|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 Jean-Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon on this rather busy Tuesday morning; we’re getting you ready for next week.
Our guests today at the briefing will be Alain Le Roy, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and Susanna Malcorra, the Head of the Department of Field Support. And they’ll be here to talk about peacekeeping operations issues in advance of next week’s sixty fourth session in the General Assembly; the high-level debate.
The first of the press conferences that happened earlier today, the United Nations fact-finding mission on the Gaza conflict, released its findings today in New York. The mission, headed by Justice Richard Goldstone, was mandated by the Human Rights Council to “investigate all violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law that might have been committed at any time in the context of the military operations that were conducted in Gaza during the period from 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009, whether before, during or after”.
Since its establishment, the Secretary-General has encouraged and supported the mission and called on all parties to cooperate fully in its work. He believes that accountability for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law is essential both to the protection of human dignity and to the quest for sustainable peace.
The mission will formally present its report to the Human Rights Council on 29 September. And earlier today, Justice Goldstone had a telephone conversation with the Secretary-General to inform him of its broad contents and of his intention to release the report. The Secretary-General commended Justice Goldstone for his leadership and independence.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on System-Wide Coherence
I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on a resolution that was adopted yesterday on system-wide coherence.
The Secretary-General welcomes the adoption by the sixty-third General Assembly of the resolution on system-wide coherence. The Secretary-General notes that, with this resolution, an important step has been made in strengthening the United Nations work in the area of gender equality and empowerment of women, as well as in ensuring the effective delivery of its operational activities for development, which constitute the other key components of the resolution.
The Secretary-General is particularly gratified that Member States have agreed to his proposal to consolidate all four women-specific entities into a stronger composite entity for a more robust promotion of the rights and well-being of women around the world.
For his part the Secretary-General has appointed more women to senior posts than at any time in United Nations history. This includes nine women with the rank of under-secretary-general, and overall the number of women in senior posts has increased by 40 per cent under his tenure.
The Secretary-General is committed to provide expeditiously the General Assembly with a comprehensive proposal concerning the mission statement, the organizational arrangements, the funding and the oversight for the new entity in order to allow the launching of the composite entity without further delay.
And that statement is available upstairs.
**Responsibility to Protect
And we put out a statement yesterday following the General Assembly’s adoption by consensus of its first resolution on the responsibility to protect.
The Secretary-General welcomed the adoption of the resolution as an important step as we chart a common path towards meeting the commitment made at the 2005 World Summit to protect the world's peoples from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity.
The Secretary-General now looks forward to further deepening the dialogue on how best to implement the responsibility to protect, building on the important debate the General Assembly held in late July. He has asked his Special Adviser, Professor Edward Luck, together with the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Professor Francis Deng, to continue their wide-ranging consultations on the many implementation questions still before us.
**Human Rights Council
Turning to Geneva, this morning in Geneva, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay addressed the autumn session of the Human Rights Council. In her remarks, she said that discrimination remains a “scourge” that affects every country, and that combating it had become one of her office’s top priorities -- along with tackling impunity for attacks on civilians during armed conflict and other human rights violations.
Pillay added that there are “huge gaps” between the “lofty pledges” made by States and the realities of daily life for many of their inhabitants. She noted that “no country in the world can claim to be free of human rights violations”. Pillay has just completed her first year at the helm of the UN human rights office. We have upstairs a press release related to her speech.
And to add to what we just said, Pillay also told the Human Rights Council this morning that it is a breach of international law for State authorities and ship owners to reject or ignore the pleas of migrants stranded at sea. She said the fate of people who brave life-threatening risks to cross international boundaries in search of a better life present one of the most serious human rights problems in the world today.
In related news, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reported that 16 African migrants have died while attempting to reach Yemen from the Horn of Africa region. Another 49 are missing and presumed dead. You can read more about this in the briefing notes from Geneva that are upstairs in the Spokesperson’s office.
**Children and Armed Conflict
And back to the Human Rights Council, just one more item -- the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, reported to that body the plight of children affected by war.
She said that it had been a terrible year for children living in situations of armed conflict around the world, as conflicts in Gaza, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan led to high casualty rates and the displacement of a large number of people, especially children. She stressed the need to address protection concerns for children displaced as a result of conflict. The Special Representative said that in order to halt grave violations against children, addressing impunity and holding perpetrators accountable must remain a priority of the international community.
And here at UN Headquarters, the Security Council this morning voted unanimously to extend the mandates of the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and of the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Support Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL), both for an additional year. Council members then heard a briefing on the work of the Sanctions Committee for Sudan in their closed consultations, by the Chair of that Committee, the Ambassador of Austria.
**Timor-Leste -- Human Rights Report
And there is a report out today by the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT), which shows that progress has been made in key human rights areas over the past year there, including strengthening of the judicial system and enactment of important legislation. And you can pick that up because it is out as a document.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, incidents targeting humanitarian workers in the North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo have increased by 26 per cent in the first six months of 2009, compared to the same period in 2008. And that’s according to a report based on data collected by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). And you can read more about that in their press release upstairs.
**United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)
And UNICEF reports today that its “School for Africa” campaign will expand to help millions of more children. The initiative has raised more than $50 million, exceeding its initial target, according UNICEF. The School for Africa Campaign is a partnership to raise money in order to help over 4 million children in Angola, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe.
**Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
And UNHCR, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, today announced that its annual Nansen Refugee Award is going to the late Senator Edward Kennedy. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, says that, “Senator Kennedy stood out as a forceful advocate for those who suddenly found themselves with no voice and no rights”. And the Award Ceremony is going to take place on 28 October in Washington, D.C.
And today is, as you’ll recall from the previous press conference, the International Day of Democracy. In a message to mark this occasion, the Secretary-General says that the challenges to consolidating democracy around the world remain formidable and numerous. He adds that the primary responsibility for democratic change lies within national societies, but that the international community can play a vital supportive role. And his message is upstairs for you to pick up.
**United Nations Information Centre Islamabad
Just two more things and then we’ll have to switch quickly over to the General Assembly Spokesperson before our guests, who are patiently waiting.
We had questions that arose at yesterday’s noon briefing about UNIC Islamabad. I think Masood had that question. You may wish to note the following:
We have checked with OIOS [the Office of Internal Oversight Service], and bearing in mind due process concerns, we are not able to provide any comment on its investigation at this time.
The former Director of the UN Information Centre in Islamabad, Pakistan, served as the Director of UNIC Lagos from March 2007 until August of this year, and is now on a temporary assignment in UNIC Nairobi. That’s the UN Information Centre there.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
One more thing. Tomorrow, press conferences, again, it’s a busy day in the morning. At 11 a.m., Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro and senior officials from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) will hold a press conference here to launch the 2009 report of the Millennium Development Goals Gap Task Force. The report, entitled “Strengthening the Global Partnership for Development”, examines gaps in meeting commitments on aid, trade, debt relief and other targets agreed under Goal 8 of the Millennium Development Goals.
Our guests at the noon briefing tomorrow, UN Legal Counsel Patricia O'Brien and Craig Mokhiber from the New York Office for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, will brief on the upcoming 2009 UN treaty event, which will take place next week at UN Headquarters, another thing for you to cover.
And at 2:30 p.m., John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, will be here to provide a general humanitarian overview, focusing on situations in Sri Lanka, Yemen, some Horn of Africa countries and Guatemala.
And that’s what I have for you. And again, Thursday is the Secretary-General’s press conference at 11 a.m. here, so there will be no briefing that day.
I’m going to take three questions and then I’m going to go to Jean-Victor. Let’s start with the gentleman in the back.
**Questions and Answers
Question: My name is Ali from Egypt Today magazine. It happened like from a few days that Egyptian authorities are shooting, as usual, Africans trying to cross the borders between Egypt and Israel. It happened a lot in the past year and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that it’s our right to protect the borders. Why the UN is until now, we didn’t have any statements from the UN until now about this matter?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have not seen any reports on that, but I will look into it for you immediately after the briefing. Yes.
Question: Marie, is there a statement or update on Peter Galbraith’s departure from Afghanistan? The Secretary-General hasn’t had any comments, or is there a statement [inaudible]?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’m sure that Mr. Le Roy may have more to say on this, but Peter Galbraith remains an integral part of the Mission leadership. With any hotly contested election there is bound to be difference in opinion. That is to be expected. However the leadership of UNAMA remains committed to supporting a credible election outcome that is accepted by voters. Mr. Galbraith is currently on mission and he will join Kai Eide, who is the Special Representative for Afghanistan, later this month in New York at the briefing of the Security Council, after which he is expected to return to Afghanistan.
Question: So he is on mission, he hasn’t left the Mission?
Deputy Spokesperson: That’s correct. Edie.
Question: Well, there are reports that he had quit. So you’re saying that those reports were [inaudible]?
Deputy Spokesperson: This is the latest I have on Afghanistan, and if Mr. Le Roy has more he will add it at the time. Matthew, last question.
Question: On this readout I guess you gave on the East Timor report, is this the same report that also says that the Security Council should consider setting up a tribunal to look at war crimes from 1999?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t know, frankly. Still, let’s look at that report and see if that’s contained now.
Question: And I wanted to ask you, there was an incident in Mogadishu, and I don’t know if Mr. Le Roy will be able to speak or not, but the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) forces opened fire kind of randomly, thinking that they were into [inaudible] insurgency; actually they killed 11 camels, and this has given rise to some people saying that, is the UN training or are they assisting AMISOM in any way, and what do they think of this incident?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, the UN, obviously, is supporting AMISOM, and I’ll let, again, the Head of the Peacekeeping Department talk about those efforts. I have not seen anything about the shooting incidents to which you refer. Okay, with that I’m going to Jean-Victor, he’s the General Assembly Spokesperson for the sixty-fourth session, and after he quickly finishes hopefully we’ll get to our guests. Thank you.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Thank you, Marie.
Under-Secretary-General Le Roy is waiting, so I won’t be very long, just some items. The statement to be delivered today, later today at around 3 p.m., by His Excellency Dr. Ali Treki, President of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly, on the opening session is available. You will all receive it within the next hour by e-mail, and it will also be posted online as soon as possible.
On 14 September, the UN General Assembly adopted by consensus its first resolution on the responsibility to protect (R2P), agreeing to hold further discussions on the international understanding to intervene to stop atrocities from happening.
Also yesterday, 14 September, the GA voted to create a new, more powerful agency for women. The GA resolution called for the amalgamation of four existing UN offices dealing with women’s affairs into a single body to be headed by an Under-Secretary-General, a higher rank than exists at present.
Finally, the General Assembly President was invited yesterday to attend the Holy See prayer service, a function traditionally held on the eve of the GA session at the Church of the Holy Family in New York. Mr. Treki was represented by Mr. Saad Elshlmani. Ambassador Elshlmani is a senior adviser to the President of the General Assembly.
If you have a few quick questions, I’m happy to respond before Under-Secretary-General Le Roy takes over. Yes, sir.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Yes. Is the new President of the General Assembly going to give a press conference here?
Spokesperson: I will check that with him. He will certainly meet the press for sure. I don’t have a specific date yet, but that will definitely happen. Yes.
Question: [Inaudible] I guess the beginning of his term. I just wanted to confirm with you, will he… I assume that he, and I wanted to know how many people on his staff will actually be paid by the Libyan Government?
Spokesperson: I’ll come back to you on that, Matthew. I’ll find out, but as far as I know, he will assume his duties at 3 p.m. So I don’t have a final kind of list for the time being that I may communicate to you. But we’ll find out later and I’ll come back to you on that. No problem.
Thank you, and I will be communicating my new telephone number shortly to all of you. For the time being, you know my e-mail address if you want to communicate with me. It’s a transition period and I’ll have a new office some time later today, this afternoon. Thank you very much. Marie.
* *** *For information media • not an official record