|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
The Secretary-General is currently on his way to Tunis, where he will participate in an International Conference on Counter-Terrorism that is being organized by the United Nations, the Tunisian Government and the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Before moving onward to Tunisia, the Secretary-General stopped briefly in Madrid, where he met for over an hour with Spanish Prime Minister Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, whom he briefed on his recent trip to South America and Antarctica.
They discussed climate change, the upcoming counter-terrorism meeting and the launching, a few days from now in Valencia, Spain, of the next report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They also touched on the Middle East, Kosovo, the Alliance of Civilizations, Darfur and Western Sahara during their discussions. The Secretary-General informed the Prime Minister that he would return to Spain in two months for a meeting on the Alliance of Civilizations.
The Secretary-General will also travel very soon to Lebanon, where he intends to meet with the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament and Patriarch Sfeir, among other key actors, in connection with the upcoming presidential election in that country.
And here at United Nations Headquarters, the Security Council this morning is holding a formal meeting to hear briefings from the chairs of its various subsidiary bodies. It heard from the Ambassadors of Panama, Belgium and Slovakia, who chair the committees dealing, respectively, with counter-terrorism; al-Qaeda and the Taliban; and weapons of mass destruction.
Then, at 3 p.m. this afternoon, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno will brief the Security Council in closed consultations about preparations for the deployment of the UN-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur, known as UNAMID. Mr. Guéhenno says that he will speak to reporters at the Council stakeout following those consultations.
So that is after the 3 p.m. consultations this afternoon.
**Security Council on Myanmar
And just to bring you up to date from yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, yesterday afternoon briefed the Security Council on his recent trip to Myanmar and the region around it, saying that, on balance, the positive outcomes of this latest mission show that the Government of Myanmar, while stressing its sovereignty and independence, can be responsive to the concerns of the international community.
He said that, although high expectations continue to be born out of the recent crisis, the situation today is qualitatively different from what it was a few weeks ago. A process is now in motion that will hopefully lead to a substantive dialogue with concrete outcomes, within an agreed timeframe between the leadership in Myanmar and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
“In order to succeed, dialogue will require flexibility on all sides, but I am convinced that it is the only way forward for Myanmar,” Gambari said. He added that, although he was pleased to be able to have frank and extensive discussions with his counterparts, the Government has yet to provide any assurance that it will lift restrictions on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and he again called for her to be released without delay. We have his remarks upstairs.
Yesterday’s formal meeting was followed by consultations in which Mr. Gambari and Council members discussed Myanmar further. Speaking to reporters afterward, Mr. Gambari said he would travel back to the region next week to attend the East Asia Summit.
**Security Council President
In a statement to the press yesterday afternoon, the Security Council President said Council members were encouraged by the progress in the peace negotiations and the improved security and humanitarian situation in northern Uganda. That was following, as you know, the briefing by the Secretary-General's Special Envoy for Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)-affected areas. Council members reaffirmed their commitment to see those responsible for serious crimes brought to justice, and they urged the LRA to release immediately all women, children and other non-combatants.
In the afternoon, following a briefing by the Assistant Secretary-General for the Rule of Law, the Security Council, in a presidential statement, urged Ethiopia and Eritrea to allow the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission to demarcate their disputed border completely, and to accept the Commission’s decision without preconditions. The Council also expressed support for the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.
** Myanmar –- Human Rights
And on Myanmar today, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, the human rights rapporteur, today is in Nay Pyi Taw with the United Nations country team, led by Resident Coordinator Charles Petrie. He also met with more than 24 ambassadors and representatives of the diplomatic corps in the country, who travelled to the new capital.
In the afternoon, he met with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, the Minister for Labour and the Minister for Relations, who is the Government’s liaison with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. He later met with the Information Minister.
While thanking the authorities for the wide range of meetings with Government officials, Pinheiro renewed to the authorities his request to be given access to other non-government interlocutors. The Special Rapporteur will return to Yangon tomorrow, and that will be at the end of his five-day visit to Myanmar.
** Darfur Peace Process
And turning to the Darfur peace process, the African Union and United Nations Special Envoys for Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim and Jan Eliasson, are meeting with representatives of the Regional Partners of the Darfur Peace Process in Asmara, Eritrea, today to take stock of the ongoing Darfur peace process and to discuss the way forward.
The meeting follows a week of consultations and presentations in Sirte, Libya, by experts in the Joint AU-UN Mediation Support Team on issues related to power-sharing and wealth-sharing, as well as humanitarian and security issues. A delegation from the Joint AU-UN Mediation Support Team travelled to Juba and Darfur from 3 to 10 November 2007 to exchange views and support the efforts of non-signatory movements in preparation for direct negotiations under the AU-UN led mediation. And Jan Eliasson is expected, with his African Union counterpart, to travel to Khartoum following his visit to Eritrea.
And then in Liberia, the United Nations Mission there is out with its latest quarterly report on the human rights situation in that country. Covering the period from February to April 2007, the report focuses on challenges facing Liberia’s juvenile justice system, including evidence that children below the age of criminal responsibility were tried in adult courts, and that juveniles were detained with adult inmates.
The study also highlights reports of violations of human rights by some law- enforcement officials and the need for improvement of human rights standards in detention facilities. It further notes the slow progress in hearing cases in the Circuit Courts, due to the absence of essential personnel.
We have more information on that upstairs.
**World Diabetes Day
And my last item today is the first World Diabetes Day. Last year, the General Assembly declared it an official UN day, in order to recognize the chronic, debilitating and costly nature of the disease.
And there’s more information on this upstairs. This afternoon, there’s a panel discussion on “Diabetes and development”, organized by the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh and the International Diabetes Federation, taking place in the ECOSOC Chamber from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
**Upcoming Press Conferences
And I’m sure that Janos will update you on this, but tomorrow at 11 a.m. here, there will be a press conference by Srgjan Kerim, President of the sixty-second session of the General Assembly, on the work of the current session.
And that’s all I have for you. Yes, Sylviane?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Marie. I came late but maybe you read the statement on the trip, Ban Ki-moon’s trip to Lebanon. Can you just update us, how, did he speak with (Prime Minister Fouad) Siniora before his trip? Is he going to meet with the headquarters, the headquarters of, Naqoura headquarters with UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) people? How long is he staying? And how many people he’ll be meeting in Beirut? What is the purpose of these meetings?
Deputy Spokesperson: The purpose of his visit is, as you know, in connection with the upcoming presidential election. As you know, the Secretary-General, in his recent report to the Security Council, called on all Lebanese leaders to hold a constructive political dialogue, enabling the election of a President who would enjoy the broadest possible acceptance, in accordance with constitutional rules and time frame, and without foreign interference. So that is the context of the visit. He will travel to Lebanon very soon, is what I said before you walked in here. And, he intends to meet with Prime Minister Siniora, with the Speaker of Parliament, Nabih Berri, and the patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir, among other key actors we did not specify. The time frame is that he will be travelling there very soon.
Question: Is he going to stay 24 hours or…
Deputy Spokesperson: You’ll find out very soon. Yes?
Question: But the UNIFIL?
Question: The SG, does he have anything to say about the PKK terrorism? You know they are acting in northern Iraq against Turkey right now…
Deputy Spokesperson: I think his position…
Question: …supporting by the USA.
Deputy Spokesperson: I think his position has been articulated in his statements, in which he calls for restraint and calls against any cross-border attacks.
Your question about UNIFIL, I don’t have details about his programme to give out at this point but, as I mentioned, the context of the visit is on the upcoming presidential elections. Yes? Nizar and then Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Will Mr. Ban Ki-moon be meeting the American ambassador in Beirut?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing further on his visit than what I’ve read out to you.
Question: Another thing regarding this issue of the, of Chad and the children. What is the United Nations really doing to prevent a recurrence of something like that, NGOs getting involved in kidnapping children?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’d like to refer you to the statement yesterday, the response that the Assistant High Commissioner for Protection for UNHCR (Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) made when she was here yesterday and she was asked about it. I think UNHCR and UNICEF and some of these agencies on the ground have been working very closely with the children to try to get them to their places of origin, to their families, as quickly as possible. In terms of how to prevent that in the future, again I refer you to Erika Feller’s remarks. But, I think in this case, they had no idea that this NGO, which was apparently registered, had any intention to take them out of the country, and as soon as they were, they were very strong in their condemnation. And the Secretary-General, for his part, has also issued a statement earlier this week, in which he supports the Government of Chad in its efforts to deal with this situation, and I refer you to that as well. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Marie, you indicated earlier that the Secretary-General will be going back to Madrid on the occasion of the meeting of the Alliance of Civilizations. Is this a special meeting or is it a regular meeting? When would it take place and is there, will there be, a report of the Alliance?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’m sure in due course all your questions will be answered. As for the report, we will look into that for you. [She later said that it would be a meeting organized by the co-sponsors of the Alliance, which would take place two months from now in Spain.]
If there are no other questions, I’m going to turn over to… yes, Sylviane?
Question: You said on the prosecutor, new prosecutor tribunal, Lebanese tribunal, when will…
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, I think yesterday you may have missed the briefing, but the Secretary-General did write to the Security Council informing them of his intention to appoint a successor to Mr. (Serge) Brammertz, and I believe the Security Council should be responding very shortly.
Question: Today? That’s my question, actually.
Deputy Spokesperson: I believe so, yes.
Question: Today? So this afternoon?
Deputy Spokesperson: No other questions for me? Janos?
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Good afternoon. Good to see you all.
A couple of things in the Assembly. The Assembly just concluded the joint debate that it began on Monday on the work of the Security Council and on the issue of Council reform, which is referred to in full as: the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and related matters.
All in all the Assembly heard close to half of the UN membership pronounce itself on this topic, which gives a good indication of how Member States view this issue and where they may want to go with this topic.
Without being exhaustive, as regards an overview, here is a very limited summary for you. Those of you who listened to the statements would acknowledge that Member States strongly emphasised the importance of Council reform, which needed to encompass both working methods and membership. Many pointed out the progress that had been achieved at the previous session. At the same time, there were diverging views expressed on the precise formula of Council reform and also on the process forward, with some urging for "intergovernmental negotiations" to be commenced as soon as possible, and others arguing for further consultations within the framework of the Open-ended Working Group. There were also a number of speakers who stressed that the threshold for changes to the current Council configuration needed to be achieved by a number of Member States exceeding the required two-thirds majority.
Those were the main elements in the debate. The debate basically underscored the observation the President of the Assembly made in his introductory statement to the debate, which was that “since the matter has been under discussion in the open-ended working group, we have realized the complexity, sensitivity and growing relevance of the Security Council reform”.
And as regards the next steps, the President in his closing remarks said that he would shortly communicate to Member States the outline of the follow-up process.
He did stress -- and I’m going to quote a couple of things from the speech that he just delivered -- he stressed that “it was a frank and effective dialogue, which provided valuable inputs for further deliberations of the General Assembly on this very important aspect of the United Nations overall reform agenda”.
He also went on to say that, “may I also dare to say that the debate demonstrated the clear commitment of Member States to embark upon a new stage that offers the prospect of achieving the ultimate goal of comprehensive reform of the Security Council.”
He then went on to say that, “you have paved the way towards the objective of developing a framework to identify and reach agreement on the various negotiable elements which would then allow us to arrive at the point to begin intergovernmental negotiations.”
And he did identify seven elements, which he called the “pillars of the edifice called intergovernmental negotiations” that must be set up as had been defined by the membership during this debate that has just concluded, and then he details those seven key points as follows, and let me be a little bit more elaborate and actually really quote from his speech because I think that this is an important phase in the process:
“First, we must bear in mind that Security Council reform is an integral part of strengthening the UN. It must therefore go hand in hand with the transformation of the wider United Nations system;
“Second, prudent and principle oriented guidance by the President of the General Assembly is required, though it must be based on a joint venture with Member States in good faith and mutual respect;
“Third, the way forward ought to be accomplished through an objective and transparent process to first identify the negotiables in order to then move to intergovernmental negotiations;
“Fourth, the Open-ended Working Group should carry out consultations on the framework and the modalities for intergovernmental negotiations;
“Fifth, further steps must contain components and notions that will allow the membership to reach a general agreement on all aspects of Security Council reform, in particular on both the composition of the Council and its working methods;
“Sixth, the reform of the Security Council must accommodate the interests and concerns of all sides, especially those who are currently underrepresented; and,
“Seventh, Member States should refrain from steps which could serve to undermine the current momentum and consensus to continue a process with the intention of achieving result oriented solutions.”
The full copy of the speech is available for you upstairs.
And, of course, as Marie has mentioned, the President is going to be here tomorrow at 11 a.m., so you can ask him more details on that.
As regards the Assembly’s activities for tomorrow, let me also remind you that the Assembly will meet in plenary, and it will hold elections for several bodies: namely elect seven members of the Committee for Programme and Coordination; elect 29 members of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme; and appoint members of the Committee on Conferences. And there’s a good summary, a fact sheet, on the various different candidates, which is available for you upstairs in the Spokesman’s Office.
On the Main Committees, the Second Committee is meeting and it is taking up the item on implementation of the outcome of the international conference on financing for development, and will also hear introductions of a number of drafts.
And the Third Committee –- and that is, I think, what most of you are focusing on now -- is meeting in open session and is hearing introductions of various drafts resolutions, and it is expected to take action on a number of draft resolutions, including, and this is what is going on now, the draft resolution which is calling for a moratorium on the death penalty and related amendments to this draft, and there are 14 of them from L.68 to L.81. All of these have been introduced in the Committee, and the Committee is expected to take action on all of these amendments and then ultimately on the draft resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty.
Now, lots of amendments also could mean lots of speakers, but still the expectation is that the Committee may wrap up its work on this particular draft today.
As regards some of the other drafts concerning the Third Committee that you were all interested in -- and I am singling them out not because they’re more important than others, but because you have been asking about them -- is the draft on eliminating rape and other forms of sexual violence in all their manifestations including as instruments to achieve political or military objectives. That has yet to be scheduled. It may come up tomorrow. Let’s look at the Journal and see what happens. The same goes for the Human Rights Council report and the draft resolution on that. That is also something that is not scheduled for today. We’ll see when it comes up in the next couple of days. And, the same goes for the various country-specific, human rights related draft texts.
The Fourth Committee is continuing its discussion on the report of the Special Committee to Investigate, and I’m reading the whole title, the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.
And the Fifth Committee is having informal consultations on, among others, on various aspects of the 2008-2009 budget and also on the Capital Master Plan.
That’s the very quick rundown of what is happening. And any questions that you may have? Please.
**Questions and Answers
Question: On the Security Council reform in the GA, is there any country that opposed expansion of the Security Council during the GA debate?
Spokesperson: As I said, there were close to like 90 countries voicing their views. I don’t have a full picture of what each and every one of those countries said, but there was a definite majority on the expansion. I can’t give you any details as particularly which country, or if there was at all any country, who opposed expansion. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: It has been reported that Pope Benedict XVI will be visiting the United Nations in mid-April next year. Will he be addressing the General Assembly?
Spokesperson: To the best of my knowledge, yes. But we’ll give you the details when those are available. But, to my knowledge, yes, the plan is for the Pope to address the Assembly. Masood?
Question: So the GA President will be here tomorrow to talk about the Assembly’s session on reforms?
Spokesperson: That is correct. He’s going to come here at 11 a.m. and give you an update on what is happening with the priority issues that he has identified, what has happened so far, where things are going. And one of the priority issues of course is management reform. And then he will also update you on a variety of other issues and of course answer whatever questions you may have. Yes, in the back?
Question: Yes, I was told that there should be a current report by Mr. (Mohamed) ElBaradei (Director General, International Atomic Energy Agency) on Iran. Will that be presented at the General Assembly or the Security Council?
Spokesperson: I think that is something for the Council, as far as I know, and definitely not the Assembly. If you remember, the Assembly did discuss the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency and Mr. ElBaradei did brief on this. That was at the beginning of October if I remember correctly. So, in that context, the Assembly did look at the work of the IAEA but this particular issue is for the Security Council.
Thank you very much and see you tomorrow then at 11 a.m.
* *** *For information media • not an official record