25 November 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**Press Conferences Today


Our guest at the noon briefing today will be Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.  She will be here shortly to brief on her recent trip to Sudan.


Following that, at 1:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by the Ambassador of Venezuela, Jorge Valero Briceño.


**Secretary-General’s Travels


The Secretary-General is travelling tomorrow to Trinidad and Tobago, for this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.


During his three-day trip, the Secretary-General is expected to urge the leaders to attend next month’s Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen and seal a deal.  He is also expected to urge the leaders to stay focused and committed to reach an agreement in Copenhagen that is ambitious, equitable, and satisfies the demands of science.


The world cannot afford to fail in Copenhagen because the costs are simply too great, the Secretary-General will urge the leaders.  Failure to seal a deal could result in increased human suffering, higher economic losses, opportunities squandered in terms of productivity, global competitiveness and political stability.


The Secretary-General will also engage in bilateral talks with a number of leaders on matters of mutual interest.  He and his delegation are expected back in New York on Sunday.


**Security Council


This morning, the Security Council discussed the work of its sanctions committee dealing with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It was briefed on the committee’s work by its Chairman, Ambassador Fazli Corman of Turkey.  The Council then went on to an open meeting, which is under way now, to discuss the work of the Peacebuilding Commission.


** Sudan


On Sudan, more than 300 former combatants in Darfur, including women and disabled persons, have participated in a three-day discharge programme organized in El Fasher by the Government of Sudan with some support from the African Union–United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).


The programme is expected to be extended to other parts of Darfur, targeting a total of 5,000 former combatants affiliated with signatories to the Darfur Peace Agreement (DPA) who were disarmed in July 2008 when they formally surrendered their weapons to the Government of Sudan.


The Government of Sudan is providing cash payments of 400 Sudanese Pounds (about $150) for each participant, to be followed by food vouchers and other services after two months.


UNAMID is offering logistical support to the exercise, including security, transport and health services.  The mission’s contribution will help the Government in its efforts to strengthen the peace process and improve the overall security situation across the region.


Beneficiaries of the just-ended programme in El Fasher include members of the Sudanese Armed Forces, People’s Defence Forces, and the Sudan Liberation Army/Mother Wing. 


** Madagascar


UN agencies in Madagascar are raising concern over the approaching cyclone season that could seriously affect the lives of up to 600,000 people.


Weather forecasts indicate that the country could be hit by at least four intense cyclones during the coming season, with potential risks to the lives and livelihoods of many people and possible large-scale damage to infrastructure.


The humanitarian community in Madagascar is, therefore, urgently appealing for $6 million to prepare assistance for people in the most vulnerable regions of the country.  Agencies want to pre-position urgent supplies, such as tarpaulins, medicines, water purification tablets and health, school and recreational kits.


And we have more in a press release upstairs.


** Zimbabwe


UNICEF, together with the Government of Zimbabwe, today released new social development data which revealed a worsening situation for women and children in Zimbabwe.


The Multiple Indicator and Monitoring Survey, which was conducted in May 2009, reported a deterioration in access to many key social services for women and children, particularly for the poorest populations and in rural areas.


According to the UNICEF Representative in Zimbabwe, Dr. Peter Salama, every day in Zimbabwe, 100 children below five years of age are dying of mostly preventable diseases.  Major causes of death of children under five are HIV/AIDS, newborn disorders, pneumonia and diarrhoea.


The survey also showed startling data that 1 in 2 pregnant women in rural areas were now delivering at home.  The new findings confirm the result of previous research indicating that user fees and other financial barriers are limiting women’s access to life-saving obstetric services.  And we have more details in a press release upstairs.


** Philippines


In the Philippines, the humanitarian situation is still critical for people displaced by the typhoons and those who are still living in submerged villages and in areas made inaccessible by landslides.


The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says the total number of completely destroyed homes is at 46,000, while 261,000 homes are partially damaged.  As of 16 November, nearly 79,000 families, or more than 382,000 individuals, were still living in flooded areas in 871 villages.  The key humanitarian concern is access to safe water, sanitation facilities and hygiene items in the relocation camps and in residential areas affected by the floods.


The final report from the World Food Programme (WFP)’s Emergency Food Security Assessment, which was concluded on 20 November, will be available by the end of this month. The preliminary results are currently being incorporated into the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment led by the World Bank.


Meanwhile, WFP plans to distribute rice and high-energy biscuits in six regions for the month of November and preparation for WFP’s supplementary feeding programme is under way.  From January, some 50,000 children between 6 months and 24 months will receive a monthly take-home ration of fortified blended food, sugar and oil.


According to OCHA’s Financial Tracking Service, as of 24 November, the revised Philippines flash appeal for 2009 is 22 per cent funded, having received $30.95 million of the revised request for $143.77 million.


**World Food Programme


The World Food Programme is scaling up its deliveries of food assistance to the north-western Democratic Republic of the Congo and to the neighbouring Republic of Congo.  WFP aims to feed tens of thousands of Congolese people displaced by a recent upsurge of violence in and around Dongo village in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Equateur province.


WFP says that more than 38,000 Congolese fled the violent clashes in the Democratic Republic of the Congo last month and crossed the river into the Republic of Congo. Some 14,000 people are also estimated to be internally displaced inside the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  United Nations assessment missions on both sides of the river underline the need for food assistance for people, mainly women and children, who have been on the run for several weeks now.


In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, WFP is currently assessing exact needs in localities around Dongo and is planning to start food distributions in the second week of December with stocks already in country.  In the Republic of Congo, a total of 23 trucks carrying 455 metric tons of WFP food have arrived, as well as 8,000 litres of fuel to facilitate humanitarian assistance.  And there is more on that upstairs.


**Food and Agriculture Organization


The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has approved a new treaty that aims to close ports to ships involved in illegal fishing.  According to FAO, this will be the first ever legally binding international treaty focused specifically on illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.


The agreement will enter into force once 25 countries have ratified it.  Eleven FAO members -- Angola, Brazil, Chile, the European Commission, Indonesia, Iceland, Norway, Samoa, Sierra Leone, the United States and Uruguay -- signed the treaty immediately following its approval.  And there’s more on this in a press release upstairs.


**Violence against Women


Today is the official observance of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women, and the Secretary-General, in a message, said that more work lies ahead in the effort to end sexual violence.  Our goal is clear, he said, an end to these inexcusable crimes -- whether it is the use of rape as a weapon of war, domestic violence, sex trafficking, so-called “honour” crimes or female genital mutilation/cutting.


He said that the “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” campaign that he launched last year is galvanizing action across the United Nations system, and he has also just launched a Network of Men Leaders to strengthen our advocacy.  And we have his message upstairs.


UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres stressed today that his agency was fully committed to the prevention of sexual violence, which he said needed a personal as well as a collective response.  He pledged that UNHCR will, along with other UN agencies, increasingly assist States in their efforts to prevent sexual violence, protect individuals and provide remedy to victims.


And UNIFEM Executive Director Inés Alberdi said that, despite achievements in the fight against sexual violence, it is “shocking” that up to 70 per cent of women experience physical or sexual violence from men in their lifetime.  And those messages are available upstairs and online.


**Former Yugoslavia


The International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) yesterday ordered that the trial of Vojislav Seselj, the leader of the Serbian Radical Party, resume on 12 January 2010.  The trial had been adjourned in February on the request of the Prosecution amid allegations that witnesses had been intimidated.  The Trial Chamber yesterday decided to reconsider its decision for adjournment, because of what it said were new facts that had emerged.  And we have more details in a press release from the Tribunal.


**Holidays


Today, I’m glad to say, is the last briefing for this week. Tomorrow, UN Headquarters will be off in observance of the Thanksgiving holiday, and on Friday, we will be off in observance of Eid al-Adha.  The noon briefing will resume next Monday.


**Press Conferences on Monday


On Monday at 11 a.m., UNICEF Executive Director Anne Veneman will join other speakers to launch UNICEF’s fourth Children and AIDS Stocktaking Report.  The press conference will also introduce the “Children Left Behind” Symposium.


And the guest at the noon briefing on Monday will be Michael Adlerstein, the Executive Director of the Capital Master Plan (CMP), and he will provide an update on the Capital Master Plan.


**The Week Ahead at the United Nations


We also have available today, in advance of the holiday weekend, the Week Ahead at the United Nations, which also mentions that on Monday will be the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, observed at UN Headquarters.


On Tuesday, 1 December, Burkina Faso will assume the monthly rotating presidency of the Security Council.  That’s also going to be World AIDS Day.


Next Wednesday, at 12.30 p.m. in Room S-226, there will be a press conference by Ambassador Michel Kafando, who will be the Security Council’s President for the month of December, and he will talk about the programme of work for the month.


Then Thursday, 3 December, will be the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.  And the Secretary-General will make opening remarks at a special event on the occasion of the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which will take place at 3 p.m., in the Economic and Social Council Chamber.


And next Friday will be moving day for our office as part of the Capital Master Plan, so we expect that there will be no noon briefing that day.


[The Associate Spokesperson later clarified that the office had been informed that it would move on 11 December, and that the noon briefing would take place next Friday.]


That’s it from me.  We should have shortly Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, but before that…


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Farhan, if you’re moving, if your office is moving on Friday 4th, does that mean starting Monday the 7th, our briefings will be in the auditorium?


Associate Spokesperson:  We’ll have some more details and next Monday, like I just said, Michael Adlerstein will brief you on the Capital Master Plan and he will tell you about the next round of relocations.


Question:  I know this is kind of an unanswerable question; do you have any idea what the purpose is of the Venezuelan ambassador’s press conference or what is it that he wants to talk to us about?


Associate Spokesperson:  It’s really up to him to tell you what his briefing is going to be about.  I believe one of the things he has been discussing has been the situation between Venezuela and Colombia.  But again, it’s up to the ambassador.


Question:  Farhan, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu has announced a ten-month partial freeze on settlement activities in the West Bank, excluding Jerusalem.  Has this been conveyed to the Secretary-General?  Does he have any reaction?


Associate Spokesperson:  It has not been formally conveyed to the Secretary-General.  We do expect to react to it once it is.  One of the things that has been happening in recent days is that the Middle East Quartet has been discussing the situation of settlements, including any possible developments on this.  And certainly if this is formally conveyed, I do believe that the Quartet will be discussing this.


Question:  Just a follow up on this question, you know that Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Mr. Ban Ki-moon and asked him not to take this step and to see whether or how far the Palestinians and the Israelis are committed to the investigations they claim that they’re going to make about the violations in the Gaza war.  Do you have any reaction to this?


Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, as you know, the Secretary-General all along has been asking for credible domestic investigations by the Israelis and the Palestinians into the Gaza violence.  And so we’re monitoring to see what they will do.  Clearly if they’re willing to do that, that would be something in line with what the Secretary-General has been asking for.  Right now the Secretary-General has a request from the General Assembly to report back on the implementation of the General Assembly’s own resolution responding to the Goldstone report.  And what we’re working on is to report back within the timeline offered to us about the implementation.


Question:  The panel of experts’ report on the Congo said that the UN “military operations have not succeeded in neutralizing the FDLR and have exacerbated the humanitarian crisis.”  Given that now a UN-appointed expert body has made essentially the same criticism of United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC)’s involvement as the human rights groups have made, what is their response to this report?


Associate Spokesperson: Well, first of all, on the report itself, that’s a report by an independent group of experts that’s yet to be published.  So I won’t comment on the specific content until we’ve had an opportunity to review it in detail.  What MONUC has been doing is to reiterate that Kimia II's objective is to rid the Democratic Republic of the Congo of the threat posed by the FDLR, and in that it has achieved significant advances.  The FDLR has not yet been completely neutralized or defeated, but its strike capacity has been severely weakened, and the operations are continuing and are expected to move into a new phase in December.  And while those operations continue, as you know, we’ve made it very clear that whenever we’re aware of any violations of human rights that we try to deal with that and make, especially, the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the FARDC (Congolese Armed Forces) deal with any such allegations.


Question:  In light of the Secretary-General’s press conference yesterday about sexual violence and the importance of standing up, Philip Alston, the Rapporteur, had issued a report saying that a unit led by  Colonel Zimulenda  had disappeared and raped dozens of women in the Congo and that MONUC continues to work with them.  This unit wasn’t part of the announcement by Alain Le Roy.  I’m wondering if MONUC is still working with the unit and, if so, how it’s consistent with the Secretary-General’s statements on sexual violence.


Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of that, first of all, I’d like to state unequivocally that human rights abuses that have been committed by the Congolese Armed Forces elements are unacceptable.  We take that matter very seriously. That’s why, on 1 November, during his own trip to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, along with Alan Doss, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General there, announced the suspension of MONUC support to a unit of the 213th brigade of the Congolese Armed Forces, following a joint investigation by MONUC and by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which implicated that unit in targeted killings.  MONUC and the Congolese Armed Forces are now launching a joint investigation into that incident.  But, certainly the measure we took sends a clear message that, consistent with its mandate and in keeping with the Secretary-General’s policy, MONUC will not support operations by the FARDC, the Congolese Armed Forces, if its involved units in the operations commit violations of international humanitarian law, human rights or refugee law.


Question:  Thanks for that, and I’m assuming you’d have to ask the Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), but a simple yes or no whether MONUC is still working with the units led by Colonel Zimulenda, who is named in the Alston report?


Associate Spokesperson:  I would have to check on that specific unit.  But, certainly, as we made clear in our actions earlier this month, when we investigate and are aware of violations by specific units of the Congolese Armed Forces, we will not work with those units.


Question:  UN observers will be present in the elections in Honduras next Sunday?


Associate Spokesperson:  The United Nations has no involvement in the elections scheduled in Honduras for this weekend.  That has not changed.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any response to the U.S. President’s decision to attend the Copenhagen summit?


Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, I am not aware whether this is a formal announcement at this stage.  Has the formal announcement [been made]?  Okay.  In that case, I can say that the Secretary-General does welcome the announcement that President Obama will attend the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this December.  As more and more Heads of State and Government confirm their attendance, momentum is building for a successful conclusion to this crucial world gathering.  At Copenhagen, an agreement can and must be reached to set the world on a new course that will ensure a healthy planet, a robust and sustainable economy and a brighter future for all.


And as you know, the Secretary-General will be travelling to Trinidad over the holiday weekend to address the meeting of the Commonwealth in that country, and he will encourage all the leaders attending that meeting also to attend the Copenhagen summit.  So, any involvement by Heads of State or Government in the summit does help move us further along the course that he has been advocating.


Ms. Coomaraswamy is in the room, so I’ll take two more questions and then turn to her.


Question:  Just a follow up on the statement issued by the Secretary-General yesterday on attempts to restart talks between Morocco and [Frente] POLISARIO.  I was wondering whether Mr. Christopher Ross is doing any mediation to solve the problem of this Saharawi activist held in a Spanish airport for about two weeks now?


Associate Spokesperson:  I believe we mentioned the Secretary-General’s concern with all the various relevant recent developments, including the case of Amanatou Haidar, who is the person you’re referring to.  So I’ll just refer you back to what Michèle said yesterday.


Question:  The Indonesian Defence Minister has been quoted as saying they’re offering to the UN to provide naval ships for the Maritime Task Force for UNIFIL, but that they want a clear mechanism for how they would be paid.  I’m wondering, it was my understanding Germany did get paid for patrolling off Lebanon.  What’s the status of the Indonesian offer and can we know how much in fact the UN pays troop-contributing countries back or equipment-contributing countries back for these naval assets?


Associate Spokesperson:  I’m sure you’re aware that that Maritime Task Force off the coast of Lebanon is not directly a UN operation.  It is under a rotating control by a lead country and it’s been, I forget who the lead country is now, but I believe France and Germany have been among the lead countries of the Maritime Task Force.  So they are responsible for the various arrangements.  But, I’ll check with UNIFIL about anything further on the financing.


Question:  There is a quote from the Defence Minister saying the Indonesian delegation is lobbying at UN Headquarters explaining financial burdens, et cetera.  So I’m just wondering who actually transfers funds to people that give naval assets and the UN’s role in that.


Associate Spokesperson: I’ll check with UNIFIL on that, but certainly this is an issue of a slightly independent force, the Maritime Task Force.


And with that, I’d like to welcome Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, who can talk about her trip to Sudan.


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