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

16 November 2010

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

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

Good afternoon, for all of you brave enough to come to this briefing!

**Security Council

The Secretary-General addressed this morning’s Security Council meeting on Sudan, saying that he remains concerned by delays in the preparations for the referenda, partly resulting from considerable national funding shortfalls.  All remaining obstacles should be removed so that the Referendum Commission can finance its operations; appoint, train and deploy the necessary personnel; and take key decisions without delay.

He added that the United Nations is working with both parties on options for a possible augmentation of additional UN troops, to increase referendum and post-referendum security, as well as UN capacity to verify and monitor possible cease-fire violations and to protect civilians throughout the mission area.  However, the presence of UN troops will not be enough to prevent a return to war should wide-spread hostilities erupt, he said.  To this end, negotiations on post-referendum arrangements are vital in order to address the apprehensions of the Sudanese population.

The Secretary-General also discussed Darfur, where there remains an urgent need to reach a comprehensive and inclusive settlement.  He expressed his concern at the impact of recent hostilities on innocent civilians, which is completely unacceptable, and stressed again the urgent need for full access to eastern Jebel Marra, where the humanitarian situation is reportedly dire.

Today’s Council meeting is at the ministerial level.  The Council adopted a Presidential Statement at the outset on its support for the full and timely implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

**General Assembly Informal Plenary

And the Secretary-General will speak at an informal plenary meeting of the General Assembly this afternoon, and he will discuss with them the Group of 20 Summit that he participated in last week in Seoul.

You’ll recall that he tried to represent the views of the Member States when he went to Seoul, and he emphasized the importance of development and of implementing the Millennium Development Goals when he attended the G-20 Summit.

** Haiti

The UN Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, deplores yesterday’s violence in Cap Haitien and Hinche.

The Mission confirms that one demonstrator died in Quartier Morin, in the Nord Department, after an armed attack against peacekeepers.

MINUSTAH says an investigation was opened to determine the precise circumstances of this incident.

The Mission is also expressing its concern over a climate of insecurity ahead of the elections.  It reiterates its readiness to assist the Haitian National Police in maintaining security and order to ensure the progress of the electoral process and the reconstruction of Haiti.

**Secretary-General on Guinea

The Secretary-General took note of the provisional results of the 7 November presidential run-off elections in Guinea, which were announced yesterday by the Independent Electoral Commission.  He calls once again on all Guineans, in the national interest, to accept the results of the election and to resolve any differences through legal means.  He congratulates the Guinean people for conducting a peaceful and orderly poll and appeals to them to work for a peaceful and prosperous Guinea.

The Secretary-General calls on the international community to provide Guinea with concrete support as the country embarks on a new phase towards peace consolidation and development.  He reaffirms the full support of the United Nations to Guinea in the post-electoral period.  And we have that statement available online.

** Chad

The UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) has handed over to the Chadian authorities three of its former offices, along with some equipment.  This is part of the Mission’s completion effort ahead of the end of its mandate on 31 December.

The handover of the third office took place this past Sunday, while the previous two were given to Chad in July.  The Mission says the transfer of facilities and equipment will strengthen the Chadian Government’s ability to provide security and protection for civilians in the east.

Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency and the Government of the Central African Republic have begun the relocation by air of 3,500 Sudanese refugees.  The refugees are being flown from the Sam Ouandja camp, in the northeast, to the south-central region.  And that operation is expected to last at least one month.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Despite a relatively good harvest and slight increase in the food supply, some 5 million people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will continue to face food shortages.

That’s according to a new joint report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), released today.

The country’s cereal imports this year are more than 500 million tons short of what is needed to feed its people.

The report also warned that children, pregnant women, nursing mothers and the elderly are among those most vulnerable to food shortages.

**Stakeouts Today

For stakeouts; at 12:30 p.m., about half an hour from now, the UK Foreign Secretary, William Hague, will speak to correspondents at the Security Council stakeout, following today’s Security Council meeting.  As you know, the Foreign Secretary chaired that meeting.

And at 5:30 p.m., Joseph Deiss, the President of the General Assembly, and Jomo Kwame Sundaram, the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Affairs, will speak to correspondents, following the informal plenary meeting of the General Assembly.

That stakeout will take place at the 2nd floor of the North Lawn Building, at the regular stakeout position.

And that’s it from me.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  As you indicated, the Secretary-General praised the people of Guinea for the peaceful atmosphere in which the elections took place.  Since then, however, the situation has been marred with violence there.  At least four dead and several injured; and there is a tense situation in Conakry right now.  Is he disappointed?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is not disappointed.  The people of Guinea had behaved remarkably well in recent weeks, and he is encouraging them to continue to do so.  He is concerned about the potential for violence, and he has asked his Special Representative for West Africa, Said Djinnit, to be present in Conakry.  We hope that somewhat later in the day we might have some more details of Mr. Djinnit’s own travels.  But, certainly, he is going to be in Guinea to try and deal with the situation on the ground.

Question:  There is not potential violence; it is violence.  Four dead and several injured and the situation is extremely tense in Conakry.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, he is certainly aware of that, and like I said, Mr. Djinnit is going to be in Conakry and he will be dealing with the parties.  We’re doing what we can, but, ultimately, the onus is on the people of Guinea to respond peacefully and through the regular constitutional process to the outcome of this election.

Question:  Why would he congratulate the people for a peaceful atmosphere?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, remember this was a difficult transition to make.  And they have been responding admirably over the previous phases of this process.  What he wants is to see a return to that posture by the people of Guinea.  But certainly, they had done well in the past weeks, and we don’t want that to fall apart at this stage.

Question:  Okay, two elections:  Well, the referendum in Sudan and the presidential election in Haiti both have a UN flavour, so to speak.  Now, with referendum, and they’re sending more troops in, I don’t know if “intelligence” is the right word — what is it that is giving an indication to MINUSTAH, to the UN here, and even your peacekeeping headquarters, that you’re going to be, to spend money to send more troops in for that referendum?  We can save time and let’s go back to go over to Haiti, because you’ve got an election coming and then you’ve got peacekeeping folks who being alleged of attacking folks.  Is this too much for the UN to handle?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, talking about the situation in Haiti, we did put out a press release about their concerns, about what they determined as the climate of insecurity that could be in the country ahead of the elections.  As far as that goes, in the places where there were disruptions yesterday, we did deplore that violence.  But the situation in Cap Haitien is now calm.  And calm has also returned to Hinche.  We have deployed reinforcements in both of those areas.

Question:  Now the UN is going to get lambasted a little bit by those advocates in the peacekeeping community, in the peace anti-war group, who are saying that more troops, more boots on the ground are not going to salvage the situation.  Firstly, with that cholera epidemic, with the fact that over 1 million people are still living as IDPs [internally displaced persons] — is it time for an election, and is there going to be an insistence from this building that they hold an election?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  This is an election that has called for, the timetable for that election was set out in advance and the election is in accordance with the constitutional process in Haiti.  What we are trying to do is to assist the Haitian authorities, including the Haitian National Police, to make sure that the elections can be held in as smooth and as peaceful an atmosphere as possible.

Question:  The other question on the drone attacks in Pakistan; there is a report this morning that 15 people were killed in an unmanned drone attack and they weren’t able to verify whether or not the target was actually a military base or not.  And I am just wondering whether the Secretary-General has any comment on that considering that this is an ongoing…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No.  We don’t have any comment and we don’t have any firsthand information on that.

Question:  Just a quick follow up; earlier this year, the Special Rapporteur for the UN had published a report where he talked about the fact that the drones were in violation of international law.  So has that not been followed up with at all by the UN?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Any follow-up to the actions, the statements by the Special Rapporteurs would have to be taken by the Human Rights Council.  So it’s up to them to evaluate that particular claim.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Sure. I want to ask about Western Sahara, Afghanistan and vermin.  [Rest of question not recorded by UN Audio, concerning violence last week in Western Sahara.]

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  First of all, yes, we don’t have firsthand information about this particular violence at this point.  Beyond that I’d just leave any further details to the briefing that will go to the Security Council this afternoon.

Question:  Do MINURSO [United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara] vehicles — this may seem like a small thing, but I guess to some it’s not small — do they have Morocco plates?  Has MINURSO ever received a complaint that its base there is actually bugged and spied on by Morocco?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any information about the licence plates on MINURSO.  I don’t know whether we would have that particular detail.  But certainly, they try to provide as much information as they can.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  On this question of Kashmir, the clarification that you had issued yesterday about the misconception that the Indians are basically saying that the Kashmir situation was somehow deleted from the agenda of the Security Council.  Now, in the clarification, you say that was always there and until 2007 something happened.  What was it that you basically were referring to?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  There was a bit of a mistaken impression by some press about this; where some people wrote articles thinking that something had been dropped from the Security Council agenda.  The authors of these articles might have picked up the most recent addendum to the summary statement of matters on which the Security Council is seized.  And that summary statement publishes only the list of matters which have been considered in a formal meeting since 1 January 2007.  What they missed in that addendum was a paragraph explaining that the full list appears in Add.9 of March 2010.  And that document has a list that continues to include all the agenda items, including Kashmir, which the Council has taken up.  And so, by a decision of the Council, Kashmir remains on the list for this year.  But, like I said, that list is referred to in a different document, which is to say Add.9 of March 2010, not the one that they were referring to from a couple of weeks back.

Question:  So, basically, it was never deleted?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No.  People were just looking at a different document.  But there is — the document they were looking at, in other words, simply details all the formal subjects on which the Security Council has held a formal meeting since the beginning of 2007.  So it wasn’t included in that list, but it is included in a different list.  Yes, James?

Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  A question on Myanmar.  Since the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, have any UN officials met with here?  Is there anything scheduled to take place?  And what’s the position of the UN on what happens in Myanmar now?  Is there a kind of a “sit back and watch” and see what happens within the country in her talks with the NLD [National League for Democracy] and perhaps the Junta?  Or are there other plans to play a slightly more active role there?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’re evaluating the situation right now.  But our position is reflected in the statement that we issued last Saturday, which, as you can see, set out both our welcome for Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, but also our expectations for the steps ahead, including our expectations regarding further democratization by the Myanmar authorities and for the release of all political prisoners, not just Aung San Suu Kyi.

Question:  Yes, thank you.  The Secretary-General on Friday, and actually yesterday, also released the names of the members of the panel of experts on Iran sanctions.  I have just two quick questions:  one, what is the next step in that process?  And then, secondly, and more importantly, what informed the timing of this establishment of this panel, considering the fact that latest resolution on the sanctions was in June?  I just want to have an idea what informed the timing, and what is the next step in the process?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, the panel was announced as soon as we could form a panel, and, so that announcement was made, as you rightly noted, in a press release last Friday.  And now it will be up to the members of the panel to coordinate with the Security Council sanctions committee dealing with Iran on its reporting.

Question:  Thanks for clarifying that Kashmir remains on the agenda of the UN Security Council.  But the question is:  what is being done to resolve it?  It’s been there for the past four or five, six decades.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I am aware of that, and you are aware of the history of the resolutions of the Security Council on the issue of Kashmir.  And as you know, it’s up to the Member States on the Security Council to decide what further action if any, needs to be taken.  Yes, James?

Question:  I don’t know if you’ve got anything on this; a British guy, name is Paul Anthony, 34, was arrested in Dubai Airport.  He has just told the Sun newspaper that he worked for the UN.  I don’t know if you can confirm this?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t. What’s the full name?

Question:  Paul Anthony.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll check.  I am not aware of any UN personnel arrested in Dubai, but we’ll check.

Question:  I want to ask about Afghanistan and the UN staff member Louis Maxwell that died there in the compound.  His sister has contacted Inner City Press and has asked the following:  that Mr. [Vijay] Nambiar, she says, read a letter from the Secretary-General at a service for Louis Maxwell, and said that they were going to be getting, he would be awarded some Dag Hammarskjold award.  Her question is why, according to her, that hasn’t yet taken place?  And also, what is the UN — I am asking this part — what has the UN done to ensure that its recommendation to the Afghan Government that they investigate who killed Louis Maxwell and the circumstances of his death actually be done?  Has there been any progress since Mr. [Gregory] Starr’s visit there?  What can you say about that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything further to report to you since Mr. Starr’s visit.  As you know, that visit by Gregory Starr was part of our effort to ensure that there is follow-up, and we will continue to press the Afghan authorities.  Ultimately, the onus for follow-up action is on them.

Question:  What about the award thing? She — I am sort of passing this along in a sense.  She says that a commitment was made at that time that this highest award of the UN system would be given to him for his heroic death et cetera, and that hasn’t yet taken place, leading to some doubts there.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I know that we have family support staff who are in regular contact with Louis Maxwell’s mother, as well as with, I believe, the mother of his child, and I will check with them.  But I believe that they have been trying to keep them as the conduits for information as well as for anything further.

Question:  It seems like that award — I guess now I want to expand the question, can we get a list of where, this is the highest award of the UN system to people falling down.  What’s the timing, she just seemed, it seemed incomprehensible that a letter would be read out saying this will be done and have it not done.  If it’s done, just let me know.  But if not, it seems…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe those things are done fairly quickly.  But ultimately, the family support for Mr. Maxwell would go to, like I said, to his mother — basically to the people who have been determined as the conduits, the contact points for our people.  [He later confirmed that Louis Maxwell has received the Dag Hammarskjöld medal that is given to all peacekeepers who fall in the line of duty.]

Question:  Do you have a list of who received this Dag Hammarskjold award?  It seems like it probably, I wouldn’t see why it would be confidential.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t frankly know.  I don’t know whether we have any particular place where we put all of the honours that are given to fallen staff.  As you know, we’ve lost a lot of people over the years and we do give them honours.  I don’t believe that there is any one particular place where we would have that listed.

Question:  But you don’t have to keep it confidential.  That’s all I am asking for.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No, it’s not that it is confidential; I just don’t think that it is tabulated in some uniform fashion.

Question:  Following up on the question of drone attacks, which have been increasing over the past few months and causing huge civilian casualties there.  They are not targeted.  Very few of the militants are getting in the way.  Civilians were being killed; I want to know whether the Secretary-General ever talked to the American leadership about these attacks, because most of the UN experts have condemned it, and said that this violation of international law and even the human rights of the people there.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything specific to say about these drone attacks.  What I can say is that the Secretary-General has repeatedly raised the question of civilian casualties and has implored all the authorities on the ground to do what they can to limit civilian casualties.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment about the fact that the United States and his country, the Republic of Korea, were not able to conclude a free trade agreement?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have any comment on bilateral agreements.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  I just want to find out a little more about the situation on the second floor as far as the bedbug situation is concerned.  Has it been decided that we shouldn’t get into the second floor or what is the situation?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  What had happened, I believe that there was some fumigation activity last weekend, and I believe that there will be some further activity, including in this very room on Saturday morning.  So, my advice to you is:  until then, don’t sit in those chairs! [points to back rows]  Okay.

Question:  Can I actually follow up on vermin; I wanted to ask you whether you can either now or later today…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Bedbugs technically are not vermin; not to stand up for them!

Question:  Okay.  I wanted to know if you can confirm either now or later today that fleas have been discovered in the publishing unit of the UN basement.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I can confirm that, and we are in touch with the exterminators to deal with that.

Question:  Is the idea that it is confined down there?  Because they seem pretty mobile.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Like I said, we’re in touch with the exterminators and as with the other situation, we’ll follow the advice of the exterminators.

Question:  I’m sorry, thank you, Farhan! (Laughter)

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Yeah, that set you back too, didn’t it? (Laughter)

Question:  Our conversation is taking me back! So, anyway — I am going to break down on the monies being spent from the UN agencies for the election in Haiti, if it’s okay, if that’s something that’s happening.  Secondly, can we get Mr. [Bill] Clinton here, and some of those folks to find out why 900 people are dead from the cholera?  Why are there over still a million people in these IDP camps with just tarps?  Why is there only 2 per cent of the rubble picked up?  And the reason I say Mr. Clinton is because it seems that he is the big cheese and we get to speak to you, but we really need to speak to him.  And I am just requesting that as a low, humble reporter.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Thank you, I don’t feel slighted in the least by that.  We’ll certainly see when is the next time that he can come.  But we’re also trying to get other people to talk to you about Haiti.  As you know, Nigel Fisher spoke by video link yesterday.  And we’ll see what other briefings we can get in the coming days and weeks about the situation there.

Question:  What about UNDP [United Nations Development Programme]?  My esteemed colleague Matthew Lee’s great agency, UNDP — because UNDP and the World Bank also need to come here and explain to us where all this money is.  And we, in deference to your Office, I don’t feel that we’re getting a straight answer.  And I hate to use that word “straight”, please, we’re not getting answers that we really can get our teeth into, I’ll put it like that.  I want Bill Clinton here.  He should be here.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  All right.

Question:  Not photographs, not photographs.  I want Clinton to talk to us.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll do all we can.

Question:  There is some talk about former Japanese Permanent Representative Yukio Takasu taking a job as a DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] adviser.  Can you — are you aware of that and can you confirm that?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I have heard about this, but I don’t have any appointment to announce.  If I had an appointment, I’d announce one.

Question:  And also, I just wanted to know, I’ve heard that DPA [Department for Political Affairs] is helping the island of Tonga with its election, or at least, has a unit devoting time to the upcoming 25 November elections on Tonga.  Since it’s so, it doesn’t seem that well known, but they are having elections.  Is there some way to get an idea what things that DPA is working on, such as that we either don’t hear of in this room or how…is that, is it true?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, there is any number of things that we don’t talk about, just because there is so much work that it’s done on a daily basis, that we wouldn’t say each and every bit of it.  But certainly, DPA has an electoral unit; they undertake, as you are aware, the Electoral Affairs Division undertakes activities in a number of places.  I believe Tonga was one of the places that asked for assistance.  I don’t have the precise details of what kind of assistance we’ve provided, but normally, when we get asked by Governments for electoral assistance, we do provide technical assistance to those places.

Question:  That’s also for this upcoming election.  I know that in the past there were some, some…

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, and we have helped them in the past, but I believe they’d asked also for this next round.  And with that… oh, one more!  Yes.

Question:  Mr. [Benjamin] Netanyahu, as you know, decided to stop construction in the West Bank, and not in East Jerusalem, in the next three months.  Does the Secretary-General think this is a step toward progress?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  First, let’s see whether this is approved by the Cabinet and the Government of Israel.  Once that happens, we will have a reaction for you.

And with that, good afternoon.

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