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

8 September 2011

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

8 September 2011
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 Eduardo del Buey, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Welcome to the noon briefing.

** Pakistan Statement

I have first of all a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on bombings in Quetta, Pakistan.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns yesterday’s suicide bombings in Quetta, Pakistan, which reportedly targeted officers of the region’s Frontier Corps.  The attacks left scores of people dead, including two children, and wounded many others.

The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the continued loss of Pakistani lives at the hands of terrorism.  He extends his deep condolences to the families of the victims and the Government of Pakistan.   The Secretary-General commends the efforts of the Pakistani Government to combat terrorism and wishes to re-confirm the solidarity of the United Nations with the people of Pakistan to that end. 

**Secretary-General in Australia

Moving to the Secretary-General’s programme in Australia, he spent the last full day of his Pacific trip in Sydney and Canberra today.

This morning, he gave a speech at the University of Sydney in which he said time was running out to tackle climate change and that a revolution of hope was under way in the Middle East and North Africa.

Later he flew to Canberra, where he joined a group of school children to plant an olive tree at the National Arboretum.  The Secretary-General then visited the Australian Federal Police's training school for police being deployed to international missions such as UN peacekeeping operations.  He watched a training exercise in which police cadets played the part of rioters in a mock-Pacific Island village.

The Secretary-General later met the Governor-General of Australia, Ms. Quentin Bryce, and attended a dinner in his honour at Government House.

The Secretary-General returns to New York tomorrow.

**Security Council

With respect to the Security Council, this afternoon, the Security Council will hold closed consultations on Sudan and South Sudan.

** Cyprus

On Cyprus, the leaders of the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities discussed the issue of property in Nicosia today.

The next meeting will be next Monday, when they will move on to the question of citizenship, immigration and aliens.

** Sudan

The Secretary-General’s Special Advisers on the Prevention of Genocide and on the Responsibility to Protect have expressed their grave concern over the reports of continued attacks on civilians in Southern Kordofan, Sudan.

In a statement, Francis Deng and Edward Luck reminded the Government of Sudan of its responsibilities to protect populations — irrespective of their ethnic, religious or political affiliation — from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.

A full statement can be found on their website.


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that world food prices have remained virtually unchanged between July and August of this year.

The Organization says that the price of cereals has risen, with the cereal production not expected to offset the additional demand and prices continuing to be high and volatile.  It has also warned that pressure on the world's soil resources and land degradation are threatening global food security.

At a meeting to launch a new global soil partnership for food security, the organization’s director, Jacques Diouf, called for renewed international efforts to ensure sufficient fertile soils for today and for the future.  And you can find more information on their website.

**Questions from Yesterday

With respect to some of the questions that were asked of me yesterday, I’d like to say that on the origin of the cholera outbreak in Haiti, I’d like to remind you that an Independent Panel of Experts was established in January and that the Panel submitted its report to the Secretary-General in May.  As you’ll remember, the Panel concluded that the Haiti cholera outbreak was caused “by the confluence of circumstances and was not the fault of, or deliberate action of, a group or individual person”.  And, as you know, the Secretary-General has repeatedly expressed the continuing commitment of the United Nations to stand shoulder to shoulder with the Government and people of Haiti in the ongoing fight against the cholera epidemic, which caused significant loss of life.

On peacekeepers from Fiji, the United Nations reviews the offers of troop contributions from that country on a case-by-case basis.  The UN has not deployed, nor will it deploy, any known or suspected human rights violators.

Matthew, yesterday you asked on the question of French Polynesia during the Secretary-General’s current visit to the Pacific.  You might have seen his joint press conference with Prime Minister John Key in New Zealand yesterday in which he said that he had listened to the concerns of some leaders, including French Polynesia, concerning the right of self-determination. 

**Press Conferences

There will be a press conference immediately following this briefing at 12:30 p.m., entitled “Five Years in Captivity Incommunicado”.  The speaker will be Noam Shalit, the father of the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.  This event is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Israel to the United Nations.

That’s all I have today.  Over to you.  Giampaolo?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, please.  Did the Secretary-General receive any letter of accreditation for a new Permanent Representative of Libya or is he aware of some letter that was sent to the Credentials Committee?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we have heard nothing about that.  But the accreditations, you might try and check with the Accreditations Committee of the General Assembly to see if they have received anything, but I don’t have any information, no.

Question:  I just wanted to know, at what time should we expect some kind of update regarding the investigation into the bombing of the UN House in Abuja?  There are all kinds of speculations in the media.  For instance, it was reported yesterday that because of the fallouts of the bomb attack, the UN agencies in Nigeria will be moving away their resources for the third quarter of the year.  There are many speculations going on.  For instance, too, there has been no response to the issue of the investigation whether the UN is actively in the investigation.  Last week, Gregory Starr said in a newspaper in Canada, The Province, that the UN wanted the closed-circuit TV to get an idea what happened.  Now, all of these things are going on and we don’t get any kind of brief from the Headquarters.  What is the update?  The Deputy Secretary-General returned last week; we understand that she has given a report.  Can you give us some kind of insight, some kind of update about the investigations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the [Deputy] Secretary-General and the head of security for the UN visited Abuja immediately after the bombing.  They inspected the terrain, they spoke with some of the victims, they spoke with Government officials and they spoke with people affected by the blast.  The investigation is ongoing, and when we have something to announce we will announce it.  But we are not going to prematurely announce something that is not yet jelled in fact.

Question:  Is the UN concerned — I have a follow up — is the UN concerned that there are media reports that UN agencies are about to take away their resources?  They are… the airport yet from Nigeria because they claim that there are no offices to operate.  Is this true?  I think you can give us an answer to that or at least find out. 

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no reports on that at all, and I don’t comment on media reports.

Question:  No, no, no, the reports are there and it is published.  I want to know whether it is true or not.  You should be in a position, sir, to tell us whether this is true or not — whether UN agencies are planning to move their resources out of Nigeria because of the incident?  I think we deserve a fair up-or-down answer to that.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, when we have an answer to give, I will give it to you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later noted that the United Nations is determined to continue its work in Nigeria, and continues to stand with the people of Nigeria during this difficult time.  The United Nations in Nigeria has a business continuity plan and will work on delivering its 2011 programme and beyond.]

Question:  Speaking of which, reports, there are reports out from Gaza, from, sorry, from Ramallah that some sort of Palestinian letter, either by the Palestinian Authority or by activists, was sent to the Secretary-General.  Has such a letter been received by the Secretary-General?  What is your understanding of this, the nature of this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Serry has received the letter and he is in the process of transmitting it to the Secretary-General.

Question:  Received a letter from?

Deputy Spokesperson:  From I believe it was an activist; a member of an NGO.

Question:  An activist?  Meaning you don’t perceive this to be an official Palestinian request for membership of the UN?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll have to wait till the letter is received in the Secretary-General’s office and its contents are read.

Question:  But you said Serry has already received it, so I assume that you know the content of it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t know the content of it, no.

Question:  As was the case last year, the President of Pakistan has again, there, the devastation is now again been caused by a monsoon.  Last year there was like 10 million people, 16 million people displaced, now, again, people have been displaced by these severe monsoon rains.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs had undertaken an appeal; and there was a flash appeal.  Do you think the same thing, because he has already appealed for the international community to help?  Will an international community undertake the same, make the same appeal this year, this time?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I would suggest you discuss, you contact, OCHA and find out what they plan to do on this.  I don’t have any information on it.

Question:  Okay.  So you don’t know anything about the flash appeal and so forth as yet?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, not yet.

Question:  Sure, I want to ask you, in, in Somalia, a journalist from Malaysia was killed by the AMISOM (African Union Mission for Somalia) peacekeepers, and since the UN, you know, provides logistical support and previously had said that it was training them in human rights, is there, does the UN have any comment on that?  Is there any, are they going to do anything different in the future? What do they think of, you know, UN-funded and essentially -trained peacekeepers shooting a journalist?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we have strict rules of conduct for peacekeepers.  The protocols are there for investigations to be carried out.  We expect an investigation to be carried out, and if any investigation demonstrates that a UN peacekeeper was involved and that there are charges that can be laid, it is up to the troop-contributing country to lay those charges. 

[The Deputy Spokesperson later clarified that AMISOM is operated by the African Union, with logistical support from the United Nations.]

Question:  I wanted to also, thanks, I mean, thanks for also, for, for, that, that cholera response, but I wanted to, now that the Defence Minister of Uruguay has said that his country is willing to compensate, to provide compensation for what they’re now acknowledging was abuse, whether sexual or just plain abuse, one, what is the UN, is, I mean, some people say, what’s the UN’s role in all of this?  Is it up to just the troop-contributing country to issue an apology, pay money, or is, is the UN’s, is the UN doing its own investigation, and does it ever consider paying compensation, like many people in Haiti seem to think that the cholera, the more studies that are done it seems pretty clear where it came from, obviously not intentionally, but what does the UN say about the idea of compensation where something goes wrong, as has taken place in Haiti?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’d suggest you discuss that with our colleagues in DPKO (Department of Peacekeeping Operations).  I understand that there are some provisions sometimes for some kind of support to victims, but I don’t have that information.  DPKO would have that for you.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, concerning the Palmer report, considering Turkey apparently rejects the findings and has ramped up hostility, if you will, diplomatic hostility with Israel, is the Secretary-General considering getting involved and trying to intervene, and now that the investigation called for by both sides has been completed, is the Secretary-General going to try to intervene and bring Turkey and Israel back together to get past this incident?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General is constantly looking for ways to bring people together.  So I am sure that, you know, as the situation evolves, he will define a role for himself, if there is one for him to play.  In the meantime, he has called on the leaders of both countries to find a way to come together and to resolve their differences, and to establish the relationships that are needed not only by Turkey and Israel, but also by the Middle East in general in terms of the greater stability and greater dialogue in the region.

Question:  And this was his report, I mean, he set up the mechanism for this report in response to the international community’s outcry about the incident.  Um, and Israel has accepted those findings, including the negative portions of it regarding Israeli’s IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) core accessory force that was used.  Turkey has rejected it and so, doesn’t the Secretary-General have a stake in the credibility of the findings and try to bridge this gap that, hope that the study was supposed to help bridge?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, like I said before, he regrets very much that the study did not resolve the outstanding differences, and he has called on the leaders of both countries to try and come together and to establish a kind of dialogue that they had before the incident took place.

Question:  Sure, can I ask, there is a study released today by Human Rights Watch about that, that donor aid, including UN funds given to Viet Nam for drug rehabilitation, result in forced labour and I just wonder what’s, is there a UN, it’s a pretty high-profile report, it’s, it’s out and what does the UN, what’s the UN’s response to the idea that its aid funds to, to Viet Nam, in fact, go to forced labour?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we have absolutely no knowledge of that.  I would have to find out what the report is all about and get back to you on it.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later noted that the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said it does not support the administrative detention approach for drug users because it provides neither effective drug treatment nor rehabilitation. UNODC believes that the way forward involves continued engagement with the Government of Viet Nam to promote and test alternatives to the current compulsory centre system.]

Question:  And I want, can I ask a follow-up on from, I mean, yesterday?  I had asked you this thing about the ICC (International Criminal Court) question, it came, I asked it again to Mr. Deiss, which is, what is the role of the Secretary-General if in the case of an observer State, if a, if a, if a country becomes an observer State and the UN is the, you know, takes the document for the joining of the ICC, is it automatic or does he have some discretion, and I’m, I’m, I mean, I guess maybe you don’t have the answer yet today, but I wanted sort of it’s coming right up this … being a live issue.

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, but I think the best thing to do, Matthew, is to ask the ICC.

Question:  The UN definitely has a role.  I mean, two Member States have said the paper gets filed with the Secretary-General; one has said he has some discretion, the other one says he doesn’t.  So I just wanted to know what he understands, or Patricia O’Brien of OLA (Office of Legal Affairs), who we’ve repeatedly asked to come give a briefing, what her understanding of the legality of the Secretary-General’s role because it is more important, it’s, it’s important what the Secretariat thinks its role is, not what the ICC thinks your role is — do you see what I mean?  So, I just, what I am trying to get, it seems like maybe you just, it’s Ms. O’Brien, but we’ve asked to have a briefing, she hasn’t come, maybe this one question can be answered by OLA?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll see whether what we can get for you.

Question:  Okay.

Correspondent:  A follow-up on Matthew’s question.  Actually we would love to have somebody to brief us on that subject.  I mean, it’s, we really want to know what will happen, how it will happen, and who decides.  And the UN has not so far given us any information on that.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, just to set things straight, normally what we comment on is on things that have taken place, not on hypothetical situations.  Right now, there is no situation, and I would prefer not to comment on anything until we have a situation that we can comment on.  Right now, it is hypothetical.

Question:  [inaudible]… about the procedure, not the… [inaudible].

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll try and get you some information on the procedure for that.

Question:  Following up on things that didn’t happen, the Palmer report question, is there any second thought in the Secretariat about the role the Secretary-General has played here?  There is a lot of criticism that the Secretary-General, by insisting on forming a committee and issuing a report, actually exacerbated the animosity between Turkey and Israel, rather than made them closer.  Is there any second thought about that aspect of it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General set up the committee in an attempt to try and bring both parties together.  The fact that the committee did not succeed, through no fault of its own, to bring both sides together is regrettable and he regrets the fact that they haven't succeeded in doing it.

Question:  But has it exacerbated it?  I mean, because that is a comment, I mean, had, you know, let sleeping dog lies and, let sleeping dogs lie, and he didn’t.  He actually awoken sleeping dogs and they started barking at each other.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t think it is a question of letting sleeping dogs lie; I don’t think if you, to use the analysis, both countries were, had their positions staked out and what the Secretary-General tried to do was create a forum for a dialogue for these countries to come together, air their differences, and try and find common ground.  So, there is no question that the Secretary-General tried to bring both countries together.  Regrettably, thus far, it hasn’t worked.  But the attempt was made to bring both countries together and to engage them in a dialogue that is necessary.

Correspondent:  Now again these questions about whether Palestinian, it’s a hypothetical question, crop up, cropping up again and again, whether if the Palestinians become a State or not, if their observer status will they have, I mean, something to do in ICC and so forth.  Obviously these are the questions which are wracking the mind of the journalists and other people.  Well, so, I mean, it would be well-advised the United Nations that Ms. O’Brien or somebody comes up and tells us what is this hypothetical situation that has been created should be corrected or not.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the hypothetical situation is in the process of happening.  We are going to see what happens, and on the basis of what happens, we will then take steps to provide the proper information.

Correspondent:  And on that, we would like to get that Serry letter as early as possible, as soon as the letter arrives here and as soon as you can muster the ability to produce it to us.

Deputy Spokesperson:  As soon as we have something to share with you, we will do it.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, I do have a question that is non-hypothetical, and I want to know whether the UN has received any reports of the maltreatment of non-Libyan Africans in Libya by the NTC (National Transitional Council).  Has the UN received any such reports?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know if we have received reports or not; we’ve seen reports in the media.  Ian Martin has been in Tripoli and in Benghazi, and he will be coming back, and we hope that he will discuss this at some point with the media.  But the situation is that the Libyan National Transitional Council knows that our position is that all people must be protected and that human rights must be respected in all situations.  The question of balancing justice with human rights was addressed by Ian Martin in his press statement a few days ago, and I would draw your attention to that.  Yes?

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that during his recent visit to Libya, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for post-conflict planning, Ian Martin, visited two police stations and the Al-Jedaida prison in Tripoli.  He spoke to both Libyan and non-Libyan prisoners, including sub-Saharan Africans detained during the fall of Tripoli.  The Special Adviser stressed the urgent need for the basis of detention to be reviewed by public prosecutors, and to inform the prisoners’ families of their rights.]

Question:  One more on that…

Correspondent:  I just want to echo what some of my colleagues said.  What we all need is the Legal Department to tell us the difference between an observer and observer State, because it seems to me, within the UN system there is very little difference between the Vatican and what the Palestinians are now.  And then, secondly, the difference seems to be that if the UN agrees they are some kind of a State — the Secretary-General, the Legal Department — then they can sign treaties and join the ICC, ICJ, whatever.  And that is a mass legal confusion, and everyone, you know, you can’t go by what the different parties say, you need a definitive explanation here.

Deputy Spokesperson: Well, once we have a definitive explanation we will give it to you.  But right now we are not…

Correspondent:  But that’s what the problem is.  Right now is when we need it.  You know, you have all sorts of people saying they automatically become voting members of the UN.  We know that’s not the case, and you know, it’s very confusing.  It’s not even in the Charter, it’s not listed anywhere.  And we would use it, we need it now, not when they join or don’t join or get their status lifted or not, but by then it’s too late.  We are not going to write about it after that.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as I’ve said, when we have something to announce, we will announce it.  Giampaolo?

Correspondent:  If I may, because this has become a recurrent request to the podium.  So we are really asking if you can do any effort, the best you can to have a legal expert that gives us a definite and final explanation, legal explanation, about this.  Otherwise the next press conference we are going to ask the same question; everybody.  So we agreed in the sense that we need an answer and you said that the answer exists.  So, is good that 48, 72 hours is okay, and I am sure that you will do your best to…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll see what we can do on that.

Question:  One more question about the letter; you said it was by an activist.  Does that activist have a name, affiliation, anything like that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have the name of the person, no.  I believe we know the name but I don’t have the name of the person myself, personally, right now.

Question:  Okay, could you get that for us as well?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll try and get it for you, yeah.

Question:  Thank you.  And what affiliation as well?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yeah.

Question:  [inaudible] different.  Can you confirm that the, the, uh, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos, will be visiting the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or North Korea, and if so, is that, I believe that is taking place, I would like to, confirmation of that and whether Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who spoke a lot about the issue and rapprochement on the peninsula, had any role, has had any communications with [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] regarding this visit by the Emergency Relief Coordinator?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have any information first-hand on the plans for her visit.  I have seen the media reports that you have seen.  We will try and find out and you might want to contact her office and find out.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Valerie Amos is planning a mission to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea from 17 to 21 October.  The purpose of the mission is to get a first-hand look at the humanitarian situation in the country.  She also plans to meet representatives of United Nations agencies, non-governmental organizations and the Government.]

Question:  I am asking, I mean, I will do that, but I want to know whether the Secretary-General either had no involvement in this or had some involvement?  What, and, and, and if he has any thought on it; it’s, it’s a fairly rare visit.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it’s not a rare visit, I mean she does travel around the world on these issues and I think it’s part of her remit to investigate things in countries where there are problems.

Question:  I am saying, I am saying the visit to [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], given that he has sent at one point Pascoe and Kim Won-soo there and then they gave us a briefing here, it’s quite rare for high-level UN officials to be invited into Pyongyang, so I wanted to know if he had played any role in this visit?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, when have something to announce, we will announce it to you.

Question:  Does UNDP still have a presence in Pyongyang, in [the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m sorry?

Question:  Does UNDP still have a presence in North Korea?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check on that for you; I don’t have that information with me.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that UNDP’s programming in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea resumed in September 2009, following a decision of UNDP’s Executive Board.  UNDP is one of five resident UN agencies that make up the country team in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.]

Okay?  Thank you so much.

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