Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
23 October 2009
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by the Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon, everybody.
The Security Council this morning received a briefing on the work of the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) from the head of that Mission, Atul Khare, who noted the successful holding of elections for community authorities earlier this month. Provisional results indicate that some two thirds of registered voters cast ballots in those elections.
In his final briefing to the Security Council, Khare said that, in the long term, the touchstone for success in Timor-Leste is not whether or not crises occur, but how future crises are met and resolved. The future presence and role of the international security forces needs to be carefully taken into account in planning any modification of the composition and strength of the UN Mission, he added. We have his remarks upstairs. The open meeting is continuing right now, with 25 speakers inscribed.
**Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs
The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, is in Kenya today, wrapping up a five-nation trip to Eastern and Southern Africa, focusing on UN-regional cooperation and a number of regional hotspots, including Somalia.
While in Nairobi today, Pascoe and the Somali Prime Minister chaired a meeting of the High-Level Committee overseeing implementation of the Djibouti peace agreements. Pascoe called for an urgent increase in international support for Somalia, saying: “Now is the time to move to action, not the time to talk. This is an excellent opportunity to turn around the terrible situation of the last 18 years in Somalia.”
Speaking to reporters afterwards, Pascoe said that the UN Security Council was unanimously behind the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and confident that the TFG was moving forward.
Pascoe also met today with Kenyan President Mwai Kbaki. He underscored the importance of peace and stability in Kenya for the broader region, and discussed particular issues, such as constitutional reforms, the electoral process and the cross-border movement of Somali refugees.
During previous stops in Uganda and Burundi, Pascoe expressed strong appreciation for the commitment and sacrifice of those nations who are deploying troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). His mission also took him to South Africa and Angola.
The UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, today stressed the importance of disaster risk reduction to deal with climate change.
This observation was made by John Holmes when he travelled to Uganda’s north-eastern Karamoja region, which epitomizes the complex intersection between climate change and humanitarian and development crises.
The semi-arid Karamoja region, where the majority of the population follow a pastoralist or agro-pastoralist lifestyle, is one of the most underdeveloped and politically marginalized parts of Uganda.
Whereas droughts used to occur every 10 years or so, narrowing to every five years over the past two decades, there have now been four consecutive years of drought and/or poor rainfalls.
In January 2009, the World Food Programme (WFP), which has been operating in the region for over 40 years, launched an emergency operation to provide food to more than 970,000 people, or approximately 90 per cent of the population. And there is a press release with more details.
** Sri Lanka
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights today reiterated its belief that something similar to Justice [Richard] Goldstone’s Gaza Fact Finding Mission is also needed for Sri Lanka -- given the widespread concerns about the conduct of the recent war there.
The Office said it is still deeply concerned that some 250,000 displaced people are living in what are basically internment camps. It said it hopes that the Sri Lankan Government will soon take serious actions to fulfil its commitments to open up and properly deal with the displaced and other war victims, as well as address underlying problems related to anti-Tamil discrimination.
Also on Sri Lanka, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said it is on the ground and in the process of distributing aid items to returnees. UNHCR is also carrying out a needs assessment and is engaged in protection monitoring in the areas of return. And there’s more on that in the Geneva press briefing notes upstairs.
**Internally Displaced Persons in Africa
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the High Commissioner for Human Rights have welcomed the adoption today by the African Union of a Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Africa.
UNHCR says that this instrument is a groundbreaking legal framework that for the first time codifies the rights of people displaced within their own countries.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said that the new treaty marks a significant step forward in filling the vacuum that has traditionally been the lot of internally displaced people. She added that until now, internally displaced people have been more or less excluded from the system of international legal protection, even though they are often displaced in exactly the same way, and for exactly the same reasons, as refugees. At least in Africa, that should no longer be the case, she said. There are 11.6 million internally displaced people in Africa, about 45 per cent of the world’s total IDPs, according to UNHCR.
UNHCR also says that displaced families from the embattled Sa’ada Province in northern Yemen are continuing to arrive in Al Mazrak camp, which now houses an estimated 8,000 internally displaced people. On average, 10 to 15 new families arrive at Al Mazrak camp every day, the agency says, with another 11,000 IDPs being sheltered by host families and communities in this part of Yemen.
The security situation surrounding the IDP camp in Khaiwan in Amran governorate remains of serious concern to UNHCR. After a number of incidents, the refugee agency has requested the Yemeni Government to reconsider further development of the site and not to move the newly displaced persons there.
The United Nations continues to appeal to the parties in the conflict to allow access for aid and assistance to reach those in need in their places of displacement. An estimated 150,000 people have been affected by fighting in Yemen since 2004.
** Iraq Refugees
And the UN refugee agency is concerned about the fact that some European States have begun forcibly returning Iraqis originating from the region of central Iraq over the last few months.
According to UNHCR, in view of the serious human rights violations and continuing security incidents throughout Iraq, most predominantly in the central governorates, asylum-seekers from these governorates should be considered to be in need of international protection.
UNHCR, therefore, advises against involuntary returns to Iraq of persons originating from Central Iraq until there is a substantial improvement in the security and human rights situation in the country. And we have more details in the UNHCR briefing notes.
According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), civilians continue to flee South Waziristan, in north-western Pakistan, following the intensification of the ongoing military operations there. OCHA says that local authorities have registered some 19,000 displaced families (approximately 139,400 people) in the districts of Dera Ismail Khan and Tank.
United Nations agencies and their humanitarian partner organizations have assisted the first wave of displaced persons from South Waziristan with emergency interventions, such as food, household and hygiene supplies, water supplies, and vaccination campaigns. We have also provided support to the registration exercise.
The planning figure for IDPs who could eventually leave South Waziristan is a total of 250,000 civilians. To respond to that probable caseload, preparations have been under way for some time now, and relief items are pre-positioned in the area.
Karin Landgren, the Secretary-General’s Representative for Nepal, today hosted and briefed ambassadors of the Security Council member States based in Nepal on their first collective visit since the establishment of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) in January 2007.
Today, Council members reviewed examples of how UNMIN conducts the monitoring of the weapons stored by the Nepal Army in Chhauni Barracks, and the Maoist army in Main Cantonment Site One, in containers that are kept under electronic and live surveillance.
Landgren said that the presence of weapons containers and arms monitors reflects the unfinished business of the peace process. The UN Mission calls on the parties to make strengthened and sincere efforts to create the conditions for the Mission to complete its work, and for Nepal’s peace process to usher in a stable, just and prosperous future for its people. And we have her remarks upstairs.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay will open a General Assembly side event this afternoon to highlight the work of the UN’s independent Special Rapporteurs. The Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief, and the Special Rapporteur on the right to food will be on hand to discuss the kind of work that they do. And that event will start at 1:15 p.m. in the Economic and Social Council Chamber.
The Department of Public Information has announced the five winners of its video contest entitled “Citizen Ambassadors to the United Nations”, which invited the public to engage with world leaders by uploading video messages on the United Nations YouTube channel. Online users were asked to upload their video messages on how to make the world a “better, safer place”.
The final five winners were selected on 13 October by a panel of representatives from the Department of Public Information and other UN departments. The winners come from Brazil, Canada, Mexico and the United States.
They have been designated “Citizen Ambassadors”, and are visiting United Nations Headquarters in New York today. They are also meeting with the Secretary-General and will go to the UN Day concert tonight. And all five videos can be seen online.
**Secretary-General at UN Day Concert
And tonight, the Secretary-General will open the UN Day Concert “A Tribute to Peacekeeping”. In his remarks, he will salute the more than 115,000 men and women dedicated to bringing stability to the most troubled parts of our world. He will also highlight the work they do behind the scenes that help create the conditions for stability and peace. Our peacekeepers are among the best “ambassadors” we have, he will add. That concert is at 7:30 tonight, in the General Assembly Hall.
** Rwanda – Deputy Secretary-General Visit
Finally, some outstanding questions.
We were asked yesterday about the Deputy Secretary-General’s visit to Rwanda. I can confirm that the matter of the archives of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda was indeed raised during the Deputy Secretary-General’s visit. The United Nations is the legal owner of the archives. However, the United Nations is fully aware of the memorial value of the archives for Rwanda. This, as well as the issue concerning the residual cases at the Tribunal, is an issue before the Security Council, and the Council’s decision would be required.
Also, regarding the incident involving someone impersonating Colonel Sanders yesterday, we are looking into all aspects of that incident and examining how to respond. I’d like to reiterate that it is inappropriate to use the name or emblem of the United Nations for commercial purposes.
**Press Conferences Today
For press conferences today, at 1 p.m., there will be a press conference on today’s concert -- A Tribute to Peacekeeping -- which, like we said, will take place at 7:30 p.m. in the General Assembly Hall in observance of UN Day.
At 2:30 p.m. today, there will be a press conference by Raquel Rolink, UN Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living.
**The Week Ahead at the United Nations
We also have the Week Ahead document at the United Nations upstairs. Tomorrow will be the formal observance of UN Day.
Then on Sunday, the Secretary-General will start a trip to Seattle for two days, where he will engage with local leaders, the private sector, civil society and the local community to discuss the work of the United Nations to address global challenges, particularly climate change, as well as environmental and economic sustainability.
On Monday, the Security Council will hold an open debate on peace and security in Africa. There will also be a press briefing at 11:15 a.m. in Room S-226, with Carolyn Hannan from the Division for the Advancement of Women, Naila Kabeer from the Institute of Development Studies and James Heintz from the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts. And they will launch the 2009 World Survey on the Role of Women in Development.
And the guest at the noon briefing on Monday will be Janos Pasztor, Director of the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team. And he will provide an update on the climate change negotiations leading up to Copenhagen.
Then at 1:15 p.m. there will be a press conference by Martin Scheinin, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.
Also, for further down the week, on Tuesday, the guest at the noon briefing will be Walter Kälin, the Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons.
The Secretary-General will hold his monthly press conference at 10:30 a.m. on Wednesday and, of course, in line with that, there will be no noon briefing that day.
But we will have a briefing at 12:10 p.m. that day from John Holmes, who will brief on his recent trip to Yemen, the Philippines, Indonesia and Uganda.
That’s it for me. Jean Victor Nkolo, who is the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, will be up right after me. Are there any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes, please, Farhan. Can you just give us a readout on the phone call between Mr. Ban Ki-moon and the Israeli Foreign Minister, Mr. Lieberman? There were reports that Mr. Lieberman said that if the Goldstone report goes to the Security Council, this will be end of the peace process. Is this the case?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, I don’t speak for Mr. Lieberman. I can confirm that the Secretary-General spoke by telephone to Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on 22 October, which was yesterday. On the Goldstone report, the Secretary-General emphasized the importance he attaches to addressing the issues of justice and accountability ever since his visit to Gaza last January. He reiterated his call for credible domestic investigations by all parties into any allegations of serious human rights violations committed during the conflict.
That’s all I have to say on that call.
Question: I want to ask you. You’d said that the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner had said there may be a need for a further inquiry into the events in Sri Lanka. I’ve seen that Sri Lanka is sending a contingent of 198 peacekeepers to Haiti on 8 November, and I’m wondering, in light of the Office of the Human Rights finding, this United States State Department finding, looking into war crimes, and a European Union thing on [inaudible], there’s a lot of findings -- what is DPKO [the Department of Peacekeeping Operations] going to do in terms of making sure that the soldiers sent didn’t participate in what now a number of people say credibly may be war crimes? What safeguards are in place?
Associate Spokesperson: As you know, as a standard rule, DPKO relies upon the troop-contributing countries to vet all of their soldiers to make sure that their records are clean regarding any sort of involvement in violations. And we would not intentionally try to accept anyone linked to atrocities. Having said that, in order to ascribe any culpability, we would need to have some sort of investigation into this. At this stage, in terms of investigation, all I can do is reiterate what the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ Office said today.
Question: And I wanted to also ask you, you talked about this concert tonight. At least it appears to me from a letter I’ve received -- been gotten a copy of -- that the sponsor, the financial sponsor of the concert is something called the World Harmony Alliance and there is a letter from DPKO to Mr. Frank Liu, saying, “Thank you for your support. You can have a private tour of DPKO and get a briefing about all of our peacekeeping missions around the world.” I’m wondering if you think -- some see this as basically an exchange for a donation. People being given additional access to the UN and some have even alleged that some of the invitees of Mr. Liu have paid funds, and in exchange for that or in connection with that, may have a photo opportunity with the Secretary-General. Is there any plan for these invitees to take photographs with the Secretary-General, and do you know if these invitees have in fact paid?
Associate Spokesperson: Regarding that, I was told by our colleagues in DPI [the Department of Public Information] that in fact there is no sort of exchange regarding this particular contribution that was made by this group. At the 1 p.m. briefing that is happening today, the participants at that briefing are prepared to take questions on this particular topic. So I would ask you to ask the question of them for that briefing.
Question: Because it’s the Secretariat… I understand that DPKO, I guess, is the main, they’re the ones… It’s Alain Le Roy that signed this letter, but is there a provision for a Secretary-General photo op? My question of payment was actually to this World Harmony Foundation by the invitees.
Associate Spokesperson: And there is an answer that my colleagues at the 1 p.m. briefing will answer if you are around for that.
Question: Yes, I want to know with regards to the meeting today of the Secretary-General with the Israeli Minister, if they discussed the subject of the settlement.
Associate Spokesperson: I can give you the full readout of that. The Secretary-General met today with Israeli Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom. They discussed a broad range of issues of mutual interest, including Iran’s nuclear programme, Lebanon and resolution 1701 (2006), the UN’s Gaza reconstruction proposal, the Goldstone report, and the Board of Inquiry led by Ian Martin. On the humanitarian front, the Secretary-General asked for a positive response by Israel to the UN’s Gaza reconstruction proposal, and he expressed his serious concern at the adverse impact that further delay would cause. So, that’s that.
Question: Farhan, there’s one thing -- on Monday when we had asked about this nuclear deal between Iran and the international community, at that time, Marie had said that the Secretary-General was still being briefed; we do not know and then we will get back to you as to what he thinks about this nuclear deal with… So no answer was given to us then, and since then nothing else…
Associate Spokesperson: Yes, I’ve checked with my colleagues at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). They’re still waiting for a response from the various parties who received Director General [Mohamed] ElBaradei’s proposal. Depending on the response… We do expect to have a response by the Secretary-General in the form of a statement, or some other language, once those replies have been received.
Question: You’re saying that she was saying at that point in time he was not being briefed at that point? He was still…
Associate Spokesperson: No, no, he was being briefed! He has been receiving regular information, as we have, through our IAEA counterparts.
Question: The other question that I spoke about was about the settlements. The Secretary-General met today with Israeli Minister Silvan Shalom. Did he discuss the issue of settlements with him?
Associate Spokesperson: I just provided the readout…
Question: I know, I heard, but you [inaudible cross talk].
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have anything specific to say about settlements. They did discuss the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, but I don’t have anything specific to say. You know what our position is on settlements and we stand by our position.
Question: Were the issues discussed with him or with any other Israeli authorities?
Associate Spokesperson: He has discussed this repeatedly with the Israeli authorities and, as you know, this is the second conversation he’s had with senior Israeli officials in two days. Yesterday, he spoke by phone with the Foreign Minister.
Question: Did settlements come up, is that what you’re saying?
Associate Spokesperson: I don’t have it in the readout. It is one of the issues that tends to be touched on. I don’t know how strongly it was discussed or not.
Question: It’s been reported in Mogadishu that the African Union peacekeepers, I guess in retaliation for an attack on them, fired artillery into a market and killed 18 people. That’s in reputable media reports. Given the UN -- whether Mr. [Ahmedou] Ould-Abdallah or the UN in general -- can they verify that and what’s going to be done if, in fact, peacekeepers are firing at civilians in Mogadishu?
Associate Spokesperson: Well, first of all, of course it’s primarily a question for AMISOM. We don’t have any independent monitoring mechanism in Somalia given the security conditions on the ground there. There are press releases upstairs today about the most recent developments regarding Somalia, including one by the UN Political Office on Somalia. It doesn’t touch on this particular incident, however.
Question: I’m a little mystified by it, because the question that I was asking about the sponsoring a concert, and I mean, perfectly if you’re going to deny it, you can deny it, but it really is a question for the Secretariat, and even the Secretary-General. I don’t really think it’s a question for the Culture Project. I’ve asked before these people, they say…
Associate Spokesperson: No, no, no. The people who are willing to speak to you are DPI colleagues who deal specifically with this issue. And they do have the denial for you. I’ve been able to just sketch out the facts that there is no exchange in regard to this contribution, but they have more details.
Question: On the Secretary-General’s schedule today there is a photo op with these individuals from…
Associate Spokesperson: Like I said, they have more details to provide you if you attend the 1 p.m. briefing.
Question: Don’t you speak for the Secretary-General, or do they?
Associate Spokesperson: We both do. We’re all DPI employees. Like I said, they’d asked to provide the further answers on this. You know, I’ve given you the denial, but in terms of more details, if you want more details, please attend the 1 p.m. briefing and they will be there.
Question: What denial?
Associate Spokesperson: There is no exchange by the Secretary-General. There is no payment or any other form of exchange in regard to this contribution that this group is providing.
Question: Isn’t a contribution per se a payment? How much is the payment?
Associate Spokesperson: Like I said, for those details, please rely on my colleagues. I’m not trying to stall you; it’s just that they have the details which I do not have, and they’re perfectly willing to share that with you.
[The Department of Public Information later added that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations gives “state of play” briefings to interested organizations as requested. There is never any quid pro quo beyond that, either implied or otherwise. In the case of the UN Day concert, the United Nations was dealing exclusively with the Culture Project as its sole partner for this endeavor. They are a duly registered non-governmental organization, with 501 c(3) status in the United States and are regularly audited, with their accounts publicly available.]
And with that, Jean Victor.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Thanks, Farhan. Good afternoon.
I think Farhan has already mentioned two of the briefings scheduled next week with human rights experts taking part in the Third Committee of the General Assembly. Two of the briefings he mentioned are by Mr. Martin Scheinin and by Mr. Walter Kälin. I would just like to add the briefing that will be featuring Mr. Philip Alston, who is the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions. This briefing is scheduled for Tuesday, 27 October at 1:15 p.m. Mr. Alston, who is from Australia, recently concluded a visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Recent fact-finding missions which he plans to discuss have been to the United States, Kenya and Colombia. His report to the General Assembly explores the phenomenon of vigilante killings, an analysis that concerns the victims and perpetrators, the human rights and security implementations, the context and motives. These briefings are jointly organized by OHCHR-New York and the Department of Public Information.
Any questions? Thank you, if you have no questions, I wish… Yes, Matthew.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Can you just give us an update on what the thinking in the office of the President is on the Goldstone Report? How to proceed with it, what the options are and when a decision will be made.
Spokesperson: We have still not received the final and formal report from the Human Rights Council. We received a week ago the advance unedited copy. So we will be receiving very soon, I presume, the physical formal and final copy, and the President will make, will hold consultations with all concerned parties in order to schedule a debate on this question. This will take place, I think, the consultations will take place very, very soon. But we need to receive that report first and foremost.
Question: When you say… like, they mailed it? How do you get it?
Spokesperson: This report, if it has to be shared with parties -- the Member States, we first have to receive the formal and final copy. What we have received so far is an advance unedited version. We really need to have that in our hands, physically.
Thank you. Bon week-end.
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For information media • not an official record
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