9 October 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Nobel Peace Prize


Good afternoon, all, and welcome to the students who are with us today.  You have heard the Secretary-General’s statement earlier today, in which he wholeheartedly welcomed and congratulated US President Barack Obama on winning the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.  He said this is great news for President Obama, for the people of the United States, and for the United Nations.  His statement is available upstairs and, of course, on our webcast.


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Pakistan


We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Pakistan.  The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest possible terms today’s bomb attack at a marketplace in the Pakistani town of Peshawar, which reportedly killed at least 49 people, including children and women, and injured many more.  No cause can justify such indiscriminate violence.  He extends his condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government of Pakistan, and wishes those injured a full recovery.


** Yemen


The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees reports that the situation in northern Yemen remains dire, tense and volatile, with civilians continuing to bear the brunt of the ongoing conflict.  Today, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes visited a camp in northern Yemen, where over 6,000 internally displaced persons are being sheltered.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that around 30 newly displaced families are arriving daily in the north-western town of Haradh.  Some have travelled by foot through the mountains for as long as five days, arriving exhausted.  Having moved to areas where there is little basic infrastructure, such as clean water sources, and with scant means of supporting themselves, the newly displaced are largely dependent on humanitarian aid for their survival, OCHA says.


OCHA adds that, with the latest clashes, the total number of internally displaced persons has swollen to some 150,000 people.  UNHCR says its operation to deliver aid from Saudi Arabia to displaced Yemenis stranded near the border is scheduled for tomorrow.  UNHCR has already positioned tents, mattresses, blankets and other items for more than 2,000 people on the Saudi side of the border.  Meanwhile, the flash appeal issued in response to this crisis remains only 16 per cent funded, OCHA notes.  We have more on that upstairs.


** Philippines


United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes will arrive in the Philippines on Monday on a two-day mission to review the strong emergency response to Tropical Storm Ketsana and Typhoon Parma.  There, Holmes is scheduled to meet President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and cabinet ministers, including the Chairman of the National Disaster Coordinating Council and the Secretary of Defence, the UN Country Team, the UNDAC team and donors.  The USG’s mission comes in the context of recent reports of a serious situation in northern Luzon as a result of the incessant rainfall exacerbating the floods and the number of people in need of immediate humanitarian assistance.  The flash appeal for $74 million to address needs in 13 sectors in support of the Government’s relief efforts has so far been funded with $13.6 million, 18 per cent of the amount that is actually needed.  Yesterday, UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman visited the Philippines to see the damage done by a tropical storm and subsequent massive flooding.  She visited a number of small villages affected, including Santa Cruz village in metro Manila where, during the first few days after the storm hit, the school was home to 700 people, 300 of them children.  UNICEF has provided the city authorities with family kits and kits with essential medicines, water and hygiene kits.  During the visit, Veneman also met with the President of the Philippines to discuss response efforts and the emergency relief needs that UNICEF could meet, as well as ongoing efforts to promote the rights of all children in the country.


** Indonesia


The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the international humanitarian community today launched a $38 million humanitarian response plan to complement the Indonesian Government’s efforts in meeting the needs of earthquake-hit communities in West Sumatra.  Based on initial assessments, priority needs range from the restoration of water and sanitation facilities to ensuring that children are reunited with their families.  The Humanitarian Response Plan targets some of the most affected areas including Padang City and Pariaman City, for the next three months.  Eleven UN agencies, the International Organization for Migration and 18 international NGOs are requesting funds for 74 humanitarian projects.  As international search-and-rescue teams continued to depart and an increasing number of humanitarian teams arrive in Padang, the United Nations Disaster and Assessment Coordination team’s focus has shifted to humanitarian coordination.


** Iraq


The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights today welcomed the Iraqi Government’s release of 36 members of the People’s Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, who were detained when Iraqi security forces forcibly took control of Camp Ashraf at the end of July.  Eleven people were killed and dozens wounded during that operation.  The Office of the High Commissioner added that the fundamental rights of this refugee camp’s occupants should be respected ‑‑ including the right not to be forcibly returned to their home country, Iran, so long as there is a risk of torture.  Along with the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI), which had been very active in this case, the Office of the High Commissioner says it will continue to monitor the situation in Camp Ashraf over the coming months.  We have more on that upstairs from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The UN refugee agency has renewed its call to the Congolese refugees formerly residing at the Gihinga camp in Burundi not to return to their native Democratic Republic of the Congo just yet.  UNHCR is reacting to an incident yesterday at the Burundi/DRC border in which some 400 Congolese from the Gihinga camp were prevented from entering the DRC by immigration officials.  While details remain sketchy, it appears that the 400 Congolese, denied entry into their own country, are part of a group of refugees who had earlier refused to move to a new UNHCR camp further into Burundi.  For its part, UNHCR continues to urge them not to leave Burundi as it fears that neither the Congolese Government nor UN agencies would be able to ensure their safety inside Congo at this time.  Meanwhile, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo proper, a World Food Programme convoy was able to reach the north-eastern town of Dungu after a 1,000-kilometre journey from Uganda through Southern Sudan.  The convoy is delivering food aid to some 160,000 displaced people.  The agency thanks the Government of Southern Sudan for facilitating this operation.


** Somalia


The World Food Programme has distributed more than 22,000 tons of food aid to some 1.3 million Somalis within the past month alone.  WFP says it could have made more food available to vulnerable Somalis but its September requirement for 48,000 ton to feed 3 million people received less than half of the needed funds, forcing it to cut down rations and the scope of its interventions.  The agency now says that it urgently needs $195 million to provide food aid to 3.3 million Somalis through April next year.


** Guinea


Turning now to the recent violence in Guinea:  the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reports that High Commissioner Navi Pillay is considering how to assist with an investigation ‑‑ and make sure that it is credible ‑‑ in view of the security and political situation on the ground.  She is concerned about possible risks and harm that may come to Guineans if an investigation is launched without the necessary security guarantees for witnesses and those who provide information.  There also needs to be free access throughout the country, and full independence.  Much would depend on the cooperation of the Guinean authorities who have just announced the creation of their own Commission of Inquiry, the High Commissioner’s office adds.  For now, Pillay is gathering information on the incidents through a multitude of sources, in consultation with other parts of the UN system, and considering various models for a possible probe.  She hopes that an investigation will take place as soon be possible.  In the meantime, her office has a human rights adviser on the ground in Guinea, who has been there since 2008.


**Côte d’Ivoire


The UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire is appealing to Ivorians and other stakeholders in the planned November 29 election to give electoral technical teams the necessary time to complete voters lists.  The Mission reiterated its readiness to continue to provide, within the limits of its mandate, whatever assistance the country needs to complete this process.  Responding to concerns that some 3 million people have yet to be included on the voters lists, the Mission said that there is still time to work out the difficulties surrounding this issue.  It also appealed to the authorities to publish as soon as possible the completed provisional lists.


Meanwhile, the Mission says it has delivered the final load of electoral equipment to the capital Yamoussoukro just yesterday.  The delivery includes polling booths, ballot boxes and kits.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Young-jin Choi, will be updating the Security Council next week on recent progress and outstanding challenges to the UN’s work in Côte d’Ivoire.


**Climate Change


The latest UN Climate Change negotiations have resulted in more clarity on the architecture needed for action ‑‑ but decisions on finance and midterm targets remain outstanding.  That’s according to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which wrapped up today a two-week negotiating session in Bangkok.  Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the Convention, said that bold leadership must open the roadblocks around the key issues of reduction targets and finance in order for negotiators to complete their work.  It is time now to step back from self-interest and let the common interest prevail, he added.  De Boer also said that countries were leaving this negotiating session with a much clearer idea of the options before them.  He stressed that the willingness they had shown to discuss a concrete climate architecture must now be turned into achievable, believable decisions.  There are now five days of climate change negotiations left before the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December.  The last session will take place from 2 to 6 November, in Barcelona.  And Monday, my guest at the noon briefing will be Janos Pasztor, Director of the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team, and he will brief you on these negotiations.


**Department for General Assembly and Conference Management


Following questions asked about a news report on the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management Services, I would like to clarify the following, the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) evaluation of the Department was carried out at the request of that Department and the department (of General Assembly and Conference Management Services) says it is largely in agreement with the findings contained in the report.  As stated in the report, the Department “does not share the pessimistic tone and tenor of the report regarding the very existence of integrated global management”.  Visible progress is under way.  The Department notes improvements, which are mentioned in the OIOS evaluation but which the news report chose to ignore.  Furthermore, the Department says is currently examining how best to implement the recommendations contained in the report.  We have a detailed note from the Department available upstairs.  There is also a representative from the Department here to answer your questions, should there be any and, of course, we will refer to him if you have any questions afterwards.


**Mental Health


Tomorrow [Saturday, 10 October] will be World Mental Health Day.  In a message to mark this occasion, the Secretary-General says that this day is an important opportunity to mobilize international resources to meet the goal of providing adequate mental health care.  He adds that the need is high but the care is inadequate in developing countries.  The Secretary-General calls for a scaling up of mental health services and the involvement of primary health-care systems in delivering mental health services worldwide.


**The Week Ahead


We have “The Week Ahead at the United Nations” upstairs.  Some highlights:  starting Saturday and until 13 October, the Deputy Secretary-General will be in Brussels.  Among other activities, she will launch the EU-UN Partnership Report on Monday.  On Sunday, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy will be arriving in Singapore to participate in the opening of the seventy-eighth Interpol General Assembly, which is dedicated to the role of international policing in building sustainable peace.  Looking ahead still, on Tuesday, the Security Council is expected to adopt a resolution on the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti and on the panel of experts on Sudan Sanctions.  It will then hold consultations on the United Nations operations in Côte d’Ivoire.  And then starting Tuesday and until October 15, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, will be in India to carry out a series of meetings with government officials and national authorities as part of an official visit to troop-contributing countries.


And on Wednesday, still looking ahead, the Security Council will hold a debate on the situation in the Middle East.  On Thursday, the Security Council will hold a debate on the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, and on Thursday also the General Assembly is expected to elect five non-permanent members of the Security Council.  Of course, I will let Jean Victor talk about this when he comes on.  And, Friday, next Friday (16 October) is World Food Day.  The theme this year is achieving food security in times of crises.  And then also on Friday the Security Council will hear a briefing and then hold consultations on the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  And this is all I have for you.  I’ll take your questions and then I’ll leave my seat to Jean Victor and if you have questions on the OIOS report concerning the General Assembly Mr. Rene Aquarone [of the Department of General Assembly and Conference Management Services] will be happy to answer your questions.  Yes Bill.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Michèle, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UN has said that, for quite some number of months, that he and his Government had tried to persuade the UN to move its offices in Islamabad into a proposed diplomatic enclave under what they call a “one-roof programme” and that the WFP office that was bombed on October 5, although in a residential area that has some security, didn’t really have enough to meet the challenge and that there is a real question about lack of security here.  Did those warnings ever reach the level of the Secretary-General and if so what’s his reaction and what is the UN doing in terms of follow-up, to investigate questions about security there?  There might, might there be somebody, something happening, similar to what happened after Algiers, when you had an independent investigation?


Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know about an independent investigation but I do know that the Department of Safety and Security is right now investigating security services, what happened there, exactly what the conditions were and about the security conditions that our staff is living under.  I [also] have to say one thing about the “one roof” that you mentioned.  The “one roof” option that was proposed was too small to host the number of people that are part of the UN system.  And I think this is why, essentially, this hadn’t gone forward faster than it had.  I think essentially the facilities that were offered could not accommodate everyone.


Question:  Was the Secretary-General aware at all of concerns on the part of the Government that the facility that was there nevertheless just didn’t have the security that was up to the threat that existed in Islamabad?


Spokesperson:  Yes.  He was fully aware of that.


Question:  Okay.  And what’s his reaction?


Spokesperson:  They were trying to and that’s why he had given instructions that this be assessed.  Of course, the bombing came before we could fully assess, assess the situation and the bombing occurred, as you know, in one of the better protected facilities that we had.


Question:  When did he ask for the assessment?  And when was it, when was it originally due to start?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information but I know that it is a continuing process of assessing our missions abroad.  There is a continuing process going on.  I don’t know whether specifically…


Question:  Can’t we ask for something specific in this case?


Spokesperson:  That I have to check.


Question:  Is this part of an ongoing continuous thing?


Spokesperson:  I have to check.  Sure.


Question:  I’ve heard from someone in UNDP that they were, they were the agency in charge of trying to build this single facility in the diplomatic zone.  Is that, is that true and who is the designated ‑‑ or which agency at least ‑‑ was the, you know, designated security official for the UN in Pakistan?


Spokesperson:  I can find out for you.  I don’t have the answer right now.  Yes.


Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  On Somalia there are some news that the Transitional Government there had been recruiting or hiring young children from Kenya for fighting Shebab Mujahideen [inaudible] and the rebel there.  Do you have any comments to this and how far do you think this might impact the financial commitments announced by the [inaudible] and the UN to help the Government there?


Spokesperson:  Well, I cannot see into the future [of financial commitments].  I don’t know at this point what will happen.  I do know that it is an issue of great concern.  That’s really all I can say at this point and this has been followed very closely by our Special representative there [the UN envoy for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould Abdallah].


Question:  Sure.  First I just wanted to know, on that question of whether Iranian Foreign Minister [Mataki] raised to the UN, specifically to Ban Ki-moon, this issue of the missing… scientist that went missing in Saudi Arabia.  I didn’t get an answer back.  I heard that you maybe you had told, was this raised to you?


Spokesperson:  I told you yesterday that the issue was raised, I couldn’t say any more on that.  I said it was a tête-à-tête meeting and I could not provide more information on what was said, but I did say that the issue was raised.


Question:  I wanted to ask you about the mobility, the mobility system of the UN.  There’s some controversy in the Department… Department of Public Affairs where two long-time, highly-respected Directors have taken umbrage to Lynn Pascoe on a job that had been put out and that people had applied for, moving somebody laterally.  So the question is, although I understand the mobility, I think I understand what this mobility system of the UN is, how does it apply in a situation where outside people have already applied, résumés have already been taken.  They’ve protested it and now suffered letters to their file.  Is the Secretary-General aware of this and does he stand behind what two of his long-time Directors of Security Council Affairs see as an improper hiring process?


Spokesperson:  Well, you know, I cannot comment on the specificities of what you are saying.  I can have someone come here and explain to you what the mobility [policy] is, how the mobility policy is being carried out then you can get more information on it but I don’t have any specific comments on the situation you just described.


Question: If you speak to Haile Menkerios, it’s…


Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information and I will not comment on specific issues.  Okay.  Yes.  Massoud.


Question:  With this, with President Obama’s winning the Nobel Peace Prize, I mean the focus is again on Middle East and the Peace Process over there.  I just wanted to know from you has the Secretary-General, I mean, I have asked this question before [inaudible] the process that goes on all the time.  Has the Secretary-General in the last, recent, one or two days talked with either the Prime Minister of Israel, the Foreign Minister of Israel, to [inaudible] open up the Gaza crossings and to stop the settlement?


Spokesperson:  Not that I know of, but I can tell you that Mr. Robert Serry on the ground has been very active.


Question:  Yeah, but…


Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General himself has not talked about that issue with Israeli officials [in the last two or three days].


Question:  [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  Don’t forget that he’s dealing with [a lot right now], you know, what happened to our staff [in Pakistan], about two days, three days ago.  Yes.


Question:  Has the Secretary-General communicated with President Obama since the announcement, or does he plan to call him or, you know, what…?


Spokesperson:  He’s writing him a letter.


Question:  [inaudible] I just wanted to ask one thing.


Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  Yesterday, you had said that you didn’t believe, or you thought it was impossible that new carpeting had gone in on the 23rd floor.  And I appreciate that you’ve now e-mailed, said that some has gone in…


Spokesperson:  These are some carpet tiles that went in and we asked why, and they told us that there were some.  While the swing space is being set up for the different people to move in, they had to house the temporary people, people on temporary contracts, on the 23rd floor.  They also had to set up some space for what they call “down space”, for people who can, who have to come to Headquarters all the time and who could not move out completely.  They will be given space in the new building on the North Lawn but as long as the North Lawn is not finished, they cannot actually do that.  So, it is a temporary situation, as I was reassured this morning. I called and I was reassured this morning that the amount spent was $500.  Five hundred dollars is for the tile carpeting and that carpeting will be used in the new structure.


Question:  I mean, I understand the amount is small.  The only thing I wanted to know is, give, when is, when are they going to take it out.  What struck me as strange was…


Spokesperson:  They have to wait for the swing spaces to be open.  I assume that by the end of December, everyone should have moved out of this building completely.


Question:  The only other thing is.  What the people that raised it to me said is that the Chinese translators worked there for, for many years with, with no carpet, so what was it about the new [inaudible], that they needed carpet?


Spokesperson:  It’s because they were outfitting some offices for USGs and ASGs, who are, actually supposed to be [in swing spaces] outside of Headquarters, who had their whole team moved outside of Headquarters.


Question:  So they need carpet, I mean, I’m sorry to say it that way, but…


Spokesperson:  But this has always been the case everywhere, Matthew.  I don’t think we are inventing the wheel here.  I just found out that the space there had carpet, which was totally torn and was in very, very bad shape.


So that’s why they brought in those tile carpeting and that tile carpeting will be reused.


Question:  It’s back under the carpet [inaudible].


Spokesperson: [laughs] [inaudible] Thank you all very much.  Jean Victor.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Thank you, thank you, Michèle and good afternoon to you all, bon après-midi.  I would like to start with the statement of the President of the General Assembly on the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to President Barack Obama.  The President of the General Assembly, Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, warmly congratulates the President of the United States of America, Mr. Barack Obama, on winning today the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009.  The President of the General Assembly commends the Nobel Committee for recognizing in President Obama a champion for peace, multilateralism and dialogue among all civilizations.  Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to the President of a Member State of the United Nations General Assembly will encourage global efforts that President Obama is firmly committed to, in addressing today’s and tomorrow’s challenges, whether on international peace and security, climate change, nuclear disarmament, development and human rights.  The President of the General Assembly looks forward to further strengthening his bilateral interaction with President Obama, a key actor in the process for building a better and safer world for all humankind.  This statement will be available online in several languages within the next few minutes.


The Third Committee of the General Assembly begins its works on Monday with an oral report by Ms. Naela Gabr, Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  Ms. Yanghee Lee, Chairperson of the Committee on the Rights of the Child is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon, 14 October.  Nearly 30 human rights experts, including many rapporteurs mandated by the Human Rights Council, will address the Committee until 2 November.  DPI and OHCHR New York will jointly arrange a series of press briefings with several of these human rights experts.  A media advisory announcing the confirmed press briefings is available in the Office of the Spokesperson, and I think we have some copies in this room.  If you have further queries on this, as well as other proceedings that Michèle mentioned a while ago, please let me know and I will refer you to the relevant colleagues or focal persons, or committee chairs.  Any questions?  Yes.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Do you know if gay rights will be discussed by the Third Committee? [inaudible] Maybe under the topic of gender equality or…


Spokesperson:  I will come back to you on that.  You may also want to check directly with the Chairperson of that Committee.  Thank you.


Question:  Only because it’s a follow-up.  I know I’ve asked you this in writing but maybe you can wing it.  Given what President Treki said in his September 18 press conference about, what I take to be his personal view is that homosexuality is not acceptable etc., etc., which has gone all over the world.  What’s his understanding of the French-sponsored event that took place last December here, in which some 66 nations, you know, issued this declaration on decriminalization?  Does he take that as any kind of, as having no weight at all?  How does it, how does he, how does that relate to what he thinks the United Nations and the Member States have spoken on this topic?


Spokesperson:  I don’t think that I can substantively add anything to what Dr. Treki already stated.  I think he answered the global question on this issue on the occasion of his last press conference.  I think that Dr. Treki is very much aware of the proceedings of the General assembly and the discussions that are going on in Committees and, of course, he abides by these procedures and these rulings; but I will check with him specifically on this conference, sponsored by the French, to see if he has a specific position on that.


Question:  [inaudible] there’ve been a lot, and as you, you’ve probably seen, I don’t know if you get the request but there’s been a lot of coverage of his comments and that’s why it seems, I’m just asking if he wants to clarify it…


Spokesperson:  I am aware.  I’m aware.  I’ll check with him.  Thank you.  I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the visitors who are with us here today and wish all of you a pleasant and safe weekend.  Bon weekend.


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