|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.
**Secretary-General Statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo
We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the ongoing violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and, in particular, by the fighting which began two days ago between a mixed group of Coalition of Patriots in the Congolese Resistance (PARECO)/Mayi-Mayi militia and the National Congress in Defence of the People (CNDP) in the Rutshuru area. He is also worried by the reported attack by the CNDP this morning on positions of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC) in the Nyanzale area.
The Secretary-General calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities and the withdrawal of forces to positions held prior to the resumption of fighting on 28 August. He urges the armed groups involved in the ongoing fighting to support the current efforts to find a political solution to the crisis in the eastern DRC and to avoid activities that result in the further displacement and suffering of the civilian population.
The Secretary-General continues to work closely with the leaders of the sub-region to assist in finding a comprehensive and lasting solution to this crisis and is currently in Nairobi, where he will attend a regional summit on the subject.
**Democratic Republic of the Congo
Fighting erupted again in North Kivu as we just said, between the Congolese army and rebels loyal to Laurent Nkunda, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) said a few hours ago. Fighting was under way in Miyanzali, which the Mission now says is entirely in rebel hands with pockets of resistance by Government troops on its outskirts. UN peacekeepers maintain a mobile operational base in the area where displaced civilians were gathering for protection. The Mission, meanwhile, has confirmed that Nkunda’s fighters have captured the villages of Nyanzale and Kikuku as we said earlier, and are actively seeking to seize new territory in violation of the ceasefire they declared last week.
Our humanitarian colleagues report that the identification of the internally displaced is now under way at camps and other sites in North Kivu. The World Health Organization now has some 10 tons of vital medicine, enough to keep 60,000 people in basic health for a period of one month. Another 30 tons of medical goods were donated by Norway and are expected in Goma in the coming days.
The Secretary-General, as we said earlier, is travelling to Kenya, where he is to attend the African Union regional summit tomorrow on the situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
As he told you yesterday, he will meet with President Joseph Kabila of the DRC and with President Paul Kagame of Rwanda at that summit, and will encourage them to find a path to peace. He will also meet with other regional leaders and senior African Union officials, and will be accompanied by his newly-appointed Special Envoy dealing with the situation in the eastern Congo, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.
The United Nations-African Union Principal Deputy Joint Special Representative in Darfur, Henry Anyidoho, met today with the African Union fact-finding team, which is visiting the region to defuse escalating tensions between Chad and Sudan. The team, led by former Burundian President Pierre Buyoya, arrived in El Fasher, North Darfur, today, and was briefed on the situation in Darfur; the team will then travel on to El Geneina and then Khartoum.
The UN-AU Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), meanwhile, reports the security situation in its area of responsibility as relatively calm. However, the Mission adds, banditry and rape are still prevalent, and UNAMID forces are working closely with Sudanese police and rebel factions to combat the situation.
**International Council of Justice
Candidates need to obtain an absolute majority of votes in both the General Assembly and the Security Council to be elected. You will have, of course, more details later on with Enrique.
The Registrar of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Herman von Hebel, today launched in Freetown a glossary of legal terminology in the local languages of Krio, Limba, Mende and Themne.
The glossary, which was compiled by the Special Court’s language unit, draws on the experience of the Court’s interpreters. It makes available to Sierra Leone’s national judiciary legal terminology in the country’s main languages for the first time ever.
**Secretary-General Report to General Assembly on United Nations Finances
Out as a document today is the Secretary-General’s latest report to the General Assembly on improving the financial situation of the United Nations.
In it, he says that “the financial position of the UN remains fragile”. The Secretary-General notes that the only way to ensure a more stable financial base for the work of the UN is for Member States to meet their financial obligations to the Organization in a fuller and more timely fashion. Otherwise, cash shortfalls are possible.
As of 24 October, assessments issued were lower compared to the end of 2007 in all categories except international tribunals. Unpaid assessments, however, were higher in all categories except for the Capital Master Plan. Under current projections, borrowing from reserve accounts may be required in November and December, he says. Of course, we’ll try to have more on the budget for you in the next few days.
In the aftermath of the recent earthquake in Pakistan, the World Food Programme (WFP) says it is distributing fortified ready-to-eat biscuits in the hardest-hit areas.
It has also started distributing enough wheat flour, pulses, vegetable oil and salt for up to 20,000 survivors in the worst-hit areas.
In view of dropping temperatures, UN agencies are calling for the provision of winter-ready tents, blankets and warm clothing. We have more on that upstairs.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has approved a two-year, $16.4 billion stand-by arrangement for Ukraine. Approved under the Fund’s fast-track Emergency Mechanism, it grants exceptional access to IMF resources. The funds will help the country restore financial and economic stability and strengthen confidence.
Ukraine’s economic outlook has deteriorated substantially in the wake of falling prices for steel, the country’s major expert, while the international financial crisis has put Ukraine’s banks under considerable pressure.
**Food and Agriculture Organization
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in its biannual “Food Outlook”, reports that world cereal production is expected to set a record this year. High prices led to more crops being planted, and weather conditions were generally good.
Nevertheless, FAO warns that this news, along with the recent drop in food prices, should not create a false sense of security. The agency says that price volatility, combined with the current credit squeeze, could result in fewer crops planted next year, which in turn could lead to surging prices the year after that.
**Environment -- War and Armed Conflict
Today is the International Day of Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict. In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says that the natural environment, which is protected by the Geneva Conventions, is often harmed during war and armed conflict. Water wells are polluted, forests cut down, soils poisoned, and animals killed.
He adds that protecting the environment can help countries create employment opportunities and promote development, thereby avoiding a relapse into armed conflict. We have more information on that also upstairs.
**United Nations Conference on Trade and Development
The Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Supachai Panitchpakdi, has said that transparent financial and accounting rules are necessary to restore investor confidence around the world, as the economic crisis intensifies and spreads.
He added that amendments to relevant accounting and reporting standards may be necessary, but representatives of developing countries should help devise these amendments. There is more information in a press release upstairs.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has welcomed the General Assembly’s decision this week to ban smoking and tobacco sales at UN Headquarters.
WHO notes that tobacco is the world’s leading preventable cause of death, killing more than five million people per year from lung cancer, heart disease and other diseases. The agency adds that there is no safe level of second-hand smoke.
WHO Director-General Margaret Chan today said, “By banning smoking and the sale of tobacco products on UN premises, the Member States set a tremendous example.” We have more on that upstairs.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
And our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow, Ian Martin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), will brief following Security Council consultations.
And that’s all I have for you, thank you. Yes.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Michèle, I am absolutely stupefied by the fact that nothing was done by any UN agency or any journalist to protect this 13-year-old child who was stoned to death as a result of religious war in Somalia.
Spokesperson: There is only so much you can do in terms of something happening in a country like this one. There is really not that much that you can do. You can protest, you can say it should not be done.
Question: What about the Security Council? Because I was here when they passed resolution 678 (1990) which authorized the bombing of Iraq in, in, you know, Martti Ahtisaari said that had destroyed the infrastructure…
Spokesperson: Well, the issue has not been brought to the Security Council.
Question: Well, why didn’t UNICEF or UNIFEM or the Third Committee raise it? Why didn’t any country on the Security Council raise this?
Spokesperson: I can’t answer that question, unfortunately. I cannot answer that question for the Member States. I agree with you that it is a shocking and deplorable situation. And we talked about it yesterday; you were not here at the briefing; we talked about it. But this is all really we can say. There is nothing we can do beyond that.
Question: But, I mean the rights of the child, the rights of women, the Secretary-General spoke to protect women against violence, this girl was raped. And you know, they talk about tolerance for religion, but if a religious law condemns a victim of rape to be stoned to death and 1,000 people watch and do nothing. Fifty men stone her to death, where are we now in the twenty-first century?
Spokesperson: That’s a good question.
Question: We think that maybe representatives of all these agencies should get together, the ones accountable to family, women and girls, and formulate some action…
Spokesperson: Well, I suggest that you address your request to those agencies. And I agree with you wholeheartedly, but in terms of information, there is nothing more I can say.
Question: (inaudible) to come and talk to us about their roles and what they can do…?
Spokesperson: Well, they have been with you several times, you know, maybe before, but I think you should talk to those different agencies about this issue.
Question: Can’t we have a press briefing here where maybe they can pass some kind of binding rule that this kind of thing is unacceptable?
Spokesperson: The only bodies that would be able to pass a binding rule on issues like this do not exist. I mean, the Security Council, unless it considers it an issue of peace and security, will not address the issue. Of course, I agree with you that this should be brought to the attention of the world even more than it has been so far. But this is my own opinion. I cannot answer specific questions about what Member States can do or should do.
Question: Well, what is peace and security if a child is stoned to death?
Spokesperson: Well, this is an opinion, let’s go to questions. Yes?
Question: Can you tell us a little more what Mr. Ban is hoping to achieve when he meets Presidents Kagame and Kabila in Nairobi? Does he have any specific proposals that he will be suggesting?
Spokesperson: There is no doubt that the first thing he is going to ask them is for them to have a direct conversation, which, as you know, they have started at a lower level. And he is certainly going to talk to all the leaders about reining in the different groups that are fighting in the Democratic Republic of the Congo at this time. And I will try to get a readout of those different meetings for you as soon as we get them. Of course, they are not scheduled until tomorrow, so we don’t have anything at this point. In fact, the Secretary-General has not landed yet. So, it’s going to be a while before I can give you, really, an update on that. But we will have, of course, a readout of all those meetings. Yes?
Question: Michèle, do we have any update on the recruitment of child soldiers? Do we have numbers? Do we know whether or not that this is actually happening?
Spokesperson: Yes, you can talk to Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy. Her office will certainly be glad to give you the information. Yes?
Question: Is the Secretary-General planning to meet Nkunda, and would he meet with him?
Spokesperson: Nkunda is not participating as I said yesterday, in the meeting. The Great Lakes summit is a summit of Member States of the region. It’s not a summit where Mr. Nkunda will be. So, the Secretary-General is not meeting Mr. Nkunda. Yes?
Question: On your final point and the smoking ban and the welcome of it by the World Health Organization (WHO), is there going to be a complete ban on the sale and smoking? Obviously people are still smoking in the Vienna Café and the guy downstairs, the newsagent is still selling cigarettes. Now, the General Assembly resolution requires that the Secretary-General presents the report on implementation measures to the sixty-fourth session. So, I mean, do we know, what are the implementation measures going to be and is the Secretary-General going to take any active steps in this regard?
Spokesperson: Well, you know that we already had a note before. The General Assembly passed that resolution. We had a note asking at least staff members not to smoke in the building, and to smoke outside of the building and that can be, of course, implemented. It has been implemented. The problem is that you have, of course, representatives from Member States smoking in the Vienna Café. How much can be done about this? I think the Secretary-General is considering how to implement the General Assembly resolution. It was just taken recently. So, I will get an answer for you soon, I hope. Yes, George?
Question: Following up on that, there is one obvious point that, with the greatest respect for Mr Reinl, that he did not make. May I assume from your comments, Michèle, that the resolution is worded -- I don’t have it in front of me, obviously –- in such a way that it is effective immediately, and are, just as an example, sales personnel at the Vienna Café, have they been instructed to at least go over to people and remind them or put little signs on the tables that say this is a non-smoking area?
Spokesperson: I leave this to Enrique, since it was a General Assembly resolution. So, Enrique will answer you on this. In terms of the implementation, what the Secretariat is going to do, as I said, my answer stands. This resolution was recently adopted. What is going to be done for the implementation, the Secretariat will certainly take measures. But I don’t have those measures yet. Yes?
Question: Do we have any update on the aid workers that were kidnapped in Somalia? And also, is the UN considering doing something about the escalating violence there?
Spokesperson: Well, the UN is of course doing something about the escalating violence, but you know you can certainly check upstairs, we have been issuing different information about the situation in Somalia, what the UN is planning to do. As you know, this is being discussed in the Security Council. It is being discussed in quite a few places. How much would the UN be involved in terms of peacekeeping operations, that is still being discussed. There has been no decision yet on even a lead country that would accept to actually lead the force. So, it’s very much in the hands of the Security Council. And in terms of what the UN is doing, as you know, we have a representative for Somalia working on different assistance to the people of Somalia; and that you can get information about that easily. Yes?
Question: Michèle, today there were demonstrations in East Jerusalem regarding the occupation of a cemetery by the Israeli authorities. Has UNESCO done anything good or made any representation to the Israeli Government to stop occupying that cemetery?
Spokesperson: I am not aware of it. But you can try to get in touch with UNESCO and get that information from them. Yes, Matthew?
Question: First, I guess a follow-up on this thing in Somalia. There is an Amnesty International report about the killing of humanitarian workers with their recommendations that the UN better distinguish between independent and neutral humanitarian action, and what they call political development activities of the UN in Somalia, which I notice with (inaudible) events. Has the UN determined who blew up, who bombed or car-bombed their facility in the northern part of Somalia and what does the UN acknowledge that maybe they could make a better distinction between working with one side of the conflict and delivering humanitarian aid?
Spokesperson: Well, in terms of the information you’re asking for, on what we know about the bombing, we don’t have that information, yet I have asked for it, and we don’t have it yet on who was responsible. So I don’t have any more to say on that.
Question: I guess to this Amnesty International report, who I guess, does the UN, I take note of the recommendation or does it think it does a good enough job of separating…
Spokesperson: Well, I am sure they’re aware of it at our human rights office and they’re working on it.
Question: I want also to ask about Nkunda. I understand that he is not invited to this conference. But has anyone in the UN system, particularly DPKO or MONUC… who speaks with Nkunda or is he not spoken to by the UN system? I understand he is not at the conference, but who…
Spokesperson: I don’t know, I am not aware. But you can always contact DPKO to see whether there is any direct contact or the Department of Political Affairs. As far as I know, I don’t really know what has been done so far.
Question: Because they say, in terms of the recent fighting there, it seems like the CNDP is saying, they claim that these Mayi-Mayi militia are in fact supported by the Congolese Government. So, they view an attack by them as being one by the Government and now…whatever. Whatever they think, but I am wondering is MONUC in a position to know whether the Congolese government supports rebel groups that fight against the CNDP?
Spokesperson: I cannot answer for them.
Question: Well, I mean, I guess, well, who…
Spokesperson: Well, you can have that information. You have to contact MONUC or contact DPKO. And this can be easily done. You send an e-mail to MONUC and you’ll get your information.
Question: (Inaudible) once, and I think it’s like that’s part of the Secretariat and in some sense, for example, here is a question: does the UN, does the Ban Ki-moon Secretariat have a policy of not speaking with Nkunda or are (inaudible)?
Spokesperson: No, we don’t have a policy of that sort. This is being decided on the ground on what should be done on the ground.
Question: So, who makes the decision, not in New York?
Spokesperson: That has to be done on the ground. Of course New York is kept abreast of that and they have constant consultations…
Question: I mean, I don’t want to waste your time, but it seems like you speak for the Secretariat, so it seems eminently fair to ask you a question who in the Secretariat has spoken to Nkunda? I mean, I can send them an e-mail too, but I think it’s fair to ask…
Spokesperson: No one in the Secretariat here has spoken to Nkunda.
Question: No one?
Spokesperson: No. Not that I know of. Whether it’s done in the field for operation reasons, I don’t know. And you should address that question to the people on the ground.
Question: One last question. It’s reported that Ban Ki-moon’s envoy to Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, has been invited by the Myanmar Government to visit in the last week of November or early December. Is that true or not?
Spokesperson: Well, this has been reported before. It’s not a new thing. Sure, he has been invited. But no decision has been taken yet.
Question: The invitation is for those dates? But it’s up to him to decide to go on those dates or not? That’s the new report.
Spokesperson: You know, it’s up to him. There is nothing new about this. This invitation came quite a few weeks ago.
Question: So, Mr. Ban’s comment during his trip that he expects better performance from Myanmar only relates to his own trip, not to Gambari’s trip?
Spokesperson: Did I say that Mr. Gambari is going?
Question: I am asking, I don’t know. I am asking you.
Spokesperson: I just said right now that Mr. Gambari has not yet made a decision on whether he is going.
Question: Right. Does he decide personally or Mr. Ban decides?
Spokesperson: They decide together.
Question: Michèle, there is a meeting today, or has been, of the Security Council with regard to 1373 regarding counterterrorism and I wondered if there is an update about what the Security Council is planning to do about the fact that the European Court of Justice said that it was not appropriate that European countries are following the Security Council’s not appearing to follow due process when they put people on the terrorism lists. Is there some update on this, and is there some way to follow up?
Spokesperson: No, there is no update. Last time, you asked the same question. I don’t have an update. Anyway it’s a decision for the Security Council to take.
Question: Okay, but the Secretary-General also has an obligation with regard to the Charter, and the Charter has an obligation about human rights. Kofi Annan had raised this issue with the Security Council. Is there some reason that the Secretary-General is not concerned about this and is not looking into it and monitoring it?
Spokesperson: I am not saying that he is not concerned. I am saying that this is a matter for the Security Council at this point. And of course, the Secretary-General follows it very closely. But that is all really I can say at this point. Yes?
Question: To go back to the initial question. Can we have a briefing in this room where representatives of as many agencies as are willing to produce somebody of the relevant agencies to families…
Spokesperson: On this case, you mean?
Spokesperson: I think it’s almost impossible to arrange to have all the agencies here on…
Question: It doesn’t have to be all them…
Spokesperson: …this case.
Question: …UNICEF, UNIFEM, four or five…Third Committee?
Spokesperson: No, Third Committee is a Member State committee.
Question: But every single Member State, you know, speaks of the rights of the child, the rights of women to be protected, but when it comes right down to it in the real world, what do these speeches amount to if this kind of thing can happen and I was told yesterday it’s hardly confined to this one little girl. It goes on elsewhere.
Spokesperson: Yes, it does.
Question: And this is the idea that if we can bring the agencies together to formulate some idea that they can apply either retribution in this case, or some preventive measure in the future, because we all know that women and girls are always considered expendable in (inaudible) cases.
Spokesperson: Of course you have had protests every time from all the organizations here that take care of women’s issues. And you know, the issue of killing of this sort has been talked about over and over again.
Question: (Inaudible) Mohammed was a defender of women and girls.
Question: Why doesn’t Moreno-Ocampo put on trial the people who condemned her to be killed just as Milosevic and Karadzic…?
Spokesperson: I understand your point of view quite well. However, this is not a question I can answer, really.
Question: (Inaudible) it would help if we could bring together a few people…
Spokesperson: Well, I can ask, but I am not sure we can get that. But I can ask, of course.
Question: Thank you very much, we appreciate that.
Spokesperson: Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: This one is an easy question, Michèle. The Secretary-General will soon be travelling to Washington to attend the summit on the financial crisis. Who will accompany him?
Spokesperson: We don’t know yet. The G-20 meeting is going to be mostly a meeting of principals. So, as far as I know, he is going to be accompanied by two or three people; no more. And I’ll get you the names as soon as I have them. Okay, thank you so much.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Good afternoon to everybody. Let me give you an overview of some issues that are going around with the different committees of the General Assembly. As you know, right now there was a session of the election of the five members of the International Court of Justice taking place and we have eight candidates, one retired. And right now, four, five minutes ago, four were elected and let me provide you with the names. Four judges have been elected. Mr. Ronny Abraham from France, Mr. Awn Shawkat Al-Khasawneh from Jordan -- I apologize for my Arabic pronunciation -- from Brazil, Mr. Antôinio Augusto Cançado Trindade, and from the United Kingdom, Christopher Greenwood. Those four have been selected already. Right now, there’s going on the votes for the remaining one seat. As you know, this is a particularly complex issue and it needs to be voted at the same time both by the Security Council and the General Assembly. And that is what is taking place right now.
Let me give you a final overview on some other issues. This afternoon, sorry, this morning we have in the Fourth Committee, there has been discussed on the report of the Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and other Arabs of the Occupied Territories.
We have tomorrow the General Assembly holding a commemorative meeting on the sixtieth anniversary of peacekeeping in the plenary meeting at 10 a.m. in the morning, in the General Assembly Hall, instead of Tuesday, 11 November when it was originally scheduled. And we have also tomorrow the consultation on the draft resolution on the commemorative plenary meeting to the sixtieth anniversary of the Declaration of Human Rights.
And finally we have also going on, and this is important, the drafting session of the outcome document of the follow-up of the Doha Conference which is going to take place also tomorrow Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. in Conference Room 6. And as I said, this is a very important document, which is going to be the basis for the discussion in Qatar in a few weeks.
And apart from that, let me give you an update on attendance for the high-level meeting that we have for next week that we have on Culture of Peace and let me clarify because there was some confusion about Heads of State and Heads of Government. I’ll repeat the list again for you. Heads of State confirmed coming right now we have Saudi Arabia, Philippines, the United States, Kuwait, Pakistan, Bahrain, Jordan, Israel, and Palestine. And we have Heads of Government coming from Qatar, Morocco, United Arab Emirates, and then we have the President from Lebanon; and we have from the United Kingdom the Foreign and Commonwealth Minister, and from India we have the Minister of External Affairs. And that is, let me confirm some other ministers from a list that I have been given right now. We have foreign ministers coming from The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, from Guinea, from Paraguay, and from Oman. And that is what I have on this meeting and I think that this is all. Questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Please tell us with this smoking ban resolution, how will it be put in practice?
Spokesperson: That’s a popular issue.
Question: When will the ban take affect here at UN Headquarters?
Spokesperson: The ban was endorsed on Monday. And if you read the endorsement of the ban, which I have somewhere here, it decides to implement a complete ban on smoking in at United Nations Headquarters, indoor premises and on sales of tobacco products on United Nations Headquarters premises and is the third paragraph says “requests the Secretary-General to submit to the General Assembly at its sixty-fourth session a report on the implementation on the present resolution”. It is up to the Secretary-General from now on. I think basically this is where it stands now, to decide what kind of realistic measures can be taken for this to be implemented. And I suppose we will be getting more information from the Secretariat, as Michèle said before.
Question: Do you know what the time frame is for that?
Spokesperson: I have no idea.
Question: Quick follow-up?
Spokesperson: A follow-up on smoking?
Question: On smoking. Mr. d’Escoto, is he a smoker?
Spokesperson: No he is not. Anything else on smoking?
Spokesperson: Ok. Let’s go one by one.
Question: Can you just clarify, if you know, and if not I’d like to be told, what particular department or agency within this Secretariat which is responsible for enforcing regulations of all kinds within Headquarter buildings?
Spokesperson: The Secretariat. The Secretary-General has the mandate to implement whatever decisions are taking (cross-talking)…
Question: The maintenance department or SSS, Safety and Security or…
Other Journalist: Management. Management.
Spokesperson: It’s up to the Secretary-General to decide what measures need to be implemented and by whom. On that note, as Michèle said before, I understand that there are some measures going to be taken and it will be communicated. So we can talk for half an hour if you want but we’re going to speculate. It is very clear that the fact is, sorry let me finish, the fact is we have a resolution approved and asking for the Secretary-General to implement it and the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General who was here a few minutes ago said that some measures were being considered and you will be informed as soon as possible.
Question: So the current status is that possible measures to enforce the said resolution are being contemplated by the relevant sections of the Secretariat. Is that correct?
Spokesperson: Say that again?
Question: Possible measures are being contemplated.
Spokesperson: That’s correct.
Question: Thank you.
Spokesperson: Are we moving on another topic?
Question: Question about smoking?
Spokesperson: No, okay, we are staying on the same topic. Yes, go ahead.
Question: I know that there are many countries where smoking is permitted and part of the culture. It’s not like the western world and these people are highly addicted to nicotine and if they just suddenly come and can’t smoke it might affect their functioning. They might get angry easily. They’ll be irritable. So that should be taken into consideration.
Spokesperson: I’m sure whoever is going to be take such a decision will take that into consideration as well. We’re going to go in the back now. Yes?
Question: I don’t know, I didn’t follow yesterday, if the President of the General Assembly ever sent a letter of congratulations to Barack Obama and if I missed that, does he look forward to work with him since he was very critical to this current administration?
Spokesperson: President d’Escoto has been working with the current administration on several issues. He has very good relations with the permanent representative here and as I said yesterday he welcomed and he congratulated Senator Obama and he congratulated also the people of the United States for the high participation in the elections. And he obviously looks forward to work with Senator Obama, with the President of the United States and with the rest of the 191 countries of the UN.
Question: (inaudible) Ambassador Carmon Daniel accused recently that the UN Human Rights body that has been targeting Israel in respect to the Palestinian rights, do we have any comment from the President of the GA?
Spokesperson: I do not have any comments on that, but I’ll make sure that you get one. Yes?
Question: You communicated just now that the President, President d’Escoto, has congratulated Senator Obama on his election, and congratulated the people of the United States. Did he do that directly or did he call to the current president?
Spokesperson: I am not aware of what was the formal way of doing this but as I said he publicly expressed his congratulations to President-elect Obama. I don’t know if he has written or not. I can check for you.
Question: [I wanted to know] the protocol.
Spokesperson: I will check that for you. I know that, as I said before, President d’Escoto, the President of the General Assembly, has a very fluid and good relations with the Ambassador of the United States. They meet often. And he has already transmitted his welcome and his congratulations to the new president of the United States.
Question: The Third Committee speaks about the rights of women, the rights of children. And they also speak about religious tolerance. But when religious law is such a gross and barbaric violation of the rights of children and the rights of women, I mean where the [inaudible] sanity in all of this and I know that Miguel d’Escoto spoke about making General Assembly resolutions binding. Why isn’t something done to make some sort of legal demand that women and children not be subjected to the kind of barbaric torture and murder that this poor 13 year old girl in Somalia had been subjected to.
Spokesperson: You are totally right and this is outrageous. This is illegal. This is incredible. Whatever adjective you want to use. And the president of the General Assembly would certainly agree fully with you. What can be done? As much as we can. Should we all be ashamed? Indeed we should all be ashamed. We should be ashamed that in the twenty-first century these things happen, as we should all be ashamed that many other issues are going on in the current world, like torture, like invading other countries and provoking wars. This is something over which the President of the General Assembly is extremely sensitive. Not just the General Assembly, but the whole UN system. As you know very well, everybody is trying to make a big effort in the area of gender issues and in this particular one you have many specialized agencies working on the ground, risking their lives. If you read the New York Times article it is a story that has come out because people, UN staff, are risking their own lives and they’re denouncing it. People from UNICEF in this particular case. And in Somalia, from people from World Food Program who have been killed. People from FAO have been killed. People from other UN agencies are risking their lives so that the international community knows what is going on and we encourage public awareness of these issues. And you have agencies like UNIFEM who are extremely active on these issues, or UNFPA. What I am saying is that I fully agree with you and the most we can do, at least right now, is to try to publicize these issues and make sure we keep constantly reminding the international community that these things should not happen.
Question: So why, it would be possible to pass a law, it would be possible to have the people who murdered this girl brought before the International Court of Justice because…
Spokesperson: There are many things that can be done. It is up to the international community to decide, and we have tools. As I said, we could discuss this for hours and probably it is very worthwhile that we are discussing these things for hours because these things should not happen. Now, if you want me, as a spokesperson of the President of the General Assembly… the President of the General Assembly is fully sympathetic with what you are expressing that whatever he can try to do to avoid these things from happening, he is going to try to do it and he’s trying very hard, very hard from his limited political action or power that he has, that we try to convince the international community to set up the elements to avoid these things happening. But as I said I wanted to underline it is not that the UN, as such, is not doing anything. We have many colleagues risking their lives in the field. And we have friends who have lost their lives there. Yes?
Question: For next week’s inter-faith meeting, are you expecting more leaders from the European Union, or European countries in general to attend? Seems so far the UK… the only countries that they have high-level delegation.
Spokesperson: We have high-level delegations from several countries. As I said before, we have now around 51 delegations who have expressed that they’re going to participate, their decision to participate. Some of the delegates are Heads of States, some of them are Heads of Governments, some are on the level of Foreign Ministers. As I said, I keep saying, this is a list that keeps changing, but certainly the participation looks very high in terms of level.
Question: What about King Juan Carlos [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: I don’t have any information from Spain on what level Spain is going to be represented. Yes?
Question: Practical question about the same meeting. Has there been released or will there shortly be released, a draft programme of the two-day dialogue meeting next week?
Spokesperson: As soon as we can get a more precise detail on the member countries attending and what level… the agenda depends very much on the level of participation because Heads of States are supposed to be the first ones to speak and Heads of Government and then Foreign Ministers from the protocol point of view -- as soon as we have such an idea we’ll provide you with those details.
Question: Before the weekend?
Spokesperson: I’ll try to have that before the weekend, by tomorrow. Let me also say that President d’Escoto himself will have a press conference the day before. That is on Tuesday to address whatever questions you have on this particular meeting.
Question: Thank you very much.
Question: Did I hear a comment that President d’Escoto is going to try to make the decisions of the General Assembly mandatory?
Spokesperson: No. What you have heard is what he has said himself that when he was elected as President of the General Assembly, explaining the priorities of his mandate, he was giving an example of the contradiction that the General Assembly which is the most representative body of the United Nations with 192 members, the resolutions are not binding and we have the Security Council where the resolutions are binding. And he put that in the framework of the restructuring and the democratization of the Organization.
And he said, he put as an example which is an example we have very recent, the embargo against Cuba, where 185 countries voted against it and you have only a few, a handful of countries supporting it. However, this issue has been for now 17 years being voted at the General Assembly and President d’Escoto put this very bluntly. If we go on like that, where is the usefulness of having the General Assembly of the United Nations? And within this context he said I’m going to call a high-level meeting to discuss the democratization of the Organization. And this is one of these issues. Certainly, as you very well know, he is the President of the General Assembly, but it is up to the Member States to try to negotiate the best way to make the General Assembly resolutions being better implemented.
Question: As for follow-up, does that imply that he is going to encourage Member States to change Article 10 of the Charter which states clearly that the General Assembly only makes recommendations to Member States, as well as to the Security Council?
Spokesperson: He’s asking the Member Countries to address the issue of the democratization of the United Nations at the highest level possible -- that is Heads of States -- in three major meetings which are going to take place. The first one on the Bretton Woods Institutions and the financial architecture -- which by the way there is a draft resolution being discussed among the Member countries to make such a call for such a meeting. And we had the meeting of the financial crisis as a first step introduction. And second the revitalization of the General Assembly and third the reform of the Security Council. In that framework, he is trying to get as many Member Countries as possible to support the restructuring agenda. At what level we have to see, because it is up to the Member countries to decide what kind of changes they want to do to bring the Organization to the twenty-first century.
Question: Two questions: The first is I’ve been away for a little while so I wonder what’s happening with the reform of the Security Council process. Is there any activity and a set of dates for this?
Spokesperson: There is no formal activity right now but there is a lot of non-formal activity going on. As you know, President d’Escoto requested the, he asked Ambassador of Afghanistan, Mr. Tanin, to be the focal point for this issue on his behalf, and the Ambassador has already discussed with several Member States the possible options and the routes we have ahead. But there is a very clear timetable for that. We have the open ended group… should meet and I’m doing it by heart, but I better not do it by heart because my memory is not very good. They should meet -- I have a note here because I want to give you the dates totally -- the open-ended group should start meeting on the 11th of November and the General Assembly commence inter-governmental negotiations before the end of February 2009. Those are the deadlines we inherited basically from the sixty-second General Assembly where they said -- and I’m going to translate this very bluntly to you -- now let’s go ahead with the open-ended group, let’s see how much it can be negotiated there, but in any case we put out the deadline before February 2009, to be discussed in the General Assembly with all the different countries and President d’Escoto has requested Ambassador Tanin from Afghanistan to be his focal point in this negotiation.
Question: Can you also perhaps give us some sense of what inter-governmental negotiation means because it has been a very vague term and every time I ask I get a vague answer and I wondered if there is a process where somebody begins to clarify that?
Spokesperson: I’ll give you a very clear answer then. That means that they meet at the plenary in the General Assembly openly, and there everybody says what’s their opinion, where do they stand and eventually they could even vote for. That’s what it means.
Question: It’s an open process.
Spokesperson: It’s an open process. And what open ended group means, it means that any Member can participate if they want to. That’s basically it. But we use all this jargon which is a little complicated to understand.
Question: My second question is, I don’t know if you are aware but the European Court of Justice had a ruling about the fact that the Security Council put people on a list that denies them basic due process rights, and it does it without any due process or procedure and that the Charter of the UN requires that there be a basic human right… including due process and so this is a contradiction that the Security Council requires Member States to go along with… this is a serious problem according to the European Court of Justice. I wonder if the General Assembly will be dealing with this, or the President will look into this matter because it is a particular aspect where the Security Council is sending a precedent to Member States around the world to ignore due process, which seems contrary to the obligations of the United Nations and its charter.
Spokesperson: Let me check with the President of the General Assembly and I’ll come back to you. Any other questions? I think somebody asked me yesterday whether the President had met, the President of the General Assembly had met with President Abdelaziz of the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic. Let me confirm that they met on Tuesday after the meeting he had with the Secretary-General. And the President of the General Assembly, President d’Escoto, is very concerned about the lack of progress on the issue of Western Sahara, especially the human rights situation there. He has requested the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to distribute the report on the situation of human rights in Western Sahara, which highlights the situation in the refugee camp in Tindouf, Algeria, to all Member States. Although this report was completed in 2006, it has not yet been distributed yet.
The President of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto is personally concerned about the situation in Western Sahara and the plight of the Saharawi people and would like to help to end the apparent diplomatic deadlock on the issue. In this spirit, he is making himself available to assist all parties in any way to help resolve this longstanding issue, which risks being forgotten by the international community. “It is time for this difficult issue to be resolved once and for all,” he says.
Any questions on this? Yes?
Question: How does the President propose to resolve the deadlock, diplomatic deadlock as I think you put it when the question is being actively considered by the Security Council? This contradicts the Charter.
Spokesperson: The issue is both at the Security Council and at the General Assembly. It is on the Fourth Committee, and as such the President of the General Assembly can always -- has the mandate -- to try to help resolve this issue and he is simply making himself available to the parties. He believes that the issue of Western Sahara is being delayed now for years and years and for respect of the Saharawi people, we have resolutions here asking for a referendum to be taking place, which has never taken place and for all the different issues involving the situation in Western Sahara… he believes that this is risking being forgotten by the international community. And he has made himself available to the different parties to whatever they consider would help. Certainly, to begin with, making it clear and loud that he’s going to keep reminding everybody that we should make a decision on this issue and that many years have been passing and he is ready to make all that is on his hand -- at least from the public awareness point of view -- for this issue not to be dead.
Question: I have the Charter with me here and I’m reading Article 12.
Spokesperson: I don’t have it here.
Question: I have it. While the Security Council is exercising in respect for any dispute or situation the functions assigned to it in the present charter, the General Assembly shall not make any recommendations with regard to that dispute or situation unless the Security Council solely requests. The Charter is very clear. The matter is before the Security Council.
Spokesperson: It depends. This is also a matter of interpretation. There are many other issues related to Western Sahara that are being discussed in the different committees in the General Assembly and as such he is the President, and he has the mandate to make sure those resolutions are implemented. And there is a resolution from the General Assembly voted last week where it calls very clearly to the parties to resolve the issue and it makes -- I don’t have it at hand right now -- it is very explicit on some of the issues. And it is coming from the General Assembly. And the human rights issues are being discussed in the General Assembly and the gender issues at the General Assembly, and the decolonization is being discussed at the General Assembly. Therefore, it is, regardless of the technicalities… in terms of mandate, in any case, the spirit is very clear. And the spirit is that we have -- as the President of the General Assembly has made it very clear -- a forgotten conflict that has gone on for years now, and people who were promised to have a referendum to decide themselves his own future. And that isn’t happening and it is as simple as that. So we can go to the letter, but we also have to look at the spirit… and in any case the letter of the President of the General Assembly provides him a very clear mandate that he takes care that those resolutions are respected.
Question: The President says that it is a forgotten conflict, why the President of the Security Council himself, Ambassador, President of the Security Council, said in response to my question a few days ago that the Security Council when asking if it gave priority to this question, he said it periodically meets and decides on this question.
Spokesperson: I don’t want to enter now in a semantic discussion here, but it depends on how you see these issues. It is forgotten in the sense that it is not in the media, it is not a high priority in the international community and in that sense it is the impression of the President of the General Assembly that the issue should not be forgotten and that he is going to make everything that is at his hand to make sure that this issue is not forgotten.
Thank you very much. Have a good day.
* *** *For information media • not an official record