|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’s Trip Announcement
The Secretary-General will embark on an official trip next week. He will first head to Moscow, in the Russian Federation, to participate in a conference on Afghanistan. That gathering is being held on 27 March under the auspices of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and will focus on the impact that the situation in Afghanistan is having on its neighbouring States. It will also examine ways for States to jointly tackle threats emanating from Afghanistan, including terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime.
Following the conference in Moscow, the Secretary-General will go to Doha, Qatar, to take part in a League of Arab States summit. There, he will exchange views with Arab leaders on a variety of topics, including the Middle East peace process, Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan and Somalia.
The Secretary-General’s next stop will again focus on Afghanistan, as he helps to open the International Conference on Afghanistan, being held in The Hague, in the Netherlands, on 31 March. Building on the achievements of the conferences held in Bonn, London and, most recently, in Paris last year, this Conference will take a comprehensive look at the current political, security and development issues being faced in Afghanistan and discuss upcoming policy choices.
The Secretary-General will then head to the United Kingdom for the G-20’s [Group of Twenty] London Summit for Stability, Growth and Jobs, which is to be held on 2 April. The G-20 Summit will be taking place against the backdrop of a global recession, with falling trade and rising unemployment. The Secretary-General will call on G-20 leaders to resist protectionism, and to commit to actions that will support developing countries through the crisis, including the poorest and most vulnerable.
From London, the Secretary-General will travel to Paris, France, to meet with the United Nations System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), which meets twice a year and comprises the heads of United Nations agencies, funds and programmes. During a retreat, CEB will discuss the global financial crisis and what the United Nations system is doing to respond to it. It will also review the work of the United Nations system in certain key areas, including security, managerial coordination, system-wide coherence and climate change, as well as political, economic and social developments throughout the world.
The Secretary-General’s final stop will be Istanbul, Turkey. There, he will attend the second Forum of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations, which is being held from 6 to 7 April. The Forum will work to address ongoing tensions and divides across cultures and religions, and to examine some of the broader challenges of good governance and cultural diversity in an age of rapidly accelerating globalization. It will convene a network of global leaders and heads of international organizations, corporations, media, civil society and youth groups, to forge partnerships and build interaction between diverse communities.
The Security Council began its work this morning with an open briefing by Ambassador Jorge Urbina of Costa Rica on the Council’s mission last week to Haiti, which he headed.
The Council then went into closed consultations to hear an update on the work of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) from the head of that Mission, Ellen Løj.
Then, at 3 this afternoon, the Security Council will hold an open meeting to discuss the work of the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, will begin with a briefing to present the Secretary-General’s recent report on that Mission.
In that report, the Secretary-General details United Nations support for the Afghan elections that are scheduled to take place on 20 August. He notes that UNAMA has established a unit to work with political parties, observers, civil society and others to promote a political climate that is conductive to free and fair elections.
The report notes that the past year has been one of shaping UNAMA to better meet the expectations placed upon it, with Eide reorganizing the Mission to meet the needs of 2009.
Mr. Eide plans to speak to reporters at the stakeout once the Security Council meeting has finished. I can’t give you a specific time, but, of course, we will let you know when that will happen, probably between 5 and 6 o’clock, we hope.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Alan Doss, is continuing his security and humanitarian assessment mission to North Kivu. He has held meetings in various towns with Congolese civilian and military authorities, as well as with women groups. The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says that Doss’ interlocutors denounced the insecurity and the spate of sexual violence against women. In response, the Special Representative pledged to strengthen the presence of peacekeepers in the region. He said the Mission will beef up its logistical support to the Congolese army to flush out illegal armed groups from the region. He told representatives of women groups that a stronger United Nations presence in the region will help impose discipline within the armed forces. All this should, in turn, help contain and prevent sexual violence, he said.
Doss also visited the sites of various projects launched in the context of the recently-adopted regional stabilization and development plan.
The United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) today opened a conference in Baghdad on strategies to promote women’s rights in Iraq.
“Over the years, the women of Iraq have borne the brunt of the effects of violence, conflict and sanctions,” said David Shearer, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Iraq, in his opening remarks. “We have an obligation to make women the centre of Iraq’s recovery and ensure they thrive in their homes, schools, jobs and in public life,” he added.
The conference will produce a series of recommendations to Iraq’s Government and Parliament on issues holding back women’s equality in Iraq. It aims to set a strategy to improve women’s political participation and to provide constitutional guarantees that address violence against women and the general impact of conflict.
The Secretary-General’s latest report on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo, or UNMIK, is available today. In it, he notes that there is a perception among many Kosovo Albanians that UNMIK’s continued presence is an unwelcome obstacle to the desire for Kosovo to function as a sovereign State.
On the other hand, many Kosovo Serbs continue to reject the authority of Kosovo institutions derived from the -– quote -– “Constitution of the Republic of Kosovo” -– end of quote.
For its part, UNMIK has accelerated its reconfiguration process, with its functions being adapted to respond to profoundly changed circumstances on the ground.
On the European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, or EULEX, the Secretary-General notes its assumption of operational functions in the rule of law sector. He adds that this coordinated effort was accomplished without significant security incidents, and with the support of both Pristina and Belgrade. In that sense, it constitutes a major milestone in the international involvement in Kosovo, and a positive example of cooperation between the United Nations and the European Union.
The Secretary-General again notes the commitment of EULEX to operate under the overall authority and within the status-neutral framework of the United Nations. And he stresses that its deployment and role in Kosovo need to continue to take into account the specific circumstances and concerns of all communities.
He also notes that EULEX has begun to submit reports to the United Nations on its activities on a regular basis. And, of course, the report is available.
** Sri Lanka
The United Nations in Sri Lanka is saddened to learn of the death of a national staff member of the non-governmental organization CARE.
He died of injuries sustained as a result of shelling inside the no-fire zone, compounded by a lack of sufficient medical care.
Unfortunately, the death of Mr. [R.] Sabesan is an insight into the larger circumstances confronting civilians trapped by fighting in the conflict area.
The United Nations extends its condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Mr. Sabesan.
While food prices have fallen internationally, that decline is not as fast in developing countries.
That’s one of the findings of a new food price index launched by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). This interactive Internet tool -- covering 55 developing countries -- shows the prices of different food commodities and allows for price comparisons between domestic and international markets, as well as between countries. We have a press release on this upstairs.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says that investing 1 per cent of the world’s GDP -- or around $750 billion -– into five key sectors could lead to a Global Green New Deal.
The five key sectors identified are construction; renewable energy; ecological infrastructure; sustainable transport; and sustainable agriculture.
UNEP says that investments in these areas in conjunction with other measures could play an important role in reviving the global economy and boosting employment while accelerating the fight against climate change, environmental degradation and poverty.
These findings are part of a new UNEP policy brief launched in advance of the G-20 meeting. And there is more on this, of course, upstairs.
And a new report by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) says that the current economic crisis reflects failures of national and international financial deregulation, persistent imbalances. It also reflects the absence of a rule-based international monetary system and deep inconsistencies among global trading policies, among others.
The report also stresses the need to revive and extend multilateralism in a globalizing world. It adds that the United Nations must play a central role in guiding this reform process.
We have also more on this upstairs.
Press Conference Tomorrow
And following tomorrow morning’s Security Council debate on Somalia, there will be a press conference by Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia.
And this is all I have for you today. And, of course, you will in a few minutes have more from our General Assembly Spokesperson. Yes, Mr. Abbadi.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, Michèle. Michèle, is there any reaction from the Secretary-General to the news made public today that, during the campaign in Gaza, some Israeli soldiers shot [inaudible] unjustifiably civilians, including children and women?
Spokesperson: Well, he is aware of it. He has read the press reports like you have. We don’t have the report yet from the Israel Defence Forces from that period. As you know, the Secretary-General is expecting and he was promised that he would get a full report, a full investigation on what happened there. Yes, Benny.
Question: Michèle, yesterday, the Washington Post reported on, basically that Galbraith was named as, was going to be the number two in Afghanistan. Any confirmation again…?
Spokesperson: No. The process is still going on.
Question: And to follow up…
Spokesperson: And, as you know, there are two posts of Deputy Special Representatives of the Secretary-General that had to be filled in Afghanistan. The process is ongoing.
Question: And is Galbraith a candidate for one of them?
Spokesperson: He is a candidate, yes.
Question: Is he on the shortlist?
Spokesperson: I don’t have any more comments on that.
Question: No shortlist?
Spokesperson: I don’t have anything more to say about this.
Question: Okay, one more question. This is a follow-up on a question that I asked earlier and yet I am still at sea on that. During that whole flap about deadbeats, the Secretary-General mentioned that the United States owes $1 billion soon to be $1.6 billion. So far, according to the United States Mission, all they owe is $400 [million]. Nobody has been able to explain the discrepancy to me between $400 million and $1.6 billion. That’s quite a large discrepancy. Is there any details on that that?
Spokesperson: I can give you some details. There is a breakdown.
Question: You have a breakdown?
Question: Sure, a couple of questions. One is the Lebanese Justice Minister has deflected questions about who the judges are of the Tribunal, saying that only the United Nations can release them. But his quote is that “Ban Ki-moon owes the Lebanese authority an explanation for not releasing the names.” So I am wondering, I mean, maybe you’ve said it before -- what is the explanation for not…?
Spokesperson: The explanation is security. It has to do with the security of those judges.
Question: And is it his understanding the Lebanese authorities are convinced by that? I am assuming that…
Spokesperson: I’m sure that the decision of not releasing the names was taken in agreement with the Lebanese Government.
Question: Okay. I also wanted to ask about this World Water Forum. It’s said that 118 organizations and 33 countries have called on Ban Ki-moon to withdraw his support from the sea or water mandate, which is, it’s Global Compact-related, in which companies, many of which are involved in the privatization of water, are operating under the United Nations. So I guess water activists have said that the United Nations shouldn’t be a part of this corporate water grab, in their words. Is he aware of that call and what’s his, how does he justify…?
Spokesperson: As far as I know, he is not. But, of course, I’ll ask upstairs whether anything has been formally received on that count, of course.
Question: And just one thing, since you mentioned it. On Sri Lanka, Lakhdar Brahimi has written a piece in the International Herald Tribune about Sri Lanka, as a United Nations official. He says United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon should insist on immediate access for United Nations staff and should appoint a Special Representative to work with the Government of Sri Lanka and all relevant parties to guarantee the rights of endangered civilians. Is Ban Ki-moon aware of this call by one of his senior, a long-time senior United Nations person?
Spokesperson: Yes, and as you know, he has a lot of respect for Mr. Brahimi. And of course, he is listening to what Mr. Brahimi is saying. It doesn’t mean that there will be… I don’t have any information on follow-up action on that. As you know, we have been in constant touch with the Sri Lankan Government about the situation.
Question: But didn’t this killing take place after the call where he said…? I mean [interrupted].
Spokesperson: That call is constant.
Question: Michèle, thank you. The Spokesperson’s Office recognized that the Secretary-General has received the letter from the 16 international figures, including Mr. Desmond Tutu, asking that the Secretary-General expand the [ Gaza] investigation to include other acts, and I was wondering whether you have a reaction by now after receiving this letter.
Spokesperson: No. As I said yesterday, the letter is under review and I’ll give you a reaction as soon as I can. This is being discussed and, as soon as I have a reaction, I’ll give it to you.
Question: So is the Secretary-General waiting first for the report of the panel before taking a decision on such an appeal by the [inaudible] figures?
[The Spokesperson later clarified that the open letter from prominent jurists and the Board of Inquiry (set up to review and investigate a number of specific incidents that occurred in the Gaza Strip between 27 December 2008 and 19 January 2009 and in which death or injuries occurred at, and/or damage was done to, United Nations premises) are two separate subjects. Any reaction to the letter, which is currently being reviewed, would not be related to the report of the Board of Inquiry, which is expected by the end of this month.]
Question: A follow-up on Mr. Galbraith. Apparently, according to the Washington Post, that he has already been appointed as the [interrupted].
Spokesperson: Masood, I just said this is not the case.
Question: It’s not the case?
Question: But the thing is, wasn’t he to be selected to be on the panel where Benazir Bhutto’s investigation was concerned?
Spokesperson: I’ll check on that for you.
Question: What about UNDP’s [United Nations Development Programme] post? Is there any shortlist?
Spokesperson: As of this morning, we still don’t have a decision on that yet.
Question: Is there a shortlist?
Spokesperson: I don’t have a shortlist to communicate to you.
Question: Is he nearing a decision now?
Spokesperson: Yes, they’re getting closer to a decision.
Question: Who is running UNDP now?
Spokesperson: Of course, there is a deputy at UNDP, who is the acting Director.
Question: So Mr. Melkert…
Question: So Melkert is the acting Director?
Spokesperson: Yes. Yes, Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Michèle, regarding the reforms of the Secretariat, the Secretary-General, as you know, has been experimenting with a degree of internal mobility. How is that experiment going?
Spokesperson: We’ll try to get someone to talk to you here about what that experiment has given so far and what is expected. And of course, it would be someone from management who should come and talk to you about this.
Question: When would that be?
Spokesperson: I don’t know. I have to ask first to have someone qualified to come and discuss this with you. And I’d love to do that, sure. Okay, thank you so much. Enrique, yours.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Good afternoon to everybody.
Today I wanted to provide you with an update and an overview of two of the major efforts that the President of the General Assembly is trying to do in his work this year -- that is the reform of the Security Council and the reform of the international financial structure. I know some of you have been asking me where we are on both issues. So I am going to give you a little bit of an overview in these two issues.
On the first one, Security Council reform, as you know, we started the intergovernmental negotiations and Ambassador [Zahir] Tanin [ Afghanistan, PGA-designated facilitator] with the Member countries decided that they were going to divide the negotiations in five different themes. Already the first round of negotiations have taken place on the first two issues. The first one was “categories of membership” and they had a preliminary round on 4 March. And this week, on Monday and Tuesday, the Member countries have been negotiating on the “question of the veto”. We have scheduled for 24 March the discussion and the negotiations for “the regional representation”, then 9 April on “the size of an enlarged Council and working methods of the Security Council”, and finally, on 21 April, on “the relationship between the Council and the General Assembly”. As I said, these are the five themes where the negotiations are taking place. It is expected that a second round of negotiations will be starting in May. And that is basically where we are on the Security Council reform.
In terms of the reform of the global financial and economic architecture, as you know, in Doha last December, the President of the General Assembly was given a mandate to organize a meeting at the highest level possible during this year. He is going to convene that meeting. The modalities, that is the details, are still being negotiated right now. But most likely we’re aiming to have a three-day conference in the beginning of June -- 1, 2 and 3 June. The idea in that meeting at the highest level possible with Heads of State will be to basically address two major issues. One, the short-term measure requirements that are needed because of the financial crisis; and second, the reform of the global financial and economic architecture for the future. As you know, parallel to that, the President of the General Assembly asked a commission of experts, coordinated by Dr. Joseph Stiglitz, and they have been working on a basic paper that will be presented as the base for negotiations for the Member countries.
The commission already met the first time here in New York, if you remember, at the beginning of January. They had a second meeting a couple of weeks ago in Geneva. There is going to be a third meeting coming up next week. We will have a press conference with Joseph Stiglitz and some members of the commission and some members of the President’s cabinet to explain to you what this preliminary report contains. And then there will be for three days an interactive dialogue with the Member countries to present them these preliminary ideas. And as a result of that meeting, they will have a third meeting of the commission the following week, the week of 27 March.
So that is basically where we are on that particular issue. That document, as I said, will be the basis for negotiations for the high-level meeting that will take place in the first week of June, if everything goes as it is planned.
And that is basically what I have on those two particular issues. Let me now give you the floor if you have any questions. I have Edith and Mr. Abbadi (inaudible).
**Questions and Answers
Question: Enrique, can you clarify the dates? The 20th is the day after tomorrow. Tomorrow, sorry.
Spokesperson: The commission’s preliminary report will be made available to Member States and the public through the [General Assembly President] website as promised, on Friday, 20 March.
Question: So that’s tomorrow.
Spokesperson: That’s tomorrow. And then the commission will hold, sorry I correct myself, you’re right. The commission… (I should have used my glasses before, I think) The commission will hold its third plenary session at the United Nations here in New York next Friday afternoon, that’s on 27 March. Okay. So I advise you to go the website of the President of the General Assembly. All the documents are there, and in any case, as soon as we have the preliminary report available, I will distribute it to the journalists. And thanks for the clarification. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thanks Enrique. I would like to go back to the press conference given by the President of the General Assembly a few days ago. He indicated that there is wide (inaudible) regarding the lack of wide representation of Africa in the Security Council. Does he mean that from the point of view of the (inaudible) 18 seats or the permanent veto status seats, or both?
Spokesperson: He meant both. He meant in general and in the Security Council. But you know, this is not, it is not only the view of President of the General Assembly. It’s a very wide opinion among all the Member countries from one extreme to the other that the current representation of the Security Council does not reflect the realities of the twenty-first century. And that is basically one of the things on which most of them agree. And the lack of representation of Africa and other emerging countries is an issue, and this is part of, these are part of the negotiations to see how that can be solved. Benny?
Question: There was yesterday, I’m told a meeting of the Fifth Committee on the Capital Master Plan. Is there any concern in the Fifth Committee about budget?
Spokesperson: Let me check that. I am not familiar with what happened yesterday. I will check it for you. Khaled?
Question: And also, since that press conference, several ambassadors have told us that some of the things that were said, especially what he said about the [International Criminal Court], do not reflect, or he was not authorized, according to one ambassador, to say that by the General Assembly. How do you settle that discrepancy?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t have anything to add to what the President of the General Assembly said in that meeting, in the press conference, a couple of days ago. But, if I may, this is an Organization with 192 Member countries and they’re very different and have several opinions on all the different issues. When the President of the General Assembly says that he is saying what some Member countries or a majority of Member countries are telling him, this is basically his position as the President of the General Assembly. Khaled?
Question: Yes, please Enrique. I just want to go back to the intergovernmental negotiations and the Security Council reform. I was wondering, what’s the product of these meetings like after each round of these sessions, what happens and what’s going to happen? Like, how does it work? Do you produce documents? Do you have a deadline for these meetings to finish?
Spokesperson: They don’t produce documents because these are negotiations. They are basically trying… it’s a working method. They have decided to have these five different thematic issues and they’re trying to get closer in all the different positions on all those particular issues. And then after that, in order to reinforce the negotiation, we’ll have a second round of negotiations. And then at that point, as you all know, they will have to decide whether there is an agreement, whether there is a consensus or whether on some of the issues or on the whole, they should go to the General Assembly as such and ask for a vote and request to (inaudible) some of these proposals that the Member countries are putting on the table. But right now it is a negotiating process. And that means that the different Member countries are trying to work jointly to get close their different positions.
Question: Sorry, just a follow-up to Khaled’s question. Can you tell us, what are the main proposals or the main conclusions regarding the two issues discussed so far, the category of membership and veto issues? What are the main outlines of these negotiations so far?
Spokesperson: As I said, this is an ongoing process. Let’s finish the first round of negotiations and then I can ask Ambassador Tanin or some of the people who are directly involved in the negotiations to come and give you more details. I wouldn’t like to go into so much detail at this particular stage.
Question: But they have already finished negotiating about these issues, right?
Spokesperson: They have already finished the first round of negotiations. We’re going to have a second round of negotiations in May on the same issues. By the end of May, we’ll have a very clear picture on what are the different positions and how do we move forward. Matthew?
Question: Sure. Enrique, I just want to know if there has been, if you could say what the status is of Madagascar’s seat in the General Assembly -- who is representing it, given what is described as a coup and the African Union’s response to it? What happens here? From the General Assembly’s point of view, who is in charge? If you can speak to that, what happens when there is a coup in the country?
Spokesperson: Well, right now we have a Permanent Representative representing Madagascar, and he is a Permanent Representative of his country. So in that particular case, nothing has changed at all.
Question: (Inaudible) he now represents what was described as the opposition leader?
Spokesperson: Well, he represents Madagascar. And then there is a process in diplomacy when a country wants to change -- whatever country -- wants to change the Permanent Representative, then there is a diplomatic process where they will present another Ambassador. But, as far as I know, in this particular case, no action has been taken.
Question: Just indulge me for a second. If the Permanent Representative of Madagascar came to the General Assembly President today with a proposal of some kind, would you ask “who are you representing?” or would you just say…?
Spokesperson: Well, from the legal point of view, he is the Permanent Representative of Madagascar.
Question: You mentioned Joseph Stiglitz would be giving a press briefing here?
Spokesperson: Next week. We have not decided the date yet. Most likely on Thursday. Either Thursday or Friday, I’ll let you know more precisely.
Question: Also, you mentioned the meeting, kind of a meeting, from 1 to 3 June. Will that be here?
Spokesperson: Yes. That’s the idea right now.
Question: How high level will it be?
Spokesperson: Well, as I said, at the highest possible level, and on the highest possible level are Heads of State, so… George?
Question: That was the second half of my question, when the press conference was going to be. Obviously this has something to do with the economy of the world crisis. What is the exact title of this commission headed by Professor Stiglitz? Commission on…?
Spokesperson: Let me do it by heart, but I think it’s the right one: It is the commission of experts of the President of the General Assembly on the financial crisis and its impact on the developing world.
Question: And Professor Stiglitz from Columbia is the chairman?
Spokesperson: Yeah, he is the coordinator. Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Enrique, thank you. I’d like to go back again to the press conference given by the President of the General Assembly. He did say in response to a question that he is confident that something will happen this year as far as the reforms of the Council are concerned. And he did say that there is this wide agreement on lack of wider representation of Africa. Give us a hint, what does he mean by something will happen during this year? Does he mean specifically that Africa will have a larger representation this year or something will be announced about that representation?
Spokesperson: I think the question that is being asked by many people, including you, including us, is can these reforms of the Security Council be completed in this period, in the sixty-third session, while the President of the General Assembly is Mr. d’Escoto Brockmann? Well, that is most likely an optimistic vision. It would be, we’re trying to do, and the President of the General Assembly is trying to do his best to finish this cycle. But this is, as you know, a very complex reform. It is a very complex negotiation. It has taken 16 or 17 years without moving at all. So what the President keeps saying is that he believes that -- he hopes that -- at least since we have now five different themes, that in some of these, we will move for sure. Whether we will be able to move on all the five, well it’s up to the Member countries. And that is what he was referring to -- that he hopes and he expects that at least in this year we will move in some areas on the reform of the Security Council, whether it is on the full reform or on some of them. And this is -- as I said -- is an ongoing process. Whatever is left, it will be left for the following presidency or the General Assembly. But certainly, it’s an ongoing process that will be either this year or next year finished and complete.
If there are no more questions, thank you very much. See you tomorrow.
* *** *For information media • not an official record