29 November 2010

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

29 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.

**C ôte d’Ivoire

We expect a statement shortly on the elections that took place yesterday in Côte d’Ivoire.

Also on that, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Côte d’Ivoire, Choi Young-jin, said today that “the moment has come to safeguard the result” of yesterday’s second round of the presidential elections.  He added that he had no doubt that the will of the Ivorian people would be respected and that no candidate would resort to undemocratic means to express his position on the result of the poll.

Choi said that the second round of the election was generally conducted in a democratic environment.  And we have his remarks in our office.  And like I said, we do expect to have a statement from the Secretary-General on this topic later.

**Security Council

This morning, the Security Council extended the mandate of the Group of Experts on the Democratic Republic of the Congo until 30 November 2011.  The final report of the Group of Experts should be available online as a document today.  You’ll also be able to find it on the website of the Sanctions Committee in both English and French.  And we have more information on the report in our office.

The Security Council is now holding consultations on its 1718 Committee on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and its 751/1907 Committee on Somalia/Eritrea.  The Council President expects to read a press statement on the latter subject once consultations have ended.

** Myanmar

Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar visited Myanmar over the weekend, in his capacity as Special Adviser to the Secretary-General.  He met with a number of officials and representatives of the major parties, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

He said he had listened to as many parties as possible about their hopes, expectations and concerns at this critical juncture for the country’s future direction.  In this process, strong concerns were expressed by many parties about the process and outcome of the recent elections, which he urged the Government and the Union Election Commission to address as transparently as possible.

Nambiar also encouraged the Government to build on recent developments towards national dialogue for reconciliation and democratization in the post-election process.  He said that, in order to succeed, any political transition should be broad-based and inclusive, and involve not only those who participated and won seats in the election, but also those who did not or could not.  In this connection, he called for the release of the political prisoners.  And we have the transcript of his press encounter in our office.

**International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People

In his message for the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, the Secretary-General says that two timelines in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process will reach a critical point in 2011.

The first, he says, is the pledge by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek a framework agreement on permanent status by September.  The other concerns the Palestinian Authority’s expected readiness for statehood by August, according to the message, which was delivered by Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro.

Few Palestinians and Israelis are hopeful that peace can be achieved soon, the Secretary-General says, challenging the two leaders to show statesmanship and political courage in reaching a historic peace.

**Climate Change Conference

The United Nations Climate Change Conference has just opened an hour ago in Cancún, Mexico.  The Conference started with a welcoming ceremony, attended by the President of Mexico, Felipe Calderón.  The opening ceremony of the high-level segment of the Conference will be held on Tuesday, 7 December, and the Conference will run until 10 December 2010.

**Capital Master Plan

In the course of the renovation of its Headquarters under the Capital Master Plan, the United Nations is starting today with the installation of the first new glass panels of the Secretariat Building curtain wall.  The 60-year-old single-pane glass panels are being replaced with state-of-the-art double-glazed panels.  And the work is scheduled for completion in 2012.

After the renovation, the energy consumption of the Headquarters complex will be at least 50 per cent lower, as compared to existing conditions.  Greenhouse gas emissions will be reduced by at least 45 per cent.  And we have more details in a press release.

And that’s it from me.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, Farhan, I wonder if, at the beginning of the briefing, did you mention anything regarding the leaks, that the United Nations has been a target of espionage by the United States?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  On that, what I can say is that the United Nations is not in a position to comment on the authenticity of the document purporting to request information-gathering activities on UN officials and activities.

The UN is by its very nature a transparent organization that makes a great deal of information about its activities available to the public and Member States.  UN officials regularly meet representatives of Member States to brief them on UN activities.

The UN Charter, the Headquarters Agreement and the 1946 Convention contain provisions relating to the privileges and immunities of the Organization.  The UN relies on the adherence by Member States to these various undertakings.

Question:  Have you been able to establish the authenticity of the documents released on the [Special] Tribunal for Lebanon after the viewing of the CBC show?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I wouldn’t have any further comment on that.  The Special Tribunal for Lebanon did make comment on that, and I’d refer you to their press release from about a week ago.  Matthew?

Question:  I just want to tie in what you are saying is the policy.  The document says US diplomats should seek to get the computer passwords, frequent flyer miles, credit card numbers, etcetera, not only of the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, but SRSGs [Special Representatives] and Force Commanders.  Would each of those things, according to you, violate the agreement with the host country?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, on that, again, bearing in mind that we don’t have any judgement at this stage on the authenticity of the document, bearing in mind that, I do want to read to you a little passage from the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, and this is a direct quote: “The premises of the United Nations shall be inviolable.  The property and assets of the United Nations, wherever located and by whomsoever held, shall be immune from search, requisition, confiscation, expropriation and any other form of interference, whether by executive, administrative, judicial, or legislative action.”  Yes?

Question:  If I may follow up.  Will the UN take any action to verify this information?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Certainly, we will need further information on this and we will respond as appropriate.

Question:  From whom?  From the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton direct, or…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll talk to our US counterparts at various levels, but at this stage, I don’t have precise details to give to you on this.  But we will respond as appropriate.  Yes, please?

Question:  I am just wondering if the Secretary-General himself has a comment on its [inaudible] pictures of him with headlines and major international newspapers, especially the fact that there have been accusations of connections with terrorist organizations by UN peacekeeping forces, UN agencies on the ground; and is the UN able to combat this legally in any way?  The accusations, I mean.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I just read to you what the relevant laws are, and the Secretary-General is aware of this and the comment I have read represents his views on this matter.

Question:  There was a story during the term of Kofi Annan, previous Secretary-General, that his office was tapped by the United States.  That was a precedent which was established at the time.  And is there no follow-up on that issue?  And can you say that these are not authentic, because everybody is taking them as serious, including the State Department?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  On the earlier issue dealing with Kofi Annan’s office, follow-up activity was taken at the time.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, I am just asking, was the Secretary-General informed on this matter before it was published?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, he was informed by the US shortly before the news became public, yes.

Question:  By Mrs. Clinton?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  By Ambassador [Susan] Rice.

Question:  I had some other ones on Sudan, but one thing that the memo made me wonder is there is this reference to frequent flyer miles that seemed strange.  What does happen with the frequent flyer miles of Ban Ki-moon or other SRSGs when they fly around?  Are they donated to the UN, do they keep them personally, what happens?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  The frequent flyer miles of UN officials are essentially possessions of the United Nations.  I don’t have anything, I don’t have any details about what we do with them, but this is all part of the Organization…

Question:  But can you state, for example, for SRSGs that travel, it goes to the UN or do they keep it personally?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I believe on work that you do for the Organization, this is part and parcel of the Organization.  I need to get further detail about what happens to them, but this is held by the Organization.

Question:  Can I ask some Sudan questions?  I wanted to ask, there are reports that people are now in the face of, they believe, air bombing threats, fleeing the border areas between North and South Sudan.  So, I know that last week there were flurry — there were questions about a number of reported bombing incidents and UNMIS seemed to have no confirmation.  What’s been done in the four or five days since this happened to find out what happened with these bombing incidents?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah, on that, I have the following to say:  On 24 November, local authorities in northern Bahr El-Ghazal state stated that the Sudanese Armed Forces had conducted aerial bombing along the border near Kiir River.  The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) dispatched a patrol to the area on 25 November and was informed that approximately 1,500 persons were displaced by the bombing.  The incident was reported to the Area Joint Monitoring Committee on 26 November and the matter is being further referred to a higher-level authority — the Ceasefire Joint Monitoring Committee.  UNMIS is continuing its patrols to assess the situation on the ground, while calling on the parties to exercise restraint.

Question:  Also, President [Omer al-]Bashir has said that he is… there is an African Union-EU Summit taking place in Libya which the President and Sudan has now pulled out of it.  Does the UN… I guess, having with its interest in both the referendum and peace in Darfur, is this a positive thing?  Do they have any comment?  What’s the UN’s presence going to be at the African Union-EU Summit in Libya?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have the name of any official who is attending that on our side.  I’ll try and see whether we do have an official attending.  But certainly, on the question of President Bashir, our position concerning the warrant against him remains as it was.  And we do, of course, continue to encourage all countries to abide by the relevant resolutions of the Security Council.

Question:  And also, you mentioned the Capital Master Plan; I think this took place right before Thanksgiving, but it’s been reported that Skanska, the UN’s contractor, is now under investigation for fraudulently, sort of fraudulence, in minority contracting practices here in New York City.  It’s a pretty widespread report and I just wonder, is the UN aware of that? What does the UN, given its stated interest in the MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] and justice…?  Does this change anything?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s really a question for Skanska, not for the United Nations.  It would be up to you to deal with them on that issue.

Question:  But once the UN has chosen them as the contractor, is there anything that Skanska could do which would change its status as the UN’s contractor on the Capital Master Plan, or is that regardless of what is taken, reported, confessed to, investigated?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson:  That would be something that the UN would evaluate… The UN evaluates relations with contractors as circumstances develop.  But I wouldn’t have any comment on this particular issue.  That is really for Skanska and not for us.

And with that, I wish you all a good afternoon.

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