|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
**Press Conferences Today
The guest at the noon briefing today will be Walter Kaelin, Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons. He will talk about his latest report to the General Assembly. In the report, he discusses the link between displacement and the effects of climate change, as well as provides updates on his engagement on the human rights of internally displaced persons in a number of countries, including the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Georgia, Serbia, Sri Lanka and Uganda.
At 1:15 p.m. today, there will be a press conference by Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. Following that, at 2 p.m., there will be a press conference by Ambassador Thomas Mayr-Harting, Permanent Representative of Austria and Chairman of the 1267 Committee, and Richard Barrett, Coordinator of the Monitoring Team of the 1267 Committee. The 1267 Committee, as you know, deals with Al-Qaida and Taliban sanctions. And at 3 p.m. today, there will be a press conference by Asma Jahangir, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief.
The Security Council began its work this morning with consultations to discuss the Secretary-General’s most recent report concerning Lebanon and the implementation of resolution 1559 (2004). They were briefed on that topic by the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy dealing with that resolution, Terje Roed-Larsen. The report, which is out as a document today, calls the June elections another milestone in Lebanon’s transition. The Secretary-General calls on the Lebanese leaders to work together and expeditiously complete the formation of the new Government. And he warns of the threats posed by militias that act outside of the control of the State. He appeals to all parties to halt all efforts to transfer or acquire weapons and to build paramilitary capacities outside the State’s authority.
In addition to the consultations on Lebanon, the Security Council also plans to hold consultations to review the sanctions on Côte d’Ivoire. And on the matter of sanctions and Côte d’Ivoire, the final report of the Group of Experts on Côte d’Ivoire has been issued as a document of the Security Council. The report notes that the conflict in Côte d’Ivoire is no longer purely a north-south confrontation, but a struggle involving many actors. Some of these actors have much to gain from the reunification of Côte d’Ivoire, but others have much to lose, according to the experts. The experts note that northern Côte d’Ivoire currently bears more resemblance to a warlord economy than to a functioning Government administration. Largely independent military “zone commanders” of the former rebel forces, the Force nouvelles, control and exploit natural resources. The Group of Experts is particularly concerned by the systematic transfer of weapons and ammunition from the territory of Burkina Faso to the Forces nouvelles-controlled north of the country -- a situation which may be linked to cocoa smuggling. On diamonds, the Group of Experts notes that the absence of effective border controls allows the rough diamond trade in Côte d’Ivoire to extend, almost seamlessly, into Burkina Faso and Mali. The report also expresses concern that Ivorian diamonds may be illegally exported through Guinea and Liberia.
The latest report of the Secretary-General on the progress of the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) is out. It is scheduled to be discussed by the Security Council tomorrow.
The Secretary-General notes that, while some progress has been made on the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, important benchmarks have not been reached, most notably elections and the referendums. He also notes that the apparent targeting of unarmed civilians during the series of tribal attacks and counterattacks this year is of grave concern, as are the reports of widespread proliferation of arms in Southern Sudan. He calls upon the Government of Southern Sudan to strengthen its efforts to end recurring violence and bring those responsible to justice. And despite the significant progress in disarmament, demobilization and reintegration, the United Nations faces a significant funding shortfall for the reintegration of the first caseload of 64,000 participants, he says.
The Secretary-General concludes by saying that the coming 18 months will pose enormous challenges for the people of the Sudan, and how those challenges are met will largely determine the future of the country. But this moment is also an opportunity for the democratic transformation of the Sudan and, if the parties are able to overcome the obstacles, the people of the Sudan can take a critical step towards the realization of political equality, economic development and human rights.
Still on Sudan -- on the humanitarian front -- the UNICEF Representative in Sudan says that, more than ever, Sudan needs peace. Nils Kastberg told reporters in Khartoum that most of the violence around the world, most of the wars, and most of the misuse of State budgets, is caused by men and not by women. Kastberg appeals to all Sudanese men to assume a greater responsibility of understanding how their actions cause harm to women and children. There is a transcript of that press conference upstairs.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says it is deeply shocked and saddened by the tragic killing of one of its partners in eastern Chad. Michel Mitna, who was head of the Chadian refugee body CNAR (Commission national d’accueil et de réinsertion des réfugiés) in Guéréda, was killed in an ambush over the weekend. He worked daily with UNHCR to protect and assist refugees and internally displaced people in the region. UNHCR notes that this is the fifty-first armed attack on a humanitarian vehicle in eastern Chad this year alone. Thirty-one of these attacks have been against UNHCR and its partners. Armed banditry remains the greatest security threat for humanitarian workers in this area neighbouring the Darfur region of Sudan. We have more details in a UNHCR press release upstairs.
In light of today’s events in East Jerusalem, in which Israeli authorities demolished the homes of six Palestinian families, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reiterated its call for an immediate and unconditional halt to such actions. It urged Israel to protect the civilian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territory from further displacement and dispossession. Noting that 26 Palestinians, including 10 children, lost their homes today, OCHA added that it has repeatedly called on the Israeli authorities to halt forced evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem and elsewhere in the Occupied Palestinian Territory. Such actions run counter to international law and have a serious and long-term negative impact on Palestinian families and communities, OCHA said.
Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat met today under UN auspices in Nicosia. The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, spoke to the press afterwards. He noted that the leaders mainly discussed the competencies of the federal Government. They will meet again next Thursday, and again Monday, to talk about the issue of property. We have more on that upstairs.
I have an update on efforts by the UN system to assist the people affected by the two powerful earthquakes that struck west Sumatra in Indonesia nearly a month ago. The estimated total of affected people is 1.2 million. The UN Population Fund (UNFPA) is currently assisting some 30,000 women and girls of reproductive age in the worst affected areas, including about 1,656 pregnant women. Early food and nutrition assessments reveal that approximately 38,000 households (comprising some 192,000 people) in the most affected areas are experiencing temporary shortages of staple foods such as rice. The World Food Programme (WFP) is targeting children under five years and primary-school children, as well as pregnant or lactating mothers. To date, more than 68,000 people have received assistance.
Turning now to the Philippines, which is still recovering from recent typhoons and a tropical storm, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that its $74 million appeal remains only 30 per cent funded. In addition, food needs continue to be high. In response, the World Food Programme (WFP) is continuing to dispatch locally purchased rice. It is also working to procure an additional 10,000 tons of rice to meet upcoming requirements. Meanwhile, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), says that as many as 120,000 farming households lost 100 per cent of their produce and assets. FAO says that what are needed most right now are emergency supplies of rice, vegetable seeds and fertilizers, as well as urgent repairs of small-scale irrigation facilities. And in response to the increased number of cases and deaths due to water-borne diseases, a team of experts from the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network will arrive in Manila this week. The Network works with the World Health Organization (WHO).
The World Food Programme (WFP) has launched an electronic food voucher project, the first of its kind in the world to use mobile phone technology, to aid 1,000 Iraqi refugee families in Syria. Iraqi refugees living in Damascus would receive a text message on their phones providing a code enabling them to cash in all or part of the “virtual voucher” at selected Government shops. Each family would receive one voucher per family member, worth $22, every two months. WFP is providing food assistance to 130,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria, out of the 1.2 million Iraqi refugees in Syria. All of the refugees needing food aid have mobile phones and WFP is currently providing information about distributions on mobile phone messages to them. We have more details in the briefing notes from Geneva.
A new report published today by the World Health Organization says that global life expectancy could be increased by nearly five years if five factors are addressed. Those factors are being underweight as a child, unsafe sex, alcohol use, lack of safe water, sanitation and hygiene, and high blood pressure. They are responsible for one quarter of the 60 million deaths estimated to occur annually. The report, called “Global Health Risks”, also notes that, worldwide, obesity and overweight cause more deaths than underweight. We have more on that upstairs.
**United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA)
Ending the needless death and suffering of women during pregnancy is one of the greatest moral, human rights and development challenges of our time. This is what more than 150 delegates agreed at a meeting in Addis Ababa yesterday. Facing that challenge requires concrete action to protect and fulfil everyone’s right to sexual and reproductive health, they declared. The one-day event was organized by the Minister for Development Cooperation of the Netherlands and by the UN Population Fund and was hosted by the Government of Ethiopia.
**Press Conferences Tomorrow
Tomorrow at 10:30, there Secretary-General will be here to hold his monthly press conference. And at 12:10 p.m. tomorrow, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, will be here to brief on his recent trip to Yemen, the Philippines, Indonesia and Uganda. We will of course not have a noon briefing tomorrow. And this is all I have for you today.
[The following announcement was issued after the noon briefing.
The Secretary-General will be travelling to the United Kingdom and Greece next week.
On 3 November, the Secretary-General plans to deliver a keynote address on the role that faiths can play in tackling climate change at a unique gathering of religious leaders at Windsor Castle. Hosted by Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, world religions will present their long-term plans to address climate change ahead of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.
The Secretary-General also plans to attend, at the International Maritime Organization, an event in London on 2 November, honouring those who have taken part in international efforts to suppress piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden. While in London, he is also scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
On 4 and 5 November, the Secretary-General will be in Athens, Greece, for an official visit. While in Athens, he will help open the third Global Forum on Migration and Development. He will also meet with Greek Government officials, including Prime Minister and Foreign Minister George Papandreou and President Karolos Papoulias. He is also scheduled to address a special session of Parliament.]
**Questions and Answers
Question: Michèle, the report of Amnesty International on “Troubled Waters” has said that in Gaza there has been such a short supply of water that it is parched completely. And against that, on the sides, Israeli settlers have water, their lawns are greener over there. What is it that the Secretary-General and the international community can do to ask, to persuade Israel, to open up these, at least some sort of crossing, to allow water and some supplies to come in? These people will die like this, you know.
Spokesperson: We are aware of the disturbing report of Amnesty International on that issue, and what I want to say is that Palestinians share the right to fresh water with all their neighbours, and to its equitable distribution. I think this is something that is, of course, a recognized right.
Question: [Inaudible] speaking to the Israeli authorities again and again but…
Spokesperson: On this specific issue, I cannot answer whether they have been talking about this specific issue. It has been certainly addressed by our people on the ground on a regular basis –- the same way, as I said yesterday, that the whole Gaza situation has been addressed also by us on practically a daily basis. Yes, Matthew.
Question: Michèle, has the, the group of “Wise Men of the African Union” come out with a report suggesting that to resolve the conflict in Darfur, a special court be set up, which I think, is, was, is a way that would mean that President Bashir and others would not still be required to go to the International Criminal Court in The Hague. Has the Secretariat and the UN seen the report and what do they think of it?
Spokesperson: As far as I know, we haven’t yet.
Question: Okay. And also, I’m assuming, there was something of an incident where the head of the Nigerian Senate was flying to Nigeria to visit the peacekeepers that are part of African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) and was turned back and never arrived and flew back to Abuja. Some people are tying this to calls that Mr. Bashir be arrested in Nigeria when he travels there this week. Is the UN or UNAMID aware of this visit being turned back, and what do they think of it?
Spokesperson: I’m not aware of that. I can ask them. I don’t have any report from them today on that issue.
Question: And did you get a report from the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) about this fighting in Rutshuru? It’s said that the peacekeepers, you know, got into a fire fight with FDLR, 10 civilians were killed. It seems pretty… it seems like a serious engagement.
Spokesperson: We don’t have anything on that either today. Anything else?
Question: Could you update on the security officer and the KFC/Yum Brands situation?
Spokesperson: It’s not Yum Brands. It’s KFC. Yum Brands is, as you know, the parent company. I just spoke with WFP today, and they told me that they were totally unaware of last week’s marketing activity by KFC at the UN. And I would like to say again that the appearance was organized by KFC and was not linked to WFP’s partnership with Yum Brands, which raises about $10 million every year to help WFP fight hunger worldwide. As for the incident itself, as soon as I get more on what type of disciplinary measures have been taken, I will inform you. But, as for the incident itself, it was a publicity stunt, and really, I don’t want to give it more legs than it actually has.
Question: Some people are… okay, as long as you give us the update when something happens.
Spokesperson: Yes. I don’t want to indulge that anymore. Anything else? Thank you. Jean Victor.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Thank you Michèle. Bon après midi. Good afternoon.
On the Report of the Independent International Fact Finding Mission, the Goldstone report; yesterday, 26 October, the President of the General Assembly, Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki received a letter from the Arab Group in New York requesting consideration of that Report by the General Assembly plenary during the first week of November. Earlier today, in fact a few hours ago, the President has also received a letter from the Non-Aligned Movement expressing the support of its 118 members to this request. To recall, the President of the General Assembly received a letter from the President of the Human Rights Council, transmitting the report of the twelfth special session of the Council along with its resolution S-12/1. This resolution recommends that the General Assembly considers the Report during the main part of its sixty-fourth session. The President of the General Assembly will also receive today Justice Richard Goldstone. That’s what I have for you. Any questions? Yes.
**Questions and Answers
Question: The Israeli Interior Minister was quoted yesterday as saying that the Israeli Government will be investigating some 23 cases of abuse on civilians in Gaza itself and it does not need what it has labelled as the ‘unprofessional’ report by Goldstone to investigate these cases. Is the General Assembly aware that the Israeli Government is not going to be taking any of the recommendations the General Assembly has to offer, or the UN itself, and that it’s going to conduct its own internal private investigation?
Spokesperson: The General Assembly is not aware of any communication that might or might not have been made by the Israeli Government to the General Assembly in this regard, so I, I really cannot comment further. We haven’t received anything from the Israeli Government in that regard. Yes Masood.
Question: I just want to be clear. So, has the President fixed a date as yet on the session asked for by the Arab Group?
Spokesperson: The date, the date will be fixed in the course of the first week of November when Member States come together in order to consider this. The President is and continues to consult when it comes to the date itself, we have to wait for next week. As I said earlier, it is only yesterday that the President of the General Assembly received a letter from the Arab Group and a few hours ago another letter from the Non-Aligned Movement, so we have to allow this process to proceed normally. A date has not been formally fixed yet.
Question: Is there going to be any involvement with the Israeli Government? Because it seems that with this 100 and what did you say, 118-member Movement and the Arab Group, that the General Assembly President is, is seeking, next, in the first week of November to move ahead with the recommendations of the Goldstone Report. As I just mentioned, the Israeli Government is saying that that report is unprofessional and unfounded in terms of its findings. Is there any suggestion or opportunity to get the Israeli Government involved in that meeting in the first week of November?
Spokesperson: Well, Israel is a Member State of the General Assembly, which comprises 192 Member States. This report is going to be considered by the General Assembly plenary, meaning by all Member States.
Question: Yes, I’m aware that Israel is a Member of the General Assembly. What I’m asking is, it seems that this is being coordinated outside of any kind of participation by the Israeli Government?
Spokesperson: Not at all.
Questions: So they are, according to you, participating?
Spokesperson: Well, all Member States will be participating in this process. The letters that we have received so far are letters from specific groups. This does not preclude other letters from other groups or Member States at all. No further questions? Yes, Mathew.
Question: Yes, something else. I wanted… Can you… I’ve been told that the, the Office of President Treki asked the United States to appoint a staff member to cover the issue of climate change, I guess to second a staff member from the United States Mission or the United States State Department to serve in the Office. Is that something you’re aware of? Is that true?
Spokesperson: Well, I don’t think I would like to go into staffing matters in a specific office at the United Nations. I don’t think that would be proper. But what I can tell you is that the Office of the President of the General Assembly is definitively staffed by a wide array of personnel coming from all horizons -- Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America. It’s a very international team and I think that it will be good that the international profile of this team continues to be reinforced. What I wouldn’t like to comment on are specifics regarding staffing matters.
Question: Is there currently somebody, I mean maybe you can comment on this one, is there, on the issue of climate change, is there currently a staff member of the Office covering that issue?
Spokesperson: What I can tell you is that we are only a few a weeks after the General Assembly started its session, and as you know, the work of any session of the General Assembly starts in mid-September. It takes some time, usually, to actually have all the positions filled and this process is still ongoing and it does not, it’s not limited to the climate change issues. There are other areas that are being filled and the cabinet of the President of the General Assembly is working hard to make sure that all areas are filled quickly, but as efficiently and professionally as possible.
Thank you. Bon après midi. Good afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record