28 October 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


Good afternoon, all.


**Guest Today


My guest today is Alan Doss, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, who is joining us at 12:30 via video link to update you on the situation there.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says rebels loyal to General Laurent Nkunda have fired five rockets on a UN convoy assigned to protect civilians on a road near Goma.  Large numbers of civilians are attempting to reach Goma, fleeing areas where clashes are reported.  Meanwhile, UN helicopters, acting under the UN’s mandate to support the Congolese army in protecting civilians, have opened fire on Nkunda’s positions some 20 kilometres north of Goma.


The UN Mission emphasizes that it will continue to intervene to protect civilians and urban centres across North Kivu.


UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees], meanwhile, says that the fighting is likely to force some 30,000 displaced people to flee camps and villages.  Amid tight security, a UNHCR team was on its way this morning to Kibati camp, about 10 kilometres north of Goma, to prepare for the expected 30,000 new arrivals.


**Secretary-General in Philippines


The Secretary-General has arrived in the Philippines, where tomorrow he will address the plenary session of the second Global Forum on Migration and Development.  He is expected to say that our world faces economic upheaval of a kind not seen in generations, and that today, more than ever, we must understand how to draw on the power of migration to advance development.  He will argue that migration can and should be a tool to help lift us out of the current economic crisis.


Also, tomorrow, he will meet with President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and receive from her the country’s highest civilian honour, the Order of Sikatuna.


**Security Council


The Security Council this morning heard a briefing, in a private meeting, on the work of the International Court of Justice, by its outgoing President, Judge Rosalyn Higgins.  Then, they held consultations about the Council’s annual report to the General Assembly.


This afternoon, at 3, the Security Council will hear briefings in an open meeting on the UN-African Union hybrid operation in Darfur.  Under-Secretaries-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, and for Field Support, Susana Malcorra, will brief the Security Council in the meeting, which is to be followed by consultations on the same subject.


The Security Council will also receive a briefing on the latest fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo during the afternoon consultations. We will have Mr. Le Roy’s embargoed remarks on Darfur upstairs, and he intends to speak to you at the stakeout afterward.


** Sudan


The Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on Sudan is out as a document.


In it, the Secretary-General says the lack of mutual trust and confidence between the National Congress Party and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement remains the main challenge for the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.


On the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration programme, which he says is critical to peace in the Sudan, he urges the donor community to be generous with their pledges at the round-table conference to be held in November.


In 2011, he notes, the people of Southern Sudan and Abyei will exercise their legitimate right of self-determination to vote for unity or separation.  He encourages the parties to initiate discussions on a long-term wealth-sharing agreement beyond 2011 for the sake of peace and the people of the Sudan.


He also suggests that the Security Council consider holding a thorough debate on provisions related to the protection of civilians in imminent danger under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations.  Clear guidelines need to be developed that can be translated into realistic rules of engagement for peacekeepers equipped with the requisite capacity.


Finally, the Secretary-General urges the Government of the Sudan to cooperate with the Sudan Criminal Court, and put in place an effective judicial and political process at the national level.


The report is expected to be discussed by the Security Council next month.  And that’s what we have on the Sudan.


** Zimbabwe


In a statement we issued late yesterday, the Secretary-General reiterated the United Nations willingness to support Zimbabwe throughout the delicate transition process, and to work with regional leaders and the international community to provide immediate relief to the suffering of its people.


He remains distressed about the growing human cost of the crisis in Zimbabwe, in particular given the signs that the humanitarian situation in the country may worsen in the course of 2008 and 2009.  He is deeply concerned that the population of Zimbabwe in both rural and urban areas faces many challenges, including critical shortages of all food, essential drugs, basic services and clean water.  It is urgent to resolve the ongoing political impasse, so that recovery can begin.


** Nepal


The Secretary-General’s latest report on Nepal is available today.  In it, he notes that the major achievements of the peace process, which has been driven by the Nepalese themselves, have commanded international admiration.


He welcomes the commitment of the Nepali Congress to cooperation in the drafting of the new Constitution.  He also welcomes the Prime Minister’s commitments to multiparty democracy and the protection and promotion of human rights.


The Secretary-General notes that, since parts of the mandate of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) have been completed, the Mission’s staffing level has been substantially reduced.  In that regard, he encourages the Government to quickly create conditions conducive to the completion of all UNMIN activities.


At the same time, he says, continued help from the international community will be important to ensuring the successful conclusion and consolidation of the peace process.


** West Africa


The Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Antonio Maria Costa, has warned that West Africa is at risk of becoming an epicentre for drug trafficking, and the crime and corruption associated with it.  He was speaking at a conference, in Cape Verde, on drug trafficking as a security threat to West Africa.


Also, at that conference, a new UNODC report was launched, noting that at least 50 tons of cocaine from the Andean countries are transiting West Africa every year.


In a message to the conference, the Secretary-General expresses his concern over the alarming surge in drug trafficking and organized crime in West Africa.  He urges the international community to support the efforts that West African States have already initiated, to put in place an effective subregional strategy to eradicate this menace.  We have the full message in a press release upstairs from UNODC.


** Yemen


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has expressed concern over the situation in Yemen, which has recently been hit by severe flooding.


The World Food Programme has already started providing immediate food aid to 20,000 flood-displaced people.  In addition to delivering high-energy biscuits and dates to those without access to food or cooking facilities, the agency is also offering logistical support to other humanitarian organizations.


Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency has sent 11 trucks of relief aid to the hardest-hit areas in Yemen, and the World Health Organization has sent emergency medicines and health equipment to treat tens of thousands of survivors.  We have more on that also upstairs.


**Cuba/Honduras


The World Food Programme (WFP) is launching an emergency operation to help feed nearly 2 million people in Cuba who were affected by Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.  Over the next six months, WFP will work closely with the Cuban Government to provide and distribute $6 million worth of food rations.  WFP will also supply temporary food storage warehouses and liquid gas stoves to people who lost cooking facilities in the storms.  This is also to answer the question that was asked yesterday by Carmen Maria. 


In other news, the UN has responded to a request from Honduras for humanitarian support, in the wake of recent flooding caused by a tropical depression.  The World Food Programme has distributed nearly 60 tons of food.  The World Health Organization is mobilizing medical teams and purchasing medicines.  And UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] has distributed supplies and plans to rehabilitate affected water systems and schools.  Also, WFP, UNICEF, and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs have together allocated some $300,000 in cash assistance.


**ECLAC


In its latest report, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) says that exports from the region are still on track to grow by an estimated 23 per cent in 2008, despite the current financial crisis.


But, the global slowdown, the recent drop in commodity prices, and falling demand for products are all likely to cause lower growth rates and less favourable trade balances for the region in 2009.


Because of the economic reforms of recent decades, the region is relatively better prepared to face the current financial crisis and looming recession, ECLAC says, adding that these reforms must be maintained. There is also more information upstairs.


**Other Press Releases


Agriculture experts from around the globe are meeting this week in West Lafayette, Indiana, to discuss ways to utilize funds from the Kyoto Protocol’s clean development mechanism.  Billions of dollars are available under the mechanism for initiatives aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  But, so far, little of that money has gone to agriculture, even though it is a leading source of such emissions.


**Events Today


In the latest “Meet the Author” event organized by the United Nations Bookshop, Jeffrey D. Sachs will talk about his latest book Common Wealth:  Economics for a Crowded Planet.  The event will be held today at 1:30 p.m., at the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium, for those who are interested.


The event will be introduced by Kiyotaka Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.  After a question and answer session, Professor Sachs will sign copies of his book.


**Press Conferences Tomorrow


At 11 a.m., there will be a press conference by Luc Gnacadja, Executive Secretary of the UN Convention to Combat Desertification, on how the Convention constitutes a systemic and worldwide response to global environmental challenges


I’ll take a few questions.  We’ll try to make it quick because we are going to have Enrique right after that, and Mr. Doss is to meet with us in about, in 15 minutes.  Yes?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Just a few simple questions.  On Syria, do you have any update now from the United Nations as to what…


Spokesperson:  We have not received any information.  We have not received any letters informing us of the situation from the Government of Syria.  So we don’t have any more than what I said yesterday.


Question:  Yesterday, the State Department spokesman said that the peace process between Israel and Palestine was a concern; it will eventually be [inaudible] because they don’t see it being finalized or the realization of two States now.  Does the Secretary-General also hold the same opinion that the realization of the two States now by the end of this, President Bush’s term, would not be possible?


Spokesperson:  There are still attempts at trying to find a solution, and those attempts are still going on, and I will not venture into guessing what will happen before December or January.


Question:  [inaudible] believes that the Annapolis process is valid?


Spokesperson:  Yes, he still believes that.  Yes?


Question:  Was there, the Chief Executive Board’s meeting, I think they continued on Saturday, was there some kind of a readout what was agreed to, particularly on safety and security?


Spokesperson:  No.  We don’t have a readout of that.  They did discuss safety and security.  But I don’t have any more on that.


Question:  Can you confirm that currently in charge of security for this building is Gert Schmidt, the Administrator Officer of Bruno Henn?


Spokesperson:  I can check that.


Question:  And also just now this is more … Ambassador Churkin had talked about this incident of October, well, more recently, about last week, in the General Committee, and said that some members of the Secretariat that he left unnamed had been acting “unprofessionally” and not allowing the meeting to go forward.  He thought it was a political thing on his part.  He said he may raise it.  Who, within the Secretariat -- because he said the Secretariat, like three times -- who in the Secretariat services the President of the General Assembly in the General Committee, and why did they do what Churkins said they did?


Spokesperson:  We have to find out.  I don’t know. Why didn’t you ask Ambassador Churkin?


Question:  We asked him and he didn’t name any individual.  So I’m asking you…


Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information.  I can try to find out for you what happened.


Question:  Is it DGACM [Department for General Assembly and Conference Management] who services those meetings and who…


Spokesperson:  We’ll find out who it was.  Yes?


Question:  If you can bear with me, in the very beginning, we were talking about Congo, and you said that the UN convoy came under attack, is that right?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  And then they, did they come under attack by General Nkunda’s troops?


Spokesperson:  Forces. Yes.


Question:  Is this the first, I mean, what is some of the background for incidents involving UN firing, or exchanging fire with Nkunda’s forces.  Have they done it many times in the past?


Spokesperson:  You can ask the question to Mr. Doss in a few minutes, but this is not the first time they have had to intervene to actually defend, which is their mandate, to defend the civilian population.  But, you can ask Mr. Doss the question, and I’m sure he would be glad to answer you.  Yes?


Question:  With reference to this Cuban hurricane aid issue, the Cuban Mission to the UN has gotten very dynamic and aggressive in recent days, as to the production of relatively, a large, to them at least, number of press releases.  At least one of them dealt with this issue, and dealt with the US blockade and embargo that was specifically preventing this kind of aid.  From the UN’s point of view, has the US Government been asked to participate or to help in such aid, and have they refused, or have they not been asked?  What is the status of that?


Spokesperson:  I am not aware.  I can try to find out for you whether there was any request made or refused.  And I just got an answer to Masood’s question.  We have just been informed that we have just received a letter from Syria, and as usual, it will be studied and circulated to the Security Council.


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  Not yet.  Not yet.  First, we have to circulate it to the Security Council. 


Question:  Can you give us an update on civilian UN employees in Congo?  Are they at work, or have they been asked to leave?


Spokesperson:  We are talking about one specific area.  We are talking about the Kivus.  We are talking, specifically, about North Kivu, where the violence is happening.  I can find out for you whether anybody had been evacuated, but at this time, we are monitoring the security situation in Eastern DRC, particularly in North Kivu, and there was an attempt to relocate some staff who were in Rutshuru earlier today.  That’s just what I found out.  The relocation had to be put on hold temporarily, due to insecurity in the town.  So, there was a plan for relocation that was not carried through.  All aid workers, as far as we know, are safe.  The UN is closely, as I said, monitoring the situation, so we have not taken any action yet, in terms of relocating UN personnel.  Yes?


Question:  Alan Doss asked the Security Council about a month ago for resources.  I think the official response, request for that has to come from the Secretary-General.  Is that in the works?  More troops in the DRC?


Spokesperson:  I think you should ask Alan Doss also where that comment was made, but I think there was something from the Security Council itself and I think the question should go to the Security Council.  Yes?


Question:  Did the Secretary-General make any personal efforts to try and convince the Spanish Government to keep their guy in Congo and not to resign so early on in the middle of a crisis? Was there any personal effort either by Ban or others to convince the Government to… 


Spokesperson:  No, it was a personal decision by General Diaz to leave, and it was a rather surprising decision that no one expected.  There was really no special contact taken before that.


Question:  Well, why not?  It sounds like you are in the middle of a major crisis, and your force commander is leaving in the middle, and I would think that senior people would want to send a signal that maybe this is not good for everybody.


Spokesperson:  Well, what they have done is that they have immediately put someone else in charge.  As I said yesterday, the Ghanaian general is now in charge temporarily, and they are certainly going to act to change the situation.  About the personal decision by General Diaz to just resign, it is a personal decision and the UN was taken by surprise also. 


Question:  Is the idea that it has nothing to do with the insurgence of violence, that it’s truly a personal, a family, it would behoove the UN to, without violating his privacy, to say that somehow it doesn’t have to do with, you know, increased fighting and…


Spokesperson:  You know I can’t speak on behalf of the general.  He said he was leaving for personal reasons.  We think that….


Question:  He didn’t tell the Secretary-General what the reasons were? 


Spokesperson:  No.


Question:  But, he did apparently tell General [inaudible] that he thought that they didn’t have a mandate, that they didn’t have a strategic plan.  Isn’t that something that a general should be aware of before he goes into the field?


Spokesperson:  It would seem to be.  Yes?


Question:  With regards to Syria, to what sense is it in the UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq] mandate to help secure security along the Iraqi–Syrian border?


Spokesperson:  It is not part of our mandate.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


I’ll try to be then very quick.  Five minutes.  Let me give you only some practical indications on the agenda that we have for the meeting coming up in a couple of days. We now have a definitive agenda and as you know, we are going to have two sessions.  In the morning sessions we’ll have three panellists:  Professor Joseph Stiglitz, Professor Prabhat Patnaik, Professor Sakiko Fukuda from Japan – they’ll be from 9 to 12:30, leading the dialogue with the member countries. And then we’ll be having at 1 the press conference here with the panellists and the President of the General Assembly.  And in the afternoon, we’ll have another session with Pedro Paez of Ecuador, Calestous Juma from Kenya, and Francois Houtart from Belgium, with the same format and it will be from 3 to 6. 


And since many of you have been asking me, what are the objectives of this meeting?  Let me give you an overview of, and some information contanined in a letter that the President of the General Assembly has sent to the Member States today telling them, among other things, what are the issues that should be discussed in this meeting in order to be productive.  And I’m going to quote –among other issues-, they are going to discuss “the global consequences of the current financial crisis and its impact on the growth and development prospects of developing countries”.  What can be done to address the root causes of this crisis, including the establishment of a transparent and accountable global system of policy coordination and fundamental reform of the global financial architecture?  What should be done to underline ethical and social basis for reforming the current international economic governance system?  What are the developing countries’ concerns and capabilities in playing an active role in global economic governance?  And finally, what are the views and possible actions required, including deep reform of the global financial architecture and what should be the role of the United Nations Assembly? 


And also very quickly, let me give you an overview of some of the issues that are going on right now in different committees of the General Assembly.  Right now, on the Second Committee, it’s being discussed, the issue of the Palestinian sovereignty of the Occupied Territories.  This afternoon, we’re going to have in the Third Committee an important discussion on a draft resolution on indigenous issues.  And tomorrow, as you probably are already aware, we will have the discussion on the Cuban embargo, as I just mentioned. 


Well, I think that is basically it.  Let’s get some questions, but you let me know when we have the connection ready, Michele, to end the discussion. 


Matthew?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  We just had a briefing by Ambassador Churkin and he said, he described an incident in which he said the United States and United Kingdom personnel surrounded the Chairman of the -- he called it the “Chairman of the General Committee” -- and said it was Mr. d’Escoto.  Was that the case, does he have any comment on that and on this October 7th, is it now -- do you view it as an incident which took place between the Kazak ambassador, the United States and Russia -- it’s all sort of come to the surface, so if you could comment on that and who services your boss, the President of the General Assembly, to run meetings? 


Spokesperson:  Since I was not at the meeting, in the briefing that you have been describing, what meeting is he talking about?


Question:  October 24th is the cancelled meeting of the General Committee, or maybe it was the 23rd – last week when the General Committee meeting got cancelled.


Spokesperson:  Ok, let me tell you what happened.  Basically, there was no agreement before the meeting started, there was no agreement among the different member countries on the issue of the famine in Ukraine.  And since that already happened before, and we had to postpone the meeting.  The President of the General Assembly did not start the meeting until there was an agreement on what was going to be done.  And he was talking to the different delegations, and heads of delegations, the different ambassadors, to see what was the situation and it lasted, I think, a couple of hours and then he decided to postpone using his mandate for the discussions.  And he has told the member countries that he is not going to call the meeting until there is an agreement on this issue, as simple as that.


Question:  Ambassador Churkin thought he had -- Mr. d’Escoto had another appointment and that the two countries -- the United States and the United Kingdom delayed so that the meeting could not take place. 


Spokesperson:  That’s an interpretation of the situation.  I don’t know. 


Question:  But what about Mr. d’Escoto -- what does he say?


Spokesperson:  No, no -– for Mr. d’Escoto, as I said, is very clear what happened, because it happened before, when -if you remember- we were discussing that at the General Committee. In the General Committee they discussed the items that need to be included in the agenda, and the allocation of the agenda.  That already happened before, there was a discussion on this issue.  There was no agreement and it was postponed and that was, I think, in the middle of September, or the end of September. Then we had this meeting, precisely to discuss those issues.  And there was no agreement. And then – these are the normal rules of this Organization- the President of the General Assembly decided to postpone for further talks.  If there is no agreement among member countries, the item cannot be included.  It is not that he had another meeting, all of them had another meeting because it was for the full morning, and then they had to leave, at 1 o’clock the room because it was World Food Day celebrations with former President Clinton coming, and other guests, like the Director-General of FAO, Doctor Jacques Diouf.


Masood?


Question:  Do you have any updates on this dialogue of civilizations conference that’s been convened by the President of the GA -- as to who’s coming, who’s not coming.


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any further details on that -- apart from what I said already yesterday.  It’s still very much in the air both the agenda and the participants.  We keep getting information, more from the media than from other sources, but I expect that by Monday, we’ll be able to really give a more precise detail on the agenda, on the participants. 


Question:  But we heard the King of Saudi Arabia is coming and so is President Bush, is that…?


Spokesperson:  Well, the information that we have -- and I confirmed that yesterday -- is that the King Abdullah from Saudi Arabia is coming.  He has said that publicly.


Question:  Did you hear anything from the White House?


Spokesperson:  No, nothing from the President of the United States.


Question:  Just as a follow-up to Matthew’s question, Ambassador Churkin said that Russia wanted a vote on the issue in the General Committee.  From what you’re saying, this is unacceptable to the President of the General Assembly, because you just said that he’s decided to postpone it until there is agreement and there isn’t going to be an agreement because there are two different sides.  So does that mean there is no such thing possible as a vote?


Spokesperson:  No, let me then clarify this, because what I meant is obviously, that the President of the General Assembly would prefer that there is an agreement, but if there is no agreement among the different parties, a consensus, certainly the rules are very clear – then, the delegations can call for a vote.  What the President of the General Assembly would like to avoid is going to a vote on an issue that could be resolved among the different parties. This is what he thinks. However, obviously, if at the end they have to go for a vote, they’ll go for a vote. What President d’Escoto has made very clear is that he doesn’t want this issue to delay other issues.  There are other important issues on the agenda that could not be discussed, because that one was not resolved.


Question: …so he’s postponed it.  How long is this postponement going to be?  Theoretically, he could postpone it for the entire session.


Spokesperson:  Theoretically, yes, but not in practical terms, because he wants this to be moving.  Therefore, his idea is to leave it for a few days, one week, ten days, and then take a decision.  But, he is going to make a decision and that he has made it very clear also to the permanent representatives.


Question: Tomorrow’s interactive panel -- are any of the panellists from Africa.  And what does the President hope as an outcome -- a report or a draft resolution?


Spokesperson:  That’s for tomorrow -- you mean for Thursday’s meeting?  Yes, one of the panellists is from Kenya, Professor Calestous Juma.


Question:  In terms of an outcome, what does the President hope for a report, or some sort of resolution?


Spokesperson:  As I explained yesterday, the idea is that we have a document that could be used in the future for the high-level meeting that should be taking place on the reform of the financial international organizations, at the beginning of 2009.  And it will be the basis for Professor Stiglitz, who has been named by President d’Escoto as the coordinator of a task force which will be preparing the document.  Thursday’s session is going to be very important.  First, because it’s going to be the first session where the financial crisis is going to be discussed at the United Nations.  And second, because he’s expecting enough feedback from the member countries to continue the road map that he has put forward, and that means that we are going to have this task force working on a document for discussion on the high-level meeting in the future.


So, I guess that means no further questions.  I leave you with Congo…


Question:  Since we have the time, this I think you would know – Ambassador Churkin made a big point of saying that Secretariat employees who run the meetings for Mr. d’Escoto -- he said “unprofessionally” -- was delaying things by saying they didn’t have documents ready.  Whether you agree with his characterization or not – what unit is it that provides documents to d’Escoto with documents to get the meetings going? Is it DGACM, what level?


Spokesperson:  To be honest?  I don’t know.  I mean, I don’t know the proper name of the administrative unit that is dealing with that.  I can find it for you.  But certainly, I think this it is a question for the Secretariat to answer.  It’s part of the Secretariat work to support the work of the General Assembly.


Question: When do you expect the vote on extending the work of the arms trade treaty to take place in the First Committee?


Spokesperson:  That is a tricky question.  But I think I even have the answer somewhere.  Maybe at the end of this week or early next week.


Well, I hope we have somebody there because I cannot stay here the whole day (laughs). OK, thanks you.


* *** *


For information media • not an official record