11 November 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

 


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


Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General


**Security Council


The Secretary-General, as you know, this morning spoke at the Security Council’s open meeting on the protection of civilians in armed conflict and reflected on how the issue has risen in prominence on the Council’s agenda.  Not so long ago, he said, many Member States questioned whether internal armed conflict posed a threat to international peace and security.  Today, the regional dimensions and destabilizing effects of internal conflicts have been firmly recognized.


The Secretary-General pointed to five core challenges that remain in addressing the protection of civilians.  He said the challenges include:  the need to strengthen compliance by all parties to conflict with international law; more consistent engagement with non-State armed groups; the ability of peacekeeping missions to discharge their protection mandates more effectively; better -- and safer -- access to civilians in need of assistance by humanitarian actors; and enhanced accountability.


High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a statement delivered by her deputy, highlighted the particular challenges faced in ensuring accountability in four conflicts:  in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Darfur and Afghanistan.  She emphasized that all parties must be held to a single standard.


And Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes told the Council that the effective application of international humanitarian and human rights law is an achievable reality, and for it to happen, the Security Council must call States to account when they do not apply the law.  We have all those remarks upstairs.


The meeting started with the Council’s unanimous adoption of resolution 1894 (2009), which demands that parties to armed conflict comply strictly with their obligations under international humanitarian, human rights and refugee law.


The resolution requests that the Secretary-General ensure that all relevant peacekeeping missions with protection mandates incorporate protection strategies in their work.  It also requests the Secretary-General to ensure the UN missions provide local communities with adequate information about the missions’ role and ensure coordination between UN missions and relevant humanitarian agencies.  I am told there are 66 speakers inscribed for this open debate.


**Security Council Lunch


Today the Secretary-General will have his monthly luncheon with Security Council members.  The lunch will be hosted by the Austrian Foreign Minister, who is also chairing today’s Security Council open debate.


** Lebanon


The Secretary-General spoke by phone this morning with Lebanese President Michel Sleiman and congratulated him on the appointment of a new Cabinet.  He expressed his hope that the new Lebanese Government will be committed to the full implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), and reiterated the readiness of the United Nations to work with the new Government in tackling the challenges that face Lebanon.


**Secretary-General Statement


I also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Japan’s assistance for Afghanistan.  The Secretary-General has been informed of the Government of Japan's intention to increase their assistance for Afghanistan to a total of up to US$5 billion over the next five years.  The Secretary-General welcomes this very positive development and hopes that other members of the international community will follow suit.  The Secretary-General appreciates Japan’s generous and continued contributions to the efforts and commitment of the international community to promote reconstruction and stability in Afghanistan.


** Côte d’Ivoire


The UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire has started to transport the provisional voters’ list throughout the country today.  The list was handed over to the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the country, Choi Young-Jin, yesterday, by the Independent Electoral Commission.  The Special Representative said the handover was an important step towards reaching the end of the crisis in Côte d’Ivoire.  He also hoped that the remaining task in the electoral process –- including printing and handing out voter cards -- would be done quickly.


The list will now be distributed to polling stations around the country, in order to launch the five-week appeals process that will precede the finalization of the voters list.  According to the mission, the transport of the list to polling stations around the country should end early next week.  The provisional list will be officially published when it has reached all polling stations. And there’s more on this upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.


** Djibouti - UNHCR


UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, has expressed regret over the Djibouti Government’s forced repatriation of 40 Somali nationals to Mogadishu on Monday and Tuesday this week.


The group, most of whom are from Mogadishu, were rescued on the Red Sea by a ship on 22 October and were authorized to disembark in Djibouti on 4 November.  They were then given medical and security screening by a joint team of officials from UNHCR and the National Refugee Agency in Djibouti.  This was followed by registration and protection interviews to assess their eventual protection needs.  UNHCR says it has evidence showing that 40 persons did not wish to return to Mogadishu, due to the ongoing conflict there.  You can read more about that upstairs as well.


** Philippines


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the humanitarian response following the typhoons that hit the Philippines is being hampered by funding shortages.  A $74 million flash appeal, which was issued in early October, is only 36 per cent funded, having received $26 million as of 10 November.  The flash appeal is being revised and is expected to be finalized in the coming week.


Of particular concern is that 1.7 million people are still displaced or living in areas that remain under water or flooded.  The World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization have revised estimates of emergency and early recovery needs, taking into account new data.  These additional needs will be reflected in the revised flash appeal.


** Geneva Discussions


The eighth round of discussions -- which were established following the 2008 conflict in the Caucasus and are co-chaired by the United Nations, the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe -- was held today in Geneva.


The co-chairs -- including the UN’s Johan Verbeke -- issued a press communiqué following today’s discussion.  In that document, which we have upstairs, the co-chairs expressed concern over a number of recent detentions, although they noted that the overall security situation on the ground remained relatively stable.


**Disarmament


We have a message from the Secretary-General to the eleventh annual conference of the High Contracting Parties to Amended Protocol II of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.  In that message, the Secretary-General calls for more effort to expand the number of signatories, especially among developing countries and States affected by landmines or in conflict.  He congratulates the 93 States that have consented to be bound by the Convention’s second Protocol and calls upon those countries that have not yet done so to ratify the Protocol as soon as possible.  The full message is available upstairs.


**UNICEF


Turning to a new UNICEF report released today, some 200 million children under the age of five in the developing world suffer from stunted growth as a result of chronic maternal and childhood undernutrition.


UNICEF says that undernutrition contributes to more than a third of all deaths in children under five.  The Fund’s Executive Director, Ann Veneman, says that undernutrition steals a child’s strength and makes illnesses that the body might otherwise fight off far more dangerous.  She adds that those who survive undernutrition often suffer poorer physical health throughout their lives, and damaged cognitive abilities.  There is a press release on this new report upstairs.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General wrapped up his one-day visit to Washington, D.C., yesterday afternoon, by speaking to reporters [in a joint press encounter with Senator John Kerry, Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Senator Richard Lugar and Senator Joe Lieberman], following a meeting with key US Senators to discuss climate change.  He once more emphasized the need to conclude a robust, global agreement in Copenhagen next month that can serve as a foundation for a climate treaty.


He acknowledged that there will be costs associated with tackling climate change.  But the costs pale in comparison with the cost of not taking action.  The Secretary-General stressed the importance of a global agreement, which is comprehensive, equitable, fair and balanced.  And to make this possible, he said, the developed countries should provide a substantial amount of financial support and technological support to developing countries so that they can mitigate and adapt.  We have his full remarks at that press encounter upstairs.


**Hunger


Political will and investments can eradicate hunger.  That’s according to a new report by the Food and Agriculture Organization, which analyses the progress made by countries it monitored and which have registered a significant decline in the number of undernourished people.


The report highlights the example of 16 countries that have already achieved the target of halving the number of hungry by 2015 or are on track to do so.  They include Armenia, Brazil, Nigeria and Viet Nam.


Meanwhile, FAO’s Director General, Jacques Diouf, launched an online anti-hunger campaign today.  The petition will be presented to world leaders at next week’s World Summit on Food Security, to be held in Rome from 16 to 18 November.


**Secretary-General’s Upcoming Trip


The Secretary-General will travel to Rome, Italy, from 15 to 17 November.  The Secretary-General will open the Food Security summit to promote broad-based action on food security.  This is an important opportunity following significant advances under the L’Aquila Initiative on Global Food Security, chaired by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.


Given the close interrelationship between food security and climate change, the Secretary-General will engage world leaders to advance both agendas together.  The Secretary-General plans to visit the headquarters for the World Food Programme, where he will participate in a commemoration for the staff recently killed in the attack against the WFP office in Pakistan.  The Secretary-General will also meet with the staff of the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the Food and Agriculture Organization.  And we have Jean Victor here I see, the General Assembly Spokesperson who will brief you after me.


**Press Conference Tomorrow


Just to flag for you that tomorrow our guest will be Ross Mountain, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He is also the Resident Humanitarian Coordinator for that country.


Following his briefing, at 2:15 p.m., there will be a press conference by the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Chad. And that’s what I have for you, before I hand over to Jean Victor.  Yes.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  [inaudible] resolution that the Security Council has adopted.  It’s okay for the Member States, but you know, most of the conflicts these days have non-State actors you see, who have not signed any convention or any treaty, so how does the Security Council expect them to abide by what is called for?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think you would have to talk to the Security Council to interpret their resolution, but in the beginning, I referred you to the Secretary-General’s remarks to the Security Council, in which he does spell out five core challenges, one of them is the need to engage with non-State armed groups and of course for the protection of civilians that’s something that the UN humanitarian staff have to do.  Yes.


Question:  Yes Marie.  I have two questions on separate issues.  After the Secretary-General submitted his report today, the Goldstone Report, to the Security Council, what does he expect the next step to be?


Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s up to the Security Council, so we’d have to ask them what their intentions are.


Question:  So he doesn’t personally have any expectations after submitting the report?


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, all I can say is I understand this report was submitted.  You know he has expressed his support for the report, so I think we do have to wait until the Security Council decides, you have to talk to the Security Council on what they want to do.  Yes.


Question:  The other subject is again, any reaction from the Secretary-General on the ongoing military confrontations on the border between Saudi Arabia and Yemen?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond what I think we have said from this podium, which is the main effort on the ground has been humanitarian agencies, in particular UNHCR and its latest update from the ground is the latest that we have.


Question:  So no comment in particular about the expansion, what seems like an expansion.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, my understanding, and I’ll have to double-check, but the report I got today was that, according to the latest UNHCR update, there has been some slowing down of the situation that enabled more humanitarian supplies to get to the people in need, so that’s the latest that I have on that. Yes.


Question:  I have a few questions.  One is, Assistant Secretary-General Franz Bowman was yesterday in California saying he signed a memorandum of understanding at the Monterrey Institute of International Studies, which is an interpreters school, pretty closely connected to the US State Department.  I’m wondering, given the problems that arose before between the UN’s MoU with NATO that Russia protested, what’s behind this MoU?  What does it entail and was any check made with Member States?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no information on this, so I would have to check into it before I can comment on it.


Question:  The other one is, also yesterday, Tony Blair was in Ramallah, and he’s described as having negotiated on behalf of a cell phone company with the Israeli Government.  There’s a whole press conference also that noted his role for the Quartet and for the UN.  So I’m wondering, did he do this on behalf of the Quartet and the UN and what is the UN’s knowledge, do they have any knowledge on this business negotiating activity? 


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no knowledge of that.  Okay.  With Jean Victor.


Question:  I have one final question.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.


Question:  Security sources here say that Captain [inaudible], who has had his gun removed.  I’d like to know if that’s true and if so why. 


Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not heard anything of that sort.


Question:  Can you check?


Deputy Spokesperson:  We did.  Okay.  Thank you very much.


Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Thank you, Marie.  Bon après-midi.  Good afternoon to all.


Yesterday, 10 November, the General Assembly adopted, without a vote, draft resolution A/64/L.13, introduced by South Africa on the Nelson Mandela International Day.  The resolution recognizes the long history of Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela’s leading role in and support for Africa’s struggle for liberation and Africa’s unity, and his outstanding contribution to the creation of a non-racial, non-sexist, democratic South Africa, as well as Nelson Mandela’s values and his dedication to the service of humanity as a humanitarian, in the fields of conflict resolution, race relations, promotion and protection of human rights, reconciliation, gender equality, the rights of children and other vulnerable groups, as well as the uplifting of poor and underdeveloped communities.


The General Assembly decided to designate 18 July as Nelson Mandela International Day, to be observed each year beginning in 2010.


The President of the General Assembly, Ali Abdussalam Treki, expressed “appreciation to this great man who dedicated his life and suffered for the sake of man everywhere”.  Dr. Treki paid tribute to the fighter and his struggle, to what Nelson Mandela had achieved.


Also on 10 November, President Treki received the former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in his capacity as the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on the Great Lakes Region.  Mr. Obasanjo briefed President Treki on the challenges to peace and security, and developments in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  They also discussed efforts to promote reconciliation, recovery and peacebuilding in the Great Lakes region.  Mr. Obasanjo was accompanied by his Special Adviser, General Lazaro Sumbeiywo of Kenya, and officers from the Department of Political Affairs.  That’s what I have for you today.  No questions?  Very good.  Have a good afternoon.


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For information media • not an official record