8 June 2009
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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Lebanon


I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Lebanese parliamentary elections.


The Secretary-General congratulates the people of Lebanon and all Lebanese parties and institutions concerned on the peaceful conduct of the parliamentary elections.  He calls on all Lebanese to respect the results and urges them to work together in the spirit of coexistence and democracy.  The Secretary-General hopes that the process of Government formation will commence expeditiously and that it will take place in a calm and secure environment.


Yesterday’s elections and the formation of a new Government in the coming period represent further important steps along the path of the revitalization of the State’s political institutions.  The Secretary-General looks forward to the full consolidation of Lebanon’s sovereignty, stability, unity and political independence in accordance with the Taif Accord and relevant Security Council resolutions.  And the full statement is available upstairs.


**Security Council


The Security Council is holding an open session this morning on the situation in Sierra Leone, with a briefing by the Executive Representative of the Secretary-General for Sierra Leone, Michael von der Schulenburg.


Mr. von der Schulenburg said that the Government and the opposition in Sierra Leone deserve praise for their handling of a recent outbreak of political violence ‑‑ the most serious such incident since the end of the civil war in 2002.  He said that all the parties involved have signed and committed themselves to a joint communiqué, which recognizes their collective responsibility in building a democratic and prosperous Sierra Leone.


He added that the UN family in Sierra Leone has developed a joint vision strategy to support the Government’s agenda for change.  This will cost $350 million for a period of four years from 2009 to 2012.  He appealed to Member States and the Security Council for financial and political support for this strategy.


**West and Central Africa


The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, is in Senegal today at the start of a six-nation trip to West and Central Africa.  He is holding consultations with the senior leadership of these countries and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) on current political developments and ongoing UN efforts to help consolidate peace and stability in the region.


In Dakar today, he met with President Abdoulaye Wade and discussed regional challenges facing West Africa and the cooperation being provided by the UN Office for West Africa (UNOWA) in dealing with conflicts in the region.  He told reporters following the meeting that the United Nations appreciates the efforts led by President Wade to help forge a consensual solution to the political crisis in Mauritania.


Pascoe will be in Ghana tomorrow where he is scheduled to meet with President John Atta Mills and to hold discussions with Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, [President] of ECOWAS.  During the remainder of the trip, which concludes on Saturday, Pascoe will also stop in Nigeria, the Central African Republic, Sierra Leone and Guinea-Bissau.  In addition to UNOWA, he will visit a number of other UN political missions in the area, including the UN Peacebuilding Office for the Central African Republic (BONUCA), the Integrated Peacebuilding Office for Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) and the Peacebuilding Support Office in Guinea-Bissau (UNOGBIS).


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Alan Doss, was this past weekend in the Kivu provinces in the east, to assess progress in the joint UN-Congolese Army operations against illegal armed groups.  Doss was travelling with the Congolese Minister of Defence.  And together they met with UN and Congolese commanders and reviewed issues of cooperation and coordination between the two sides, and how to improve protection for civilians.  They also discussed issues around the disarmament and repatriation of Rwandan Hutu rebels.  According to the UN Mission (MONUC), the two sides agreed to strengthen the planning and execution of their military and other joint tasks.  They also agreed to hold a further assessment meeting in July.


The Mission, meanwhile, has welcomed the 30-year sentences against five militia fighters found guilty of a spree of rape and other sexual crimes.  The verdict was delivered by a Congolese military court in Kisangani on Friday.  The five men were also sentenced to pay financial damages to their more than 135 female victims.  The Mission assisted with the investigations and monitored the trial to ensure it complies with international standards.


** Darfur


The UN-AU mission in Darfur (UNAMID) says it has come into possession of a new fleet of vehicles that arrived on Sunday in El Fasher in a convoy from Khartoum.  The fleet includes 21 fuel tankers and 22 other vehicles.  As they travel by road for nine days across the country, the Mission says the convoys usually provide its police personnel a chance to establish closer contacts with Sudanese civilians along the road.


**Iraq


The Secretary-General, in his latest report to the Security Council on Iraq, says that there have been “encouraging signs of progress” in that country in recent months, including successful and largely peaceful provincial elections earlier this year, and an agreement on a new Speaker of Parliament.


He points to national reconciliation as the main priority in the coming months, saying that the resolution of key issues, including federalism, the sharing of natural resources and disputed internal boundaries, could serve as a means to achieving lasting peace.


At the same time, he notes with concern rising tensions in several areas, particularly in Ninawa, Kirkuk and Diyala.  The Secretary-General urges national and local leaders to endeavour to ease tensions and work towards resolving the underlying causes.  He added that the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq’s (UNAMI) report on the country’s disputed internal boundaries could serve as a useful starting point for constructive dialogue.  And the full report is out on the racks.


** Sri Lanka


In Sri Lanka, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says basic food was provided for 280,000 people last month, when 2,230 metric tons of food items were distributed in the post-conflict period.  Supplemental food, in particular corn-soy blend, is supporting underweight young children, as well as pregnant and lactating women.


Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and other shelter agencies have erected some 6,500 emergency shelters and more than 13,000 tents to date in Vavuniya.  More shelters continue to be set up as more land is cleared.  However, water and sanitation remains a huge challenge, but progress is being made.  Half the latrines that are needed are in place, and water is currently being provided for about 75 per cent of the overall drinking and bathing needs.


In Jaffna, 75 per cent of students are now attending school, while UNICEF has distributed 1,500 primary kits, 1,500 upper primary and 500 secondary kits in Menik Farm Zone 1.


As of 5 June, the funding for the 2009 Common Humanitarian Action Plan for Sri Lanka was at 40 per cent, with more than $61.5 million received out of the total $155 million required.  An additional $28 million has been pledged by various donors, which would bring the level of funding up to 58 per cent once the contributions are received.


** Pakistan


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that, according to Pakistani authorities, there are now 2.5 million people who have been internally displaced in that country ‑‑ 2 million of them newly displaced, as well as 550,000 from the previously existing caseload.  Although the majority of the displaced are living with their host communities, the UN refugee agency reports that there are 100,000 people living in 2,000 unstructured, disorganized and un-serviced spontaneous camps.


As of 4 June, some 2.5 million ration packets had been distributed to registered IDPs, at a cost of over $30 million.  The World Food Programme (WFP) is currently setting up wheat grain mill operations in Lahore, Rawalpindi and Peshawar to meet the needs of displaced persons for wheat flour.  The operations are targeted to produce a minimum of 1,600 metric tons per day.


** Afghanistan


At around midnight on Saturday, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s office in Kunduz, Afghanistan, was attacked by six armed men.  A rocket-propelled grenade was fired at the compound, injuring two guards.


The UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) says that the motive for the attack remains unclear.  It called on those behind the attack to stop and recognize the impartiality of the UN’s work in delivering essential assistance to the people of Kunduz.  We have more details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul.


**Climate Change


In Bonn, Germany, a second week of international climate change negotiations under the auspices of the UN got under way this morning.  After an initial round of comments on a proposed draft for an international climate change deal, to be agreed in Copenhagen in December, countries will start making more detailed proposals ‑‑ starting tomorrow.  “We are getting down to the nitty gritty of the negotiations,” said Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).


In parallel discussions, industrialized countries are considering specific actions they can undertake to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), industrialized countries would need to reduce their emissions by 25 to 40 per cent by 2020 in order to avoid serious climate change impacts.  Yvo de Boer said that these recommendations were still some way from being met and called for speeding up work in this area.


Also in Bonn today, a group of key UN and non-UN aid agencies called on nations to take into account the humanitarian impacts of climate change.  The 18 organizations ‑‑ including the UN refugee agency, UNICEF and the World Food Programme (WFP) ‑‑ say that the next agreement on climate change has to set out a workable approach to help the world counter the impacts of extreme weather events and environmental degradation on vulnerable communities.  The group says that the Copenhagen agreement presents a rare opportunity to shape and guide the international response to the humanitarian consequences of climate change over the next decade.  And there is more in a press release upstairs.


**World Oceans Day


Today is the first observance of World Oceans Day.  In a message, the Secretary-General says that human activities are taking a terrible toll on the world’s oceans and seas, adding that increased sea temperatures, sea-level rise and ocean acidification caused by climate change pose a further threat to marine life, coastal and island communities and national economies.  He also says that oceans are affected by criminal activity.


The Secretary-General underlines the individual and collective duty to protect the marine environment and carefully manage its resources.  Safe, healthy and productive seas and oceans are integral to human well-being, economic security and sustainable development, he says.  We have his full message upstairs.


Also in light of the World Oceans Day, the United Nations Environment Programme says that growing marine litter is harming oceans and beaches worldwide.  It launched a report that takes stock of the growing garbage in 12 major regional seas.  UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner, says that “marine litter could be dramatically reduced by improving waste reduction, waste management and recycling initiatives”.  He also calls for a worldwide ban on thin film plastic bags.  In addition to this report, UNEP introduced a new online system which has the most globally comprehensive list of marine and terrestrial protected areas.


Meanwhile the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) released today technical guidelines on deep-sea fishing in an effort to provide guidance on reducing the impact on fragile deep-sea fish species and ecosystems.  And there is more information in press releases upstairs.


And finally, there will be a conference today at 1 p.m. marking World Oceans Day, here in Room 226.


**World Grain Forum


Also from the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Director-General of the Food and Agricultural Organization, Jacques Diouf, called today for the correction of world policies and international trade systems that have resulted in more hunger and poverty.  He was addressing the World Grain Forum, which opened today in Saint Petersburg, Russia, and is being attended by agriculture ministers from more than 50 countries.  And we have a press release upstairs with more information.


**UNOPS -- Incentive2Innovate


The Incentive2Innovate Conference, which started today here at UN Headquarters, brings together leaders from the private sector, foundations, NGOs, and the UN to highlight the innovation necessary to solve today’s challenges and achieve the Millennium Development Goals, or MDGs.


In a message to the conference, the Secretary-General stressed that innovative solutions and partnerships between the public and private sectors are essential to reaching the MDGs.  This conference is organized by the UN Office for Partnerships, or UNOPS, along with the X PRIZE Foundation, BT Global Services and the John Templeton Foundation.  And we have the Secretary-General’s message upstairs.


**Trans-Asian Railway


On Thursday, countries throughout Asia will commit to coordinate the development and operation of international rail routes linking 28 countries throughout the region, as the Intergovernmental Agreement on the Trans-Asian Railway Network enters into force.  The Agreement comes into effect 90 days after China became the eighth country to have ratified the treaty.


**United Nations Development Programme


And from UNDP, Helen Clark, the Administrator of the UN Development Programme, leaves tomorrow for Africa on her first official trip since assuming her new post.  She will go to Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Ethiopia to visit UNDP projects and meet with senior officials in each of those countries.  And if you need additional information, please contact UNDP.


And like I said, at 1 p.m. there is a press conference on World Oceans Day.


Is there anything for me?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thanks, Farhan.  On Sri Lanka and the inquiry into alleged war crimes, Human Rights Watch said today that, given that the Sri Lankan Government is unlikely to investigate adequately, the Security Council is split, and the Human Right Council is not going to take any action, does the responsibility to launch an investigation rest with the SG?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, as far as that goes, I would like to point out that the Secretary-General did ask the Sri Lankan Government to follow up on the sort of agreements that he had made during his recent visit there.  And, as you know, he did brief the Security Council members in an [informal] interactive discussion on Friday about this issue.  So he is following up and he’s waiting to see what kind of follow-up on human rights is taken by the Government, and to see whether that is sufficient.  And so we’ll keep monitoring that situation.


Question:  What does he plan to do if it’s insufficient?


Associate Spokesperson:  At this time, he made clear, he’s asking the Sri Lankan Government to take the necessary measures, and he hopes that the Sri Lankan Government will follow up to implement the promises that they have made.  If they haven’t, he will review and act accordingly.


Question:  Farhan, have any observers from the United Nations noticed anything abnormal with regard to the elections in Lebanon?  Did they find any animolities [sic] the way it was…?


Associate Spokesperson:  Anomalies, you mean?  I am not aware that they found anything like that.  As far as I am aware, the elections were believed to have gone according to standard procedures.  We issued a full statement at the top of the briefing and you might want to pick it up…


Question:  Yes, I know, I’ve heard it, but there were reports in many newspapers that millions of dollars are being paid to bring people from outside, pay them tickets and finance their stay in Lebanon [inaudible].  Is that not considered as something not democratic, at least to say?


Associate Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any irregularities that would influence the outcome of the elections.


Question:  Yes, Farhan, do you have any update on the shortfall that OCHA has said about its flash appeal on Pakistan?  They said that they had received $118 million.  Has that been increased, by any chance?


Associate Spokesperson:  I think it has been.  If you see me after the briefing I think we can get what the latest figures are.  But, I think it’s been increasing incrementally over the last few days.  [The Associate Spokesperson later said that as of 5 June, $136.5 million had been received out of $543 million that had been requested, with another $15 million pledged.]


Question:  Also can you also tell me of these 100,000 IDPs out of the 2.5 million displaced persons living in camps, are they all in UN camps or are they spread over with the Pakistani and the UN?


Associate Spokesperson:  The 100,000 number I said was what UNHCR reported were people who were living in spontaneous camps that lack services.  So they need to be brought into more formal arrangements so that they can have adequate services.


Question:  First of all, just a follow-up on Sri Lanka, the Chief Justice there has been quoted as saying that the people that are in the camps, including the 280,000 people on the Menik Farm camps were outside of the protection of the law, that the Sri Lankan justice system has no jurisdiction over them or their claims.  Is that the UN’s understanding, given that it’s paying in large part for the camps?  And also, the NGOs ‑‑ CARE, Save the Children, NRC ‑‑ all have had international staff refused visas, and I wondered what OCHA is doing about that.


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, regarding the Chief Justice’s comments, the UN at the highest levels has been insisting on the need for freedom of movement for the people in these camps since the end of the conflict.  Freedom of movement for people in the IDP camps is essential.  The Government is trying to expedite the screening and registration of IDPs but this needs to be done faster.  The Government must allow family reunification and the issuance of ID cards and facilitate freer movement in and out of the camps.  The Government needs to facilitate early return and resettlement of IDPs, while ensuring the voluntary nature of such movements.


Question:  [inaudible] does the court system have jurisdiction over their claims?  Is that the UN’s understanding?


Associate Spokesperson:  I am not aware of the jurisdiction of the court system.  I think that’s a national issue.


Question:  What about the NGOs, these ones that have been denied visas ‑‑ Care, Save the Children, Norwegian Refugee Council and others?


Associate Spokesperson:  Obviously we continue to stress the need for all humanitarian groups to have access.


Question:  Can I ask you on North Korea?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  I wanted to ask, now that this sentence has been handed down to the two journalists there for 12 years of, “hard labour”, does the UN have any… I think earlier on it was said that it was monitoring the trial in some way.  What does it say now to this sentence of 12 years of trying to cover a refugee [inaudible]?


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.  What I can say about that is that we are concerned about the harsh sentencing of the two reporters and their well-being.  We hope that the Governments concerned expeditiously resolve the matter.


Question:  And one last thing, it’s on this conference, this Incentive2Innovate Conference, right there, I think, with Office for Partnerships.  It seems like, and I understand it was in the Media Alert, but I have seen where it costs, otherwise, $1,800 ticket to attend this.  This is an online registration process for the conference.  So I am wondering what the arrangements are for that kind of a charge for an event held at UN Headquarters and where the money goes?


Associate Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any charge.  You might need to talk to the organizers.


Question:  I am not saying for journalists, I am sure journalists are… I am just wondering what the provisions are or what the justification for that is?  I will show you the page where you can sign up for it.


Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, I am not aware of any charge for this particular event.  But you can talk to the organizers for further information about it.  And with that, I wish you all a good afternoon.


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