Wednesday, February 6, 2008

S.G Meets the Press at the UN

Speaking to the Press outside the Security Council on 5 February 2008 Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke of the crises in Kenya (post-election violence); Chad (Sudan-supported rebel forces threaten the French-supported government); Darfur (slow progress on deploying a hybrid UN-African Union force); and the appointment of an Algerian diplomat as chair of the panel reviewing arrangements for UN staff security (an artful dodge to get around Algerian objections to an independent inquiry into the bombing of the UN office in Algiers that killed 17 staffers in January). Other issues were raised during questioning.

The unofficial transcript:

SG: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. As you know, I have just briefed the Security Council on the serious developments in Africa. Over the past month, I have been deeply engaged in the evolving situation in Kenya. As I warned at the African Union summit last week, ethnic clashes threaten to escalate out of control. During my visit, I told Kenya’s leaders, President Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga, that they bear a particular political responsibility for the future of Kenya. I stressed to all the Kenyan leaders the need to stop the unacceptable violence and killings and to resolve their differences through dialogue and the democratic process. I also appealed to all the political leaders to think beyond their individual interests or party lines, and to look to the future of Kenya as one country. I reiterate my support to the mediation efforts of the Panel of Eminent African Personalities led by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan. When I met him in Nairobi, we discussed in depth his roadmap for the talks.

The parties are now talking and discussing practical measures to stop the spiral of violence, to address the humanitarian crisis, and to restore fundamental human rights and liberties. I have assigned several members of my staff to provide necessary assistance to Mr. Annan’s team, and we have established a UNDP trust fund to support this. With our partners, we have been able to meet the initial basic needs of displaced populations, totaling around 310,000 IDPs spread over 192 sites in the western and central provinces, and I am going to dispatch Mr. John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to look after these issues. Needless to say, much more needs to be done. I urge donors to provide additional funding to address this grave emergency.

Turning to the situation in Chad, I am alarmed by the deteriorating security situation in the capital, N’Djamena, and elsewhere. We can no longer guarantee the safety and security of UN staff in Chad and we have evacuated, with the help of the French Government, most of the personnel into neighbouring countries, in Cameroon and Gabon. However, a small number of personnel from MINURCAT in N’Djamena, and some other UN agencies, some essential members, are still remaining. We will take necessary measures in close cooperation with the French Government when it is necessary. The United Nations will do its utmost to help resolve the crisis. I welcome the initiative of the African Union to have designated leaders of Libya and the Republic of Congo to mediate this issue. I urged the Council to act swiftly to help bring this terrible crisis to an end. It has devastating consequences not only for the people of Chad and Darfurian refugees seeking shelter there, but also for Darfur itself.

The situation in Darfur is no less troubling. Insecurity continues to severely restrict humanitarian access to civilians in need of assistance. UNAMID troop contributors must speed up their preparations. We need our forces in the theatre of operations as soon as possible. UNAMID still lacks required aviation and ground transportation—chiefly helicopters. Additional troops will not make up for this shortfall. Countries that called for intervention in Darfur are under a special obligation to deliver on their promises. On the margins of the AU Summit, I discussed the major outstanding UNAMID issues with President [Omar al-]Bashir of Sudan. I am pleased to report that we are making good progress on the Status of Forces Agreement. The Government has indicated that we can expect the signing to take place this week. However, the deployment of UNAMID will only be as effective as the political process it is mandated to support. My special envoys will therefore continue their efforts to bring the government of Sudan and the movements to the negotiating table.

Before concluding, let me say a few words about the security and safety of United Nations staff and premises. Recent events in Kenya, Chad, Darfur and Algeria serve only to underscore this matter’s urgency. I am therefore setting up, as I already announced in Geneva two weeks ago, an Independent Panel on Safety and Security of UN Personnel and Premises. The panel will be chaired by Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi, who possesses vast experience and knowledge of UN operations. I will also be engaging with Member States in the coming weeks and months to strengthen the security and safety support they are providing to UN staff posted in their countries. Thank you very much.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, two questions. You said that you urged the Security Council to do more in Chad. Yesterday, the Council adopted a Presidential Statement giving a green light for other countries to support Chad, the Chadian Government. What more did you ask them to do? And in terms of Sudan and Darfur, have you gotten any pledges of helicopters at all, and what more are you doing to try and resolve that issue?

SG: On Chad, it will be up to Member States to provide the necessary assistance, whatever may be possible and available, in accordance with the PRST [Presidential Statement] adopted yesterday. On the helicopters and other critical assets, we have received some offers from at least two countries. I will continue to urge the Member States to provide such critical assets.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, also on Sudan, does your prediction that there will be a signing of a Status of Forces Agreement mean that you have reached agreement with the Sudanese over the composition of that force, or is the Sudanese government still objecting to some countries participating in that force?

SG: The Status of Forces Agreement is a bit different from a Composition of Forces. Without the legal framework under this Status of Forces Agreement – SOFA - it would be very difficult for the peacekeepers to operate properly. We have agreed to the contents of this Status of Forces Agreement during my meeting with President Bashir, and we will be able to sign during this week. On the composition of forces, again, that was one of the major subjects which I discussed with him, particularly in deploying non-African soldiers. Our understanding is that even though it may have to still be worked out at technical levels, we will first try to deploy African peacekeepers who are readily available, for example, Egyptians or Ethiopians. Then, as this deployment is taking place, we will try to deploy Thailand and Nepalese soldiers.

Q: Mr. Secretary-General, two things on that, just to follow up. You will try to deploy the Thailand and Nepalese soldiers, which means, I am assuming that the Sudanese Government, President Bashir, has not agreed yet to that and you will have to continue discussions on that. And secondly, may we assume from what you said about the SOFA agreement that the UN has gotten Sudan’s agreement to all things that were the sticking points – night flights, landing agreements, possible communications blackout during Sudanese affairs, or advance notice of UN movements – all those things that were sticking points. Have those things been settled in the UN’s favour, or at least in terms of what they need, or feel they need, to conduct the mission appropriately?

SG: For detailed matters, I would like to say that my meeting with President Bashir went reasonably well. I was encouraged by a very constructive meeting with President Bashir. On the composition of forces, as I said, we will first try to have African soldiers deployed. Considering the agreement, and that the nature of this UNAMID is a hybrid – the African Union and the United Nations – then there will have to be some composition of African and non-African. We have already Bangladesh and Chinese engineering units already on the ground. We will work out, in very close consultation with the Sudanese Government, on the Status of Forces Agreement and all other administrative issues, we will continue to consult. However, President Bashir told me that he is forward-looking in addressing all these issues. Therefore, we will have to continue to iron out all these remaining issues.

Q: The situation in Gaza is getting very dire, and the population is under collective punishment. Also, we hear more and more threats that fuel has been stopped there. It has been a year almost that Gaza is under siege. What is your plan, or what initiatives would you follow in order to alleviate the situation there?

SG: On this issue, I share your concern. You have seen how much I have been working hard to address this issue. I have met with President Shimon Peres in the Davos Forum, and I have spoken to Prime Minister [Ehud] Olmert on this issue. And the Quartet members had a telephone conference a few days ago to address all these issues. We are still working on that. My message is quite clear that, while I appreciate and understand the security concerns of the Israelis, therefore the rocket firing should be stopped, and at the same time, the Israeli Government should also take the necessary measures to ease these humanitarian difficulties brought by these crossings and crossing this [inaudible] - they should not take this as collective punishment.

Q: There are reports that you intend to appoint Lakhdar Brahimi to head the Algiers commission. Could you confirm that…?

SG: I have announced this.

Q: You just did…Is it okay that a man who is both Algerian and a former UN [official], is he well positioned to be independent? And also, on the Gaza situation, the Israeli Supreme Court just declared Gaza under the control of, not Israel actually, it’s a hostile entity. My question is, can Gaza be still defined as an occupied territory, as it is all across the United Nations?

SG: About Mr. Lakhdar Brahimi taking this very important role as Chair of the Independent Panel, I am sure that everybody will agree on his integrity; even though he is an Algerian, he is more known as a cosmopolitan leader. He has been working on many important agendas in world affairs during the last 10-15 years. Therefore we full confidence and trust. And I have discussed with some key members on his nomination, and I have not received any such concern about his integrity as chair of this independent Panel. I am quite sure that he will lead this independent panel with fairness and objectivity, to bring a very important recommendation for the safety and security of the UN staff.

On this Gaza situation, I again would like to urge the parties concerned first of all to refrain [to] the maximum [extent] from these violent actions, and the Israeli Government should also take necessary measures to look at these humanitarian situations.

Q: That doesn’t answer my question: Is it occupied territory?

SG: I am not in a position to say on these legal matters.

Q: I wanted to ask you if you are satisfied with the percentage of your senior officials who have followed your advice and filed voluntary public financial disclosure. It seems that almost half have not, and some have said that they choose to maintain confidentiality. And also more timely, on this event that is taking place tomorrow night on the North Lawn of the UN. Questions have arisen about whether Gucci has put out [a release] saying that it celebrates the opening of a store on Fifth Avenue, and there’s questions about one of the non-profits that would benefit from it. What are the standards that the UN applies before entering into that kind of an arrangement with a commercial entity?

SG: One of my priorities is to ensure the accountability and transparency of our staff. This is a commitment which we are showing to the Member States. As a part of that commitment, we are now disclosing the financial assets, and yesterday, all the senior managers have signed an individual compact with me. This is a very good commitment we are showing to the Member States. As for the exact numbers of advisors who have disclosed their financial declarations, I hope that remaining people will also follow suit. The registration will begin from March 1st for the year, starting this year, therefore I am expecting that more will follow soon.

On this event which will take place tomorrow, I understand that the proceeds will be used for a proper purpose as agreed between UNICEF and the organizers.

Q: But what about a company saying that a UN event is in celebration of the opening of a store? Who here polices, in there, there’s a logo of UNICEF and Gucci intermingled; who is in charge of policing the integrity of the UN, its logo and its “brand”, so to speak?

SG: You know what kind of humanitarian efforts UNICEF has been carrying out during the last several decades. I understand that the main purpose of this event will raise funds for a humanitarian purpose, and I am sure that the proceeds will go to the purpose of this event.

Q: On Lakhdar Brahimi, was that the only way to get the cooperation of the Algerian Government on that matter?

SG: I have very closely consulted with the Algerian Government. We have thought that Mr. Brahimi would be a very appropriate person to lead this independent panel. This independent panel will be composed of several experts coming from all different countries; therefore, as far as integrity, fairness and objectivity and neutrality of this independent panel, you should have not have any doubt about that.

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