13 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Ashraf Kamal, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.


Briefing by Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


Good afternoon all.


**Guest at Noon


On the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of the Esquipulas II Peace Treaty, there will be a press conference here by Óscar Arias [Sánchez], President of Costa Rica, and Vinicio Cerezo Arévalo, former President of Guatemala.  It will be today at 12:30 in this room, 226.


**Secretary-General Statement on Iraq


“The Secretary-General was deeply shocked to learn of today’s destructive attack on the holy shrines of Imam Ali al-Hadi and Imam Hassan al-Askary in Samarra, which follows a similar attack in 2006.  The Secretary-General strongly condemns this act, which was clearly aimed at provoking sectarian strife and undermining the peace and stability of Iraq.


The Secretary-General calls on all Iraqis to avoid succumbing to the vicious cycle of revenge and to exercise maximum restraint while demonstrating unity and resolve in the face of this terrible attack.  The Secretary-General welcomes the efforts by political and religious leaders of Iraq to calm the situation and to promote respect for human rights and the protection of religious sites.


The United Nations will continue to do everything possible to help the Iraqi people promote intercommunal dialogue and national reconciliation.”


This is a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Still on Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, also condemned in the strongest terms possible the sacrilegious attack on the shrines in Samarra this morning.  We have his statement upstairs.


Qazi is in New York today, and he will brief the Security Council on Iraq in an open meeting this afternoon.  That meeting will be preceded by consultations on Iraq at 3:00 p.m.


** Gaza Update from UN Agencies


On Gaza, United Nations organizations working in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, in a statement they issued jointly, voiced their grave concern about the spiralling violence in the Gaza Strip, which has claimed 59 lives and caused 273 injuries since 9 June.  They are particularly troubled by reports of attacks on hospitals, ambulances and extrajudicial killings, which raise concerns of serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law.


The UN is also concerned about the humanitarian consequences arising from the heavy street fighting, which is preventing the civilian population from reaching essential health services and food outlets.  The fighting is also hampering the UN’s ability to deliver emergency services, mainly food and health assistance. 


United Nations organizations call upon all parties engaged in the current hostilities to exercise their responsibilities under international humanitarian and human rights law and refrain from attacks on civilians, humanitarian institutions and carrying out extra-judicial killings.


Still on Gaza, from UNRWA, John Ging, the Director of Operations in Gaza for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, announced with deep sadness the death of two local UNRWA workers who had been killed during the escalating violence in Gaza.  Two other UNRWA workers, he added, have been seriously injured but are in stable condition.


“We at UNRWA will not forget their bravery and commitment at this most difficult time,” Ging said.  He said that, in view of the increased threats to the Agency’s staff, it has no choice but to scale back its operations in Gaza.


With immediate effect, the Commissioner-General, Karen AbuZayd, has decided to suspend temporarily UNRWA operations in Gaza, except essential medical services and emergency food distributions.  She will keep the situation under constant review with a view to restoring full services at the earliest opportunity.


**Security Council


The Security Council this morning is hearing from Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno about the recent UN-African Union-Sudan talks that took place in Addis Ababa concerning the UN-AU hybrid force for Darfur.  Mr. Guéhenno intends to speak to you afterwards.  It will be, of course, at the stakeout.


The Council this morning is also holding consultations to receive updates on the sanctions regimes in two African countries that a Council mission will soon visit:  Liberia and Côte d’Ivoire.


In addition to the afternoon meeting on Iraq that I just mentioned, Council members will also hold their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General is expected to speak to you after that luncheon, and we have set up the regular stakeout for him and for Council ambassadors who want to speak to the press afterward.


**Global Business Coalition


The Secretary-General will meet this afternoon with senior business executives of the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, an alliance of 220 international companies.  He is expected to stress the vital role of the partnership between the UN and the private sector in the fight against HIV/AIDS.


The participants include Sir Richard Branson, Chairman of the Virgin Group; Sir David Bell, Chairman of the Financial Times Group; and Peter Robertson, Vice Chairman of Chevron.


That meeting is at 3:30 in Conference Room B, and we have an embargoed press release upstairs.


** Cambodia


On Cambodia, the national and international judicial officers for the Extraordinary Chambers in Cambodia unanimously adopted the Court’s Internal Rules, concluding a two-week session in Phnom Penh.  These Rules, the judicial offices said in a statement, enable us to hold fair, transparent trials before an independent and impartial court.  They added that they have resolved all of the matters that we indicated needed further discussion last November, including ways to ensure the rights and involvement of victims.  The next step forward for the Extraordinary Chambers will be the filing by the Court’s prosecutors, of their first Introductory Submission, which should take place within weeks.


**International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda


On Rwanda, in its first-ever request for transfer of a case to Rwanda, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) yesterday asked that the case of Fulgence Kayishema be handed over for further prosecution under Rwandan national jurisdiction.  The suspect is among the 18 persons indicted by the Tribunal who remain at large.  He was indicted in 2001 for genocide, complicity in genocide, conspiracy to commit genocide and extermination as a crime against humanity.


The Tribunal says that Rwanda is willing to prosecute the case and has assured Tribunal officials that the indictee will get a fair trial, and that in the event of conviction, the death penalty [recently outlawed in Rwanda] will not be applied.  There is a press release upstairs from the Tribunal.


**Secretary-General Statement on Terrorism Suppression Convention


We told you last week that 22 countries have now ratified or acceded to the International Convention for the Suppression of Acts of Nuclear Terrorism.  The Convention will enter into force on 7 July.


The Secretary-General in a statement today congratulates the States that have already ratified or acceded to the Convention for making it possible for it to enter into force with such speed.  The statement adds that the Convention will help prevent terrorist groups from gaining access to the most lethal weapons known to man.  We have the full statement upstairs.


**Human Rights Council


Turning to Geneva, the Human Rights Council this morning discussed the urgent high-level fact-finding missions to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, including Beit Hanoun, and the updated report by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on follow-up to the report of the Commission of Inquiry on Lebanon.  In the afternoon, it heard a presentation from the experts group on the situation of human rights in Darfur.


The Council also heard a presentation by its President, Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico, on a presidential text which aimed to serve as a basis for discussions on finalizing the institution-building of the Council during its current session.

We have more information upstairs, including summaries of press conferences by the Sudan experts group and by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in his capacity as leader of the fact-finding mission that was not allowed to travel to Beit Hanoun.


**Secretary-General’s Message to African Disarmament Conference


The Secretary-General addressed a message to the Second International Conference on Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration and Stability in Africa, which takes place in Kinshasa through tomorrow.


In his statement -- delivered by his Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo [DRC], William Lacy Swing, the Secretary-General stressed the importance of DDR [disarmament, demobilization and reintegration] to successful post-conflict reconstruction.  He underlined the examples of Sierra Leone, Mozambique and DRC, hoping other countries would benefit from sharing experiences concerning DDR programmes.


We have the Secretary-General’s full message in French upstairs.


[The Spokesperson later clarified that this was a message from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, William Lacy Swing, not from the Secretary-General.]


** Afghanistan


On Afghanistan, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) strongly condemned the shooting that took place yesterday in front of a girls’ school in Afghanistan, in which two schoolgirls were killed and four other people injured.  UNICEF said the attackers were hurting children’s right to education and threatening the fabric of society.


We have a press release with more information.


**Timor-Leste


On Timor-Leste, as campaigning continues across Timor-Leste, the head of the United Nations Integrated Mission there (UNMIT), Atul Khare, has called on all parties and the Timorese people to respect each other and ensure the observance of a democratic process.


The SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] said it is important that campaign messages be delivered freely, fairly and without violence or intimidation or misuse of state resources.  He also commended all parties on the signing of the Political Party Accord just before the start of campaigning, which demonstrates the collective will of all sides to a free and fair election on 30 June.


**Press Conferences Tomorrow


Just a look ahead:  At 3:20 p.m. tomorrow, Jorge Sampaio, High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, will brief you following his meeting with the Secretary-General.  It will be in this room, 226.  Before that, at 12:45 p.m. tomorrow, Bruno Cathala, Registrar of the International Criminal Court, will brief you on the work of the court. So those are two possibilities for tomorrow.


That’s all I have for you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  The London Guardian came out with this end-of-mission report by Alvaro de Soto [Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process].  Does the Secretary-General agree with the criticism of the Quartet included in the report and of the US-led policy in the Palestinian and Israeli (inaudible)?


Spokesperson:  This is an end-of-mission report – in which the UN encourages all Special Envoys responsible on a mission to actually submit and express their personal views in an open manner.  This was the case here.  This document was strictly for internal consumption.  It was addressed to the Secretary-General.  It was Mr. de Soto’s end-of-mission report, which was not to be leaked to the press.

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Question:  But since it was leaked to the press, does the Secretary-General agree with any of the…


Spokesperson:  These are Mr. de Soto’s personal views.

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Question:  So he disagrees with them?


Spokesperson:  I didn’t say that.

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Question:  Does he find this report, now that it’s no longer confidential, valuable in any way?


Spokesperson:  Well, he always finds the conclusions of any of his Special Envoys to be positive additions to his analysis of a situation, of course.  He encourages all his SRSGs to express their views freely in this type of end-of-mission report.  It’s like the policy papers that are submitted to him.  They reflect different points of view and they are inputs into his own analysis of a situation.

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Question:  So you would say this report adds to his knowledge of the region and the problems facing the UN there?


Spokesperson:  Yes.  It does.

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Correspondent:  But what Mr. de Soto says here though is that the Secretary-General did not allow him to speak with the Palestinians and Syrians, and that the current violence that’s going on within the Palestinian situation is the result of the fact that the Secretary-General has supported the US, which has taken the side of Israel, and has not been an independent party.


Spokesperson:  I will not comment on the contents of the report.  It is a confidential report addressed to the Secretary-General.  I will not comment on that.

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Question:  Just a quick question on the same subject: Has the Secretary-General read the report?


Spokesperson:  Yes, he has.

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Question:  So he received it and he read it?


Spokesperson:  Yes.

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Question:  Then what’s his reaction to it?


Spokesperson:  This is a confidential report.  As I said earlier, this is an additional input into his knowledge and his analysis of what is happening in the region.  It’s a valuable tool for him.  It doesn’t mean that he agrees with what is in it.

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Question:  Two questions: One, is there any reaction from the Secretary-General to what appears to be a growing number of calls for some sort of international peacekeeping force or some such to deal with the Gaza situation?  And then I have another one after.


Spokesperson:  Well, this has been discussed.  The Secretary-General spoke, as I said, yesterday, with President Abbas.  And he spoke today with [Egyptian] President Mubarak a little before I came here –- around 11:20 –- he spoke to President Mubarak about the situation.  There are talks, but for the time being, the Secretary-General is just listening to people on the ground.

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Question:  Well, what are the ideas and what are his ideas?


Spokesperson:  He hasn’t reached any conclusions yet.  He is very concerned about the situation and he is multiplying the phone calls to try and better assess it and be able to do something about it.

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Question:  My other question is this: the Secretary-General sent around a note to all staff basically telling them to stop giving information to the press.  Is this a mark of a new clamp down on transparency in the UN?  Do you belief that the only people qualified to know information about global events are UN officials and not the press?


Spokesperson:  Well, this is not at all the situation, Mark… The notes were referring to something specific.


Question:  Well, why does it say don’t give out any sensitive documents?


Spokesperson:  That was referring to something specific, which was the leaking of a document, which, as you know, was a policy document.  As you know, at every policy meeting that occurs on the 38th floor, there are points of view expressed.  The report that was leaked was not even submitted to the Policy Committee meeting since it was an earlier version of a report that was submitted to the Secretary-General.  This note refers to that…

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Correspondent:  No. It’s just a general point it doesn’t say…


Spokesperson:  May I just continue?  Once there are policy decisions that are taken from these policy papers, then you are made aware of it.  You are told about them.  But there is a process of decision-making, which is not part of the public domain, which is normal.

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Question:  Was it supposed to be leaked?


Spokesperson:  No it was not supposed to be leaked.

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Question:  Just last follow-up on that: The note did not refer to that specific incident.  It made a general policy statement, saying ‘we are concerned about confidential documents’ and then, further down, it doesn’t even use the word “confidential” it says ‘staff should refrain from giving sensitive information to the press’, alright?  It’s a general point that is not referring to that specific document.  So, does the Secretary-General believe that on these issues of public interest the press has no right to know what’s being discussed?


Spokesperson:  Well, of course the press has a right to know what’s being discussed.  The press has a right to know what is being decided, essentially.  The press has the right to know about the exchange…

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Question:  What gives UN officials sole rights to information about policy discussions and the truth in global affairs?


Spokesperson:  Mark, I’m sorry, but in the British Government, would you have any policy paper leaked to the press?  No you wouldn’t.

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Correspondent:  Well, there have been some…


Spokesperson:  Well, some are leaked to the press yes, but…

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Question:  We call it freedom of speech.


Spokesperson:  No. I’m sorry.  There is a difference here between freedom of speech and the fact that there are policy papers that happen to be confidential.  This has nothing to do with freedom of the press.  Now, Mark, you’re pushing it a little far here, aren’t you?

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Question:  Back to another leaked report, the de Soto report.  By the Secretary-General not commenting on it or refuting anything that’s in it, it gives the impression that he may agree with some of the things said in it, such as…it says that there is a tendency here towards self-censorship in the UN.  These kinds of statements are out there now.  At some point, do you think he’ll have to respond to say that’s not true or…Because by not saying anything or refuting it, it looks like he just agrees?


Spokesperson:  Well, he’s not going to say anything about a report that was given in confidence to him that is not supposed to be in the press.  Now the issues that are involved, he has been commenting about those issues for several weeks.  So you know his points of view about the situation in the Middle East, about the situation in Gaza…

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Question:  But if he’s refuting that there’s censorship at the UN…but it appears that he may agree with that.  But maybe he doesn’t.  At any rate, don’t you think it deserves some type of response?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think he is going to answer every single thing that was in that report.

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Question:  Can he answer any of it?


Spokesperson:  I just said it was a confidential report.

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Correspondent:  It was a confidential report.


Spokesperson:  Yes. It was, yes.

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Question:  Moving away from leaked reports.  It’s been widely reported that the Secretary-General met with [Nigerian] President Yar’Adua last week in Germany. I wanted to know if he raised his concerns about the elections in Nigeria.  That’s number one.  And number two, I wanted to know if the Secretary-General has an opinion on the proposal on that because of the way the election was rigged in Nigeria, the tenure of this Government should be reduced from four years to two years? 


Spokesperson:  You are talking about the meeting that took place between them in Berlin? 


Question:  Yes, Mr. Yar‘Adua and Mr. Ban Ki-moon.


Spokesperson:  They talked extensively about the elections and they talked extensively about the fact that there was to be respect for the decision by the electoral authorities on all cases that were still pending.  So this was extensively discussed.

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Question:  Did the President make any commitment regarding whether he was going to abide by the decisions of the court?  Did the Secretary-General express the fact that there was serious international concern over the conduct of the elections in Nigeria?  I want to know the nature of what the Secretary-General told him specifically.


Spokesperson:  Well, they did discuss it.  The president himself talked at length…he was the one who brought up the subject.  He extensively talked about it and about the fact that he was going to respect the decision of the authorities.

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Question:  Was there a reaction from the Secretary-General today after the assassination of a Lebanese Parliament member in Beirut?  I missed the beginning of the briefing, so I didn’t…


Spokesperson:  We heard the news a little earlier before I came up.  I spoke to the 38th floor where they are extremely concerned.  They certainly condemned what happened.  We don’t have a written reaction at this point, but there is deep concern.  As you know, there is deep concern about the whole situation in Lebanon.


[The Secretary-General later issued the following statement:


The Secretary-General was saddened by the news of today’s terrorist attack in Beirut that killed MP Walid Eido, his son and six others, while injuring 10 more people.  He condemns this attack in the strongest possible terms as a heinous crime aimed at destabilizing Lebanon.


The Secretary-General extends his heartfelt sympathies to the families of the victims and the injured.  He calls upon the Lebanese authorities to find the perpetrators of this crime and to bring them to justice.  He urges all the Lebanese to unite in the face of acts of intimidation, which attempt to divide them, and encourages Lebanese leaders to find a solution to the political issues facing the country.


The Secretary-General reaffirms the United Nations' unswerving commitment to Lebanon's stability, sovereignty and political independence.]


I’m sorry.  I’m going to have to give Ashraf a few minutes because President Arias…the two Presidents will be here in a few minutes.


Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President


Good afternoon.



**Path to Peace Foundation Award


The Assembly President received last night from the Path to Peace Foundation an award in recognition of her efforts on behalf of peace and development.  Founded in 1991, the Foundation, in collaboration with the Permanent Mission of the Holy See to the United Nations, serves as a vehicle to foster within the international community the social teaching of the Catholic Church on important questions of ethics, development, human rights and peace.  Past recipients of the award include former President of Poland, Lech Walesa, and former UN Secretary-Generals, Boutros Boutros-Ghali and Kofi Annan.


Accepting the award, President Al Khalifa expressed her belief that “Promoting a true dialogue among civilizations and religions is, perhaps, the most important political instrument that we can use to reach out across borders and build bridges of peace and hope.”


“Religious values are pivotal in promoting equal rights and prosperity for all, she continued.  They can also make an important contribution to the debate on climate change, which is a moral issue about the preservation of the planet for future generations.” 


“Together –- no matter what our religious affiliations are,” the President concluded, “we can work towards our common goals with love, compassion, humility and vision, and bring about real change.”  Copies of her statement are available upstairs.


**General Assembly Thematic Debate on Climate Change


The Assembly’s thematic debate on climate change is going to take place on 31 July-1 August [and not 26-27 July, as previously announced].  We have upstairs copies of a letter from the Assembly President to Member States, spelling out the purpose and format of the debate.


The debate will consist of one day of interactive panel discussions and a second day of general discussion by Member States.  The panel discussions are expected to bring together experts and spokespersons on a variety of issues, including: the impact of climate change, mitigation and adaptation strategies, new technologies and finance.


** Doha meeting on Financing for the Millennium Development Goals


Finally, I would like to flag again the informal meeting the Assembly will hold on 17-18 June, in Doha, Qatar, 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 meeting will cover domestic resource mobilization by least developed countries, multilateral and bilateral aid, as well as new and emerging donors.  Discussions will also focus on successful examples of scaling up aid for the MDGs in the areas of agriculture, primary education, water and sanitation and the Millennium Villages.



**Peacekeeping Reform


Last but not least, because I know that this is running through some minds here:   the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) is still continuing it’s informal-informal.  As soon as there is something formal, I will let you know.

Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  The Alliance of Civilizations is an item on the agenda of the General Assembly.  The report was submitted over a year ago and we haven’t heard a word about…the report contains an action plan.  What has happened since then?


Spokesperson:  The Alliance of Civilizations is a Secretariat issue.  It’s the Secretary-General’s issue, not the Assembly’s issue.


Question:  Has the President of the General Assembly appointed somebody to try to negotiate or mediate the draft Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples?


Spokesperson:  I’m not sure. I have to check on that. I don’t know if she has appointed a facilitator yet.


Question:  The last thing is on the DPKO restructuring.  Can you say anything about the sticking point?  Is it the USG post?


Spokesperson:  Like I told you last time, yes, it is.


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For information media • not an official record