1 August 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.


Correspondent:  It feels a little cool in here.


Spokesperson:  I think they are still bringing them up, the thermostats.  It’s not finished yet, and you will feel the difference tomorrow I am sure.  Oh, not tomorrow, it’s going to be turned off completely.  But you will feel the difference on Monday, definitely.


Correspondent:  (inaudible).


Spokesperson:  No, no, no.  Tomorrow they are turning them off completely.  Anyway, good afternoon, all.


**Security Council on Sudan


The Security Council last night adopted a resolution that extended the mandate of the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) by 12 months, until the end of July 2009.


The Council resolution underlined the importance of raising the capability of those UNAMID battalions formerly deployed by the African Union Mission in Sudan and other incoming battalions.  It requested the continuing assistance of donors in ensuring that these battalions are trained and equipped to UN standards.


The resolution was adopted with 14 votes in favour and none against, with the United States abstaining.


** Sudan


Rodolphe Adada, the AU-UN Joint Special Representative for Darfur, today responded to the report endorsed by 36 international NGOs working on Darfur that focused mainly on the unavailability of helicopters to UNAMID.  He welcomed the call to the international community to live up to the promises it has already made, but has yet to fulfil.


Adada said that, in the aftermath of the ambush earlier this month of a peacekeeping convoy in the village Um Hakibah, during which seven peacekeepers lost their lives and 22 were injured, UNAMID is even more determined to carry out its mission in Darfur.  He said the Mission will continue to carry out its mandate as much as possible, while striving to build up its capacity to the levels mandated by the international community, even though UNAMID faces shortages of troops, personnel and equipment.  We have more in a press release upstairs.


** Sudan Report


The Secretary-General, in a report that is out today on the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan, says that recent months have witnessed the most severe violations of the ceasefire between the parties since the Malakal clashes in 2005.


He details the recent violent clashes in Abyei and warns that the issue of Abyei has long been among the biggest challenges to the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  The root cause, he says, has been the failure of the two parties to agree on an approach to implement the Abyei Protocol.


The agreement of the 8 June Abyei road map is, therefore, a very positive development that, if implemented in good faith, could address this long-standing impasse and act as a catalyst for progress on other outstanding issues in the framework of the Agreement.  The Secretary-General adds that the parties should be lauded for having implemented another key benchmark of that Agreement: the conduct of the national census.


**Holmes on Sudan


Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes today said he is deeply troubled about the continuing threats and attacks against humanitarian agencies working in Darfur.  He noted that Médecins sans frontières has announced that it will evacuate from two locations in North Darfur following recent attacks, a move that will leave some 65,000 people without essential medical assistance.


Holmes called on all concerned to ensure full respect for humanitarian principles and to allow aid organizations to work in peace.  This year alone, 180 humanitarian vehicles have been hijacked, 145 aid workers kidnapped and 9 killed.  Impunity for such attacks must end, he said.


** Iraq


On Iraq, the Secretary-General’s latest report on Iraq says that a combination of political and military efforts has contributed to continued improvements in security across Iraq during the past three months.  Although civilian casualties remain unacceptably high, both the frequency of violent incidents and casualty figures continued to decline.


However, the Secretary-General says, the gains made so far need to be sustained through meaningful political dialogue and national reconciliation.  Time is of the essence, and Iraq can no longer afford continued delays in finding viable political solutions.


He adds that the issue of disputed internal boundaries remains a priority for the UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), and he strongly encouraged the Iraqi authorities and political stakeholders to explore opportunities that will be presented through the forthcoming UNAMI efforts to move forward on that delicate issue.  The report is upstairs.


**Security Council


On the Security Council, with the start of a new month, the rotating presidency of the Security Council has shifted from Viet Nam to Belgium.  The new Council President, Ambassador Jan Grauls of Belgium, is today holding bilateral discussions with other Council members on the programme of work for this month.


Ambassador Grauls will talk to you in this room on Monday morning about the Council’s work in August, once Council consultations on the programme of work have ended.


**Appointments


The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to reassign his current Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Johan Verbeke, to the post of Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Georgia and Head of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG).  The outgoing Special Representative, Jean Arnault, will be reassigned shortly.


The Secretary-General has also informed the Council of his intention to appoint Michael C. Williams of the United Kingdom to replace Mr. Verbeke as Special Coordinator for Lebanon.


Mr. Verbeke, of Belgium, is a career diplomat with ample experience with the United Nations, having served as his country’s Permanent Representative from September 2004 to April 2008, including periods on both the Security Council and the Peacebuilding Commission.


Mr. Williams was previously the United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East peace process.  He has worked extensively on Lebanon and the broader Middle East region during his most recent position as UK Representative for the Middle East and Special Projects.


The Secretary-General is confident these changes will ensure continued strong UN leadership on the ground in both Lebanon and in Georgia in the period ahead.


**Secretary-General in Mexico


As you know, the Secretary-General will be leaving for a three-day official visit to Mexico this Sunday.  That same evening, he’ll address the opening of the seventeenth International AIDS Conference in Mexico City.


He is expected to say that, in most countries, stigma against people living with HIV remains a grave challenge.  He also plans to call on all countries to live up to their commitments to enact or enforce legislation outlawing discrimination against people living with HIV and members of vulnerable groups.  Those vulnerable groups include women, men who have sex with men, sex workers, drug users and ethnic minorities.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


On the DR Congo, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says that 67 combatants of a Rwandan dissident group, the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR), turned in their arms yesterday under MONUC supervision at Kasiki, 200 kilometres north of Goma, the capital of the province of Kivu Nord.


The UN Mission welcomed the initiative, noting the voluntary disarmament of a number of FDLR combatants since 2006.  We have a press release in French only with more details upstairs.


**International Atomic Energy Agency


The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Board of Governors today approved by consensus a nuclear Safeguards Agreement with India, calling for application of IAEA safeguards to Indian civilian nuclear facilities.


Addressing the Board, IAEA Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei stated that the IAEA would begin to implement the new Safeguards Agreement in 2009, with the aim of bringing a total of 14 Indian reactors under Agency safeguards by 2014.


He also said the IAEA and India are currently in dialogue concerning an Additional Protocol Agreement.


**United Nations Conference on Trade and Development on Doha Round


In reaction to the setback in the Doha Round talks, the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) yesterday affirmed its commitment to supporting a revival of the talks.


The Secretary-General of UNCTAD, Supachai Panitchpakdi, said that attainment of the Millennium Development Goals requires delivery of the Doha Development Agenda.


He noted that the Round still provides a unique vehicle for rebalancing the multilateral trading system in favour of development, particularly with regard to agricultural subsidies by developed countries.  We have the full statement upstairs.


** Myanmar – Special Rapporteur


On Myanmar, the United Nations Human Rights Council Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, will conduct his first mission there next week, at the invitation of the Government of Myanmar.


For the five-day visit starting 3 August, the Special Rapporteur has requested to meet with a number of State officials and Heads of State institutions, as well as with representatives of ethnic and religious groups, political parties, civil society, NGOs and members of the human rights body.


The Special Rapporteur hopes to engage in a constructive dialogue with the authorities, with a view to improving the human rights situation of the people of Myanmar.  He has also requested to visit Yangon and areas affected by Cyclone Nargis.


**Universal Postal Congress


At the Universal Postal Congress in Geneva today, the postal leaders of eight Arab countries signed an agreement on money transfer exchanges that will help establish secure and reliable money transfer services through formal channels for rural populations, especially for migrant workers.  We have two press releases from the Universal Postal Union upstairs.


**World Breastfeeding Week


And then today, as I announced already, marks the start of World Breastfeeding Week.   Observed in more than 120 countries by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the World Health Organization (WHO) and other partners, the Week has a theme this year of “Going for the gold by supporting mothers to breastfeed”.


Exclusive breastfeeding, particularly in the first six months of life, has been shown to be one of the most effective ways to improve child survival and health.  It significantly reduces such potentially deadly illnesses as acute respiratory infection and diarrhoea.


Both UNICEF and WHO are working together to provide a number of services to help encourage breastfeeding.  These include infant and young child feeding courses and job aids for use by health care workers and counsellors.  We have more information also upstairs.


**United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization


Turning to Ethiopia, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) teams yesterday successfully mounted the third and last block of the Aksum Obelisk in its original location.


Weighing 150 tons and 24 metres high, the Obelisk is the second largest stela on the Aksum World Heritage site in northern Ethiopia, close to the border with Eritrea.


Transported to Rome by the troops of Mussolini in 1937, it was returned in April 2005 by the Italian Government.  The inauguration ceremony will take place on 4 September.


**“Cool UN”


And as you know, the Secretary-General’s “Cool UN” Campaign got under way at UN Headquarters today.  For the month of August, thermostats have been raised in most of the Secretariat building from 72˚ F to 77˚ F, even if you don’t feel it yet.  In conference rooms, they will be raised from 70˚ F to 75˚ F.


In addition, as you may have noticed, there has been a relaxation of the generally formal dress code among staff members.  The Secretary-General himself is leading by example; this morning he came to work wearing a short-sleeve shirt and no tie or jacket, as did many of his senior advisers.


Speaking to reporters in his office this morning at a photo-op, the Secretary-General stressed that: “We are not just cutting back suits and ties.”  The month-long campaign will prevent the equivalent of at least 300 tons in carbon dioxide emissions, he noted.  It is also expected to save the Organization $100,000 for the month of August.  If the initiative is adopted year-round -- to include lowering thermostats in winter -- the Organization could save $1 million.


The “Cool UN” initiative has also been adopted at the main UN compound in Bangkok for the month of August, and I am sure others will join.  And there is more information on that upstairs.   And this is all I have for you, thank you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  You just said that we’re going to start to feel more of the effects of the “Cool UN” initiative, but I have to ask, earlier I was on the floor of the Secretary-General’s Office, I was in his office, I was on the floor and noticed, along with other reporters, that an adjacent conference room was significantly colder than every other room on that floor.  Can you explain why that one room was so much colder, and is that room’s temperature going to change?


Spokesperson:  It is going to change, definitely.  This morning, amazingly enough, after you mentioned the issue I went personally to the room and I looked at the thermostat.  The thermostat was set at 80 degrees.  So, apparently the room had not yet reached that level.  So, I think it’s just because it is in the process right now.  But it is going to be exactly at the same level as all the other conference rooms in this building.


Question:  Which is 75 or 77 degrees?


Spokesperson:  77.  It’s 77 for rest of the building.  In that case it’s probably going to be 77.  75 will be for the conference rooms elsewhere where the delegates meet.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Michèle, has the Secretary-General weighed in on this United States-Indian nuclear deal which has just been reached?


Spokesperson:  No, he has not.  This is a matter for the IAEA and the IAEA is dealing with it.


Question:  So he has no opinion whether it is a good thing or a bad thing?


Spokesperson:  No.


Question:  And I also wanted to know why it is taking such a long time for the Secretary-General to make a decision to appoint, I mean, some sort of inquiry commission into Benazir Bhutto’s assassination?


Spokesperson:  Because it does not depend strictly on the Secretary-General.  As you know, there are a number of details to be worked out before the Secretary-General can announce what is going to be done.  As you know, they are having discussions and they are not obviously ready yet.


Question:  How long… Do you have any…?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have a deadline for them.  I don’t know when they will be ready.  But I know they have been actively working on the Bhutto issue.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  I have one “Cool UN” question.  We were taken down to 3B; the heating and the air conditioning, like, control room.  They said there that in 2002 there had been a previous attempt to change temperatures for a period of time; mostly just to save money, not about climate change.  But when I asked them how much money was saved they said to ask you.  So I am asking you, I guess, not that you’d know off the top of your head, but if you could… just some description, some description… yes…


Spokesperson:  I can check. I can go back that far and check.


Question:  Just to find out why that wasn’t continued as a sort of… Maybe this will continue more.


Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know.  I don’t have the exact numbers for that time.


Question:  They thought they weren’t authorized to say, I think, you know.


Spokesperson:  Well, maybe they did not have the information.  It’s just that it has to be looked into.  I’ll look into it.


Question:  I also wanted to ask you, an issue arose yesterday at the stakeout where Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin gave a summary of a meeting -- he said a briefing -- that was given.  I think it was by Assistant Secretary-General Mulet about this report on north Mitrovica, the March 17 event.  And he characterized it as a pretty damning report saying that the UN had, that it was an ill-advised use of force, that there had been cautionary warnings from UN Headquarters that were not paid any attention to.  But rather than say it all out, what I was wondering is why is that report not being given even to Member States, much less to the press and public?


Spokesperson:  Well, it has been discussed with Member States concerned first, and with members of the Security Council.  There are steps before, of course, a report is public.  It’s an internal UN document for the time being.


Question:  For the time being.  But can a report change?  Because he said that the summary that was given to them was of a report, but they didn’t get the report, which he found a little…  I’m not, I can’t speak for him, but it seemed… Is the report still in draft format?  Can those findings be changed?  Or are those the findings?


Spokesperson:  No, the findings are not going to be changed.  Maybe it is going to be put in a more formal format.  But it is not in yet.  Of course, the parties that are concerned will be fully informed. 


Question:  I just want to follow up.  Why wasn’t the full report disclosed?


Spokesperson:  I could ask the question for you.  But it was just, I think, a concern first to inform the parties that were directly concerned by that report and by the events that took place at that time.  So I don’t think there was any desire to hide anything in any way.  And I am sure the report itself will be sent to the Member States.


Question:  Has the Secretary-General responded to any of the findings in the report?


Spokesperson:  Not yet.  I mean the report was just issued... Well, it is not even issued yet.  The report was just briefed upon by Mr. Mulet yesterday.


Question:  When can we expect the report…?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I don’t have a date for that.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  After the Security Council resolution adopted last night, is Mr. Ban Ki-moon concerned because UNAMID in Darfur has no more unanimous support by the Member States, you know, the United States abstained and 14 countries, or 14 Member States, supported the extension of the mandate?  Is he concerned about this?


Spokesperson:  You know as well as I do and better than I do why the United States did not, it was explained to you why the United States did not support the actual resolution.  It has nothing to do with the fact that there is a UNAMID force there.  You can ask the United States what it means.  I cannot answer that question.


Question:  I have another question about the UN investigations regarding the killing incidents on UNAMID personnel that happened last July.  Do you have an update on that, the result of this investigation?  Who is responsible?  The rebels or the Sudanese Government forces?


Spokesperson:  Which massacre are you referring to?


Question:  Like three or four incidents of killings and not just mention one of them, mine personnel who were killed early last month.  Do you have any information about the results of the UN investigation?


Spokesperson:  I’ll try to find out for you where the investigation is going at this point.


Question:  About the “UN Cool”, the international dress code that the UN, did something previously exist like that…?


Spokesperson:  No, there was no formal dress code.  But because we are in a diplomatic setting, it was understood that men wore suits with jackets and they wore ties.  Women were supposed to dress, most of them, with also suits.  It was never something that was written down anywhere.  It was an informal, let’s say, dress code, which almost everyone respected.  Right now there is no formal dress code either.  There is just that appeal by the Secretary-General that we have the thermostat higher, which implies, of course, lighter clothing.


Question:  (inaudible) is what you are wearing something from your country?


Spokesperson:  No, actually it is not.  I answered that question yesterday.  I am wearing something from Thailand.  Yes, sir?


Question:  I just wanted to revisit briefly my first question.  The thermostat in that room we talked about is set at 88 degrees now, you said, which is higher than the amount that’s been mandated.  But then, how can you…?


Spokesperson:  Because it hasn’t gone down yet.


Question:  But the thing that I didn’t quite grasp is…


Spokesperson:  Because it hasn’t gone up yet, I’m sorry.


Question:  Right.  I know what you mean.  But the entire floor was very warm.  And I don’t understand why only this one room.  Why would the temperature go down in this one room?  Why is that an exception when the entire floor was very warm?


Spokesperson:  The whole floor is on the same thermostat.  If you had been more often in this building, and I think all our correspondents can tell you so, because this is a very old building, you can have adjacent rooms that are at drastically different temperatures because the system, the air-conditioning system, does not work properly.  I think in that specific case, I can tell you it’s not a different thermostat.  And when the thermostat was brought up that was true for this room also.


Question:  But remained…?


Spokesperson:  It was still cold.  That’s why I said let’s wait until Monday morning.  If you want I’ll let you know.  Or you can come to the building and check.  There is no special set-up really for that room.  But, you know, all the rooms facing the river, with the sun coming this way, have always been extremely warm, no matter what the thermostat is.


Question:  I recognize that his office gets the sun, but I only raise the question again, because there were other areas that didn’t get sun the whole way in, but some of the secretarial staff.  And those were also, those were warm, and in that room I walked in there, and I am not exaggerating to say it felt like a (inaudible).  It felt significantly colder.


Spokesperson:  Yes, you are I quite right.  I agree with you.  And I was cold in there.  But we have to see how this is going to…  But I have to tell you that, systematically, and Matthew said he went over to see it, systematically today all the thermostats were being brought up at a higher temperature.  Yes?


Question:  It’s not a “UN Cool” question.  It’s reported in Al-Hayat, quoting Ban aides, that Mr. Ban has been advised to “distance himself politically from al-Bashir”, given this pending indictment.  I don’t know if you’ve seen the story, but I am wondering if that’s true or if you have any response to that report.


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any response to it.


Question:  So you mean… Could it be true?  Is it true?  Has he been told?


Spokesperson:  Distancing himself, you mean, from the…?


Question:  From al-Bashir because of the pending request for an arrest warrant.  That’s what it says. It says that the OLA has advised Mr. Ban to “distance himself politically from Al-Bashir”.


Spokesperson:  Well, I am sure the issue was discussed with the Secretary-General and it is his decision to follow whatever advice he gets from his senior advisers or not.


Question:  I didn’t know that there was announcement today of Mr. Verbeke.  Before I had asked, and you had said there was some personal issue.  I don’t want to get into any personal issue, but I do want to ask you, I had heard that there were some security concerns.  I know that you also don’t like to talk about them.  Specific, not to just the mission in general, but to Mr. Verbeke himself.  Either threats or that he’d sought protection from either the Lebanese Government or the Hariris, various things.  Does this transfer, what is, how does it relate to whatever the personal issue was, which I don’t want to know what it was?  But is it because of a personal issue or is because of a safety issue?  What’s the basis of the transfer?


Spokesperson:  I am not aware of the details.


Question:  (inaudible) the 17 March report.  Will the report be made available to the press at any point?


Spokesperson:  Which report are you talking about?  I can’t hear you.


Question:  The one about the excessive use of force in the incident in Kosovo on 17 March.  Will the report be made available to the press at any point?


Spokesperson:  I said earlier that I don’t know yet.  I know at this point that the idea was to first inform the different countries involved, and first inform the Security Council.  So at this point I cannot answer your question.  Yes?


Question:  A follow up on “UN Cool”.  I understand the temperature is set to like 25˚ C, stories that I have seen (inaudible), which is already higher than the previous.  I mean, looking back to my own country, Japan, the Government buildings are set up more hotter, which is hot, like 28.  How come this 25, which gave the impression to my general public that that is still too cool, was decided for the UN?  How did that number come out?


Spokesperson:  You should have asked the question to the people who discussed that with you two days ago.  I don’t know why that specific temperature was chosen.  Thank you all.


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