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

8 November 2010

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

8 November 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.

**Noon Briefing Guest

My guest today is Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.  And Ms. Coomaraswamy is here to brief you on her recent trip to Somalia.  So I think you’ll have a few introductory remarks and then we’ll head over to questions, and I’ll be able to update you on some other matters after Ms. Coomaraswamy’s briefing with you.  Please.

[Press Conference by Ms. Coomaraswamy is issued separately.]

So I have a few additional items for you.

**Statement on Myanmar

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the elections in Myanmar.

The Secretary-General has been following with great attention the elections held in Myanmar yesterday.  The voting was held in conditions that were insufficiently inclusive, participatory and transparent.

The Secretary-General believes the Myanmar authorities now have a responsibility to turn the conclusion of the first election in 20 years into a new beginning for the country and its people.  Consistent with their commitments, the authorities must demonstrate that the ballot is part of a credible transition towards democratic government, national reconciliation and respect for human rights.

The Secretary-General therefore urges the Myanmar authorities to release all remaining political prisoners and lift restrictions on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi without further delay so that they can freely participate in the political life of their country.  He also urges the Myanmar authorities to ensure that the process of forming new institutions of Government is as broad based and inclusive as possible, and calls for renewed dialogue among all stakeholders in this regard, as part of any process of national reconciliation.

The international community will look to the Myanmar authorities to provide greater assurances that the current process marks a genuine departure from the status quo.  The Secretary-General reaffirms the United Nations commitment to work with the Government and people of Myanmar to help them achieve such a transformation.

The Secretary-General is concerned, meanwhile, about reports of outbreaks of fighting in some areas and urges all sides to refrain from any action that could raise tensions further or create instability at this sensitive time.

** Western Sahara

This morning in Western Sahara, Moroccan security forces engaged in an operation to close the camp established by Saharawi protesters outside the city of Laayoune a month ago.  The information available to us to date as to the reasons for this operation — the level of force employed, the reaction of those in the camp, and the number of casualties among the protesters and security forces is sketchy and contradictory — but by all accounts, and to our profound regret, there are a number of dead and wounded.  United Nations personnel in Western Sahara are attempting to gain a more complete picture of the facts.

The third round of informal talks between Morocco and the Frente Polisario on the future status of Western Sahara opened this morning on Long Island.  It is highly unfortunate that this operation and the events preceding and following it have affected the atmosphere in which these talks are being held.  We call on all parties involved to exercise the utmost restraint in the hours and days to come.

** Guinea

Said Djinnit, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for West Africa, has welcomed the peaceful holding on Sunday of the second round of presidential elections in Guinea.

Djinnit said that, by voting in huge numbers, the people of Guinea have demonstrated their deep commitment to democracy and their willingness to restore constitutional order in the country.  He calls on them to remain calm before and after the results have been officially released.  He also encourages the two candidates to remain committed to the protocol that they signed in Ouagadougou in September, and to their joint statement of last week.

**Deputy Secretary-General in Asia and Africa

The Deputy Secretary-General begins a three-nation visit to Asia and Africa today.

The Deputy Secretary-General will first visit Vientiane, in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, on 8 and 9 November 2010, to represent the Secretary-General at the First Meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions.  The gathering will discuss a number of important issues with respect to its operation and implementation.  This new humanitarian and disarmament Convention bans the production, storage, use and transfers of cluster munitions.

And then on 11-12 November, the Deputy Secretary-General will visit Beirut, Lebanon, where she will chair the fourteenth Regional Coordination Mechanism for the Arab States.  She will hold bilateral meetings with Government officials as well as with UN staff based in the region.

And then on 14-15 November, the Deputy Secretary-General will travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to chair the eleventh session of the regional coordination mechanism of UN agencies and organizations working in Africa in support of the African Union and its New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD).  And there she will meet Government officials, representatives of the African Union, and United Nations staff based in Addis Ababa.  The Deputy Secretary-General will return to New York on 16 November.

** Darfur

The United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, has continued her visit to Sudan.  She visited Darfur and then returned to Khartoum.

Ms. Amos focused her field visit today on the issues of displacement and returns.  In a transit centre in Nyala, she held discussions with displaced families who chose to return to their villages of origin in neighbouring West Darfur.

** Cyprus

The Cypriot leaders met under UN auspices in Nicosia today on the ongoing issue of property.  They also discussed their forthcoming meeting with the Secretary-General, on 18 November in New York.  Alexander Downer, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, voiced hope that the meeting will inject further momentum into the process.

** Pakistan

The UN Floods Relief and Early Recovery Response Plan, which amounts to $1.93 billion, is only 40 per cent funded.  However, the World Food Programme (WFP) welcomed a $90 million donation from the United States today, which is among the recent donations that can help to stave off ration cuts to an already debilitated population.  It will be used to provide vital food assistance to more than 7 million Pakistanis affected by the recent devastating floods.

The World Food Programme said that the cash segment of this donation will be used to purchase food locally inside Pakistan, thus supporting farmers and the Pakistani economy.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 11:15 a.m. here, the International Federation for Human Rights will hold a press conference to discuss human rights in Iran.

Happy to take questions.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  There will be a meeting today, this afternoon, between the SG and Prime Minister [Binyamin] Netanyahu.  Can we have some details on this meeting, especially on Ghajar?

Spokesperson:  Well, the meeting hasn’t taken place yet.  It’s taking place this afternoon, or rather, this evening, 6:30 p.m. this evening.  I don’t think you’d expect me to be able to say exactly what is going to be discussed there.  The Israeli Prime Minister is coming to speak with the Secretary-General.  Let’s see what the outcome is.  I know that we will be aiming to provide a read-out of that meeting as soon as we can after the conclusion of their discussions.  But you will have seen the guidance, I think over the weekend, the information from UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon], from the UN mission in Lebanon.  As you know, the question of Ghajar is a long-standing issue, and the mission there, UNIFIL, has been actively engaged with both parties on the basis of UNIFIL’s proposal to facilitate the Israel Defence Forces’ withdrawal from the area.  And in an effort to advance the process of withdrawal, UNIFIL has recently suggested some ideas and modalities for consideration by the parties.  That’s, I think, what you probably heard over the weekend from UNIFIL.

Question:  We know some details about the withdrawal because the Israeli Foreign Minister [Avigdor] Liberman did make statements, I think, this morning with the German Foreign Minister about the details of the Ghajar plan withdrawal.  So I was wondering whether what the Israelis conveyed to you matches the UNIFIL proposals and whether you are happy with it because there are already details that the Israelis will pull out, according to Liberman, but that the residents will continue to hold Israeli nationality.  So there are already details available.

Spokesperson:  Well, Khaled, the meeting this afternoon is with Prime Minister Netanyahu, and let’s wait to see what Mr. Netanyanhu has to say to the Secretary-General.  Yes?

Question:  Thanks, Martin.  I just have two quick questions on Myanmar.  The first is whether the Secretary-General has good reason to believe that, now that the elections are over, there’ll actually be a return to some kind of political normalcy and also what he hopes to happen for the political prisoners to be freed now, what change that might actually make to the political climate.  And the second question is: is the Secretary-General considering himself requesting a commission of inquiry into Burma, as that is one of the ways in which a COI can be established?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the first part, as the Secretary-General’s statement says very clearly, the international community, and that includes the United Nations, is looking to the Myanmar authorities to provide greater assurances that the process that is under way marks a genuine departure from the status quo.  It is obvious that the Secretary-General has been pushing very hard in this direction.  The elections themselves were important because they were the first in 20 years.  But what is equally important is what happens next, and that’s why the Secretary-General has said that the authorities must demonstrate that this is part of a credible transition towards democratic government, national reconciliation and respect for human rights.

On the second part of the question, we’re obviously aware of the question of a commission of inquiry, and I think you are referring to a proposal by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights in Myanmar that was made to the Human Rights Council.  And this is part of an independent process and it’s for the Member States to decide on that. 

Question:  I’d asked Friday, and I was hoping that maybe I could find out now, what the UN system did during the polling.  There was this idea by the Government that they barred foreign journalists and observers, but that they were going to invite some in the diplomatic community, including the UN, on a tour.  Did the UN go on the tour?  And also, can you…?

Spokesperson:  No, they didn’t, Matthew.

Question:  No tour?  Were they invited?

Spokesperson:  They were invited.

Question:  And they did not go?

Spokesperson:  No, they did not.

Question:  And why?

Spokesperson:  They just didn’t.  You already have intimated that this was understood as an observation exercise, and that would require certain conditions to be in place.  They simply did not participate.  That’s what I can tell you.

Question:  There are some reports — either can you confirm and if so, can you comment on this idea — that the Government has imposed a 90-day state of emergency immediately following the election?  Some are saying this was under an existing state of emergency that had to be reannounced under the Constitution or… have you heard of this and what does the UN think of it?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that specifically, and we are not in an immediate position to verify that report.  When I say we haven’t heard of it, my colleagues on the ground have not been able to verify that and to report it to us.  And what I would say in addition is simply to reiterate that it is incumbent on the authorities, the Myanmar authorities, to show that there is no longer going to be the status quo, that this is part of a transition.  It is incumbent on the Myanmar authorities to be able to demonstrate to the international community, including the United Nations, that this is a credible transition.

Question:  And does the UN have any presence on this… in the area where the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army reported… or breakaway factions that are fighting the army, and there has been some firing into Thailand… I am just wondering, is the UN in any position to confirm the number of dead?  Does it have any presence on either side of that fighting?

Spokesperson:  No, we’re not in a position to verify this.  We’re not in a position to verify that.  And as the statement says, obviously the Secretary-General is concerned about these reports of outbreaks of fighting in some areas, and he urges all sides to refrain from any action that could raise tensions further.  This is, after all, a very sensitive time.  But should these reports be fleshed out and there be more details and these are confirmed, obviously this would be a source of considerable concern for the Secretary-General and for the United Nations.  Okay, any further questions on Myanmar before we come back to other topics?  Okay, yes, on the Tribunal?

Question:  Yes, on the Tribunal.  There is like information in the Wall Street Journal, but it was going on indictments, on the outcome of the Tribunal.  Do you know when the Tribunal will be… will have the said indictments?

Spokesperson:  The answer to that is no, we don’t know.  And it would be for the Prosecutor to announce that when he gets to…

Question:  But the information is in the press, the American press.  So, maybe there are some things…?

Spokesperson:  There are all kinds of things in the press on this topic and on other topics.  But what counts here is what the Prosecutor will say officially, and he hasn’t said anything officially, publicly, on that yet.  And he would announce it, I am sure, when he is ready to do so.

Question:  [inaudible] to Madame [Patricia] O’Brien or to…?

Spokesperson:  There is an established procedure at the Tribunal for that.  This is a Tribunal, it’s a court.  That’s where this should play out.

Question:  Another thing.  There are a lot of pictures regarding Mr. Ban Ki-moon riding donkeys in Lebanon and everywhere in the press.  Do you have any reaction with regard to the [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Pictures, you mean or…? Cartoons, you mean?

Question:  No, it’s not.  It’s photograph, cartoons on the donkeys in Lebanon.  There is no reaction?

Spokesperson:  Not really. No, not really.  No.  Okay.  Erol?

Question:  Martin, a couple of things.  I did have a read-out with the Secretary-General meeting with Bosnian Foreign Minister.  It says that they were talking about Kosovo.  I would highly appreciate it if we can get hold of the details of what they said on Kosovo, since the Secretary-General recently raised, was very hopeful, in regard of continuation of Kosovo talks.  And Bosnia is the only State in the region that didn’t recognize Kosovo.  So I am really trying to connect the dots there.  Number two, did the Bosnian Foreign Minister mention or make any request with the Secretary-General for engagement of more Bosnian diplomats or experts on the senior professional level at the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  That is something for you to ask the Mission of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  It’s for them.  If you are talking about something that was raised by the Secretary-General’s interlocutor, that has to come from them.  On the first part, I’ll see if we can find out any more.  I suspect what we have is what you’re going to get.  But as a general statement, whether recognized or not, it is still a topic of interest for countries in the region and beyond.  Yes, Khaled.

Question:  Just one more, if I may.  In a few days, if I am not mistaken on 11th, High Representative [Valentin] Inzko, Bosnia and Herzegovina, is coming to the Security Council.  Is the Secretary-General going to attend that meeting?

Spokesperson:  I need to find out.  Okay, Khaled, I am going to make this the last question, okay?

Question:  I have some Haiti questions.

Spokesperson:  Right. Very brief, please.

Question:  Okay.  Very briefly, I just want to go back to the issue of the clashes in Western Sahara.  Is there any particular reaction on the use of force by the Moroccan authorities against protesters, which, as you said, led to some deaths and injuries?  The act itself of using maximum force against protesters?

Spokesperson:  What I have told you is what we’re saying; that we call on all parties involved to exercise restraint.  And that’s what I can tell you.

Question:  In this, case — I am sorry, Martin — but the protesters who died, who were killed, how were they going to practise self-restraint?

Spokesperson:  We’re trying to gain a more complete picture of the facts.  There are contradictory reports at the moment, okay.  I am going to James, who has been very patient, and then I’m coming back to you, Masood.  I know you have been very patient too. James.

Question:  Thank you, Martin.  Yeah, two quick questions on Haiti; there are concerns this morning that the cholera outbreak has reached the capital, Port-au-Prince.  I was hoping maybe you got an update from OCHA [Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs] about maybe what they’re doing in the capital city there?  Second part of the questions, UN’s continuing to face criticism that it has failed to demonstrate conclusively that peacekeepers didn’t bring the strain of cholera into the country.  How do you respond?

Spokesperson:  On the first, the most important priority is to be able to contain this to the extent possible and to prepare to treat people who are affected as effectively and as swiftly as possible.  On the second, we have said throughout that we will cooperate with the Government of Haiti in the efforts to fight this epidemic.  And the Mission in Haiti continues to test its installations in the interest of protecting the Haitian people, and indeed its own personnel. 

Question:  I was under the belief that they’ve closed the investigation; they stopped investigating?

Spokesperson:  They continue to test installations in the interest of protecting Haitian people and its own personnel.  As you know, the tests have been negative, but this is a way for us to show that we will be acting with complete transparency and in close coordination with the Haitian authorities.  Yes, I am going to go to Masood, and then I am coming to you, Matthew.

Question:  You just said the UN Flash Appeal for Pakistan is 40 per cent funded.  And then you added that $90 million had been received from the United States.

Spokesperson:  $90 million, right.

Question:  $90 million.  Towards that appeal or separate?

Spokesperson:  I would need to check whether it counts towards that. 

Question:  If it does, that means it becomes, it reduces the percentage, right?

Spokesperson:  As I say, I would need to check exactly where that money fits; whether it fits into there, but obviously the most important thing is that it’s extremely welcome because it will help to ensure that ration cuts do not need to be made as had been feared.  Yes?

[The Spokesperson later added that the appeal remains 40 per cent funded.]

Question:  [Question in French on the talks on Western Sahara]

Spokesperson:  [responds in English] As we’ve already mentioned, these informal talks between Morocco and the Frente Polisario did indeed open this morning on the future status of Western Sahara, and obviously the aim is to try to push this process forward.  That is clearly the aim.  It’s also obvious that this comes at a very delicate time, and therefore that’s why the United Nations is calling on all those involved to exercise the utmost restraint in the hours and days to come.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Thanks, Martin, and I’ll try, I’ll just keep it to one question on Sudan.  I wanted to ask if you could confirm that during this Valerie Amos visit that you mentioned, it’s reported that when she went to the Al-Salam camp outside El Fasher, that in fact IDPs scheduled or were supposed to speak with her did not and she expressed some concern that they may be afraid of retaliation in light of what happened in Abu Shouk camp after the Council’s visit.  I wanted to know two things:  what more can you say?  Because that seems like it could be a problem for the UN if people won’t speak to it.  And also, what has DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] or UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] done to get to the bottom of whether the people arrested by the Sudanese Government in fact had met with the Council?  Have they confirmed, or what have they done to find out that’s the case and to protect people that speak to the UN Council or UN staff?

Spokesperson:  On the first, I think that Ms. Amos has spoken publicly on the record about that first part of your question, and I am sure that we can help you with the precise wording of what she said.  On the second, I’d need to follow up with my colleagues.  I haven’t heard anything in the last couple of days.

[The Spokesperson later added that Valerie Amos did speak to two women at the Al-Salam camp.  But two of her meetings with camp elders could not take place.  This failure to meet reflects the divisions in political opinions among internally displaced persons and their subsequent inability to come up with an agreed message for Ms. Amos.]

Question:  But she said, “I hope there is no fear”, and that the reason why it’s so unclear, if the UN was unaware of the reason that the people didn’t come or that she is somehow saying to Sudan, don’t harass people.  That’s why I was asking for a little more like what…

Spokesperson:  That’s precisely what I am saying; that we will help you with exactly what Ms. Amos did say.  Iftikhar, let’s make this the last question.

Question:  Okay.  Does the Secretary-General have any of [ United States] President [Barack] Obama’s endorsement of India as a permanent member of the Security Council?  Does, will it facilitate UN reform of the Council or complicate it?

Spokesperson:  It’s a very good question.  The point is that it is for Member States to decide on the extent and the shape of reform to the Security Council.  It’s for Member States to decide.  What the Secretary-General has consistently said is that it is obvious that there is a need to reform the Security Council so that it better reflects the realities of today.  However, just to repeat, it’s for the Member States of the United Nations to decide what shape that reform would take.  Okay, thank you.

Question:  India has not implemented certain United Nations resolutions on Kashmir.  How can it be a permanent member?

Spokesperson:  Masood, again, this is a matter for the Member States.  The membership of the Security Council and reform of the Security Council is a matter for the Member States.  All right, thank you very much.

* *** *

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