1 October 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon, all.


**Guest -- Natural Disasters in Asia-Pacific


United Nations teams have now arrived in Indonesia and Samoa to help those countries cope with recent devastating natural disasters.  Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) says it is rapidly expanding its relief operation in the Philippines in the aftermath of last Saturday’s crippling tropical storm.


In a statement today, WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran said:  “When nature strikes with such force, the world must come together.”  And the Director-General of the UN Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Koïchiro Matsuura, has stressed that national authorities must maintain and constantly improve their communications and warning systems to help protect vulnerable coastal populations.


Our guest at the noon briefing today will be Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes.  He’ll brief you on the earthquakes, tsunamis and storms that have recently hit Asia and the Pacific, and on what the UN is doing to help.  So we will have John Holmes as our guest in a few minutes.


**Background Briefing Today


We also have for you this afternoon a background briefing by a senior UN official on the electoral process in Afghanistan and the role of the UN.  It will be at 2:30 p.m. today.


**Secretary-General in Sweden


The Secretary-General is in Stockholm, Sweden, today, where this afternoon he visited the grave of former Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld and spoke at Uppsala University, where Dag Hammarskjöld spent his earliest years and received his education.  At the University, the Secretary-General said that Hammarskjöld’s concerns and his ambitions remain ours.  He said that he was 17 when Hammarskjöld died, and was just beginning to think about how to help build a better world.  Today, he said, his hope is to create that kind of solidarity at all times, in good times and bad, so that we can fight common threats and seize common opportunities.


The Secretary-General met earlier today with former General Assembly President Jan Eliasson.  After that, the Secretary-General had a tête-à-tête meeting with Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt.  That was followed by a working luncheon hosted by the Prime Minister, during which they discussed climate change, Afghanistan, Cyprus and Myanmar.  The Secretary-General and the Prime Minister then had a joint press encounter, during which Mr. Ban applauded Sweden's leadership, on its own and as European Union President, on climate change.  We will have that transcript available to you later.


The Secretary-General also had an audience today with the King of Sweden.


**Security Council


With the start of a new month, Viet Nam has replaced the United States in the rotating presidency of the Security Council.  Ambassador Le Luong Minh, the new Council President, is talking with other Council members bilaterally on the programme of work for this month, and Council members expect to hold consultations tomorrow to discuss that programme.  Then Ambassador Le will talk to you in this room at 12:30 tomorrow about the Council’s work over the coming month.


**Security Council on Guinea


The Security Council issued a press statement following consultations yesterday on Guinea, in which they had received a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios.  The Council expressed its utmost concern at the killings that took place on 28 September, when members of the army opened fire on civilians attending a rally.


The members of the Council condemned the violence, which reportedly killed at least 150 people and wounded hundreds of others, and included rapes in the streets in broad daylight.  Council members urged the authorities to put an end to the violence, bring the perpetrators to justice and release political prisoners.


** Guinea


In response to a question at yesterday’s briefing, we would like to inform you that, as a member of the International Contact Group on Guinea, the Special Representative for West Africa and head of UNOWA [United Nations Office for West Africa], Said Djinnit, represents the United Nations in the Group.  He has undertaken a number of visits to Guinea, both in his capacity as Special Representative for West Africa and as a member of the Contact Group.  The International Contact Group has been insisting on the early return to constitutional order in Guinea, and the non-participation of members of the National Council for Democracy and Development in the forthcoming elections, consistent with an earlier commitment that the military junta had given to the international community.


** Côte d’Ivoire


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Côte d’Ivoire, Choi Young‑jin, has warned that delays caused by technical difficulties may adversely affect the electoral timeline.  In an interview with UN Radio, Choi said that two months had already been lost, but he noted some successful political developments, such as the establishment of mobile court hearings across the country and the end of voter registration.  “The election is just around the corner and you can even feel it,” he added.  Choi further noted that there is now a very optimistic atmosphere in Côte d’Ivoire, with a very strong electoral momentum that would be difficult to break.


** Yemen


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that insecurity and sporadic clashes in Yemen’s Sa’ada town and its suburbs are impeding the delivery of humanitarian assistance.  Thousands of trapped civilians and internally displaced persons (IDPs) have not received any aid since the conflict escalated six weeks ago.


Over the past week, registration efforts have continued in relatively secure areas that are accessible to the United Nations and NGO partners.  The total number of registered internally displaced persons in the Governorates of Al-Jawf, Amran, Hajjah and Sa’ada is more than 78,000.  The World Food Programme has helped to distribute a total of 481 metric tons of food to 32,172 beneficiaries in the Hajjah and Sa'ada Governorates as of 27 September.


UNICEF has set up water, sanitation and hygiene services at Al-Mazrak camp, and provided support to some 420 displaced persons outside the camp.  UNICEF is also taking part in a joint mission with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), WFP and the World Health Organization (WHO), led by the Minister of Health, to Amran Governorate.  The mission is intended to conclude negotiations for a planned IDP camp in Amran that will host an estimated 3,500 displaced persons currently awaiting the delivery of basic services.


The $23.7 million flash appeal for Yemen, launched on 2 September, is just under 2 per cent funded.  Several pledges towards the appeal have also been received, amounting to some $2.6 million, which still need to be confirmed.


** Zimbabwe


In Zimbabwe, four major UN and international humanitarian agencies have launched an initiative that aims to strengthen the country’s capacities to respond effectively to an H1N1 pandemic.  The “Call to Action” initiative is being undertaken by the World Health Organization, the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, UNICEF and the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  It will prepare Zimbabwe’s health system to deal with any public health and socio-economic impacts of the pandemic and all other health threats.


Zimbabwe is the first country in the world, according to WHO, to apply the Call to Action principles to its own health system.  A key aspect of the initiative involves the application of valuable lessons learned during the unprecedented 2008‑2009 cholera outbreak. We have more information upstairs for you.


**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea


Out on the racks today is the Secretary-General’s report on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  In the report, the Secretary-General expresses serious concern about continuing reports that the situation of human rights remains grave and that the Government has not taken significant steps to address persistent reports of systematic and widespread human rights violations and to provide safeguards for human rights.


The Secretary-General expressed deep concern at the continued decline of food assistance made available by the international community, despite the worsening shortage of food reported by humanitarian agencies.  The Secretary-General urges the DPRK to provide safeguards for human rights and ensure domestic legal reforms in order to comply with its international treaty obligations.


**Outer Space


Orbiting debris remains a threat to a sustainable use of outer space, the UN Office for Outer Space Affairs said, adding that the issue will feature prominently next week, when the world celebrates Outer Space Week.  The Office recalls that 300,000 pieces of debris orbit the Earth at several thousand miles an hour, with potential impact force likely to down, damage or destroy a spacecraft.  Meanwhile, close to 1,000 satellites are also orbiting the planet, providing weather, mapping, communications and other basic services.


**Disarmament


The third segment of the 2009 Disarmament Fellowship Programme launched today at United Nations Headquarters in New York, with the participation of young diplomats from 24 Member States.  The three-and-a-half week programme aims to expose the Fellows to the work of the First Committee, on disarmament and international security, of the General Assembly, including attendance at meetings of the Committee.


**International Monetary Fund


The global economic crisis is hitting low-income countries harder than expected, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  The IMF is urging the donor community to do more, although debt reduction and an increase in aid are currently helping to address the impact of the global food, fuel and financial crisis.  There is a press release upstairs.


**Older Persons


Today is the International Day of Older Persons.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General calls for an end to age discrimination as well as abuse, neglect and violence against older persons.  We have his full message upstairs.  And this is all I have for you today.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  It’s essentially a redundant question, but may I assume Ambassador Le will have a programme of work briefing tomorrow?


Spokesperson:  Yes, we assume so.  We are waiting for him to announce it.


Question:  In Guinea, the de facto coup leader has himself called for an investigation, including by the UN, of the deaths.  Is that a call that the UN is aware of, and what would the UN do in that regard?


Spokesperson:  The UN would certainly answer such a call, I don’t know in what form.  It is very difficult for me to answer in precise terms how this would be done, but as you know, we have been very concerned about the situation going on there, and there is no doubt that the UN will, if called upon, certainly address the issue.


[The Spokesperson later highlighted that the United Nations had been very concerned about the killings in Guinea.]


Question:  I know that we have this background briefing on the elections in Afghanistan, but I wanted… the Republic reports that either the UN is considering or the US is pushing to replace Mr. Galbraith with a Larry Sampler.  Can you either -- maybe you won’t speak to that can you say what the process will be to have a new deputy in the UNAMA mission?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think the process has been launched yet, so I cannot answer that question.  But about the electoral process, you are right, you are going to get a technical briefing a little later.  And you can quote a “UN official”.


Question:  And I just wanted to ask one last thing, the Fifth Committee, the budget committee, just began this morning for its new session, and in it, Mexico, on behalf of the Rio Group, said it’s highly problematic that the Secretariat hasn’t included in its proposed budget, among other things, the associate cost of the Capital Master Plan.  There was no response that I saw from the Secretariat from the meeting, but it seems like the kind of thing.  Is this factually accurate?  Are there costs of the Capital Master Plan that are not in the budget? 


Spokesperson:  I would have to inquire from the Capital Master Plan people.  In fact, I was thinking of getting you a briefing very shortly, because some of you know you are going to be moving in a few weeks, and you might need to be updated on that.  I would like to welcome Mr. John Holmes.


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For information media • not an official record