10 June 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.  I’m sorry I’m late.  I’m still waiting for a statement, but we’ll get started because I am told our guest, the General Assembly President, must start at 12:30.


We have 23 investigative journalists from 22 countries who are here as a part of the United States Department of State International Programme.  So welcome to the briefing and welcome to the UN.


**Press Conference Today


Today, as I just mentioned, following the noon briefing, there will be a press conference by the General Assembly President.  We will also have Dr. Anthony Fauci from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and Ratri Suksma from the Coordination of Action Research on AIDS and Mobility Asia.  And they will talk about the General Assembly high-level meeting on AIDS.


**Statement on Somalia


I will start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson on Somalia.


The Secretary-General welcomes the agreement between the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia, reached in Djibouti yesterday.  He commends the leadership of both parties for taking this important step towards a durable political settlement for Somalia, and hopes that other Somali groups and individuals will soon adhere to this agreement.


The Secretary-General will remain engaged in this exercise through the efforts of his Special Representative, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah.  He calls on the international community to provide strong diplomatic and financial support for the effective implementation of this agreement.


The Secretary-General thanks the Government of Djibouti and the relevant regional organizations for their contributions to this positive outcome.


**Brahimi Report on Safety and Security


Then I have an update on the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of United Nations Personnel and Premises.  As you know, the Panel submitted yesterday its report to the Secretary-General.  The Chairman of the Panel, Lakhdar Brahimi, handed the report to the Secretary-General.  The Panel was set up on 5 February by the Secretary-General, with a broad mandate to provide recommendations on “strategic issues vital to delivery and enhancement of the security of UN personnel and premises and the changing threats and risks faced by it”.


Receiving the report, the Secretary-General expressed his appreciation for the work of the Panel and said the report would be studied in detail before considering appropriate follow-up action.  Careful internal deliberations are under way with a view to ensuring the transparency of the process and the efficiency and integrity of any follow-up measures, taking into account the due process rights of individuals.


**AIDS


And, as you know, the Secretary-General this morning addressed the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on HIV/AIDS and presented the meeting with his latest report on efforts to fight the epidemic.  In his remarks, he noted several positive developments, including improvements in providing health services for women and children and the fact that, by the end of last year, 3 million people had access to antiretroviral treatment in low- and middle-income countries.  At the same time, however, he noted that there were 2.5 million new HIV infections last year and more than 2 million deaths.  There were also twice as many people in need of antiretroviral treatment and going without, as there were receiving it.  This is unacceptable, he said.


The Secretary-General added that how we fare in fighting AIDS will impact all our efforts to cut poverty, improve nutrition, reduce child mortality, improve maternal health and curb the spread of malaria and tuberculosis.  Before concluding, he thanked Peter Piot, who attended his last General Assembly high-level meeting as Executive Director of UNAIDS, and we have the Secretary-General’s remarks upstairs.  Dr. Piot also addressed the meeting, saying that AIDS may be one of the defining issues of our time, but it is clearly now a problem with a solution.  And his remarks are upstairs, as well.


** Afghanistan


Prior to an international conference in support of Afghanistan to be held this Thursday in Paris, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, today called for a “new deal” to be forged between the Government of Afghanistan and the international community.  He said that the conference will be more than just a pledging conference for donors, and he praised the Afghanistan National Development Strategy as an Afghan-led and -owned blueprint for all support efforts.  And there are more details in a press release upstairs.


** Myanmar


Turning to Myanmar, while key agencies of the United Nations are fully mobilizing resources across Myanmar to support relief efforts in the aftermath of the cyclone, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says overall distribution capacity exceeds the pipeline for the incoming goods, possibly causing shortages of much needed shelter, food and other relief goods in the coming weeks.  In particular, OCHA says, the food cluster is only 21 per cent funded, and the food pipeline will break by mid-July without further funding.  It is crucial that an efficient, well-supplied aid pipeline is up and running.  And there’s also an update from the World Food Programme (WFP), which says it now has six helicopters fanned out across the delta, carrying critical supplies and other humanitarian supplies to hard-to-reach, hard-hit areas.


**UNMOVIC


The final report of the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), which dealt with Iraq’s weapons programmes, is out on the racks, and details the work that the Commission did prior to its shut-down to transfer its archives and dispose of its property.  The report says that UNMOVIC and its predecessor made operational a unique mechanism to monitor weapons of mass destruction and long-range delivery systems.  The international community, it adds, could benefit if practical ways were found to preserve for future use the experience and expertise accumulated over the years of its operation.


** Iran


The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, today expressed concern over reports that four juvenile offenders in Iran are at imminent risk of execution.  According to reports, the four have been sentenced to death for crimes they committed when they were under 18 years old.  Arbour reminded the Iranian authorities that Iran is a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, both of which prohibit the death penalty for juvenile offenders.  She has requested that Iran stay the executions.  And there’s more information on that upstairs, as well.


**Ecuador/Colombia


Meanwhile, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has strongly condemned alleged acts of violence against members of the Colombian refugee community in northern Ecuador.  And you can read more about that in their briefing notes and on their website upstairs.


**World Food Programme in Sudan


On Sudan, a lack of funding is forcing the World Food Programme (WFP) to cut the frequency of its Humanitarian Air Service.  Fourteen thousand aid workers rely on the service to travel to Darfur and other parts of the country.  Effective immediately, the number of helicopters flying to remote parts of Darfur will be reduced from six to five.  Two other aircraft that fly to Darfur and South Sudan will be cut from the fleet next week.  Fees for using those flights are going up on 1 July.  WFP says the service needs $20 million within the next five days just to maintain full operations through the coming months.  Nearly two thirds of the service’s $77 million budget for 2008 remains unfunded.  And there’s more information on this upstairs, as well.


**Food Report


WFP also says that global food aid deliveries have sunk to their lowest levels in nearly five decades.  In its latest Food Aid Flows report, which covers the flow of all international food aid not just that moved by WFP, the agency says deliveries declined by 15 per cent last year, to less than 6 million tons, the lowest level since records began in 1961.  Rising food prices are most strongly affecting deliveries of wheat and maize.  It also notes that donor Governments are purchasing record quantities of food in developing countries, providing an important stimulus to agricultural markets and an increase in incomes for small-scale farmers in these countries.


**International Labour Organization


We also have upstairs a keynote address by the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), who has called for urgent measures to address “globalization without social justice”.  He said the world is not only facing a subprime financial crisis, but also a crisis of “subprime work”, meaning substandard and vulnerable jobs.  And there’s more on that upstairs.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


I have one announcement.  Later this month, the Secretary-General will be making official visits to Japan, China, the Republic of Korea and then attend the G-8 Hokkaido Toyako Summit.  The first stop is Japan, where he will deliver a lecture on climate change at Kyoto University and then proceed to Tokyo for an official visit that will include an audience with the Emperor and Empress of Japan and meetings with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister.


He then proceeds to Beijing for an official visit, which will include meetings with the Foreign Minister and other Chinese leaders, as well as with the UN country team.  The next leg of the trip begins in Seoul, where he will be conferred an honorary degree at Seoul National University and lead a seminar on climate change at the National Assembly.  He plans to meet with the Foreign Minister, the Prime Minister and the President.  He is scheduled to travel back to Japan to attend the G-8 Summit in Hokkaido Toyako.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


And that’s all I have for you.  Just to flag for you, tomorrow morning at 11:30 in this room, we have the Ambassador of Denmark, we have the Executive Director of UNIFEM, who will hold a press conference, during which the Executive Director of UNIFEM, Inéz Alberdi, will be presented with an “MDG3 Champion Torch”, which symbolizes Denmark’s global call to action on gender equality.


And that’s all I have for you.  We’re having in just a few minutes the General Assembly President, but we’ll start and take as many questions as we can.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yesterday, a leader from the Islamic Courts Union rejected the three-month ceasefire agreement that was signed yesterday.  Is the Secretary-General concerned that rebel groups will not maintain the ceasefire agreement?


Deputy Spokesperson:  You’re talking about the Somalia agreement we just had a statement on?  I’d like to draw your attention to the fact that the Secretary-General says that this is a step towards peace and also expresses his hope that other groups and individuals would adhere to it.


Question:  A couple of questions about the Brahimi report.  First of all, how many times did Mr. Brahimi visit Algeria, which was the trigger for this report?  Second, the day before the report was handed in, there was a bombing in eastern Algeria.  Was that taken into account or was that totally ignored?


Deputy Spokesperson:  For today, I had the statement for you, which is the preliminary response from the Secretary-General on this report.  As for details on the work of this Panel, we can certainly get those for you or you can get them directly from Manoel de Almeida e Silva, who is the Spokesman for the Panel.


Question:  Right, because you mentioned the word transparency there.  Are we going to get the report?  Are Member States going to get the report? 


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I made pretty clear in the statement that the report is going to be studied in detail before considering appropriate follow-up action.  Careful internal deliberations are under way with a view to ensuring the transparency of the process and the efficiency and integrity of any follow-up actions, taking into account the due-process rights of individuals.  And I draw your attention to that.


Question:  Deliberations for the sake of transparency?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the statement speaks for itself.


Question:  Okay, one question about Burma.  There are credible reports from the ground that aid does not reach the hard-hit area and that the monks and others on the ground, other than foreign aid workers, were the only people helping people on the ground.  How do you square that with what you said before?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I can only tell you what our people, the agencies on the ground who are working around the clock trying to get aid to the people, are reporting to us.  They certainly are not painting a rosy picture.  They’re painting a mixed picture.  They’re telling us every day what still needs to get done and that, obviously, whatever is being done is not enough.  As for the details of who on the ground is distributing aid to whom outside international agencies, I’m not sure we’re in a position to report on that, but international humanitarian agencies frequently rely on all kinds of partners on the ground to get food to the people who need it.  But we can certainly ask again for an update from OCHA and maybe it’s again time for John Holmes to come down and give you an update on the situation there.


Question:  Follow-up to that.  When he came back from his trip to Myanmar in late May, Mr. Ban said he looked forward to returning to Myanmar.  Do you know when he’ll go back there?  He’s going to be in Asia for two weeks in July.  Do you think he’ll go to Myanmar during that time?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, he will not.  It’s not on his schedule.  The programme I announced for you today is the list of official visits that have been long in planning and he’ll be going to Japan, China and the Republic of Korea.  And the G-8 Summit.


Question:  Marie, do you have anything further on the appointment of the new High Commissioner for Human Rights?


Deputy Spokesperson:  It just so happens I have an update on that.  Some of you have questioned whether the United Nations is sufficiently transparent in the process of selecting a successor to Louise Arbour.  The idea circulated by some that the process represents some kind of cosy insider deal is absurd and even offensive.  The Secretary-General’s objective is to identify the best qualified candidate who can enjoy the broadest possible support from all stakeholders.  We have consulted widely with every group and constituency represented at the UN -- UN Member States, NGOs and human rights groups.  We have followed standard procedures for senior appointments made by the Secretary-General.  Our goal from the outset was to establish clear and vigorous standards timelines and a list of candidates from the widest possible pool.  This was done by soliciting nominations from Member States, complemented by the Secretary-General’s own research efforts and nominations received from other sources, including international NGOs and human rights organizations.  Recently, the Deputy Secretary-General and the Chef de Cabinet met with representatives of the human rights community to discuss various aspects relating to this critical appointment.  We will continue these consultations.


Following a thorough review process, a shortlist of candidates has been drawn up.  All have been interviewed by a panel of senior officials in accordance with procedures governing senior appointments made by the Secretary-General.  The names of the shortlisted candidates have not been made public to protect their right to privacy.  The Secretary-General will interview the finalists before making his final decision prior to sending his nomination to the General Assembly.


Question:  You just said he won’t be making the shortlist public.  In the past, there was a practice to announce those names.  Has that been abandoned?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, that is not true, as some have reported, [that] previous administrations had made it a practice to publish shortlists of candidates for such jobs.  This was not so with Louise Arbour.  The UN did disclose lists of candidates for the heads of some programmes and agencies, but the UN has never released the names of candidates to head departments reporting to the Secretary-General.  Again, all of this is obviously for reasons of privacy.  It has nothing to do with some alleged issues of transparency.


Question:  Any update on the Occupied Territory, where Israel has blockaded and is not allowing aid into the Territory.


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have one with me but right now we do have the General Assembly President so one question.


Correspondent:  With respect to the President of the General Assembly, this is a briefing with a lot of material in it that I think needs to be elaborated on.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Perhaps we can come back to it after the briefing.  Would that be okay?


Correspondent:  Oh, it’s up to me?  It’s a lot of pressure.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, we’ll come back to it after the General Assembly President’s briefing.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record