26 September 2007
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


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 Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


**Statement on Myanmar


I will start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson on the subject of Myanmar.  In response to the deteriorating situation in Myanmar, the Secretary-General is urgently dispatching his Special Envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, to the region.  He calls on the senior leadership of the country to cooperate fully with this mission in order to take advantage of the willingness of the United Nations to assist in the process of national reconciliation through dialogue.


Noting reports of the use of force and of arrests and beatings, the Secretary-General calls again on authorities to exercise utmost restraint towards the peaceful demonstrations taking place, as such action can only undermine the prospects for peace, prosperity and stability in Myanmar.


You have copies of that statement upstairs.


** Myanmar -– Human Rights


Meanwhile, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, today urged the Myanmar authorities to allow the peaceful expression of dissent in the country and to abide by international human rights law in their response to the current widespread peaceful street protests.


Arbour said she was gravely concerned about the well-being and safety of the demonstrators.  She also expressed her continuing concern for those who have been detained during recent weeks, and for the welfare of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.


We have Louise Arbour’s full statement upstairs as well.


**Security Council


Turning to the Security Council, the Security Council has scheduled consultations this afternoon at 3 p.m.  During those consultations, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy dealing with Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, is expected to brief the Council on the latest developments in that country.


The Secretary-General yesterday in the afternoon spoke at the summit-level Security Council meeting on challenges in Africa, saying that, although many African countries are confronted with daunting peace and security challenges, encouraging signs are emerging.


He said that African peacemakers, alone, cannot tackle the continent's conflicts.  That is why the UN is working to strengthen its partnerships with regional organizations, such as the African Union.  And he noted the hybrid operation for Darfur as “an unprecedented partnership between the UN and the AU” that is an expression of our collective commitment to end the tragedy of Darfur.


Earlier in the day, the Security Council approved the establishment of a multidimensional international presence in Chad and the Central African Republic, including a UN Mission in those countries, called MINURCAT for short.


** Alliance of Civilizations


This morning, the Group of Friends for the Alliance of Civilizations, the initiative first sponsored by Spain and Turkey, met at the ministerial level this morning, and the Secretary-General addressed that meeting.


He told the Group of Friends that intolerance and cross-cultural tensions are on the rise, with new instances of the harmful impact of cultural misunderstandings and religious prejudices on relations between communities appearing every day.


“Facing these challenges is the need of the hour,” the Secretary-General said.  It demands a collective and broad-based approach that is at the very heart of the Alliance of Civilizations.


And those remarks are available upstairs.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, William Lacy Swing, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the DRC, was in the town of Kananga in the western Kasai Occidental to assess the political and security conditions there and to seek solutions to the problems caused to UN staff by the Ebola epidemic in the region.


Speaking to local officials, Swing said that, although most of the Mission’s work was now focused on the eastern part of the country, the Kasai region remains just as important to the United Nations.  Swing also presented the local governor with 367 mattresses to be distributed to various hospitals in the province through the Mission’s Quick Impact Projects programme.


Meanwhile, Ross Mountain, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the DRC, was in Bunia in the north-eastern region in an effort to solve the impasse in the third phase of the disarmament, demobilization and reinsertion programme in the Ituri Province.  The Mission says that some 4,600 combatants have signed up to disarm, but fewer than 1,400, including some 260 women, have surrendered their weapons so far.


** Côte d’Ivoire


And in Côte d’Ivoire, our Mission there is helping the authorities plan and execute a new identification scheme, which was formally launched yesterday.


The Mission says that it will send logistics support teams to all 68 districts where the so-called audiences foraines [aliens hearings] are being conducted.


And we have a press release from the Mission upstairs.


** Afghanistan


And out on the racks today is the Secretary-General’s latest report to the General Assembly and Security Council on Afghanistan, and it says that the most urgent priority in the country must be an effective, integrated civilian-military strategy and security plan.  A coordinated military response is still needed to defeat insurgent and terrorist groups, but success in the medium term requires the engagement of communities and the provision of lasting security in which development can take place.


The report notes that the continued increase in opium production poses an increasingly grave threat to reconstruction and nation-building in Afghanistan, and it says that the Government must put a priority on interdiction and bring drug traffickers to justice.


And even as we speak, President Hamid Karzai and UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis are launching -– outside the UN Headquarters -- the Afghanistan national Human Development Report 2007, which says that the Afghan justice system must be rebuilt in a way that bridges modern and traditional justice institutions, protects rights and strengthens the rule of law.


We have more information on that report upstairs.


** Nepal


And on Nepal, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in Nepal will provide urgently needed humanitarian food aid and non-food items to 5,000 people displaced by recent communal violence across two districts in western Nepal.


And there’s more information in a press release on that.


**Treaty Events


And the Office of Legal Affairs says that, on the first day of this year’s Treaty Event, 11 Member States yesterday undertook 20 treaty actions, consisting of 17 signatures and 3 ratifications.


This morning, five more Member States participated in the event.  And so far, the 2006 Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities has attracted the most interest with nine signatures.


A summary of yesterday’s treaty actions as well as a master schedule of appointments for upcoming treaty actions are available upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.


** Uganda Floods


And we also have an update on the UN’s response to the recent flooding in Uganda.  UNICEF and its partners have provided more than two million vaccinations for measles and polio as well as emergency and basic drug kits to treat up to 20,000 people for three months.


And there is an update on that upstairs, as I mentioned.


**UNAIDS Report


And in a new report on estimated financial resources required for the response to AIDS, the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS is calling for a rapid scaling up of resources in order to reach the goal of universal access to treatment by 2010 and maintain those levels into the next decade.


UNAIDS notes that countries such as Brazil and Botswana have made good progress towards universal access, particularly to antiretroviral treatment, but the $10 billion available in 2007 represents a serious shortfall in funding and is hampering many countries’ efforts.


There’s more information on this report upstairs.


**UN Agency Events


And then, this afternoon at 4:30 in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is convening a panel on improving maternal health and reducing child mortality worldwide.


The panel of global health and Government officials will be moderated by producer/actress Ricki Lake and also will include, among others, the Prime Minister of Norway, the First lady of Zambia, as well as the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan, and Ann Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF.


There’s a media advisory on that upstairs. 


And there’s also a media advisory from the UN refugee agency which is launching an education campaign for refugee children, so take a look at that as well. 


**Press Conference


And for press conferences, I think the only one I have to flag for you is tomorrow, at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference by the President of Cyprus.


And that’s all I have for you.  The General Assembly Spokesman is here also to take your questions, though I understand he doesn’t have a briefing per se.  But before I turn to him, okay, let’s go there and wind our way up.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, I just wanted to know about yesterday’s press briefing by the President of Iran.  I don’t have any questions about the substance, but the form, the way the UN handled it.  You asked journalists to write down their names, those who are interested to ask questions, just to be… to find out that the list was completely ignored.  And journalists that asked questions, some of them are not even journalists and most of them are from the same media.  So I just wanted to make this remark.


Spokesperson:  The Spokesperson was not the moderator of that press event so I will take up that issue with DPI [Department of Public Information].  As for the non-journalists entering the conference room, I think DPI is looking into that matter.  Yes?


Question:  Yes, Marie, I want to raise this issue officially on behalf of the UN Correspondents Association (UNCA) and launch a protest against the conduct of the whole of the two press conferences by the French President and the Iranian President.  The Heads of State coming to the UN must respect freedom of expression and the freedom of the media, of the press.  In both cases, the French discriminated against international media in favour of only the French media.  In the case of the Iranian President, he refused to answer any questions from Israeli journalists.  It was done last year and it was done again this year.  I guess, I mean, Heads of State must first uphold those principles.  What is the attitude of DPI if DPI just lets Heads of State behave as they behaved yesterday?  What would be the UN’s principles and how is the UN going to uphold those principles?  Those are the issues the UN has to answer to us first. 


So, and DPI yesterday totally lost control in the press conference by Ahmadinejad.  I was going to stand up and make an official protest, but I don’t know if it could succeed in halting or cancelling the press conference.  It will go on because DPI allows it to go on, while the President really violates the freedom of the journalists working here at the UN.  So please take this on the record and we really need some official explanation why DPI failed to intervene before it happened or during the press conference and let it happen.


Spokesperson:  I think your point is well taken and I’m sure it’s well noted.  Just on the press conference with the Iranian President, as I just mentioned, DPI is looking into that.  And in terms of the press conference referring to the French President, there’s just one thing I do have to say on that, which is that Missions often do briefings for their national press but those are not announced nor sponsored by the Spokesperson’s Office.  Briefings on the official press conference schedule are meant to be open to all accredited journalists.  The French Mission should not have asked us to put the press conference on our public schedule and they have apologized for that misunderstanding.  Having said that, and your point is well taken and I think it has been noted, as I said, the French President did appear twice yesterday and he did appear again to talk to the international press in the afternoon.


Now if we can move on from that to a question.  Yes?


Question:  On Myanmar, does Mr. Gambari plan to mediate between Government and opposition and has the Government of Myanmar accepted his mission?


Spokesperson:  I would like to refer to the statement that we just had on Mr. Gambari being dispatched to the region.  I would like to repeat this one line because the Secretary-General calls on the senior leadership of the country to cooperate fully with this mission in order to take advantage of the willingness of the United Nations to assist in the process of national reconciliation through dialogue.  So this is the purpose of the visit.  The answer to your question about Mr. Gambari… I’m sorry, it was a logistics question?


Question:  I said, has the Myanmar Government accepted his mission?


Spokesperson:  Not yet.


Question:  And what does he plan to do?  Mediate between Government and opposition to bring down this…


Spokesperson:  As I mentioned to you earlier, Mr. Gambari is briefing the Security Council this afternoon at three o’clock.  Immediately after that he will head towards the region.  He will stay there and, as soon as he gets the green light, he will proceed to go there.  In terms of his mandate, I will stick to the statement I just mentioned on Myanmar.  Yes?


Question:  On that, does the UN have any information to confirm the death of protesters?  There are some reports saying five people have been killed.  Is that your understanding?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have a direct report from our office in Myanmar confirming the violence and, as you note, the Secretary-General’s statement also referred to “reports” of the use of force and arrests and beatings.  Our presence -- I just wanted to let you know -- on the ground, at the moment we do have a Resident Coordinator who is also the Humanitarian Coordinator, and most of our activities are in various humanitarian and other agency work on the ground.


Question:  And I noticed the Secretary-General’s meeting with the Foreign Minister of Myanmar at 5:20 this afternoon.  Is it expected that he will raise this issue of letting Mr. Gambari in and the…


Spokesperson:  Well, obviously he raises it publicly already; he calls on the senior leadership in this statement to welcome his visit.  Let’s get a readout of that meeting as soon as it happens and we’ve asked for that already.  More on Myanmar?  Okay.  Mr. Abbadi?


Question:  Marie, in his remarks to the Security Council Summit on Africa yesterday…


Spokesperson:  I thought this was on Myanmar.  No more on Myanmar?  Okay.  Okay, go ahead.


Question:  In his remarks to the Security Council Summit on Africa yesterday, the Secretary-General announced that he would be making a proposal to the General Assembly on significant strengthening of the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) with a view to increasing the effectiveness of preventive diplomacy.  Will that include restructuring of the Department or the creation of such things as a preventive diplomacy centre or division of research?  And also, will he ask for an increase in the Department’s budgetary resources?


Spokesperson:  Some of your questions I can’t get into yet because these proposals are still being developed so we are not prepared to go into that kind of detail.  However, you referred to the Secretary-General’s proposal in the Summit yesterday, and this is just to let you know that this is a second stage of the Secretary-General’s efforts to strengthen the Secretariat in the area of peace and security following the changes made already to peacekeeping.


The purpose of the changes to be proposed by the Secretary-General is to make the UN better able to detect and respond to potential crises before they erupt through the use of preventive diplomacy and the Secretary-General’s good offices, backed by a stronger Political Affairs Department.  Conflict prevention is a core function of the UN, but the infrastructure to do it needs to be made stronger.


This is a long overdue change and the need to strengthen DPA has been documented in numerous assessments and evaluations.  Although the proposals are still being developed as I say, the core of it will be to strengthen the regional affairs desks of the Department and to help make DPA more mobile and field-oriented.  The plans will be submitted to the Member States in the near future and informal consultations are already under way.  And that’s what I have on that subject.  Yes?


Question:  Yes, on yesterday’s incident at the General Assembly, what the Secretary-General thinks of that unprecedented action by the President of the General Assembly to clearly violate the Security Council resolution and how he thinks it affects his mandate to find solution between Greece and FYROM [the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia]?


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Secretary-General has a Personal Envoy for the Greece-FYROM talks.  His name is Matthew Nimetz and we’ve talked to him, and he has said that what happened in the General Assembly yesterday demonstrates why a permanent solution is needed, and he is continuing to work with the parties on this issue. 


For his part, the Secretary-General urges both parties to redouble their efforts to resolve their differences through the established mediation efforts.  Within the United Nations, the Secretary-General and the Secretariat observe the practice of using the name “the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia” or “FYROM” as referred to in Security Council resolutions.  So as to how it will affect the future, we can’t get into such hypothetical situations.  The important thing is that Mr. Nimetz is continuing his work.  Yes?


Question:  Is the President of Lebanon attending the dinner tonight of the Secretary-General?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, as far as I know, is attending a dinner hosted outside… He’s not hosting a dinner so you’d have to ask the hosts, I guess.  Thank you.  Benny?


Question:  I don’t know if it was raised before, but just to put a fine point on it, I think that the United Nations Charter says that all journalists, that it has a provision for freedom of the press.  I think what happened yesterday with…


Spokesperson:  Benny, I know you came in late; I’m going to have to cut you off because the President of UNCA has already made a statement on behalf of all of you.  I’m sure you will stand behind UNCA.  Yes?


Question:  There was a meeting between the Italian Prime Minister and the Secretary-General.  Did they discuss anything on the moratorium on the death penalty?


Spokesperson:  You know we have a readout on that but I didn’t bring it down with me.  So if you could come up to our office, we’ll give it to you immediately after this. 


[The correspondent was later informed that the death penalty was indeed one of the subjects discussed by the Italian Prime Minister and the Secretary-General.]


Question:  A couple of questions, one is the Deputy SRSG [Special Representative of the Secretary-General] in Kosovo -– this guy Steven Schook -– he said to the press that he’s under OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] investigation.  Can you confirm that and, if so, what triggered it and what is he being looked at for?


Spokesperson:  What I have on this subject is that the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative in Kosovo spoke to the media in Pristina this morning to address allegations that have been raised against him.  A transcript of those remarks, which he made in his personal capacity, is available upstairs.  In terms of an OIOS investigation, as you know we do not comment on OIOS investigations or even confirm whether such investigations are under way until they are completed and given to Member States.  At that point OIOS findings would go to Member States upon their request.


Question:  But even times like in the Congo, where you said there’s no investigation ongoing, so we’ll have no comment until it’s finished so I guess…


Spokesperson:  Well this is what I have on this today.


Question:  Okay.  And also last night in his, I guess his remarks or his toast at the dinner, the Secretary-General said –- I think for the first time -– that he has some plan to speed up the Capital Master Plan (CMP) and cut several years off.  And he also said that maybe all staff will move out.  So is there something new in the Plan?  How’s he going to speed it up?  What was he talking about?


Spokesperson:  Those of you who were here earlier this year remember when we introduced the Assistant Secretary-General, the new head of the Capital Master Plan, Michael Adlerstein.  When he briefed you on that Plan together with Alicia Barcena, the Department of Management USG [Under-Secretary-General], there was discussion about the estimate of time slippage at that time and budget overrun in the report of the UN Board of Auditors on the CMP, which had been published in June.  In other words, the Board of Auditors report had commented on the sort of delay and over-budgeting -– and at that time, Mr. Adlerstein stated that the Capital Master Plan Office was exploring all ways to keep the project within budget and on schedule and the Capital Master Plan will be -– this probably is for the General Assembly but this is what I’ve been told by the Capital Master Plan Office so -– they tell us that the Capital Master Plan will be on the agenda of the Fifth Committee in several weeks.  At that time, the Secretary-General will present his annual progress report on the Capital Master Plan for the consideration of Member States.  The Capital Master Plan Office is preparing recommendations to keep the Plan within budget and on time –- on schedule –- in line with the Secretary-General’s remarks last night.  So the first thing is that the discussions will have to take place with the Member States and then we will make sure that Mr. Adlerstein will brief you on these recommendations, which he has promised to do. 


Question:  On the French President’s press conference, I have no protest, I just have a question.  It sounded like the UN accepts that a Mission can use this room and limit access to journalists.


Spokesperson:  Well, the Member States basically can… this is their building.  So they can hold press conferences in any room that they like but there are certain guidelines for the use of this room, which is what, I think, what the UNCA President was referring to.  I don’t really have any more…


Question:  I, just so it doesn’t happen again, it seems important to understand…


Spokesperson:  If it’s a procedural matter please take it up with the UNCA President.  He will lodge something; we will convey it and I think…


Question:  Mr. [Kiyo] Akasaka earlier today said he was going to somehow complain to the French.  Is that true?


Spokesperson:  But this is not a question, right? 


Question:  No it is.  No, no, it actually is a question.  Who’s in charge of security for the room?  Like we thought that, when journalists come in, you gotta show your pass, it’s a UN-given pass, it’s UN or MALU [Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit], but yesterday it was just the French Mission.  So when a country runs its own –- by your standards –- press conferences here, are they in charge of everything?  Can they allow non-journalists in?  Can they do anything they want?  Could they come in here and do finger-painting?


Spokesperson:  I just read to you what the misunderstanding was with this press conference.  So in terms of security and the other press conference, DPI is looking into that, okay?  With that, if you have questions for the General Assembly Spokesman, he is here to take your questions.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


I’m happy to be here just in case you have some questions concerning the General Assembly.  Otherwise, I thought not to take up too much of your time since everything is pretty straightforward as it goes on in the General Assembly.  You have enough to do and cover.  But please, go ahead.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, I have a follow-up on yesterday’s incident and I will state, the President of the General Assembly said he respects the dignity of every State and I wonder how this disrespect of the Security Council resolution coincides with the dignity, and if his 13 predecessors that respected those resolutions and called that State as FYROM, I mean, they were disrespecting the dignity?  And the final one, obviously, I mean, as a President I think should be impartial and obviously here there is a conflict of interest between his national identity and his duties as an impartial President of the General Assembly should be.  In other organizations all over the world –- even in this Organization -– when a president has a conflict of interest he gives his position to the vice-president, and why he didn’t do anything of that and he acted like an officer of his own country?  Those are the questions.


GA Spokesperson:  Okay.  What I have concerning what happened is the following statement which is attributable to the Spokesperson of the President of the General Assembly, and that’s the following:


In his acceptance speech on 24 May 2007, the President already expressed his desire to discharge his duties in a balanced, considered and forthright manner with utmost respect for the dignity of every single Member State.  It was in this spirit that he introduced President Crvenkovski to take the floor in yesterday's General Debate.  At the same time, the President is aware of the fact that, in exercising his functions, he remains under the authority of the General Assembly and intends to fully abide by its rules and regulations.


As regards to the specific issue of the name, the two countries are negotiating with the facilitation of the Secretary-General’s Envoy, Mr. Matthew Nimetz.  The President believes that this is a process that should be left to the Envoy and the respective Governments.


That’s all I have to say on that.


Question:  I just want to ask him -- and please come back tomorrow if you don’t have the answer today -- if he feels there was a conflict of interest on that issue and if he thinks he acted properly.  If you have a conflict of interest, even if you are a judge or a president, you just step down.  There are universal patterns on that issue.  This is my question and I come back tomorrow and ask it again.  Thank you very much.


GA Spokesperson:  Okay.  And this is the statement that I have, okay?


Question:  You’re going to have the same one?


GA Spokesperson:  No, no.  That’s not what I meant.  What I meant is now I have the statement that you just heard. 


Matthew, yes?


Question:  I have just one follow-up on that…  I can’t figure out from your statement whether he feels he’s saying that he somehow slipped up or did he go to the podium with the intention of using, of saying, “This is the President of the Republic of Macedonia”?  That’s what I don’t understand from the statement.  Was it…


GA Spokesperson:  I believe that the statement is pretty clear about what we have to say on this so I’ll stick with what we have, what I said with the statement.  That’s all I have on that.


Question:  In this General Debate, Cuba walked out, right?  Have they so far been the only ones who walked out? 


GA Spokesperson:  The walking out of delegations.  I don’t know, I’m not aware of any other incident but we’ll certainly look into it and check and I can come back to you on that.


Question:  Even a little piece, a paragraph, on the history of walk-out.  Just to know…


GA Spokesperson:  Walk-out.  Okay, sure no problem we’ll check into that.


Question:  And also, it was reported that the President of Iran spoke for 38 minutes.  Is that true?


GA Spokesperson:  I think the count is longer.  I think it was 55.


Question:  Oh, really?


GA Spokesperson:  And he was actually the longest speaker yesterday.


Question:  Are there any repercussions or was anything said after the fact, like “that’s too long”?


GA Spokesperson:  There is no limit on –- no imposed limit -– on speeches, but Member States are advised to keep to -– and this time the idea was -- to a 15-minute limit.  Some observed this limit others less.  That’s basically it.  But there’s no hard rule on imposing this.  Of course, the General Assembly President can use his “powers” and remind Member States to abide by this rule, which he may or he may not do.


Question:  Legally speaking, if a speaker chose to filibuster and to keep talking, what would happen?


GA Spokesperson:  I have to check on the rules.  Ultimately there are rules to limit the Debate, procedural rules that Member States can raise and ask to be introduced, and then Member States would have to accept that or not -– maybe even go to a vote.  So, theoretically speaking, that is a possibility.  I doubt –- and that’s maybe my own view -– I doubt that anybody would do that in the course of a General Debate, since the General Debate is exactly designed for all Member States to come at the highest level and basically give their views on the most important questions that they feel is a challenge to their own country, is a challenge for the global community.  Is that what…?


Question:  I’m sorry, I just have one more for a story on this.  Does your office have any idea of the size of delegations?  What could you say about the size of delegations?


GA Spokesperson:  Matthew, I’ll double check on that again.  I don’t know and I’m not going to second guess here.  It’s an interesting question.  We’ll check and we’ll come back to you about whether there are any kind of rules or is it just…


Question:  Not even rules, but if you know… what’s the average size, how would one know?


GA Spokesperson:  No, we’ll check.  We’ll check.  There might be certain rules or it might be just a question of logistics for each and every Member State.  What they can bear, so to speak, what their desires are, what their policies on how forceful they want to concentrate on certain issues, how long they want to stay etc.  So, it might be a combination of a variety of different factors, but having said that, it could also be a case that there are certain rules and regulations which we will double check and get back to you on.


Question:  Just a remark here to answer partially my colleague.  The size of the delegation, as far as the Assembly is concerned, is limited by the number of seats behind the main…


GA Spokesperson:  Sure, yes.  That’s six.  There’s no doubt about that, but I think what, Matthew, you were asking was in general because… exactly… we know that apart from the six people who actually sit behind those tables, there are also a number of other members of the delegation, but I’ll check and come back to you on that.  Okay thank you very much.


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