|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 Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon, all.
First, on Myanmar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, met for over one hour today with Senior General Than Shwe in Naypyitaw, as well as with other members of the senior leadership, to discuss the current situation in Myanmar.
Following that meeting, Mr. Gambari returned to Yangon and met with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for the second time during his mission. That meeting lasted about 45 minutes.
Mr. Gambari has now left Myanmar and is presently in Singapore. He will return to New York to report to the Secretary-General on the outcome of his mission by the end of this week.
From Geneva, the Human Rights Council’s Special Session on Myanmar has just adopted by consensus a resolution on Myanmar. According to the text, the Human Rights Council strongly deplores the continued violent repression of peaceful demonstrations in Myanmar. It also urges Myanmar to release without delay those arrested and detained as a result of the recent repression and to release all political detainees, including Aung San Suu Kyi.
In her opening statement to the Session, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour said the peaceful protests and the shocking response by the Myanmar authorities were only the most recent manifestations of the repression of fundamental rights and freedoms taking place over nearly 20 years in that country. The Myanmar authorities should no longer expect that their self-imposed isolation would shield them from accountability, she added.
We have upstairs her full remarks, as well as the resolution that was just adopted.
On Sudan, the Joint African Union-United Nations Special Representative for Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, met with AMIS Force Commander General Martin Luther Agwai on the situation in Haskanita following the attack on the AMIS team. He assured the General that both the United Nations and the African Union stand firm in their resolve to help bring peace to Darfur, and in carrying out their assignment as contained in resolution 1769.
Mr. Adada added that both the UN Secretary-General and AU Commission Chairman remain committed to supporting the people of Darfur in achieving peace and security.
The UN Mission in Sudan also reports further attacks in North, South and West Darfur.
In North Darfur, two armed men entered a compound housing an international non-governmental organization in El Fasher on Sunday and threatened to shoot the staff if they did not hand them the keys of one of the vehicles. The attackers left with the vehicle. The staff was not harmed.
Then in South Darfur, three armed men shot and killed a resident at the Hassa Hissa camp housing internally displaced persons and fled the scene.
And two armed men approached a UN vehicle in Nyala yesterday and drove away with it after they fired warning shots in the air, forced the driver out and beat him up. Local police arrested two suspects on the same day, and they are currently investigating that incident.
In West Darfur yesterday, meanwhile, three armed men attempted to hijack an NGO vehicle in El Geneina. They shot at the vehicle and wounded the driver, who is in critical condition and is being treated in El Geneina Hospital.
Turning to South Sudan, the UN Refugee Agency says it is facing a critical funding shortfall for its refugee return and reintegration programmes in South Sudan. The funding situation is so dire, UNHCR says, that it may not be able to resume transporting refugees back home from camps in neighbouring countries once the rainy season ends.
The lack of funds has forced UNHCR to stop buying some of the basic items it normally distributes to returnees, such as blankets, soap, mosquito nets and cooking sets. The Refugee Agency says it urgently needs $11 million to keep the operation going.
There’s more information on the UNHCR briefing upstairs.
The Security Council this morning held consultations in which it approved its programme of work for October. The Council President for October, Ambassador Leslie Kojo Christian of Ghana, will brief you on the Council’s work over the coming month shortly after this briefing, as soon as the Council consultations are over.
The Security Council yesterday afternoon held consultations on Sudan, with Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno briefing Council members on the weekend attack against African Union Mission troops in Darfur.
Council members discussed a possible statement on that attack. This morning, Council members are continuing to consider a draft presidential statement.
** Côte d’Ivoire
On Côte d’Ivoire, the Operation in Côte d’Ivoire confirmed yesterday in a press release that a United Nations exploratory mission is now in that country. This comes as a preliminary response to a request from Côte d’Ivoire asking for the start of an independent international inquiry into the June 2007 attack on a plane carrying Prime Minister Guillaume Soro.
The exploratory mission will be in Côte d’Ivoire for six days. The purpose of its visit is to ascertain the nature of Côte d’Ivoire’s request and to discuss possible options in accordance with the UN’s practices and principles with regard to such inquiries. Copies of the press release are available upstairs.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
United Nations humanitarian workers in the North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo say they have regained access to internally displaced persons and resumed their work. And that’s thanks due to a recent lull in the fighting between rebel and Government forces. Families in need are now receiving basic supplies from UN and non-governmental agencies, and UN peacekeepers are on hand to secure various IDP sites in Goma, the provincial capital.
Meanwhile, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees will soon resume IDP registration in an effort to improve accuracy in the figures the UN keeps on beneficiaries of its humanitarian work in the region.
To date, some 300,000 people have been displaced by armed battles between Government and rebel forces in North Kivu.
The Secretary-General this morning addressed the informal General Assembly plenary meeting on the first commemoration of the International Day of Non-Violence. He reminded delegates that the UN had been created in the hope that humanity could not only end wars, it could eventually make them unnecessary. Highlighting the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi -- whose birthday was today and who was one of his personal heroes -- the Secretary-General said he hoped today would help spread Gandhi’s message to an ever wider audience, and hasten a time when every day was a day without violence.
Also marking the occasion, the Deputy Secretary-General today participated in a round-table discussion chaired by India’s Sonia Gandhi. In her remarks, the Deputy Secretary-General said our violent and unsettled times cried out for Mahatma Gandhi’s healing touch.
We have both sets of remarks upstairs.
On Cambodia, in the interests of transparency and fairness, the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia have released on its website the findings of the special audits of the Cambodian side of the Extraordinary Chambers, which was commissioned by UNDP in early 2007, together with Cambodian responses.
Among its other conclusions, the audit report finds that some national staff recruited for the Chambers did not meet the minimum requirements specified in the vacancy announcements, and that recruitment was not always performed in a transparent, competitive and objective manner.
We have copies of the audit report, together with Cambodian responses, in my office and the report can also be found on the Chambers’ website.
**Press Conference Today
At approximately 12:30 p.m., Ambassador Leslie Kojo Christian of Ghana will brief you in his capacity as the President of the Security Council for the month of October, on the Council’s programme of work for the month. It will be, of course, after Janos’ briefing. This is all I have for you.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Did the Secretary-General push, if I can say forward, with the request of the Croatian President Stjepan Mesić? Because he somehow promised him that he would make that letter from the Prime Minister of Croatia a matter available for all delegates of the Member States here during this General Assembly? Did the letter appear on the racks? Is it available?
Spokesperson: I will check on that for you.
Question: That will also be available for journalists?
Spokesperson: If it’s on the racks it will, of course, be available for everyone. I have to find out how it was circulated and if it was circulated and when.
Question: And any additional comments of the Secretary-General that strongly expressed dissatisfaction by the Croatian Government of the ruling of the verdict of the ICTY on the three Serb officers in regard to the massacres in Vukovar in 1991?
Spokesperson: We don’t have any further comments on that, Erol. Nothing further. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Michèle, as you indicated, Mr. Gambari will soon be returning to New York to report to the Secretary-General on his mission. Will he also be reporting to the Security Council?
Spokesperson: He will probably be reporting to the Security Council. You can ask the question to the President of the Council when he comes a little later. We don’t know exactly when it will be. Probably Friday. But you can ask him. He is expected to report to the Secretary-General on Thursday when he comes in.
Question: There’s a report in the Independent in London saying that UNMIS had tried to evacuate the African Union troops that were under attack, but the Government in Khartoum didn’t allow them to do so? Can the UN confirm or deny that?
Spokesperson: Well, we were not specifically asked. According to our Mission, to UNMIS, it says it was not asked by AMIS to launch an evacuation operation and the information reported by the Independent is not true. UNMIS did, however, put some of its air assets on standby in case a request is made by AMIS for assistance. So this is what we have.
Question: There was no, from the Khartoum Government, there was no negative saying, there was no saying they couldn’t have gone if they wanted to go?
Question: Michèle, will the Secretary-General meet with the Croatian Prime Minister, Ivo Sanader, when he is going to be here on 15 or 16 October?
Spokesperson: I’ll check on that for you.
[The correspondent was later informed that the Secretary-General’s Executive Office had not received any request for such a meeting.]
Question: Darfur, the situation as (inaudible) the Secretary-General has been there: Does the Secretary-General believe the situation is now worse than ever before in Darfur, Sudan? What kind of action is he seeking from the Security Council for the hybrid force to do?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, the Security Council is examining the situation right now and is discussing the situation and is discussing a statement to put out on the issue. In terms of what the Secretary-General’s concerns are, of course, as you know, he has been very strong about what happened. There is going to be a meeting of troop-contributing countries at the end of this week. We don’t have an exact time yet, and we will have some high senior officials from DPKO to come to brief you on that.
Question: Michèle, also on Iraq, I wanted to find out, since the situation in Iraq is somewhat stabilizing is the Secretary-General considering re-entering the United Nations in Iraq? I mean, do you think the United Nations will be in Iraq again? Is there any talks going on about that, or is there any consideration given to that? Since the United States has been asking for more of the UN involvement?
Spokesperson: I think there is a continued assessment of the issue. The issue of security is being continually assessed and as soon as it is possible, I think it will be done. But for the time being, right now, it is still being assessed.
Question: Perhaps I missed this, I’m sorry if I did, but did you say that Sonia Gandhi will be available to brief us as well?
Spokesperson: No, I didn’t say that. I don’t know.
Question: But there’s a chance she might be?
Spokesperson: She is here, that’s all I can say.
Question: Yes, thank you, Michèle. With regard to the negotiations that are ongoing between North and South Korea, I wondered if there was any more information about the meeting that was held yesterday with the Secretary-General and Pak Gil Yon from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea?
Spokesperson: Well, you can have a readout of the meeting from my office anytime. We actually talked about it yesterday.
Question: You talked about the introduction to the meeting. But I wondered if after the meeting there was something.
Spokesperson: No, there was nothing added onto that.
Question: Okay, and the second question is, did the Secretary-General try to call Kim Jong-il? Did he try to telephone him the way he did Roh Moo-hyun? There were different ways of dealing with each of them. I was wondering if there was a reason for that, if he would try to telephone the head of DPRK the way he did the head of South Korea.
Spokesperson: I’ll check which additional phone calls he made.
Question: Do you know if the issue of the visas to get the auditors into North Korea, if that came up in the meeting? And if not there, what is the status of that request to get them in?
Spokesperson: That hasn’t come up. When they met, the issue was the summit. The issue was not specifically visas for auditors.
Question: The DSG has written saying it should happen. I guess I’m just wondering, has it happened or what’s going to happen with actually getting the auditors there?
Spokesperson: I’ll get an update for you on that.
Question: Michèle, has any African State threatened to withdraw its contingents from the peacekeeping forces in Darfur, in Sudan, as a result of the attack on the peacekeepers there?
Spokesperson: Well, you should know more about it at the end of the week, as I said, because right after the troop-contributing countries’ meeting, you are going to have a briefing on this, on the status of the deployment, where we are, how many countries are contributing troops. You will get all this information at the end of this week.
Question: What I’m asking is about the threat by certain States, or any particular State, of withdrawing their forces from the region as the result of the attack on…
Spokesperson: Well, I’m saying you will know the answer to that question whenever the troop-contributing countries meet, so we’ll know which ones are withdrawing or threatening to withdraw.
Question: I want to know, you tell about the report about the Refugee Agency, does it have enough money. It’s the second time you do in the last two weeks. You know if the UN is going to do something? Because they need money for the people in Sudan. I don’t know if the UN or Secretary-General is going to do something about that.
Spokesperson: Well, it’s not going to be the Secretary-General. As you know, UNHCR has a periodic call to Member States for contributions to specific programmes and what they are saying is that they are short of funds for this programme for southern Sudan. So I think they are going to keep on calling on Member States; those are funded by Member States. The Secretary-General has no direct impact on this.
Thank you very much. And in a few minutes, right after Janos, you have the President of the Security Council for this month.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Thank you, Michèle. Thank you very much. Good afternoon, good to see you all.
**Day of Non-Violence
Let me continue with the Day of Non-violence. On the International Day of Non-Violence, we also have a statement attributable to the Spokesman of the President of the General Assembly. It reads as follows:
“The President of the General Assembly welcomes the first commemoration of the International Day of Non-Violence and calls on all peace-loving people to use the occasion of this day to spread the message that non-violence is the only way to reach sustainable solutions to political and social challenges. Regrettably, recent terrorist acts and the use of force against non-violent protests continue to underline the importance and urgency of this appeal.
“The President notes that non-violence, tolerance, respect for human rights, democracy, development and diversity are interlinked and mutually reinforcing. He invites all Member States, United Nations organizations, regional and non-governmental bodies and individuals to commemorate the International Day of Non-Violence by spreading this message.”
And continuing with the International Day of Non-Violence, let me note that this morning the Assembly held its first observance of the Day. From 9:30 to 10 in the form of an informal meeting of the plenary in the Assembly Hall. The observance of the Day on 2 October is based on resolution 61/271, which is adopted during the sixty-first session of the Assembly on 27 June 2007. The Day, 2 October, is the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, regarded by many as the pioneer of the philosophy and strategy of non-violence. Let me also flag for you, for those of you more interested in the concept and events of the International Day of Non-Violence, there’s a special website devoted just to that, which is www.un.org/events/nonviolence.
The President of the Assembly addressed the General Assembly along with the Secretary-General, the Foreign Minister of South Africa and Sonia Gandhi as the Chair of the United Progressive Alliance, in that informal meeting commemorating Non-Violence Day.
The President of the Assembly, in his address to the informal meeting, drew attention to the words of Mahatma Gandhi, quoting him as saying that: “Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man”. The President went on to stress Gandhi’s message -- the rejection of violence had as much relevance now as it did during his lifetime. This political philosophy is based on universal human principles that transcend history, nations and cultures. Gandhi believed that intolerance was the worst form of violence; that without genuine tolerance -- of the kind that springs from within -- no dialogue can have a lasting impact.
The President pointed out that this message underlined the importance of having various initiatives within the United Nations to promote dialogue among cultures, religions and faiths, as well as to strengthen mutual understanding between nations.
And tying into that, as I already flagged, one such key initiative is the two-day High-Level Dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace that will follow the general debate on Thursday and Friday. And I’ll have all the details for you on that tomorrow at the noon briefing.
Talking about the general debate, it is set to conclude tomorrow but it will be tomorrow early afternoon. Up to this morning we had, for those of you interested in statistics, 147 Member States and 2 Observers address the debate, the two Observers being Palestine and the Holy See. Of those taking the floor we had 67 Heads of State and 25 Heads of Government -- and for those looking for the gender aspects -- 13 women were among the speakers.
That’s all I have for you. Questions? Please.
**Questions and Answers
Question: There’s a linkage between the International Day of Peace and the International Day of Non-Violence. Can they be linked together?
Spokesperson: I’m sure they can, because if you look at the resolution that created the International Day of Peace -- which, as you may remember, is on 21 September, originally it used to be, I think, on every second or third Tuesday of September, linked to the beginning of the General Assembly, but then six years ago the Members States decided to have it on 21 September every year -- in that resolution there is talk of peace and also talk of non-violence. But I think the approach is, that with the International Day of Peace, you’re looking at more the ceasefire aspects, which is what that resolution stressed. In other words, looking at non-violence as far as States are concerned. I think in the case of the Day of Non-Violence today, from the perspective of Gandhi, it is more on the level of the individual and interaction among individuals as well. At least, this is how I see it.
Question: You mean the International Day of Non-Violence would exclude violence committed by States?
Spokesperson: No, I would not think so. No, no, no. It also involves that as well, definitely.
Question: I have a question. Do you know how many Foreign Ministers attended or spoke?
Spokesperson: The GA is still going on. I will try to get a hold of the statistics for you. I do have some kind of tentative number and according to that, we have on the summary list 68 for Foreign Ministers but let’s wait until the debate concludes.
Question: As a follow-up, I wonder how this compares with last year.
Spokesperson: That I don’t have.
Question: Could you maybe look at that at some point when you have the time?
Spokesperson: I’ll give it a try. Yes, definitely.
Question: We heard, as of late yesterday, the Secretary-General has made 129 bilateral meetings with these various attendees. So, inevitably, it’s not that it’s a competition with the President of the GA, but how, do you keep a tab that way? What’s the number?
Spokesperson: Of course, we do. It’s a little over 50 at the moment. Matthew, I did want to mention, because you were asking about the technical glitch with the microphone on Friday evening, it was purely a technical glitch, no political “messages” there. So, therefore, when you mentioned yesterday the connection with the Capital Master Plan, yes, you can draw a connection there.
Question: I don’t know if this is more or less serious, but in the address today, the representative of Canada came out with this idea that there should be a new UN envoy to Afghanistan. I’m wondering, do these types of proposals, do they then become part of the General Assembly’s agenda? Does it get put on? Or he said maybe the Council will consider it. I’m asking about that one in particular because it’s high profile. They said in advance he’d say it; he did say it. Now what?
Spokesperson: In the case of Afghanistan, it is definitely an issue on the agenda of the Security Council. So, from that perspective, the Canadian initiative can be seen through that. As regards agenda items of the Assembly, those are set. As I mentioned to you yesterday, the President of the Assembly and his team are definitely paying attention to all statements, all proposals, all initiatives, and are making note of them. They are looking at all the different ideas that Member States express when it comes to the basic theme of “responding to climate change” and, of course, the priority themes of climate change, countering terrorism, financing for development, Millennium Development Goals and management reform, and within that also Security Council reform, which some of you were interested in. The idea is to see how Member States are voicing their views on those issues. And as I said yesterday, the bilateral meetings are also revolving around those themes.
So it is based on all of that that the President of the Assembly will chart his course of action over the coming year. That’ll also be very much taken into consideration. But let’s not forget that the whole idea of the theme for the debate and the priority issues were already a result of previous negotiations, or informal talks with Member States, on an individual basis or in the form of regional groups. So that was already a good sounding out process as to where Member States want to go with this session.
Question: In addition to the proposals and ideas submitted by delegations to the general debate, is the President of the Assembly in contact with the Secretary-General and the President of the Council regarding the reform of the Security Council?
Spokesperson: I’m not so sure that in the course of these two weeks, when we have the general debate, that there is contact on this issue. But do not forget that on 19 September, the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly had a working lunch and already discussed some of these issues. Also, the two of them very often attend the same meetings, so there is plenty of possibility for them to interact, but I would think that it’ll be more once the general debate is over, after that, that such discussions take place and are, of course, on a regular basis, to see how to coordinate action to see how to work together, especially on some of the key issues that we’ve mentioned: climate change, definitely, the road to Bali and what to do afterwards.
I think you remember we talked about this, it was in the President’s speech as well, that he’s planning to work with the Secretary-General on the road map issue that will be devised as far as the climate change challenge, up to Kyoto and beyond, taking into consideration a larger concept as regards addressing climate change, not just the environmental aspects, but the whole broader security, development, economics, human rights, rule of law, etc. aspects. So that’s definitely there to come, this kind of coordination.
Question: Two questions. First, I want to congratulate you. The statements of the people who speak are online, not only in the verbal but also in a written form, and I was very happy to see that and I don’t know if everybody knows about that but it was very nice to find that.
Spokesperson: Thank you very much. I will definitely pass that on to the colleagues who’ve been working on that and making sure that this happens. Thank you.
Question: The second question. I was looking at the booklet of the programme for the future, and then I’ve been listening to some of the statements being made, and what struck me was that the booklets seem to say that this was a time for the presidents, or the people who would speak for each country, to make their general statements. It was an open discussion. And yet there are themes and priorities. I wonder about the intersection of that because I notice that some have more general statements and some address the themes and priorities. Is there some sense of which is higher, or why there’s the themes and yet the general statements seem to be what was more mandated from years before?
Spokesperson: I understand the question. I think we touched on this yesterday and maybe even some of the days before, as regards these statements. The basic idea with the general debate is, that for those 7, 5 or 10 days, depending on how long it lasts, it gives an occasion for Member States to come here on the highest level and at the United Nations, address and be addressed, again, at the highest level of representation of the other Member States, and thereby use this forum to basically state what they think, what to them is the most important challenge of the day, what they feel is important to them, what they feel is important collectively.
Now, ideally, of course, what happens is that -- and this is what this President is definitely trying to do, and this is what I think the whole revitalization of the General Assembly is all about -- is to try to have this general debate focused a little bit. This President has been saying that he would like to see this general debate move away from a series of monologues to some sort of dialogue. Now, in order to have a dialogue, you need to frame the debate to some extent without, of course, putting it into a straightjacket. That is why the idea of coming up with themes has been introduced, again, as part of the revitalization of the General Assembly. So having themes is not necessarily new to this session. It has been there in the previous few sessions. This year it is responding to climate change. And as I said, the priorities, again, are also to assist Member States as regards what issues to touch upon.
But again, it goes back to what I just mentioned to Matthew. The identification of the priorities and also the setting of the theme is not something that is dreamt up in a vacuum. It is the result of previous consultations. So it is based on what Member States feel covers their key issues. It is important because whatever they say on those issues, it is, of course, a message to the whole session, message to the other Member States and their representation, and of course it gives an indication to the President, the team and the whole Organization, of what are the ideas, what are the commitments, what kind of political will is there to move on and in which direction on these issues.
So in that way, this debate is getting to be more of a chart-setting exercise rather than making it a case whereby Member States come here and voice their views, which, in itself, is still within the whole spirit of what this Organization is about. But if you can somewhat channel that in a direction that actually leads somewhere and gives indications as to where countries want to go with these issues, that’s very good.
One additional thing, of course, is that what we’re talking about is currently 192 or so addresses in the general debate in the Assembly in the course of seven days. You’re trying to limit speeches as much as possible; the idea was to have it around 15 minutes. Most of the speakers, of course, overstepped that. But what we’re talking about is to have a Head of State, Head of Government or a Foreign Minister come here and address these major issues and challenges and whatever they think are their own key issues, in roughly 20 or 25 minutes. So it is better to give that some kind of a focus rather than have it go in all directions.
Question: The fact that the debate could be restructured in such a way through a cluster of themes, etc., does not mean that there is a dialogue. Why can’t the President go back to some ideas that were used in previous summits, the round-table discussions by Heads of States, which will bring up dialogue issue?
Spokesperson: I think it has to do with the fact that the general debate will continue to remain as such in the sense of a major opening event for each session and for the highest level of participation from Member States, to give their keynote address. But as I tried to say, at the same time the idea is to somehow focus it in the form of making Member States concentrate on certain issues that then later on will be taken forward. Forward in the sense of what you’re referring to with thematic debates, because as part of the revitalization process there is this idea of holding thematic debates with the idea of having round tables, discussing issues and engaging in dialogue -- for example, on some of the issues we have talked about here, which would be financing for development or the MDGs, you will see, as we progress throughout the year. But I doubt the general debate as such, as an institutionalized and somewhat still very much formal addressing of Member States, is going to go in the direction of round tables and interactive dialogue. That I don’t see. Summits, thematic debate, yes. The general debate will remain, though. But as I said, the idea is still to try to push the debate into a direction where it is at least a little more focused. And what you will see tomorrow, as the debate closes, the Assembly President is going to give concluding remarks and those concluding remarks will touch upon some of the issues mentioned in the debate by the Member States. So in a way, that’s kind of like a dialogue.
If no more questions, then thank you very much for you attention.
* *** *For information media • not an official record