|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
Since the Secretary-General just spoke to you, there’s probably not much more for me to add.
This morning, the Secretary-General addressed the opening of the General Assembly’s review of progress and challenges in the global AIDS response. He reminded the General Assembly that, three years ago, leaders gathered here to forge a landmark commitment, pledging their determination to achieve the goal of universal access to comprehensive HIV-prevention services, treatment, care and support by 2010.
He said there was encouraging progress in that global effort. But, he added, there are still nearly five new infections for every two people put on treatment. The Secretary-General said that the economic crisis should not be an excuse to abandon commitments.
He also stressed the importance of overcoming prejudice, discrimination and stigma in fighting HIV/AIDS, noting that one third of Member States still have no law in place to prohibit HIV-related discrimination. He called on all Governments to review their legal frameworks to ensure compliance with the human rights principles on which a sound AIDS response is based. We have his remarks upstairs.
And just a few minutes ago, at a stakeout with the Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibé, the Secretary-General discussed his own efforts to attack prejudice, discrimination and stigma. Among them, he said he met regularly with UN staff who lived with HIV and that he is pushing for all people living with HIV to participate in society without fear of discrimination. We’ll have a full transcript of those remarks shortly.
**Security Council on Georgia
And, as you are all aware by now, the Security Council yesterday evening failed to extend the mandate of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), due to the veto by a permanent Council member, Russia. Ten countries had voted in favour of a resolution extending UNOMIG, while four countries abstained.
In a statement issued after the vote, the Secretary-General took note of the lack of agreement within the Security Council. In accordance with this outcome, the Secretary-General has instructed his Special Representative to take all measures required to cease the operations of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia, effective today.
The Secretary-General regrets that the Security Council has been unable to reach agreement on the basis of a package of practical and realistic proposals he submitted to the Security Council aimed at contributing to a stabilization of the situation on the ground.
The Secretary-General extends his appreciation to all the men and women who served the Mission, and to the countries that provided them. In particular, he expresses his profound tribute to the memory of those who have lost their lives in the service of peace there.
And speaking to reporters just a short while ago, the Secretary-General said he has instructed his Special Representative, Johan Verbeke, to take all necessary administrative measures, in close consultations with the parties concerned. He voiced his hope that we can continue to find ways and means to ensure peace and security in the region, adding that he will consult with Security Council members on the matter.
**United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia
And following the Security Council’s decision, the Mission’s mandate officially ceased as of midnight. A liquidation plan -- which effectively disposes of Mission assets and examines the possibilities for redeployment of personnel to other missions -- will be put together as soon as possible. Personnel drawdown will happen accordingly, depending on operational needs.
UNOMIG has a total of 483 budgeted personnel, including 136 military observers, 20 UN police, 115 international staff and 210 national staff.
Turning to Pakistan, the UN offices in Peshawar, which were temporarily closed following last week’s suicide attack, have reopened today. Throughout this period, United Nations humanitarian work has continued uninterrupted, with United Nations offices elsewhere performing the functions of the Peshawar office.
The United Nations intends to strengthen its humanitarian work for the internally displaced persons (IDPs), who are in much need of urgent assistance, while taking the necessary security measures to safeguard the lives of its humanitarian workers.
And this afternoon here at UN Headquarters, the Secretary-General will be meeting with high-level Nigerian and Cameroonian delegations to the Follow-Up Committee to the Greentree Agreement of 12 June 2006 on the resolution of the territorial dispute between the two countries.
It will be the first such high-level meeting between the Secretary-General and representatives of both countries since the successful and peaceful completion, on 14 August 2008, of the transfer of authority over the formerly disputed Bakassi Peninsula. We expect to have a readout following that meeting.
The Secretary-General’s latest report on Guinea-Bissau is out as a document today. Among other things, the Secretary-General recommends that Guinea-Bissau consider a number of measures, including a credible commission of inquiry, to end the cycles of violence and impunity in the country. He also appeals to the international community to provide resources to help Guinea-Bissau out of the crisis. And he urges the people of Guinea-Bissau to meet their civic responsibilities as they prepare for presidential elections later this month.
** Liberia -- Under-Secretary-General Le Roy
The UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, continues his visit to Africa, with a visit today in Liberia, where he is meeting with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Earlier, he met with senior officials of the UN Mission in Liberia, UNMIL, and Government officials to discuss key issues regarding the police, the military and overall security sector reform. The Under-Secretary-General also met with representatives of Liberia’s main political parties.
Mr. Le Roy expressed the UN’s determination to continue to support Liberia’s security agencies, as well as the judicial sector, to re-establish full State authority in all parts of the country. But he stressed that “the UN cannot do all, some have to come from the national budget; donors want to help those who help themselves”. He also called for transparency in the management of public funds, pointing out that “corruption deters donors”. He concludes his visit to Liberia today and departs for Mali tomorrow.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has confirmed charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity against Jean-Pierre Bemba, the former Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Bemba is to stand trial at a date still to be determined. ICC judges found that he had the “necessary criminal intent” when, in 2002, he ordered his armed group, the Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), into the Central African Republic to back up embattled leader Ange-Félix Patassé. According to the ICC, MLC fighters committed war crimes and crimes against humanity on that mission, with Bemba “effectively acting as military commander”.
The alleged crimes include rape, murder and pillaging. The Court says that, for lack of evidence, it did not uphold other charges, including torture. Bemba was arrested in May 2008. He was transferred to the ICC in July. His alleged responsibility covers crimes committed between October 2002 and March 2003 in the Central African Republic. He has denied all charges against him. And you can read more about that upstairs.
On Sudan, the World Food Programme (WFP) has deplored a recent attack of its aid convoy in South Sudan, saying the incident is indicative of worsening humanitarian conditions there. A number of Sudanese escort police officers were killed Friday when a WFP barge was attacked on a river by local ethnic fighters, some of whom were also killed.
WFP says the attack was a “major blow” to its work in South Sudan. As a result, the agency will now seek to move food aid by air, a move that will greatly affect the quantity of the deliveries, as planes can only carry 5 tons at a time.
And the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, today released a report showing that the number of people forcibly uprooted by conflict and persecution worldwide now stands at 42 million people at the end of last year. This represents a drop of about 700,000 over the previous year. But UNHCR says that new displacements this year -- in countries such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Somalia -- have already more than offset the decline.
The agency’s annual Global Trends report also highlights a sharp slowdown in repatriation and the fact that some conflicts have become more prolonged, resulting in protracted displacement. The report further reveals that the vast majority of refugees and displaced people are in developing countries. There is more on this in a UNHCR press release. The report is out on their website and I know that their Office here is available for more information and interviews if you so require.
And in the run-up to this year’s World Refugee Day, which falls on this Saturday, 20 June, UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie has released a new video to highlight the plight of refugees worldwide. The video, co-produced by Jolie and UNHCR, includes images and video from refugees and other victims of conflict around the world. It will be screened on TV networks, on airport screens and on YouTube.
Since becoming a UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador in 2001, Jolie has travelled with the refugee agency to more than 20 countries to assist refugees. And you can view that on the UNHCR website, as well.
Out as a report today is the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Children and Armed Conflict and UNICEF’s Machel Study 10-Year Strategic Review. They’re calling for urgent action to protect children affected by armed conflict.
Graça Machel, appointed as an independent expert by the Secretary-General, submitted her report to the General Assembly entitled Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, which led to the establishment of the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.
According to the review of this document, 1 billion children live in countries or territories affected by armed conflict -- almost one sixth of the total world population. The report also says that, with the changing nature of armed conflict, the impact of war on children is more brutal than ever. They are affected by the proliferation of small arms and armed groups, recruited as combatants, targeted during attacks against schools and hospitals, and also face sexual violence.
The report recommends that all States uphold their responsibility to protect their youngest citizens by stepping up efforts to develop legislation, policy and action on behalf of children at the national level. There is more in a press release upstairs.
**United Nations Children’s Fund
And a new report says that some 30 per cent of African youth, aged from 15 to 17, are afraid to voice their opinions.
In response, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and its partners are expanding and enhancing the existing “Speak Africa” platform and re-launching their website with exciting new features. The platform allows more of Africa’s youth to participate meaningfully and initiate debates on the critical issues affecting their continent. And UNICEF has more on that upstairs.
Just to recap, earlier this morning, the Secretary-General opened the UN Department of Public Information’s seminar on “Cyberhate: Danger in Cyberspace”.
In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that, while the Internet had brought enormous good and transformed the way we live and work, there were also a few dark alleys along the information superhighway. “There are those who use information technology to reinforce stereotypes, to spread misinformation and to propagate hate,” he said.
The Secretary-General stressed the impact that cyberhate and electronic harassment can have on young people. He called on parents, the Internet industry and policymakers, among others, to help stop hate speech and bullying on the Internet and through other forms of modern technology.
This seminar is part of DPI’s “Unlearning Intolerance” series, which explores means to promote respect and understanding amongst people. It is held all day in Conference Room 2. And we have his remarks at that event upstairs.
That’s all I have for you.
We have Enrique Yeves, the General Assembly Spokesperson, to brief you. But, before that, I’ll take a few questions. We’ll start with Masood.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Marie, the other day, in his press conference, the Secretary-General had said that the Benazir commission is almost complete and that he will announce the names later. Can you please confirm the name of the third person? And also, when will this commission go to Pakistan, given the circumstances over there? Do you have any idea on that?
Deputy Spokesperson: You know, I’d love to be able to answer this question for you, but I don’t have an announcement yet. And, as the Secretary-General himself said, as soon as we have it, we’ll make an announcement here.
Question: I mean, I am just going to put it out there, I heard that it is Peter Fitzgerald from Ireland. Is that right or not?
Deputy Spokesperson: Masood, I just said I don’t have announcement, so until I have one, I have nothing to say on this.
Question: I have a question about IDPs.
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes.
Question: In his press conference also, he had said that the 3 million IDPs, the Secretary-General had said, out of which, according to Mr. Holmes, only 220,000 are in the camps. The rest of them are being taken care of by the Pakistanis on their own. I just wanted to know, is there, has there been an increase? Or do you still have to go back to OCHA to tell this?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, I think the numbers that were used were, I believe, the latest number was more than 2 million IDPs as a result of the fighting there. That some 90 per cent were living with families and relatives, I believe that was correct. But there was an update from UNCHR, I believe, a few days ago, which mentioned that there were more shelters going up for the numbers of displaced. So there may be a few less staying with relatives and friends. But still, it looks like a majority are there and, as you know, the humanitarian appeal was launched and the last we checked it was only about a quarter funded. So the needs are still great and, as the press release says up there, the agencies are doing their best to cope with the emergency. Yes?
Question: The Secretary-General mentioned that he is sending his Representative, Johan Verbeke, to apply administrative measures in Georgia. What physically is happening to UNOMIG?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, as I mentioned to you, the mandate officially came to an end only at midnight. So that’s why he has instructed his Special Representative to immediately get to work on implementing the mandate that the Security Council has given us and a liquidation plan will be put together. In terms of logistics, the Department of Field Support here has already begun liquidation planning. The representatives of that Department will be part of Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmund Mulet’s visit to the region next week. Mr. Mulet actually was already planning to go to the region before the recent turn of events. But, obviously, now the nature of his visit has changed, leading to addition of staff from the Department of Field Support on his visit. So he will actively take part in this. And furthermore, the budget for the liquidation exercise is in discussion, I am told, in the Fifth Committee, and perhaps Enrique has more on that. But that’s what I have for you in terms of what’s happening immediately. Yes, Mr. Abbadi?
Question: Thank you, Marie. Marie, you’ve just read the statement of the Secretary-General regarding the action or lack of it of the Security Council on the Mission in Georgia. It’s unusual on the part of the Secretary-General to criticize indirectly the actions of the Security Council. Does he consider this case of particular importance for him to warrant his comment?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think I have nothing beyond what he just told you at the stakeout on this subject and the statement that he released. Yes?
Question: Marie, the UN, in particular UNDP, has been involved in electoral processes, in particular in the Afghanistan process. Does the Secretary-General have any updated or follow-up statements on what’s going on in Iran, in particular with the growing violence and the number of deaths yesterday?
Deputy Spokesperson: Again, I’d like to refer you to what he said at the stakeout. He was asked again today about developments there and he said that he has taken note of the recent statements from Iran and elsewhere, and that he is closely following the situation. And he reiterated and emphasized that the genuine will of the Iranian people should be fully respected in the most transparent and objective and fair manner. He also noted that Iran’s religious leaders have instructed the authorities to look into the matter.
Question: Marie, as a follow-up to that, they have actually… The New York Times reported today that there will be in some districts a recount of votes. Does the Secretary-General support a recount in terms of these elections?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think the Secretary-General’s overall opinion on this, which he has now reiterated two days in a row, is that he hopes the genuine will of the Iranian people should be fully respected. This covers his reaction to that. Yes?
Question: Just a follow-up and a question. Just his reaction to the deaths that are taking place at these apparently overwhelmingly peaceful, but now we’re seeing violence and deaths, just his reaction to that specific part of it.
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, obviously, in Iran or any other situation, he always would be an advocate to a peaceful solution to a conflict or when any sort of situation on the ground like that is taking place. But, in this case, he is watching this very, very closely. And, as I said, his main concern right now is that the genuine will of the people is reflected in a transparent, objective and fair manner.
Question: He hasn’t had any contact with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has he, in the last 72 hours?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have not heard that he has had any contact with the President, no. Enrique -- if there is nothing else for me -- have the General Assembly President Spokesperson. Have a good afternoon.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Good afternoon to everybody.
**General Assembly on HIV/AIDS
In his remarks at the General Assembly plenary this morning on the progress made and challenges remaining in the global response to AIDS, President Miguel d´Escoto reminded that in 2006 the General Assembly pledged to achieve universal access to comprehensive HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010, and the deadline that we have set for ourselves is now only 18 months away. Are we on track?
Well, the President mentioned this morning that: “The latest information and analysis tell a story of our shortcomings as a global community. The 29 million people who need HIV treatment worldwide still lack these medications. Roughly two out of three HIV-positive pregnant women do not receive services to prevent mother-to-child transmission. And the pace of the new HIV infections is occurring faster than the rate at which we are expanding treatment access.”
And President d´Escoto added: “Particular aspects of the global AIDS response are cause for special concern. We think of our afflicted brothers and sisters in Africa. That continent alone is home to 22 million people living with HIV. In 2007, three out of four AIDS deaths worldwide occurred in this region.”
**Conference on Economic Crisis
Let me also update you on the latest information regarding the global economic crisis summit that will take place here on 24, 25 and 26 June.
Negotiations continue and progress is being made by Member States.
In terms of attendance, there are already around 100 delegations that have confirmed their participation and we expect around 30 Heads of State.
The President is also very pleased that, on the weekend, during the Angelus Prayer, Pope Benedict XVI asked the participants in the conference to transform the current crisis into an opportunity to give greater attention to the human dignity and resources of all persons, but, in particular, of the world’s poor.
**Security Council Reform
On the Security Council reform front, last week, on 11 and 12 June, Member States discussed the composition of an enlarged Council during the second meeting of the second round of negotiations. In a constructive and productive manner, they spoke about its size, the categories of membership, regional representation and related matters.
One delegation, the Philippines, even informally circulated the text of a draft resolution. The next meeting will be on 22 June and it will deal with the relationship between the Council and the Assembly, the veto and working methods. This meeting was originally scheduled for the 23rd, but will now start the day before, so that Member States can finish before the global economic summit.
And on the revitalization of the General Assembly, the next meeting of the Working Group will take place this Friday, 19 June.
And this is all I have for you, unless you have any questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Enrique, just a question. Is there a list on the website, the President’s website, of the 30 Heads of State that confirmed that they’ll attend the [inaudible] summit next week?
Spokesperson: Not yet.
Question: Okay. Do you know who’ll be representing the Islamic Republic of Iran? Is that one of the 30 Heads of State?
Spokesperson: Let me check that for you, because I don’t have the list with me. I can give you a more detailed list in a couple of days. Mr. Abbadi.
Question: Thank you, Enrique. As you mentioned, out of 192 States only 30 Heads of State will be coming to the summit. Is the President of the General Assembly disappointed?
Spokesperson: No, he’s not. This is a meeting that is supposed to be taking place at the highest level possible, and that level is determined by all the different delegations. And the delegations are the ones deciding in relation with the agenda and with their priorities and the issues that are being discussed who should attend as chief of delegation. And, as I said, this was supposed to be at the highest level possible, and some of the delegations have decided at the level of Heads of State, some others at the ministerial level. Masood.
Question: Enrique, as regards this conference, on the outcome document, are the delegations already working on the outcome document and will there be a consensus on the outcome document? That is something that…
Spokesperson: Well, certainly, they’re working very hard for a consensus. And they have been working and negotiations have been going on. And you know, as always, the negotiations here take time. But they’re making progress and we still believe that they will be able to have an outcome document before the conference.
Question: Will the United States be participating in this, and at what level?
Spokesperson: The United States is participating. I don’t have with me the list, as I said before, to tell you precisely at what level. George.
Question: May I assume from your previous comments, I know this kind of recaps particularly Michael’s question, within a day or two you will have a list to distribute to us of the participants?
Spokesperson: Yes, I’m going to have that list…
Question: Something similar to the one we get every year for the general debate?
Spokesperson: That’s correct. Normally, I have been told that we need it at least one week before, because many changes happen during the last days. And one week before is in one or two days, so I expect to have such a list for you pretty soon.
Correspondent: Thank you very much.
Spokesperson: My pleasure. Thank you very much. Have a good day.
* *** *For information media • not an official record