20 May 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

 


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.


Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


Good afternoon.


I think what I’ll do is I am going to read to you those items that we do not have handouts for.


One item is the Secretary-General, who was in Geneva earlier today.  He, as you know, is now on his way back to New York.  While in Geneva, he did meet with Justice Richard Goldstone, who was appointed last month by the Human Rights Council to lead an independent fact-finding mission to investigate international human rights and humanitarian law violations relating to the recent conflict in Gaza.  Also present in that meeting were members of Justice Goldstone’s team and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.


The Secretary-General was briefed about the mission’s work plan and reiterated his support for the work of the mission.  He said he hoped the mission’s work would proceed smoothly with cooperation by the concerned parties and send a positive message to the international community about accountability.


So that’s on Justice Goldstone’s meeting with the Secretary-General, and upstairs we do have the full transcript of Justice Goldstone’s remarks to the press.


** Pakistan


Masood, you had asked a question yesterday on Pakistan about the appeal.  I have been informed now by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) that the UN flash appeal is now expected on Friday, to be launched in Pakistan.


You also asked about an amount being sought by Pakistan to meet the demands there.  As you know, as I just mentioned, the flash appeal will be launched, but the amount in the UN appeal, of course, is based on the needs of UN agencies and partners to deal with the immediate needs on the ground.


** Sri Lanka


On Sri Lanka, we do have upstairs the notes today from the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) which you can look at, and it does paint a rather desperate situation on the ground in trying to bring assistance to now 280,000 people who have fled the fighting.  And UNHCR is expressing concern about restrictions imposed by the authorities are hindering the agency’s access and ability to deliver the assistance, especially in Vavuniya.


** Myanmar


And on Myanmar, at the invitation of the Myanmar Government, the UN Resident Coordinator in Myanmar, along with the diplomatic corps in Yangon, attended Wednesday’s session of the trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  He attended the session on behalf of the UN system.  Following the session, three members of the diplomatic corps were invited by the Myanmar Government to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi: Singapore, as dean of the diplomatic corps; Thailand, as ASEAN chair; and Russia, as President of the Security Council.  The UN Resident Coordinator was subsequently briefed by the three ambassadors on the meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.


**Other Items


We also have a note upstairs on the Security Council mission to Liberia. and the UNOMIG report.  Out on the racks is the Secretary-General’s report that you’ve all been waiting for.  That’s out on the racks now. 


We have a press release from Darfur today by Joint Special Representative on the recent fighting on the Chad-Sudan border.


And we also have a note from the humanitarian affairs office on the Democratic Republic of the Congo about the civilian population there increasingly becoming being victims of looting, exploitations, killings and rape.


The UNHCR note also has a number of other items including on the displacement in Somalia. 


We also have a note on the upcoming climate change meeting, the Copenhagen climate change meeting, upstairs that’s put out by the UNFCCC.


And finally, I was asked yesterday about the Secretary-General’s position, I think Nizar was the one who asked me on the recent meeting between [United States] President [Barack] Obama and Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu of Israel, and the idea of a two-State solution.


The Secretary-General himself actually answered that question at his press conference in Geneva yesterday.  He said he was encouraged by that meeting and noted that President Obama will hold a meeting with President [Mahmoud] Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, as well.  The Secretary-General said he hoped that this series of meetings will serve as a good foundation for continuing negotiations.


And he highlighted the international community’s wish for a two-State solution and reiterated that there should be two countries living side by side in peace and security.


And finally, we have an Secretary-General’s message delivered by the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, Kiyo Akasaka, to announce a trust fund for the Permanent Memorial at the UN to honour the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.


We do have a statement upstairs attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the passing away of Ms. Helvi Sipilä, at the age of 94.  A lifelong champion of the rights of women, she served as Secretary-General of the first World Conference on Women in 1975 in Mexico City.  And you can pick up that statement upstairs.


[After the abbreviated briefing, the Office of the Spokesperson distributed the full text of today’s noon briefing, as it had intended to be read.  Following the items below, a transcript of today’s question and answer session is provided.]


**Guest -- Press Conferences Today


The guest today was Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, who briefed on the latest developments and challenges in peacekeeping.


At 1 p.m. today here in S-226, in a press conference sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Spain, Joana Caparrós, President of Women Together, Pilar Ribal, Vice-President of Women Together, Petra Mateos, President of Hispasat, and Patricia Velásquez, actress and model, will present their activities at United Nations Headquarters on 20 and 21 May.


**Secretary-General in Geneva


The Secretary-General left Geneva this morning and is now on his way back to New York.  We expect him back at Headquarters later this afternoon.  While in Geneva today, the Secretary-General met with representatives of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and UN Plus, the group which brings together UN staff who are living with HIV.


The Secretary-General also met with Justice Richard Goldstone, who was appointed last month by the Human Rights Council to lead an independent fact-finding mission to investigate international human rights and humanitarian law violations related to the recent conflict in Gaza.  Also present in that meeting were members of Justice Goldstone’s team and High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.


The Secretary-General was briefed about the mission’s work plan and reiterated his support to the work of the mission.  He said he hoped the mission’s work would proceed smoothly with cooperation by the concerned parties and send a positive message to the international community about accountability.


** Gaza


Justice Goldstone also spoke to the press today in Geneva.  He said the Gaza fact-finding mission was still in the planning stage.  He also said he was “disappointed” that he had not received any positive response from the Israeli Government.  His wish, he said, was to visit southern Israel, go into Gaza “through the front door”, and also go to the West Bank, which is to be included in his mission.


Goldstone noted that he would be holding a number of public hearings -- hopefully in the region, but if that was not possible, then in Geneva.  He also said field work had to be completed by the end of June and that 4 August is the date on which the team’s report will be handed over.  Upstairs we have the full transcript of his press encounter upstairs.


** Pakistan


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says thousands of people displaced by fighting in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province continue to arrive in camps and registration centres in the province.  On average, about 100,000 people are being registered daily in 89 registration centres established across the Province.


UNHCR reports that 15 new camps established this month to take care of an influx of displaced civilians are already full.  So there is an urgent need to identify new sites for camps.  The agency is planning to set up more registration centres to ensure speedy access to assistance for thousands of newly expected displaced persons. 


UNHCR is already assisting the authorities to carry out a fast track registration process of all the displaced persons.  In the meantime, a humanitarian appeal is scheduled to be launched on Friday, in Islamabad, by the United Nations and its partners in Pakistan.


** Sri Lanka


In Sri Lanka, UNHCR has expressed concern over conditions in the camps set up for persons displaced by the recent fighting.  It is now estimated that up to 80,000 people have left the fighting zone in the last three days alone.  This brings the total number of people who have fled the fighting in the last several months to 280,000.


UNHCR is highlighting problems of overcrowding and limited services in the camps, especially in terms of hygiene, health and shelter.  The agency continues to support the Government to address these problems by building 10,000 additional shelters.


But UNHCR is expressing concern that restrictions imposed by the authorities are hindering the agency’s access and ability to deliver humanitarian assistance to needy civilians, especially in the district Vavuniya.


** Myanmar


At the invitation of the Myanmar Government, the United Nations Resident Coordinator in Myanmar, along with the diplomatic corps in Yangon, attended Wednesday’s session of the trial of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  He attended the session on behalf of the United Nations system.  Following the session, three members of the diplomatic corps were invited by the Myanmar Government to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi: Singapore, as dean of the diplomatic corps; Thailand, as Chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN); and the Russian Federation, as President of the Security Council.  The United Nations Resident Coordinator was subsequently briefed by the three ambassadors on the meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.


**Security Council in Liberia


The Security Council delegation visiting Africa has been holding consultations today in the Liberia capital, Monrovia, with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and key members of her Government.  The discussions focused on peace, security, economic recovery and development.  The subject of the drawdown of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was also on the agenda.


Earlier today, the Council members visited the Liberia National Police Academy, where the United Nations has been assisting the Government to recruit, train and deploy new professional police officers.  Before that, the team attended a community-empowerment programme, where they observed a graduation ceremony for female ex-combatants who have completed training in dressmaking and related skills.


The delegation also held discussions with some key business leaders in Liberia, including representatives of the world steel giant company Arcelor Mittal and Buchanan Renewable Energy -- two companies that are important sources of revenue and jobs in Liberia.


On arrival in Liberia on Tuesday, the Council members held consultations with top United Nations officials and key diplomats who make up the International Contact Group on Liberia.  Also at this meeting were the Ambassadors of China and Libya, as well as the representatives of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in Liberia.  The Security Council team leaves Liberia later today to return to United Nations Headquarters.


**United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia


Out on the racks today is the Secretary-General’s report pursuant to Security Council resolutions 1808 (2008), 1839 (2008) and 1866 (2009).  It provides an update on the activities of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and contains recommendations on future activities of the Mission.


The report notes that the Mission has continued its activities on both sides of the ceasefire line, contributing to the general stability and security of the local population, in particular in the Gali district.  But, given the continued erosion of the security regime, an agreement on a revised security regime is essential for a long-term stabilization and a viable United Nations role in the region.


Included in this recommended new regime would be a strict adherence to the ceasefire on land, at sea and in the air, and to the principle of the non-use of force.


** Darfur


The African Union-United Nations Joint Special Representative in Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, called today for an end to recent fighting near the Chadian-Sudanese border and urged the two countries to refrain from escalating tensions between them.


He urged the Governments of Chad and Sudan to refrain from any act that may lead to a further escalation of tensions, which could exacerbate the suffering of Darfur’s civilians, particularly the many internally displaced persons and refugees in the region.


The poor state of relations between Chad and Sudan constitutes one of the biggest threats to efforts to secure lasting peace for the people of Darfur, he said.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says it is concerned over the protection of civilians in South Kivu.  Since April, civilian populations have increasingly been victims of lootings, extortions, killings and rape.  According to OCHA, this harassment by armed men has followed the announcement of military operations by the Forces Armées Congolaises (FARDC) against the Forces Démocratiques pour la Liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) in South Kivu.


OCHA particularly stresses a surge in sexual violence in South Kivu since the beginning of this year.  It says that 463 rape cases have already been registered during the first quarter of 2009 -- which represents more than half of the total cases registered last year.  It adds that most of the sexual violence is committed by soldiers and members of the various armed groups active in the area.


OCHA says it is strengthening advocacy for the protection of civilians in South Kivu.  OCHA officials have met the Vice-Governor and the Chief of Staff of the Governor of the province to convey the concerns of the humanitarian community regarding the protection of civilians and humanitarian access.  During that meeting, they agreed to reconstitute a coordination mechanism between humanitarian organizations and the South Kivu authorities.


** Somalia


On Somalia, UNHCR is deeply concerned about the rise in the number of displaced people in the Somali capital of Mogadishu, despite a recent lull in fighting.  It says the number of displaced has rapidly risen to 45,000.


The agency adds that many of them are fleeing to the Afgooye corridor, south-west of Mogadishu.  These sprawling makeshift camps which have sprung up over the past two years are already hosting an estimated 400,000 people.


According to UNHCR, the deteriorating security situation has sharply decreased humanitarian access.  However, UNHCR is leading other agencies to respond to the most urgent needs -- shelter and other basic supplies.


UNHCR is reporting that the number of Somali refugees fleeing to the neighbouring countries of Kenya and Yemen is rising daily.  The north-eastern Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya is hosting a record 272,000 refugees, the overwhelming majority of whom are Somalis.  This is three times the number for which Dadaab was originally designed.


The agency also reports that they are appealing to Kenyan authorities for additional land allocation to decongest the camp.  They are also appealing to donors for additional funding in order to assist the growing number of the refugees.  There is more in the UNHCR briefing notes upstairs.


**Climate Change


With only 200 days before Copenhagen, time gets tighter, but the world is not standing still on climate change.  That’s according to the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Yvo de Boer.


Mr. de Boer pointed today to the “encouraging developments” in the area of climate change negotiations over the past 100 days as the central text to be negotiated ahead of the Copenhagen climate change summit in December was posted on the UNFCCC website.  The UNFCCC Executive Secretary said that this document marked an important point on the road to Copenhagen, adding that the text can serve as a basis for Governments to start drafting an agreed outcome.


The 53-page text covers the issues of a shared vision for long-term cooperative action, along with enhanced action on adaptation, mitigation and finance, technology and capacity-building.  There is more on this upstairs.


**Israel-United States


I was asked yesterday about the Secretary-General’s position on the recent meeting between President Barack Obama of the United States and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and the idea of a two-State solution.


The Secretary-General actually answered this question himself at his press conference in Geneva yesterday.  He said he was encouraged by the Obama-Netanyahu meeting and noted that President Obama will hold a meeting with President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority, as well.  The Secretary-General said he hoped that this series of meetings will serve as a good foundation for continuing negotiations.


He highlighted the international community’s wish for a two-State solution and reiterated that there should be two countries living side by side in peace and security.


**Slavery


Under Secretary-General Kiyo Akasaka delivered a message today on behalf of the Secretary-General, to announce a trust fund for the Permanent Memorial at the United Nations to honour the victims of slavery and the transatlantic slave trade.


Referring to the major part in world history played by the 400-year trade, the Secretary-General emphasized the importance of continued study of its causes, as well as the United Nations commitment to mobilize educational institutions and civil society to discuss the threat of intolerance.


He went on to congratulate the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) and the African Union for their leading roles in this effort, and expressed his delight that renowned musical impresario and activist Russell Simmons had agreed to serve as a Goodwill Ambassador for the memorial.  The full message is available upstairs.


**Secretary-General Statement on Helvi Sipilä


We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the passing away of Helvi Sipilä.


The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Helvi Sipilä on 15 May 2009 at the age of 94.  A lifelong champion of the rights of women, she served as Secretary-General of the first World Conference on Women in 1975 in Mexico City.  Ms. Sipilä was the first woman to hold the rank of Assistant Secretary-General at the United Nations and she served the United Nations diligently in different capacities for many years, including as the Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women.


A Finnish national, Ms. Sipilä served her country with distinction, including as a barrister in an age when few women had careers in this domain.  Ms. Sipilä remained active after retiring from the United Nations and was the first woman to run for president in Finland in 1982.  Throughout her life she held a number of key positions in civil society, both nationally and globally.  Ms. Sipilä powerfully demonstrated the effectiveness of women’s leadership.  She has left a legacy which serves as a reminder that no effort should be spared to ensure the equal participation of women in decision-making in all areas of life.


**Guests Tomorrow


My guests tomorrow will be the Under-Secretary-General for Management, Angela Kane, and the Controller Jun Yamazaki, to brief you on the financial situation of the United Nations.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Just to follow up on the meeting between Mr. Ban Ki-moon and Mr. Goldstone.  Any particular proposals that the UN or Mr. Ban Ki-moon will do to convince Israel to accept this permission to go there?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond the readout I gave you on this.  Yes?


Question:  Last week the Secretary-General addressed a group of students that were here for the Model UN.  One of those students, a Japanese female, upon returning to Japan was diagnosed with H1N1, the swine flue virus.  I wondered if you’re aware of that situation and if you have any comment.


Deputy Spokesperson:  No.  We give you daily updates on the status of the influenza A.  And the Secretary-General’s remarks and WHO’s remarks generally on the status of the influenza and how we should go about it are outlined in yesterday’s statements by both of them.


Question:  Could there have been any reports of any other students who participated in the Model UN who have contracted the virus?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any reports, but this is something that you probably want to take up with the Japanese Mission, since they are the ones keeping track of their nationals.  Yes.


Question:  Has the Secretary-General spoken to the Israeli authorities about getting the Goldstone mission, I mean the investigation commission, permission to go even to those areas which Israel says had been affected by rocket attacks and so forth?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Right now, I was just able to get this readout right before the Secretary-General got on a plane to come back here.  So, I have nothing beyond this readout for now.  And one more thing I forgot to tell you. Tomorrow we do have as guests at the briefing.  The Under-Secretary-General for Management Angela Kane, and Controller Jun Yamazaki, will brief you on the financial situation in the United Nations.  We’ll start here, Matthew and then…


Question:  Thank you, Marie.  I have two questions.  One, the African Union will hold its annual meeting in July, beginning of July, in Tripoli, Libya.  Does the Secretary-General expect to go there to the meeting?


Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, we don’t announce trips that are that far ahead.  The Secretary-General is very engaged in all issues of Africa.  He’s meeting with the leaders wherever he can in all kinds of venues around the world.


Question:  And second, it has been reported that President Obama will make a speech in Egypt at which time he will make a proposal on the Middle East.  Has the Secretary-General been informed in any way about this proposal?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I just read to you the Secretary-General’s latest comment on President Obama’s initiatives regarding the Middle East.  Matthew, and then Enrique will come up here also for a brief moment.


Question:  I just want to ask a one UNHCR question about Sri Lanka.  One, has the UN or the ICRC been able to access what has been called the conflict zone and to ascertain whether there are still wounded people dying in there?  And also [inaudible] about the doctors that were in the zone have been released, now the Government has said that they have been detained, I guess they’re being questioned.  Is the UN trying to get them out?  And unrelated, does the UN know whether Ethiopian troops are once again within Somalia as reports, even BBC has reported?  Does [Ahmedou] Ould-Abdallah have any knowledge or comment on that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Your last question first, we checked with Ould-Abdallah’s spokesperson Susie Price, and as far as I know we did not have any confirmation, but you’re welcome to follow up with her.  Regarding the question about the doctors, we have received reports that the doctors that were working in the conflict zone are in police custody.  The UN does not have independently verified reports on this, and I refer you again back to John Holmes’ remarks on Monday.  And as for the ICRC, I think you’re going to have to check with the ICRC directly, because I do not have any updates today on that.


Question:  Is the SG going to the conflict zone during his upcoming trip?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, I refer you to his remarks yesterday in Geneva in which he said he expected to go to the conflict zone.  Yes.  Okay, thanks.


So Enrique you have a few minutes before we have the 1 p.m. press conference, thank you.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Thank you, Marie, and good afternoon.


I am going to try to go through very quickly, because I know we don’t have much time.


I just wanted to tell you that, as I mentioned yesterday, this morning the intergovernmental negotiations of the outcome document of the global economic crisis summit started.  And this is a document as you know, that was agreed by the President of the General Assembly Miguel d’Escoto and the two co-facilitators.  And in his brief remarks this morning, the President told the negotiators that he believes that the document addresses the key concerns of the developing world, while fairly reflecting the position held by most industrialized countries.


Basically now what we have is the ball in the hands of the Member States to start the negotiations for the upcoming summit in June.  And this is what I have for you, unless you have any questions.  Matthew.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I saw that the PGA met with the new, the incoming Perm Rep of India.  Do you have any readout of that or of the matters at least of the issues that the two discussed?


Spokesperson:  No, we normally don’t have any readouts of these meetings.  It’s a normal meeting.  He’s the new Permanent Representative of India, and he paid a visit to the President of the General Assembly and they discussed several issues regarding the work of the General Assembly, as well as the upcoming financial crisis summit in June.


Question:  [inaudible] representative, do you know yet; at the upcoming June 1 to June 3 event?


Spokesperson:  Well, it is a very particular situation right now, as you know, because they have just had elections, and I think the new Government will be on 2 June.  So it’s obviously not very clear at this stage who is going to be representing them.  But it’s really understandable.


Question:  [inaudible] question, when the second round of negotiations on Security Council reform begin on Friday, what actually is going to happen Friday?


Spokesperson:  Okay, on Friday, as you know, let me get the timetable.  The meeting on Friday is going to be on the review mechanism, which is one of the basic elements that all the countries have agreed, or most of the countries have agreed.  And this is that whatever changes are done in the Security Council reform, there will be a mechanism to review whether it works or not.  This is what is going to be discussed on Friday, 22.  Then on 11 June, we’ll have a meeting on size, categories of membership and regional representation.  And then the last meeting on 23 June, the meeting will be on the relationship between the General Assembly and the Security Council, the veto and the working methods.  That’s the timetable for the second round of negotiations.


Question:  But just as a follow-up.  Okay, so how is this meeting on the review mechanism going to work on Friday?  Is it going to be closed?  Is it going to be open?  Are there going to be speeches?


Spokesperson:  They’re closed meetings.  As you know, they’re negotiations and the Member States have decided that they are closed.


Question:  Enrique, small scheduling question.  When is it expected to hold the elections for the new presidency of the GA?


Spokesperson:  I don’t know by heart right now, I believe it is on the second week of June.  Second, third week of June.


Question:  A week after the economic summit?


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  Thank you very much.


Spokesperson:  But I don’t think we have a date right now.  But it’s between 10th and 15th.  I am learning by heart; I can check for you afterwards.  Mr. Abbadi.


Question:  Thank you, Enrique.  The General Assembly deals with general [inaudible] questions, including the question of the Middle East.  What role does the President have in the current discussions of the search of the solutions to the Middle East issue?


Spokesperson:  Well, right now in terms of the General Assembly, as you know, one of the items, it’s the peace in the Middle East and the Palestinian issue.  And there should be a session sometime after June, but we have not scheduled it yet in the agenda.


Question:  [inaudible] President that will still take place, I mean...


Spokesperson:  Say that again, I can’t hear you.


Question:  For a major summit, does the President intend to have that as a major summit or is this just a meeting?


Spokesperson:  No, no, it’s a regular item on the agenda of the General Assembly.


Question:  So it’s not a high-level meeting at all?


Spokesperson:  No.


Question:  Okay.


Spokesperson:  Thank you very much.


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