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

22 November 2010

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

22 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.

**Noon Guest

My guest today will be Robert Orr, the Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Planning, who is here today to brief you on the forthcoming sixteenth Conference of Parties regarding climate change in Cancun, Mexico.  He will be here shortly.  Until he gets here, I will read out a few notes.  But we’ll stop once he is here.  And then you can resume and ask questions of me once his briefing has been completed.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding an open debate today on protection of civilians in armed conflict, with 53 speakers inscribed.  Alain Le Roy, the Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, and Valerie Amos, the Emergency Relief Coordinator and Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, addressed the Council at the start of the debate.  So did Navi Pillay, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Yves Daccord, the Director-General of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

In his remarks, Le Roy said that UN peacekeeping missions must exert every effort to protect civilians, using all their available capacities.  Yet we must also recognize that peacekeeping operations cannot be regarded as a substitute for State authority and cannot protect all civilians at all times, especially in very vast areas, amid ongoing conflict.

Valerie Amos, meanwhile, told the Council that any positive developments in protecting civilians are heavily outweighed by the frequent failures of parties to conflict to abide by their international legal obligations to protect civilians.  She appealed for greater sustained effort to address challenges that inhibit more effective protection for civilians.  And we have copies of their remarks available in our Office.

** Haiti

The Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, will visit Haiti tomorrow and Wednesday to review the humanitarian response to the cholera outbreak.  She is expected to meet with representatives of the Government, the UN and NGO partners involved, and to review operations in camps for the internally displaced and other affected areas.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the response to the UN-led appeal for $164 million to fight cholera in Haiti is less than 10 per cent supported — and that’s clearly insufficient for an adequate response to the epidemic.

Nigel Fisher, the Humanitarian Coordinator in Haiti, said that critical supplies and skills — such as doctors, nurses, water-purification systems, chlorine tablets, soap, oral rehydration salts, and tents for cholera treatment centres — are urgently needed.  Fisher added that without medical help the mortality rate will increase dramatically.

So far 36 cholera treatment centres have already been set up nationwide, along with 61 smaller cholera treatment units, and more are being built.  Also, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Health Organization (WHO) have now been able to restart their operations in Cap Haitien, where the situation is now calm.

**Secretary-General in Portugal

The Secretary-General was in Lisbon over the weekend, where he attended the NATO Summit Meeting on Afghanistan on Saturday.  He stressed the need to be flexible as we move ahead with the transition in Afghanistan, saying:  “We must be guided by realities, not schedules.”

He added that the United Nations supports the Afghan Government's search for peace through a political solution.  We all recognize that there can be no purely military solution.  This process must be Afghan-led, he said, and it must respect the constitution and the rights of all Afghans.

The Secretary-General told reporters later that the NATO meeting had defined a clear path for transition.  Afghan institutions have demonstrated that they can take on increasing leadership and responsibility.  The United Nations, he said, will do its part to support the civilian aspects of this transition.  The Secretary-General added that there are no shortcuts to peace.  The United Nations is committed to supporting the Afghans over the long term.

We have transcripts of his remarks and press encounters available online, as well as the readouts of his meetings over the weekend with Afghan President Harmid Karzai and other senior officials that he met in Lisbon.

The Secretary-General will address students at Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, later this afternoon.  This is part of the university’s World Leaders Forum, organized by its School of Diplomacy and International Relations.  The Secretary-General is expected to speak about the challenges facing the United Nations and the contradictory demands and expectations from the international community.

** Sudan

Benjamin Mkapa, the Chairman of the Secretary-General’s Panel on the referenda in the Sudan, today told a press conference in Khartoum that the Panel has wrapped up its second visit to Sudan, which took place at a critical time:  the start of voter registration for the referendum on the future of Southern Sudan.

President Mkapa said that, while the visit has been an encouraging one for the Panel, the voter-registration process has highlighted some issues of concern, particularly in the North, where turnout remains extremely low.  He said many Southern Sudanese appear uninterested or unwilling to register.  President Mkapa said there seems to be multiple reasons for this, including lack of public information about the process, the long distances to travel to registration centres, a campaign by some Southern leaders to encourage people not to register and vote outside Southern Sudan, and uncertainty about the Southerners’ future status in the North.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, has called on the Transitional Federal Parliament to exercise the spirit of compromise and judiciously deliberate on the new Cabinet.  He noted that, with less than nine months remaining before the end of the transition, Somalis and the international community eagerly awaited the formation of a functional Government to prepare a roadmap for the transitional tasks.  And there’s a press release in our Office.


The Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has welcomed the statement reportedly made by Pope Benedict XVI, in which he said that the use of condoms is justified to reduce the risk of HIV infection.  UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé called this a “significant and positive step forward taken by the Vatican,” adding that the move recognizes that responsible sexual behaviour and the use of condoms can play a key role in preventing HIV.  According to the agency, the male latex condom is the single most efficient and available technology to curb the sexual transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

My guest tomorrow will be Edmond Mulet, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Haiti, who will join us via video teleconference.

Also tomorrow, at 11, Cheick Sidi Diarra, the Under-Secretary-General and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, will hold a press conference about UNCTAD’s least developed countries’ report for 2010.

And then at approximately 12:45 p.m., or immediately following the noon briefing, Michelle Bachelet, the Under-Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women, will hold a press conference to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women.

That’s it from me.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, Farhan, thank you.  I have a couple of questions.  There is a piece that aired last night on CBC Television about the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  I am wondering if you can confirm that the documents mentioned in the piece are, in fact, UN documents?  Also, I would like to have an overall comment on this story, which is very critical of the Tribunal – talks about the fact that there are many blunders and it lost great opportunities to bring the investigation forward — and also very critical of its current prosecutor, Daniel Bellemare.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, we had requested CBC to contact us with information regarding the documents so that we could assess them.  I don’t have the ability to confirm the authenticity of the documents, but if we believe them to be documents of the UN International Independent Investigation Commission, along those lines, the documents of that Commission are UN documents enjoying inviolability under Article Two of the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations.  Inviolability entails that the United Nations documents cannot be disclosed to a third party, copied or used without the consent of the United Nations, which had not been given in this case.  I therefore don’t have any comment on the substance of those documents.  Yes, Khaled?

Question:  I just want to follow up on Catharine’s question:  what is your comment on the repeated leaks coming out from the court?  It’s not the first leak; there have been leaks before to Der Spiegel, leaks to the Wall Street Journal, and now to CBC.  So what does this tell about the efficiency of what is supposed to be a judicial body in the first place?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Certainly, the leaks are a matter of concern.  We want to be able to ensure that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon can go about its work without hindrance or interference.  We continue, of course, to fully support the work of the Special Tribunal and the independence of the Tribunal and its Prosecutor.  At the same time, it is a matter of concern that the leaks could have an effect on the substance of the work by the prosecutors and the Tribunal itself.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Farhan, before, I think on Thursday, there was a statement attributable to Mr. Matthew Nimetz in which he says, due to a technical-level error, there was a change in the UN Secretariat's Bulletin of Terminology relating to the language designation of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  I wonder if you can –— and I am sorry that I was not here that day — if you can explain a little bit more, what was that?  Related to what, and what was the reaction by [both] sides, I assume there was some?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, yes, you are right.  Mr. Nimetz did come out with a statement in which he made clear that, due to a technical-level error, there had been a change in the UN Secretariat's Bulletin of Terminology relating to the language designation of the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  As he made clear, this error occurred without political intent and was not due to the intervention of any Government.  The matter was rectified by returning to the previous wording.  The Secretariat remains impartial in its efforts to help the parties resolve their differences relating to the name issue, and it hopes for speedy progress toward a mutually agreed solution.

So, in other words, the wording of the bulletin remains what it had been before.

Question:  But what has happened in both?  And again, I apologize.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Due to a technical error, something had been inadvertently dropped from the bulletin; some language had been inadvertently dropped from the Bulletin of Terminology which has now been re-added.

Question:  Okay. Has it…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: It was not supposed to have changed.

Question:  Does it have anything to do with ongoing sort of controversy, because we have something in European Union also, with using of the name Macedonia?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No.  Like I just said, there occurred without political intent and was not due to the intervention of any Government.

Question:  Any reaction to that, there was, just to set…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no, I think the parties are now aware of where we stand on this.

Question:  Okay.  Can I just, one more?  Is the Secretary-General going to receive honorary degree from Seton [ Hall University] today?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  No, I believe he is just there for the World Leaders Forum.

Question:  I have been invited, and it says the honorary doctorate degree will be given to the Secretary-General.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: It’s possible.  We’ll try to get some further details at the time.  I know that he is there to participate in the World Leaders Forum and he will make some remarks, which we’ll distribute at that point.  Yes, Eva?

Correspondent:  Yeah, I just wanted to make sure, do you know when the operations by the UN agencies in Haiti are due to start — today, last, yesterday?  When they could pass by the roads and…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe that we started within the last day or so.  Yes, the last couple of days, because calm did return to Cap Haitien, relative calm returned to Cap Haitien, over the weekend.

Question:  And then it means that all the roads are clear?  All the NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and UN agencies can use them?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know the precise level of details about the status of the roads around Cap Haitien.  But like I said, Mr. Mulet will be our noon briefing guest tomorrow and he can give a more detailed review of the situation on the ground.

Question:  Farhan, what, specifically, was the Secretary-General’s contribution at the NATO Summit in Lisbon, which basically discussed the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan in 2014?  Did he raise his concerns over the civilian casualties being inflicted by drone attacks?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I would just refer you to the rather large number of documents we put out over the weekend, including a speech to NATO, and his press encounters there.  He did talk about — as I just read in the note — he did talk about the need for a transition that is based, that’s not attached to a schedule so much as to the realities on the ground.  He talked about the support that the United Nations will be providing, and beyond that, like I said, I’d just refer you to the documents.

Question:  Has the UN begun an inquiry on the allegation that the Nepalese has brought cholera to Haiti?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, we’ve been conferring with a number of experts on the ground, trying to determine the origins of this particular strain of cholera.  Our focus is on treating this and making sure that we can deal with the outbreak as it goes through the country.  And so, to that extent, Valerie Amos and others are working on dealing with how you can make sure the right resources are in place; so you can have cholera treatment centres; so you can have education about proper sanitation and hand washing; so you can have the basic facilities on the ground to deal with cholera.  But at the same time, yes, we have been meeting with different experts, including epidemiologists.  I think last week I gave a summary of the various tests we had done at the area of the Nepalese battalion.  And those tests, as I pointed out at the time, had all been negative.  And yet, that’s not conclusive in terms of excluding them from the possibility of this particular outbreak.  But neither does it support the theory that they had anything to do with that outbreak.

Question:  This is also on Haiti.  I wanted to know whether there has been any, whether the UN has modified in any way its reporting of its encounters with demonstrators.  There are reports in Cap Haitien that the second person killed was in close proximity to a Chilean MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] component in an armoured vehicle.  It’s also another — it seems important to nail down, what’s the UN’s final number of casualties due to its engagement with demonstrators?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The number I have from MINUSTAH so far is one person, which is a casualty from last Monday.  Beyond that, we haven’t received other information from the Mission about other casualties.  We are aware that there were other clashes, local-level clashes, but these are not cases where, according to MINUSTAH, these are not cases which involved MINUSTAH troops in their actions.  And like I said, beyond that you’ll also have Mr. Mulet here tomorrow.

Question:  I want to ask you one thing about Sri Lanka.  There is a story in, over the weekend, I guess it’s a confirmation or making more public that the headline story is “War Criminal Gets UN Job”.  So, I am asking you to respond; the new Deputy Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka is in fact a general that was allegedly involved in the killing of the white flag people in which, I believe, that the Chief of Staff of the Secretary-General had some phone calls, not in any killing, had some knowledge of — what I wanted to know is whether, one, whether the UN has any response to a story that is entitled, at least, “war criminal gets job”; and two, whether the Secretary-General’s Panel would be interviewing an individual who is in New York City, entering the building, who is widely now linked to an alleged war crime?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The Deputy Permanent Representative to the Mission is an employee of the Government of Sri Lanka, so I would refer those questions to the Government of Sri Lanka.

Question:  What about the Panel’s role?  I notice that Mr. [Marzuki] Darusman is today in South Korea.  I wanted to get a sense on that Panel; how much time is actually being put into the Panel by the three members?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  They’re putting in considerable time, and as you know, they also have a regular secretariat that is beyond the three panellists themselves; the secretariat that is putting together information so that work continues.

Question:  Do they intend to talk to this individual who is now, you know, described in a widely [inaudible]?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As you are well aware, we haven’t been putting out a day-by-day summary of the people from whom the Panel gets information.  They will report to the Secretary-General once they have their advisory report ready.  And at that point we’ll have some information on that.  But we don’t have…

Question:  This is my last question now on that.  Is there any idea yet whether that report will be made public?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll have to see.  As you know, it is an internal body, but it will be up to the Secretary-General to determine what he makes public once he received that information.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  You’ve spoken quite a lot on Haiti already, but I wonder if you have anything specifically further on Mr. Fisher’s meeting with the French epidemiologist that we spoke about on Friday?  Second quick question:  the speech that the Secretary-General is giving at the University in [New] Jersey this afternoon, there is now a press release saying that it is going to be a major policy address.  Are we, should we, expect anything landmark from it?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll put out the speech later this afternoon, so you can see for yourself.  It is about the challenges that the UN faces, and you’ll all have the text and can use it as you see fit.  As for Mr. Fisher, I believe we pointed out that there was a discussion, an exchange of views, with an epidemiologist.  There was nothing conclusive about the origins of the disease, but this is part of our own effort to get at information, not just about the origins of the disease, but of how to deal with it as it spreads.  And we’re continuing with those efforts.

Question:  I thought Mr. Fisher previously referred to the suggestion that this particular epidemiologist had stronger causal evidence linking the Nepalese peacekeepers with the strain.  Is there anything that has come out of that or…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I think there was a discussion of methodologies and of how to get better information about how this is going.  But no, there is nothing that changed what I have said previously.

Question:  Is this not what Mr. Mulet is going to be talking about tomorrow?  Is that why the press conference was called so late?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  He will certainly talk to you about the cholera situation and what we’re doing to deal with it, yes.

Question:  A follow-up, Farhan, on Mr. Iftikhar’s question first.  When you said that the Secretary-General, in his reaction to the announcement regarding Afghanistan, said that we should be — I am not interpreting word to word — driven by realities rather than the schedules, what actually does he mean about that in the light of Mr. Iftikhar’s question?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, that’s simply the point.  The exact quote is, yes, “We must be guided by realities, not schedules.”  In other words, don’t be so obsessed about timetables as you are about what the actual conditions on the ground are.  The Secretary-General believes that any sensible transition in Afghanistan has to be cognizant of ways in which the Afghan Government and the people of Afghanistan can take greater control over their own lives and ensure respect for their own basic rights.

Question:  And on Haiti also, over the weekend, on Sunday, actually, one of the American networks, ABC, a doctor was interviewed from the ground, heavily accusing the UN actually for being slow, saying that, while we are waiting, the UN is ordering us, “do this paper, do this paper”, while we had to get the supply, especially water; in the meantime, people are dying.  So, is the UN really that slow?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, in fact, the Secretary-General is working very hard and is very personally committed to make sure that the whole process is sped up, both in terms of coordination amongst the UN bodies on the ground, but also in terms of getting faster clearance through the Haitian Government to get the necessary facilities into the country without any bureaucratic hurdles.  So he is working very hard on that.

Question:  So who is putting bureaucratic hurdles, UN or the Haiti Government?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The United Nations is doing everything it can to make sure that things work, move quickly into the country.  As you know, every Government in the world has clearance procedures by which vehicles or facilities or medicines can enter the country.  And what we’re trying to do is make that all these things will be rushed through as fast as they can because of the needs on the ground.

Question:  Sure, I want to ask about Sudan on the statement that you made from the Secretary-General’s Panel on the referendum.  There seems to be a lot of controversy about the low numbers of Southern registrants in the North.  Some people are putting the number as low as 9,000.  So it seemed like, in your statement, you are saying some Southerners are encouraging other Southerners — I just want to understand, because the SPLM [Sudan People’s Liberation Movement] blames it all on Khartoum.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, that was just a summary of a press conference that President Mkapa held in Khartoum, and I’d just refer you to the transcript of that.  We have that available in our office.

Question:  And does the Secretary-General’s Panel have any role in overseeing these sites, these eight Diaspora voting sites in Africa, the United States, Australia?  Are they going to visit any of those sites?  And there is some controversy now about the IOM [International Organization for Migration] role in it.  It’s not exactly clear to me who is funding the IOM for that work, but what is the Panel’s role on these other sites?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No, you can check with the Panel itself about the sites.  It’s looking at the whole referenda process, which includes sites for Southerners to vote in the North.

Question:  But isn’t his Panel — I have had some problem in the past getting responses from the Panel, so I just wanted to know, it’s the Secretary-General, he set up the terms of reference, it’s his delegated Panel, right?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, the Panel does have its own spokesperson, and you can communicate through them.  But I’d also refer you, like I said, to what President Mkapa said.  We have the transcript in our office.  Have a good afternoon everyone.

* *** *

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