10 September 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 Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


Good afternoon, and welcome to a group of fellows here from around the world who are participating in and observing the Noon Briefing today.  We also have Enrique Yeves, the General Assembly Spokesperson for the current General Assembly who will brief you immediately after me.


**Press Conferences Today


And my guests today are Werner Obermeyer from the World Health Organization and Brian Mishara from the International Association for Suicide Prevention who are here to brief you on the occasion of World Suicide Prevention Day.  They’re here already, so I’ll try to get through this quickly.


And later, at 4 p.m. again here in Room 226, the President of the General Assembly and Joseph Stiglitz, Chairman of the Commission of Experts of the President of the General Assembly on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System, will hold a pre-publication launch of the report of the Commission.  That’s at 4 p.m.


**Secretary-General Message on International Criminal Court


The first couple of notes are on a couple of meetings here at UN Headquarters.  This morning, Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Patricia O’Brien delivered a message on the Secretary-General’s behalf to the Consultative Conference on International Criminal Justice.  In it, the Secretary-General says that the establishment of the International Criminal Court (ICC) was a landmark in the efforts of the international community to enforce the applicability of international humanitarian law, and to advance the cause of justice and the rule of law on a universal scale.


The UN’s efforts to promote peace, development and human rights are closely linked to the ICC’s work, he adds.  The Secretary-General says he attaches great importance to improving cooperation between the two institutions in ways that take into account the legitimate interests of both partners.  With full respect for its independent character, the United Nations will continue to support and assist the Court.


** Somalia Piracy


The continued increase in the total number of piracy-related incidents off the Coast of Somalia and their evolving sophistication underscores the limits of an exclusively sea-based approach.


That’s according to the Director of the Africa One Division of the UN’s Department of Political Affairs, who was speaking at UN Headquarters today, during a contact group meeting on piracy off the coast of Somalia.


Joao Honwana, the Director, added that the situation highlighted the need for the international community to deal with the issue of piracy in a comprehensive, cohesive and broad-based manner.


He said that the UN has been strengthening the capacities of States to ensure that suspected pirates are prosecuted through harmonizing national legislation with the international legal regime.  Additionally, the United Nations is assisting to get more States to share the burden of prosecution and imprisonment of pirates.  We have his full remarks upstairs in the Spokesperson’s office.


** Guatemala


Turning to Guatemala, the Resident Coordinator in that country has informed the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) of the country team’s decision to issue a flash appeal in the coming days, to respond to the current humanitarian situation.  Severe droughts in the country have caused food shortages ‑‑ a situation exacerbated by previous crop losses, low food stocks, and declining remittances, exports, foreign investment due to the global economic crisis, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).


WFP, in coordination with UN agencies, has allocated as an immediate response, a total of 20 metric tons of high energy biscuits (HEB) and 200 metric tons of other food commodities to assist some 75,000 families.


** Haiti


And to recap, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Haiti, former US President Bill Clinton, told the Security Council yesterday afternoon that Haiti has an historic opportunity to consolidate its political stability.  He said, “I am convinced that Haiti has a remarkable opportunity to escape its past.”


The Haitian Government was committed to building a modern State, he said, while international donors had pledged substantial aid to help build a modern, sustainable society.  But of the amount pledged, Clinton warned, only $21 million had been disbursed so far.  Anything that could help expedite the distribution of aid would have a positive impact on the daily lives of Haitians.


Hédi Annabi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, also spoke, introducing the Secretary-General’s report about the UN Mission there.  Annabi stressed that political dialogue lay at the heart of the stabilization process, and lauded the improvement of collaboration between the executive and legislative branches of Government.


With regard to security, he said that there had been progress in many areas, with support from UN Mission and its bilateral partners, including the continued strengthening of the Haitian National Police that now comprised nearly 10,000 officers.


Serious threats continued, however, including a potential for resumed activity by gangs, criminals and other armed groups; corruption and violence associated with illegal trafficking; and the risk of civil unrest.  To counter such threats, Annabi said that the continued presence of international troops and police remained indispensable.  And we have his remarks upstairs.


**UNICEF


The UN Children’s Fund, or UNICEF, today released new figures showing that the rate of deaths of children under 5 continued to drop in 2008.  According to these estimates, the absolute number of child deaths in 2008 declined to an estimated 8.8 million from 12.5 million in 1990, the base line year for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


“Compared to 1990, 10,000 fewer children are dying every day,” according to UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman.  She added that, despite progress, it was still unacceptable that, each year, 8.8 million children die before their fifth birthday.  And there is more on this upstairs.


** Yemen


On Yemen, the Director of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Rashid Khalikov, is leaving today for a four-day fact-finding mission to Yemen.


During his mission, Khalikov will visit areas where internally displaced people (IDPs) have settled, and meet with government officials and humanitarian actors in order to gain a better understanding of the crisis and challenges to providing assistance.


Tens of thousands of people have been displaced from two Governorates, in the north of the country, as a result of the conflict, bringing the total number of IDPs to around 150,000 so far.  Their most urgent needs are food, water and sanitation, essential domestic items and health care.


On 2 September, the humanitarian community launched a flash appeal for $23.7 million for a period of four months but it has not received any funding to date.  OCHA says it urgently needs the international community's support to prevent the situation from further deteriorating.


**UNRWA


And as the school year begins, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is once more raising attention to the need for Palestinian children to have access to educational materials.


There is a long history of UNRWA experiencing obstacles with the Israeli authorities in getting educational materials, such as paper and books, into Gaza.  This is particularly hard to understand, as UNRWA’s education programmes, including subjects such as human rights and the Universal Declaration, are underpinned by universal values which are informed by tolerance and the need to resolve conflict peacefully.  It is in the interests of everyone who believes in peace that the blockade of Gaza should be lifted especially for educational materials, according to the Agency.


** Pakistan


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that insecurity in the Malakand Division of Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province has led to major challenges in providing quality education to children there.  In the areas that were affected by fighting, many children will find that their former schools have been damaged or destroyed.  Nearly 550 primary and secondary schools have been damaged or destroyed in these areas, including 147 girls’ schools that were destroyed.


Also, in the host communities where internally displaced people took refuge, more than 4,800 schools were converted to shelters.  These schools must be repaired and rehabilitated to provide adequate and healthy environments for children to learn.


UNICEF has dispatched 100 school tents to Swat and Buner so that formerly displaced children who are returning home don’t miss out on education.  Meanwhile, nearly 1,000 schools that had been serving as shelters have been rehabilitated to date, and work is currently under way on nearly 900 schools.  An estimated 543,000 children will benefit from that effort.


In addition, mass education on unexploded ordnance and mines is urgently needed to prevent loss of lives and injuries, as well as to make children and teachers safe to commute to and from schools.  Some organizations have started work on this front, but it has to be sufficiently funded and scaled up.


OCHA warns that, to date, only 17 per cent of all educational activities are currently funded, and nearly $20 million are still required to cover the educational needs of children affected by this conflict.


** Lebanon


And on Lebanon, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has safely removed powerful radioactive sources out of Lebanon, including Cobalt-60, a single source of which is enough to kill a person within minutes if directly exposed.


The mission was completed on 30 August, after a plane carrying the high-activity cargo safely touched down in Russia, where the sources are now securely and safely stored, the IAEA says.  There is a press release upstairs on this with more details.


** Cyprus


On Cyprus, Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat met today under UN auspices in Nicosia.


The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, spoke to the press afterwards.  He noted that the leaders had discussed bridging proposals concerning the issue of executive governance ‑‑ in relation to the election of the President and Vice-President of the Republic… of the United Republic.


He added that both sides had put forward new bridging proposals and that the leaders would continue discussing this subject next Thursday, 17 September.


** Kenya


And on Kenya, the United Nations Office for OCHA there, and the Government of Kenya are making contingency plans to respond to any humanitarian emergency that could result from anticipated heavy rainfall between October and December this year.


The Kenya Meteorological Department has warned that the El Niño weather pattern could cause unusually heavy rainfall in Kenya.  In the past, El Niño rainfall in Kenya resulted in the disruption of livelihoods, population displacement, loss of property and assets, damage to infrastructure and death of people and livestock.  OCHA and Kenya’s Ministry of State for Special Programmes will co-chair a consultative workshop next week to prepare for the anticipated heavy rainfall.


** Burkina Faso


In Burkina Faso, some 48,000 people there in flood-hit Burkina Faso have found shelter in schools, churches and other public buildings, but the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that sanitation and other conditions at these facilities are now under strain.


UN agencies are out to provide emergency relief, including food, medical supplies, shelter material, hygiene kits and much more.  The flooding has been particularly severe in and around the capital, Ouagadougou, where host families are helping another 40,000 flood survivors.  OCHA is now finalizing a flash appeal for this humanitarian emergency in Burkina Faso.


**Myanmar-China


And I’d been asked about the movement of World Food Programme staff at the Myanmar-China border, and I have the following update from WFP which they wanted me to share with you.


WFP did suspend operations in the area on 25 August, in view of the growing insecurity in the region, and brought staff back from deep field positions to Laukkai temporarily.  After fighting escalated in the vicinity of the town of Laukkai, WFP requested safe passage out for its staff to another location.  This was not possible for a period of four days, because of fighting in and around the three roads in and out of Laukkai.


It is not correct to suggest they were kept there so as not to report on what was going on; in fact, WFP had continual updates on developments from the team throughout the fighting.  WFP now has a new team on the ground and are in the process of re-starting its activities along with its NGO partners.  The situation remains stable and normal economic activity is returning to that town.


**Press Conferences


And this is also in response to some requests and preparation on our part to better prepare you for the latter part of the month and the week of the High-Level segment of the General Assembly, we have lined up a series of briefings between now and the end of next week.


Tomorrow immediately after the noon briefing, two senior officials from the Executive Office of the Secretary-General will give you a background briefing on the nuts and bolts of what you can expect and they will take your questions.


Then on Monday, that’s next Monday, 14th, we will have Under-Secretary-General B. Lynn Pascoe at the noon briefing as a guest to give a political briefing.  That will be followed on Tuesday, when our guests will be Under-Secretaries-General Susanna Malcorra and Alain Le Roy to give a briefing on peacekeeping-related issues.


Then on Thursday, that’s the 17th next week at 11 a.m., the Secretary-General himself will be giving his pre-General Assembly week press conference.


So that’s what we’ve lined up for you.


And I know that generally there is also closer to the date of the actual General Assembly session you’ll probably have a security briefing as well, but I have not received any information yet on when that will be.  I’m sure Gary [Fowlie of Media Accreditation] will let you know when he arranges that one.


So that’s what I have for you.  We have Enrique, and we have our guests here, so let me just take a couple of questions.  Masood.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Just on this briefing that you just gave on [inaudible] and all that, I wanted to find out one thing.  Last that I heard that the UN flash appeal for Pakistan was funded by 62 per cent or something.  Does some funding still remain?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I read to you the appeal results on that.  Let me just see.  Only 17 per cent…  Today’s update as you saw was in connection with the school year beginning.  So they’re talking about 17 per cent of the educational needs are currently funded, and that’s nearly…[interrupted].


Question:  But you don’t have figure on the overall flash appeal?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have that update, but I’m sure that’s on the website and you can check on that.


[The Deputy Spokesperson later told the reporter that, according to OCHA as of today, $365 million has been received, out of $542 million that is needed, which is 68 per cent.]  Matthew, and then Mr. Abbadi.


Question:  First I wanted to ask you on the General that replaced Mr. Agwai in Darfur, Nyamvumba from Rwanda.  There are people saying that the post had been promised to Rwanda as a country even prior to the interview process.  Can you say, how was the selection made?  Was it an open process in which, based on the interviews the most qualified candidate was selected?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Absolutely.  The process is ‑‑ it’s I know, a competitive process that the United Nations and the African Union worked on it together.


Question:  Were there no relation to Mr. Karenzi of Rwanda that was previously removed from…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond the criteria that…


Question:  And I wanted to ask about Sri Lanka.  There was a report today that two UN system staff members in Sri Lanka had been tortured during their incarceration.  Can you give both an update on what the UN has done and whether the UN knows that these individuals have been tortured?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The United Nations has been and is extremely concerned about the continuing case of two national UN staff members detained by the Sri Lankan authorities in late June.  The two men were detained while deployed to Vavuniya by the United Nations without any notice to the Organization.  The United Nations was immediately concerned about the “disappearance” of the staff, and protested strongly the manner of their detention, once discovered, with the Sri Lankan authorities, at many levels.  The United Nations has been particularly concerned about suggestions that the two staff members may have been mistreated in the first days of their detention.  If these allegations are validated, this would be a violation of Sri Lankan and international law.


The allegations were raised with the Government both orally and in writing, and the United Nations has assisted the two staff members to seek redress through the Sri Lankan legal system.


We call for due process to be swiftly applied.  The Government should either notify the Secretary-General of the case and any charges against the two men and request for their immunity as UN staff to be waived, or they should be released.


I mentioned to you earlier that the Secretary-General had raised the issue when he met with the Sri Lankan President on the sidelines of the Non-Aligned Movement Summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, shortly after these reports first came in.


The Secretary-General issued a statement earlier this week in which he said he would be contacting the President following the expulsion of the UNICEF staff member and during that conversation the Secretary-General obviously is expected to take up this case and express his serious concerns over their mistreatment.  So that’s what I have for you.  Mr. Abbadi.


Question:  Thank you, Marie.  You mentioned that two officers from the Executive Office of the Secretary-General will be briefing us on the GA work.  Can you give those names?


Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s a background briefing, Mr. Abbadi.  We can give it to you off-camera, but they will be senior UN officials to you.  Yes.


Question:  Thank you, Marie.  Today, Mr. Hariri, Prime Minister designated [inaudible] to form the Lebanese Government.  Do you have any comment on that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, right now I am waiting; I was expecting some guidance on this.  From the UN Special Coordinator’s Office, which we have been in touch with; with Michael Williams, he continues to hope that consultations the President will hold with all parties will be successful and the Lebanese will remain committed to the objective of a unity government and will continue to work towards this goal.  As for the Secretary-General’s reaction, if you can just wait a few minutes I’m waiting for some clear guidance on that.  So with that, we’ll change to the…


[The Deputy Spokesperson later read out the following statement]:


In addition to what I had earlier on Lebanon, about Michael Williams, I just wanted to add that the Secretary-General regrets that at the moment it has proven impossible to form a new Government in Lebanon.  He hopes that the consultations that President Michel Suleiman will hold with all parties will be successful and that the Lebanese continue working towards the goal of a unity government.  And the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams meanwhile will continue to talk to all the parties and encourage them to work in this direction.


Question:  I wanted to ask one question on the Medical Service, and also Masood has a question.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure.


Question:  I wanted to find out:  is there any update from you on the release of one Israeli prisoner, an army soldier and thousands of Palestinians in Israeli jails?  The negotiations are ongoing; negotiations are long going.  Is there any update at all…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t, I’m afraid I just don’t have any update for you today.  Yes.


Question:  On the Medical Service, it’s been reported that now, whereas people in the past, if people were injured in the building they’d call the Medical Service.  Now everyone is being told that they should only call 911 if they’re injured either in this building or in the swing spaces.  I wanted to know if you could confirm that and also the Fire Department has apparently said that they haven’t been informed of any change in procedures, such that they can with ambulances and other things access both this building and the swing spaces.  What is the status of that?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The change in procedure, to call 911 first in an emergency, is only a change for the UN Secretariat building.  The procedure to call 911 first has always been the case for UN workplaces other than the Secretariat building.


The reason for the current change is the ongoing move of staff out of the Secretariat, including the imminent move of UN medical services to a Capital Master Plan renovation swing space location where they’re no longer co-located with the majority of UN staff.  So that is the reason for that.  It is obvious that an expectation for medical staff to respond on foot to emergencies scattered across the various swing space buildings is untenable, and would only be a waste of precious time.  The reason for the updated procedure was included recently in an internal staff announcement.  Further, any emergency procedure should be valid for all times and circumstances.  The UN Fire and Safety Unit is manned 24 hours a day, and after calling 911, it is the appropriate party to know of an emergency; they are responsible to ensure site access for 911 responders.  If it is appropriate for the location and circumstances of the incident, the Fire and Safety Unit will also activate a medical services response, for which we’re equipped and ready.  And so, that is the reason given by the Medical Service on that.


Question:  On the same question, given the shrinking of the Medical division’s functions, does the Secretariat anticipate the budget continuing to be as reported, $38 million over every two years, or is the budget going to shrink if they’re no longer responsible for medical emergencies in the Secretariat building?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Budget issues, as you know, are up to the Member States, so I can’t answer on that.


Thank you very much.  Have a good afternoon and we’ll see you tomorrow.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Thank you, Marie.  Good afternoon.  Good to see you all.


As you know, the sixty-third session of the General Assembly is trying to wrap up this week some of the issues that are still open.  Right now is taking place a meeting of the ad hoc working group on the revitalization of the General Assembly.  And, as you probably are aware of, a letter of the co-chairs, Maria Fernanda Espinosa from Ecuador and Morten Wetland from Norway, dated 8 September was sent yesterday to all Permanent Representatives and observers.


And the first meeting of the ad hoc open-ended working group of the General Assembly to follow up on the issues contained in the outcome of the conference document on the world financial and economic crisis will take place tomorrow, Friday, 11 September, at 10 a.m. in the Trusteeship Council chamber.


And finally, just a reminder that this afternoon, as you also are probably are aware of, at 4 p.m., we’ll have the President of the General Assembly Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann and Professor Joseph Stiglitz, will have a press conference with you here in this very same room.


And this is all I have for you, unless you have any questions.  Mr. Abbadi.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Yes, Enrique.  Is there any progress regarding the reforms of the Security Council?


Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, yesterday there was a meeting of the open-ended working group on the Security Council reform, and it was decided there that the next session will only convene the open-ended working group if the Assembly decides that it is really necessary.


So what are the next steps right now?  The next steps right now are that Ambassdor Tanin and President Miguel d’Escoto are preparing a note that will be circulated to the Member States this afternoon and it will be available immediately online to all of you, basically with a road map of what are the following steps that are going to be taking place.


Summarizing the situation, it is basically the handing, the passing of the issue to the sixty-fourth General Assembly and how it is going to be the road map on that.


If there are no more questions, I’ll give the floor to our guest.


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