|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, and welcome to the student journalists from Laval University today.
**Secretary-General on Budget
The Secretary-General today presented the proposed programme budget for the UN’s work during 2008 and 2009 to the General Assembly, and told them that the $4.2 billion budget represents real growth of $23 million over the previous biennium, or half a percentage point. He said that the proposals reflect strict budgetary discipline, balancing growth in some areas with reallocation in others.
The Secretary-General told the Fifth Committee, “Never has the world so needed a strong United Nations. Yet never have our resources been stretched so thin.”
He noted that, last year, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was reorganized, the better to execute on our peacekeeping mandates. This year we will turn to the Department of Political Affairs, with a new emphasis on anticipating crises and proactive preventive diplomacy. To that end, he asked the Committee to support the strengthening of the Department of Political Affairs by authorizing $18 million for this purpose.
Development cannot take a back seat to peace and security, the Secretary-General added. This is the year to think freshly about the problems of the poorest of the world’s poor —- the “bottom billion” left behind by world economic growth. He added that we must think more expansively about traditional definitions of social justice and human rights -— including the implicit right to development, encompassed in the responsibility to protect.
This is the year of reform, and the Secretary-General will roll out specific measures to make the UN faster, more nimble and more modern. To aid UN reform, the Secretary-General has set up a new change-management task force. Its work will focus on human resources, budget and finance, and procurement to consolidate rules in each area according to clear criteria.
He added that the budget also provides for stiffer internal oversight. The Secretary-General called for the extension of the vital work of the Procurement Task Force for another year, even as we work towards more permanent independent auditing and investigative capabilities.
We have his full statement upstairs. Also, to answer your questions on the budget, we’ll have at 3 p.m. a briefing in this room by Under-Secretary-General for Management Alicia Bárcena and Controller Warren Sach.
The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, has completed his meetings in Beijing, as part of his consultations in regional capitals. He had detailed and extensive discussions today with State Councillor Tang Jianxuan and Vice-Foreign Minister Wang Yi, as well as yesterday with Assistant Foreign Minister He Yafei.
Mr. Gambari delivered a personal message from the Secretary-General to State Councillor Tang, thanking the Chinese Government for its active support to the UN good offices so far and encouraging China to intensify its constructive engagement in support of UN efforts.
Mr. Gambari and his Chinese counterparts discussed the need for the Government of Myanmar to move forward by starting a dialogue with the opposition without delay and pursuing a more inclusive national reconciliation process in order to address the legitimate concerns of the Myanmar people, as well as the need for the international community to find new ways of encouraging Myanmar to make concrete progress in this regard.
Following the meetings, the Chinese Government issued a statement of support to the UN good offices and Mr. Gambari’s efforts on behalf of the Secretary-General.
Mr. Gambari is now in Tokyo where he is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda and Foreign Minister Masahiko Koumura.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has again voiced grave concern over the staggering number of rapes of women by armed men in North Kivu.
The Mission appeals to Congolese authorities to carry out all necessary measures in order to arrest and prosecute all those suspected of committing acts of rape. The Mission also affirmed that it is available to support Congolese law enforcement and judicial authorities in pursuing and punishing these crimes. We expect to issue a statement on displacement and sexual violence in North Kivu shortly.
The result of Tokelau's self-determination referendum was announced today, following four days of voting in the presence of a UN electoral monitoring mission.
While 64.4 per cent of voters supported the option of self-government in free association with New Zealand, this was not sufficient to meet the two-thirds majority required. The UN monitoring mission deemed the election process credible and as reflecting the will of the people.
And I have the following statement on this, attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
**Secretary-General Statement on Tokelau
The Secretary-General has followed with interest the referendum that has just taken place in Tokelau. He is gratified that the conduct of this referendum was credible, and reflected the will of the people, as witnessed by a United Nations team deployed to monitor the vote. He takes note of the results and respects the decision of the people of Tokelau not to move to self-government in free association with New Zealand.
It is important that the people of Tokelau have had this opportunity. The Secretary-General commends the Government of New Zealand, as the administering Power, for its exemplary commitment and cooperation in this process. He also expresses his gratitude to the Special Committee on Decolonization, whose commitment to the principles enshrined in the 1960 United Nations Declaration on Decolonization made the referendum possible.
The United Nations will continue working to ensure that the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territories are afforded the opportunity to exercise their right to self-determination.
On Sudan, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, is headed from Asmara to Sirte, Libya, the site of the peace talks on Darfur to open on Saturday, where delegates have begun to arrive.
The Security Council, in a presidential statement, called on all parties to participate fully in the upcoming Darfur peace talks and urged, as a first step, to put in place a cessation of hostilities to be overseen by the United Nations and the African Union.
In a statement read out early yesterday evening by Security Council President, Ambassador Leslie Kojo Christian of Ghana, the Council underlined its willingness to take action against any party that sought to undermine the peace process by failing to respect such a cessation of hostilities or by impeding the talks planned for 27 October in Libya.
Expressing its deep concern over delays in deploying the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID), the Council called on Member States to make available the aviation and ground transport units still required, and asked all parties to facilitate and expedite the deployment. Concerned also over the continuing deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation in the region, the Council urged all parties to exercise restraint.
**Secretary-General Statement on Democratic Republic of Congo
I had announced earlier a statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo. I just received it. It is a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the increased displacement, human suffering, and sexual violence in North Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as a result of fighting in the area between Congolese forces, dissident troops and armed militias, as well as elements of the FDLR.
The United Nations and its partners are doing their utmost to provide for the basic humanitarian needs of civilians caught up in the conflict. However, continued insecurity is complicating these efforts. He calls upon all belligerents to ensure total and unrestricted access of humanitarian actors to civilians affected by the conflict, in accordance with international humanitarian law.
The Secretary-General urges all dissidents to join the "brassage" process immediately, without conditions. He also calls upon the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure the protection of all civilians in the region. These are essential first steps towards bringing an end to the suffering of the civilian population and towards resolving the root causes of the conflict, in particular the continued presence in the DRC of the FDLR and other foreign armed groups.
The Security Council held consultations on Nepal, and it received a briefing by the head of the UN Mission in that country, Ian Martin. Martin presented to the Council the Secretary-General’s recent report on Nepal, which we flagged for you earlier this week; and he will be the guest at tomorrow’s noon briefing to discuss the UN’s work in Nepal further.
Council members also held consultations today on the work of the Sanctions Committee dealing with Côte d’Ivoire. Ambassador Johan Verbeke of Belgium, who chairs the Committee, briefed the Council on its work, and a draft resolution on the extension of the sanctions on Côte d’Ivoire was circulated to Council members.
On Gaza, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes briefed the press in Geneva on the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He warned that the situation in Gaza was worsening in recent weeks.
Although the United Nations had managed to get through more than 3,000 truckloads of humanitarian aid in July, through a number of crossing points, that volume had been steadily falling, and had only been 1,508 in September. Last week, 663 truckloads had gone through, as compared with 793 just the previous week. As for health care, in July, 40 patients a day had been allowed to cross into Israel, which had fallen to under five a day in September, Holmes said.
He noted that Israel had threatened to cut electricity and fuel supplies if the launching of rocket attacks from Gaza continued. While the United Nations condemns those attacks, Holmes said that “it did not appear an appropriate response to those rocket attacks to punish the population of Gaza”. We have more in a press release upstairs.
On Afghanistan, in a report launched today, UNICEF cautions that efforts to build on progress since the fall of the Taliban will be increasingly difficult, particularly in southern Afghanistan, as a result of the recent upsurge in insecurity.
UNICEF says that there has been considerable progress made in health, nutrition and education in Afghanistan in recent years. Also, one third of children in school today are girls –- up from three per cent when the Taliban were in power. Now, however, humanitarian access has become increasingly difficult in some areas, and the United Nations now rates at least 78 districts as extremely risky.
We have more details in a press release upstairs.
China has made significant strides towards “greening” the 2008 Beijing Olympics, according to a new report by the UN Environment Programme. UNEP highlights environmental measures covering waste management, cleaner transport systems and water treatment and new urban green belts, as well as progress in energy efficiency and a phase-out of ozone-depleting chemicals.
The report, however, expresses concerns about poor air quality, the under-utilization of public transport, and missed opportunities to offset greenhouse gases generated by the event.
**Upcoming Press Conferences
Press conferences, at 3 p.m. today, there will be, as I said earlier, a press conference by Warren Sach, UN Controller, and Alicia Bárcena, Under-Secretary-General for Management, following the Secretary-General’s briefing to the Fifth Committee on the budget.
Later today, at 4 p.m., there will be a press conference by Paul Hunt, Special Rapporteur on the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
And we are planning also a briefing on the Capital Master Plan, and we’ll announce the precise time as soon as it is confirmed for tomorrow.
And our guest at the noon tomorrow will be Ian Martin, the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative in Nepal.
Also, there are several press conferences by special rapporteurs scheduled for tomorrow. Starting at 10 a.m., there will be a press conference by Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur on the right to food. Later that day, at 2 p.m., it will be Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; and at 5 p.m., it will be Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
This is all I have for you. Thank you. Yes, Masood?
**Questions and Answers
Question: In the morning, in a speech on behalf of the G77, it was the Office of the Secretary-General was criticized basically for lack of transparency and accountability in the recruitment of staff at the United Nations, especially in the senior positions. And I think when it involves, particularly, developed countries, countries of concern to the G77, I mean they expressed concern, and also the G77 expressed concern about recruitment of the lower level staff at various duty stations which is not being done. Do you have any response from the Secretary-General now?
Spokesperson: Well you’re going to have a press conference this afternoon about this, about all aspects of the budget and what it entails. If you’re talking about here the ACABQ (Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions) report…
Question: But normally budget is about…
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have any immediate answer right now. As you know, the debate is going on on the whole issue of the budget, of policy and human resources. So let’s, this thing is developing, let’s keep it going, okay? Thank you. Yes?
Question: On Nepal, there was a meeting in the Security Council, any update on that, follow-up on that? Which of the countries participated and issues raised?
Spokesperson: Well you are going to have the opportunity to speak to Mr. Ian Martin, so you’ll be able to ask him your questions tomorrow. We briefly said what was said at the Council, but you can get more information from the Council, of course. Yes?
Question: I have two questions. One involves, in India, the Minister of Women and Child Development has called for the lifting of the immunity of UNICEF’s head person in the country. I wanted to know if that request, they said it there and the press covered it in India, whether that request has been made to the UN and if they would grant it. And also there’s the question of the complaining witness. He’s accused of alleged sexual abuse. The complaining witness was let go by UNICEF. So does the Secretariat think that the UN Ethics Office, in terms of this would be a whistleblower if the allegation was true, should have jurisdiction over that. And also, the final thing is that it was always said that Department of Management was coming up with a harassment policy somewhere within the wheels of the UN this was being done, for an update on that.
Spokesperson: Okay. Well your first question should be addressed to UNICEF directly. The second part, which was the Ethics Office and the role of the Ethics Office and the extent of the mandate of the Ethics Office, this will be one of the subjects that will be discussed, as you know, at the meeting, the higher meeting, that is going to take place Friday and Saturday with the heads of all UN agencies, and the Ethics Office will be one of the topics discussed. We have nothing new to add on this and we’ll see what will be decided by the meeting on Friday and Saturday.
Question: Isn’t the request to remove immunity from a UN system person ultimately the Secretary-General’s decision, or does each fund and programme get to maintain…
Spokesperson: Each fund and programme, they have their own rules.
Question: For lifting of immunity?
Question: Okay. And this thing of the harassment policy, do you have any idea of where in the process, I know that the previous Under-Secretary-General of Management had said it was about to come out, that it was going to be this great policy, and then it’s been 11, whatever, 10 months.
Spokesperson: I don’t have any additional information. I’ll try to get some more for you on this. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Michèle, some time ago the Secretary-General said that he would try to significantly strengthen the Department of Political Affairs, and we now know that he’s requesting $18 million towards the programme of preventive diplomacy. Does he think that this amount is adequate for that purpose, or does he think that is what he realistically can obtain at this stage?
Spokesperson: Well, at this point, at this stage, this is what he has proposed in the budget, and you can have more information about what it implies at the briefing this afternoon on how much the Secretary-General wants to achieve. Obviously he has made that proposal and will stick to what he has proposed, and we’ll see what the Member States do say about it. Yes?
Question: Is the Secretary-General going to take a glance at the GEO-4 report that we were just briefed on with Jeffrey Sachs, or does he know?
Spokesperson: Of course he does receive those reports. He doesn’t immediately react to those reports.
Question: But he does receive them?
Spokesperson: Yes, sure. Yes?
Question: Regarding Mr. Gambari, after his visit today and tomorrow in Tokyo, what are his plans now to go? He’s not going to come back to New York?
Spokesperson: No, he’s not.
Question: What can you tell us about his plans about entering Myanmar again?
Spokesperson: As you know, what is being discussed is exactly the date in the first week of November that he will be able to go back to Myanmar. At this point, we don’t have the exact date right now, and he will probably be going to Singapore before going to Myanmar. Yes?
Question: On that subject, when you say first week of November, are you speaking 1, 2 and 3 of November, or are you speaking 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10?
Spokesperson: I’m sorry, I cannot answer that question. I don’t have the date, if I had the date I would give it to you of course. We just know that they have agreed for the first week of November, whether it means 1, 2, 3 or 4, 5, I don’t know. I really cannot answer that. Yes, Benny?
Question: Does the Secretary-General or Mr. Gambari have any comment on the meeting that was supposed to take place today between Aung San Suu Kyi and the general?
Spokesperson: Yes, we don’t have anything on that yet.
Question: Are you going to issue something later on, do you think?
Spokesperson: Well, I think we have to get the information first from Mr. Gambari. We are waiting to see what he learned of it and…
Question: Is he in touch, either on the phone or through his people on the ground, with the general or Aung San Suu Kyi to determine what the information is?
Spokesperson: Well I do not know, I cannot give you exactly what his contacts are at this point. Yes?
Question: Sorry, this is the second one. On the contract, the contract with Lockheed-Martin for Darfur infrastructure, I’ve now seen that the UN has put out requests for expressions of interest for infrastructure for peacekeeping in Chad, Central African Republic, Somalia and Darfur. So I wanted to know, does that mean that the Darfur contract, is that being reopened? Or is it, is that for people to bid on after Lockheed’s six months? And also, if Somalia is, if the UN is able to ask for expressions of interest for Somalia, where it doesn’t yet have a mandate or a Security Council resolution, why wasn’t that done for the Darfur contract before doing it no-bid to Lockheed-Martin? Is this new, is this the way that the UN is going to proceed in the future? What’s behind this request for interests in Somalia?
Spokesperson: I think we should get the question to Peacekeeping and try to find out for you what exactly the parameters were for the other contracts, for Somalia and for Chad. As far as…
Question: ’Cause it is in Darfur too, that’s the reason I, it’s confusing because it says…
Spokesperson: Well as you know, the PAE (Pacific Architect Engineers) contract was awarded to go faster in the establishment of camps on the ground because of the experience they had on the ground already with the AU (African Union). So this so far is what they are working on, on that contract that they have received. Whether there will be other contractors hired in Darfur, I don’t have that information yet. Yes?
Question: Just to follow up on that, you said that you should contact Peacekeeping about that. Is it Peacekeeping or is it Procurement, because it’s a little…
Spokesperson: It is Procurement, it would be Procurement. But, Peacekeeping will be the ones in touch with Procurement on that issue. That’s why I’m saying Peacekeeping.
Thank you very much. Janos?
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Good afternoon to all of you, including our guests for this briefing.
A couple of things as regards the activities of the President of the General Assembly and the Assembly itself.
**High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development
First the High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development. Well the General Assembly’s two-day High-Level Dialogue on Financing for Development actually now over-spilled into a third day as a result of the number of countries wishing to address the plenary, and it basically wrapped up its work this morning. And as you know, the High-Level Dialogue is a key element of the preparatory work mapped out by the Assembly to hold the Follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development to Review the Implementation of the Monterrey Consensus in the second part of 2008 in Doha. The two-day High-Level Dialogue is to provide impetus to preparations for the Review Conference, as well as provide key substantive elements. The President of the Assembly is to prepare a summary of the event, which will be issued as a GA document, and it should provide an input for the preparations for the Monterrey review conference.
This, the President referred to in his closing remarks to the meeting. As regards follow-up, the President also noted that he will begin consultations on a procedural resolution –- to be concluded by the end of this year -- that would set out the modalities for the Review Conference. In that consultative process he would be assisted by the two facilitators he appointed, these are the ambassadors of Egypt and Norway. Once the modalities are agreed for the Doha conference, then the President will urge Member States to move to substantive discussions on the six chapters of the Monterrey Consensus, and that should be starting early next year.
**UN Day Concert
Yesterday, the President attended the UN Day concert, and in his brief statement there stressed that the United Nations had to serve and preserve our highest human potential for centuries to come, adding that while it was essential to respond to the realities of the day, the actions of the United Nations must be guided by longer-term wisdom, solidarity and justice. He said that our work was for posterity, and we should be mindful of our legacy.
**Council of Presidents of the General Assembly
Also yesterday, the President met with the Council of Presidents of the General Assembly. This is a group of former GA Presidents. The Council expressed its intention to set up a more formal advisory body to assist the presidents of the GA. This idea was very much welcomed by the President, who said he would work with the ex-presidents to see how such an arrangement can be institutionalized.
This evening, the President will give a lecture at the Harvard Business School. The theme of his talk there will be: “Does globalization mean that national sovereignty is on the decline?”
He will note that globalization may be perceived by some to erode national sovereignty. However, in reality it has empowered the individual to exercise his or her sovereign free will, creating new global networks beyond national politics, and within this context the debate about national sovereignty should not focus on ‘decline’ but evolution. He will stress that the UN needs to be at the forefront of building a new culture of international relations, based on greater trust and mutual cooperation, and fairer economic consensus. A new culture that has promoting human rights, human security, the responsibility to protect and sustainable development as its core values. And achieving this will necessarily tend to further disaggregate, redistribute and devolve sovereignty, particularly at the individual and international level.
As regards the Main Committees, the Fifth Committee, which probably most of you have been concentrating on this morning, heard the Secretary-General introduce the Organization’s proposed programme budget for the biennium 2008-2009, and also the Chair of the ACABQ, Mr. Rajat Saha, also introduced his Committee’s report on the proposed programme budget.
The Third Committee continues this morning and this afternoon with presentations by special rapporteurs, again I’m mentioning this because this is something you’d be concentrating on, also having in mind, as Michèle mentioned, that there will be a number of press conferences this afternoon and tomorrow with the rapporteurs.
The First Committee is scheduled to wrap up this morning its thematic discussion on regional disarmament and security. It will also continue its discussion on conventional weapons and take up the disarmament machinery.
The Second Committee is holding this morning an interactive discussion with the executive secretaries of the five regional commissions, and in the afternoon it will have a panel discussion on “Bringing the Doha Development Round to a successful conclusion”.
The Fourth Committee continues its discussion this afternoon on international cooperation as regards the peaceful uses of outer space.
The Sixth Committee is meeting today, and this morning it is looking at the rule of law on the national and international level with a presentation on the Secretary-General’s interim report on that. In the afternoon it’s going to work in a working group format with its Working Group on Administration of Justice.
That’s the quick, very quick, rundown of the Committees, and I’m ready for some questions if you have any. Mr. Abbadi?
**Questions and Answers
Question: The Secretary-General, as you have heard this morning from Michèle, wants a UN results-oriented organization. The President of the Assembly is now setting a procedure, adopting a resolution on procedure, on financing. How does that square with the Secretary-General’s aim of having a UN that is results-oriented? In other words, what do you think the results of this high-level group on financing are at this stage, after these deliberations?
Spokesperson: Okay. The High-Level Dialogue, as I’ve mentioned several times, is supposed to be seen as one of the key elements on a road that the General Assembly has basically mapped out from 2005 onwards as regards how to review the Monterrey Consensus. And this High-Level Dialogue is supposed to have looked at the format approach, meaning interactive dialogue with private sector representatives, with NGOs (non-governmental organizations), and at the same time also round table discussions along the lines of the six themes of the Monterrey Consensus, and at the same time having representation from the highest possible level on the parts of Member States and the international institutions giving their views. All of this is supposed to come together into ideas on both format and on substance as how to do the Review Conference in Doha.
What is set by that road map that I mentioned to you, by the Assembly since 2005, is that there’s got to be a Review Conference in Doha at the end of, or the latter part of 2008. What is not set yet is when exactly that will happen and in what format. The procedural resolution that we talked about that’s going to be mapped out by the end of this year, with the facilitation by the ambassadors of Egypt and Norway, is going to look at and set the date of the conference and the actual format of the conference. And then early next year, as I mentioned, the substantive elements are supposed to be mapped out by the Member States, again hopefully with the two facilitators, based on what has been heard in these two, two and a half, days. This is, at least, how I look at it. Any other questions? Yes?
Question: If I may…
Spokesperson: Please, please…
Question: It’s a very basic question about…
Spokesperson: Sometimes those are the most difficult ones.
Question: …about special rapporteurs. You know in the Third Committee, one after another, the special rapporteurs are speaking, that’s why I’m asking this question. And they are on, the special rapporteurs, on very very different subjects. How many special rapporteurs are there in the UN system, and they say they are assigned by, in Geneva, by the Human Rights Council but…
Spokesperson: That is correct.
Question: …are there other kinds of special rapporteurs?
Spokesperson: That is a basic question and a difficult one. As far as I can advise you on the human rights related rapporteurs, what you see is you have rapporteurs for country-specific situations, and you have rapporteurs on special themes. If you go to the website of the Human Rights Council, you will see there is a clear chart on who they are, on what basis their mandate is, and since when they have been dealing with this issue, so that gives you a good overview. It’s in two parts. One part is for the country-specifics and the other is for the themes. So that part is there, and these are the human rights rapporteurs that we’re talking about in the framework of the Third Committee. Otherwise I, at least my mind is drawing a blank when it comes to other rapporteurs appointed by other organizations. I would have to look into that and see if there are others, with the same title of rapporteur.
Question: It doesn’t mean that all the rapporteurs are going to report to the Third Committee once a year? Or does it mean that all of these rapporteurs will anyway once come to the Third Committee and report about something?
Spokesperson: I’m not sure whether all of the rapporteurs, all of the thematic and all of the country-specific rapporteurs, will actually come and address the General Assembly. They definitely do have to address the Human Rights Council, but I’m not so sure whether all of them will have to come here and address the Third Committee as well. We can certainly look into that, or actually what I can advise is when you’re having the special rapporteurs come and have their press conferences here, you can definitely ask them because they would probably be in a position to know more about this.
Question: Thank you.
Spokesperson: Sure. If no questions, then I thank you for your attention and see you tomorrow.
* *** *For information media • not an official record