15 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.


I know a number of reporters are at the stakeout dealing with the issue of the General Assembly’s decision on the Security Council members for 2010 and 2011. Jean Victor Nkolo, who is the Spokesperson for the General Assembly, will be here in a little while to talk about that decision.


**Guest at Noon Today


The guest at the noon briefing today 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.


**Human Rights Council


Today in Geneva, the Human Rights Council began its special session on the “human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and East Jerusalem”.


In her remarks to the special session, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, called for an immediate halt to the recent wave of eviction orders and demolitions of Palestinian houses in East Jerusalem.  She said she viewed such practices as violations of international humanitarian law.


Pillay also reiterated her support for the recommendations of the Gaza Fact Finding Mission led by Justice Richard Goldstone.  She underscored the need for all parties to carry out impartial, independent, prompt and effective investigations into reported violations of human rights and humanitarian law in compliance with international standards.  We have her full remarks upstairs.


The Human Rights Council expects to continue its special session tomorrow.


** Gaza


In related news, American actress Mia Farrow and Egyptian actor Mahmoud Kabil, both UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors, ended a two-day visit to Gaza today.  They went to see first-hand the hardships that children are continuing to face there.


“The children appear traumatized,” Farrow said.  She added: “The teachers say that when they hear a loud noise they look to the sky and cry out and weep.  They don’t know what the future holds.  They deserve better.”  The UNICEF Goodwill Ambassadors also heard from children who are now forced to work in tunnels in order to support their struggling families.  Those tunnels are used to smuggle in goods that are otherwise unavailable in Gaza, UNICEF says.  Farrow will also be visiting Sderot, in southern Israel.


Meanwhile, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) reports that 88 truckloads of goods were transferred into Gaza from Israel yesterday, through the Kerem Shalom crossing.  Nearly half of those truckloads contained milk, fruit, and straw for animals.  In addition, cooking gas and industrial diesel for the Gaza power plant made it into Gaza through the Nahal Oz pipelines.  But the Karni conveyor belt crossing was closed.


**Amnesty International


The Secretary-General plans to meet this afternoon with Irene Khan, the head of Amnesty International.


One of the themes of the meeting will be Amnesty’s “Demand Dignity” campaign, which highlights the importance of fighting poverty using human rights perspectives.


The Secretary-General is expected to stress that the Millennium Development Goals represent not only a significant political commitment for development, but also stand as important milestones for often neglected human rights.  After all, human rights values and principles permeate, underpin and are supported by all eight Goals, he will say.


** Iran


In a report on human rights in Iran, available on the racks today, the Secretary-General notes the violence that erupted in the aftermath of the June elections.  As he has also said earlier, the Secretary-General urges the Government and the opposition to peacefully resolve their differences through dialogue and legal means.  He has been deeply troubled by reports of the excessive use of force, arbitrary arrest and detention and possible torture and ill-treatment of opposition activists.


He also urges the Government of Iran to continue to revise national laws, particularly the new penal code and juvenile justice laws, to ensure compliance with international human rights standards and prevent discriminatory practices against women and ethnic and religious minorities, among others.


** Guatemala


The latest report of the Secretary-General on the activities of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is out. 


In it, the Secretary-General notes the high level of international support, both financial and political, that the Commission has received since its inception.  He also says that frequent personnel changes within Government institutions have proved to be a challenge for the interaction of the Commission with the authorities and that problems within the judicial system continue to hamper the fight against impunity.


The Secretary-General says that the Commission’s main objective over the next year will continue to be to solve serious criminal cases of impunity related to clandestine security apparatuses.  He adds that it will also promote the urgent application of the Law on Criminal Jurisdiction in High-Risk Proceedings and the establishment of the specialized courts.


The Secretary-General also says that the Commission is expected to develop a consolidation strategy to ensure that its capacities are transferred to national institutions and that sustained international assistance continues to build on those capacities.


**Cyprus


In a symbolic gesture of peace and unity, the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders today planted two olive trees at the entrance to the site where they are currently engaged in talks aimed at unifying the divided island.  That site is located within the UN Protected Area in Nicosia.


The leaders also received a petition from civil society representatives from both communities, conveying a message of hope and solidarity for the negotiations process and for a united Cyprus.


Following the ceremony, Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat met to continue discussions, under the auspices of the UN, focusing on how the executive of a future united country could function.


Speaking to the media following the talks, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, said the two leaders had "discussed each other's proposals in a very constructive manner" and planned to meet next week to continue their discussion on governance, and then take up the issues of external relations and property rights.  We have more on that upstairs.


**Security Council


After the General Assembly’s decision today on the new elected members of the Security Council for 2010 and 2011, the Security Council will meet at three this afternoon to hold an open debate on Kosovo.


Council members will receive a briefing on the Secretary-General’s latest report on Kosovo by the head of the UN Mission there, Lamberto Zannier.


And we should have Jean Victor Nkolo, the General Assembly President’s Spokesperson, to talk about the selection of the new Security Council members.  We have fact sheets on this upstairs.


**Office of Internal Oversight Services


The Secretary-General this morning spoke at a ceremony marking the fifteenth anniversary of the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and he noted the changes made since then to make the United Nations more efficient, transparent and accountable.


He noted that an Ethics Office has been established, providing protection for whistleblowers, and we have tightened rules on procurement and on financial disclosure by senior officials, including those with responsibilities for procurement and investment.  And OIOS itself has undergone reforms to better respond to the growing demand on its services and to new governance challenges, he added.


The Secretary-General pledged that the United Nations will do its utmost to use its resources responsibly; to improve our performance at all levels, at all locations; and, in the broadest sense, to deepen a culture of accountability, transparency and meaningful results.


** Guinea -- International Criminal Court


The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Luis Moreno-Ocampo, today confirmed that the situation in Guinea is under preliminary examination by his Office.  Guinea has been a State Party to the Rome Statute since 14 July 2003.  As such, the ICC says it has jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide possibly committed in the territory of Guinea or by nationals of Guinea, including killings of civilians and sexual violence.  The ICC has issued a press release with more details on this subject. We may have a statement later this afternoon on Guinea. We will keep you posted on that.


** Indonesia


Wrapping up his two-day mission to Indonesia, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, today met with the Indonesian Foreign Minister and donors, as well as the Director-General of the National Disaster Management Agency.  He also held meetings with representatives of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as United Nations agencies and other humanitarian agencies.


The United Nations disaster assessment and coordination (UNDAC) team has also ended its deployment in Padang City, one of the most directly affected areas from the 30 September earthquake.


Early food and nutrition assessments reveal that approximately 190,000 people in the most affected areas are experiencing temporary shortages of staple foods such as rice.  The World Food Programme (WFP) has been providing fortified biscuits to children under 5 and to pregnant and lactating women, and has also started its school feeding program.


As some 90,000 students are estimated to be in urgent need of teaching materials, UNICEF has distributed 228 school tents, 80 school-in-a-box kits and 80 recreational kits in 6 districts.


** Lake Chad


Lake Chad is facing a humanitarian crisis as shrinking water resources are threatening people and livelihoods, says the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), as it calls for efforts to urgently address this situation.


FAO adds that the lake, which is surrounded by Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria, was once one of the world’s largest water bodies but has shrunk by 90 per cent over recent decades.


If water continues to recede at the current rate, Lake Chad could disappear in about 20 years from now, says FAO.  There is a press release on this upstairs.


As you’ll recall, the Secretary-General visited the shrinking lake two years ago to draw attention to how seriously and negatively global warming affects our environment and our lives.  He had noted the shrinking lake was a vivid example of how the management of the ecosystem and the movement of mass population can affect our livelihoods.


**Rural Women


Today is the International Day of Rural Women.  In a message, the Secretary-General calls to put the rights, needs and aspirations of rural women much higher on the global agenda.


Recognizing the contributions of rural women to sustainable development and the sound management of natural resources, he says that many of them continue to face severe deprivation in enjoying their rights.


The Secretary-General calls for increased investments in the resources, infrastructure and services which would ease rural women’s workloads and release their time and energy for engagement in the labour market and public life.


We have his full message upstairs.


**Hand Washing


Also today, UNICEF is stressing the importance of hand washing with soap and water as one of the most effective and affordable health interventions.  UNICEF is participating in the second annual Global Hand Washing Day, celebrated today, and you can find a press release on this upstairs.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


In answers to questions, we have an update on the five senior officers of the Congolese Armed Forces whose dismissal had been sought following allegations of participation in atrocities.


Colonel Bebi Mobuli is currently in Kinshasa's main prison on charges of rape and war crimes.  Colonel Safari is also in prison in Kinshasa, awaiting prosecution.  General Jerôme Kakwavu has been relieved of his command and is presently in Kinshasa under “controlled supervision”.  Colonel Mosala has been relieved of his command and is in Kinshasa awaiting proceedings.  Major Pitchen has also been relieved of command but has fled.  It is believed that he is in hiding, possibly in Bukavu.  That’s the information we’ve received from [the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC)].


**Poverty


Tomorrow morning at 9 a.m., the Secretary-General will lead all students at the UN International School in “standing up" as part of the global campaign "Stand Up, Take Action, End Poverty Now!”


From tomorrow through Sunday, millions of citizens around the world are expected to take part in events to call on their leaders to meet their commitments to end poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  The initiative is coordinated by the UN Millennium Campaign, with support from the UN Department of Public Information and civil society partners.


Media are welcome to attend the event at UNIS, on FDR Drive at 23rd Street. An advisory will be issued today with details.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


At 11.30 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by Under-Secretary-General for Public Information Kiyo Akasaka and Eric Falt, Director of the Outreach Division at the Department of Public Information.  They will brief on UN4U -- a DPI initiative established last year to foster understanding of, and appreciation for, the work of the UN among youth audiences in New York City public high schools.  They will also announce the five winners of a video contest entitled “Citizen Ambassadors to the United Nations”.  This DPI initiative was launched this year to encourage people everywhere to directly engage with decision-makers by uploading video messages on the UN YouTube channel.


The guest at the noon briefing today will be Jordan Ryan from UNDP, who will discuss recovery and relief in the tsunami-hit islands of Tonga and Samoa.  And we also expect Jean Victor Nkolo.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  There was a ship of over 250 asylum seekers from Sri Lanka that was headed to Australia and was diverted to Indonesia.  It’s now at sea.  The people said they are going to do a hunger strike.  It’s received a lot of coverage in Australia.  Is the UN system, including the Secretariat because of its stated interest in Sri Lanka, aware of this and have any involvement in it or comment on it?


Associate Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of what involvement we have.  We’ll try and check up with Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in particular, and see what they’ve got on that.


Question:  At the event you were describing on OIOS in Conference Room 8, an issue arose about whether the Department of Management implements recommendations by OIOS and the example given was that, in the current report of OIOS, it states that a staff member pled guilty to charges of possession of child pornography, but remains on the payroll of the UN.  Ms. [Angela] Kane said something about due process, but could you explain the meaning of due process?  If a staff member pleads guilty to possession of child pornography, what’s the process in the UN, why would it take from April to October to take action on it?


Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have any comment on this specific case precisely because of our due process considerations.  One of the things we try to do is to make sure that the rights of all staff are respected as we proceed with any administrative or disciplinary matters that need to be taken, but we do take administrative and disciplinary measures, and we do that in consultation also with the Department of Management, and also with our Legal Office.


Question:  It says right here in black and white in this OIOS report that the person pled guilty -- is it thought that this was somehow voluntary or coerced?  It took place in Canada.


Associate Spokesperson:  I have no comment on this.  I do not want to say anything prejudicial about an ongoing case.


Question:  Ms. Kane expressed some frustration that her reports on what’s done about these various investigative findings always come out too late.  Is there some way to get a briefing both by Ms. [Inga-Britt] Ahlenius -- it’s been more than a year -- and Ms. Kane on this specific topic?


Associate Spokesperson:  Certainly, we’ll see whether and when they are willing to come talk to you.


Question:  Alexander Downer, the Special Adviser on Cyprus of the Secretary-General, has written an op-ed in the Australian press saying that Barack Obama should return his Nobel Prize, and it goes into why he doesn’t deserve it.  What I wonder is if Mr. Downer checked with the Secretariat before publishing this op-ed, and whether you think that publishing it might in any way impact his ability to work with the United States or any other Member States, including Norway, in the course of his work in Cyprus?


Associate Spokesperson:  First of all, these are obviously personal views that do not in any way reflect the views of the United Nations or of the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General spoke about this at length, about the awarding of the Nobel Prize to President Obama.  I’d simply refer you to the Secretary-General’s statement on the Nobel Prize, as well as the comments he made to you on Friday.  That’s where we stand on that.  Meanwhile, his duties continue.


Question:  Some people don’t understand, for example, Mr. Galbraith seems to have been fired for saying publicly that there was fraud in elections in Afghanistan.  But, meanwhile, you have another special adviser, a USG, saying that Barack Obama doesn’t deserve the Nobel Peace Prize.  Is this going to be the UN’s only response -- is to say, look at Mr. Ban’s speech?


Associate Spokesperson:  Beyond what I have already said, I have no further comment.  The point is that this is not a matter that falls within the Special Adviser’s remit.  It’s his personal view.


Question:  But doesn’t he meet with P-5 members, since Cyprus is on the Security Council’s agenda?


Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, this is simply a question of his personal view, and it’s not a matter that falls within his remit, which is specifically Cyprus.


Question:  Is the Secretary-General happy with that op-ed?


Associate Spokesperson:  I have pointed to you what our views are, which are, as you know, very distinct.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Good afternoon.


The news today is that, during a session presided over by the President of the General Assembly, Abdussalam Treki, the Assembly elected Bosnia and Herzegovina, Brazil, Gabon, Lebanon and Nigeria to serve on the Security Council in 2010 and 2011.  From 1 January 2010 they will replace Burkina Faso, Costa Rica, Croatia, Libya, and Viet Nam as non-veto-holding members of the Security Council.  Let me give you the specific voting results of this morning’s session.


Africa and Asian States, 3 seats: Gabon, 184 votes; Lebanon, 180 votes; Nigeria, 186 votes.  Eastern European States, 1 seat: Bosnia and Herzegovina, 183 votes.  Latin America and Caribbean States, 1 seat: Brazil, 182 votes.  Western European and Other States, no seats.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  The question is about the stakeout after the vote.  Is there any precedent or provision about countries that are on the agenda of the Security Council being elected to be on it?  Do they excuse themselves from voting on their own matter?  Do they participate in consultations?  What’s the thought on that?


Spokesperson:  The bottom line is that once the General Assembly has voted, and as you’ve just heard, the results of the voting are pretty high and conclusive.  Once that has been passed, that’s done with.  Your question could well be moot at this stage.


Question:  Is it correct that Dr. Treki has, working in his office, apparently paid by Libya, both a daughter and a cousin?  And is Dr. Treki himself paid by the Government of Libya?


Spokesperson:  I have all the answers to all the questions, but I will, for the record, just answer what you’ve just said.  You must know first and foremost, no President of the General Assembly is under the UN payroll.  It has never happened before.  In this case, this is also the fact.  Dr. Treki is not on the UN payroll.  Actually under the UN payroll, you only have a very limited number of staff members.  That’s the Chief de Cabinet, the Deputy Chief de Cabinet, the Senior Adviser, the Spokesperson, who is seconded from Department of Public Information (DPI), a Webmaster and two administrative assistants.  Now, apart from those staff members, there are a number of other persons who are seconded or covered by various Member States, and others who are invited by the country of the President of the General Assembly.  Now, you will note that the Office of the President of the General Assembly is not staffed as many other bodies in the Secretariat.  So I think we have to be grateful to these countries that support the staffing of that Office, where you have staff members covering substantive issues, covering committees, being legal advisers and so on.  And that’s quite a very generous contribution.


Question:  Dr. Treki is not paid by the UN.  Is he paid by Libya, and if so, what is his independence from the Government of Libya during the course of the year?  Do people that are seconded, whether by Norway, Brazil, in the PGA’s Office, are they allowed to work on issues that impact their country and could that be a reason that the countries second them to the PGA’s office?


Spokesperson:  I think that everyone in this building abides by the rules and regulations that are current and apply to them.  Give justice to those who work, that they do work so faithfully and in accordance with the general guidance, and the UN rules and regulations.  I believe that even when they are seconded by their countries they first and foremost serve the family of nations and they serve the Office of the President of the General Assembly, and they do so very faithfully and loyally vis-à-vis the United Nations.  We all come from various countries and backgrounds, but when we come here, we serve the United Nations first and foremost.  I do not think there is a conflict of interest, one cannot presume that everyone will act in accordance with that commitment, that need for loyalty and service, but this so far has been the case, and one cannot really second-guess the loyalty of staff members who are seconded by their countries.


Question:  Are they in fact covered by these rules and regulations, one PGA who is not a staff member, and others who are seconded?  Given that they are paid, its not that they are nationals of a country, but whether there is a safeguard in place that if they are paid by a country they do not work on that country’s matters?


Spokesperson:  I will repeat what I said in previous briefings.  What is happening now in the Office of the PGA is certainly not different from what has happened in previous OPGAs.  Basically, it is the same thing, the same practices, there is absolutely nothing new in this session, whether in terms of staffing the office or abiding by UN rules, or having staff members who are either under the UN payroll, seconded or invited by Member States.  And since the PGA is not under the UN payroll, that Office sometimes invite colleagues from their Ministry of Foreign Affairs, or elsewhere, to come and assist and help.  But once they have agreed to take a UN badge and UN procedures, they have to abide by what allows them to fulfil the duties and work with their colleagues serving the United Nations.  I’ll have more answers for you later.


Question:  Regarding elections to the Security Council.  Western European countries and others were not included?  Why?


Spokesperson:  I will try and retrieve the very specific process that leads to what happened in the General Assembly today.  This is a very well-charted process that leads to this election and the vote took place today.  I can come back to you on why this region or that [other region] had three and others had none.


Thank you very much.


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For information media • not an official record