7 November 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

 


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


Good afternoon.


**Guest at Noon Today


Our guest today is Karen Koning AbuZayd, who is already here.  She is the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  She will update you on the situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  We also have the General Assembly Spokesperson here who has a briefing for you.


**Secretary-General in Argentina


The Secretary-General is paying an official visit to Argentina today, and he will meet early this afternoon in Buenos Aires with the country’s Foreign Minister.  After that, he will meet with the Presidents of Argentina’s Senate and Chamber of Deputies.


This evening, the Secretary-General and Madame Ban Soon-taek will meet with the country’s President and President-elect, Nestor Kirchner and Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.


The Secretary-General yesterday spoke to reporters about his visit over the coming days to Argentina, Brazil and Chile, which he said were politically and economically important members of the United Nations that also play a key role in our common efforts to address climate change issues.


He added that, after his visit to the Latin American countries, he will travel onward to Tunisia, where he will attend an international conference on counter-terrorism that is organized by the United Nations, the Tunisian Government and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.  From there, he said, he will travel to Valencia, Spain, to participate in the launch of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  We have his comments upstairs and on the web.


** Myanmar


The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, met today with Myanmar’s new Prime Minister, to whom he delivered a letter from the Secretary-General addressed to Senior General Than Shwe.  He and the Prime Minister had open and detailed discussions on ways to further improve Myanmar’s cooperation with the United Nations to address the country’s political, human rights, humanitarian and social and economic challenges in the wake of the recent crisis.


Gambari stressed that a return to the status quo before the crisis would not be sustainable, and suggested specific steps for Myanmar to meet international expectations in this regard.  These include the need for dialogue with the opposition without delay as part of an inclusive national reconciliation process, as well as necessary confidence-building measures in the humanitarian and social economic areas, including the establishment of a broad-based poverty alleviation commission.


Later in the day, Gambari met with the diplomatic corps in Myanmar to provide an update on his visit so far.  Tomorrow, he is scheduled to meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for the fifth time since his first visit to Myanmar.  He is also scheduled to meet with members of the Central Executive Committee of her National League for Democracy party, officials of the National Unity Party, and other relevant interlocutors, as well as the UN Country Team in Yangon.


Mr. Gambari is scheduled to return to UN Headquarters by Monday, 12 November.


**Secretary-General Appointment


I have an appointment of the Secretary-General.  He has appointed Ms. Angela Cropper of Trinidad and Tobago as Assistant Secretary-General and Deputy Executive Director for the UN Environment Programme.  Ms. Cropper currently serves as an independent member of the Senate of the Trinidad and Tobago Parliament and as President of a charitable organization committed to sustainable development.  Ms. Cropper has held a number of senior positions with the Caribbean Community and Common Market Secretariat (CARICOM) and the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and has also received a number of environmental awards in recognition of her achievements in that field.  We have a full bio of her upstairs.


** Lebanon


Two reports by the Secretary-General to the Security Council are out on the racks today.


His latest report on the implementation of resolution 1701 is one of them.  He says that Israel and Lebanon continue to display an enduring commitment to carrying out that resolution.


He says that he hopes that the humanitarian exchange carried out between Israel and Hizbullah on 15 October will promote decisive action to meet the humanitarian demands of resolution 1701, in particular the release of the two abducted Israeli soldiers.


The report includes the work that the senior UN cartographer has done on the provisional definition of the Sheba'a Farms, the geographical content of which is spelled out in the report.  The Secretary-General expresses his hope that this effort will strengthen a diplomatic process aimed at resolving this key issue.


And the Secretary-General once more calls on all Lebanese leaders to hold a constructive political dialogue, enabling the election of a President that would enjoy the broadest possible acceptance, in accordance with the Constitutional rules and time frame and without foreign interference.


**Ethiopia/Eritrea


The other report that is out on the racks is the report on Ethiopia and Eritrea, the UN Mission there.  In it, he says the situation in the Temporary Security Zone and the border region between the two countries remains tense.  Eritrea, he says, has moved in more in than 2,500 troops and heavy military equipment into the Zone, while both countries have conducted military exercises along the border.  Eritrean restrictions on UN peacekeepers and helicopter flights continue, and the UN Mission has been unable to convene a meeting of the Military Coordination Commission since July 2006.


The Secretary-General also reports that, even as Ethiopia says that it has accepted the 2002 border demarcation decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission without preconditions, the country continues to assert that the security conditions for demarcation of the border do not exist.


In conclusion, the Secretary-General calls on Eritrea to withdraw its forces and military equipment from the Zone and to lift restrictions on UN peacekeepers.  He urges both countries to extend full cooperation to the Commission so as to allow it to proceed with the demarcation of the border.  He also urges them to reactivate the Military Coordination Commission, which provides a unique framework for dialogue.


**Security Council


The Security Council has no meetings or consultations scheduled here today.  Yesterday afternoon, it finished a formal meeting by issuing a presidential statement recognizing the important role of regional and subregional organizations in prevention, management and resolution of conflicts.  You all have that statement already.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has an update on the special mission that the Secretary-General has assigned to Haile Menkerios, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs.  The special mission aims to help resolve the crisis in the eastern part of the country, along with its underlying causes.


Last weekend, Mr. Menkerios was in Goma, in the North Kivu province, to exchange views with Congolese civilian and military officials.  He also met with civil society leaders and representatives of ethnic communities affected by the recurring violence there, which has displaced some 800,000 people to date.


Speaking to reporters upon arrival in Goma, Menkerios described his mandate and reaffirmed the UN’s commitment to assist the DRC Government in finding lasting solutions to the security and humanitarian crisis in the region.  Menkerios on Monday left Goma for Kigali, where he is now consulting with the Rwandan leadership.


**Former Yugoslavia


Turning to The Hague, the trial of former Serb national leader, Vojislav Seselj, began earlier today at the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in The Hague.


In opening remarks to the bench, Tribunal prosecutors have accused him of inciting Serb nationalist forces to commit war crimes with “poisonous ideas.”  They said that the speeches he made during the 1990s conflicts in Bosnia and Croatia have led to murder, torture and persecution of non-Serbs.


Seselj surrendered to the ICTY voluntarily in February 2003, vowing to clear his name of three charges of crimes against humanity and six counts of war crimes.


**UNFPA


According to a new survey released today by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than half the women in Lofa County, northern Liberia, were victims of sexual violence during the most recent conflict.  Ninety per cent of them reported at least one incident of physical violence, and more than 98 per cent lost shelter.


The Lofa survey, which was conducted in October 2007, is the first scientific survey on the experiences of women during the conflict.  We have more on that upstairs.


**OCHA - Dominican Republic


We have a couple of press releases, one by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  It is a joint appeal, with the Government of the Dominican Republic, for $14 million to provide humanitarian assistance over the next six months to survivors of Tropical Storm Noel.  That’s upstairs.


**OCHA -- Mexico Floods


And we have another from the UN Disaster Assistance and Recovery team which has arrived in Mexico, following recent floods in two states there.  You can read more about that.


**Conventional Weapons


The Secretary-General, in a statement to this year’s meeting on Certain Conventional Weapons, urged members to address the horrendous humanitarian, human rights and developmental effects of cluster munitions by concluding a legally binding instrument of international humanitarian law.  There’s that statement available for you upstairs.


**UNHCR -- Refugee Game


And, finally, an online game, in which schoolchildren experience what it’s like to become persecuted refugees, made its debut today in English.  In Against All Odds, players face language barriers and prejudice, are interrogated, and race against the clock to find safety and asylum.


You can find the game, which is also available in Swedish, German, Greek and Norwegian, at www.playagainstallodds.com.  That’s from the UN refugee agency.


That’s all I have for you.


**Guest at Noon Tomorrow


Our guests tomorrow will be Mark Richmond, Director of the Division for the Coordination of UN Priorities in Education at UNESCO; and Brendan O’Malley, author of the agency’s new global study entitled “Education under Attack.”  Prior to the press conference, UNESCO will be launching a study in Conference Room 8 at 10 a.m. tomorrow.  There’s more information on that launch upstairs.


The GA Spokesperson is here, as is our guest.  Any questions for me?  Okay.  Let’s start with Patrick.


**Questions and Answers


Question: There’s a report that the head of OCHA in South Darfur has been asked to leave.  Do you have any details on this?


Deputy Spokesperson: We just received a preliminary report on that from OCHA which says that the head of the office there has not been rendered persona non grata by Sudan, but rather has been forced to leave South Darfur.  This is a directive from the state governor and is being taken up by the resident and humanitarian coordinator with central authorities in Khartoum.  The United Nations is extremely concerned about the potential ramifications of this decision, because, as you know, OCHA plays a pivotal role in South Darfur, working with the Government of Sudan, UN agencies, NGOs and the donor community to coordinate assistance to up to 1 million internally displaced persons.  This is particularly of concern as it violates the letter and spirit of the joint communiqué on the facilitation of humanitarian assistance in Darfur and the joint communiqué signed between the Secretary-General and the President of Sudan on the occasion of the Secretary-General’s visit to Sudan.  That’s all I have for you, now…


Question: Do you have his name or nationality?


Deputy Spokesperson: I have no further information right now, but I’m sure that OCHA will supply more information for you.  Masood.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that the officials name is Wael al-Haj-Ibrahim and he is a Canadian national.]


Question: Marie, since yesterday, the Office of the Secretary-General reiterated his statement on Pakistan.  Has he spoken to anybody in Pakistan?


Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing beyond what he told you.  As you know, last night he took a very long flight to Argentina where he should be landing shortly.


Question: But you have no information that he spoke to anybody…


Deputy Spokesperson: No, but as you know he has been speaking to people.


Question: What about…  Is he considering appointing an envoy, like in case of Myanmar?


Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing beyond what we told you yesterday, on that.  Yes?


Question: On the letter delivered by Mr. Gambari to the Burmese Prime Minister.  Can you throw some light on what the content was, what the Secretary-General referred to in those letters?  Particularly, is Mr. Gambari meeting the Senior General at all or, if not, why is he not meeting this time?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Secretary-General himself, yesterday, again, at the stakeout -- I refer you to his remarks –- he expressed a number of concerns.  He looks forward to hearing more from Mr. Gambari upon his return to New York.  As you know, Mr. Gambari is on a very difficult mission and is pressing hard on all of the issues:  human rights; reconciliation; poverty alleviation and he’s particularly focusing on promoting dialogue between the Government and the opposition.  As I mentioned, he will be meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi tomorrow.  That will be an important meeting.  Your question about whether or not he’s meeting with the senior general, obviously we’ll know that by the end of his visit.  He’s still there now and his mission continues.


Question:  A follow-up to that.  Yesterday, the Secretary-General told us that he’s talking to the regional leaders in South Asia on the issue of Pakistan.  Can you specify on that, which are the other countries?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything beyond what he said yesterday.  I think you know what these countries are.  Matthew?


Question: Sure.  Marie, two questions.  One, the group accused of taking children out of Chad, Zoe’s Ark.  Their lawyer has said they received material assistance from UN agencies in the course of their work, doing that?  Does the UN confirm that and what does the UN have to say about that?


Deputy Spokesperson: The report… sorry, can you repeat that question?


Question: Sure, the question is, that the lawyer for L’Arche de Zoé says that the UN helped them in their task that resulted in children being… 103 non-orphan children being taken out of the country.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Right, right.


Question:  Can the UN confirm that they helped the group, what help did they give it and what does the UN now say about giving that help?


Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, UN agencies on the ground have repeatedly been issuing statements regarding this issue.  They have been at the forefront of working with the children, trying to help them and trying to get them back to the communities from which they come, which is obviously the first priority for humanitarians who are working on the ground.  As for specific allegations, you’d have to go to the specific agency, because your question is rather broad.


Question:  What safeguards does the UN have in place so that, let’s say -- I’m not saying that they’re child traffickers –- but so a group couldn’t just show up and say: “We’re here to do good; help us take children out of the country.”  I guess, what has the UN system as a whole learned from this experience, if they did help them and I think UNHCR has confirmed that they did help them and now it’s saying: “Oops.  They’re not orphans.”  What has the UN…


Deputy Spokesperson:  What do you mean by helping them?  I’m sorry; I don’t understand your question.


Question:  Sure.  There’s a quote by UNHCR regional person, saying that they had given a variety of material assistance to Zoe’s Ark, and now UNICEF says, oh, these kids were not orphans.  But what… The UN system as a whole, what’s… just like they have a vendor’s list before contracting, do they have any standards before helping a self-described humanitarian group take children out of the country?


Deputy Spokesperson:  If it’s concerning a report involving UNICEF, we do have a contact for you.  I don’t have any further information on that.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later told the correspondent that United Nations refugee agency staff on the ground had acted in good faith when they were asked soon after the non-governmental organization’s arrival six or eight weeks ago for a few tents and a generator to help needy children.  “Everyone was fooled by them,” according to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) says that a recently hired junior international staff member in the Abeche field office violated procedures by providing a small amount of food supplement and equipment for babies (valued at $130) in response to an urgent request made by the non-governmental organization.  UNICEF notes that the provision of this material was motivated by the desire to provide life-saving support to purportedly malnourished children; however, this contravened UNICEF rules and procedures and should not be interpreted as recognition of the organization by UNICEF.  The staff member also advises that she was not informed that this organization planned to remove the children from Chad.  Had UNICEF known of such an intention, it would have advised the relevant authorities.]


Question:  A follow-up on this?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  Basically I think he’s saying is they charged a UN agency with complicity in this particular episode.  Is there anything getting said, that no, the UN was not complicit?


Deputy Spokesperson:  My understanding, just before I came to the briefing, was there is a news report out there involving a story about one of the agencies on the ground there.  For that I refer you to the agencies.  I cannot confirm or deny that report, since it just came on the wires, but I can refer you to the numerous statements that have been issued by the agencies on the ground who have been working very, very closely with these children to try to help them now and trying to get them back to their communities.


Question:  One last, on this, cause it’s two agencies.  UNHCR’s Serge Malé, has said, yes we helped them, because… and so did UNICEF, I guess that’s why…


Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, I have nothing further than to refer you right now, about these press reports, to those two agencies.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi.


Question:  Marie, after the Secretary-General visits Tunisia, attends the meeting on terrorism in the country, is he going to visit any other countries in the region, and, or meet any of their leaders?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I just mentioned to you that he will also be going to Valencia, Spain, where he will be at the IPCC…


Question: Any other…


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think his full itinerary has now been announced by the Secretary-General himself and there’s more information on the conference in Tunis, if you’re interested, upstairs.  That’s all for me?  Can we go to the General Assembly Spokesperson before we turn to Karen, who is patiently waiting?  Thank you.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Good afternoon.  Good to see you all as always.  A couple of very quick things on the work of the Assembly and the President.


**General Assembly


As has been said, there are no plenary meetings of the General Assembly today.


Tomorrow, there will be a plenary meeting.  It will have two items.  One will be to take action on the draft resolution on support by the United Nations system of the efforts of Governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies.  This was something that was on the agenda on Monday and action was deferred because there was a need to wait for any programme budget implications as regards this resolution, so action will be taken tomorrow on that.


Immediately following that there are elections to ECOSOC.  It’s a 54-member body and 18 members will be elected.  We’ll have a little bit of background note out on that for you about the candidates, etcetera.  A quick run, though, on the process itself and some of the rules, although they’re somewhat similar to the rules that govern the elections to the Security Council, with one difference.  You need a two-thirds majority and it’s by secret ballot and there are no nominations but there can, of course, be candidates –- declared candidates and candidates endorsed by respective regional groups.  The difference between ECOSOC and Security Council election is that outgoing members are eligible for immediate re-election.


**Activities of the President


The President of the Assembly has been invited this afternoon to address a meeting of what is called the Friends of Human Security, this is their third meeting, and it is organized by the Permanent Missions of Japan and Mexico.


The President, in his address, is expected to stress that the concept of human security, by placing the emphasis on individual well-being, broadens the “traditional” concept of security.  It includes the protection of the individual from all types of violent and non-violent threats.


He would also argue that a human-centred approach to security goes hand in hand with individuals accepting greater responsibility for their own well-being as well as for States to have their responsibilities change, too.  Namely, that States should place greater emphasis on their individual and collective responsibilities to care for the well-being of their citizens.  In fact, to care for the well-being of individuals that may be threatened wherever they may be.


The President believes that the concept of human security lies at the core of an evolving new culture of international relations.  A culture that is based on the values of human rights, the rule of law, human security, the responsibility to protect and sustainable development.


**Main Committees


The Second Committee is holding one of its panel events or, actually, held one of its panel events this morning.  This was on “The Helsinki Process on globalization and democracy and the value added of multi-stakeholder cooperation in the governance of globalization”.


The Third Committee has begun discussion on the agenda item on elimination of racism and racial discrimination and on the right of peoples to self-determination.  The Committee was scheduled to be addressed by the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance; as well as -- and this might be something interesting, because it has been in the news -- the Chairman of the Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination.  That is based on a report that the Working Group already had out, and that’s on the racks.  It’s A/62/301.  It’s actually dated 24 August.  I’m mentioning that because it has been in the news as if that is something that is relatively new.  It actually has been there since the end of August.


On some other issues:  the Myanmar draft resolution, which is L.41, is out on the racks for you.


I know that there have been a lot of questions about the draft resolution on the Human Rights Council’s institution building, which is L.32.  That’s also available for you on the racks.  The questions were on when action will be taken on that.  I did mention that there were expectations that action might even be possible at the end of this week, even Thursday, Friday.  It seems that action can only be taken once the programme budget implications of this draft resolution have been cleared.  Once that is done, then it can go and be voted on, discussed or action taken on in the Third Committee and then from there on, of course, it goes to ACABQ, Fifth Committee and then on, so that might be a longer process.  So we’ll see when that is going to happen, at least in the Third Committee.


The Fourth Committee continued, this morning, its look at the assistance in mine action with a related draft.  In the afternoon -- and this relates to the guest at the noon briefing -- there will be discussions on the work of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East.


The Fifth Committee is looking at the issue of improving the financial situation of the UN with a brief from the Controller, and it will also continue with informal discussions on the Capital Master Plan.


The Sixth Committee is meeting now in informals and basically looking at various draft resolutions related to its work.   The topical ones at the moment it is looking at are the ones on criminal accountability of UN officials and administration of justice at the UN.


That’s my very quick update.  Edith, yes.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Do I understand right that that means basically that there is no chance that the Human Rights Council vote is going to be tomorrow?


Spokesperson:  I doubt it.  You could say there is no chance, yes, but let’s wait for the programme budget implications to be out.  Once those are out, then action can be taken.


Question:  So only after it goes to the ACABQ and the Fifth Committee?


Spokesperson:  What happens is that the programme budget implications are cleared; then the Third committee will take action, knowing what the programme budget implications are, then the programme budget implications go to ACABQ.  ACABQ will make its recommendations and with that, the package goes to the Fifth Committee and the Fifth Committee will then discuss the whole issue.  Since you are quite well versed in how the UN works, you may know that when there are programme budget implications, the Fifth Committee may not necessarily look at it one by one, but may look at it all together to see how much all of it will add up, so that may entail a longer process.


Question:  Does the vote on the institution draft…


Spokesperson:  You mean in the Third Committee?  If at all it will be a vote.


Question:  What do you mean, if at all?  I think a vote was called for.


Correspondent:  Israel said yesterday that it called for a vote.


Spokesperson:  That it would call for a…  Okay, then it will go to a vote.  Yes, it will be voted on.  That will happen, as I said, once the programme budget implications are cleared.  This is my understanding.  This is how I was explained that the process would play out.  Yes.


Question:  Yeah, because the Ambassador of Israel said yesterday that he broke consensus, and so it…  It sort of implied that it would have gone straight through had he not broken consensus.  Is this inquiry into programme budget triggered by somebody breaking consensus?  Would it have been approved yesterday… if nobody had objected to it, would it have sailed through or would this have happened anyway?


Spokesperson:  My understanding is that you need to have the programme budget implications clear before you take any action, whether that action is by a vote or whether that action is taken without a vote.  Mr. Abbadi, yes.


Question:  The Assembly is now discussing restoring democracy, is that what I understand?


Spokesperson:  I beg your pardon?


Question:  The Assembly is currently discussing the restoration of democracy?


Spokesperson:  No, no, no.  This was an agenda item that was taken up on Monday and there was a related draft resolution, L.9.  That was not voted on simply because… and that goes a little bit back to what we just discussed about the Human Rights Council reform -- at least as far as the procedure is concerned -- namely that there were no indications as to whether there were programme budget implications concerning that draft.


Question:  No, I’m…


Spokesperson:  That’s why it was deferred and action is going to be taken tomorrow.


Question:  I’m just trying to understand the title of the item.


Spokesperson:  The title of the item is “Support by the United Nations system of the efforts of Governments to promote and consolidate new and restored democracies”.


Question:  So, a perfect example of that is Pakistan, where everybody’s asking for restoration of democracy.  The Secretary-General made an appeal, the US Government, the international community.  What has the President of the General Assembly done in that context?  Has he made any pronouncement?  Has he taken any initiative?  What was his position regarding the situation in Pakistan?


Spokesperson:  The President has not made any statement on this issue and this item was debated within the General Assembly, as I said, on Monday and Member States had a chance to voice their views on this item.  I don’t have a clear run-down by issues of what Member States discussed.  We can certainly look at what Member States were saying, whether any one of them mentioned at all events in Pakistan.


Question:  If that wasn’t the case, wouldn’t that convey the wrong impression to the international community, that we are talking in the Assembly about restoring democracies; here there is a perfect example going on before our eyes and yet nothing is being done in the Assembly, not even a statement by the President of the Assembly.  Wouldn’t that be a bad message for the international community?


Spokesperson:  That would be your characterization.  I would rather not characterize that that way.  It simply just shows that the Assembly, with its plenary, is a forum where Member States have the possibility to voice their views on a variety of different issues.  If they so feel that that is an issue they have to pronounce themselves on then they would do so.


Correspondent:  I’m just trying to convey the point that… this is more reason…


Spokesperson:  No, I understand, Mr. Abbadi, I fully understand your point.


Correspondent:  For those who say the Assembly, or the UN, is only a debating society, here is the clear example where something concrete, at least, can be said regarding the situation.


Spokesperson:  I fully agree with you to the extent that the forum, or the vehicle -- meaning the General Assembly -- is there for Member States to do this.  It was there on Monday and it’s definitely going to be there tomorrow, when action is taken on this draft.  That will give ample possibility for Member States to pronounce themselves.


Let me stop right there, because I think our guest is waiting.  Thank you very much.


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