10 April 2008
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 President of the General Assembly.


Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


**Guest at Noon


Good afternoon.  We will have the General Assembly Spokesperson here for a briefing and then following that, our guest is Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), who will discuss the outcome of the first round of negotiations on a new global climate change agreement in the recent Bangkok climate change talks.


**Secretary-General Responds to Attack on UNAMID Police


I have two statements.  The first is the Secretary-General’s statement, attributable to the Spokesperson, on an attack on personnel of the UN-AU Mission in Darfur:


The Secretary-General is very troubled by the 9 April attack on United Nations–African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) police personnel outside of the Zam Zam camp for internally displaced persons near El Fasher.  One UNAMID police officer was injured and two United Nations vehicles were hijacked by four unidentified gunmen in the incident.


The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms such attacks on UNAMID personnel who have been deployed to Darfur to contribute to peace and stability.  He calls on both the Government of Sudan and the rebel movements to ensure that UNAMID is able to fully implement its mandate.


There are details of the attack in a UNAMID press release available upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.


The UNAMID police team was returning from a routine patrol at the camp when they were stopped by four armed men.  The officers were ordered to dismount their vehicles and were robbed of personal belongings and official identification cards, according to UNAMID.


One officer was repeatedly hit in the neck by one of the assailants using the back of an AK-47, according to the Mission.  The injured officer was later taken to UNAMID’s level II hospital for treatment.  His condition is stable.  An investigation is under way and will continue until the perpetrators are brought to justice.


UNAMID police in Darfur carry out daily assignments designed to provide a safer environment for civilians, particularly the more vulnerable groups, such as the internally displaced and women.  And, as I mentioned, there is a UNAMID press release upstairs with more details.


**Secretary-General Statement on Nepal Election


The second statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General is on the election in Nepal:


The Secretary-General congratulates the people of Nepal on today’s Constituent Assembly election, which took place in a generally orderly and peaceful atmosphere.  He commends the Nepalese for their enthusiastic participation in this historical event and appeals to all parties to remain calm while awaiting the results.


**Secretary-General in the Russian Federation


The Secretary-General is in Moscow today, where he launched a Global Compact network in Russia during a meeting with over 30 top executives of Russian businesses.  He welcomed today’s launch of the Global Compact network in Russia as “a great sign that Russian businesses, representing one of the world’s largest economies, are putting their weight behind the universal values of the United Nations”.


After that, the Secretary-General travelled to the State Duma, where he met with the Duma’s First Deputy Chairman, Oleg Morozov.  They discussed the important role Parliaments can play and the challenges the United Nations faces today -- not just conflict issues, but poverty, diseases, climate change, the illegal trade of small arms and gender balance.


Afterwards, the Secretary-General went to Moscow University, where he delivered a speech, in which he affirmed his expectation that Russia’s engagement in the United Nations will keep pace with the challenges and opportunities we face.


Since then, he has met with religious leaders from the Russian Orthodox and Catholic Churches, as well as Muslim and Jewish representatives, before later meeting with Patriarch Alexiy II in the oldest monastery in Moscow.  In those meetings, he discussed the Alliance of Civilizations; the importance of tolerance, human dignity and social justice; the protection of holy sites in Kosovo; and Islamophobia.


This evening, the Secretary-General first had a tête-à-tête meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and they are following that up with a larger meeting and then a press conference.


** Côte d’Ivoire


Turning to Côte d’Ivoire, the Electoral Division of the UN mission in that country (UNOCI) says that good progress is being made in the identification of the population ahead of general elections.


According to figures released by the mission today, some 7,400 public hearings were conducted in 11 provinces with more than half a million applications for birth certificates filed.  Of these, 480,000 applicants were given new birth certificates, which will allow them to formally seek recognition of their right to citizenship, which in turn should allow them to cast their ballots during the elections.  The right to citizenship or its denial to some has been among the root causes of the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire.


The public hearings are being facilitated by the mission, whose radio station has helped garner public interest in the operation by broadcasting detailed daily reports on its progress.  And there’s a press release on this upstairs.


** Sierra Leone


And in Sierra Leone, starting tomorrow, the UN Integrated Office in that country (UNIOSIL) will be handing over resource centres and office equipment to human rights committees in three districts.  The initiative is funded by the Programme of Assistance of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which seeks to enhance the capacity of rural authorities and empower civil society groups to protect and promote human rights.


The UN has also helped train district-level human rights monitors and will continue to ensure that their work receives appropriate visibility and follow-up by higher or national authorities whenever necessary.


**Secretary-General Condemns Latest Middle East Violence


And, just to recap for those who may have missed it yesterday, we did issue a statement yesterday afternoon in which theSecretary-General condemned the attack against the Nahal Oz depot in southern Israel that killed two Israeli civilian contractors, and also deplored the reported civilian casualties among Palestinians during Israeli military operations that day.  The United Nations calls for the protection of all civilians in the conflict.  The full statement is upstairs and on the website.


** Liberia


On Liberia, the UN Mission there (UNMIL) has handed over a newly constructed block of three classrooms and a headmaster’s office to a local town not far from the capital, Monrovia.  Construction was made possible through voluntary individual financial contributions and efforts by Nigerian peacekeepers from UNMIL’s Nigerian Battalion 15.  There’s more information on that.


**Secretary-General’s Appointments


And finally, I have two appointments and two responses to questions before I turn the floor over to the GA Spokesperson.


The two appointments:  The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Johan Verbeke of Belgium as the Special Coordinator for Lebanon, the senior official coordinating the UN’s work in that country.  He would replace Geir Pedersen of Norway.  Since September 2004, Ambassador Verbeke had been the Permanent Representative of Belgium to the United Nations and, in this capacity, he has served on the Security Council, as well as on the Peacebuilding Commission.


The Secretary-General also informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Tayé-Brook Zerihoun of Ethiopia as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Cyprus and Head of the UN mission there (UNFICYP).  He will replace Michael Møller.  Mr. Zerihoun is currently the Secretary-General’s Principal Deputy Special Representative in the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).  He has been serving also as Chief UN mediator for the Darfur peace talks since October 2007, in support of the efforts of Special Envoy of the United Nations Jan Eliasson.


We await the Security Council’s response to the Secretary-General’s letters and we have bio data for Mr. Verbeke and Mr. Zerihoun upstairs.


**Follow-up on Questions


And in response to questions asked about the UN’s reaction to the announcement of a date for the referendum in Myanmar, the announcement yesterday by the Myanmar authorities that the planned constitutional referendum will be held on 10 May confirms the time frame announced by the Government in February.


What is more important for the United Nations and the international community is that the Government honours its stated commitment to a free and fair process.  In this regard, the United Nations once more strongly urges the authorities in Myanmar to ensure that conditions will be put in place that are conducive to making the referendum inclusive and credible.


In response to another question about the Secretary-General’s travel plans regarding the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Beijing, the Secretary-General had conveyed to the Chinese Government some months ago that he may not be in a position to accept the invitation to attend this important event due to scheduling issues.


**Press Conferences


Tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference by the General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim on the outcomes of the General Assembly’s most recent debates on Security Council reform, management reform and the Millennium Development Goals, as well as on upcoming activities.


And following the noon briefing, there will be a technical briefing by Gary Fowlie, Chief of the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit, on media arrangements for the Pope’s visit to the UN next week.  And that briefing is a technical briefing and is, of course, off the record.


Before we turn to Janos, questions for me?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  When do expect Belgian Ambassador Verbeke to go to Lebanon?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have a date yet.  You could ask him.


Question:  If the Secretary-General decided months ago that he was not going to attend the Beijing Olympics, why was the announcement made now and not when he was asked the question?


Deputy Spokesperson:  But I was asked the question yesterday at the briefing and I’m responding to it.


Question:  So, you’re telling us that months ago he informed the Chinese that he was not going to attend the Olympics?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.  That’s correct.


Question:  Did they, nevertheless, send a recent invitation?  Did they invite him after he said he wouldn’t go?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, I was asked the question yesterday, and this is the answer.


Question:  Well, can you tell us what is the scheduling… I mean, what does he have that day?  Is it a…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing further on his travel plans.  As you know, we generally announce his plans a week to 10 days before he travels, and we give you a “planning purposes only” note if we are taking journalists on travels with the Secretary-General.


Question:  But Marie, this event is considered, like, a very important event in international affairs.  Several Heads of State have said that they are going to deliberately avoid going to the opening ceremony because of… problems.  I mean, this is a slightly different tack, saying he has scheduling problems.  But I mean, is there anything earth-shaking that is happening on that day where his schedule is so busy or is this a diplomatic way to give…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Benny, I think I have answered the question.  Announcements of his trips are not made publicly until a week to 10 days beforehand.  As for whether he will visit China -- if that’s your question -- a substantive visit to China is being planned.


Question:  So he is going to be outside of New York for the opening of the Olympics?


Deputy Spokesperson:  That is not what I said.


Question:  Thank you for confirming that the Secretary-General spoke with [United States Secretary of State] Condoleezza Rice yesterday morning.  My question is what did they discuss and who made the phone call?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I confirmed that information for you.  I have nothing beyond that.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later clarified that the call took place on Tuesday morning, not yesterday.]


Question:  (inaudible) just said that they had a conversation, but you didn’t tell me what they spoke about.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.  Obviously, it was a phone conversation and we’d have to ask him.  We can follow up.


Question:  Who made the phone call?


Deputy Spokesperson:  We can follow up for you.


Question:  In his speech in Moscow, the Secretary-General refers to a multi-polar world, which the Russians use, and to multilateralism, which he says is the bedrock of the UN, and that he sees similarities between the two concepts.  Does he see any differences between the two?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond what he said on the record in Moscow.  He gave a rather comprehensive speech at Moscow University and I would refer you to that.


Question:  In that RIA Novosti interview he gave, he said, on Kosovo, that all sides should refrain from unilateral actions that may lead to violence on the ground.  Does he consider the recent declaration of independence by Kosovo a unilateral act?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Benny, if you’ve read the interview, I would refer to his remarks there.  As for everything else on his response on Kosovo, I have nothing new to add.


Question:  I just wanted to know -- maybe somebody has already asked -- about this latest situation in the Occupied Territory, the seven Palestinians being killed?  Has the Secretary-General reacted to it as yet?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes. It was in the statement we issued yesterday.  I just…


Question:  Did it just say that they attacked the Israelis or…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  But if you look at the second part of the statement, he deplores the civilian casualties among Palestinians as well.


Question:  The Government of Myanmar has issued sort of a warning to foreign embassies to not to talk with or be seen to support the party of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  Does the UN think that’s consistent with international law?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not seen anything on that first hand.


Question:  Do you know the specific date of the invitation of the Chinese Government to the Secretary-General to attend the opening ceremony of the Olympics?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I have already answered by his response to that request.


Question:  Can you tell us when was the invitation received and when information was sent to Beijing that he would not be attending the events?


Deputy Spokesperson:  He informed the Government several months ago.  I really don’t have anything beyond that.


If there are no further questions for me, Janos.  And then we’ll have the guest, who will be Yvo de Boer.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Good afternoon, good to see you.


**Security Council Reform


Let’s start with Security Council reform.  The Open-Ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation On and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters related to the Security Council -– I know that’s a long name -- is holding its second meeting of the sixty-second session today in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.  The first was held on 14 December last year.


Just to clarify some things:  in the Journal, it is listed as the 3rd and 4th meetings, because the morning meeting is always considered the first and the afternoon meeting is considered the second.  So basically, this is the second time that the Open-Ended Working Group is meeting on Security Council reform.


General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim, who convened the meeting, in his opening statement, reminded Member States that his intention was to move forward on Security Council reform by focusing on the framework and modalities, by identifying and reaching agreement on various elements of the negotiables and entering into intergovernmental negotiations.


He noted that it was on the framework, modalities and negotiables that he received written proposals from delegations as well as regional and interest groups that he put forward to Member States as input for this second meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group.


He reaffirmed the seven principles he put forward last year during discussions on Council reform as the principles that should serve the General Assembly to guide the Security Council reform process.  He noted that these were accepted by Member States and underlined that they should not be approached in an a la carte fashion.  He also noted that readiness to advance towards intergovernmental negotiations has been expressed by all Member States and efforts made so far indicate a willingness to move the process forward.


He also noted that Member States clearly requested that the President’s Task Force -– made up of him and the Permanent Representatives of Bangladesh, Chile and Portugal –- play an active part in the process.  The President announced that he is adding a new member to the Task Force, the Permanent Representative of Djibouti.


As regards next steps:  the President indicated that he would -– with his Task Force –- initiate rounds of consultations with all Member States on the inputs received so far and on all other ideas that may emerge.  Then, he will call for another meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group.  He told Member States that his purpose was to present a report with agreed recommendations to the General Assembly before the end of the sixty-second session.


He called for “effective flexibility” and reminded Member States that any successful reform must accommodate the interests and concerns of all sides, especially those who are currently underrepresented, and consequently requires compromise by all.  Without a compromise, there will be no Security Council reform.


He also reiterated that Security Council reform is an integral part of the overall strengthening of the United Nations.  In short, the transformation of the wider United Nations system requires the reform of the Security Council too.


The text of his full opening statement is expected to be posted on his website shortly.


After this opening statement, the meeting was then opened to a general exchange of views on all aspects of Council reform with at least two dozen countries on the list of speakers.  So, most likely, the meeting will go into the afternoon.


And please note as Marie has mentioned, the President will be here at 11 tomorrow and will give you a briefing of the outcome of this Open-Ended Working Group meeting and also on his next steps forward, and on other aspects of the General Assembly’s work, including the recently concluded meeting on management reform, which actually concluded yesterday.  I have a little bit on that as well.


**General Assembly Debate on Management Reform


The General Assembly yesterday afternoon concluded its two-day thematic debate on management reform with an interactive session between Member State representatives and senior Secretariat officials.  Please note that this was the first time the General Assembly held a thematic debate on management reform.  The aim was for Member States to present their views and concerns and engage in dialogue with Secretariat officials with the intention to forge a common understanding to management reform.


The focus was on three key areas:  the way mandates are formulated, implemented and evaluated; the planning and budgetary process of the Organization; and the management of human resources.  And there will be an informal chair’s summary of the full debate which will be issued by the President’s Office as is traditionally the case when it comes to the outcomes of thematic debates.


In closing yesterday’s interactive session, President Kerim noted that the constructive engagement of Member States and Secretariat confirms the crucial importance of management reform for the overall reform of the United Nations.  He was encouraged by the fact that Member States were willing to engage the Secretariat to move the process forward.


He highlighted the emphasis during the debate on the need for greater transparency and enhanced accountability as a means to promote trust and greater credibility.  In conclusion, he said he believed that the two days of dialogue contributed to lead the Membership towards a common understanding on management reform.


**Other Meetings


Now, a couple of things that come from the Journal -- and you can notice this on the second page –- the Ad Hoc Committee on Administration of Justice began its work this morning and it’ll go on until 24 April.  This is one of the three ad hoc committees emanating from the decisions of the Sixth Committee (Legal) last year.


It relates to a General Assembly resolution during its sixty-first session -- resolution 61/261 –- by which the Assembly decided to establish a new, independent, transparent, professionalized, adequately resourced and decentralized system of administration of justice for the United Nations.  The new system is to be implemented no later than January 2009.  The new system includes a two-tiered formal system with a UN Dispute Tribunal and a UN Appeals Tribunal as well as an informal system with a mediation system and an Ombudsman.


During the current session, that is the sixty-second session, both the Fifth (Administrative and Budgetary) and the Sixth Committees discussed the proposed new system –- the Fifth obviously from the administrative and budgetary aspects, the Sixth from the legal perspective.


When the Sixth Committee ended its session last year, it decided to set up an Ad Hoc Committee this spring to discuss further certain legal aspects of the new proposed system, and that is exactly what the Ad hoc Committee is going to do over the next week.


At the same, the other Ad Hoc Committee, which I talked to you about the last time I briefed and which is on the criminal accountability of UN officials and experts on mission, will end its meeting tomorrow and will adopt is report.  So we’ll find out what it has in store for us.


And finally, one other little thing for you.  In the Journal, in brackets, you will see that there is an informal consultation on the preparatory process for the high-level midterm review meeting on the Almaty Programme of Action.


Just so you know what this is:  in 2003, in Almaty, Kazakhstan, there was a Ministerial Conference of Landlocked and Transit Developing Countries and Donor Countries and International Financial and Development Institutions on Transit Transport Cooperation.  This adopted something that is called the Almaty Programme of Action, which is to forge partnerships to overcome the specific problems of the landlocked developing countries that result from their lack of territorial access to the sea and their remoteness and isolation from world markets.


This past December, the General Assembly adopted a resolution deciding to hold, from within existing resources, a two-day high-level plenary meeting devoted to the midterm review of this Almaty Programme of Action, during the sixty-third session.  That will be on 2 and 3 October 2008.


In the middle of March, the current President of the Assembly, President Kerim, sent a letter to Member States saying that he had decided to appoint the Permanent Representative of Japan as facilitator to take forward consultations on the preparatory process for this high-level midterm review.  That’s what you see in the brackets.  That’s the background on that.


That’s all I have.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Was President Kerim invited to the Beijing Olympics and, if so, is he going?


Spokesperson:  I have to check on that.  As far as I know, he is not going.


Question:  You covered a lot of ground and I have some specific questions.  Number one, the Task Force.  Does it have any permanent members in it?  Second, the Task Force is meeting and the Open-Ended Group is meeting.  How is the coordination mechanism being implemented?  And finally, are any Permanent Representatives participating in the Open-Ended Working Group and at what level?


Spokesperson:  You mean on Security Council reform?  Yes.  Permanent Representatives are representing most of the Member States, as I saw when I was there this morning.


Question:  At what level?


Spokesperson:  Permanent Representatives at the ambassadorial level.  That’s what has been the tradition for the Open-Ended Working Group.  As regards the Task Force…


Comment:  No.  It’s not the tradition.  I myself have worked with that Committee for many years.


Spokesperson:  Well, what do you mean then?


Question:  The Permanent Representatives are not always represented at the ambassadorial level at that meeting.


Spokesperson:  I’m not saying that each and every Member State has its Permanent Representative there, but, in most cases, that’s what I have seen.  That’s where the invitations go.  It’s not aimed higher is what I meant by “tradition”.


On the Task Force:  the Task Force is something that the President has set up and it was endorsed by Member States and it is receiving support.  As I said, the Task Force includes him, meaning the President, and the Permanent Representatives –- so, the ambassadors –- from Bangladesh, Chile and Portugal and now from Djibouti.


Question:  No permanent members?


Spokesperson:  What do you mean by permanent members?


Question:  Permanent members of the Security Council?


Spokesperson:  Oh.  No, no.


Question:  Okay.  How is the coordination between the two -– the Task Force and the Open-Ended Ad Hoc Working Group –- being implemented?


Spokesperson:  It’s through various rounds of informal consultations.  And also, at the meetings of the Open-Ended Working Group, the President is basically representing the Task Force and briefing the Membership on where he is going and what he is doing.


But as I said, tomorrow, he will be here and he can give some specifics on how he intends to move forward now, based on whatever input he gets, with the Task Force and with the Member States, in several rounds of consultations and then on to another Open-Ended Working Group meeting.  


Question:  The Serbian Foreign Minister said that he met with President Kerim and discussed with him introducing a resolution in September to support Serbia seeking a ruling from the International Court of Justice, that Kosovo’s independence is illegal.  Was that discussed?  What did President Kerim say?  Are there moves afoot to actually have that resolution introduced? 


Spokesperson:  We did issue a short statement when the President met the Foreign Minister, and in that -- I think it was in the first paragraph -– we did say that the President was informed, by the Foreign Minister, of Serbia’s views as regards the situation in Kosovo.  That also included informing the President about the intentions of Serbia.  So this is where we are.


Question:  So he what, just noted that…?


Spokesperson:  He listened to what the Foreign Minister had to say.


Question:  And one last question about this management reform meeting.  They kept talking about accountability and “accountability infrastructure”.  There was a proposal by, I guess, the Secretary-General or the Department of Political Affairs (DPA), to create a new office of accountability -- 10 jobs, a D-2 post.  It’s unclear, but I understood that it had been introduced in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) but it doesn’t seem like an Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions (ACABQ) report was put out on it.  Are you aware of this accountability proposal?  Where does it stand?


Spokesperson:  Well, if you remember, when we talked about the Fifth Committee, on its website, you have the work programme.  For the last week (of the first part of its resumed session in March), there was a footnote that said they would discuss the development pillar and the accountability framework if the various reports were available.  They were not available, so these issues were not discussed.  


Question:  Have they come out since?  Is there an ACABQ report on this?


Spokesperson:  I am not aware of an ACABQ report on this yet.  But it is on the agenda and it will be introduced into the Fifth once the reports are complete.  I think the introduction that you are referring to was kind of like an informal briefing that was by -- I don’t know exactly who on the part of the Secretariat -- but they had an informal briefing within the Committee.  It was not a formal introduction because those reports, including the ACABQ report, were not ready.


If there are no more questions, thank you very much.


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