26 February 2007


26 February 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


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 the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Ashraf Kamal.

Briefing by Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

**Noon Briefing Guest

Our guest today will be Ian Martin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Nepal.

**International Court of Justice

In a much-awaited ruling issued earlier today, the International Court of Justice found that Serbia has not committed genocide under customary international law in a case brought against it by Bosnia.  Neither did Serbia conspire to commit genocide, nor did it incite the committing of genocide, the Court found.

In its judgement, which is final, binding and without appeal, the Court, however, found that Serbia has failed to prevent genocide in Srebrenica and that it also violated its obligations under the Genocide Convention by failing to fully cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY).  The Court pointedly noted that Serbia violated its obligation by failing to transfer Ratko Mladić, who was indicted for genocide and complicity in genocide, for trial by the ICTY.  And we have the full ICJ ruling upstairs.

**Commission on Status of Women

Here at UN Headquarters, the Commission on the Status of Women opened its two-week annual session this morning.

The Deputy Secretary-General applauded the Commission’s decision to focus at this session on the elimination of all forms of discrimination and violence against the girl child.  She also encouraged the Commission to take bold steps to improve the lives of girls everywhere.

Referring to the proposals to strengthen the UN’s gender architecture, as presented by the High-Level Panel on United Nations System-Wide Coherence, the Deputy Secretary-General said she and the Secretary-General agree wholeheartedly with the Panel’s suggestion to replace several current structures with one dynamic UN entity focused on gender equality and women’s empowerment.  Such an entity should mobilize forces of change at the global level, and inspire enhanced results at the country level.

She also said she will do all she can to meet the goal of 50-50 gender balance within the United Nations.

This afternoon, from 3 to 6 p.m., two high-level round-table discussions will take place in parallel, on the priority theme, the “Elimination of discrimination and violence against the girl child”.  A list of the high-level participants is available in the press kit and also in the Spokesperson’s Office. Press kits are being distributed today.

** Sudan

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that last week saw the first ever organized returns of internally displaced persons (IDPs) from Northern Sudan to Southern Sudan.

Reception committees established by the local authorities and communities were in place, and the return operation was reported to have gone smoothly.  The Government, along with the United Nations and partners, plans to assist up to 90,000 IDPs to return from north to south in 2007.

The organized return of internally displaced persons from South Darfur to Southern Sudan, meanwhile, is on hold, while IDPs are being vaccinated against meningitis.  Likewise, organized returns of IDPs from Uganda to Southern Sudan are also on hold due to meningitis in northern Uganda, and prospective returnees are being vaccinated.  We also have available today’s update from the UN Mission in Sudan.


Speaking at a Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, today stressed the importance of advancing the priorities set out in Peace Operations 2010, and how the Secretary-General’s reform proposals may contribute to this ongoing reform agenda.

The USG also said that a clearer delineation of functions and lines of responsibility at Headquarters can help ongoing efforts to structure it in such a way that benefits performance, efficiency and accountability, here and in the field.  Copies of the speech will be available upstairs after the briefing.

** Somalia

Speaking earlier today at a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference’s Contact Group on Somalia (OIC) in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, called on OIC members to redouble their efforts to promote stability and reconciliation in Somalia.

In his address, Fall urged OIC member states with contacts with the leaders of the Union of Islamic Courts, especially Yemen, to encourage the Islamist leaders to accept Somalia’s Transitional Federal Charter and join the national reconciliation process.  We have a press release upstairs.

Also on Somalia, the World Food Programme (WFP) says that it is extremely concerned about the safety of crew members aboard a WFP-contracted vessel that was hijacked off the coast of north-eastern Somalia yesterday.  The ship had just delivered 1,800 tons of WFP food aid and equipment from the Food and Agriculture Organization to northern Somalia and was sailing back empty to Kenya.  The ship is now reported to be anchored in Somali waters.

According to WFP, such acts of piracy might undermine the delivery of relief food to vulnerable people in Somalia and could further worsen the prevailing precarious humanitarian situation.

**Cluster Bombs

Late on Friday, we issued a statement on cluster bombs.  According to that statement, the Secretary-General was encouraged by the declaration signed on Friday by a group of nations attending the Oslo Conference on Cluster Munitions.  That declaration envisages the conclusion in 2008 of a new agreement banning cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians.

The Secretary-General also welcomed all progress to reduce and ultimately eliminate the horrendous humanitarian effects of cluster bombs.  The full statement is available on our website.

**Outer Space

I had a question last week on what, in fact several questions, about what the UN would do about the asteroid Apophis which might come uncomfortably close to earth in 2036.  A group of astronauts and scientists had asked that the United Nations assume responsibility for a space mission to deflect it.  Although the odds of an impact by this particular asteroid is low, initial plans for a blueprint on a global response to near-earth asteroids, were presented last week to the UN Outer Space Scientific and Technical Subcommittee in Vienna.

The Subcommittee completed its latest work session in Vienna, at which it debated the newly established space-system-based disaster management programme, a safety framework for nuclear power sources in outer space and mitigation guidelines for space debris.

Meanwhile, the Subcommittee says it will continue with consideration of near-earth objects due to their scientific importance and the reported possibility of their collision with Earth and the resulting devastating consequences.  We have more on that upstairs.

**Press Conferences Tuesday

At 11 o’clock tomorrow, in this room, the Scientific Expert Group on Climate Change and Sustainable Development will release its final report on steps the international community must take to avoid an environmental and economic tipping point with respect to global climate change.  Senator Timothy E. Wirth, President of the UN Foundation will preside, with experts.

And our guest at noon will be Mia Farrow, in her capacity as UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, who will brief you on her recent visit to Chad and the Central African Republic.

This is all I have for you and then we’ll have Ashraf and then Mr. Martin.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment of this ruling of the International Court of Justice on Serbia?

Spokesperson:  Okay, you know it’s a judgement rendered by the International Court of Justice in the case of Bosnia and Herzegovina against Serbia and Montenegro.  And he noted the judgement and he notes that the Court has found Serbia to be in violation of its obligation under the Genocide Convention to prevent genocide in Srebrenica.  And he notes the decision of the Court set out in operative paragraph eight of its judgement, you have the text upstairs, that Serbia shall immediately take effective steps to ensure full compliance with its obligations under the Genocide Convention to punish acts of genocide under the Convention and to transfer individuals accused of genocide for trial by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.  Sylviane, yes.

Question:  There are reports on the Hizbollah (inaudible) villages in the south of Lebanon.  Do you have any reaction?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have anything on that today.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any plans to go to Lebanon in mid-March?

Spokesperson:  He’s planning to go to the region, but I cannot tell you exactly which country he will visit and what the exact date would be.  However, he has plans to go to the region at the end of March.

Question:  It would be after or before the Brammertz Report, the 1701 report and 1559 report?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information at this point because the date has not been set.

Question:  I wanted to ask you about the upcoming Arab conference that’s going to take place in Riyadh next month.  First of all, does the Secretary-General have any response that this conference is being formed?  And the second one is, is there going to be any UN representation there?  Has the UN been asked to attend?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point, but I’ll get the information for you.

Question:  There have been some serious accusations by the New Yorker magazine, the recent issue, speaking about Saudi Arabia sponsoring and supporting terrorism -- terrorist organizations in Lebanon, in Iraq, in the Middle East.  Is the Secretary-General going to make any comment on that or, because this is quite a serious allegation and we have some evidence of that in Lebanon, seeing that the Siniora Government is supporting some terrorist organizations.

Spokesperson:  Okay, we have no comment on this at this point.

Question:  Last year, Secretary-General Annan announced that he named a facilitator, although he didn’t name it publicly, to deal with the Israeli kidnapped soldiers in Lebanon.  First of all, is Secretary-General Ban in touch with that facilitator?  Does he still work with the same facilitator?  Does he intend to name a different facilitator?

Spokesperson:  He works with that facilitator and the facilitator is still on board.  The same one.

Question:  The same one?  And maybe he will be willing to name him?

Spokesperson:  No, not at this point.

Question:  There’s a photograph on the OCHA website with the elephants and the sanctions (inaudible) -- apparently it’s been taken down now.  Can you explain the reason for that illustration and what was it supposed to illustrate?

Spokesperson:  The photo, which was on a website, it was of a billboard which was put up there by Charles Taylor.  And the photo was taken in Liberia several years ago and it has been on OCHA’s website for several years, so I don’t know why it is surfacing right now.  It is of a poster, as I said, by Charles Taylor, to convince the Liberian people that sanctions were harming the country, when in fact the sanctions in Liberia were very carefully crafted to avoid harming ordinary people.  The picture was on OCHA’s web page dealing with sanctions.  It intended to show the need for an effective and clear UN communications campaign for countries under sanctions so that ordinary people would be reassured that sanctions were not directed at them and would not harm them.  And I think you’re referring to this (holds it up).

Question:  Yeah.

Spokesperson: Okay.

Question:  In there, there’s a quote from the Secretary-General.  I assume it’s from the previous Secretary-General.

Spokesperson:  In what?

Question:  On that page, that same OCHA page, a quote from the Secretary-General that pretty much says that sanctions tend to hurt regular people and not the regimes, which wasn’t the case in the case of Charles Taylor, but that’s a question for analysis.  The question is (a) is that really a quote from the previous Secretary-General and (b) does the current Secretary-General agree with that quote?

Spokesperson:  I will ask OCHA.

Question:  A follow-up if I could.  Use of that photograph does that indicate OCHA’s position on the matter of sanctions?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  So OCHA’s position on the matter of sanctions is that they hurt the normal people and don’t…

Spokesperson:  No, on the contrary.  It’s the opposite.  I mean they used this as a counterpoint.  This was a poster put up by Charles Taylor and the two used that picture to take the opposite view of this…

Question:  Then how come the text does not indicate that it’s a counterpoint?  Actually in the content of the text there’s quite a lot of explanation that jibes with the photograph, rather than with…

Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll check on that.  I’ll go back to that site and look at it.

Question:  Do you know why it was taken down -- was there a reason?

Spokesperson:  The picture was taken down because it created so many questions and it was not intended to be taken that way in any way.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  There’s a quote today from President Bashir of Sudan saying that the plan to transform peacekeeping in Darfur from AU to UN has a hidden agenda of putting Sudan under UN Trusteeship.  I’m wondering whether anyone in the UN -- the Secretary-General or his envoys -- has had any response to that?  And where things now stand in terms of getting a response to the letter and the Secretary-General’s thinking about what this reflects.

Spokesperson:  Okay, from what we have heard today, it was announced by some Government officials in the Sudan, that the letter had been sent.  The letter concerning the heavy package.  We have confirmed here that they have not received it yet.

Question:  Also, on the ship off Somalia, the WFP ship, there’s a report of US warships going there.  Is the WFP or the UN system in communications with the US on a military basis -- or what’s the purpose of that?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know what the relationship is.  I don’t know whether there is any.  WFP’s understanding is that the ship is moving closer, but there is no evidence of any active involvement by the US.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any kind of planning to really initiate additional taskforce to overcome the difference between Iran and Iraq at this stage?

Spokesperson:  Not at this point.  Well, he’s following the situation closely and I’ve said it several times, but he doesn’t have a special taskforce to go over there and mediate if that’s what you’re asking.

Correspondent:  That’s what I’m asking.

Question:  Can you confirm whether or not the Secretary-General is sending his Special Adviser to Lebanon this week, Michael Williams?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  It is confirmed.

Spokesperson:  I don’t know if it is this week, but I know he’s in the region right now.

Question:  Do you have any comments regarding the Israeli incursion in Nablus which has been taking place for two days now, terrorizing people, including many civilians -- is that not an act of terrorism?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have any comment at this point.

Question:  The Secretary-General has said that Iran has suspended its enrichment, but is he doing anything to encourage the other parties to negotiate?  Because what ElBaradei had said is, until 6 March, the report has not yet been approved, so there’s a chance to have negotiation in this window.  So is there anything that the Secretary-General is doing to encourage the other parties to negotiate with Iran?

Spokesperson:  At this point, as you know, the Secretary-General met with Mr. ElBaradei.  They discussed it and Mr. ElBaradei is doing that effort that you’re talking about.

Question:  One more question.  Is there anything you can add as to the content of the conversation between Secretary-General Ban and Waldheim?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  It was a private meeting.

Question:  Did he advise him on how to re-organize the UN?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at all what happened during the meeting -- which was as you know, a private meeting.

Question:  Did he mention his Nazi past at all?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.

Question:  There are reports that Gambia is expelling UNDP’s representative there.  Can you confirm that that has taken place? Has the representative left and what’s going to be the UN’s system’s response?

Spokesperson:  Well, the representative is going to come to New York within the next two days and there will be a consultation about this and I know that the Secretary-General, and before him, the Deputy Secretary-General, have been trying to reach the President to discuss the issue with him.

Question:  Just in regards to this Special Rep in Sudan -- is that going to be announced anytime soon?

Spokesperson:  The Special?

Question:  …representative of Sudan.

Spokesperson:  I don’t know yet.  As soon as it is known, I’ll inform you immediately.

Question:  What’s the hold up?  Are there interviews going on at the moment for the job?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I don’t know.

Question:  Has it been advertised?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I don’t think that it’s been advertised.  I think they are contacting different people, yes.

Thank you very much.  Ashraf and then Mr. Martin.

Briefing by Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly

Good afternoon, everybody.

Sheikha Haya met with Italian Foreign Minister Massimo D’Alema and thanked him, among other things, for Italy’s pledged high level of participation in the meeting on gender equality and the empowerment of women scheduled for the 6th (Mary Robinson and Beatriz Paredes will appear in a press conference at 12:30) and the 7th of March.  And you can ask them all the questions that you want about the panel, the conference, the session and everything else.

She also met with the Pope.  The Holy Father expressed his support for the UN and the GA.  He emphasized the role the UN can play in promoting peace, security, development and human rights.

The President informed him that one of the most important issues on her agenda for the GA is to promote better understanding, dialogue and tolerance among religions, cultures and civilizations, as the only way to deal with the challenges we face in the twenty-first century.  She briefed the Pontiff on her initiative to hold a meeting in the GA on this issue on 10 and 11 May.  We will see if we can get also some of the panellists for this particular segment to appear before you in a press conference.  The Pope promised to lend his support to the President’s initiative and they both agreed to pursue the discussion in the next few days.

The Committee of 34 held its first meeting today to discuss the restructuring proposals of SG for DPKO.

Question:  Could we have report about the Security Council reform efforts and what’s happening that the General Assembly is carrying out?

Spokesperson:  The five facilitators are supposed to meet this week with the office of the President.  Then, as soon as the President comes back she will meet with them, see where they got to at the end of the final round.  And then, as soon as I find out more information about this, I’ll get back to you and tell you exactly what happened.

Question:  Do you have any United Nations definition of terrorism as such?  Or are you working on that?

Spokesperson:  Well, the General Assembly has been trying to work on that for months, if not years.  And they haven’t come up with anything, so the question is better directed to the 192 member States and, if I get an answer, I promise you’ll be the first to know.

Question:  What’s the hold up on the definition?

Spokesperson:  You know the old adage Benny, one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.  That’s supposedly the hold up.  Any more?  Thank you.

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