14 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 President of the General Assembly


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.


Briefing by the Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


Good afternoon.


**Guest at Noon Today


The guest at the noon briefing today will be Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children and Armed Conflict.  She will brief you prior to her meeting later in the afternoon with the General Assembly’s Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) on the promotion and protection of the rights of children.


**Security Council


The Security Council is holding its periodic debate on the Middle East today.  Briefing Council members this morning, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe said that, over the past month, there has been no significant progress, and some worrying developments on the ground. 


Pascoe referred to tensions in East Jerusalem surrounding the al-Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount complex, in which rumours and an atmosphere of mistrust led to confrontations between Palestinians and the Israeli police.


He said the status of the Old City and the religious sites within it are extremely sensitive issues that will only be fully resolved in final-status negotiations.  Until then, he added, the repeated call of the Quartet on Israel to refrain from provocative actions in East Jerusalem, and on the Palestinian Authority to refrain from incitement, remains more relevant than ever. 


Pascoe said that, while the immediate crisis may have passed, the Secretariat remains concerned about the broader situation in East Jerusalem, and the potential for renewed tensions.  In that context, he cited Israeli demolitions of Palestinian buildings and settlement expansion there.


Regarding the Gaza fact-finding mission led by Justice Richard Goldstone, Pascoe noted that the Secretary-General has, from the outset, supported the mission’s work.  He added that the Secretary-General calls upon all of the parties to carry out credible domestic investigations into the conduct of the conflict without delay.


Turning to Gaza in general, Pascoe said the broader situation, especially regarding the closure policy, remains unsustainable and unacceptable.  He reiterated the disappointment that the Secretary-General had expressed last month to the Israeli Prime Minister over Israel not approving the UN’s Gaza recovery proposals for schools, clinics and housing.


On Lebanon, Pascoe stressed that the early formation of a Government supported by all is critical to enable the country to face important challenges in the political, economic, social and security spheres. 


In conclusion, Pascoe said the pattern of events over the last month in the Middle East is a powerful reminder that, without a credible political horizon, forces of violence, tension and extremism on both sides will fill the vacuum.  Now, more than ever, it is vital that politics is made credible, and that those who try to undermine politics by changing facts on the ground, or resorting to violence, are not allowed to affect the agenda, he said.  We have his full remarks upstairs.


And also on the Security Council, the Secretary-General will attend the Council’s monthly luncheon today.


**Statement on Honduras


We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Honduras.


The United Nations wishes to clarify that its position regarding the legality of the removal of President Manuel Zelaya in Honduras has been clearly articulated by the General Assembly resolution 63/301, adopted on 1 July 2009.   This resolution “condemns the coup d’état in the Republic of Honduras that has interrupted the democratic and constitutional order and the legitimate exercise of power in Honduras”.


A recent Honduran media report appears to refer to an analysis submitted by a consultant as representing the views of the Department of Political Affairs.  This is highly misleading.  The Department of Political Affairs routinely receives reports and analyses of this type from consultants, academics and other experts.  But its views are strictly in line with that outlined in the General Assembly resolution.


The Secretary-General urges the parties in Honduras to avoid distractions at this critical moment in the negotiations and remain focused on arriving at a consensual agreement to end the crisis in Honduras through dialogue.


He continues to strongly support OAS [Organization of American States]-led efforts to assist the parties in reaching a solution.


** Cyprus


Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat met today under UN auspices in Nicosia.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, spoke to the press afterwards.


He noted that the leaders mainly discussed the issue of governance, focusing on the role of the executive, and related items.


The two leaders will meet again tomorrow to continue their discussions and plant olive trees together as a symbolic gesture of peace.  Civil society representatives from the two communities will also be at the UN offices to express solidarity and support for the process.  We have more on that upstairs.


**Disaster Reduction


Today is the International Day for Disaster Reduction.  This year it focuses on the “Hospitals Safe from Disasters” campaign.


In a message, the Secretary-General says that when disaster strikes, hospitals are the most critical infrastructure.  With weather-related disasters on the increase, he adds, it is important to ensure that health facilities are prepared for emergencies and able to provide life-saving care in their wake. 


The Secretary-General calls on Governments and all decision-makers, including town planners, to review hospital safety.  He says that hospitals must be designed, built and maintained, so they can better protect health workers and patients alike when disasters hit.  We have his full message upstairs.


Also marking this day, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) says that the tragedies that struck the Asia and Pacific region this month underscore the urgent action that must be taken to better protect hospitals from natural disasters.  We have a press release on this upstairs.


** Indonesia


On a two-day mission to Indonesia, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes today visited the earthquake-affected area of the island of Sumatra.


The humanitarian Chief also visited the city of Padang and the worst affected district of Padang Paramian.  He met the Governor of West Sumatra, as well as the Director of the Indonesian National Disaster Management Agency and representatives of international humanitarian groups now on the ground.


In a helicopter tour of the worst affected rural areas, Holmes saw valleys hit by dozens of landslides, and visited a community where more than 130 people had been killed.  Many of the bodies are unrecoverable.


Holmes pointed out that the one urgent issue is shelter supplies, such as tents, especially in the rural areas.  He said, however, that access is still a major challenge in some places, as many roads are badly damaged or even impassable to the areas where assistance is needed most.


** Nepal


Over in Nepal, the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says flooding and landslides triggered by torrential rainfall this month have displaced approximately 2,600 families.  More than 18,000 families are affected, and are in need of food aid and access to clean drinking water.


In some areas, it is estimated that between 15 and 40 per cent of the rice crop has been destroyed and a considerable number of livestock lost.  According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), immediate seed support to farmers is required to prevent a food crisis in 2010.  FAO has deployed an agriculture assessment team to four western regions.


UNICEF is assisting 10,000 affected families with water treatment tablets for 10 days and providing washing materials for 5,000 families.  The agency is also making available 6,000 health and hygiene kits as required.


** Sudan


On Monday evening, at about 9:45, three unidentified gunmen opened fire on a military guard post of the AU-UN mission in Darfur (UNAMID) in Kutum, North Darfur.  They injured one UNAMID soldier in the arm.


The attackers had already escaped by the time the UNAMID Quick Reaction Force arrived on the scene of the attack at a water point, about 1.5 kilometres north-east of the mission’s team site at Kutum.  The peacekeeper was evacuated to a UNAMID hospital, and his condition is currently listed as stable.


The mission condemned this incident, which is yet another armed attack on UNAMID personnel, who are in Darfur to protect civilians and assist in pushing the peace process forward.  The mission stresses that any attack on peacekeepers constitutes a war crime, and reiterates its readiness to thwart any act of violence targeting its personnel and facilities.


UNAMID is also calling on the Sudanese authorities to speedily investigate the cases of violence against its civilian and military personnel, to bring an end to such attacks.


** Iraq


Over 100,000 people in northern Iraq have abandoned their homes since 2005 because of severe water shortages, according to a study by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).  Drought and excessive well pumping have drawn down aquifer levels in the region, causing a dramatic decline of water flow in ancient underground aqueducts, known in Iraq as “karez”, upon which hundreds of communities depend.


The study is the first to document the effects of the ongoing drought on the karez systems, which thousands of Iraqis have depended upon for centuries for their drinking water and farming needs.


The rapid decline of karez is forcing entire communities to abandon their homes in pursuit of new sources of water.  Population declines have averaged almost 70 per cent among the communities adversely affected since 2005, the study confirms.


**Tribunals


The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia yesterday dismissed an appeals motion by Radovan Karadžić against the commencement of the trial against him, noting that it appeared to be based on a number of erroneous assumptions.  Among others, it dismissed Karadžić’s contention that the Trial Chamber did not give appropriate consideration to the size and scope of the case against him, as well as his claim that, because he is representing himself, he faces particular difficulties in reviewing the material.


The Appeals Chamber also ordered the Trial Chamber in the Karadžić case to delay the commencement of the trial until one week after the prosecution files a marked up indictment, which it was ordered to submit at the pre-trial conference.


Also, we have upstairs a press release from the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda on the initial appearance in court of the former Rwandan intelligence chief, Idelphonse Nizeyimana.


**Hunger


The combination of food and economic crises has pushed the number of hungry people worldwide to historic levels.  That sharp spike in hunger, triggered by the global economic crisis, has hit the poorest people in developing countries hardest.


That’s according to a new report released today by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP).  FAO estimates that more than 1 billion people are undernourished in 2009.  There is a press release on this upstairs.


**Horn of Africa


The United Nations Children’s Agency (UNICEF) says it is deeply concerned about the increasing number of children affected by drought and hunger in the Horn of Africa.


According to the latest estimates, almost 5 million children under the age of 5 are now suffering from the consequences of chronic food insecurity caused by prolonged drought and the impact of the continuing conflict in Somalia, which affects wider parts of the region.  Since May 2009, the number of young children in need of emergency assistance in the Horn of Africa has increased by nearly 1 million, says UNICEF.  There is more in a press release upstairs.


**UNICEF -- World Health Organization


The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) are launching a strategy to prevent and treat diarrhoea -- the second deadliest illness for children.


In a new report released today, the two agencies call for re-energized global campaigns to fight the disease, in order to prevent the deaths of millions in the developing world.  The report lays out a seven-point plan that includes a treatment package to reduce childhood diarrhoea deaths and a prevention strategy to ensure long-term results.  There is more in a press release upstairs.


**Pascoe Travels


The Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, B. Lynn Pascoe, will depart New York today for a weeklong trip to Southern and Eastern Africa, including visits to South Africa, Angola, Burundi, Uganda and Kenya.  His focus will be on strengthening partnerships with key Member States and regional organizations in conflict prevention, peacemaking and post-conflict peacebuilding.


Pascoe will discuss UN cooperation with the region on issues including Somalia, Burundi, the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, the areas affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and Madagascar.  In addition to holding high-level meetings with Government and non-governmental counterparts, he will visit two UN political missions in the area: the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) in Bujumbura, and the United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS) in Nairobi.


We will have shortly Jean Victor Nkolo, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, and then the Special Representative of the Secretary General for Children in Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy.


**Guest at Noon Tomorrow


The guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Jordan Ryan, Assistant Secretary-General, Assistant Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery.  He will discuss recovery and relief in the tsunami-hit islands of Tonga and Samoa.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  The Pakistani army has started its operation in Waziristan.  Already there is a report that 90,000 people have been displaced, and that is not even the beginning of the operation.  It hasn’t even started.  It seems like there is going to be another IDP [internally displaced persons] calamity at hand for the UN.  Has the United Nations, under the circumstances -- are they ready, willing and able to do something about it?  It’s in an area that’s very mountainous and rugged.


Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, you yourself have pointed out the difficulties in providing humanitarian assistance.  And as you know, we have faced the challenges posed by security, particularly following the attack on the World Food Programme offices earlier this month.  At the same time, our critical staff have remained at work and have remained in touch with affiliated non-governmental organizations, so that we can continue to provide assistance, particularly to displaced persons.  And if there are additional problems in north-western Pakistan, we are prepared to step up our assistance accordingly.


Question:  In Yemen, I know that Mr. Holmes is in Indonesia, he’s in South-East Asia, where the tsunami and earthquakes happened, and so forth.  But Yemen is one thing that is most unreported.  For some reason, there is not enough focus, although I know Mr. Holmes has visited Yemen recently.  When Mr. Holmes comes back, will he be speaking about Yemen?  Although he has submitted a report, but there have been no updates at all.


Associate Spokesperson:  We will see whether we can get an update from Mr. Holmes once his travels end.  As you know, he visited Yemen just a few days ago; he’s in Indonesia now and recently visited the Philippines.  So he’s got a lot of travels that he might talk about once he’s back from them. 


Beyond that, concerning the situation in Yemen, in addition to the daily reports we provided when Mr. Holmes was there, we are aware of a recent offer by the rebels to open humanitarian corridors that has appeared in media accounts.  That’s certainly welcome news, especially as the United Nations has been stressing the need for all involved in the conflict to ensure the protection of civilians, in accordance with international humanitarian law, and the need for increased access to those in need.  But we have not been contacted directly.  Moreover, the modalities under which this could take place need further examination.


Question:  In China, in the wake of the disturbances in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region and that six Uighurs have been sentenced to death after trials that involved no legal representation -- what’s the UN done on that issue since the single statement by the Secretary-General that there was some concern of unrest in western China?  What’s been done generally and is there any comment on this in particular?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have any particular comment on this, but I would refer you back, I believe that the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, also made some comments; I would refer you back to the concerns that she expressed.


Question:  In regards to Mr. Pascoe’s speech on the situation in the Middle East.  He has suggested that to ease the pain of people living in the area, certain steps should be taken, but those are merely suggestions.  What is it that the Secretary-General can further do to somehow motivate these States, like motivate Israel, or the Hamas, to implement certain measures to ease the pain of the people?


Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has been repeatedly working with all of the key players on this.  And in fact in recent days, on Sunday, he spoke with the Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas, and yesterday he did speak by telephone with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.  Among the issues that he continues to discuss repeatedly with all interlocutors is the need for further activity, including reconstruction activities, in Gaza.


Question:  In light of the cancellation of Turkish military exercises in northern Cyprus and Cyprus as well, did the UN or Mr. [Alexander] Downer or that whole mission have any role in defusing that, or does it have any comment on it?


Associate Spokesperson:  We have no specific comment on the cancellation of the military exercises.  This is something that the parties themselves have decided upon.  Obviously, any step which helps to build confidence among the parties is a welcome one.  To that end, the leaders have been taking a number of confidence-building steps, and we welcome those that have been taken, as well as those that they intend to take in the coming days.


QuestionThe Guardian in the UK has reported on a climate change activist who was barred trying to travel to Copenhagen for plans for protests at this December confab.  They put it as a sign that there may be some attempt to not allow the full range of civil society to be present in Copenhagen.  I understand the Secretary-General’s focus is on sealing the deal.  Is he aware of that, and does he feel that even those who feel the deal that may be reached doesn’t go far enough have a place in Copenhagen?  What will the UN do to ensure their participation?


Associate Spokesperson:  Certainly there are preparations in place for active NGO participation in Copenhagen.  The Secretary-General has been trying to hear from all points of view as he goes about this.  And he has, as you know, been widely consulting with not just Governments, but with non-governmental organizations, and we do hope that there will be an active NGO presence in Copenhagen.


Question:  One last thing, because it’s been hanging around.  That report that was due, Alan Doss seeking a job for his daughter in UNDP; this happened in June.  In August it was said that the Secretary-General was expecting a report upon his return to New York.  About two months later, Mr. Doss is coming to town.  So I’m wondering what the status of getting that report and of the Secretary-General’s thinking on this now months-old, pretty simple matter.


Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General continues to await the conclusion of the process, and will withhold comment until that’s done.  We checked up recently and the OIOS-UNDP investigation is in fact still ongoing.   And with that, I will first welcome Jean Victor Nkolo, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


On 13 October, the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, received Željko Komšić, Chairman of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  President Komšić was accompanied by Sven Alkalaj, Minister for Foreign Affairs; Ivan Barbalić, Permanent Representative of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the United Nations; Amir Ibrović, Chef de Cabinet of the President; and Ambassador Nerkez Arifhodzic.  Mr. Treki and President Komšić discussed important issues on the agenda of the General Assembly, including the forthcoming elections for non-permanent members of the Security Council, in which Bosnia and Herzegovina is a candidate.


Later in the same day, President Treki met with the Group of Francophone Ambassadors.  Mr. Gérard Araud, Permanent Representative of France to the United Nations and current Chair of the Group of Francophone Ambassadors; Moussa Makan Camara, Permanent Observer of la Francophonie to the United Nations; Sylvie Lucas, Permanent Representative of Luxembourg to the United Nations and President of the Economic and Social Council, participated in the meeting along with other Ambassadors of the Group.  Following his statement, Mr. Treki had an exchange of views with the participants on important issues on the agenda of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Earlier this morning there was a panel on human trafficking.  You said there is some move in the General Assembly to have a resolution asking for a global action plan on human trafficking and that President Treki may have appointed a facilitator.  Are you aware of that, what’s his thinking in this session getting action on human trafficking?


Spokesperson:  Well, I’m not aware of a formal appointment yet, and if and when this happens, I’ll certainly make sure you are fully informed.  But I would also like to refer you to the chairpersons or the vice-chairs of this specific committee dealing with this issue.


Question:  Can you tell me -- these negotiations on the United Nations Security Council expansion and reform – are they on hold for now, or where do they stand now?


Spokesperson:  Well not at all, the President is consulting with a wide array of interlocutors and I think that the discussion is ongoing.  The whole need for the revitalization of the General Assembly and the reform of the Security Council is still very much a topical priority as we speak.  So consultations are ongoing, and I think that you’ll hear more and more about this issue, mainly with regard to the Security Council, in the next few weeks.


Question:  The Ambassador to Afghanistan, I believe, is still his point man in negotiating, right?


Spokesperson:  That is correct, we are talking about Ambassador [Zahir] Tanin, Permanent Representative of Afghanistan.


Question:  Where do they stand now?  They’ve been going on for the last 15 years anyway.


Spokesperson:  Well, he is still conducting his mandate from the previous session and he is continuing with his mission.  Where it stands now, you’ve got to allow the biggest proceedings that are just being established.  Speaking about the General Assembly, there are so many committees, so many forums that are taking place.  I think very soon you will see a critical mass of discussion on Security Council reform and the need to revitalize the General Assembly.  This is actually taking place as it happens, but I’m sure in the next weeks Mr. Treki will very much like to brief you on that.  It is a discussion that will certainly pick up steam soon.


Thank you and good afternoon.


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