6 June 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

 


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Ashraf Kamal, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.


Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


**Briefings


We will have, immediately after the briefing today, Ad Melkert, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s Associate Administrator, who will be briefing you on UNDP’s priorities regarding management and accountability. 


We will also have a General Assembly update and briefing following my briefing.


**Secretary-General in Spain


I will now turn to the Secretary-General, who is in Madrid today, and he will be on his way to the G-8 summit tomorrow.


The Secretary-General met with Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero today and the two discussed, among other topics, UN reform, climate change, the Alliance of Civilizations, Western Sahara, Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Middle East and Kosovo.


Speaking to reporters at a press conference afterwards, the Secretary-General said that, on climate change, the United Nations is “uniquely placed to forge a common approach”, and he noted the upcoming G-8 Summit in Germany, adding, “The time for action is now.”


He added that he is very concerned about the announcement of the breaking of the ceasefire by the Basque group ETA.  The Secretary-General urged ETA to redouble efforts to maintain the ceasefire.


Asked about the upcoming talks on Western Sahara, the Secretary-General said that he sincerely hopes that the forthcoming meeting in New York under the auspices of the United Nations will be a good starting point so that the parties concerned will be able to find lasting solutions on this issue.  He noted that the Security Council has urged the parties concerned to enter negotiations without any preconditions.  We have the transcript of that press conference upstairs.


**Millennium Development Goals


Also on the G-8, at a press conference in this room a short while ago, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro introduced the United Nations’ latest progress report on the Millennium Development Goals [MDGs] in sub-Saharan Africa.


The report says that, despite faster growth and strengthened institutions, the continent remains off-track to meeting the poverty-reduction goals.  It shows also that, although there has been growth in African economies, child mortality rates have fallen only marginally and maternal mortality rates remain shockingly high.


The Deputy Secretary-General expresses the hope that the report would stir the international community to move away from debating principles towards scaling up the pursuit of the MDGs, while ensuring full accountability and transparency.


She said that the upcoming G-8 Summit provides an important opportunity for donor countries to lay out concrete timetables for how they will increase development assistance to each African country through to 2010 and 2015, which is the target date for achieving the MDGs.


**Security Council - Darfur


The Secretary-General has now transmitted a letter to the Security Council that contains the adjustments and revisions to the proposed United Nations-African Union (AU) hybrid mission for Darfur.  The Secretary-General says that Mr. Alpha Oumar Konaré, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, will be taking appropriate steps to submit the report to the members of the African Union Peace and Security Council.


And as I mentioned to you yesterday, DPKO, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, will make a senior official available to you to brief you on this report at 3 p.m. in their conference room.  That’s on the 37th floor.


** Sudan


Also on Sudan, today, over 100,000 displaced Sudanese from the southern part of the country have been assisted home by the United Nations, which represents a significant contribution to implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in Sudan.


In a joint press release, the UN Mission in Sudan, together with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM), say that since January 2006, more than 55,000 refugees and almost 50,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) have been provided transport to their place of origin -- a remarkable achievement, given that just two years ago it was not even possible to fly, let alone drive, between most towns in Sudan.


Sudan offers one of the most challenging operational environments in the world, with most of Southern Sudan inaccessible during the rainy season from June to December, due to a lack of all-weather roads.  To overcome these limitations IOM has used air, river, rail and road corridors in ensuring a safe, dignified, and cost-effective return operation.


You can read more about this in the press release I just mentioned, which notes that much remains to be done in a region where the supply of basic services is still far outstripped by demand.


**Security Council - Iraq and Kuwait


Here in New York, the Security Council held consultations today on the Secretary-General’s recent report on missing Kuwaiti and third-country persons and property in Iraq, which we flagged for you yesterday.  They received a briefing by Ambassador Yuliy Vorontsov, the High Level Coordinator dealing with that issue.


Afterwards, the Council President, Ambassador Johan Verbeke of Belgium, read out a statement to the press, in which Council members agreed with the Secretary-General that those responsible for the execution of Kuwaiti and third-country nationals under the previous Iraqi regime should be brought to justice.  Council members also noted with regret that there had been no further developments regarding the location of the missing Kuwaiti national archive.


** Somalia


On Somalia, the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Lynn Pascoe, today attended and addressed a meeting of the International Contact Group for Somalia, which took place in London.  That group is supporting peace and reconciliation efforts in Somalia and may put out a communiqué following the end of its meeting.


Mr. Pascoe, as we mentioned to you yesterday, will then travel to the Horn of Africa, starting with a visit to Nairobi on Thursday.


**Timor-Leste


In Timor-Leste, the United Nations and Timorese police are continuing their search for a local police officer accused of fatally shooting a man on Sunday.  The UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) says the search, led by UN police, is being conducted by foot and air, as it is believed that the man escaped into the mountains.


Investigation into a second incident is also continuing.  In that incident, two people were shot, resulting in one death, during a disturbance at a road block.  The deputy head of the UN Mission there stressed that Sunday’s incidents involved a few officers and the majority of Timorese police officers across the country are working well.


** Yemen


Turning to Yemen, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns that the country is facing its worst desert locust outbreak since 1993. It calls for an aerial control campaign before mid-July to avoid massive locust infestations and serious damage to crops. Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) started food distribution today to people who have been displaced by heavy fighting in north-western Yemen. According to a United Nations assessment, fighting has displaced an estimated 20,000 people but the figure could rise to be higher.


** UNAIDS – G-8


And one more G-8 related item –- I should have read it earlier: The Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) is urging G-8 leaders to show bold and decisive leadership by translating their previous commitments on HIV/AIDS into tangible action.  UNAIDS remains concerned that commitments for reaching universal access will not be met at the current rate of progress.  According to the latest data, there has been an increase in funding, but resources available for AIDS still fall short of estimated needs by $6 billion.


**Corruption in Education


Finally, “ Corrupt Schools, Corrupt Universities: What can be done?”  That’s the name of a research study released earlier today by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), in which the agency found that bribery, embezzlement, illegal registration fees and academic fraud are all part of a long list of woes affecting educational systems in more than 60 countries on five continents.  The study also points the way forward and outlines anti-corruption strategies.  It’s available on UNESCO’s website.


**Outer Space


Finally, in Vienna, the United Nations Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space began its fiftiehth session today with a high-level panel on space exploration activities.  Over the next 10 days, the Committee will also discuss such issues as nuclear power sources in outer space, space debris mitigation guidelines and the use of geospatial data for sustainable development.  And there’s more information on this Committee’s activities upstairs.


That’s what I have for you.  Before I turn to the General Assembly Spokesperson, any questions for me?  Mr. Abbadi?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Marie, over the past two days, the Pakistani authorities have proceeded to massive arrests of people wanting to demonstrate over the removal of the Supreme Court Chief Justice.  Is the United Nations concerned about this situation?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything specific on that case.  The Secretary-General, as you know, has always been an advocate of the freedom to demonstrate peacefully.  I don’t have anything in addition to the line on general principles.  If I have something, I’ll get it to you.  Masood?


Question:  First of all, I thank you for getting back to me on that oil-for-food thing.  Also, I understand that the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC) is still being funded by money from oil-for-food.  Is that right?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think we gave you the update yesterday.  I have nothing further on that.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later confirmed that UNMOVIC continues to be funded under an account set up on the basis of Security Council resolutions.]


Question:  When will that end?  When will UNMOVIC be shut down?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think somebody asked the Security Council President that the other day and he had some remarks regarding that, so I will not venture into his territory.


Question:  Also, I just wanted to find out: In February, the Secretary-General wrote to the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) about the powers of the Deputy Secretary-General that he intends to delegate.  And ACABQ this week has come back telling the Secretary-General that it believes that the Deputy Secretary-General’s role in reform needs to be clarified.  It urges the Secretary-General, within the framework set by the General Assembly in its resolution [inaudible] to define the Deputy Secretary-General’s duty expressly in this regard.  It also pointed out that delegation, if it is to be approved by the General Assembly, requires clearly spelled out authority and must be accompanied by explicit accountability measures, not generally.  Has the Secretary-General responded to all this, or not?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe you mean the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ).  The ACABQ report just came out a day or so ago, or yesterday.  We’ll ask the General Assembly spokesperson where it’s going to be taken up next.


Question:  The thing is, has the Secretary-General not seen this as yet?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, as you know, he’s not here and I think this just came out yesterday.  Yes, Matthew.


Question:  There’s a United Nations Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, and Bangladesh has refused to allow the person to leave the country, so that he could testify in a way that’s detrimental to the country.  Various human rights groups have called on the Secretary-General to say or do something about this.  Is he going to say or do anything about this?


Deputy Spokesperson:  This is the first I’ve heard of this, so let me look into that for you.


Question:  This is just a procedural question about the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) briefing.  Why is the person going to speak only on background?  Why isn’t it possiblt to have this…


Deputy Spokesperson:  Let’s take this up when we go up there at 3:00 [p.m.].  This is not for me to decide; this is a DPKO decision.


Alright, I’m turning over to the General Assembly spokesperson and then we’ll have Ad Melkert. Thank you.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Good afternoon.


**Financing for MDGs


On 17 and 18 June, the Assembly will hold in Doha, Qatar, an informal meeting on “Financing Development to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals”, in the lead up to the 2008 Financing for Development conference.


This is a follow-up to last November’s informal thematic debate of the Assembly on “Partnerships towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals:  Taking Stock, Moving Forward”.


The Doha meeting will cover domestic resource mobilization, increased external financing and innovative sources of private financing.  Panel discussions will also focus on successful examples of scaling up aid for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) in the areas of agriculture, primary education, water and sanitation and the Millennium Villages.  In addition, discussions will cover practical proposals for scaling up resources for an African Green Revolution, malaria control, eliminating school fees and water and sanitation projects. 


**Strengthening of Peacekeeping


The Secretariat has just concluded briefing the Fifth Committee on the Secretary-General’s proposals for restructuring the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and strengthening United Nations peacekeeping capacity.  The Committee has also listened to a presentation by the Chairman of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) on his Committee’s report.


**Security Council reform


On Security Council reform, informal consultations with the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and the Group of Latin American and Caribbean States are scheduled for Friday morning the 8th and Monday afternoon the 11th, respectively.  These consultations will be chaired by the ambassadors of Chile and Lichtenstein, who were appointed by the Assembly’s president recently to lead the next stage of discussions on the subject.


Questions?  Yes, Sir.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  To follow up on Matthew’s question on the person in Bangladesh, the rights expert who was harassed, any thoughts that the President of the General Assembly might have regarding the subject?


Spokesperson:  I think that’s something that the Secretary-General should pronounce the United Nation’s position on.  It would not be….


Question:  Right, but many Member States of the General Assembly are on the Human Rights Council as well and, I’m not asking for it right now, but if there’s….


Spokesperson:  I’ll check with them, if there’s anything they want to say, absolutely.  Yes.


Question:  On the reform of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), can you comment whether the Group of 77 (G77) has any problems with the reform?


Spokesperson:  Well, it’s a very difficult negotiating process, and it starts officially today.  Now, I’m not going to single out a group of countries –- everyone has something to say about this reform and it’s a big thing and it starts officially today.  Let’s just wait and see where it goes.  Matthew.


Question:  As a follow-up to that, yesterday there was a Fifth Committee meeting indefinitely postponed, they said, because there were consultations on….


Spokesperson:  That was the briefing.  The Fifth Committee was discussing the cross-cutting issues item, which includesa huge number of issues and then they are discussing a very large number of peacekeeping operation budgets that have to be renewed.  So these took precedence and this is why the briefing was pushed off until this morning. 


Question:  To continue on that, could a group –- let’s say the Group of 77 (G77) or whoever –- block the whole process?


Spokesperson:  Hypothetically, absolutely.  Go back to last April or May.  The proposals by the former Secretary-General, proposals 20 and 21, had to be withdrawn because the G77 decided they could not agree to them.


Question:  So they put these things down because one group doesn’t agree.


Spokesperson:  What do you mean by one group?  The hypothetical question received a hypothetical answer. The Group of 77 has 130 Members.  So in the assumed scenario, you would notget a majority.  So, hypothetically, yes, one group can scuttle the agreement. 


Question:  On the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions’ (ACABQ) report to the Fifth Committee:  One, was there anything having to do with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)/ North Korea audit, was anything presented?  And also, what happens next, with the audit having been delivered to ACABQ?  Are the other auditing agencies -- the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and UN Office for Project Services (UNOPS) -- are they turning in management comments on the audit? 


Spokesperson:  If the ACABQ deems this necessary, then the ACABQ will ask these agencies to appear while they’re discussing the report.  If the ACABQ does not deem this necessary, then they will discuss the report in an executive session and give the report to the Fifth Committee. 


Question:  Just two things:  how will we know if they request them and when will they be discussing it?


Spokesperson:  I can ask them.  Anything else?  Thank you.  Somebody?  Yes.


Question:  The Non-Aligned and the Caribbean States –- why the distinction, because the Caribbean States, many of them are members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).


Spokesperson:  Each group has certain interests and its own dymanic, and they wanted to meet in these formats.  Okay.


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For information media • not an official record