3 December 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


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


Good afternoon.


**Ethics Bulletin


Today the Secretary-General will release a new bulletin on ethics.  As you will recall, from the day he took office, the Secretary-General pledged to staff and management that the United Nations would commit itself to the highest standards of ethics, integrity, accountability and transparency.  With this new bulletin, employees in the funds and programmes will be extended the same ethics-related programmes and protections as are already afforded to their colleagues in the Secretariat.


The Secretary-General will continue to work with the leadership of the specialized agencies to further harmonize and establish common ethics standards throughout the UN system.  As we strive for “One United Nations”, the United Nations must be governed by a single code of ethical standards. 


Robert Benson, the Director of the Ethics Office, should be here shortly and he will brief you in more detail following my briefing. 


The bulletin and the Secretary-General’s letter to staff will be made available afterwards.


**International Criminal Court


Here at UN Headquarters, in his address early today to the Assembly of State Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the Secretary-General noted that, in the relatively short period since it was created in 2002, the International Criminal Court has established itself as the centrepiece of our system of international criminal justice.  He also pledged the United Nations’ continuing cooperation for the Court and its Prosecutor, and urged all Member States to do everything within their powers to help enforce International Criminal Court warrants.  Regarding Darfur, the Secretary-General said unspeakable crimes on a massive scale are still being committed. 


The entire text is available upstairs.


**Climate Change


The thirteenth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change got underway today in Bali, Indonesia.  More than 10,000 participants from 187 countries are taking part in the two-week session, which is aimed at negotiating a possible successor to the treaty and its Kyoto Protocol.


Addressing the meeting today, Framework Convention Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer told those gathered that it is essential that they reach agreement on a number of climate change-related issues.  These include:  managing the Kyoto Protocol’s Adaptation Fund so that it can begin financing real adaptation projects; extending the mandate of the Convention’s Expert Group on Technology Transfer, which facilitates access by developing countries to clean technologies; and reducing emissions from deforestation in developing countries.


Ahead of the Conference, the Secretary-General –- who is attending next week’s high-level segment –- spoke over the weekend by telephone with the leaders of India and China.  Last week, he also spoke with the Presidents of Russia, the U.S. and Brazil.


And, in an op-ed in today’s Washington Post, the Secretary-General called on those gathered in Bali to agree on an agenda for reaching a new climate change agreement by 2009.  That op-ed should appear in newspapers around the world, as well.


**Security Council


With the start of a new month, Italy has assumed the rotating presidency of the Security Council, and Italian Ambassador Marcello Spatafora is holding bilateral consultations with other Security Council members today about its work in the month ahead.  The Security Council expects to hold consultations on its programme of work for December tomorrow morning.  After those consultations, the Security Council President intends to talk to you in this room, at approximately 12:30 p.m., about the Council’s work during the coming month.  And of course, as usual, we’ll let you know closer to the time when exactly he will conduct that briefing.


** Somalia


Turning to Somalia, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes today made a brief visit to Somalia.  He spent time in a group of settlements about 50 kilometres outside Mogadishu, where some of the country’s more than 1 million internally displaced persons have recently taken refuge.  Later in the day, he met with the President and Deputy Prime Minister in Baidoa before returning to Nairobi.  His visit comes as the World Food Programme (WFP) has begun providing daily meals -– as opposed to dry rations –- in Mogadishu for the first time since 1993.  WFP is currently feeding more than 20,000 people a day, and hopes to eventually provide daily meals for up to 50,000 people. 


We have more information upstairs. 


** Sudan


John Holmes, speaking to reporters at the end of his visit to Sudan over the weekend, said he was given assurances by the Sudanese Government that there would be no problem with the extension of an agreement enabling NGOs to continue to operate as smoothly as possible in Darfur.  He said, “This is vital considering that on December 11, the Sudan Workplan 2008 requesting $2.2 billion to address humanitarian, early recovery and recovery and development needs, will be launched, including $825 million for Darfur.”


Meanwhile, the African Union and United Nations Special Envoys for Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim and Jan Eliasson, are scheduled tomorrow to meet with regional partners of the Darfur peace process:  Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, and Libya, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.  As Jan Eliasson told you recently, the purpose of that meeting is to brief the partners on the latest developments, to undertake a joint appraisal of the second phase of the Sirte Process, and to agree on a common approach on the way forward.


And in Khartoum, Rodolphe Adada, the AU-UN Joint Special Representative and AMIS Head of Mission, and Mutrif Siddiq, Chairman of the Government’s technical committee for the implementation of the UN-AU Hybrid Operation, known as UNAMID, met over the weekend at the Foreign Ministry to review outstanding issues related to the deployment of UNAMID, the UN-AU Mission in Darfur.  Discussions focused particularly on land allocated to UNAMID in Darfur, use of El Fasher airport, speeding up the process regarding the release of communication equipment, as well the status-of-force agreements –- all issues that Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the head of Peacekeeping Operations, briefed you on recently.


** Iraq


And turning to Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, met yesterday with the Iranian Ambassador to Baghdad and discussed the need for continued and positive engagement between Iran and Iraq, as with all other neighbours of Iraq.  They also discussed the possibility of increased Iranian support to Iraq’s reconstruction.


In related news, the World Food Programme today announced that it will scale up efforts to provide basic food assistance to the most vulnerable Iraqi refugees in Syria, and called on the international community to support its growing operation there. 


And there is more information on both of these items.


**United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East


This morning, Filippo Grandi, the Deputy Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA, addressed a briefing on the plight of Palestinian refugees in the Middle East. 

He said chronic funding shortfalls had become a matter of serious concern to his agency.  This lack of resources meant that UNRWA was unable to employ enough teachers and health care and social workers to keep pace with a refugee population that was growing in both size and needs.


He acknowledged that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was an international challenge that needed to be addressed by political actors.  But, he also stressed that it could only be solved if human rights and international humanitarian law were given a prominent place in the political discourse. 


And we have his full remarks upstairs.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


Today in Geneva, UNICEF reported that the number of civilians displaced by violence this year alone in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is close to 400,000.  UNICEF says that the majority of the displaced are children.  The agency also said that although it recently rescued some 200 child soldiers from rebel custody, an estimated 1,000 children remain active in warfare across the country.


Meanwhile, fighting has resumed between Government forces and rebels led by dissident General Laurent Nkunda.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations says reports from the field indicate that the Congolese Army has been forced into retreat from some of its positions, including those near Katsiru and Kikuku.  UN humanitarian agencies are working to transfer 10,000 displaced persons from the town of Rutshuru to safer sites, where the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) estimates that as many as 1,750 newly displaced families arrived in the course of last week.


** Liberia


The UN Mission in Liberia and the Government of that country have together launched a joint anti-rape initiative.  The six-month campaign is called “Stop rape -– it could be your mother, your daughter, your sister, your niece”.  As part of the campaign, women and children’s protection units are being established around the country with specially trained officers to help track down perpetrators. 


And there is more information on that from the UN Mission in Liberia.


** Afghanistan


The UN Mission in Afghanistan says it intends to continue reaching out to some groups previously involved in the insurgency that are now seeking ways to end the violence.  That is one of the Mission’s priorities over the coming year, says Deputy Special Representative Chris Alexander.  Alexander noted that, in spite of a serious insurgency, Afghanistan has experienced more disarmament in 2007 than there had been last year.  He noted improvements over the past year in the strategy for countering the insurgency. 


And there are more details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul.


** Sri Lanka


Turning to Sri Lanka, Koïchiro Matsuura, the head of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, better known as UNESCO, condemned last week’s air strike on the Voice of Tigers radio station, which killed five of the station’s staff.  He said that, regardless of the content of the Voice of Tigers broadcasts, there can be no excuse for military strikes on civilian media.  He added that killing media personnel is not going to help reconciliation, and he urged the authorities to ensure respect for freedom of expression. 


And there is more on that in a press release upstairs.


** Greece -- The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia


And a couple more items:  the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, is in Skopje today.  He met with a number of officials from The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, including the country’s President, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, as well as its envoy dealing with the “name issue”. 


Nimetz reports that he had a constructive session with the leaders, in which they presented their views in some depth.  Nimetz said he hoped the pace of the talks could be accelerated, and added that he found a positive attitude in Skopje towards exploring ways to reach a solution.  Nimetz will hold talks on this topic in Athens with Greek leaders on Wednesday.


** Rwanda


And on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, it today sentenced a former witness to nine months in prison for contempt of the Tribunal and false testimony under oath.  At a hearing this morning, the witness, code-named GAA, pleaded guilty to one count of contempt of the Tribunal.  He was arrested in Kigali in July and transferred to the Tribunal in August, where he promptly pleaded guilty to giving false testimony under oath. 


This is the Tribunal’s first prosecution for contempt of court and for giving false testimony.


**International Day of Disabled Persons


Today is the International Day of Disabled Persons, and this year’s theme is “Decent work opportunities for persons with disabilities”.  In a message to mark the day, the Secretary-General says persons with disabilities are deprived of adequate employment opportunities in nearly every society.  This situation is deplorable, he says.


For its part, the International Labour Organisation today released a report saying that new efforts are needed to break down the barriers that still prevent millions of people with disabilities from working and contributing to the economic growth of their societies.  Such significant and sustained efforts are vital, not only to promoting the inclusion of people with disabilities in employment, rural development and poverty reduction programs, but also in moving toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals for halving poverty by 2015.


Meanwhile, in Geneva, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today made a series of commitments to improve the working conditions of her staff with disabilities. 


There’s more on that upstairs.


**Disarmament


This evening, the Secretary-General has a message prepared for delivery on the anniversary of the Ottawa Convention [on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destination.]


And we will have copies of that message available later today.


And that’s all I have for you.  I know that Robert Benson is here and would like to brief you on the Secretary-General’s new bulletin on ethics.  So if you have no questions for me, I can turn the floor over to Mr. Benson.  Do you have a question for me?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Just a quick one.  Was there a little bit more about the de Mistura meeting with the Iranian counterpart?  Any concrete things that were floated by the Iranians?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think what I read to you is the framework of what was being said, but there is press release upstairs, so you can take a look at that.


Question:  When is the renewal for Mr. Special Coordinator for Mr. Larsen?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The renewal?  What do you mean the renewal?


Correspondent:  I mean, he is due to have a new mandate, an extension of his mandate.


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything further on that.  I can look into that, but I have nothing further.  [She later said that Roed-Larsen’s current mandate lasts until the end of the year.]


Question:  The former Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, is reportedly saying that the only solution for the climate change is to have a binding international framework with adequate funding.  Does the Secretary-General share those views?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I would like to refer you to the many statements made by the current Secretary-General, including his op-ed today, which I just mentioned to you, which makes it clear that the science is out and that it is now time for the political [leaders] to act.


Question:  You mentioned it Friday on the Democratic Republic of the Congo –- can you say what MONUC’s role in it is, in terms of militarily and otherwise?


Deputy Spokesperson:  MONUC, as far as I know, is not participating in the offensive actions, but may provide close air support, where civilians are in imminent danger, if appropriate.  MONUC’s mandate allows UN peacekeepers to act in support of the Government and promote the protection of civilians.  That’s all I have for you.


Question:  On Kosovo, the Troika –- the EU mediators –- were quoted as saying that no compromise is possible, and that’s what the report of Ban Ki-moon is going to say.  Does the Secretary have any thoughts on what it’s going to propose to, I guess, either forestall unilateral independence, or… ?


Deputy Spokesperson:  We have been seeing the same press reports as you.  We are waiting for the report, as you know.


Question:  Also, on meeting with Jan Egeland today:  can you say what that is about?


Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, Jan Egeland has a special adviser/envoy role, and I am sure he is continuing his discussions on that.


Question:  Any particular [inaudible]?


Deputy Spokesperson:  He has a broad mandate, but I can find out more after the meeting with the Secretary-General.  [She later said that he was discussing the mediation support capacity of the United Nations.]


Question:  Anything on the election in Venezuela or Russia?


Deputy Spokesperson:  As far as I know, the United Nations did not play any role in either one of those elections.


All right, we turn to Mr. Benson.


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