|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 at Noon Today
Our guest at the noon briefing today is Janos Pasztor, Director of the Secretary-General's Climate Change Support Team.
United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, arrived in the Philippines today on a 2-day mission to see first-hand the strong emergency response to tropical storm Ketsana and typhoon Parma. There, he met senior Government representatives, including President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and the Humanitarian Country Team. He also visited some of the flood-affected areas in Pasig City, where he was able to meet families living in evacuation centres, as well as others still living in flooded areas.
In his meeting with President Arroyo, Holmes expressed sympathy for the 6 million-plus people who have been affected by the storms, and conveyed his condolences to the Government and families of the more than 500 people who lost their lives.
Reiterating that UN agencies are glad to be able to help the Government’s relief efforts in this major crisis, Holmes commended the excellent response to the disaster by the Government of the Philippines, especially the extensive search and rescue operations and quick release of emergency relief supplies.
The UN flash appeal for $74 million to support Government efforts to address the humanitarian needs of those affected has so far attracted $14.2 million in funding -- 19 per cent of the total amount requested.
Yesterday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes concluded his three-day mission to Yemen. That was before his trip to the Philippines this morning. He met with President Ali Abdullah Saleh and other senior officials, and said that he remains particularly concerned about the people whom we are unable to reach, especially those who are trapped in the conflict zones. Thousands of civilians in the Sa'ada Governorate in particular face threats from violence, increasing food and fuel prices, and limited access to health care. The risk of communicable disease outbreaks is rising, since many health facilities are not functioning.
Holmes said: “Civilians are at high risk from the conflicts, and it is women and children, who comprise about 80 per cent of the displaced population, who are most vulnerable.” He urged all involved in the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians in line with international humanitarian law, to allow us to reach those who need assistance, rapidly and without hindrance, and to enable civilians to leave insecure areas.
A $23.7 million flash appeal issued in response to this crisis has received approximately $10 million in terms of commitments and pledges since it was launched on 2 September. We have more details upstairs in a press release on Yemen.
Concerning the plane crash in Haiti on Friday in which 11 peacekeepers died, the UN Mission in the country will hold a memorial ceremony in their honour tomorrow morning. This weekend all the bodies were recovered from the crash site, which remains protected by the United Nations.
Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, yesterday spoke to the press about the country’s difficult elections process, which, he said, has been marred by widespread fraud. He stressed the importance of continuing the process of installing democracy in Afghanistan.
Eide noted that the staff of the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) made great efforts and took great risks to collect information on Election Day. At the same time, he said, the quality of much of the information that was collected had variable reliability and often could not be verified.
He underscored that all Afghans should be given the chance to vote, and the valid votes cast by them, at considerable risk sometimes, should be counted. We have the transcript of his remark upstairs.
Ad Melkert, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, today expressed concern that, with 96 days before the Iraqi legislative election, there remains no clarity on the election law.
The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) believes that significant changes to the institutional set-up in the Commission would severely disrupt the ongoing electoral preparations to the point that it would not be possible to hold credible elections until a considerably later date.
The UN Mission is optimistic that, with its continued and expanded support, the Elections Commission should be able to deliver credible election results in January 2010 that will be broadly accepted by all political factions and the Iraqi voters. But to achieve this, preparations will need to be accelerated in a number of areas.
At the same time, Melkert once again urged the Council of Representatives to clarify the legal framework for the elections in the coming week.
**Secretary-General on Population
The Secretary-General delivered remarks this morning at the General Assembly’s commemoration of the fifteenth anniversary of the International Conference on Population and Development.
Highlighting the importance of this Conference, which took place in Cairo in 1994, he stressed that it was there that, for the first time, Governments acknowledged that every person has the right to sexual and reproductive health. He noted the progress made in women’s health, but said the Cairo consensus remains more a goal than a reality.
The Secretary-General said that to fully carry out the Cairo Programme of Action means providing women with reproductive health services, including family planning. It means backing poverty-eradication initiatives and it means preventing rape during wartime and ending the culture of impunity, he added. We have his full remarks upstairs.
And tonight, the Secretary-General will participate in the opening of a major exhibition on violence against women around the world, sponsored by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) which also commemorates the fifteenth anniversary of the Cairo International Conference on Population and Development.
The Secretary-General had a video message this weekend welcoming a new agreement between the United Nations and International Criminal Police Organization (INTERPOL) to enhance policing cooperation in post-conflict areas. Ban Ki-moon called the two organizations “natural partners” in boosting security and peace. He said that an action plan on global police peacekeeping is essential. And he appealed for continued support to help victims of conflict and promote greater respect for the rule of law.
The UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, attended the meeting in Singapore and signed the agreement on behalf of the UN. We expect to have a Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) expert at the briefing in the coming days to elaborate on the agreement and its implications.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on Turkey-Armenia
Over the weekend, we issued a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Armenian-Turkish normalization process, which I will quote for the record:
The Secretary-General welcomed the signing today in Zürich of the two protocols aimed at normalizing the relations between Armenia and Turkey. This historic decision constitutes a milestone towards the establishment of good neighbourly relations and the development of bilateral cooperation between both countries. The Secretary-General is confident that this development will also contribute to peace, security and stability in the South Caucasus.
The Secretary-General hopes that both protocols will be swiftly ratified by the Parliaments of Armenia and Turkey to ensure full normalization of their bilateral relations.
The Secretary-General had a message to the “Call of Cotonou” meeting on the trafficking of counterfeit medicines. In it, the Secretary-General described the trafficking of counterfeit medicines a global crime and a threat to international public health. He said that counterfeit medical products undermine the credibility of health systems, waste resources and diminish confidence in the authorities responsible for public safety. He noted that developing countries are hit hardest and pledged UN support to international agencies, and drug and law enforcement bodies, among others, to address this problem. We have copies of his remarks upstairs.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, addressed the opening of the Somali Joint Security Committee this morning in Nairobi. He urged Somali leaders to continue their commitment to dialogue and working together more closely to achieve peace and stability.
He stressed the need for a professional and well-organized security force to be established by August 2011, the end of the transitional government’s mandate. We have a press release from his office upstairs.
**Secretary-General Report on Timor-Leste
The Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) is out on the racks today.
The Secretary-General stressed that progress and stability in the country remain fragile. He commended the efforts of President José Ramos-Horta to promote continued dialogue across the political spectrum and among all segments of society. And he reiterated that his good offices will continue efforts to promote constructive political dialogue and a united effort among all political actors on important national issues.
The Secretary-General said he believed that the present strength and composition of UNMIT formed police units should be maintained, especially given that the national police special units are undergoing the organizational reforms required under the new national police organic law.
Agriculture production must improve to feed a much larger world population while responding to the daunting environmental challenges ahead. That was the message delivered today by Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) at the opening of a two-day High-Level Expert Forum on How to Feed the World in 2050.
He noted that the combined effect of population growth, strong income growth and urbanization is expected to result in almost the doubling of demand for food, feed and fibre. According to FAO, world population is projected to rise to 9.1 billion in 2050 from a current 6.7 billion, requiring a 70 per cent increase in farm production.
The two-day Forum starting today will contribute to the debate and outcome of the World Summit on Food Security scheduled at FAO headquarters in Rome, on 16‑18 November. There is more on this upstairs.
**International Labour Organization
Informal employment in the developing world curbs countries’ ability to benefit from trade. That’s according to a new joint study from the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the World Trade Organization (WTO). It notes that although trade has contributed to growth and development worldwide, this has not automatically translated in an improvement in the quality of employment.
The study says that the high incidence of informal employment in the developing world suppresses countries’ ability to benefit from trade opening by creating poverty traps for workers in job transition. There is more in a press release upstairs.
**United Nations Children’s Fund
Actor Orlando Bloom was appointed a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador today, in recognition of his commitment to the rights of children around the world. Bloom has already seen the work UNICEF is doing in Nepal, Russia, and Bosnia‑Herzegovina. He has said he wants to be an active Ambassador for the children’s organization. The actor follows in the footsteps of other actors and celebrities such as Audrey Hepburn, Roger Moore, David Beckham and Mia Farrow. There is more in a press release upstairs.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
Following the noon briefing tomorrow, there will be a press conference to launch the Joint Council of Europe-UN Study on trafficking in organs, tissues and cells, and trafficking in human beings for the purpose of the removal of organs. We have more information on the study available in my office.
**Questions and Answers
Question: There was a report from Ramallah from the Abbas office saying he received a call from Mr. Ban Ki-moon.
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General spoke to him yesterday.
Question: Can we have readout about this?
Spokesperson: I’ll try to get readout for you.
Question: And also the Palestinian Presidential statement in Ramallah said that Mr. Ban Ki-moon expressed his support for a re-discussing of the Goldstone report in Geneva. Can you confirm that this was part of what they discussed?
Spokesperson: Yes, this is part of what they discussed.
Question: Does he support reopening the subject in Geneva?
Spokesperson: Well, he said that he would support the proposal that was made.
Question: What is his position on the report itself? What is the position of Mr Ban Ki-moon?
Spokesperson: Which report? The Goldstone report on Gaza? As I said, so far, we have always had the same position. The report was first with the Council on Human Rights and now it is [being introduced] as you know in front of the Security Council. And there is a possibility it will be re-examined by the organ that actually sponsored that report and the Secretary-General will not comment until these different bodies have taken action on that report.
Question: Clarifying when the Secretary-General said he would support the proposal that was made, you are talking, [inaudible] reopening it at the Human Rights Council.
Question: When you speak about Eide, basically all that he said is that was [inaudible] what Peter Galbraith had been saying.
Spokesperson: That is all that he has been saying all along too.
Question: But wasn’t the reason for this press conference [inaudible] again with two officials, two ambassadors
Spokesperson: Wait. Kai Eide was doing that press conference in Kabul.
Question: He said the exact same thing that Peter Galbraith said. What is the difference between both of them?
Spokesperson: The approach was in what to do.
Question: And he still holds a press conference and says the same things.
Spokesperson: I think you have to realize there are differences of opinion from both, which were differences of how to approach the issue of fraud. In the case of Kai Eide and he said it very strongly, it was to support, and keep on doing what the UN was there to do, which was to support the electoral bodies that had been created and supported all throughout. It is an Afghan election, this we have been stressing all along; the difference was in the approach to what to do about the fraud. They said it long ago.
Question: I learned that in Galbraith’s piece.
Spokesperson: If you have been following this, you do know that Kai Eide said it in the Security Council three weeks ago, so it was way before there was an issue between Mr. Galbraith and Mr. Kai Eide.
Question: Mr. Galbraith said widespread fraud, and yesterday Mr. Kai Eide said widespread fraud. So what was the reason for making such a delay in the assessment?
Spokesperson: Well, I can go back to his statement thus far and find out for you what other adjective was used before, but I can tell you that he has been talking about fraud all along.
Question: What was the objective of this press conference, to say these people are on board with Kai Eide? What was the objective?
Spokesperson: Well, we should ask them while they were there. And I think it does essentially show support. They know why they were there. Why do you think they were there?
Question: Well, I think Mr. Kai Eide wanted to make sure that the rest of the world was with him. That’s what he is trying to say.
Spokesperson: Very good.
Question: Senator Boxer just met with the Secretary-General. She said, of these five names that the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) gave to President Kabila, that two continued serving in the Congolese army. These were five senior Congolese army officials accused of being responsible for sexual abuse of women. Did that come up in the meeting and what is MONUC going to do about the two that continue serving, according to Senator Boxer?
Spokesperson: Well, I will have to ask. Anyway, it is something that concerns the army itself -- not MONUC -- to keep those guys on board. I know that Ms. Boxer discussed climate change and violence against women. The Secretary-General said he was actively seeking early appointment of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General of violence against women and early establishment of a single entity dealing with the status of women. On climate change, the Secretary-General listened to the Senator’s update on global warming legislation in the United States Congress and voiced his hope that progress would, or could, be made before the Copenhagen climate change summit. This is what I know of the meeting. That is the readout I got. Ok, in terms of those Generals, I can check with MONUC whether those two generals have, indeed, been kept onboard by the army.
Question: I guess the question is whether MONUC should continue to work with units led by leaders that have been accused by the UN of sexual violence against women.
Spokesperson: I’ll get your answer for you.
Question: Yonhap news service has quoted a South Korean legislator, Park‑jin, who met with the Secretary-General, I guess some dinner meeting, as saying he has no interest in local politics, and Mr. Park-jin said this means there is no chance he would run for office even after retirement in South Korea. Is that accurate?
Spokesperson: I don’t know. I don’t have readout of that meeting.
Question: Could we get one?
Spokesperson: I will try to get one.
[The Spokesperson later added that, during a meeting with the Korean parliamentarians visiting New York, the Secretary-General reiterated his longstanding position that he has no personal interests in Korean domestic politics. Since he took office more than two and a half years ago, he has concentrated on one thing alone - fulfilling his enormous responsibilities as Secretary-General as mandated by the Member States. As he has often stated, serving as Secretary-General is the greatest privilege of his life. He will remain focused on accomplishing the weighty and ambitious agenda of the United Nations in this time of renewed multilateralism.]
Question: There has been a report in Canada by the Globe and Mail that for the release of then-UN envoy Robert Fowler, Al-Qaida and Islamic Magreb people were released and several millions of dollars were turned over through Baba Uld Sheikh Amalian, as negotiator. Given that he was a UN envoy, and it’s a pretty detailed report, does the UN have any response? Were they aware of that at all?
Spokesperson: No, I don’t, I cannot confirm that. I can try to find out a little more for you. And just to clarify, regarding the Goldstone report, it is not in the Security Council, I made a mistake here. The Wednesday debate on the Security Council is a periodic debate on the Middle East. Of course the Goldstone report would come up, but it is not in the Security Council as a subject.
Question: Just to follow up, there were some protests from the Palestinian Authority about statements made about the Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Middle East, in which he accused the sons of President Abbas of being owners of some cell phone company there. Has this been conveyed to the Secretary-General and do you have any reaction to that?
Spokesperson: Well, this I understand has been raised, but the Secretary-General did not know about it, and just learned about it from what Mr. Abbas told him.
Question: Did Mr. Abbas protest those kinds of statements by Mr. Falk?
Spokesperson: I cannot speak on behalf of Mr. Abbas, I can tell you the issue was raised with the Secretary-General. And the Secretary-General was not aware of it and learned of it then.
Question: Any evidence to support that?
Spokesperson: I have no idea. I do not speak on behalf of Mr. Falk. He is a Special Rapporteur, not as he was identified in that news media, the High Commissioner for Human Rights. He is not. He is a Special Rapporteur.
Question: Some of the permanent members of the Security Council are split regarding the Goldstone report. Shouldn’t the Secretary-General have a clear position on this, in order to say, is it an authentic document. Some delegates have been saying it is not impartial.
Spokesperson: The report was a report that was addressed to the Human Rights Council. You know in what circumstances it was [brought] to the Security Council. The Secretary-General will not interfere with the process.
Question: Is there any progress in negotiations with for release of the Israeli soldier and Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails?
Spokesperson: I don’t have anything new on this.
Question: Over the weekend it was reported that Morocco arrested or detained seven Polisario representatives that had visited Algeria and the Polisario leader is quoted as saying that the UN should somehow get involved or monitor this. Is the UN aware of this?
Spokesperson: I’m not aware of it and we’ll try to find out.
Question: The attack on the African Union base in Mogadishu, there is a report now over there that the UN vehicle may have been one taken from UNAMI, and Reuters reported that the UN is investigating this lead. Can you confirm that this is the lead that the UN is investigating?
Spokesperson: I would have to talk to people in the field to find out. I don’t know
Question: What happened with the UN vehicles that were part of the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) when that mission was disbanded?
Spokesperson: When a mission is ending, everything is repatriated or sent to other missions.
Question: North Korea launched a short missile. What was the reaction of the United Nations or the Security Council?
Spokesperson: We are aware of the media reports and we are monitoring the situation there, but we hope that all countries including the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea refrain from actions that might contribute to heightening security tensions in the region. We don’t have anymore to add to this. Thank you.
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For information media • not an official record