22 November 2006
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICEs OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


And the spokeswoman for the General Assembly president

 


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, the Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.


Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General


**Noon Guest


Good afternoon and apologies for the delay.  Noleen Heyzer, the Executive Director of the UN Development Fund for Women, known as UNIFEM, will be our guest today.  And, she’ll be joining us shortly to announce the grantees of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.


**Secretary-General


And, as we had told you yesterday, the Secretary-General is now back here in New York.  We expect him back in this building at 3:00 this afternoon, at which point he will go to the Security Council and brief them in closed consultations, to report back on his meetings on Sudan and Darfur that he had in Addis Ababa last week.  And we do expect him to stop at the stakeout, probably on the way out of the Security Council meeting.


** Nepal


I also have a statement on his behalf on Nepal.


The Secretary-General congratulates the Government of Nepal and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) on the signing, yesterday, of a comprehensive peace agreement.  Through ending the armed conflict, the people of Nepal now have the opportunity to build lasting peace in an inclusive democracy.  This agreement places great trust and responsibility on the United Nations, as it asks that we assist Nepal in various aspects of the peace process, including as an immediate step, the monitoring of arms and armed personnel and providing electoral assistance.  Through his Personal Representative in Nepal, the Secretary-General is working closely with the parties to ensure that UN assistance can arrive as promptly as possible.


And, that statement is now available upstairs.


** Lebanon Condolences


Today in Beirut, the Secretary-General's Personal Representative for Lebanon, Geir Pedersen, met with and paid condolences to the former President, Amine Gemayel, and other family members of the slain Minister of Industry, Pierre Gemayel.  Mr. Pedersen also met with the Prime Minister, Fouad Siniora, and leaders from a range of political parties.  His messages to all of them have been clear:  this is not the time for confrontation; it is the time to look for solutions to the very difficult situation the country is now facing.  Moreover, we must not allow the perpetrators of this crime to achieve their goal of creating disunity and civil strife in Lebanon.  And, we do have copies of that upstairs as well.


** Lebanon Investigation


Rather late yesterday, the Secretary-General sent a letter to the President of the Security Council informing him that he had received a request from the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Fouad Siniora, to have the so-called Brammertz Commission give technical assistance to the Lebanese authorities, as they investigate the assassination of Pierre Gemayel.  Since Mr. Brammertz and his team report to the Security Council, the Secretary-General is transmitting this request to the Council for appropriate action.


And on a related note, yesterday the Council President informed the Secretary-General, by letter, that the members of the Council are now satisfied with the agreement negotiated with Lebanon, in regards to the creation of a Special Tribunal.  The President asks the Secretary-General to proceed, together with the Government of Lebanon, in conformity with its constitution, to the final steps to conclude an agreement on this Tribunal.


**Security Council on Lebanon


Also on Lebanon, yesterday afternoon, the Council adopted a presidential statement in which it unequivocally condemned the assassination of Pierre Gemayel.  Through the statement, the members of the Security Council also expressed their grave concern at the possible impact of the assassination on the Government of Lebanon’s ongoing efforts to solidify democracy and extend its own authority throughout its country.


**Security Council on Afghanistan


Also, this morning the Security Council held a meeting on the recent Council mission to Afghanistan, with Japanese Amabassador Kenzo Oshima briefing.  Oshima cited worrying developments in Afghanistan, including a rise in the Taliban-led insurgency, an upsurge in illegal drug production and trafficking, and the weakness and fragility of State and provincial institutions.  He added that it was abundantly clear that Afghanistan needed additional and sustained support from the international community.  And, we have his statement upstairs.


**Security Council on Sudan


And, after that, in the Council this morning, Jan Egeland, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, briefed the Council on his recent trip to Uganda and Sudan.  Speaking about the security situation in Darfur, Egeland warned against an escalation towards a regional conflict, as large-scale killings and displacement of civilians are fuelled by cross-border raids by groups, who received arms and safe havens on both sides of the Chad-Sudan border.  “Let us be clear,” Egeland told the Council, “these acts are crimes of the most despicable kind and they are an affront to humanity.”


The rapidly deteriorating security situation has already taken a severe toll on the delivery capacity of the humanitarian community, which increasingly faces bureaucratic hurdles imposed by the Sudanese Government.  “If this trend continues and the world’s largest humanitarian operation falters,” Egeland warned, “the lifeline of millions of civilians could collapse and the situation in Darfur would spin out of control.”  We have copies of his statement upstairs, which also touched upon his meetings with Joseph Kony.  And, we also have reports upstairs from our Mission in Sudan, which reports a number of other new security incidents in Darfur.


** Iraq


In its bi-monthly human rights report, the UN Mission in Iraq expressed concern that “violence reached alarming levels in many parts of the country, particularly affecting the right to life and personal integrity”.  The Mission reports that 7,054 civilians were violently killed, with no less than 4,984 in Baghdad alone, in September and October, most of them as a result of gunshot wounds.  And, that compares to the number of civilians who were killed in July and August, as previously reported by the UN, which stood at 6,599.  Terrorist acts and sectarian strife, including revenge killings, fuelled by insurgents, militia and criminal activity, are the main source of violence in the country.


And, according to the report, the deteriorating situation, coupled with increasing poverty, has generated unparalleled movements of internally displaced persons in search of safety within and outside of Iraq.  In addition, the United Nations Mission says that the total number of detainees, detained both by the Government and by the international force, stood at just over 29,000, noting that is a decrease from 35,000 at the end of August.  And that report, as I said, is available to you upstairs.


**Human Rights


Also from the Middle East, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, is continuing her five-day visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Today, she held talks in Jerusalem with the current and former Presidents of the Israeli Supreme Court, as well as Israel’s Deputy Defense Minister.  She also met with a wide range of Israeli human rights defenders.  Arbour will wrap up her visit tomorrow, following meetings in Tel Aviv with officials from Israel’s Internal Security Agency and the acting Justice Minister, as well as Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.


** Cyprus


And, from Cyprus, a ceremony was held today in the UN Protected Area in Nicosia, Cyprus, to mark the occasion of the city becoming officially free of landmines.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Cyprus, Michael Moller, helped trigger the detonation of the last mines.  Since November 2004, efforts by the UN Development Programme have led to the destruction of nearly 3,000 mines.  And, we have a press release on that upstairs.


** Uganda


Just a couple more notes for you here.  Radhika Coomaraswamy, UN Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, expressed her deep concern at the fate of children still held in the ranks of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in northern Uganda.  She reiterates the call of the international community on the leadership of the LRA to immediately release children, women and non-combatants, in compliance with previous commitments.


**Newborns in Africa


And, last but not least, according to a new report by the World Health Organization, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners, sub-Saharan Africa remains the most dangerous region in the world for babies to be born, with more than a million babies dying, each year, in their first 28 days of life.  But six low-income African countries, namely Burkina Faso, Eritrea, Madagascar, Malawi, Uganda and Tanzania, have made significant progress in reducing deaths among newborns.


** Holiday


Lastly, a reminder that tomorrow is Thanksgiving.  We will be closed, the UN building here will be closed and there will obviously be no briefing, and the building will reopen on Friday.  But unless there is major breaking news, we will not have a noon briefing on Friday, but we will post any major announcements on our websites as usual, and the Office will be staffed.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  With regard to the civilian deaths in Iraq, the numbers, by my rough calculation, add up to about 100 civilians dying per day, and I remember that was also the number dying in Darfur.  According to UN statistics, are there as many civilians dying in Iraq as in Darfur?


Spokesman:  The numbers in Sudan are a lot more difficult for us to get a hold of than Iraq.  I don’t want to start comparing situations.  I think both of them are critical in their own right, but I don’t have the numbers to do a comparison.


Question:  Kofi Annan made this proposal in Geneva, I’m not sure where, with regards to a new push to expand the Security Council to include six new seats.  Can you say a little more about what he’s proposing and how this will be taken ahead?


Spokesman:  Obviously, you can refer back to the full text of his remarks yesterday.  This is something the Secretary-General has spoken about the last few months, notably on the sidelines of the General Assembly meeting, when he attended an event hosted by the leaders of Pakistan and Italy.  The Secretary-General is concerned that there’s been no movement on Security Council reform and he very much hopes he will find some consensus, among Member States, to move on this rapidly.  His suggestion, as he elaborated, is that they try, as he laid out, instead of trying to keep searching for the perfect solution.  He has repeatedly put forward different options on Security Council reform.  It is clearly in the hands of Member States to make the move and to move forward on those options.  He has laid out his thoughts.  It is up to the Member States to move forward on these.


Question:  Last week, organizations put out a report, which the United States disputed, that over 650,000 Iraqis had died since the conflict began.  Has the United Nations done any research on its own?  Does the United Nations agree with those numbers?


Spokesman:  We’ve just put out this report.  The numbers speak for themselves.  As is our mandate, we report on the human rights situation in Iraq.  We rely mostly on numbers given us by the Iraqi Ministry of Health and by the morgues in Baghdad.  Our numbers are what they are.  Others may come up with different statistics, but those are the numbers we have, and we stand by them.


Question:  I’m talking overall.  Has the UN done an exercise to count up overall?


Spokesman:  You can add up what we’ve reported since we began these mandates.  That’s all I have.  Obviously others can have different statistics.


Question:  The Secretary-General has a plan A and a plan B for the Council reform.  Does he have a preference for one or the other?


Spokesman:  I would refer back to the statement that he made in the press conference yesterday, which was fairly detailed.  His general point is, if you’re going to wait for the perfect solution, you may never get it, and he very much hopes Member States move forward on Security Council reform.


Question:  You mentioned the aid that Mr. Brammertz and his Commission were asked to give the Lebanese authorities.  As I understand it, and please correct me if I’m wrong, his regular assignment is the investigation of the Hariri assassination of a year and a half ago.


Spokesman:  That’s correct.


Question:  Is this latest assassination expected to be part of his assignment?


Spokesman:  That is exactly the question raised by the Secretary-General in his letter to the Security Council, which says he’s received a request from Prime Minister Siniora for the UN to give technical assistance to Lebanese authorities.  This would obviously be a very important addition to the work of the Commission and since the Commission reports to the Council, we would like to seek some guidance from the Council itself.


Question:  Does Mr. Siniora want the Commission to investigate?


Spokesman:  The letter that we have from the Prime Minister, as far as I understand it, refers to the assassination of Pierre Gemayel.  The mandate of Mr. Brammertz, as reviewed recently, does allow us to give technical assistance to the Lebanese authorities for terrorist acts that have occurred since 2004.  I’d have to check exactly the wording of the resolution.  But, it is up to the Lebanese authorities to seek our technical assistance on these other cases.  The main focus of Mr. Brammertz is the assassination of Rafik Hariri and others.


Question:  It’s been reported in the Somali Monitoring Group report; the countries that are objecting will be given a chance to question the monitors?


Spokesman:  I’m not aware of that.  I would urge you to question the chairman of that commission, the Security Council Sanctions Committee on Somalia.  They would be best to answer that.


Question:  What is the reaction to the Secretary-General getting these objections or demarches from countries named in the report, like Egypt, Iran and Syria?  Did Uganda not write to the Secretary-General?


Spokesman:  I believe with Uganda there was a meeting, not just a letter.


Question:  On the UN expert’s report that was mentioned in the New York Times yesterday, about an investigation into Israel’s actions during the war on Lebanon against Hizbollah.


Spokesman:  You’re referring to a report that was mandated by members of the Human Rights Council, and it is a report that went to them in Geneva.


Question:  Yes.  The report in the Times says the Israeli authorities said they would investigate.  Is there any follow-up to that?


Spokesman:  That’s obviously a matter for the Human Rights Council.  The report is to them.  Whether or not they want to take further action, that would be up to them.


Question:  The Secretary-General-designate and the Secretary-General are meeting at six.  Will there be a readout?


Spokesman:  No, I don’t expect any readout.  I’m sure this will be the first of many meetings they will have.  If you’ll recall, the Secretary-General was away when Mr. Ban Ki-moon first arrived in New York, so this is part of the transition.  This is what the transition is all about.


Question:  Maybe I missed it, but is the Secretary-General going to have another press conference here in New York before he leaves?


Spokesman:  Yes, to both questions.  Yes, you missed it, not the press conference but the announcement, and it will be on 19 December, in the morning.


Question:  On the event of Thanksgiving, does the Secretary-General have a position or exhortation as to the draft declaration on the rights of the indigenous that’s pending in the General Assembly’s Third Committee and the meetings leading up to it?  Does he believe that should be enacted?


Spokesman:  I don’t have any comments specifically on that draft, which I haven’t seen, but the Secretary-General has always been extremely supportive of the rights of the indigenous people and the work they’ve done here, through the Permanent Forum of the Indigenous People.


Question:  Are there any activities planned on Friday, in terms of Committee meetings?


Spokesman:  Committee meetings, Gail will be able to tell you.  Hopefully, a light programme, if there is one.


Question:  The costings on Somalia.  Also, we were promised a briefing.


Spokesman:  I have some documents for you that I just got this morning, some budget documents on the Monitoring Group that I can share with you.  I did not promise a briefing.  I did promise to ask.  That I did.  It doesn’t look like the members of this Monitoring Group will brief, and that is an issue you need to take up with the Somalia Sanctions Committee.  It is not my decision.  We asked.  The Santions Committee, I know, will transmit the full report to the Security Council.  It’ll be out as a document, and that’s where things stand.


Question:  How do we contact them?


Spokesman:  The membership of the Sanctions Committee is a public document.  They’re all members of the Security Council.  You can see who the President is and who the members are, and you can take it up with them.  And, with that, I’ll ask Noleen Heyzer to join me, and then we’ll have Gail brief on the Assembly.


Briefing by the General Assembly President’s Spokeswoman


Good afternoon, everyone.  There is a lot to report on the activities of the General Assembly’s Main Committees, so I hope that most of you will stay.


The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) will today introduce the report of the Economic and Social Council when it meets this afternoon and will take action on a number of draft resolutions, including two on sustainable development.


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural), on Tuesday, did not complete its work.  However, it hopes to do so today.  The Committee yesterday took action on some six resolutions, one of which would ask the General Assembly to call upon the Government of Iran to ensure full respect for the rights to freedom of assembly, opinion and expression.  It also requests that Government to eliminate the use of torture and other cruel forms of punishment, as well as discrimination based on gender, religion, ethnicity or linguistic grounds.  The draft expresses serious concern at the continuing harassment, intimidation and persecution of human rights defenders, political opponents, and ethnic religious minorities in Iran, as well as the country’s persistent failure to comply fully with international standards in its administration of justice.


The vote was 70 in favour to 48 opposed, with 55 abstentions.  Prior to the vote on the Iran draft resolution, the representative of Iran tabled a motion of no action.  That motion was rejected by a close vote of 75 in favour to 77 against, with 24 abstentions.


The Committee also approved, by consensus, draft resolutions on assistance to returnees and displaced persons in Africa; human rights and extreme poverty; the Sub-regional Centre for Human rights and Democracy in Central Africa; protection of migrants; and regional arrangements for the promotion and protection of human rights.


The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) today will take action on seven resolutions, including those on human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives.  The report of the Human Rights Council, which includes the text on the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, is scheduled for consideration this afternoon.  A revision has also been submitted by the co-sponsors of the resolution, which now appears as document A/C.3/61/L.18/Rev. 1.  A draft resolution to defer action on this matter has also been submitted by the African Group (document L.57/Rev.1).  This matter and the item, revitalization of the work of the General Assembly, are two of the final issues for consideration on the Committee’s agenda.


The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) decided on Tuesday to postpone action on 10 outstanding resolutions, four of which deal with the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), and six which address the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices.   The decision was taken at the request of the Permanent Observer for Palestine, so that negotiations with interested parties could continue.  The Committee is expected to meet again on Tuesday, 28 November, at which time it hopes to take action on outstanding resolutions and conclude its work for this session.


The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) will also introduce a report on financing of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and will also hold a general discussion on this matter and the United Nations Pension system.


The Sixth Committee (Legal), meanwhile, has completed its work for the main session of the Assembly, calling on the General Assembly to strongly condemn all acts of terrorism as criminal and unjustifiable.  The Committee took this action without a vote.  It also decided to reconvene, in February 2007, the Ad Hoc Committee, established in 1996, to draft a comprehensive convention on international terrorism, so that it could expedite work on the draft text of the treaty.  The Committee, as it concluded its work for the main part of the current session, also approved a draft decision on a provisional work programme for the sixty-second session of the Assembly.  The Sixth Committee, during this session, considered 12 substantive agenda items, held five informal briefings and two interactive dialogues, and took action on 16 resolutions.


In the first of three interactive thematic debates planned for the sixty-first session, the UN General Assembly will, next week, take stock of progress made to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and assess strategies for moving forward through inclusive partnerships.  The all-day event will take place on Monday, 27 November.


The morning session will include statements by the President of the Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa; the Secretary-General Kofi Annan; the President of the Economic and Social Council, H.E. Ali Hachani; Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, Mr. Kemal Dervis; the Under-Secretary-General for the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Mr. José Antonio Ocampo; the President of the Islamic Development Bank Group, Dr. Ahmed Mohamed Ali; and Special Adviser to the Secretary-General on the Millennium Development Goals, Professor Jeffrey Sachs.


There will also be presentations by a number of countries on their national development strategies, followed by an interactive debate with the participation of Member States.


The afternoon session will take the form of a Town Hall Meeting, to be moderated by Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Mr. Shashi Tharoor.


We will have a media advisory providing more information on the debate, including the complete list of panellists, as well as the participating private sector and civil society organizations.


I also have with me, Mr. Yasser Elnaggar, Senior Adviser in the Office of the President of the General Assembly, to whom you can address questions you may have on the meeting.


Questions and Answers


Question:  About the Third Committee and the draft Declaration on the Rights of the Indigenous, is this African Group motion going to be considered first?  Would that have the effect of almost like a no-vote against the Declaration?


Spokeswoman:  I’m not sure about the order in which it is going to be considered.  All the drafts are there before it.  Yasser, you wanted to say something?  Can you come up?


Senior Adviser:  On the Third Committee issue, the draft by the African Group is out there to take action to defer consideration on that recommendation.  However, during the last week or 10 days, the President of the Assembly was active in actually trying to bring the parties together to have an open discussion.  They have met numerous times and there are a number of ideas out there to actually deal with some of the concerns raised by the African Group.  To what extent that will go through in the afternoon, we will have to wait.  But the action will be taken on the resolution on deferral, first.


Question:  Thanks for that detail.  I wonder if you could comment on this.  When the Permanent Forum was here, it seemed like the United States, Australia, New Zealand -- they spoke against the draft Declaration.  I think they may have been the only opponents.  Someone said that some of these opponents have actually reached out to other countries and tried to either make them aware of problems with the Declaration or have encouraged them to oppose it.


Senior Adviser:  We are not aware of that, but what the African Group has consistently brought to the attention of the President of the General Assembly was basically that the concerns they’re raising are totally distinct from the concerns of others opposing some of the elements of the Declaration.


Question:  I understand that you obviously don’t speak for them.  Can you say who does?


Senior Adviser:  You can speak to the Ambassador of Namibia, who is the Chair of the African Group for the month.


Spokeswoman:  Anything that you’d like to know about Monday’s event?


Senior Adviser:  I just want to say a couple of words about that event.  This is the first time the Assembly will hold something like this, with such visibility.  This was mandated, by General Assembly resolutions, to empower the President of the Assembly to hold these thematic debates.  This time around, there will be participation from, not only Member States, but private sector and NGOs, as well as representatives from donor countries.  We have a number of ministers that are coming for the morning session, as well as the afternoon session.  There are participants in the panel discussion from the Millennium Challenge Corporation and some foundations, the Islamic Development Bank, who has an initiative of a fund for the eradication of poverty, for some $10 billion.  There is also participation by Sun Microsystems, George Soros, and other high-visibility people.


Question:  I actually have a question.  Sun Microsystems was also the sponsor of one of these sports and development events recently.  It’s obviously good that a private entity is involved in these initiatives, but what is the United Nations position on Sun Microsystems and some other technology companies participating in helping countries limit access to the Internet and conduct surveillance on citizens?  We were told, by Djibril Diallo, to contact Sun Microsystems to get their comment on their activity, particularly in China.  We’ve heard nothing back from them.  I think it’s great they’re participating, but I also think that, considering that the Assembly President and the United Nations are about human rights, access to information, and the connection between access and development, is there some way to get Sun Microsystems either to take questions in connection with the event, or to answer this question prior to the event?


Senior Adviser:  They will be in the panel discussion in the afternoon that will be moderated by the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and for Information Technology.  They will be part of the panellists, and questions can be raised from the floor.  The whole idea is to focus on the partnerships to implement the Millennium Development Goals.


Question:  And, did you get a reading on the NGO meeting that the President just held?  Did you say how that went?


Spokeswoman:  I said yesterday that it went very well.  It was really well attended, with over 200 people, and a large attendance and participation by NGOs and representatives of Member States.  What we will do early next week is issue a press release, so that you will get a sense of what was said.  It was a really successful meeting and we were very pleased.


If there are no more questions, I’d like to wish you all a happy Thanksgiving, on behalf of the Office of the President of the General Assembly.


[The Spokeswoman confirmed that there are no meetings of the General Assembly or its Main Committees scheduled for Friday, 24 November.  There are, however, informal “informal” consultations of the Second Committee and Fifth Committee.]


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