31 August 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Secretary-General in Norway


The Secretary-General this morning held meetings in Oslo with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Norway, in which he discussed multilateralism and Norway’s role in the international community.


In a joint press encounter with Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg, the Secretary-General said that Norway, by any standards, is “a steadfast believer in the goals and ideals of the United Nations” and he said he was very much encouraged by its strong support for the United Nations.  He said he was very encouraged by the promise made by the Prime Minister this morning that Norway will be able to reach 1.1 per cent of its gross domestic product to meet the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


During their meeting, the Prime Minister announced to the Secretary-General that he would attend the 22 September summit on climate change.  Their discussion focused primarily on climate change issues and on the need to mobilize political will and create confidence-building measures between the developed and developing countries.


The Secretary-General also met with the Norwegian Foreign Minister this morning over breakfast; they discussed Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, the Middle East and Myanmar, as well as sexual violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Also this morning, the Secretary-General attended a wreath-laying ceremony at the memorial monument of the first Secretary-General, Trygve Lie.


The Secretary-General later met with members of Norway’s Parliament, and he discussed with them climate change, including carbon trading, UN reform, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and the situation of Iranian refugees in Iraq.


In his earlier press encounter, the Secretary-General had noted that one of the principal reasons for his visit to Norway is to see first-hand the dramatic changes to the Arctic and to learn what that means for humankind.  This evening, he will fly north to Svalbard to meet with scientists who are gathering important climate data, before he visits the polar ice rim tomorrow.  In fact he is already on his way north-bound.


Yesterday, the Secretary-General spoke at a symposium in Alpbach, Austria, discussing the need for the United Nations to speak out on behalf of people whose trust has been betrayed.


He noted that, in Sri Lanka, he made it clear to President Mahinda Rajapaksa that though the fighting might be over, people must be allowed to return to their homes and he must reach out to minority groups.  In Myanmar, he said, he met with Senior General Than Shwe, and told him bluntly that the world is watching him and his Government, and that he must release all political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  That speech is available upstairs and online.  And the transcripts of his press encounters this morning are also available upstairs and online.


** Darfur


On Darfur, 26 police officers from Nepal together with 30 from Nigeria arrived in El Fasher, Darfur, today to begin working with the African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID).  Their arrival will push the mission’s police deployment to over 3,000 police officers.


And over the weekend, as you know, two international civilian UNAMID staff members -- one man and one woman -- were abducted at gunpoint by four or five armed men from their residence in Zalingei, West Darfur.  The incident is reported to have occurred early Saturday morning and the two staff members were taken to an unknown destination.


UNAMID has informed the relevant Sudanese authorities, which have assured the mission that they are taking all the necessary steps to address the situation.  Joint Special Representative Rodolphe Adada has called for the immediate and unconditional release of the two staff members, urging their abductors to return them unharmed.


**Security Council


And today is the last day of the United Kingdom’s presidency of the Security Council.  Tomorrow, the United States will assume the rotating presidency of the Security Council for the month of September.


And United States Ambassador Susan Rice is expected to brief you in this room on the programme of work on Wednesday at approximately 12:30 p.m.


**Timor-Leste


In a message on the tenth anniversary of the UN-conducted popular consultation in Timor-Leste, the Secretary-General said Timor-Leste has shown the world that democracy is the best path to sustainable peace and development.


The Secretary-General also highlighted that in just over seven years since the restoration of independence, the country has established all major democratic institutions.


He commended the resilient Timorese people and their leaders that have risen to meet their challenges, adding that Timor-Leste’s progress shows yet again the power of peaceful means in changing the course of history.


The Secretary-General reiterated the United Nations continued support for Timor-Leste’s efforts to build a prosperous, inclusive society, based on democracy, rule of law, human dignity and respect for the human rights of all the country’s people.


In other developments concerning Timor-Leste, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is seeking urgent clarification of reports that Martenus Bere, a former militia commander alleged to have been implicated in a 1999 massacre in Timor-Leste, was released on Sunday by the Timor-Leste authorities.


Bere is alleged to have been involved in directing an attack which resulted in at least 40 people, including women, children and priests, being killed in a district of Timor-Leste on 6 September 1999.  If the reports are true, his release is contrary to the Security Council resolutions which set up the UN mission in Timor-Leste and seriously undermines the global principle of accountability for crimes against humanity.


The UN's firm position is that there can be no amnesty or impunity for serious crimes such as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.  In that context, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights strongly opposes the release of someone for whom an arrest warrant of this nature has been established.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


And on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) Executive Director Ann Veneman has met with children abducted in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by rebels from the Lord’s Resistance Army, (LRA).


The meeting in Dungu, a remote community in the north-east of the country, came on the last day of her visit to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  An estimated 320,000 people have been displaced in the area since December 2007.  Ms. Veneman said: “The population of Dungu lives in constant fear of attacks from the LRA.” 


“The LRA is notorious for kidnapping children, forcing them to kill and maim innocent victims and enslaving young girls as their concubines,” she said.  Many of the children who have managed to escape from the LRA are being cared for in the Dungu community.  And there are more details in a press release available upstairs.


** Lebanon


On Lebanon, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon’s (UNIFIL) Maritime Task Force today underwent a transfer of command, from Rear Admiral Ruggiero di Biase of Italy to Rear Admiral Jürgen Mannhardt of Germany.


Speaking at the handover ceremony, the UNIFIL Force Commander, Major General Claudio Graziano, highlighted the constructive relationship between the Task Force and the Lebanese Navy that has developed, from joint naval exercises to the conduct of combined maritime interdiction operations.  Since the start of its operations on 15 October 2006, the Task Force has hailed around 27,000 ships and referred more than 370 suspicious vessels to the Lebanese authorities for further inspection.  There is a press release upstairs with more details.


**United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime Report Launch


While new laws designed to target the structure, organization, members and associates of organized crime groups have had some success in Asia and the Pacific, these laws at the same time fail to address the root causes of organized crime and create the risk that outlawed groups will consolidate, move further underground and engage in more violent and clandestine operations, as has been the case in Japan.


This is one of the findings of a new report by the East Asia and the Pacific regional office of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), launched today in Bangkok.  And you can read more about this on their website as well.


**World Climate Conference


The World Climate Conference opened in Geneva today.  Experts and politicians from around the world are meeting to ensure that people have access to climate predictions and related information -- so that they can cope with climate change and variability.


Michel Jarraud, the head of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), which is convening the Conference, today said that, until now, the way we deliver climate information to some sectors has been ad hoc.  He added that, what we need is a formal system that all people can trust to access vital information that can save their lives and protect property and economies.  We have his full remarks upstairs, as well as more information about this meeting.


And as we told you earlier, the Secretary-General will be in Geneva later this week to personally address the World Climate Conference.


**United Nations Environment Programme


And here at Headquarters today, Governments are meeting to discuss ways to monitor seas and oceans.  The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says that, despite the central role that oceans play in our world today, significant gaps exist in our understanding and management of the marine environment.  If Governments can reach an agreement, the first globally integrated oceans assessment could be delivered under UN auspices by 2014, UNEP says.


The Deputy Secretary-General addressed the gathering today.  She urged participants to carry their work a step forward and ensure that the establishment of such an assessment can provide, at the global level, a continuous and comprehensive review of the problems facing the marine environment.  There is a press release on this upstairs and the Deputy Secretary-General’s remarks as well.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


Tomorrow, at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference by Rob Vos from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  He will be here to launch the World Economic and Social Survey 2009.  The Survey, which focuses on climate change and development, will also be launched in Geneva, Bangkok, Islamabad, Johannesburg, Moscow and New Delhi tomorrow.


That’s what I have for you.  Anything for me?  Yes.


**Questions and Answers


Question: What is the latest on the North Korean ship that was intercepted on its way to Iran with the weapons?


Deputy Spokesperson:  We do not have any direct information on that.  I will refer you to, as I have been to others who have been asking, to the Security Council Sanctions Committee that handles the sanctions on that matter.  And I understand there is a letter that has been sent to that Committee.  Same question?


Question:  Yes, am I going to get any more on that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Go to the members of the Security Council Committee, or better yet, the Chair, the Turkish Chair of that Committee.  Matthew.


Question:  On the Secretary-General’s visit to Norway, the Minister of the Environment and International Development, Erik Solheim, was quoted that he was going to raise to the Secretary-General this issue of the video seeming to depict summary execution by the Sri Lankan army of naked and bound and blindfolded people.  Did he raise it?  And whether or not he did, separately, does the Secretary-General have any, is he aware of that video and does he have any response to it?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything specific on the video in terms of the bilateral meetings.  I think as you were walking in, I was giving you readouts on the bilaterals and Sri Lanka was mentioned a number of times.  Regarding the latter part of your question, we have always viewed with utmost concern the reports and information received from various sources of serious human rights violations, including those related to war crimes.  The footage broadcast on Channel Four last week that shows Tamil prisoners being summarily executed, allegedly by Sri Lankan army personnel, is no exception.  We are not in a position to ascertain the authenticity of the video in question and have noted its rejection by the Sri Lankan authorities.  The UN is in regular contact with the Sri Lankan Government regarding the implementation of the joint statement issued in May at the conclusion of his visit to Sri Lanka, where the Secretary-General underlined the importance of a comprehensive accountability process for addressing international humanitarian and human rights law, and where the Government of Sri Lanka undertook to take measures to address grievances of the victims of the conflict.


Question:  Can I just ask one follow-up on that?  In the statement, where it say “no ability to ascertain…”, Philip Alston, the Special Rapporteur on summary executions, has called for a UN investigation of it.  Is that something the Secretary-General supports?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, let’s see what the… As you know, the Rapporteurs are independent and their first port of call should be the High Commissioner for Human Rights, so we’ll check in with them to see what their initial response is. 


Question:  One last one on this.  This morning it’s been announced that this journalist, J.S. Tissainayagam… Well, a journalist in Sri Lanka that was mentioned by President Obama as an example of a person cracked down on because of what he wrote.  He was sentenced to 20 years by the Government of Sri Lanka.  Is there any response by the UN system? 


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have a direct response.  I have seen the press reports on that.  Yes?


Question:  The World Food Programme’s (WFP) budget for Yemen was cut in half and I believe they’re in Geneva on Wednesday proposing for more.  Do you have any information on that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  No, but we did read to you that the humanitarian agencies have been stepping up their efforts in Yemen.  So, I am sure that they have a lot to say as a follow up.  So I’d suggest that you contact WFP.  You can contact Bertina in the office here.  Reuters, then we’ll go to Al Jazeera.  Oh, you don’t have a question?  Masood.  I don’t have anything on Pakistan today.  [laughter.]


Question:  Can I ask something else also on Afghanistan?  I just wanted to find out, a question on Afghanistan, the election after that and there is a contention that the elections have been rigged massively in favour of Mr. [Hamid] Karzai.  Is there anything that the UN has to say about the charges that are being levelled at this point in time?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Unfortunately there is no result in these elections until one is declared by Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission.  So anything before that is speculation.  Before a result can be finalized, votes have to be counted and the complaints process then has to be completed.  And as we said, the complaints process is expected to take at least three weeks, and the final election result is due around 17 September.  Yes.


Question:  Yes, Marie, I mean there have been all these reports about a possible meeting on the Middle East peace during the upcoming General Assembly (GA) meeting.  I was wondering, since the UN is a member of the Quartet, if you have any information for us on what’s being planned or whether the UN is playing a role in formulating some sort of plan to [inaudible]?


Deputy Spokesperson:  You know, I don’t have anything definitive on a meeting on the Middle East yet, as far as I know.  There are a number of meetings and bilaterals, of course, but there are a number of meetings on specific countries and regions that are in the process of being planned, and as soon as we can get confirmation on them as we get them we have announced them to you.  And Michèle, before she left on this trip right now, and I were discussing that we’ll try to get you a briefing at the earliest possible date on what you can anticipate in terms of, you know, the side events surrounding the upcoming GA.


Question:  [inaudible] the United Nations role, like, you know, with the … in seeking to bring parties together…


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the United Nations is always very actively engaged and is an active member of the Quartet, so of course, we’re engaged.  Anybody else other than Matthew?


Question:  I just have another question please, in relation, quickly, to the Norwegian [inaudible] about the SG.  I mean, again we spoke about this memo and I was wondering whether he was contacted by the Ambassador herself concerning, you know, besides the Foreign Minister or the Prime Minister of Norway?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond what’s already on record on this one.


Question:  Is he happy -- just a follow-up -- is he happy with the explanation given to him by the…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think he already answered that to you and earlier today in Norway.


Question:  What about Mr. Larsen, I mean, Mr. Larsen did he also contact the SG concerning this memo?


Deputy Spokesperson: I have no information on that.  Matthew.


Question:  In Nigeria, 27 soldiers who served as UN peacekeepers, who didn’t get paid and therefore protested, have now been sentenced to seven years imprisonment.  I know that Mr. Le Roy had said he was speaking to the Nigerians about showing forbearance or something.  What does the UN think of a sentence of seven years for soldiers who protest because they didn’t get paid for serving the UN?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think we’re waiting for some information on that.  I didn’t get it on my way down, but we’ll follow up for you.  Yes.


Question:  A quick housekeeping question.  As September starts tomorrow, do we have daily noon briefings again?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, we do.  Yes, we do.


Question:  Every day?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Every day.  So, see you tomorrow.  Hopefully other people will be back and the building will become more lively as well.  So have a good afternoon and see you tomorrow.


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For information media • not an official record