1 December 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.


Good afternoon.


**World AIDS Day


Today is World AIDS Day.  In a message, the Secretary-General says that more must be done, on an urgent basis, to uphold the commitment to reach universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support by 2010.


He adds that this can only be achieved by upholding the human rights of all people living with HIV, people at risk of infection, and children and families affected by the epidemic.


The Secretary-General urges all countries to remove punitive laws, policies and practices that hamper the response to AIDS, including travel restrictions against people living with HIV.


Echoing this message, Michel Sidibé, the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), adds that World AIDS Day is also an opportunity to act on HIV prevention.  Gains made today are fragile and must be sustained, he says.  He adds that the economic crisis should not be a reason for reducing investments in health.


Both of these messages are available upstairs.


And tonight, the Secretary-General will be participating in the “Light for Rights” World AIDS Day event in Washington Square Park.  Lights in the park and on top of the Empire State building will be dimmed simultaneously to symbolize how human rights infringements cast a dark shadow on the response to AIDS.


In his remarks, the Secretary-General is expected to stress that discrimination against people living with HIV, sex workers, drug users, and men who have sex with men only fuels the epidemic.  He will add that successful AIDS responses don’t punish people, they protect them.  We will also have those remarks for you later in the day.


**UNAMA


Turning to Afghanistan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, today told reporters in Kabul that there needs to be a “transition strategy” rather than an “exit strategy” in the country.  He said the vital part of that transition strategy would be a programme to build institutions in Afghanistan.


Eide also told journalists that the next five to six months “can give us a momentum that has been lost during the election process”.  He said it is necessary for the international community to “re-assert” a long-term commitment to Afghanistan that can aid efforts towards peace, development and sustainability in the country.


**Afghanistan


And in Kabul today, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has begun distributing blankets, warm clothes, charcoal and other winter supplies to 1,500 returnees and internally displaced people in greatest need.  That effort is part of a countrywide programme to help some 200,000 vulnerable Afghans survive the harsh winter in that country.


UNHCR has pre-positioned winter supplies throughout Afghanistan based on an earlier needs assessment of tens of thousands of families across the country.  The assistance package varies in different locations according to needs, but includes plastic sheets, blankets and jerry cans as core items.


Supplies were strategically moved to the areas with harsh winters, such as the western region, where heavy snow would otherwise impede access.  There are more details in the UNHCR notes upstairs.


**Minaret


The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said today that Switzerland’s ban on building minarets was clearly discriminatory and deeply divisive.


In a statement, she added that this was an “unfortunate step” for Switzerland to take and risks putting the country on a collision course with its international human rights obligations.  The UN Human Rights chief also said that this initiative, taken alongside some of the xenophobic posters used in this and several recent political campaigns was a part of an extremely worrying trend.


Politics based on xenophobia or intolerance is extremely disquieting, wherever it occurs, added Pillay -- urging people everywhere to take this issue of discrimination extremely seriously.  Her statement is available upstairs.


**Secretary-General and Women’s International Forum


Here at UN Headquarters, the Secretary-General this morning addressed the Women’s International Forum, flagging issues including climate change, maternal health and violence against women.


On climate change negotiations, the Secretary-General said at least 90 presidents and prime ministers will be attending the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this month.  Such high-level attendance is a game-changer, he says. He added that from all corners of the globe, we now see unprecedented momentum for Governments to act quickly and decisively.  He said he is optimistic Copenhagen can be a success.


On maternal health, the Secretary-General said that next spring, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and he will jointly convene the major players on maternal and child health.  “We want to leverage commitments to accelerate progress and address critical gaps,” he said.


On violence against women, he referred to women as holding up “half the sky”.  Let the men hold up the other half as well, he said.


Finally, the Secretary-General said he will continue to appoint more women to senior posts.  Since taking office, nine new women Under-Secretaries-General have joined his team.  He noted that he will soon appoint two more women Under Secretaries-General for the posts of Associate Administrator of the UN Development Programme and as head of the new gender equality entity.


Overall, he noted that the number of women in senior posts -- at the rank of Deputy Secretary-General, Under-Secretary-General and Assistant Secretary-General -- has increased by 40 per cent under his tenure.


**Deputy Secretary-General:  South-South in Nairobi


Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, has today addressed a conference on South-South Cooperation being held in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, Kenya.


She hailed South-South cooperation as a grand partnership that has encouraged its member states to set aside narrow national self-interests for the common good.  She further noted that new south-south cooperation activities now exist in trade, finance and technology, indicating a new community of countries that has formidable economic strength and potential.  But she called for stronger cooperation in dealing with problems of hunger, unemployment, the global economic crisis and climate change.


She warned that development could not happen in a vacuum and she called for more cross-border trade and investment.


Also speaking at the conference was Helen Clark, the Administrator of UNDP, who told the participants that her organization aims to support and facilitate the exchange of knowledge and experience across the South to help accelerate development.


**Chad


In Chad, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that almost 100,000 people in need are at risk of deteriorating living conditions due to the continued suspensions or reduction of operations by several humanitarian organizations.


These suspensions are due to security concerns, which report that Eastern Chad remains characterized by persistent insecurity -- impeding the implementation of humanitarian programmes.


OCHA says that the Government has taken some security measures to reinforce the protection of civilians and humanitarians workers with the presence of humanitarian police protection.  The UN Mission there, MINURCAT, has also increased its patrols in the areas where humanitarians operate and continues to offer escorts.


According to OCHA, some 70 humanitarian organizations work in the east assisting more than 250,000 Sudanese refugees, 160,000 internally displaced people and around 150,000 people in host villages affected by the crisis.


**Security Council


And on the Security Council, this is just to let you know that Burkina Faso has assumed the rotating Presidency of the Security Council for the month of December, replacing Austria.  Ambassador Michel Kafando of Burkina Faso, the new Council President, is holding bilateral discussions with the other Council members of the programme for this month, and he intends to talk to you about that tomorrow here in room 226, and that’s scheduled at 12:30 p.m.


And yesterday after the noon briefing, the Security Council finished its discussion of Darfur by issuing a press statement, in which Council members said that the political process has reached a critical point and called on those who have not yet joined the political process to do so without delay.  Members also expressed concerns about attacks on UNAMID staff and humanitarian workers in Darfur.


**UNSCO


A couple of other items.  The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, today visited the Sheikh Jarrah area in East Jerusalem, outside a house that was occupied by settlers.


Serry’s office issued a statement during that visit, recalling that the Secretary-General has expressed his dismay at the continuation of demolitions, evictions and the instalment of Israeli settlers in Palestinian neighbourhoods in occupied East Jerusalem.  The statement reiterated the Secretary-General's call for these actions to cease immediately.  And there is a statement from that office upstairs.


**UNDOF


And the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on the UN Disengagement Observe is out as a document today.  He recommends a further extension in the mandate by six months –- until the end of June 2010.  The report, as I said, is out on the racks today.


**Statement Attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

on the train derailment in the Russian Federation


And for those who may have missed it yesterday afternoon, we did issue a statement attributable to the Spokesperson on the weekend train derailment in the Russian Federation.  And that was available yesterday; and it’s also on our web site.


**ICJ


We just got an update from the International Court of Justice, saying that it is meeting today, starting public hearings on the question of the Accordance with International Law of the Unilateral Declaration of Independence by the Provisional Institutions of Self-Government of Kosovo -– that is a request for advisory opinion.  And you can read more about that upstairs.


**Press Conferences Tomorrow


Press conferences -- nothing else is scheduled for today.


But tomorrow at 10.15 a.m., there will be a press conference on the 30th anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. The anniversary will be observed on 3 December.


Following that at 11 a.m., Rob Vos from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs will hold a press conference to launch the latest World Economic Situation and Prospects.


Then at 2 p.m., there will be a press conference to launch the report of the Commission on AIDS in the Pacific.


And I mentioned to you earlier that the Security Council President will be holding his monthly press conference here as well.


So, that’s what I have for you.  Matthew.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Sure.  Marie, can you confirm that the Secretariat has offered the job of Special Representative of the Secretary-General for UNAMID in Darfur to Mr. Gambari?


Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General’s appointments of Special Representatives usually go to the Security Council in the form of a letter.  He usually sends a letter informing Security Council members of his intention to appoint such a Representative.  In this case, as it is a joint Representative between the United Nations and the African Union, it will obviously have to be a joint letter from the two organizations.  And as soon as we have that we usually do let you know.


Question:  I mean, Inner City Press was contacted by people who Mr. Gambari has already offered to work for him in Darfur.  So, I’m just asking to…it’s my understanding that the Secretariat has made the offer…


Deputy Spokesperson:  I just answered the question…


Question:  …but I mean…


Deputy Spokesperson:  I just answered the question.  The Secretary-General, when he has an appointment he sends a letter to the Security Council.  The Security Council is the body that, as you know, sets the mandate for the mission there and a letter will go when he has the letter from the two organizations.


Question:  Just one follow up.  It’s related.  You’ve just said that he will soon announce the Associate Administrator of UNDP, who will be a woman appointee.  Is that... Are you announcing Rebecca Greenspan as the person or you’re announcing the gender of the person?


Deputy Spokesperson:  We did not announce any names.  This was in the context of the Secretary-General to increase the number of senior women officials in the United Nations system.


Question:  is it fair to conclude that the decision has been made, if you’ve already announced the gender of the person who is getting the job?


Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t know. I only know what he said in the statement now.  Yes.


Question:  The Spanish Government has requested the Secretary-General’s intervention in the case of Aminatou Haidar, the Sahrawi activist that is in Spain on a hunger strike.  Have you received the request and do you plan to talk with the Moroccan authorities about this case, about inviting them…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  We just checked that for you; the letter has not yet been received. So, we’d have to look at this letter if and when it is received. Yes.


Question:  President Obama is going to announce his Afghanistan strategy this evening.  It’s expected that he’s going to talk about increasing the capacity of Afghanistan, Afghan institutions and so on, which would seem to fall under  the UN’s mission there.  I’m wondering, did the President reach out to the Secretary-General in any way ahead of his announcement tonight, and is there any discussion going on about what changing United States strategy might mean for the UN mission there.


Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the first point is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Afghanistan –- I don’t know if you were here in the room earlier –- but has already issued a statement in Kabul in which he talks about the need for a transition strategy, rather than an exit strategy.  So, I think that that will give you a good idea of the thinking of our mission on the ground.  In terms of whether a reaction to an announcement or a statement that has not yet been made, we obviously have to listen to what’s been said before we can react to it.  And thirdly, whether there have been consultations.  My understanding is that they have been consulting with and informing various partners on this issue and I believe the Secretary-General has been as well.


Question:  …(Inaudible)…contacted by the President himself or by the administration?


Deputy Spokesperson:  By the administration.


Question:  So it’s safe to say that he was contacted (inaudible)…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  I think he’s been briefed on what’s in the pipeline, yes.  With that, have a good afternoon.  Yes, one more question?


Question:  Sure.  There are reports that either the UN or the international non-governmental organizations have pulled workers out in Central African Republic back to the capital due to renewed fighting between the Government and rebels.  Can you confirm that?  Are there sections of the country from which the UN has (inaudible)…?


Deputy Spokesperson:  We had an update on that last week.  If you can go upstairs you can pick that up.  With that, have a good afternoon.  See you tomorrow.


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For information media • not an official record