19 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


**Security Council and Secretary-General


Good afternoon, all.  United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice opened the Security Council’s meeting today on women and peace and security.  Addressing that meeting this morning, the Secretary-General noted that an increasing and alarming number of women and girls are falling victim to sexual violence in conflict.  But we can and must push back, he said.  In that context, he added that he would soon appoint a Messenger of Peace tasked entirely with advocacy for ending violence against women.  The Secretary-General also told Security Council Members that when they adopt resolutions with strong language on sexual and gender-based violence, the UN can respond more forcefully.  In that regard, he said, we should ensure that all future mandates have clear provisions on protecting women and children in conflicts.


Referring to the all-female Indian civil police unit in Liberia, he said that, when Member States send the UN qualified female personnel, it can demonstrate the central role of women in restoring stability to war-ravaged countries.  He added that he needed Member States to come forward with more women candidates.  The Secretary-General also said, “Let me be clear:  the United Nations and I, personally, are profoundly committed to a zero-tolerance policy against sexual exploitation or abuse by our own personnel.”  He added that we must do far more to involve women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations and recovery after the guns fall silent.  By creating a culture that punishes violence and elevates women to their rightful role, we can lay the foundation for lasting stability, where women are not victims of violence, but agents of peace.  We have his full remarks upstairs.


**Security Council and Deputy Secretary-General


The Deputy Secretary-General also addressed today’s meeting, saying that sexual violence has, not only grave physical and psychological health consequences for its victims, but also direct social consequences for communities and entire societies.  Impunity for sexual violence committed during conflict perpetuates a tolerance of abuse against women and girls and leaves a damaging legacy by hindering national reconciliation, she added.  The Deputy Secretary-General concluded that, if we promote the full and equal participation of women in the security sector, we can ensure that security services effectively identify and respond to their needs.  We have her full remarks upstairs, as well.


**Palestinians in West Bank and Gaza


Soaring food prices, falling incomes and growing unemployment are forcing Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to get by with less and lower quality food, three UN agencies warn.  According to a new report by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP), Palestinian purchasing power has fallen to an all-time low this year.  In the West Bank, 58 per cent of a worker’s daily wages are spent on food; in Gaza, it’s nearly 70 per cent.  The combination of high food prices, a contracting local economy and the effects of Israel’s security measures, is making Palestinians more dependent on relief aid, the report says.  At the same time, rising food and fuel prices are making it more expensive for international aid agencies to deliver aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.  We have more information upstairs.


** Cyprus


On Cyprus, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Cyprus, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, said in Nicosia today that a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus is not a foregone conclusion.  Much hard work remains to be done, and compromises will have to be made.  In that regard, it is crucial to keep in sight the ultimate objective:  bringing about a future of durable peace and prosperity for all the people of Cyprus.  And that, he added, is why the leadership, courage and vision demonstrated by the Greek Cypriot leader, Dimitris Christofias, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, are so crucial.  We have his full remarks upstairs.


**Human Rights Council


Today in Geneva, the Human Rights Council elected the new President and officers for its third annual cycle, which began today.  It is also expected later today to adopt its programme of work and calendar of meetings for the coming year.  In a statement, the new President, Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi of Nigeria, said that no nation or people has a monopoly over human rights, but all nations, and certainly all people, have a duty to promote and protect them.  He added that States must show the world that they are indeed abiding by their commitment to respect the human rights of citizens.  The President is the third of the Human Rights Council.  His predecessors were Luis Alfonso de Alba of Mexico and Doru Romulus Costea of Romania.


**World Refugees


The UN refugee agency is launching a pioneering Facebook application to raise funds and awareness about refugee protection.  UNHCR says it is its latest bid to reach the massive online community and inform people about its work helping millions of uprooted people around the world.  You can read about this and other initiatives and events surrounding World Refugee Day, which is being marked around the world tomorrow.


**Somali Refugees


The High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres has described the plight of Somali refugees as one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.  Guterres made his comments yesterday during a visit to a refugee camp on the Kenya-Somalia border.  Two hundred thousand Somali refugees live at the sprawling Dadaab camp, one of the world’s biggest, oldest and most congested refugee sites, and Guterres’ visit was timed to highlight World Refugee Day, which, as I said, will be commemorated tomorrow.  UNHCR figures place at 457,000 the number of Somali refugees worldwide.  Meanwhile, another 850,000 Somalis have fled gun battles in Mogadishu in the past 18 months, bringing to 1 million the number of internally displaced Somalis.  Guterres urged the international community to make peace in Somalia a priority.  He also pledged greater engagement by the UN refugee agency to help Somalis uprooted by 17 years of armed conflict.


**Egypt/Eritrea


High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today expressed serious concern about the recent deportation of Eritrean asylum-seekers from Egypt to their home country.  Arbour urged Egypt to stop any further deportation of Eritreans until their asylum status has been properly clarified.  In that context, she welcomed the Egyptian Government’s decision to grant staff from the UN refugee agency limited access to the asylum-seekers, in order to determine their refugee status.  “People who could well be at risk in their home country should never be sent back before their asylum claims have been properly addressed,” Arbour said.  We have more on that upstairs.


**Peacebuilding Fund for Côte d’Ivoire


The Secretary-General has declared Côte d’Ivoire eligible to receive assistance from the Peacebuilding Fund.  According to Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, Carolyn McAskie, Côte d’Ivoire was declared eligible “to ensure that key areas are supported to turn forever the page on the crisis, keeping in mind in particular the lead-up to the elections scheduled later this year”.  The exact amount of the funding will be announced at a later date.


**IAEA


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) says the number of nuclear power reactors around the world is estimated to increase up to 60 per cent by 2030.  Speaking at a ceremony marking the thirtieth anniversary of nuclear power generation in the Republic of Korea, Deputy Director General of the IAEA, Mr. Yury A. Sokolov, said that the experience gained over the past decades in energy planning for sustainable development, as well as in the construction, commissioning, operation and maintenance of nuclear power plants, will be crucial to help newcomers in the nuclear field.


**ICAO Carbon Calculator


The International Civil Aviation Organization’s Carbon Calculator is now available on its website.  The internationally approved tool identifies the amount of carbon dioxide emissions from any given flight.  According to the President of the Organization’s Council, the calculator responds to the wish of many travellers for a reliable method to estimate the carbon footprint of a flight.  Travellers can then choose the programme best suited to offset the impact of their trips.  We have a press release with more information upstairs.


And I have been asked to let you know that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will meet briefly with journalists outside Conference Room 7, shortly.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Michèle, I just wanted to ask you, now that the Secretary-General has welcomed the peace process between Hamas and Israel, does that mean that the Secretary-General is now in a position to open talks with Hamas to bring about a comprehensive settlement in the Occupied Territories?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know what to answer you because, as you know, the process is being initiated right now.  We are just at the beginning of the ceasefire.  We don’t know how things will develop on the ground, and I think it’s a little too early to answer your question.


Question:  On a point of clarification yesterday, you had clarified that no decision had been made on the request about Benazir Bhutto, either to send it to the Security Council, or to do whatever is appropriate.  Do you have any idea when a decision will be made?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  At this point, I know it is being actively discussed.  There were some meetings today about the issue.  There are really no conclusions.  It is being examined, as I said yesterday.  The case is being studied.


Question:  It’s being examined.


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  It has been reported that India has firmly rejected the proposal to increase only the non-permanent category of States on the Security Council.  Has the Secretary-General received a letter to that effect?


Spokesperson:  As you know, it’s a matter for the General Assembly and the Security Council, not for the Secretary-General.  No, the Secretary-General has not received anything concerning this issue.


Well, thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record