15 October 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 Michéle 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.


** Myanmar


The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, met today with the Prime Minister of Thailand in Bangkok, where Gambari is at the start of a regional tour. He delivered a special written message of the Secretary-General to the Prime Minister and discussed with him the situation in Myanmar.


Earlier, Gambari met the Foreign Minister and spoke to the press afterward.


He said that he intended to raise with Myanmar's neighbours and regional partners the UN's serious concerns at the continuing reports of human rights violations in the wake of the recent demonstrations.


He asserted that “the reports of arrests of the remaining student leaders, interrogations and acts of intimidation are extremely disturbing and run counter to the spirit of mutual engagement between the United Nations and Myanmar. These actions must stop at once”.  He called on the Myanmar authorities to release all political detainees.


Gambari added that other objectives of his trip were to consult with and seek the active support of regional partners on the next steps in the implementation of the Secretary-General's good offices, with a view to returning to Myanmar as soon as possible, and to discuss and coordinate with regional partners any efforts or initiatives complementary to those of the United Nations.


Asked whether the authorities in Myanmar were acting in good faith, Gambari welcomed the fact that they have appointed a liaison officer to start dialogue, and he also welcomed the reduced visibility of the military on the streets. But he warned, “Certainly all these will be damaged by all the continued reports of actions that are detrimental to national reconciliation and to overall long-lasting peace and prosperity in Myanmar.”


We have the full transcript upstairs.


Gambari travels to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Tuesday. He will also visit Indonesia, India, China and Japan.


**Sudan-SPLM


In a statement issued over the weekend, the Secretary-General expressed his concern about the decision by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement to suspend its participation in the Government of National Unity.


The Secretary-General called on both parties to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) to resolve the situation in a manner that preserves the integrity of the Agreement.


The Secretary-General urges the parties, in particular the National Congress Party, to urgently take the necessary steps to address the outstanding issues related to the implementation of the CPA.


The United Nations stands ready to assist the parties to accelerate progress on these matters, restore the necessary trust between them and keep implementation of the CPA on track.


The Acting Special Representative for the Secretary-General, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, meanwhile, has travelled to Juba, where he held two meetings, one with the Secretary-General of the SPLM and another with the President and Vice-President of the Government of Southern Sudan, Salva Kiir and Riek Machar.


The UN Mission in Sudan says that Mr. Zerihoun was encouraged by his interlocutors' assurances that they will remain engaged in discussions and consultations with their National Congress Party partners.


**Sudan-Darfur


Meanwhile, the United Nations and the African Union have provided the airlift support for the Darfur rebel movements who have gathered in Juba in southern Sudan at a conference hosted by the SPLM in preparation for the Darfur talks in Sirte, Libya.


Staff from the AU-UN Joint Mediation Support Team are attending this conference and are holding meetings on the sidelines with the movements to discuss their preparedness for the Sirte talks.


I would like to draw your attention to the latest transcript of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, on the preparations for the Sirte talks.


**Sudan-UNAMID


The United Nations has awarded Pacific Architect Engineers, Inc. (PAE) a contract for the initial Multi-Function Logistics Services in Darfur for a period of six months in support of the UN-African Mission in Darfur.  The contract was signed today, 15 October 2007, in New York.


The contract, which is for a not-to-exceed amount of $250 million, covers the establishment of new camps in El Fasher, Nyala, El Geneina, Zalingei in Darfur and El Obeid for up to a total of 4,100 military and civilian personnel and the provision of camp services including catering, medical, janitorial, welfare and upkeep.


The nature and complexity of the requirements, along with the challenging timeline mandated by the Security Council, necessitated a contractor with considerable experience in the Darfur environment. The search for a suitable short-term solution has led to this contractor, which has been in Darfur since 2004 constructing and maintaining all logistical services to the existing 34 African Union camps.


**Security Council


Tom Koenigs, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, told the Security Council that the level of violent incidents in that country is up by roughly 30 per cent from the comparable level last year. The sad result, he said, is that at least 1,200 Afghans have been killed since this January.


Koenigs said that it is imperative that the protection of civilians remain at the forefront of efforts in Afghanistan, and he noted with pleasure the concrete steps taken by the International Security and Assistance Force and Operation Enduring Freedom on the issue of civilian casualties.


We have his remarks upstairs and the Security Council’s open debate on Afghanistan is continuing. Mr. Koenigs intends to speak with reporters once the meeting has ended and we will, of course, let you know.


The Security Council began its work today by unanimously adopting two resolutions extending UN peacekeeping missions. The UN Mission in Haiti was extended by one year, while the one in Georgia was extended by six months.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, William Lacy Swing, and the UN Force Commander there, General Boubacar Gueye, met earlier today with Congolese President Joseph Kabila in Goma, in north-eastern DRC. They discussed the security situation in the North Kivu Province, where a military stand-off between Government forces and dissident soldiers, led by renegade General Laurent Nkunda, continues.


On the same subject, the Mission this weekend issued a statement in which it reiterated its firm support for the Congolese Army, in accordance with its mandate to assist the Government in restoring and extending State authority throughout the country. The Mission urged all dissident troops to rejoin the Army immediately, a move for which the necessary arrangements, including reception sites and transportation, have already been made.


Speaking on the Mission’s assistance to the Army, Force Commander General Gueye confirmed that UN peacekeepers have taken up the medical evacuation of the Congolese Army’s wounded and the transportation of their reinforcements and ammunitions. General Gueye also said that UN peacekeepers are coordinating with humanitarian agencies on the ground. Finding a solution to the crisis, he added, remains the peacekeepers’ top priority.


**Criminal Accountability


On criminal accountability, in a statement today in the Sixth Committee on criminal accountability of U.N. officials, the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Mr. Nicolas Michel, stressed that the Secretariat does not and cannot condone criminal conduct by its officials and experts on mission.


He stressed that failure to prosecute offenders brings on a perception of impunity, which would aggravate the negative effects that such incidents generate. He highlighted the need for the international community to act resolutely and take serious efforts to address the problem of criminal accountability of UN officials and experts on mission, in a timely and efficient manner.


** Haiti


Joel Boutroue, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti, this weekend accompanied Haitian Prime Minister Jacques Edouard Alexis to the town of Cabaret to assess damage from the massive rainfall that flooded the region, causing serious destruction of property and livelihoods.


The UN Stabilization Mission says that it is actively involved in coordinating the emergency aid coming to Haiti in response to the flood. The Mission provided logistical support to the authorities and, together with Haitian Police, helped relocate families affected by the recent floods.


**Maternal Mortality


Several U.N. agencies have released figures showing that the maternal mortality rate is declining too slowly to meet the Millennium Development Goal of reducing the number of women who die in pregnancy and childbirth by three quarters by 2015.


To achieve that goal, an annual decline of more than 5 per cent is required, but the figure is currently dropping by less than 1 per cent a year.  In 2005, more than half a million women died of maternal causes, and 99 per cent of those deaths were in developing countries, with more than half in sub-Saharan Africa.


The Deputy Secretary-General, who addressed the challenges facing Africa in Oslo today, also cited the current maternal mortality rates and described them as “shockingly high”. A woman in Africa has a one in 16 chance to die in childbirth or from complications of pregnancy, compared with a likelihood of one in 3,800 in the developed world, she said.


**Somalia/Humanitarian


The World Health Organization is warning about an imminent risk of cholera in southern Somalia.  Seven new cases have been confirmed so far.


This comes after an outbreak of the disease three months ago, during which more than 1,100 people died.  UNICEF has begun delivering cholera kits and oral dehydration therapy supplies to the area.


** Central African Republic


Turning to the Central African Republic, the U.N. and several non-governmental organizations have opened a new base of operations in Paoua.


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the new presence in the country’s north-west will help improve the effectiveness of humanitarian assistance there.


At present, the majority of the population is unable to access essential goods and receive adequate protection, OCHA says.


**Sri Lanka/Louise Arbour


On Sri Lanka, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour wrapped up her visit to Sri Lanka over the weekend.  In a statement at the conclusion of her trip, she expressed alarm about the large number of reported unresolved killings, abductions and disappearances.


She called for independent information gathering and public reporting on allegations of human rights abuses, noting that the absence of reliable information on that subject is one of the country’s major human rights shortcomings.


She added that the Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission’s failure to appoint relevant commissioners, and to systematically conduct public inquiries and issue timely reports, had created a crisis of confidence.  She offered the support of her Office, and stressed the urgent need to create a productive relationship between her Office and the Sri Lankan Government.


We have copies of her statement upstairs.


**Nobel Peace Prize


The Secretary-General, before he ended his brief trip to Washington last week, gave a brief press encounter on Friday in which he expressed his delight at the news that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2007 was awarded to former US Vice-President Al Gore and to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).


He said that the award shows clear recognition of the urgency and significance of addressing global warming. He said that Gore has provided a good example of how individuals can make a difference in raising the awareness of this important global challenge.


“This is a global challenge that requires global action,” the Secretary-General said, adding, “I will continuously be engaged in this fight.”


The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said that the award is a “remarkable testament to the dedication and commitment of the thousands of experts and participants who have produced the Panel's rigorous and comprehensive assessments of climate change research”. 


We have that press release upstairs.


**Film Screening


On the 17th of October, there will be a screening of the documentary, Darfur NOW, at the Dag Hammarskjold Auditorium. The screening is organized by the Department of Public Information and more information is available upstairs.


**Guest at Noon Tomorrow


Our guest at noon tomorrow will be Kemal Dervis, Administrator of UNDP, who has recently returned from his 10-day trip to Africa. He’ll discuss Africa’s economic progress and the key elements needed to ensure successful development on the continent.


This is all I have for you. Thank you. Questions?  Yes, Benny…


**Questions and Answers


Question: There is criticism in this report that the Task Force, the Procurement Task Force Report, of one senior official who hasn’t adequately filled in his disclosure findings.  Does the Secretary-General, who has made disclosure a personal crusade, does he have anything to say about this particular case?


Spokesperson: Well, I think everything has already been said about the different cases of people revealing their assets, you know.


Question: But to be sure, at the time I remember you said almost all, that had the repeat phrase fill their disclosure form. The question is, when you say almost, is there a particular person that did not, in effect, complete that part of the Procurement Task Force?


Spokesperson: Well you’ve read the report, right?  I have nothing to add.


Question: Right. I’m asking to make sure we’re talking about a person at the ASG-level who has not adequately filled out. As far as the Secretary-General, has he filled his obligations or not?


Spokesperson: This specific individual, I’ll check on that for you. I don’t have any particular statement from the Secretary-General on that instance at this point.  Yes, Matthew?


[The Spokesperson later added that the relevant disciplinary case is still within the UN’s own internal justice system and that it is very important for the integrity of this process that it be allowed to proceed without interference.]


Question: I wanted to ask about this contract you just announced on Darfur. There was this letter from, from the Secretary-General to the General Assembly October 3 saying that many contracting requirements were going to be waived for the UNAMID force in Darfur. Was this… I mean, I guess I want to know the relations between this letter and this, this… How long was this contract with – I think it’s owned by Lockheed Martin – this Pacific Architect Engineers. How long, how long was the UN considering them as the winner?


Spokesperson: I can’t give you the exact time, but I know several offers were considered before it was decided to pick a specific firm that has experience in building the camps for the AU forces.


Question: But was the award of this contract – the selection – was it done under this new policy, of, of, because there’s this letter he wrote to the GA saying I waiving, you know, entering into non-competitive single-source contracts, entering into non-competitive bidding, was this competitive or non-competitive?


Spokesperson: It was competitive.


Question: Under the UN’s applicable, you know, articles or under this new UN policy?


Spokesperson: I can check for you how many, you know, people actually applied for this.


Question: That would be good. And also, this letter for some reason, I saw it up on the rack, but there’s some, I don’t know how to… It seems to me that it’s a big deal to say that we’re going to waive a number of, of staffing… I don’t know if this is something that Jane Holl Lute… Are we going to get some kind of briefing on this? Can we get… On this new policy? As it relates to the Darfur mission?


Question: We can try to get one for you.


Correspondent: That would be great. Thanks.


Question: How long is Gambari going to spend in this round, when do you expect him back and who is he going to report to?


Spokesperson: Okay, we don’t have a specific date on his return. What we know are the different countries he’s going to visit, of course his schedule has been modified by his discussions on the ground. So, I hope to have a date for you later, but not at this point. We don’t have a date. I did say that at the start of the briefing.


Question: Is he going to report to… to this… Last time he reported first to the GA and then to the Security Council. That going to be the way he…


Spokesperson: I don’t know how he’s going to proceed when he gets back. Yes, sure…


Question: I know that the Security Council and the Secretary-General have said he should go to Myanmar as quickly as he could. They’re now still saying mid-November. Is that early enough in the Secretary-General’s point of view?


Spokesperson: The Secretary-General has said that he would wish that it would be earlier. At this point, Mr. Gambari has a visa for that time – mid-November – but he’s definitely trying to get there earlier. But we don’t have a specific date yet.


Question: What does this specifically require, I mean is that like if I asked for a visa or the fact that he’s using it on a diplomatic purpose? Does that make any difference as far as visa requirements?


Spokesperson: No, I don’t think so. He had a Government invitation for mid-November. Yes, Betsy.


Question: Is it the expectation that Mr. Gambari will go into Myanmar after this round of visits in the region?


Spokesperson: Well, we don’t know yet, Betsy, whether he will be coming back to Headquarters before and going to Myanmar afterwards – it’s just going to depend on when he can go to Myanmar. And it’s going to depend on the results of these discussions with the different countries he’s going to.


Question: Has he asked to enter the country earlier? Has he made that official request?


Spokesperson: I think it has been made, yes.


Question: And there’s been no reply.


Spokesperson: Not yet.


Question: Would you go over please the figures? It’s $250 million for the building of this military installation for 400,000 people? Is that correct?


Spokesperson: Let me check for you. About the building… I have this clarification for you, Matthew, regarding the contractor… it was a sole-source bid. And it was a waiver of the competitive process. This is the letter that he is referring to. There was a exigency due to the timing required to meet the timelines and that was a timeline, of course, laid down by the Security Council for the mobilization of the mission, so they had to act very fast and this is why you have the letter that you mentioned and it was a sole-source bid.


[The Spokesperson later added that the negotiations on the contract were completed by the Procurement Service, and the Contract was subsequently reviewed by the Headquarters Committee on Contracts.]


Question: Because of the time requirement, they have to forego the, the bidding process?


Spokesperson: Just to a contractor that had been working previously in the area, so that knew the conditions in Darfur. They had been working before with the African Union forces, so they could provide faster services on that.


Question: When African Forces would staff a competitive bid? I mean when they


Spokesperson: When the AU decided, I cannot answer for the AU. And you are trying to have numbers on this. I can certainly get that for you, I’ll get the numbers for you, yes. I said it earlier during the briefing.


Correspondent: I believe it was $250 million for the building and it was 400,000, um, staff in this military operation?


Correspondent 2: No, 4,100.


Correspondent 1: How many please?


Spokesperson: Okay, let me get the facts for you. 4,100 military and civilian personnel. The number you gave – $250 million – is correct. Not to exceed that amount. The contract. It covers the establishment of camps in Darfur at different areas as I mentioned earlier. Thank you very much. Janos?


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Good afternoon, good to see you all. Let me get my little notes.  A couple of words on the activities of the President of the General Assembly and also on the work of the Assembly and the Main Committees.


**Nobel Peace Prize


We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson of the President of the General Assembly on the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, and it reads as follows:


The President of the United Nations General Assembly is extremely pleased that the 2007 Nobel Peace Price was awarded to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and to Mr. Al Gore for their outstanding work and commitment to raise awareness and to mobilize a broad-based response to the challenge of climate change. He warmly congratulates both recipients for receiving the award.


The President believes that the awarding of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize is a clear recognition of the fact that climate change is not just an environmental problem, but a global, multifaceted challenge that deserves immediate and crucial attention from the international community.


The President is especially delighted that a United Nations body has been honoured this year with the prize. He notes that the United Nations has been the key forum to both recognize and respond to the threat of climate change.  The award is not only a recognition of the outstanding and important work that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has been pursuing over the many years, but also reflects positively on the work of the United Nations as a whole. It also underscores the current attention Member States have given to climate change, making it the flagship issue of the 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly.


The President hopes that the Nobel Peace Prize will give additional impetus to the efforts of Member States to work through the United Nations to address the challenge of climate change.


We have copies of that statement upstairs.


**General Assembly Plenary


The General Assembly met this morning in a plenary session to hold a joint debate on the reports of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and for former Yugoslavia. The meeting began with statements from the presidents of the tribunals: Judge Charles Michael Dennis Byron and Judge Fausto Pocar.


Tomorrow, the Assembly will meet again in a plenary session to elect five non-permanent members to the Security Council. Please note that in today’s plenary the Assembly also looked at the report of the Fifth Committee on scale of assessments in order to take action to allow for countries under Article 19 to be able to vote tomorrow on the non-permanent Security Council seats. I mentioned all of that in detail last week on Thursday when I briefed you.


**Activities of the President of the General Assembly


A little bit on the President.  The President was not chairing today’s plenary meeting.  He’s travelling.  He’s coming back to New York today.  As I informed you on Thursday, he was on visits to Brussels, Germany and Paris over these past few days, but he will be chairing tomorrow’s plenary session.


**Main Committees


A quick run-down on the Committees.


The First Committee on disarmament and international security issues, is to continue the general debate on disarmament, peace and security related matters this afternoon.


The Second Committee, which deals with economic and financial issues, concluded its general debate on issues related to economic development last week and this week it is looking at specific agenda items – starting with a look at macroeconomic policy questions today.


The Third Committee, which focuses on social, humanitarian and cultural issues, began its meeting this morning looking at the topic of advancement of women.


The Fourth Committee, which deals with Special political questions and decolonization issues, is to conclude its debate on decolonization items and is expected to take action on related draft proposals, meaning related to decolonization.


The Fifth Committee, administrative and budgetary issues, is meeting to take up the agenda item on “pattern of conferences” this morning and in the afternoon, it will have informal consultations.


And finally, the Sixth Committee.  To some extent Michèle mentioned a bit on this,on the work of the Committee, which deals with legal issues. It concluded its discussion on measures to eliminate international terrorism last week and is meeting this morning on the topic of criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission.  This is what Michèle referred to when she talked about the UN Legal Counsel addressing the committee.


This afternoon the Committee will continue its work in the format of working groups looking at three key topics that it has on its agenda. These are administration of justice at the UN; measures to eliminate international terrorism; and criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission – so those three issues that had been discussed partly last week and today. And that’s all I have for you.


Any questions? Matthew?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I wanted to ask you about this letter by the Secretary-General to the President of the General Assembly.  It’s dated 2 October and it concerns waiving procurement and other rules for the Darfur, uh, uh, the mission, the UN Mission in Darfur.  It was sort of… I guess what I’m wondering is, it says in it that he got approval in August to $50 million to use it within his discretion. I guess my question is, can the Secretariat waive, I mean obviously, I guess they can, but what, what, by the letter, has any… has the General Assembly done anything with this letter since it was received, saying all the rules, you know knock all the rules. We’re waiving all the rules and we’re about… They didn’t say it, but today they awarded a $250 million contract outside of those rules.  Has the General Assembly concurred in that?


GA Spokesperson:  I’ll have to look into that, Matthew.  I don’t have an answer for that to you now. So you’re talking about a 2 October dated letter from the SG to the GA.


Correspondent:  A/62/379


GA Spokesperson:  379. Okay.


Question:  What’s happened since they’ve received it?


GA Spokesperson:  Fair enough.


Question: …says it’s supposed to be referred to the Fifth Committee, but I don’t know if that happened before today’s announcement or just… If you could explain the process by which… the rules or whatever.


GA Spokesperson:  Sure.  I’ll look into it, whether in fact it has been received by the Fifth Committee, whether they took it up, and what’s the format in general on such issues.  Betsy, please.


Question:  The death penalty.  Is there anything scheduled in presumably the Third Committee or would it be a plenary…?


GA Spokesperson:  There is talk -- and it has been reported in the press -- that there might be a draft proposed by certain countries, probably from the European Union, to the Third Committee on the idea of how to continue with the, the death penalty.  And my wording gets fuzzy because what we have all read in the report – and I’m relying this time on newspaper reports, this is not official UN declaration so to speak -- is whether that draft resolution will look at a moratorium on the death penalty or the abolition of the death penalty. Member States are obviously discussing that so it is not on the agenda item as such. If it is going to be tabled, it most likely will be tabled in the Third Committee amongst the human rights-related issues. But I have no word whether anybody has tabled the draft resolution to that extent.


If you remember, I think it was under the 54th session pushed by Finland that already this issue was discussed and I think at that time it was not a moratorium, but actually the abolishment of the death penalty. So there was already a one-go at it in the framework of the Assembly in the Third Committee and that didn’t receive the necessary required votes, so that didn’t go anywhere. We don’t know what’s going to happen this year. It obviously depends on the formulators, or the supporters, of the draft, which way they want to go, do they want to table it, do they feel they have the necessary support for it.


Question:  You said if they discuss it, will it be in some sort of organized forum or is it just corridored?


GA Spokesperson:  We’re talking about informal discussions, I assume, among Member States. This is within the framework of Member States, whether that’s in the corridors, or coffee or in a room, I don’t know. It could be all of those actually put together. It simply means that it is very much in the informal stage of Member States looking at it which way to go.


If no additional questions, then thank you very much for your attention and hopefully see you tomorrow.


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