21 November 2006


21 November 2006
Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, the Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General

** Lebanon Statement

Good afternoon.  I will start off with a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General on the events that took place this morning in Lebanon.

“The Secretary-General was shocked to learn today of the assassination of Pierre Gemayel, the Minister of Industry of Lebanon and one of the leaders of the 14 March movement, who believed strongly in an independent, democratic and united Lebanon.  The Secretary-General strongly condemns this murder and extends his deepest sympathies to the family and to the Government of Lebanon.

“This cold-blooded murder was carried out one day after the Security Council considered the report on the establishment of the special tribunal for Lebanon.  The Secretary-General reiterates that such acts of terrorism undermine Lebanon’s stability, are unacceptable and have no place in a democratic and open society.  The perpetrators and instigators of today’s attack must be brought to justice to ensure an end to impunity.  The Secretary-General calls upon all parties to maintain national unity at this critical moment.”

And this statement is of course available upstairs.

** Lebanon

And also on the subject of Lebanon, out today is a document of the Secretary-General’s report on the establishment of a tribunal of an international character for Lebanon which we flagged for you earlier.  And that is out on the racks as I mentioned.

**Secretary-General Press Conference

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General is now on his way back to New York, after having completed a trip that took him to Turkey, Kenya, Ethiopia and Switzerland.

We expect him back at the office tomorrow, where he is expected to brief the Security Council at some point tomorrow, on his recent meeting in Addis Ababa on Darfur.  And we will let you know exactly at what time that will take place.

And prior to leaving Geneva, he held a wide-ranging press conference at the UN headquarters there.  On Darfur, he said that, while answers were still pending from Khartoum on some issues, the decisions taken at the recent meeting in Addis Ababa could be described as a “turning point”.

And in answer to a question on the new Human Rights Council and their current focus on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the Secretary-General said that he had hoped that the Council members would have started by doing a peer review and examine their own human rights records first.  He added that, as it moves forward, he hopes the Council will look at other situations and not only concentrate on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

He also spoke out on Iraq, nuclear non-proliferation and his own future after 1 January.  And the full transcript of the press conference should be available to you shortly.

**Security Council

And back here, the Council is meeting, met this morning rather, to adopt a resolution on Bosnia and Herzegovina, that is the Security Council of course, authorizing the extension for one year of the multinational stabilization force in that country, known as EUFOR.

Following that, the Council began a debate on the Middle East and that is part of its periodic debates on this issue.  Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, in his briefing to the Council said that last month had brought an “alarming escalation in violence between Israelis and Palestinians” and -- because of the tragedy in Beit Hanoun -- would be remembered as a “dark hour in this very long conflict”.  Urging an end to the “legally and morally wrong” rocket attacks on Israel, as well as a more prudent and proportional response by Israel while defending its citizens, he said both Israelis and Palestinians should return to the political track rather than “continuing in a never-ending cycle of punishment and revenge”.  Gambari added that the Secretary-General fervently hopes that the Quartet will take concrete steps to promote a return to negotiations.

And on Lebanon, Mr. Gambari also added that the political and security situation continued to deteriorate, citing the assassination today of Pierre Gemayal, which I just mentioned, and what he termed the “threat of even greater violence looming over Lebanon's political horizon”.  And we have Gambari’s statement made available to you earlier today.

**Human Rights - Middle East

Also on the Middle East, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour was in Israel today, as part of her Middle East visit.  First, she travelled to the southern Israeli town of Sderot, where she witnessed firsthand what the people there have been going through on an almost daily basis.  As she arrived, a Qassam rocket exploded a few hundred yards away from her.  Arbour, who went to the site of the impact, said she could understand the sense of vulnerability and despair of Sderot’s residents.

The High Commissioner recalled that one of her main areas of concern in the region was the protection of civilians, stressing that Governments had a duty to protect their people, although within the bounds of human rights law and international humanitarian law.

Later in the day, Arbour went onto Ramallah, where she met with Palestinian human rights defenders.  Among issues raised was the difficult situation caused by restrictions on movement, including the separation barrier, checkpoints and closures.  And on her way to Ramallah, she was able to see parts of the barrier herself.  Arbour’s visit continues tomorrow in her talks with Israeli officials, including some members of Israel’s Supreme Court.

** Nepal

And from Nepal, Ian Martin, the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative in that country for the Support of the Peace Process was present today at the signing in Kathmandu of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, between the Seven-Party Alliance and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist).

In a statement, Martin congratulated both sides for their hard work in finalizing an agreement to end the conflict, calling it “entirely a Nepali achievement”.  “Today’s agreement”, Martin said, “promises to convert the ceasefire into long-term peace.”  And we have a full text of his statement upstairs.

** Sudan

Meanwhile from the Sudan, the UN Mission reports a continuing deterioration of the security situation in Darfur.  The Mission says fighting broke out yesterday between SLA rebels and the militia of an Arab tribe in two villages near the town of Saleah in South Darfur.  And as of early this morning, the Mission said the fighting was continuing sporadically.

Also near Saleah yesterday, unidentified armed men hijacked two vehicles belonging to an international NGO and a local organization.  And the hijacking occurred as NGO workers were completing an assessment mission in that area.  And no one was thankfully injured in the attack.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission in the DRC condemned today’s outburst of gun violence around the Supreme Court building in Kinshasa.  The Mission says the violence erupted between a squad of Congolese police and supporters of Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, who had gathered to attend the first hearing into Bemba's appeal of the provisional results of the presidential election, which forecasted his defeat by the incumbent President Joseph Kabila.

The Mission says the Court building and a police vehicle were set on fire during the violence, prompting UN peacekeepers to shoot in the air to disperse the protesters and restore order.  And there were no immediate reports of casualties.

** Somalia

And from Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, just completed a working visit to Somalia, said he has obtained firm commitment from Somalia’s transitional Government to resume the dialogue with the leaders of the Union of Islamist Courts, following the postponement of the third round of the Khartoum peace talks earlier this month.

In a press release today, Fall urged the international community to respond generously to the needs of the Somali communities affected by the devastating floods in recent weeks.  Fall said some 1.1 million people were in dire need of humanitarian assistance in southern Somalia alone.

** Kenya

And in a related note on the floods in the region, according to the World Food Programme, 100 tons of high energy biscuits were delivered to flood survivors in Kenya today and more assistance is expected to arrive within days.

In the same region, UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency has begun an emergency airlift, which has delivered five planeloads of relief supplies since Sunday to thousands of refugees and surrounding communities.  UNHCR also had started a relocation movement to help survivors move away from flooded refugee camps to drier ground in Kenya.

**Deputy Secretary-General in Barbados

And the Deputy Secretary-General today is on an official one-day visit to Barbados to address the African-Caribbean-Pacific-European Union Joint Parliamentary Assembly and he also plans to participate in various discussions, events on development and other related issues.

**AIDS Report

And last, and definitely not least, the UNAIDS/World Health Organization’s 2006 AIDS Epidemic Update was launched in Geneva earlier today.

According to the report, the global AIDS epidemic continues to grow and there is concerning evidence that some countries are seeing a resurgence in new HIV infection rates, which were previously stable or declining.  At the same time, however, declines in infection rates are being observed in some countries, as well as positive trends in young people's sexual behaviours.

According to the latest figures published today, nearly 40 million people are living with HIV.  There were more than 4 million new infections in 2006; 65 per cent of those occurred in sub-Saharan Africa.  And there were also significant increases in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, where infection rates have risen by more than 50 per cent since 2004.

And Bunmi Makinwa, the Director of the UNAIDS Office here in New York, is in the front of the room and he will be able to answer some of your questions after the briefing, if you have any on this issue.  And the press release and the report are also available upstairs.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

Noeleen Heyzer, the Executive Director of the UN Development Fund for Women, known as UNIFEM, will be here at noon tomorrow to announce the grantees of the UN Trust Fund to End Violence against Women.  And on that note, Benny, I will take your question.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The original resolution on the tribunal, for Lebanon, talked about the Hariri assassination and other political assassinations since.  Can you give us guidance as to whether this current assassination is covered under that?

Spokesman:  At this point, it’s a bit too early to tell.  I think we have to wait for the initial responses, the results of the initial inquiry by the Lebanese authorities themselves, to be able to pronounce ourselves on this issue.

Question:  Is Brammertz in town?

Spokesman:  As you well know, we do not discuss Mr. Brammertz’s movements for obvious reasons.

Question:  There are now in Somalia…Reuters and AFP have both reported that Ethiopian troops and the Union of Islamic Courts are fighting and shooting it out.  So I’m wondering if the UN, if Mr. Fall who was just in Baidoa, or the UN system has anything to say about whether there is an outbreak of war in the Horn of Africa?

Spokesman:  Well, as you put it, I think the Secretary-General called on all parties concerned to stop shooting it out, as you put it.  He spoke, I think, very clearly on that during his press conference in Nairobi, where he urged all parties to put their difference aside and resume the discussions.  And he also clearly called on the international community to assist Somalia.  And that would go through asking neighbouring countries not to rush in troops or support one movement over another.  I think there’s enough violence and enough guns in Somalia as it is.  What we need to support is the resumption of the discussions between the Islamic Court and the transitional Government.

Question:  And the Monitoring Group.  When are they going to get back to the Council?

Spokesman:  The Monitoring Group, if I recall, has another meeting with the Security Council Sanctions Committee this afternoon somewhere in this building.

Question:  I know that you said you can’t say where Brammertz is.  But do you know if he had any contact with the Lebanese Government in regard to this new investigation about the Gemayel assassination?

Spokesman:  You know, I think this investigation…this cold-blooded murder took place just a few hours ago.  As I said, we’re trying to get more information.  I can’t speak to whether or not Mr. Brammertz had any contact with the Lebanese.

Question:  Is Mr. Ibrahima Fall coming to talk with us?

Spokesman:  You know, I will have to check.  If he can’t come here, maybe we can try to arrange some one on one, or just a smaller group interview.

Question:  Speaking of Somalia, has there been any investigation since those first reporting of 720 Somali soldiers in Lebanon by UNIFIL, whether [inaudible]?  We asked that last week.

Spokesman:  I understand.  UNIFIL is going about its mandate, which is supporting the Lebanese armed forces in securing and creating a weapons-free zone in Lebanon between the Litani and the Blue Line.  If they have anything to report on groups of Somalis in that area, we will flag that for you.

Question:  But it is part of their mandate isn’t it to [inaudible]…foreign troops…?

Spokesman:  It is not their mandate to investigate the reports of the Security Council’s Sanctions Committee.  It is their mandate to do their utmost to support the Lebanese armed forces in securing southern Lebanon and creating a weapons-free zone there and in that sense they…

Question:  [Inaudible]

Spokesman:  …and that’s exactly that.  And they are assisting the Lebanon armed forces in that regard.  As I mentioned to you yesterday, they had secured a number of weapons caches and they are continuing to go about their work.

Question:  I’m just wondering, in Ivory Coast there’s a demonstration about the ongoing toxic waste scandal and the crowd was tear-gassed.  So whether Mr. Schori or Mr. Stoudmann or the Secretariat, has anyone said anything about that?

Spokesman:  I can check.  I have not heard anything from Côte d’Ivoire today.

Question:  Also, this is kind of open-ended.  In the basement today, UNMOVIC [United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission]…  I sort of stumbled on it.  I wasn’t really aware…what’s the current mandate?

Spokesman:  They’re still around, if that’s the question.

Question:  [Inaudible] I tried to go in.  It’s a closed meeting.  Can you articulate what they’re about?

Spokesman:  Their mandate is given by the Security Council and it’s up to the Security Council to decide on the fate of UNMOVIC.  And as for their activities, they put out quarterly reports, which are public documents, which would explain to you exactly what they are doing.

Question:  [Inaudible]

Spokesman:  On that statement, thank you Benny.  If there are no more questions, I will leave it to Gail to brief you on behalf of the General Assembly and please remember our guest from UNAIDS is here if you have any questions afterwards.  Thank you.

Briefing by the Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly

Good afternoon everyone.

The President of the General Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, this morning, giving the keynote address to a packed-to-capacity forum on General Assembly and Non-Governmental Organization Relations, told the civil society participants that they were indispensable partners in delivering services to the poor, catalyzing action within countries and holding leaders accountable for their commitments.  She highlighted the valuable contributions made by civil society organizations to the UN’s reform agenda particularly on gender equality.

In addition, she said it was not a coincidence that the recent High-Level Panel Report on System-Wide Coherence has recommended increasing the capacity of the UN to promote partnerships between the Organization, Governments, civil society and the private sector, in order to achieve shared development goals in each member country.  She stressed that, in addition to strengthening the relationship between the UN and civil society on the ground, it was also critical to ensure that civil society has a stronger voice both at a regional level and at Headquarters.  She flagged the series of thematic debates she intends to hold on development, gender and dialogue among civilizations during the sixty-first session of the Assembly, in which she planned to have both civil society and private sector participation.  She expressed her hope for active participation by civil society organizations, noting “we must continue to create an atmosphere that can build effective partnerships towards achieving our shared goals.” 

The meeting also heard important contributions from His Excellency Johan Løvald, the Permanent Representative of Norway to the United Nations, who talked about progress made, particularly initiatives undertaken under the leadership of the sixtieth President of the General Assembly, to clarify and elaborate on the relationships between NGOs and Member States.  Ms. Jackie Shapiro, Vice-President of the Conference on Non-Governmental Organizations in consultative relationship with the Economic and Social Council, was among the NGO representatives addressing the meeting.  Ms. Shapiro, in her presentation, called for the setting up of a United Nations Trust Fund to allow for greater participation of southern non-governmental organizations in the work of the United Nations, in particular NGOs from Africa.  She also recommended regular consultation and briefings by the President of the General Assembly and Co-Chairs and Committee Chairs of the Assembly.  The meeting will end at 1 p.m. today, following an interactive discussion among participants.

In news of the Committees -- the Third, Fourth and Sixth Committees are hoping to wrap up their deliberations today.  The Third Committee will take action on most of the pending draft resolutions before it while the Fourth Committee will act on ten resolutions on Israeli practices.

The General Committee on Monday also recommended to the General Assembly that it make room in its schedule to include the agenda item “Human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms”.  It further decided that the plenary should, at the same time, take action on the draft Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities during the main part of the current session.  The request for inclusion of the item, previously allocated to the Third Committee, came from the Chair of the Ad Hoc Committee on Disabilities in a letter addressed to the President of the General Assembly.  The Ad Hoc Committee is aiming to finalize its work this month, when it adopts its report, after which it hopes the Assembly will take action.

**Questions and Answers

That’s my report for today and if you have any questions, I’ll answer them.  I know I have a pending question for you (Matthew) and I think one was for someone else, whom I don’t remember.  On your question on what’s happening with the resolution…it wasn’t on disabilities, remind me.

Question:  It’s the resolution on indigenous people.

Spokeswoman:  Indigenous people.  That is still being negotiated at this point in time.  If the negotiations are concluded, then we will see whether any action is taken today.  But as I understand it, negotiations are still ongoing.

Question:  But it could be put on the agenda for today… I’m just wondering.

Spokeswoman:  I am not sure.  I wouldn’t like to say categorically yes, because I know for a fact that consultations are still going on.  I didn’t mention the Second Committee, because there are a number of informal consultations going on in the Second Committee.  The Fifth Committee continues with its scheduled programme of work.  Both Committees are not expected to finish their work much before the middle of December.

I think Benny had asked me about a resolution and he isn’t here; so let him know that I have the information for him.  Thank you.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.