7 April 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.


**Today’s Noon Guest


Our guest at the noon briefing today is Manuel Escudero, Head of the Academic Initiatives at the UN Global Compact Office, who will brief you on the Principles for Responsible Management Education, a UN-backed global initiative developed to promote corporate responsibility and sustainability in business education.  We have more information on the initiative available in this room and upstairs.


**Statement on Zimbabwe


We have a statement, attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, on Zimbabwe.  Nine days ago, the people of Zimbabwe voted in a responsible and peaceful manner.  The Secretary-General is concerned that presidential results have yet to be released in spite of the constitutional deadline.  He urges the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to discharge its responsibility and release the results expeditiously and with transparency.  He calls upon all actors to act responsibly, exercise restraint and calm, and to address all issues regarding the elections through recourse to legal means and dialogue, as necessary for the good of all Zimbabweans.


**Secretary-General on Nepal


In the run-up to the Constituent Assembly election in Nepal, the Secretary-General, in a video message, expressed fervent hope that the ballot will take place in a free and fair atmosphere.  Stressing that Nepal’s political leaders have a critical responsibility to ensure that voters can freely exercise their democratic right in a secret ballot, without fear of violence, intimidation or manipulation, the Secretary-General said that much hinges on the success of the election, and the acceptance by all of the people.


Adding that the election is an opportunity to further cement the peace process in Nepal, he said the international community has consistently demonstrated its support and the UN is closely following the conduct of the election, including through the presence of hundreds of international observers.  The Secretary-General stressed that the election is not the end of the road and the peace process will continue, particularly in the drafting of a new constitution for a new Nepal.  He also said he has accepted the invitation of the Government of Nepal to visit the country, and looks forward to witnessing the achievements of the democratic process.


** Nepal Election


The United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) yesterday released the third of a series of periodic reports on the conditions for the 10 April Constituent Assembly election.  The joint report by UNMIN and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal, notes that, while campaigning was peaceful in many constituencies, incidents of election-related violence and intimidation by party workers continued, with frequent and severe clashes between political parties in many districts.  The report also highlights the results of monitoring by UNMIN and the Human Rights Office in Nepal over the past week, related to violence by groups opposed to the election, violations of the electoral code of conduct and of human rights, and the monitoring of arms.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, Ian Martin, continues with his regional tour in the run-up to the election, including Maoist army cantonments.


** Haiti


On Haiti, the World Food Programme (WFP) has again appealed for urgent funds for its operations in Haiti after four people were killed in riots over rising food prices.  The agency says Haiti, with the world’s highest daily deficit of calories per person, has been particularly vulnerable to the soaring prices.  WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran urged donors to respond to the agency’s appeal, warning that rising food prices could result in further tensions in a number of countries.  For Haiti, WFP has received so far only 13 per cent of the $96 million needed to assist some 1.7 million hungry people, hardly enough to support operations through April.  Due to rising costs, WFP recently revised its funding requirements upwards by 22 per cent. 


**Food Price Increase


I will add, on the issue of food prices, that the Secretary-General has been watching the rise in global food prices with deep concern.  The reasons for the shortages are many and cannot be solely ascribed, as some do, to a simple trade-off between biofuels and agriculture, though this may indeed be a factor.  High oil prices have increased production and transport costs.  Worldwide food production has been affected this year by droughts and other natural disasters.  Economic growth has increased consumption, especially in Asia.  We must take steps, beginning now, to assure the world’s food security.  The first step must be to meet urgent humanitarian needs.  This year, the World Food Programme plans to feed 73 million people.  But to do so, it requires an additional $500 million simply to cover the rise in costs.


Longer term, we must increase production.  World Bank President Robert Zoellick notes there is no reason why Africa can’t experience a “green revolution” of the sort that transformed South-East Asia in previous decades.  UN agencies such as the Food and Agriculture Organization and the International Fund for Agricultural Development are working with the African Union and others to do just this.  Simply improving market efficiency can have a huge effect.  Roughly a third of the world’s food shortages, according to WFP, are the result of bottlenecks in local distribution systems.


** Cyprus


On Cyprus, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe held constructive meetings on the Cyprus issue in Athens, Greece, today with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis and other senior ministry officials.  Pascoe told reporters that he and the Foreign Minister had “very fruitful talks” and had agreed to work together to help the people of Cyprus in their efforts at reunification.  Pascoe will be arriving in Ankara, Turkey, this evening ahead of meetings on Tuesday with Turkey's Foreign Minister, Ali Babacan, and other officials before joining the Secretary-General's delegation in Moscow on Wednesday.  Pascoe’s meetings in Greece and Turkey are a continuation of his consultations that began last week on how the UN can best assist reunification efforts in Cyprus. 


**Security Council


On the Security Council, we have nothing today, but tomorrow morning, the Security Council will have an open briefing followed by consultations on Haiti, with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Hédi Annabi, talking to reporters at the stakeout afterward.  In the afternoon, the Council will hear in an open meeting from the head of the International Independent Investigation Commission dealing with Lebanon, Daniel Bellemare, and will follow that meeting with consultations, as well.  Bellemare will hold a press conference tomorrow in this room at approximately 4:45 p.m.  We’ll confirm the time for you.  It will depend on how long the consultations will last.


** Lebanon


On Lebanon, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane was in Lebanon this weekend, where she met on Sunday with Assembly Speaker Nabih Berri.  Speaking to reporters after that meeting, she said she had come to Lebanon to convey the Secretary-General’s and the United Nations concern about the continued stalemate in the political situation.  She also visited southern Lebanon and the headquarters of the UN Interim Force (UNIFIL) on Saturday.  We have the transcript of her press comments upstairs. 


** Gulf States


Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes is on a six-day mission to the Gulf region, where he has been visiting Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar to strengthen partnerships between the Gulf States and the United Nations.  Yesterday, Holmes met in Riyadh with the King of Saudi Arabia, saying that he was deeply impressed by the King’s commitment to humanitarian causes throughout the world.  He also met with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal, discussing a wide range of humanitarian issues and agreeing on the need to reinforce further the UN-Saudi partnership.  Tomorrow, Holmes will deliver the keynote speech at the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development Conference.  We have a press release upstairs with more details.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


Alan Doss, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, was in the north-eastern town of Goma on Friday to take part in the opening of the mixed technical commission on peace and security in the Kivus, otherwise known as the “Amani Programme”.  In a speech at that event, Doss said that the so-called Amani Programme marks the second phase of the Kivus peace process, which he called a “realization phase”.  He also appealed to the parties to work urgently to help end the difficult living conditions of the more than one million displaced persons and refugees whose resumption of normal life is contingent on the realization of the commitments made at the Goma Conference on Peace, Security and Development in the Kivus.


**Human Rights Council


The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review was launched today in Geneva.  You’ll recall that the Universal Periodic Review is a new mechanism unique to the Human Rights Council, which requires that the human rights records of all UN Member States be examined.  Over the next two weeks, a first group of 16 countries will have their records reviewed, starting with Bahrain and Ecuador.  The meetings will feature interactive discussions between the States in question and the Universal Periodic Review’s Working Group, which comprises all 47 members of the Human Rights Council.  The discussions will be based on national reports and information from a variety of sources, including treaty bodies, Special Rapporteurs, NGOs, national human rights institutions and academics.  Additional countries being reviewed over the next two weeks include Algeria, Argentina, Brazil, Czech Republic, Finland, India, Indonesia, Morocco, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa, Tunisia and the United Kingdom.


**Chemical Weapons


In a message to the Second Special Session of the Conference of the State Parties to Review the Operation of the Chemical Weapons Convention, delivered earlier today in The Hague by Tim Caughley, the Deputy Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that, with its near-universal membership, the Convention has an undisputed record as one of the world’s most successful disarmament treaties.  He noted that, because of the Convention, some 27,000 tonnes of chemical weapon agents and 2.9 million chemical munitions and containers have been destroyed.  “We must recognize this progress,” he said, “and the positive role played by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.”  He also called on Member States to eliminate all outstanding dangers posed by chemical weapons and to redouble their efforts to build a world free from these instruments of mass destruction.


**Disarmament Commission


Still on disarmament, in his remarks to the fifty-sixth anniversary of the Disarmament Commission, the Secretary-General today underscored the importance of the Commission, which performs a unique function in the UN disarmament machinery, serving as a deliberative body that reports to the General Assembly.  Renewing his call with a greater sense of urgency, the Secretary-General stressed that, in shaping international peace and security, the Secretariat, Member States and civil society must reinvigorate collective efforts to reach shared goals in disarmament and non-proliferation.  He urged all nations to take very seriously the challenges posed by weapons of mass destruction, especially nuclear arms, including risks from their continued existence, their geographical spread, and the possibility that they could fall into the hands of terrorists.


**World Health Day


Today is World Health Day.  In his message, the Secretary-General said that climate change is sometimes debated as if it affected only the planet and not the people living in it.  He said this year’s World Health Day is an opportunity to broaden this view by spotlighting the major health threats we face as a result of global warming for the sake of our planet and all of its inhabitants.  The World Health Organization (WHO) warns vulnerable populations at greater risk, saying that human beings are already exposed to the effects of climate-sensitive diseases, and these diseases today kill millions.  They include malnutrition, which causes over 3.5 million deaths per year, diarrhoeal diseases, which kill over 1.8 million, and malaria, which kills almost one million.


The impact of climate change could fall disproportionately on women and children, UNICEF cautioned today, saying that nearly 10 million children under age five die every year of largely preventable diseases.  The messages by the Secretary-General, UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman, and WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan are available upstairs in my office.


**Population and Development Commission


All this week, the forty-first session of the Commission on Population and Development is meeting at Headquarters.  The Commission will consider the ongoing and profound changes in the distribution of the world population.  These include the fact that, by the end of 2008, the number of people living in cities will exceed those living in rural areas for the first time in history.  We have copies of Under-Secretary-General Sha Zukang’s opening remarks upstairs.


**Rwandan Genocide Anniversary


The Secretary-General this evening will take part in a ceremony here at UN Headquarters to mark the fourteenth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda.  In prepared remarks he will deliver at that event, the Secretary-General will pay a tribute to the more than 800,000 people who perished and other victims, as well as survivors, of the genocide.  He is also expected to say that the United Nations has a moral duty to act on the lessons of Rwanda and will pledge to bolster UN efforts to prevent genocide.  The Secretary-General will also say that preventing genocide is a cause that he is resolved to pursue during his term and in the years beyond.  He will also cite the creation of the position of Special Adviser for the Prevention of Genocide and the appointment of a Special Adviser with a focus on, among other subjects, the responsibility to protect.


**Press Briefings Tomorrow


For tomorrow, we have, at 1.15, there will be a press conference by Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ Population Division; Eduardo Moreno, Chief of the Global Urban Observatory of the Monitoring System Branch of UN-HABITAT, and others, on the work of forty-first session of the Commission on Population and Development.


And later tomorrow, Daniel Bellemare, Commissioner of the International Independent Investigation Commission for Lebanon, will brief you at around 4:30 p.m. following Security Council consultations on the Commission.  And of course we’ll let you know when Mr. Annabi will be at the stakeout tomorrow.


This is all I have for you today.  Thank you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Michèle, on Zimbabwe, two or three questions.  Am I correct in thinking this is just the second comment Mr. Ban has made, the first I think was on 1 April.  This is the first since then, is it not?


Spokesperson:  Yes, it is.


Question:  Second question is, over the weekend, a number of people, mostly opposition figures in Zimbabwe, were vaguely calling on the UN to intervene.  My question is, has the United Nations received anything, any request to intervene in Zimbabwe?  And the third thing is, is the UN in Zimbabwe?  Are there UN agencies acting there?  Is there any UN activity within Zimbabwe right now?


Spokesperson:  We have UN activities in Zimbabwe.  They are not connected to the elections.  As you know, we were not observing the elections.  We were not part of the preparations for the elections either.  But of course we have a UN team in Zimbabwe.


[The Spokesperson later added that all of the main UN agencies are present in Zimbabwe.]


Question:  And have you received any request?


Spokesperson:  No, we have not received anything yet, requesting that the UN intervene on the electoral stage.


Question:  And if such a request were to be received or acted on, it would have to be from the Government, right?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  An opposition political figure requesting the UN’s intervention is not going to bring a response from here, is it?


Spokesperson:  Not immediately.  However, we do take into consideration what all parties have to say.


Question:  Michèle, a few questions, the first on Iran.  The Iranian press has reported that Iran has sent a letter to the UN, claiming ownership of three islands in the Gulf region.  Do you think this is going to be a problem?  Have you received the letter?  And what’s your position on that?  My second question is about Palestinian refugees who are on strike in Jordan over the pay rises.  What is the UN going to do on that and is this the only place people are having the pay raise issues?  My third question is on Cyprus.  What do we expect in the coming days from the visits?


Spokesperson:  Is that all you have?  (laughter)  Okay, about Iran and its claiming ownership of three islands, the UN, the Secretariat per se, has nothing to say about this.  As you know, territorial problems are taken care of by a court, an international court, not by the UN Secretariat.  So it wouldn’t be for us to either give our opinion or say anything about this.  About the pay raise, the rising prices in Jordan and the request, UNRWA has confirmed this morning that there has been a strike among its employees in Jordan.  They are engaged right now in talks to prevent further action and this is all we have at this point.  On Cyprus, I have said everything I have on Cyprus.  As you know, Mr. Pascoe is continuing his discussions around this and, as you heard me say, he is supposed to be in Ankara tomorrow to pursue these talks.


Question:  Has the Secretary-General or any of his top aides been in touch with President Mugabe or anybody else in Zimbabwe?


Spokesperson:  No.


Question:  Not since the election?  No contact?


Spokesperson:  No, not yet.


Question:  It’s a trend, so I’ll ask two questions.  One, about the North Korea situation with UNICEF.  Apparently UNICEF withdrew its participation in the torch relay and does the Secretary-General concur with the sentiment?


Spokesperson:  As you know, UNICEF originally planned to participate in the Pyongyang leg of the Olympic torch run.  It was in response to a request from, and as a demonstration of support for, the International Olympic Movement.  However, from the note I got this morning, UNICEF is no longer convinced that its participation in the run would support the aim of raising awareness of the situation of children in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and elsewhere.  UNICEF, therefore, decided more than a week ago to withdraw from the Pyongyang relay.  And UNICEF continues to be committed to its partnership with the IOC and to taking advantage of this partnership to draw attention to problems that children face around the world.  This is what I’ve got for you.


Question:  Okay.  My second question was asked last week and maybe we’ve had enough time to think about this.  Does the UN, as a member of the Quartet, support the going to a conference in Moscow, the Moscow summit?


Spokesperson:  At this point, the Quartet has not decided on it, the Quartet has not met on it, so of course I will wait for a decision of the Quartet to let you know.


Question:  What is the UN position?  Some sides say it’s useful, some sides say it’s not.


Spokesperson:  The UN will first consult with the other Quartet members.


Question:  So you can’t say whether it’s useful or not.


Spokesperson:  No, at this point no.


[The correspondent was later informed that the Secretary-General, in an interview held after the noon briefing, said he supported the Russian Government’s initiative to hold a Middle East peace conference in Moscow sometime in the near future.  The Secretary-General added that he understood that the Russian Government had been actively consulting with the concerned parties in the region on this.]


Question:  Michèle, in the spirit of multiple questions, I have several.  Number one, on Iraq, has the Secretary-General’s Special Representative gotten any new report ready since the last conflict in Basra, which was described by the UN humanitarian agencies on Thursday and Friday as very grave, 750 people dying in Basra and 1,500 wounded?  Is there any report filed yet?


Spokesperson:  No, what we have on Iraq is what we said on Friday.  We got nothing new this weekend.


Question:  The SRSG has not issued any report?


Spokesperson:  No, nothing since Friday.


Question:  Also, there’s a report on nine children killed in the Occupied [Palestinian] Territory by Israel.  Is UNICEF responsible for relief on this issue or does the United Nations bear any report on that?


Spokesperson:  It was a press report, you’re saying?


Question:  It was a report by human rights bodies and so forth.


Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of the number you quoted.  Of course UNICEF is concerned and we have other UN bodies interested in the situation in the Occupied [Palestinian] Territory and we follow closely the situation there.  As soon as I get something from them concerning the situation and what you just reported, I will inform you.


Question:  I’m tempted to ask three questions, but I’ll keep it at two.  First, did the Secretary-General call Muammar Al-Qadhafi and, if so, what did he discuss with him?


Spokesperson:  He did speak on Saturday with Mr. Qadhafi and what they discussed was the situation in the border between Chad and Sudan.


Question:  Okay, now in Haiti, in those protests, it said that one of the people killed, the AP says protestors blame the UN, claiming that it was a UN bullet that killed the protestor.  Has the UN confirmed if that happened and if so, what happened in that incident?


Spokesperson:  What I got is that the Mission has apparently opened an investigation to determine whether the reaction of the peacekeepers conformed to the rules of engagement, compared to the kind of aggression they were receiving from the crowd.  That’s what I can say.  I do know also that the number you’re quoting, the number of people who died in Les Cayes, is being questioned.  The press reports four, the ministry’s saying there was only one.  This is still being determined on the ground.  As you know, also, they deployed 100 extra soldiers, Brazilians, Bolivians, Nigerians and Chinese, to Les Cayes during the weekend.


Question:  And when they do this investigation, will something be announced about whether it met the standard or didn’t meet the standard?  That will be made public?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  When is the Secretary-General going to Nepal?


Spokesperson:  We don’t know yet.  We don’t have a date set.  But he will go.


Question:  And the invitation was from the Nepal Government?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  And when was it?


Spokesperson:  I’ll check for you but I think it was a ways back.


Question:  A follow up on the Qadhafi question.  Has Qadhafi offered himself as a mediator?


Spokesperson:  As you know, Mr. Qadhafi was a mediator on the Chad-Sudan issue for a while and all I can say at this point is what I told you, that they discussed the issue.


Question:  Also, on Tibet, is there anything he can say about Tibet?


Spokesperson:  No, nothing more than what we have said in the past.


Question:  As far as I remember, he hasn’t issued one statement.


Spokesperson:  We did mention the situation in Tibet a few days ago, quite a few days ago.


Question:  Other than that he is following events?


Spokesperson:  We haven’t had any specific new statement on Tibet.


Question:  Maybe I’m wrong, but wasn’t the Secretary-General supposed to visit Afghanistan soon?


Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  As you know, he was just co-chairing a meeting on Afghanistan in Bucharest.  Whether he will go to Afghanistan and when, I don’t have that information at this point.


I don’t think we should have our guests wait too long and I’m going to invite them to come to the podium.


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