehensive framework consisting of an agreed set of goals, targets and indicators concerning how the resolution will be implemented over the next decade.

And Alain Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, emphasized that our collective responses in peacekeeping must demonstrate our unwavering commitment to upholding the respect for, and the rights of women. All of those remarks are available in my Office.

** Somalia

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees — UNHCR — reports that fierce clashes in the Somali town of Beled Hawo on the Kenyan border have driven some 60,000 Somalis out of their homes over the past week.  At least 10 people have been killed in the clashes between Al-Shabaab and Ahlu Sunna Wal Jamaa, a military group allied to the Transitional Somali Government.

UNHCR says most of the displaced have fled to nearby villages and some have crossed into Kenya.  Of the estimated 40,000 people displaced within Somalia, most are living under trees without shelter, water, food or any sanitation.  To make matters worse, it has been raining for days, increasing the risk of an outbreak of disease.

UNHCR says it has already started registering the new arrivals and is coordinating the humanitarian response.  Kenyan authorities and aid agencies are working together with UNHCR to deliver basic services and provide food, water, shelter, medicine and sanitation to the newly displaced.

** Western Sahara

The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Christopher Ross, completed his fourth visit to the region yesterday.

In Morocco — the last leg of this visit — Ross had an audience with King Mohammed VI and also met with the Ministers for Foreign Affairs and Interior.

They discussed the political situation in the region, the need to overcome the status quo, the requirements of the negotiating process, and confidence-building measures.  They also touched on the urgent need to lower the tension that exists in the region and to avoid anything that could spoil the atmosphere or complicate progress at the next round of discussions.  Ross said that on his four stops on this regional tour — in Algiers, the Tindouf region, Mauritania and Morocco — officials had confirmed their full readiness to support the efforts of the United Nations in general and his mission in particular.

**United Nations Report on Asia-Pacific Region

A United Nations report released today says that people in the Asia-Pacific region are four times more likely to be affected by natural disasters than those in Africa, and 25 times more likely than those in Europe or North America.

The report notes that while the region generated one quarter of the world’s GDP, it accounted for 85 per cent of deaths and 42 per cent of global economic losses due to natural disasters.

As a region highly prone to natural disasters with disproportionate impacts on human development, the Asia-Pacific region has surprisingly lacked a comprehensive regional assessment of disasters.

The report, launched by the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) and the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR), was released at a ministerial conference on disaster risk reduction in the Republic of Korea.

**Press Conferences Today

A couple of press conferences: Today at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference by Anand Grover, UN Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.

And at 3 p.m., the UN Special Rapporteur on counter-terrorism, Martin Scheinin, will be here to brief you.

So, I am happy to take questions.  Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  It is well known that there are serious obstacles on the way to the implementation of the peace agreement, Comprehensive Peace Agreement on Sudan.  And the Secretary-General himself in his report says: “The stakes are undeniably high, as failure to meet the deadline for the referendum prescribed by the Comprehensive Peace Agreement could have severe consequences.”  What is he referring to when he mentions the words “severe consequences”?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think he elaborates in the report further and I think that Mr. Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, gave a fairly elaborate overview on peacekeeping in Sudan and the consequences of failure to keep on track with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  A key part of this is that, as you heard just a little bit earlier from Ms. Amos, Sudan is obviously a very large country.  It is strategically positioned, and has been a source of conflict and difficulty for the populations there for many years.  A failure to be able to fulfil the Comprehensive Peace Agreement clearly would have consequences which the Secretary-General has spelt out in his report.  Further questions?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Martin.  I want to ask about Thailand, Sudan and then something in-house.  But in Thailand — you gave a readout of this, of something that he said there — there are reports that the army chief of Thailand said that political gatherings of any kind were banned during the Secretary-General’s visit.  I just wanted to know if that’s your understanding and also if the Secretary-General… if he has any comment on the right of free assembly either being suspended or not being in place when he makes such a visit.  And also, there is a headline of an article about his visit saying, “UN Chief: Thailand’s political conflict is internal affair”.  Do you disagree with that characterization of what he said?  Is that his view of events in Thailand?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I just said, the Secretary-General’s opening remarks and the subsequent question-and-answer session after his meeting with the Prime Minister are online.  The audio is also available.  And so, you can judge for yourself precisely what he said.  I can, if you give me a second, I can tell you what he said: “Many of the issues that led to the recent violence and tragic loss of life can best be resolved through committed and genuine national dialogue conducted in good faith.  I therefore encourage the Prime Minister to continue with these efforts through an inclusive broad based process.”  When he was asked later — that was in his statement — he was asked later, as I understand: “This is a Thai issue and it should be resolved by the Thai people.  I am encouraged that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has started its work, and this Commission has shown openness in the work.”  As regards the earlier part of your question, what I can tell you is that at least one petition from a group was handed to the United Nations and has since been handed to the Secretary-General’s delegation.  So, that actually is response also to the question you asked yesterday.

Question:  Thanks a lot for that.  So actually this headline, you’re not going… the UN is not seeking any kind of correction or anything?  The internal affair, I heard what you said.

Spokesperson:  You heard what I said, and I think I don’t need to comment on every headline there is around the world.  We’d be here all day, or probably longer.  But you have the readout the same as everybody else, and I think you can see the language is fairly explicit.

Question:  I just wonder, sometimes you will say that the Secretary-General believes that a free press is important for democracy or make this kind of connection.  Is the right of free assembly… it’s not… is it replaced by the ability to hand a letter over or is it important that people have the right to…?

Spokesperson:  No, no, I am responding in part to the question you’d asked yesterday.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  Just earlier this morning here, Manfred Nowak, the outgoing Special Representative, or, excuse me, Special Rapporteur, on torture said that if — and this is not about any leaked documents, this is just sort of an abstract question — that if the UN and the head of a peacekeeping mission such as the one in Darfur were to hand over individuals to the Government of Sudan, that objectively the Government is a Government that tortures, he said from this podium, and that to hand them over unless there was some knowledge that these five were somehow uniquely not subject to torture would violate international, customary and international law.  And I just wonder if it’s possible to get a response, since it is clear from even Mr. Le Roy’s statement yesterday that the transfer of these individuals is being considered; what’s the UN’s response, without any reference to leaked documents to this rapporteur’s statement that it would violate the law?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you well know, special rapporteurs have an independent status.  They are appointed by the Human Rights Council.  Mr. Nowak, as other special rapporteurs, has presented a report; he just did so to the General Assembly and will doubtless also report to the Human Rights Council.  As you know, Mr. Le Roy said, “We continue to discuss the matter with the relevant authorities to find a mutually acceptable solution.”  I would emphasize that part of the sentence.  And he also said, as I think you heard, that little progress has been made with regard to the five sheikhs seeking refuge in UNAMID’s community policing centre in the Kalma camp.

Question:  But didn’t he emphasize the execution aspect of it?  Maybe I don’t, you know, I just want…

Spokesperson:  What I am saying to you is that the mission continues, or the UN continues to discuss the matter with the relevant authorities to find a mutually acceptable solution, and clearly, we are not there yet.

Question:  President Uribe has been cited in Spain for allegedly illegally wiretapping his political opponents while he was President of Colombia.  Is this something that is going to impact his work on the Commission of Inquiry into the Gaza flotilla, and does the UN have any response?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have any response, and Mr. Uribe’s work with regard to the United Nations is an entirely separate matter.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  From what you said, it sounds as if Ambassador Ross, the Special Envoy to the Western Sahara, is satisfied with the result of his discussions with the parties as well as with the neighbours.  Do we assume then that he will soon call the parties to a meeting and announce the venue?

Spokesperson:  I think you could probably assume that that’s the case.  We hope to be able to announce the exact dates of the informal talks very soon.  And I think, as you know, Christopher Ross has already said that the [next] informal meeting is expected to be held in early November.  But as I say, we hope to be able to announce the exact dates rather soon.  Okay?  Yes?

Question:  A follow-up on Western Sahara, I wanted to, there are these reports of these camps that have been set up outside El Ayun and that a 14-year old boy was shot and killed by the Moroccan military that now Spanish journalists have been blocked from visiting.  I am never clear whether the UN is able to confirm or is, this kind of thing.  It’s a pretty high profile incident.  The Moroccans say that there were 1,000 people in the camp, others say it was 10,000.   This happened when Mr. Ross was in Morocco.  So, I guess I just wonder, does the UN have any knowledge of these incidents and any reaction to them?

Spokesperson:  Let me find out.

Question:  The in-house point is a very… it may be a small thing, but I wanted you to see if there is any comment.  It emerges that the Capital Master Plan office, right next to this briefing room, that apparently over the weekend there was discovery of bedbugs inside the Capital Master Plan offices from Werner Schmidt and I am just wondering… it is what it is, some are concerned about it, but what steps, earlier there had been bedbugs found in the Albano Building and a lot of hoopla was made about how everything, was going to get to the bottom of it.

Spokesperson:  I think they weren’t bedbugs.  They were something…

Question:  In the Albano?

Spokesperson:  Weren’t they something else?  But, anyway, carry on.

Question:  Okay.  Now, this building, Werner Schmidt has said these were bedbugs and they were found in the conference room not 60 yards from here.

Spokesperson:  Not around here.

Question:  My question is, what steps is the UN taking to ensure that this bedbug incursion into the UN Headquarters doesn’t spread into this room or upstairs or down the hall?

Spokesperson:  Well, we take any incursion into the UN compound very seriously.  So, let’s look into that.  That’s the first I have heard about it, but I am sure that Werner Schmidt will help us out there. [He later added that the Capital Master Plan office says that over the weekend, dogs had detected bed bugs in the CMP conference room chairs, but not anywhere else in the offices. The infested chairs have been replaced.]

Question:  Martin, there seems to be a plethora of people predicting war in Sudan.  Has the UN, with whatever your sources are of security and invasion of privacy, is there any way that the UN has seen movement to the borders from Khartoum or from the South?  Secondly, Mr. [Omar al-]Bashir was saying somewhere last week that the international community somehow is missing the real intent of the CPA [Comprehensive Peace Agreement] in terms of the referendum in that it is not really a referendum for independence, but a referendum on how to better coexist.  And so, I am wondering, who has got the best interpretation of the CPA?

Spokesperson:  Well, I would say the parties first of all signed up to the CPA, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  That’s the first thing.  The second thing is that any number of countries that took part in the summit meeting here at the United Nations last month also agreed to a communiqué in which they all reconfirmed their commitment to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and to the need to hold these referenda on time.  That’s the basis that we operate on.  On the question of the potential conflicts, as Mr. Le Roy said yesterday, we don’t have a clear handle on the kind of troop concentrations that you are referring to.  What he did say was that, regardless of the UN’s own peacekeeping presence on the ground, regardless of any increase in those peacekeeping troop levels, this would still not allow the UN Mission in Sudan [UNMIS] to prevent or to contain an armed conflict between both armies.  And obviously, the most effective weapon is a political one, and that’s where the Comprehensive Peace Agreement comes in.  Obviously, as we heard in an earlier question, the stakes are very high and that’s why Governments, countries came together at such a high level at the United Nations, and why the Security Council visited and why other leaders are also visiting and taking a very keen interest in what’s happening there.

Question:  Just to come back, and that word “the stakes are very high”; we had a reporter who covered the elections, and that reporter came back surmising that the stakes have to really do more with oil than any desire for a political decision, for any desire for sovereignty for the South or for the North.  And so my question is: is the UN finding itself in the middle of this, that the UN has a mandate to, with UNAMIS and African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur [UNAMID] in Darfur, but corporations also have a stake as far as they’re concerned.  Where does the UN begin to find itself, let’s say, fighting for the people on the ground, their interests?

Spokesperson:  This is fairly straightforward.  The United Nations peacekeeping operations, both the joint mission with the African Union in Darfur and the UN Mission in Sudan, they’re both operating under Security Council mandates, very clear mandates, to help the people on the ground, in the case of the UN Mission in Sudan, also with the help of other parts of the United Nations to ensure that the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is followed through and that the referenda take place.  And they have a clear support role there.  Yes?

Question:  On that same question, Martin, it is assumed, another time assuming, that the real problem will be the third referendum, namely the Abyei referendum because of the resources.  Does the UN, is the UN taking any preventive measures in terms of preventive diplomacy, to avoid conflict over that zone?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you know that there have been deployments of existing peacekeeping troops to help ensure that, to the extent possible, there is no increase and intentional or outbreak of violence.  That’s obviously a very important priority.  And again, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement is very clear that this is a part of that process, the referendum there is a part of that process.  Yes, Benny.

Question:  Robert Serry said yesterday to Salam Fayyad that the UN would support a declaration of the Palestinian State this… next summer… actually, next August.

Spokesperson:  Said to whom?

Question:  Said to Salam Fayyad, Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority. The 1995 Oslo Accords, for which the UN is sponsored, from which participation in the Quartet says that any such declaration should be a result of negotiation.  The question is, does Serry… does the Secretary-General believe that Serry’s sentiment also supports a unilateral declaration of statehood or through the UN without consulting Israel, which is the current path on which the Palestinians are going?

Spokesperson:  Well, Benny, let me check with Robert Serry’s office on exactly what was said.  Okay, thanks.  Okay, thank you very much.  Thank you. [He later informed the correspondent that Robert Serry had been quoted inaccurately, and that the paper writing about him had revised its story.]

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