9 December 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.


Good afternoon, all.


**Security Council


The Security Council today is holding a debate on terrorism, which is chaired by Croatian President Stjepan Mesic.


The Secretary-General opened the meeting by saying that terrorism is a global scourge, and pointing to the awful attacks in Mumbai two weeks ago as the most recent example of mad, misguided individuals run amok.


The best response to a corrosive, malevolent ideology, he said, is a strong assertion of collective resistance.  At the same time, he said, we need to defend the values enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the sixtieth anniversary of which we commemorate tomorrow.


The Secretary-General said that today’s meeting takes place just two days before the first anniversary of the bombing of the United Nations offices in Algeria, which took the lives of 17 UN staff and injured some 40 more.


He said that, although the United Nations is becoming more of a target of terrorists, the recent tragedies in which UN staff have been killed have deterred neither our will nor our ability to serve the international community.


Also today, the Secretary-General and the members of the Security Council will hold their monthly luncheon.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The Department of Political Affairs has confirmed that dialogue between the Congolese Government and the Laurent Nkunda-led rebel group Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) began today at the UN’s Nairobi headquarters.  The Secretary-General is represented at the talks by his Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.  Benjamin Mkapa, the former President of Tanzania, is co-facilitating the meeting on behalf of the African Union and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region.


In their opening remarks to the talks, the two envoys urged participants to find a workable solution to the political and humanitarian crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.


The talks are expected to continue tomorrow.  And we have copies of Special Envoy Obasanjo’s remarks upstairs.


Meanwhile, in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, OCHA says that while the transfer of internally displaced civilians from the Kibati camps to a safer location continues, some 9,000 newly displaced people have arrived in Kibati.  And while some displaced civilians are returning to their original homes, looting of private property was reported from several regions in the past week.  Looting also affected five former relief sites for internally displaced persons in Rutshuru, with houses and shelters forcibly emptied and destroyed.  According to the UN refugee agency, some 50,000 internally displaced persons across North Kivu cannot be provided for at this time for lack of means.


** Somalia


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has confirmed the holding of an International Conference on Piracy around Somalia for Wednesday and Thursday in Nairobi.  Ould-Abdallah said that a meeting of technical experts, to be held tomorrow, will be followed by a day-long conference at the ministerial level, which will have for keynote speaker President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya.  Ould-Abdallah said some 140 officials from 40 countries, regional and international organizations will be attending.  He also welcomed the fact that the Conference comes in the same week as the first naval operation carried out by the European Union, known as Operation Atalanta, an anti-piracy task force aimed at protecting merchant ships from pirate attacks off the Somali coast.  That first naval operation has started, and we have copies of the press release upstairs.


** Central African Republic


The Secretary-General yesterday welcomed the convening of the inclusive political dialogue in the Central African Republic, which demonstrates the political will of the Central African stakeholders to give new momentum to the development of their country.  He said that the dialogue's inclusive nature has the potential to produce the results which all Central Africans have awaited for a long time.


While conflicts in the subregion will continue to threaten stability in the Central African Republic, the Secretary-General noted with satisfaction the solidarity and support that regional States have continued to extend to the Central African Republic.  The UN system, for its part, will do everything in its power to help implement the recommendations of the inclusive political dialogue.  We have the full text of the message he sent on the start of the dialogue upstairs and, also, on the web.


** Zimbabwe


On Zimbabwe, a high-level delegation from the World Health Organization (WHO) arrived over the weekend in Harare, headed by Eric Laroche, Assistant Director-General for WHO's Health Action in Crises cluster.


That trip follows a call by Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health seeking international assistance to deal with the nation’s cholera outbreak.


Laroche met with the Zimbabwean Health Minister yesterday and offered WHO’s support for coordination of the specific cholera response and the overall health interventions.


Today, WHO hosted a meeting of 50 representatives of non-governmental organizations, UN and Ministry of Health partners.  Laroche called for a strong control-and-command mechanism to be established to lead the containment and response to the outbreak of cholera, as well as to coordinate the activities of the multiple health providers operating in Zimbabwe.


WHO reports that the number of suspected cases of cholera has risen above 15,000 and 774 resultant deaths had been recorded since August in two thirds of the country's 62 districts.


WHO cautions that it does not yet know how fully the currently reported numbers reflect the true extent of the outbreak, as reporting from many of the more remote areas of the country is incomplete.  WHO and its partners were, thus, working on a scenario for this outbreak of 60,000 cases, in order to ensure an adequate response.


**Kosovo


In response to your questions earlier, the UN Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) has now started phasing out its police component, and the European Union Rule of Law Mission, known as EULEX, has phased in Kosovo-wide.


This marks the start of EULEX policing throughout Kosovo under the overall authority of the United Nations and within the framework of resolution 1244 -- after nine-and-a-half years of UNMIK policing.  During that time, UNMIK has succeeded in establishing, from scratch, a local police force that is well respected in Kosovo and in the region.


** Gaza


The Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) reports that some goods were able to enter Gaza from Israel today.  Those goods included 10 trucks of flour for the World Food Programme (WFP).


For its part, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) managed to get in three trucks of tinned meat and three of cooking oil.  But this is still not enough, according to UNRWA.


Meanwhile, here at Headquarters, UNRWA's annual Pledging Conference will be held tomorrow morning at 11 in Conference Room 4.  UNRWA’s general budget requirements for 2009 amount to nearly $550 million.  That sum covers the costs of the Agency’s education, health, social support and microfinance services.  The Secretary-General has urged Member States to fully fund the budget so that UNRWA can maintain its essential services for 4.6 million registered Palestine refugees.


** Lebanon


The latest report of the International Independent Investigation Commission dealing with Lebanon is available as a document today.  In it, Commissioner Daniel Bellemare notes new information that may allow the Commission to link additional individuals to the network that carried out the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.  He adds that the Commission has made further findings that help to identify the possible geographic origin of the suicide bomber.


Given that its current mandate expires on 31 December, while the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is on track to begin functioning on 1 March 2009, the Commission requests that the Security Council extend its mandate until the end of February 2009, so that it can continue its investigation without interruption.


**Iraq-Kuwait


In a new report, the Secretary-General said that the inactivity on the exhumation and repatriation of the remains of Kuwaiti and third-country nationals in Iraq during the last year is of serious concern.


He is also concerned at the absence of progress with regard to finding the Kuwaiti archives.  The Secretary-General stresses the need to translate statements of goodwill into concrete activities to speed up progress on the ground and the implementation of Security Council resolution 1284.


** Haiti


The UN Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) has launched Operation Blue Shield in support of an urban security plan floated by the Haitian National Police.  The plan aims to reduce crime in urban centres by increasing police presence and night-time patrols.  UN peacekeepers are expected to make up a substantial part of the patrolling force.  Peacekeepers will also double the number of mobile checkpoints.


The Mission says Operation Blue Shield comes in response to the staggering rise in acts of banditry, including kidnapping, which have gone up by some 40 per cent in recent months, especially in Port-au-Prince.


**High-Level Regional Policy Dialogue –- Indonesia


A high-level meeting kicked off today in Denpasar, Indonesia, aimed at finding strategies to address the impact of the food, energy and financial crises on Asia and the Pacific in the context of climate change, and preventing the triple-crises from becoming a development emergency. 


The two-day event is the first under the issues of the food, energy and financial crises, and climate change, have been addressed in a comprehensive and integrated manner in the Asia-Pacific region.  As you know, these issues were addressed in a comprehensive manner in Doha -- the financing for development meeting that took place last week.


**International Day against Corruption


Today is the International Day against Corruption.  In a message to mark the day, the Secretary-General notes that greed and corruption are partly to blame for the current global financial crisis. 


While this is bad enough, there is another, silent financial crisis that is afflicting the world’s poorest and attracting far less attention.  That is the billions of dollars for health care, schools, clean water and infrastructure that are stolen or lost through bribes and other misdeeds.


The Secretary-General calls for making the UN Convention against Corruption, which entered into force three years ago, the global norm.  And he asks everyone to do their part to strengthen integrity, play by the rules and turn the tide against corruption. 


We have his full message upstairs, as well as a press release from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), which is leading an initiative called “Your No Counts”, aimed at showing individuals that they are not at the mercy of corruption and often have the power to prevent it.


**Food Report


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) latest report, the number of hungry people around the world has risen to 963 million.  An additional 40 million people were pushed into hunger this year, mainly because of higher food prices. 


Although prices have dropped since earlier this year, they are still 28 per cent higher than they were two years ago, FAO says.  And prices for seeds and fertilizers have more than doubled, which means that poor farmers have not been able to increase production. 


FAO also warns that lower prices for food, combined with the credit crunch, could force farmers to plant less, which would lead to another round of dramatic increases next year.  We have more information upstairs.


**Other Press Releases


In other news, yesterday, the FAO and the WFP released a joint report on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  The survey found that 40 per cent of the country’s population -- mostly young children, pregnant and nursing women, and the elderly -– will urgently need food assistance in the coming months. 


Over the weekend, FAO awarded its Ceres Medal to Liberia’s President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, in honour of her outstanding contribution to food security and agricultural development.  In conferring the medal, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf noted President Johnson-Sirleaf’s determination to invest in agriculture, despite the current international financial crisis. 


And UNESCO has launched its first-ever survey of historical and contemporary slavery.  Entitled “Unfinished Business”, the project is a comparative analysis of historical slave systems and modern forms of human bondage.  There is more information on all of these items upstairs.


**Press Conferences Today


There are several press conferences scheduled both today and tomorrow to mark tomorrow’s Human Rights Day and the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


At 1 p.m., General Assembly President Miguel d´Escoto Brockmann and Maude Barlow, an adviser to the GA President on water issues, will brief on issues relating to human rights and water.


At 2 p.m., we will have High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay

Following her press conference, there will be a launch of the World Public Opinion andthe Universal Declaration of Human Rights reports.


And finally, at 5 p.m., Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of UN Watch, will launch another report entitled “Eleanor's Dream:  How to Strengthen the UN Human Rights Council”.


**Press Conferences Tomorrow


Tomorrow at 11 a.m., in this room, there will be an NGO press conference sponsored by the US Mission on the presentation of the UN Petition for the Unborn Child.


And the new recipients of the UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights will brief you tomorrow at 5 p.m.


So there is a lot on your plate in the next 24 hours.  And that’s all I have for you today, thank you.  That’s enough, right?  Ronda, your turn.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  I have a question.  It was interesting and helpful to see, in the Secretary-General’s statement about terrorism, that we defend human rights that terrorism so brutally violates.  I wondered how that works out.  What way he is proposing the defence of human rights and if there is any way that has to do with the listing-delisting work, for example, of the Security Council, which there is a lot of complaints about, as a violation of human rights? 


Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General has very little control over that list, which is a Security Council list.  And first of all, congratulations, Ronda, on your prize.  And about your other question concerning how he plans to do that; I think you should be following the Secretary-General’s statements in the next few days.  He is going to speak at a human rights event that is going to take place in Geneva on the 12th.  And he is going to enunciate a little more clearly what he means by that; on the protection of human rights, even in instances of terrorism.


Question:  With regard to the listing-delisting, there has been recently in the news a Pakistani citizen who has said that he would like to come to speak with the Secretary-General about the fact he’s been put on the list.  And then there’s been prior, there have been decisions of the Court of Justice about people on the list who are supposed to be taken off and aren’t at this point.  And they’ve also raised the question of whether they could get an audience with the Secretary-General to raise the problem of this, because they are very frustrated in terms of the fact that there is no mechanism of their challenging this, it seems.  So, does he have any sense of his office and how his office responds to this, you know, desire of the people, either being put on the list, already on the list to hear from him about his view about this?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think he has been directly approached on what you mentioned, on the list issue.  If he has been, I’ll find out for you.  As far as I know, he hasn’t had any direct requests.  In terms of discussions of that sort, I think they go first through our Human Rights Commissioner.  And you will have her this afternoon at 2 and you can talk to her about this.  That wouldn’t go necessarily through the Secretary-General himself.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  On the European Union considering a bridge force to the Congo, it seems they didn’t make a decision on the Secretary-General’s request.  Do you have any; is he making calls?  Does he have any response to what is described as a sidestepping of his request by the European Union?


Spokesperson:  Right now, he hasn’t been informed officially by the European Union of its decision, so he’s waiting to hear from them.


Question:  There is a... it’s reported that the Turkish Cypriot leader, [Mehmet Ali] Talat, wrote a letter to the Secretary-General, I guess responding to what Cyprus had written making other points.  Has it been received and is Ban Ki-moon, does he have a response to it?


Spokesperson:  Well, it would go first, as you know, to our Special Envoy dealing with the issue of Cyprus.  In terms of the Secretary-General receiving another letter, I can check for you whether the letter was received.


[She later added that no such letter had been received.]


Question:  Okay, and does he have any either comment or (inaudible)...is there any UN response to the, in Greece, to the shooting and rioting that’s taking place in the last three days?


Spokesperson:  No, except that the Secretary-General has been following that issue quite closely.  He has no comments on it at this point.  Yes?


Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  On the Gaza Strip, you know, in the last few weeks some Member States here tried to send some (inaudible) to the Palestinians there.  But they were blocked by the Israeli authorities, as you know.  Does Mr. Ban Ki-moon think this step as a legitimate one by Israel to prevent these (inaudible) to go to the Gaza Strip?


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has not given any opinion on this specific action.  But the Secretary-General has been calling over and over again for easing the entrance of humanitarian aid to Gaza.  He has been very strong about it; this is probably one of the subjects he has addressed most often in the last few days.  He certainly has been asking for more humanitarian aid to go through the crossings that are manned by Israel.  So I am sure that his position is that humanitarian aid should be allowed in.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  Michèle, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, but has the Secretary-General decided on appointing a commission to probe into Ms. Benazir Bhutto’s assassination?  And her son is here to accept an award on her behalf.


Spokesperson:  As I said, this is not up to the Secretary-General himself.  This is a joint discussion that is taking place between the Pakistani authorities and the Secretary-General, in terms of what shape this commission will have.  So right now, they’re still in the same; I mean things are progressing, but they’re not at a point where they can announce yet a specific commission, and a way to specifically address the request by the Pakistani Government.


Question:  Can you say at some point what, do you think that this delay could be attributed to the (inaudible) Pakistan Government, is that (inaudible)?


Spokesperson:  Okay, I’ve been back and forth.  I mean, those are legal issues, how you set up the commission, how it is funded.  If it is an international commission, it has to be funded a certain way.  So those discussions are still going on.  So as far as I know, we don’t have yet a decision on that. And it is not going to be, as I said, a decision by the Secretary-General; it’s going to be a joint agreement.


Question:  The thing is that we don’t know who is delaying what.


Spokesperson:  I don’t think anybody is trying to deliberately delay that.  I think it was just a question of going back and forth.  And as you know, recent events have probably slowed down exchange on that specific issue. 


Question:  The Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari said that Serbia must recognize past wrongs on Kosovo before joining the European Union.  Does the Secretary-General maintain a similar viewpoint as Mr. Ahtisaari on recognizing past wrongs, whether for speeding up the process to reconciliation or any other purpose?


Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Ahtisaari was speaking on his own behalf, of course.  In terms of what the Secretary-General thinks of the whole issue, I think it was pretty clear in his latest report on Kosovo and what he has been saying about the issue.  Yes, George?


Question:  With reference to these border-crossing closures in Gaza, based on his various conversations with Mr. Olmert, does he get any particular feedback from the Israeli side as to their rationale for closing the border passages or do they simply...  I know the Israelis have said on the record that it all depends on Hamas, and so long as Hamas attacks Israel and fires rockets into Israeli towns; that’s what the thing depends on.  Do you have any feedback from the Israeli side or has the Secretary-General, in his conversations with Olmert, received any such feedback?


Spokesperson:  I think you should address your question to the Israeli Government on the rationale that they have.  Yes, Masood?


Question:  (inaudible) is there any update on this release of the Palestinian prisoners by the Israeli Government?


Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have any updates on that.  This is something, as you know, that is a bilateral matter.  The Secretary-General had called for the release of the prisoners.  But we don’t have any update on how many have been released and where we are.  I will try to ask at least our people on the ground whether they have any information.  And we’ll try to find out for you how many people were released, if so.


Question:  Can the Secretariat confirm that the Quartet will meet in New York on 15 December?


Spokesperson:  Yes, it will.  I can confirm that.  I heard that it was announced by one of the members of the Quartet -- actually one of the envoys –- that’s what was in the press today.  I can confirm that they will be meeting here on 15 December in the afternoon.  It will be followed by the usual press conference that we have at 4 p.m. in Conference Room 4, so you’ll be able to know what has happened there.  And the Secretary-General is going to then host, the members of the Quartet and a number of Arab Foreign Ministers at a discussion.  I don’t have a list of attendees yet, and as soon as I have one, of course, you will be informed.


Question:  Would you know if Tony Blair will brief the Security Council?  Has that been decided yet?


Spokesperson:  There will be a meeting of the Security Council the next day, as a far as I know, but from what I gather it is going to be on Somalia.  But you can ask the Council whether they’re planning to, whether the issue of the Middle East is going to be raised again.


Question:  (inaudible) not clear whether… the Council first said the President of the Council said that Tony Blair had been invited, then he said, well he hasn’t been invited, but we’re seeing if he is coming.  Is there a way to find out whether in fact…?


Spokesperson:  You can get that from the Security Council people.


Question:  Who called for this meeting, Michèle, the Quartet on 15 December?


Spokesperson:  All the members spoke on the phone and they agreed that there should be one, and that’s why it is taking place on the 15th, and it is taking place here at Headquarters.  As you know, it takes place in different places at different times.  That’s all I have for you.  Thank you so much.


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For information media • not an official record