11 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 on this very rainy and windy New York afternoon.  And I see we have some guests today, visiting.  Welcome to New York.


And following, immediately after this briefing, first we will have Enrique Yeves, the General Assembly Spokesperson.  I’m told that this will be his last briefing, and he will be here to introduce the Spokesman for the next General Assembly President.


**Background Briefing Today


And then following that, there will be a background briefing by senior UN officials from the Executive Office of the Secretary-General on the upcoming High-level Event on Climate Change and the sixty-fourth general debate.  And please note that there will be no UNTV coverage of that briefing.  So we will shut that down following the two briefings.


**Statement on Lebanon


I will start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Lebanon.


The Secretary-General condemns the firing of at least two rockets against Israel from southern Lebanon on 11 September.  The Israel Defense Forces returned fire with artillery rounds towards the direction of where the rockets were launched.  There were no reports of casualties on either side.


UNIFIL is investigating the circumstances of the incident in close cooperation with the Lebanese Armed Forces.  The Secretary-General urges all parties to exercise maximum restraint.  The parties must fully adhere to Security Council resolution 1701 (2006) and respect the cessation of hostilities agreement.


**UNIFIL Statement


And UNIFIL, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon, also has a statement out and it says that, according to preliminary reports, at least two rockets were fired from southern Lebanon, around 3:45 p.m. today, and impacted in northern Israel.  The Israeli Army retaliated with artillery fire aimed at the area from where the rocket fire originated.  The firing stopped shortly thereafter.  You can pick up that statement, the UNIFIL statement, together with the Secretary-General’s statement upstairs in the Spokesperson’s office.


Also on Lebanon, Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, today met with Lebanese majority leader Saad Hariri.  Speaking to the press afterward, Williams said that the United Nations regrets the failure of the different political sides to reach an agreement on forming a new Government in Lebanon.


He hoped that the consultations which President Michel Sleiman will resume with the different parliamentary blocs will be successful in placing the process of Government formation back on track.  “If the Lebanese remain committed to the objective of a National Unity Government and work towards this goal, I believe it will be achieved,” says Williams.  And you can pick up that statement upstairs as well.


** Pakistan


On Pakistan, the UN refugee agency, UNICEF and non-governmental partners visited the Jalozai Camp in north-western Pakistan this week to assess the situation and identify existing gaps for further action on a range of water and sanitation issues.  There is also a shortage of firewood for cooking.


In Sultanwas village, in the district of Buner, UN-HABITAT completed the first rapid assessment of shelter needs and shelter damage, as well as humanitarian assistance priority needs.  Of the 280 houses surveyed, 90 were totally or partially destroyed during the recent conflict, and more than 1,500 people need shelter.  An assessment is under way to find temporary shelter locations.


Also, between 1 and 7 September, the World Food Programme distributed nearly 10,000 metric tons of food to more than 600,000 people, both inside and outside camps in north-west Pakistan.


Yemen


The Yemen Flash Appeal, which was launched on 2 September for close to $24 million, has still not received any funding, says the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  Some agencies are using funds from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to finance their relief efforts.  Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency has approved a $2.5 million loan for the emergency in Yemen, pending response to the Flash Appeal.


As of 8 September, a total of 170 metric tons of food had been distributed to nearly 15,000 internally displaced people in camps.  The World Food Programme has completed one month’s food distribution.  Yemen’s Ministry of Health, UNICEF and partners have concluded, after conducting an assessment in the al-Mazrak camp, that 7 per cent of children under the age of 5 are severely malnourished.  UNICEF will help local health authorities set up a therapeutic feeding centre at a hospital for severely malnourished children who need in-patient treatment.  So you can pick up more on that upstairs as well.


** Somalia


On Somalia, food insecurity is expected to get worse for the remainder of this year in some drought-affected regions of Somalia, according to the latest update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.


It mentions specific regions ‑‑ where income and food sources for poor urban households are strongly linked to livestock markets and trade ‑‑ which are seriously affected by the drought.


The World Food Programme is prioritizing life-saving interventions such as targeted supplementary feeding programmes for many affected people.  But as a result of the precarious food aid pipeline WFP is having to phase out support to maternal and child health nutrition programmes in 12 centres in three regions in Somalia.  About 3.76 million Somalis, or 50 per cent of the country’s population, are still in need of livelihood and humanitarian support in Somalia.


**Timor-Leste


In Timor-Leste today, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, Atul Khare, and the Secretary of State for Security, Fransisco Guterres, presided over a ceremony marking the resumption of responsibilities by Timorese national police over the Police Training Centre in the capital, Dili.  The Government of Timor-Leste and the United Nations Mission in Timor-Leste are jointly implementing the resumption process in a gradual manner ‑‑ district by district, unit by unit.  And you can read more about that upstairs.


** Guatemala


And on Guatemala, the World Food Programme today expressed its deep concern about the current hunger crisis in Guatemala.  According to WFP, women and children are in a desperate struggle for survival.  The agency adds that the combination of the world economic crisis, high food prices, a drop in remittances, unemployment and poverty, plus a lack of rain, has led to a situation that is threatening the lives of the rural poor.


Nearly 50 per cent of Guatemalan children under the age of 5 suffer from chronic under-nutrition, also known as stunting, WFP says.  And there is more on that from the World Food Programme upstairs.


**Health


The leading causes of death for young people between the ages of 10 and 24 are road traffic accidents, complications during pregnancy and childbirth, suicide, violence, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.  That’s according to a new study supported by the World Health Organization (WHO).  Nearly 3 million young people are dying each year, with 97 per cent of these deaths taking place in low- and middle-income countries, the report adds.


Meanwhile, in other health-related news, WHO is today issuing advice on measures that can be undertaken in schools to reduce the impact of the H1N1 influenza pandemic.  There is more on these two items upstairs.


**The Week Ahead at the United Nations


And we have for you “The Week Ahead”.  I am going to read a number of things because next week there are a number of press briefings and other events that you should be aware of.


Monday, 14 September, the guest at the noon briefing will be B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who will brief on political issues on the UN agenda.  And this is the second in the series of briefings we’ve lined up in advance of the high-level general debate.


And then the Secretary-General will convene a discussion of the book of the United Nations Intellectual History Project, UN Ideas that Changed the World, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.  The discussion will be moderated by the Administrator of the UN Development Programme, Helen Clark.  That’s also on Monday.


Then on Tuesday, the General Assembly will open its sixty-fourth session at 3 p.m.  And the guests that day, that’s Tuesday, at the noon briefing will be Alain Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and Susanna Malcorra of the Department of Field Support.  So that’s Tuesday.


Then on Wednesday, at 11 a.m. here, Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro will hold a press conference to launch the 2009 report of the Millennium Development Goals Gap Task Force entitled “Strengthening the Global Partnership for Development”.  Then at 2:30 p.m. in Room 226, again here, John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, will provide a humanitarian overview, focusing on situations in Sri Lanka, Yemen, some Horn of Africa countries and Guatemala.  That’s Wednesday.


Then Thursday, as I mentioned to you yesterday, the Secretary-General will hold his press conference here in Room 226 at 11 a.m.  That’s next Thursday.  And one last thing, at 2:30 p.m. that same day, on Thursday, there will be an off the record technical briefing on media arrangements for the upcoming High-level Event on Climate Change and the sixty-fourth General Debate.  That’s the one that’s usually done by Security and you’re aware of that.  So that’s a technical briefing off the record just on the logistics.


Question:  What time will it be?


Deputy Spokesperson:  2:30 p.m. on Thursday the 17th.  And one last one:  for Friday, next week at 10:30 a.m. here, Karen Koning AbuZayd, the Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), will brief the press on the upcoming High-level UNRWA sixtieth Anniversary Commemoration.  And that’s all included in “The Week Ahead” for you.


**Sixty-Fourth General Assembly Press Kit


And before we get Enrique to come here to talk about the General Assembly and introduce the new Spokesperson, the Department of Public Information wanted us to tell you that the press kit for the forthcoming sixty-fourth session is now available at the third floor documents counter.  And I’ll let the new Spokesperson talk about what is in that kit.  I’d like to go through this quickly because the briefer is right here.  Yes.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Okay, thank you, Marie.  Regarding the situation in Lebanon, does the Secretary-General see that the latest incident in southern Lebanon will add complications to the formation of the Lebanese Government?  Is there any relationship between the two issues?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think today we had two separate items:  one was the Secretary-General condemning the situation, the firing; and then we have the Secretary-General’s statement from yesterday, as you recall, which still stands today.  And today we have Michael Williams continuing his efforts on his behalf on the ground.  Yes.


Question:  No, you didn’t answer my question.  Is there any relation between the incident, do you believe that there is any relation between this incident today and the formation of the Lebanese Government?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I answered that question by telling you that we had two separate notes and two separate updates on these issues.  Yes.


Question:  Yes, Marie.  The Cypriot newspaper… [inaudible name of newspaper], published yesterday a leaked UN document reporting on the meeting of Under-Secretary-General Pascoe with US Ambassador in Cyprus (Frank C.) Urbancic, on 1 July.  According to that document, Mr. Pascoe agrees with the US Ambassador that pressure should be put on the Greek-Cypriot side in the negotiating process, while they seem confident that Turkey is not a problem for moving forward the solution.  I wonder if the Secretary-General shares the assessment expressed by Mr. Pascoe?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m aware of the press report to which you refer.  I don’t have any comment directly on that.  As to our general approach on Cyprus, the United Nations is working very closely with the Greek and Turkish Cypriot leaders to help them find a negotiated settlement, all the while respecting ‑‑ as we have said repeatedly ‑‑ that for this process to succeed it cannot be imposed from the outside; it must be a Cypriot-owned and Cypriot-led process.


Our message is the same to both sides and to everyone else we speak with on Cyprus:  that the leaders have a critical opportunity before them to arrive at a settlement, and we encourage them strongly to seize that opportunity while it exists.  The Secretary-General is expected to meet with each of the leaders in the coming weeks and will reinforce that same message with both.


Question:  Is there any comment on the leakage itself?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I said I’m aware of the press report, but I have nothing to comment on that directly.  Yes.


Question:  Marie, the Sydney Morning Herald has said that James Elder of UNICEF, whose visa is being revoked, is now receiving death threats by phone in Sri Lanka.  Is that something that the UN is aware of, and will that issue and the issue of the two staff members that were allegedly tortured be raised by the Secretary-General to the new ambassador, Mr. [Palitha] Kohona, that he’s meeting today for the presentation of credentials?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that report and, as you know, the presentation of credentials is not a meeting.  He’s meeting a number of them ‑‑ I don’t have the whole list ‑‑ so it’s not an opportunity for him to sit down and have a meeting with them.  But I mentioned to you yesterday and earlier this week that the Secretary-General, in his statement earlier this week, has said that he plans to be in touch with the President of Sri Lanka on both those issues.


Question:  But is the President of Sri Lanka coming to the General Assembly?  I thought he is actually not coming.  So when is he going to speak to him?


Deputy Spokesperson:  You’d have to ask the President of Sri Lanka whether he is coming to the General Assembly.


Question:  When is the Secretary-General going to raise it to the President?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll let you know as soon as that happens.  Yes.


Question:  When the Secretary-General condemns the rocket attacks on Israel, does he condemn the attacks back from Israel?


Deputy Spokesperson:  The statement stands.  Please, take a look at that statement, okay?


Question:  But I mean, why doesn’t he condemn that as well?  Because why didn’t the Secretary-General criticize Israel for firing on Lebanon?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Nizar, please take a look at the statement and I think it answers your question.  Yes, Matthew.


Question:  There is this proposal in the General Assembly to create a super agency of women’s issues under the UN ‑‑ UNIFEM and all others into one.  Some NGOs are saying that it’s petering out and it was just going to be kicked into the next General Assembly.  Does the Secretary-General have any view of whether that agency should be created?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, he does.  The Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General both stand firmly behind that proposal and have been working very intensively to gain support for it.  As recently as his remarks this summer to the General Assembly on the system-wide coherence ‑‑ I’d like to draw your attention to those remarks ‑‑ he talks about the importance of such an entity and how it would be best positioned to support the UN system and hold it accountable for gender mainstreaming.  This would strengthen collaboration between Member States, the UN system and civil society, particularly women’s networks and non-governmental organizations.  And in that statement, and in his subsequent dealings with Member States, he has urged Member States to muster the political will to create the composite entity during the current session, and to fund it properly.  And he says again that the United Nations has been talking about the gender architecture for quite some time now.  The needs are known, and it is time for Member States to act.


So with that, I’m going to turn over to Enrique Yeves, who will introduce to you the new General Assembly Spokesperson, and then we’ll shut down the cameras for our background briefing.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Thank you, Marie.  Good afternoon to everybody.


As you know, today is the last working day of the sixty-third session and we are trying to wrap up in several fronts.


Yesterday, the Working Group on the Revitalization of the General Assembly finished its work, and there is a substantive draft resolution that will be most likely adopted on Monday.  And on the follow-up of the Conference on Economic and Financial Crisis, the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, chaired this morning the first meeting of the ad hoc working group.  In his opening remarks President d’Escoto said:


“Two points stand out from this process so far.  First, it was established that a process that is led by and engages Member States cannot be excluded from taking up any subject that the Member States themselves deem as appropriate and necessary.  This is essential:  the issue of the competency of the United Nations is the issue of the competency of its Member States.  We have decided that the Member States ‑‑ all of us ‑‑ are not only competent, but have a solemn duty to acknowledge and act upon our responsibility to rebuild our global financial and economic system anew.


“And second, the June Conference and its Outcome were first steps towards the revitalization of the General Assembly’s Charter-defined role in leading the global community’s stewardship of our global economy and ecology.  Our work, accordingly, is far from completed; the heavy lifting of working out effective solutions to the many issues identified in the Outcome remains to be carried out.”


On another issue, the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, has submitted a letter to the President of the Security Council, Ms. Susan Rice, Permanent Representative of the United States of America to the United Nations, requesting that she inform him of the measures that the Council has taken to date, are being implemented or are under consideration to guarantee “full and urgent” compliance with its resolution 1860 (2009), adopted in the wake of the Israel Operation Cast Lead, that calls for the unimpeded provision and distribution throughout Gaza of humanitarian assistance, including food, fuel and medical treatment.  He also called for the immediate lifting of the illegal blockade imposed by Israel against Gaza, and concerted action to bring Israel and other actors into compliance with their obligations under international law, including international humanitarian and human rights law.


And last, but not least, the President of the General Assembly  will recognize this afternoon the Chinese new agency Xinhua for its excellent coverage of the work of the sixty-third session of the United Nations General Assembly in a brief ceremony.  Xinhua News Service has consistently provided excellent reporting on the complex issues before the Assembly, particularly its response to the world financial and economic crisis, thus providing citizens, leaders and opinion makers worldwide with accurate and timely insights into our problems and their solutions.


And I personally would like to congratulate them myself too for their excellent work that they have been doing.


And incidentally, this is my last briefing.  It has been a great pleasure sharing this year with you.  I would like also to thank the staff in the Secretary-General’s Spokesperson’s Office, with Michèle leading it, and the whole Department of Public Information, including the unit led by Gary Fowlie, Paulina and the others; the technicians, Jeff, many thanks; my assistant, Shymaa.


But as the French said, “Le roi est mort.  Vive le roi”.  And it is with great pleasure that I am going to introduce to you the new Spokesperson for the forthcoming General Assembly, Jean-Victor Nkolo.  Jean-Victor Nkolo is not only a brilliant journalist from Cameroon, he is also an excellent friend of mine, and it is a great pleasure that I am going to ask him to introduce himself.


Welcome, Jean-Victor Nkolo.


Jean-Victor Nkolo:  You are too kind, Enrique.  Thank you very much, and good day to all of you.  A few words on myself.  I am from Cameroon.  I have been an international civil servant for many years.  I’ve worked in public information, communications, peacekeeping, DDR, humanitarian emergencies and children and armed conflict.


Between 1993 and 2006 I worked in about 10 peacekeeping operations, in order: Mozambique, Zaire, Rwanda, Liberia, Haiti, Kosovo, Ethiopia and Eritrea, Ivory Coast and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  More specifically, I was a spokesperson for UNMEE in Ethiopia and Eritrea, and ONUCI in Côte d’Ivoire, where I contributed to the establishment of the local UN radio station there, ONUC-FM.


Before returning to DPI my last assignment in peacekeeping was with MONUC, where I was the head of office of Kananga in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Here at Headquarters, for about two years from 2003, I was the Communications Officer in the Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict.


On several occasions I travelled with the Security Council as its spokesperson on missions to Africa.  Before joining the UN, I was just like you ‑‑ working as a journalist in the early 1980s.  I was a presenter and producer with Radio Canada International.  Thereafter, I anchored a weekly television programme on Radio Quebec in Montreal. From 1985 to 1989, I was a broadcaster with the BBC World Service in London; the French Service, and then Network Africa in the Africa service.  And at the BBC French Service I started a programme titled L’Africque en guerre.  And after the BBC I joined Radio Netherlands International from 1989 to 1992 and for Radio Netherlands I mainly covered Somalia.


I was very privileged to have received, in 2006, an international award in the Democratic Republic of the Congo by the organizations of civil society there, Pax Christi International and human rights organization for my contribution in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on human rights and peace.


I am a father of four and I am married.


Thank you very much.


**Questions and Answers


Spokesperson:  Thank you, Jean-Victor.  Any questions for me today?  Be kind, it’s my last day.  James.


Question:  Of course I’ll be kind [laughter].  Thank you so much for the past year.  I suppose my question is what does the future hold for Mr. d’Escoto and yourself?  Will we still see you around at the UN?


Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. d’Escoto is going to be here for a few days and he’s returning to Nicaragua where, as you know, he’s holding a ministerial rank, post in the Cabinet.  And myself, I’m going returning to the Department of Public Information for a few months before returning to my job as the Chief of Media Relations in the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Rome.  The last question should come from whom?  Matthew!  As long as it is not on the Medical Services!


Question:  No, no!  No problem.  First, on the resolution to create a new gender architecture, the super agency.  Is it going to be acted on or as some are saying?  Some have named four countries trying to block it and put it to the next one.  Can you give us a status report of where it stands?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have much to add on that particular issue to what Marie has already said; the Secretary-General and the note that has been issued by them ‑‑ the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, is in the same line; all would like to have this idea going ahead.  But as you know, this is a decision by the Member States and it is up to them to weigh what are the pros and cons, and this I heard they are going to do.  But the bottom line here is that both the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly really would like to push for such an idea.


Question:  [inaudible]…there were some reports on Mr. d’Escoto’s last trip that he named Fidel Castro a world hero of solidarity, and Evo Morales a world hero of Mother Earth.  Was this a UN award?  Was it a Father d’Escoto award?  What was it?


Spokesperson:  It was his own initiative as the President of the General Assembly.  And with that, thank you very much.  It’s been a pleasure to have and to share this full year with all of you.  Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record