27 March 2008
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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, all.


**Security Council/Guest


The guest at today’s briefing is Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel, who will discuss the progress of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.


He briefed the Security Council this morning about the Secretary-General’s recent report on the Tribunal, which says that all actions relating to the Tribunal’s preparatory phase have been undertaken and the start-up phase for the Tribunal has now commenced.  Prior to Michel’s briefing, the Security Council heard a briefing on the recent developments in Nepal from Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane.


** Cyprus


On Cyprus, we now have confirmed dates for the mission by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe to Cyprus.  Pascoe will be arriving in Cyprus late Sunday, 30 March, and will remain on the island through Wednesday before returning to New York.  He intends to travel soon thereafter to Athens and Ankara to continue his consultations.  As the Secretary-General said in his statement earlier this week, the purpose of Pascoe’s mission will be to help determine how the United Nations can be as helpful as possible to efforts by the Cypriot people to reach a settlement.


** Somalia


On Somalia, UN humanitarian officials are expressing concern about deteriorating conditions in Somalia.  In an interview with UN Radio, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes says armed groups and widespread checkpoints are making it dangerous for humanitarians to work there.  He stressed that the solution cannot be a humanitarian one, but must be based on a political reconciliation and on security improvements.  He added that the basic conditions do not currently exist for deploying a UN peacekeeping force, should the Security Council decide to do so.


Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) is warning that Somalia is sinking deeper into an abyss of suffering.  Fighting has uprooted hundreds of thousands of women and children; it is also preventing full humanitarian access, including to the most needy in Mogadishu, says WFP Country Director Peter Goossens.  He called on the international community to put Somalia at the top of its agenda and for donors not to give up.  Despite the insecurity, WFP continues to deliver hot meals to more than 50,000 people a day in the Somali capital, 90 per cent of them women and children.  And a high-level summit on “ Somalia’s Financial and Economic Issues” is taking place tomorrow and Saturday in Nairobi.  The meeting is being convened by the UN and the World Bank in close cooperation with the Transitional Federal Government.


** Burundi


On Burundi, out on the racks today is a report from the Peacebuilding Commission outlining its conclusions and recommendations on the situation in Burundi.  In it, the Commission raises concerns over the withdrawal of Palipehetu-FNL from the mechanism established to implement the 2006 Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement, and it recommends that the Palipehetu-FNL group resume its participation in the work of the Joint Verification and Monitoring Mechanism.  It also asks the Burundian Government to continue to explore all ways to resolve its differences with Palipehetu-FNL leaders, and recommends that the Security Council continue to monitor the situation in Burundi closely.


**Deputy Secretary-General


Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro today addressed Columbia University’s State of the Planet Conference, saying that our global scorecard in achieving the Millennium Development Goals is mixed.  Overall, she said, we have to speed up action on the Goals in a way that enables all segments of the world’s population to benefit equally.  Also, women must be empowered to contribute to development and to reap its benefits on an equal footing with men.  The Deputy Secretary-General emphasized that we have reasons to be optimistic, even in Africa.  Tremendous gains are possible if the international community translates its commitments into results.  We have copies of her remarks upstairs.


**Human Rights Council


In Geneva this morning, the Human Rights Council adopted six resolutions.  Among them was one on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.  By that text, which was adopted without a vote, the Human Rights Council, among other things, calls upon States to not resort to racial, ethnic or religious profiling while countering terrorism.  It also calls on States to fully comply with their obligations concerning cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, particularly the absolute prohibition of torture.


**World Alliance of Cities against Poverty Forum


More than 1,000 delegates, including city leaders from around the world, are meeting in Athens through tomorrow.  They’re taking part in the sixth global forum of the World Alliance of Cities against Poverty, an initiative of the UN Development Programme (UNDP).  Representatives are discussing local plans of action for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and reducing poverty through the promotion of democracy.  Participating cities are expecting to adopt quantified local “road maps” that will define development targets before the meeting wraps up.  We have more information upstairs.


**Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific


We have also more upstairs on Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).  You had an embargoed press briefing yesterday on the UN’s Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific 2008.   The embargo has now been lifted, and the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific today launched the publication at multiple locations throughout the region.  According to the study, chronic neglect of the agricultural sector in Asia and the Pacific is condemning 218 million people to continuing extreme poverty and widening the gap between the region’s rich and poor.


** Alliance of Civilizations


The High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, President Jorge Sampãio, met yesterday with the Secretary-General and presented to him the annual report on the activities of the Alliance of Civilizations.  They discussed the role of the Alliance within the UN system and its outlook for the future.  Earlier in the day, President Sampãio met with the 85 member Governments and multilateral organizations that constitute the Alliance Group of Friends.  He briefed them on the follow-up to the Alliance of Civilizations Forum, which was held in Madrid in January, and sought their views and input on shoring up regional action and partnerships for the Alliance.  He also met with members of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to discuss the growing problem of Islamophobia.  President Sampãio shared their concern and emphasized the convening role that the Alliance could play in generating joint action to address this issue.


**Francophonie


At the invitation of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary-General of the Francophonie, former Senegalese President Abdou Diouf, will be on an official visit to UN Headquarters this Friday.  Mr. Diouf will meet with the Secretary-General, and their discussion is expected to touch on crisis situations and conflicts in French-speaking countries, joint UN-Francophonie peace projects and Francophonie’s support to the UN in conflict resolution initiatives.  Specifically, they will discuss Côte d’Ivoire, Comoros, Chad and the Central African Republic.  Other key elements of their discussion will include the Millennium Development Goals, the Alliance of Civilizations, climate change and public advocacy in favour of the Convention on Cultural Diversity.  More than half of UN Member States are either full-fledged or observer-status members of the Francophonie, which signed a cooperation agreement with the United Nations in October 2006.


**Department of Public Information


The Department of Public Information (DPI) has released the fourth annual list of stories that it feels the world’s public and media may wish to find out more about.  This is part of a continuing effort to highlight important issues and developments that sometimes do not receive sufficient attention.  The stories are not listed in any order of priority.  You can find the latest list of what has come to be known as “Ten Stories the World Should Hear More About” on the project’s web page at www.un.org/events/tenstories.  To assist the press, DPI can provide additional information about the stories, including contacts for UN focal points on respective issues.  A note to correspondents with additional details about the project is available on the racks.


**Press Conferences and Events


And today, from 1:30 to 3 p.m. on the concourse level of the General Assembly Building, Ellen Sabin, author of The Autism Acceptance Book:  Being a Friend to Someone with Autism, discusses and signs copies of her book.


And tomorrow, as I mentioned, Abdou Diouf, Secrétaire général de la Francophonie, will meet with you at 4 p.m., following his meeting with the Secretary-General.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Michèle, about five people have died in Nepal from pre-poll violence.  Does the Secretary-General have any thoughts on that situation?  Will he be commenting?


Spokesperson:  No, he won’t be commenting, but he is following the situation.  He is aware of it and following it closely.


Question:  Thank you.  My other question is, it was reported that the Secretary-General is scheduled to address the European Parliament in Brussels.  Do you know when and what he’ll be discussing?


Spokesperson:  I cannot at this point confirm.


Question:  Also, Richard Branson recently sent out a Mid-East proposal that would include former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Jimmy Carter, Irish President Mary Robinson and Desmond Tutu, to be part of this proposal to mediate the situation in the Middle East.  Is the Secretary-General aware of this and does he support this proposal?


Spokesperson:  He’s certainly aware of it and he supports all efforts towards that goal.


Question:  Did he work with Richard Branson on that project?


Spokesperson:  No, but he’s certainly aware what the group of elders is doing.


Question:  Michèle, Mr. Pascoe’s visit is to oversee negotiations on Cyprus, right?  Is he going to use his new negotiation team in this effort to bring off some kind of agreement?


Spokesperson:  The objective [is to determine how the United Nations can be as helpful as possible to efforts by the Cypriot people to reach a settlement] and, as you know, he himself is going, personally.


Question:  Right.  And I also wanted to find out, in Iraq, as you know, violence is escalating at breakneck speed.  The Secretary-General’s Representative liaised yesterday.  Has he reported on that at all, has he issued anything as yet?


Spokesperson:  No, we’ve just been following developments there on the ground through the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).  It’s with heightened concern, I have to say, especially with regard to the impact on the humanitarian situation.  And Special Representative [Staffan] de Mistura has been in contact with a number of Iraqi leaders to assess the situation and we are expecting more from him in the next two or three days.


Question:  Can we expect a report any time soon, Michèle?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know when a report is due, but I’ll find out for you, and as soon as we get more information on the ground, what is happening there, we’ll let you know.


Question:  How does the situation impact on the United Nations efforts in Iraq, I mean, expanding the role of the United Nations in Iraq?


Spokesperson:  I think we have always said that there was concern about the security situation, all throughout, but there was what resulted in the determination of the UN to increase its support to Iraq.  I have to say that we are also concerned at the spurt of rocket attacks in the Green Zone right now and we are trying to get more information on what is happening.


Question:  On Nepal, can you brief us on what happened?


Spokesperson:  In the Security Council?  I just read you a note.  We don’t report extensively on Security Council consultations, but you can have other information by just going on the web and following the webcast.


Also, Mr. Michel is still at consultations.  He’ll be here when his item concludes so we’ll wait for him for a while.  Any other questions?


Question:  Michèle, this G-77 letter I’ve been asking about.  Has it now been received and, in that case, what is the Secretariat’s thinking about having two different Under-Secretaries-General for Africa and for Small Island States?


Spokesperson:  I can confirm now that the letter of the G-77 has been received and, as you say, it’s on the alignment of the two offices, the Office of the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries with that of the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, under one Under-Secretary-General.  I have to say that the letter from Ambassador Ashe, chair of the Group, asked for another meeting with the Secretary-General.  I will say that the Secretary-General is always open to further discussions with the Group, but I would like to point out, however, that his decision to appoint Chiekh Sidi Diarra as head of both programmes was made in prior intensive consultations with the African Group, who agreed with that decision.  And the Secretary-General certainly never intended to undermine the General Assembly on this matter.  There were extensive consultations with the African Group and they all agreed.


Question:  I think part of the letter, the G-77 also represents these Small Island Developing States and some of them are now saying the merger doesn’t serve their interests or their issues.


Spokesperson:  It is not a merger.  Each programme is autonomous and continues.  The only difference is that you have one person who is taking care of both, one Under-Secretary-General.  So I don’t think it’s changing the programmes as they are.  In fact, the money that was to be used for a second Under-Secretary-General is going to be put back into the programmes themselves.  So I think it can benefit both programmes.


Question:  Do you know if he met with States, such as Bangladesh, for example, that was instrumental in setting up the small island part of the thing that got put together.  In any case, did he only meet with the African Group about this or did he try to meet with both sides of the things that were being considered?


Spokesperson:  He did meet with a number of people on these issues from the Group of 77.  If they need further discussion with the Secretary-General, I’m sure the Secretary-General is open.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about the new appointments in the Human Rights Council?  Jean Ziegler and I forget the other name.


Spokesperson:  I can’t hear you Benny, you’re so far.  When did you decide to sit so far away from your usual seat?


Question:  Can you hear me now?


Spokesperson:  Yes, I can hear you now.


Question:  Okay, does the Secretary-General have anything to say about two new appointments at the Human Rights Council that raised quite a bit of controversy, at least in the United States, Jean Ziegler and the other name I’ve forgotten now?  Does he have any comment on any of those?


Spokesperson:  No, he does not comment on appointments.  As you know, the Human Rights Council is an autonomous body and the Secretary-General will not make any comments on decisions they have taken.


Question:  What about the consideration by some in Congress to cut off funds because of that?


Spokesperson:  This is, for the time being, a hypothetical question.


Question:  Following up on the question of Branson and the Middle East, and you said the Secretary-General welcomes every effort, is this an effort that is welcomed by all parties or just an independent effort?


Spokesperson:  It is an independent effort.


Question:  And the United Nations is okay with it?


Spokesperson:  The United Nations can’t, we don’t rule over all initiatives that are taken on specific issues.  There are mediation efforts being made on different crises, which have nothing to do with the UN and which the UN welcomes because what we are concerned about are civilians, peace and protection of civilians.


Okay, so we’ll stop here and I will let you know as soon as Mr. Michel is through with the consultations in the Security Council, so he can join us here in 226.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record