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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General will be leaving New York later this afternoon. He expects to arrive in Trieste, Italy, tomorrow morning, where he will attend a meeting of the Middle East Quartet. Following the Quartet meeting, he will read out a communiqué at a press conference, as per usual practice. We will make that communiqué available to you once it’s ready.
Also in Trieste on Friday, the Secretary-General will meet with members of the League of Arab States’ follow-up committee on the Arab Peace Initiative. And he will attend a meeting of the G-8 Foreign Ministers on Afghanistan. That gathering will look at the situation in Afghanistan from a regional perspective. It will touch on themes such as cooperation in border management and countering illicit drug trafficking.
The Secretary-General will return to New York this weekend.
The UN fact-finding mission on the recent Gaza conflict, mandated by the Human Rights Council and led by Justice Richard Goldstone, will hold public hearings this Sunday and Monday in Gaza City.
The hearings are a part of the mission’s information-gathering work. Victims from all sides in the conflict, as well as witnesses and experts, will be able to speak directly to the international community.
The interviews will take place at the Gaza Headquarters of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). Further hearings will be held on July 6th and 7th in Geneva. We have more information on media arrangements in my office.
The Security Council is holding consultations today on Liberia, including the work of the sanctions committee for that country.
Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy briefed Council members on his recent visit to West Africa, including stops in Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.
Mr. Le Roy will speak to you at the Council stakeout once he is done with the consultations.
Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, expressed the United Nations’ outrage and condemnation at the horrifying bombing yesterday in Sadr City, part of a recent string of bombings and shootings throughout Iraq.
“We have long been aware that certain groups whose aim is to kill innocent civilians would try to take advantage of an impending change in security arrangements in Iraq,” de Mistura said. He appealed to all the country’s communities not to fall into the killers’ trap and to avoid responding to this provocation with sectarian hatred and violence. We have his full statement upstairs.
UN agencies in Pakistan are pushing to get access to all the displaced people in the north-west who need assistance. “Humanitarian agencies are working hard to assist all of those who are in need, but we have a long way to go,” said the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, Martin Mogwanja. He warned that the most vulnerable -‑‑ including women, children, the disabled and elderly ‑‑ are often the hardest to reach of all, and we have to redouble our efforts where these groups are concerned.
Agencies are trying to improve access to goods, services and information for the disabled, the injured, the sick, women and the elderly without family support and minority groups.
The funding situation remains critical, with only 36 per cent of the $533 million Humanitarian Response Plan funded. We have a press release with more details and a call by UN Messenger of Peace Princess Haya for more donations. We have that upstairs.
The Office of the Prosecutor of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon announced today that it has created an activated and secure web page that is now available for public use. The web page is available in the three official languages of the Tribunal: Arabic; English; and French.
This web page was designed specifically for individuals who have valuable information for the investigation but have no secure and confidential means to contact the Investigation Division of the Office of the Prosecutor. We have further details in a press release upstairs.
The African Union Panel on Darfur has concluded its third mission to Darfur, says the UN-AU Mission there (UNAMID).
The Mission says that the Panel, chaired by former South African President Thabo Mbeki, conducted 10 days of public hearings on the conflict in order to determine ways to speed up the peace process and create conditions for justice and reconciliation.
The Mission says the Panel met with representatives of political parties, civil society, rebel movements, ethnic communities and groups of internally displaced persons in both Khartoum and half a dozen towns across Darfur.
Meanwhile, the UN-African Union chief mediator for Darfur, Djibril Bassolé, was in El Fasher for consultations with Henry Anyidoho, the Deputy Joint Special Representative of the UN-AU Mission in Darfur, and other senior officials. Bassolé briefed the Mission leadership on the Darfur peace process and the outcome of the Doha talks between the Government of Sudan and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). Bassolé also met with local officials, both native Darfuris and Arab, to hear their views and consider options going forward.
According to the Mission, the security situation is calm today across Darfur.
Another 26,000 people have been displaced from the Somali capital Mogadishu in the past five days, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR). The latest wave of displacement was caused by mounting insecurity amid fierce fighting between Government forces and Islamist insurgents. UNHCR says that there are now 160,000 civilians displaced by the fighting since early May.
UNHCR also says that the worsening security situation is making it more difficult for aid agencies to reach and help those in need of urgent assistance.
High food insecurity persists in Zimbabwe despite an improved agricultural production and a more liberal import policy this year. That’s according to a report issued today by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).
According to the report, this year’s improved harvest comes after two consecutive years of poor production, and many rural households are still struggling to survive. The report estimates that about 2.8 million people in Zimbabwe will face food shortages in the coming months and will require some 228,000 tons of food assistance.
There is more on this upstairs.
Twenty UN agencies are calling for a worldwide transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient green economy that could deliver economic, social and environmental opportunities.
The agencies issued a statement at the General Assembly’s Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and its Impact on Development. It notes that the current financial and economic crisis requires a collective response from the global community which would lay a solid foundation for shared growth and sustainable development.
Presenting the statement, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Achim Steiner, said it reflected the determination of the agencies to be agents of change towards a sustainable twenty-first century. He added that the statement was also a strong signal from the international system, backing the Secretary-General in his repeated calls to seal the deal in Copenhagen.
**United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition
The United Nations Standing Committee on Nutrition (UNSCN), a forum for nutrition-related issues, warns that the global financial crisis will aggravate hunger and malnutrition among the most vulnerable. In the margins of the G-8 summit being held this week, they are encouraging Governments to invest in programmes that increase the productivity of smallholders, strengthen the livelihoods of the poorest households, and supply local markets with affordable and safe foods for a healthy diet.
There is more on this upstairs.
For those of you who want to go, Mr. Le Roy is at the stakeout right now. And feel free to go there if you want to hear about Côte d’Ivoire.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Committee reports that it has removed the walled city of Baku in Azerbaijan from its List of World Heritage in Danger. The site had sustained damage during an earthquake in 2000, and UNESCO has welcomed the Azerbaijani authorities’ success in preserving it.
Meanwhile, the Committee decided today to remove Germany’s Dresden Elbe Valley from the World Heritage List due to the building of a four-lane bridge in the middle of the landscape, which means that the property has failed to keep its “outstanding universal value as inscribed”.
There is a press release on that upstairs.
And this is all I have for you today. Yes, George.
**Questions and Answers
Question: With reference to Justice Goldstone’s hearings being held in Gaza, now I realize that the Israelis went out of the way not to cooperate with the investigation, but why is he claiming that he is looking for testimony from all sides? Does he expect the Israelis to come into Gaza or to get on an airplane to fly to Geneva? Isn’t he making it impossible for them to present any of their testimony?
Spokesperson: From what I gather, there will be Israeli testimony in Geneva on the 6th and the 7th.
Question: Michèle, I was wondering if the Secretary-General has a reaction to the statement issued by the Iranian Mission here saying that his statement on Iran was a source of interference in their internal affairs, that it was hasty and [harmed his] credibility before the eyes of the nation.
Spokesperson: We have nothing to add to the statement that the Secretary-General had on Iran and we’re standing by that statement.
Question: But what’s his reaction to the statement by the Iranians?
Spokesperson: He has none.
Question: He has nothing … that this is an interference in their internal…
Spokesperson: He stands by what he said. What he said is about the violence, and of course the [Iranian] Mission is free to express their own feelings about the statement.
Question: So, until now Mr. Ban Ki-moon does not consider President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad to be the legitimate president of Iran?
Spokesperson: That’s not what he said in his statement. Read his statement and you will see what he said.
Question: No, but that’s the question…that’s a new question. Does he recognize…
Spokesperson: Well, he did not talk about the elections per se in the last statement he made. The statement you’re referring to, that created the protest. What he said was essentially about freedom of assembly, about the violence against the protesters. This is what he talked about.
Question: He mentioned in his statement three days ago, that he wants the full respect of the Iranian people’s will … which means scepticism about the outcome of the elections. Doesn’t it?
Spokesperson: No, it does not. He feels that it is a matter for people in Iran to determine. What he said, and it is his duty as Secretary-General, is to talk about the civilian population and their aspiration for freedom of assembly. He talked about the crackdown on protestors; he talked about the violence against the civilian population. He talked about the fact the media had been forbidden from saying a number of things.
Question: What is his opinion, regarding the propaganda which has bombarded against Iran, coming from different parts of the world?
Spokesperson: He is not giving his opinion on this. What he had his opinion on was expressed … it was about civilian freedom, liberties and the violence against some civilians.
Question: Another question, anything regarding the Israeli incursion in South Lebanon today, especially in the Sheba’a Farms area and Kfar Shouba hills. Some advancement literally there…
Spokesperson: I don’t have any information. I’ll try to get some for you from the Mission … on the ground. [The reporter was later informed that the UN Interim Force in Lebanon’s mandate and the authority given to it by the Security Council are strictly limited to its area of operations, which is defined as the area between the Litani River and the Line of Withdrawal. The place where the Israel Defense Forces activities took place is located south of the Line of Withdrawal and outside of UNIFIL’s area of operations. Nevertheless, after the Lebanese Armed Forces raised this issue with UNIFIL, it immediately contacted the parties in order to prevent any escalation of the situation. The parties responded with utmost restraint and took steps in accordance with their obligation to ensure full respect for the Line of Withdrawal as identified by the United Nations in 2000. In this regard, UNIFIL would like to reiterate that the issue of the Sheba’a Farms area is not within UNIFIL’s mandate. The issue is currently being addressed through diplomatic and political channels with the active involvement of the United Nations.]
Question: Just to follow up, does this mean whenever we have a disputed election in any country, we shall expect a statement from the Secretary-General … I mean the Secretary-General…
Spokesperson: It has nothing to do with…
Question: The Secretary-General recently issued a statement praising the former president of Gabon, who has been in power for 42 years and left the power for his son, and described him as symbol for development and democracy…
Spokesperson: This has nothing to do with the election itself. It has to do with the violence that occurred around the elections. And this is what the Secretary-General said.
Spokesperson: You are using the word interfere. The Secretary-General does not feel he has interfered by talking about the violence against civilians.
Question: In the statement, then.
Spokesperson: He has made statements over and over about violence against civilians all over the world. He has done that.
Question: For this meeting of the Quartet that he is going to ‑‑ there are about 12,000 Palestinians who are still languishing in Israeli prisons. Will that issue also come up?
Spokesperson: Your question is whether they will be discussing the issue of prisoners? I don’t know what their agenda is at this point. Of course, we’ll let you know as soon as the Quartet takes place.
Question: The fact is that this issue will be raised … but is this issue going to be discussed?
Spokesperson: Of course, I will let you know if it is being raised and what is being said, as soon as I get the information from Trieste, once they have met.
Question: Michèle, it has been reported that the Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa has said that the Arab countries will no longer push for the Arab peace plan for the Middle East so long as the building of settlements in the West Bank continues. Is the Secretary-General concerned about this?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General, as I said, is going to meet with the Arab Group that has launched the initiative, and I’ll let you know what was said.
Question: Two questions. Myanmar and OIOS [Office for Internal Oversight Services]. Unless there is something on Sri Lanka and the doctors and the staff … is there any update on United Nations staff?
Spokesperson: No. I still don’t have anything.
Question: On Myanmar, the Government has said that Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari is in the air and will be there. Can you confirm that? And what is the process, if he is going there … to brief the Secretary-General? Is it determined that the Secretary-General will go…?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is going to meet with Mr. Gambari, as soon as Mr. Gambari comes to New York, and this is before the Secretary-General takes off for Japan next Monday. So he will be reporting this weekend to the Secretary-General.
Question: He was on Charlie Rose last night. Is that correct?
Question: Among other things, I heard him to say in Myanmar, he saved 500,000 people. What’s the basis for that number?
Spokesperson: The basis is the number of people that were in need at the time when he obtained the access for humanitarian workers into Myanmar.
Question: Mr. [Robert] Appleton, who used to be the head of the procurement task force, has confirmed that the hard drive of his computer was missing when he left the UN and this matter was referred to the European Anti-Fraud Agency (OLAF) for investigation. How common is it to have an outside investigation of the UN, such as by OLAF? And is the investigation finished, and what is the status of naming, or not naming, Mr. Appleton to the head of the investigation unit of OIOS?
Spokesperson: He is a candidate like other candidates. I don’t think we have a result yet on who is to be chosen. In terms of the hard drive, yes, I’m aware of that information. I don’t think there are results yet. In terms of calling on outside groups to investigate, this is not the first time this has happened. The UN has called upon other investigative bodies in cases like this.
Question: The OLAF report ‑‑ will it be public, or is it binding on the UN?
Spokesperson: I cannot say at this point. I don’t know what the report will be. It will be certainly addressed to OIOS.
Question: The reason it was referred out … there was viewed to be some sort of conflict … some structural conflict in OIOS investigating the loss of its own material.
Spokesperson: The report is going to come back to OIOS. I cannot tell you at this point whether it will be made public or not. I am not the one making it public. It’s going to depend on, first, what is found, who is going to be informed first on this. And eventually, of course, the information will be available. But I cannot say at this point when.
Question: What’s the process with Mr. Supachai [Panitchpakdi] of UNCTAD? When you say it’s being referred to the General Assembly, is there some sort of a formal…?
Spokesperson: It’s always the way that it’s done. The Secretary-General has the mandate to actually … give his choice to the General Assembly, which has to approve the choice.
Question: This conversation with Ms. [Shirin] Ebadi, the Iranian Nobel Prize Laureate. I read his statement. Did she indicate to the Secretary-General that there were a lot of human rights violations that took place in the aftermath of the elections?
Spokesperson: We have a readout of that meeting upstairs. You got that.
Question: Did she talk about human rights violations?
Spokesperson: Whenever we have a phone call between the Secretary-General and someone else, we are not at liberty to say what they said. However, she had a press conference in Geneva. And I’m sure you can have some information on that.
Question: We haven’t heard much about the Western Sahara in recent weeks. What is the person doing that at this stage?
Spokesperson: Well, we haven’t had any information on that recently, but we can try to find out for you if anything has moved forward on that front.
Question: Reports say that Christopher Ross met with the Algerian President.
Spokesperson: Yes, but I cannot comment on that.
Question: So there is no outcome?
Spokesperson: As far as I know, no. Thank you so much. Yes.
Question: In Balochistan, the politician leaders have been calling time and again that the Secretary-General and the UN intervene in the situation in Balochistan. Is there any response from the UN?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of.
Question: [inaudible]paying ransom.
Spokesperson: No, I cannot comment on that. Because I don’t have that information and that’s not what I have. Thank you.
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For information media • not an official record