23 August 2007


23 August 2007
Spokesperson'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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.

**World Health Report

We will start with that important report, the World Health Report.

In an increasingly interconnected world, new diseases are emerging at an unprecedented rate and global health security depends on international cooperation.  That’s according to the 2007 World Health Report which was launched today in Geneva.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says that, since 1967, at least 39 new pathogens have been identified including HIV, Ebola fever, Marburg fever and SARS.  WHO’s Director-General, Margaret Chan, said that better security called for global solidarity.

The 2007 World Health Report recommends, among other things, that countries fully implement the revised International Health Regulations of 2005.  These regulations have allowed WHO to receive health alerts on a regular basis and to conduct joint risk assessments.  The report also stresses the importance of global cooperation in monitoring and responding to disease outbreaks, as well as sharing knowledge and technologies.

We have copies of the report and a WHO press release upstairs.

** Sudan

In Sudan, UNICEF says that efforts to prevent major disease outbreaks during the annual rainy season are showing results.  According to the agency, only 800 cases of acute watery diarrhoea have been reported since April compared to 6,000 during the same period last year.

Some 365,000 people are affected by flooding in many parts of north Sudan but UNICEF and other agencies have increased preventive measures since last year’s outbreak of acute watery diarrhoea which killed more than 900 people.  UNICEF notes however that 265,000 more people could be affected if the floods continue.  And you can find more details on UNICEF’s relief efforts in Sudan in a press release upstairs.

** Uganda

In response to a number of questions in recent days, we can now confirm that the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Lord’s Resistance Army-affected regions, Joaquim Chissano, is now on mission in the region.  Earlier today, he met with the President of the Central African Republic, who is on a state visit, in the Ugandan capital Kampala.  At that meeting the Special Envoy briefed the President on his activities.

This afternoon, Chissano will proceed to Juba for further consultations on the peace negotiations between the LRA and the Government of Uganda.  He will also visit the Democratic Republic of the Congo as part of his current mission to the region.

Meanwhile, the UN and the Government of Uganda and the United Nations will field two joint teams to assess the impact of severe flooding across large swaths of eastern Uganda.  The two teams are expected to begin their assessments in the Teso and Mbale regions by the end of the week.  They will focus particular attention on the impact of the flooding on water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, health, food security, shelter, and road conditions.

** Lebanon

The UN Interim Force for Lebanon welcomes the reported progress in the investigation concerning the terrorist attack on the UNIFIL Military Police at the Qasmiyeh Bridge on 16 July, with the arrest of two suspects.

UNIFIL stresses the importance of identifying and arresting the perpetrators of this attack and of the previous attack on the UNIFIL Spanish Contingent patrol on 24 June.


Over in Timor-Leste, the general security situation has been stable but tense, although a sporadic string of serious incidents were reported.  Two deaths occurred during a fight involving 100 to 300 people, where houses were set on fire.  The UN police and International Stabilization Forces troops responded and controlled the situation.

UN Police Commissioner for Timor-Leste, Rodolfo Tor, in an interview with UN Radio said the two deaths occurred as a result of a fight among neighbours.  The two children of one of the neighbours were trapped in a house that was burnt by the other assailants.  The dead bodies have been recovered and the case is now under investigation.

** Cambodia

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Human Rights in Cambodia and the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers are concerned that recent judicial appointments appear not to have been made in accordance with the Constitution.  They said that this casts doubt on whether the principle of judicial independence is being fully respected in Cambodia.

According to Cambodian law, all judicial appointments, are decided by the Supreme Council of Magistracy and implemented by royal decree.  Yet the royal decree of 9 August replacing the President of the Court of Appeal appears not to have been made on the basis of a decision of the Supreme Council of Magistracy.

The Special Representative has also voiced concern at the composition of the Supreme Council of Magistracy, which includes a Government minister and a member of the ruling party’s Permanent Committee.  There is more on this upstairs.

** Myanmar

The following is a statement attributable to the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General:

The Secretary-General is following events in Myanmar closely and with concern, particularly in light of reports that student leaders and others have been arrested by the authorities.  In the spirit of the efforts of mutual engagement being pursued by the United Nations and Myanmar in the context of his good offices, the Secretary-General calls on the authorities to exercise maximum restraint in responding to any demonstrations and encourages all parties to avoid any provocative action.  He calls for a constructive dialogue towards national reconciliation at this important time in Myanmar’s history.

** Peru

In Peru, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has allocated $50,000 to address the specific emergency needs of women and girls affected by the disaster.

UNFPA will provide, among other things, hygiene kits and is working to restore and strengthen local primary health services -- focusing particularly on emergency reproductive health services.  The Fund is also undertaking a census of the affected population to determine its exact needs.

**Publication on Sustainable Media

Released in Addis Ababa today is a new publication on the development of a sustainable media which states that the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) cannot be achieved without sustained political will and investment.

The publication, “Framework for the Development of a Sustainable and Pluralistic Media”, also says that achieving the MDGs require a free and democratic environment in which the media can play an effective role in promoting sustainable development, fighting corruption and promoting good governance.

**International Day for Remembrance of Slave Trade and Its Abolition

Today is the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition.  Marking this occasion, UNESCO’s Director-General, Koïchiro Matsuura, stressed the importance of reflecting on a tragic past that may be distant but whose repercussions continue to fuel injustice and exclusion today.

“This reflection on the barbarity our society is capable of unleashing is all the more necessary as millions of men, women and children still today suffer the horrors of new forms of slavery,” he said.

Matsuura also added that we must all step up our efforts to ensure that the history of salve trade and of slavery takes its rightful place in civic education programmes and school textbooks.  We have his full message upstairs.

**United Nations Organization Mission in Democratic Republic of Congo

In response to a question from yesterday, the national staff association did ask MONUC’s [United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] national staff to stop work today.  The Mission says that some members of the national staff have grievances concerning their conditions of service, mostly concerning their salary and benefits.

The Mission is ready to engage in a constructive dialogue to resolve these issues, while taking into account the administrative and financial constraints of the United Nations.  MONUC stresses its commitment to come to a satisfactory outcome on these questions.  The Mission also feels confident that discussions in good faith with the representatives of the national staff will lead to a positive outcome to this situation.

**Troika Meeting in Vienna

And concerning another question that was asked yesterday about UN participation in the Troika meeting in Vienna:  the scenario should follow the one that was in place when the Troika visited Belgrade and Pristina earlier this month.  An expert from UNOSEK should be there to provide assistance upon request.  I remind you that the Troika is made up of the United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation.

**Press Conferences

Tomorrow at 10 a.m., there will be a press conference by Margareta Wahlström, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator, on UN relief efforts in response to natural disasters.  10 o’clock tomorrow morning.

That is all I have for you.  Thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I wonder if there is any report you can give on what is happening in the Congo.  I know there are incidents of UN forces -- you know, I wasn’t sure -- [inaudible] down in villages, and also they found some dead bodies.  Just an update, because there seems to be some nasty stuff going on, and I don’t really know what it is.

Spokesperson:  About the dead body found, yes, we can confirm that.  MONUC has come up with a report on the situation and we have that available upstairs for you.  Is there anything else about MONUC that you are concerned about?

Question:  I was just seeing a report before I came down here about local resistance to MONUC activities, people being thrown out of villages, or resistance, I don’t know.  If you could just give an update or a sense of what is actually going on there, that would be helpful.

Spokesperson:  We will try to get you a complete update on what is going on in the Congo.

Question:  Can you give us an update on the breakthrough in talks between Turkish Cypriots and Greek Cypriots and that they are going to be meeting in the United Nations Coordinator’s place over there?  Can you give us an update as to how this breakthrough came about?  Is it basically going to have the objective to reach an agreement?  Or is it just up in the air?

Spokesperson:  You are asking about the talks that will take place in early September?  Those are the talks between the two parties.  The UN is not yet involved in those talks.

Question:  It is going to be held under the auspices of the United Nations.

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm that it will be done with the United Nations present and what role the UN will play.  But I can try to find out.  I can confirm that the parties have announced that they will meet in early September.  But what role the UN will play in those talks, it is left to be defined.  I will let you know.

Question:  I am sorry, but I was given to understand that the talks will take place with the UN coordinator being like a go-between or something.

Spokesperson:  I have to check for you what the role of the UN will be exactly.

[It was later announced that the talks would take place in the official residency of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Nicosia.]

Question:  I have two questions, one on DPKO/MONUC and one is on the Ethics Office.  On the MONUC strike, was there actually...  Can you confirm that a work stoppage occurred, and if so, how many of the national staff actually did not work, and if it impinged on MONUC’s work at all?  And also, I am told that there was a meeting by DFS and ASG, no the USG, Jane Hall Lute, on these issues yesterday.  And I am wondering if there is a readout... if it is true that MONUC’s and UNMIL’s national staff leaders are going to come to New York and are going to try to trash out these issues.

Spokesperson:  I have to find out for you.  What I gave you I found out from MONUC this morning, about what the discussions between the Special Representative and the staff of MONUC led to.  What I gave you is what I have.  I don’t know how many people were actually in work stoppage; this I can find out for you.  And how it affected the work of MONUC, this I can also find out for you.  But what I gave you I got this morning from them.

Question:  There is a letter from the US Mission to Mr. Benson of the Ethics Office, cc’d to the 38th floor [names inaudible] Chris Coleman and others, saying... urging once again that the Ethics Office asserts its jurisdiction, complete its... and citing actually the General Assembly resolution that took note of the Ethics Office that said that the Ethics Office should be system-wide.  So clearly, however you characterize it, the stakes have been raised...  Another argument has been made for Mr. Benson, but also the 38th floor, to reconsider whether the Ethics Office should complete this work.  Has that been received by the 38th floor, and what is the status of the UNDP doing its own inquiry, given that I was just at the Executive Board meeting downstairs and the issue was not even raised, did not come up?  What happens next?

Spokesperson:  About that leaked letter to the Ethics Office:  I will not comment on that letter addressed to Mr. Benson by an Ambassador from a Member State.  I can only say that the US Mission has been in touch with the Secretary-General’s office, that we have explained to them our position on the matter, and that the US Mission has expressed its understanding of the Secretary-General’s response.  As I said yesterday, the Secretary-General is determined to have ethical norms applied throughout the system.  However, at the moment, the Ethics Office does not have jurisdiction over UNDP.  We are now waiting for the announcement by UNDP’s Executive Board of the complementary external review they have announced.  I have nothing more to say on this.   What I will say is that, if you have further questions please go to UNDP.

Question:  Is there going to be a briefing any time soon?

Spokesperson:  Please talk to them.

Question:  One last thing.  I want to understand this idea of leaked letters.  Often here we will ask you, saying a Government has called on the UN to do something.  And you respond to it.  You’ll say, yes, we have noticed that... and a call for action, and we say this.

Spokesperson:  Well, this was not addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Question:  But it was cc’d to his...

Spokesperson:  It was not addressed to the Secretary-General of the United Nations.

Question:  Just a little further on that.  The spirit you are talking about that Ban is professing, doesn’t that mean though that he would champion the idea to have a unified Ethics Office approach to this problem and future problems?  Why the delay, if he feels so adamantly about how one system applied here?  Why is he sitting on the fence for a little while?

Spokesperson:  He is not sitting on the fence, he does not have the power to actually overrule UNDP’s Executive Office.  UNDP answers ultimately to its Board, and to the General Assembly.  UNDP has a structure, and for the time being, the jurisdiction, as I said yesterday, of the Ethics Office does not cover UNDP and other agencies.

Question:  Maybe I can ask this in a different way.  His lack of assertiveness in this issue as the leader of this Organization could be perceived by some -- in some of the agencies, by staff -- as a sign of weakness, as a sign that he is not in control of the overall Organization, even though you have these internal issues here of jurisdiction.  But that lack of initiative on his part could be perceived as weakness.  Is that something that he is addressing?  Perhaps you could address that possible...

Spokesperson:  As I said, he spoke to people at the American Mission about this, and he has been discussing this issue with Mr. Benson, with different people who are involved in this specific situation.  I don’t think there is a lack of resolve there.  Maybe you expect him to stand up and say, “I champion this.”  I can tell you one thing:  he is extremely engaged in what he has said before about his determination that there will be the same ethical norms applied everywhere within the system.  He has said it over and over again, and this morning he said it to me again.  To me, there is no lack of resolve.  There are realities within this Organization.  And you have been covering this Organization for long enough to know what these limitations are.  There are some limitations the Secretary-General cannot overcome.  He can express privately the fact that he would wish that this be generalized.  To him, the norms are the important thing.  To him, it is important that the UNDP has decided to have an external review board that will deal with the question of specifically the whistle-blower issue, for instance, and the protection of whistle-blowers in general.  He is welcoming that, because he feels that there should not be such holes in the system.

Question:  Explaining this story to our viewers, and I am sure that Matthew would agree and other people who have covered this would agree with me, Reuters and what not, it is not easy to do that, because you have the Secretary-General, who has actually appointed Mr. Dervis, actually appoints the head of this organization, yet he has no say in their conduct as an organization.  It just seems very, very odd.

Spokesperson:  As you know, UNDP has an Executive Board, which is an intergovernmental body.

Question:  This is clear, the jurisdiction gap, the catch-22 is clear.  But doesn’t the Secretary-General have the wherewithal and the power and the voice and the energy and the position and the empowerment to stand up and actually, actively go after this, and even make public loudly his sentiments, rather than behind the scenes, which certainly is not the most confidence-building thing for whistle-blowers [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  I can assure you he is pursuing this, and I think he will certainly talk about this whenever he can.

Question:  Are there any comments by Mr. Bank Ki-moon on the IAEA team visit to Tehran yesterday?  It seems that a kind of agreement has been reached between Tehran and the team.  Does Mr. Ban Ki-moon think this is enough to start drafting any Security Council resolution against Iran?

Spokesperson:  At this point, he is not going to give his opinion on the Security Council decision.  What he is going to do is just be aware of the report that the IAEA is going to submit to the Security Council on that issue.  There are channels of communication.  IAEA is going to report to the Security Council on this, then we will see.

Question:  About the attack of 16 July on UNIFIL, it is just to clear my mind.  Does the UN use the word “terrorist attack” when it is an attack against armed peacekeeping operation members?

Spokesperson:  Yes, it does.

Question:  Even though it is not an unarmed civilian that was attacked.  You consider it as a terrorist...

Spokesperson:  The attack was made on UNIFIL.

Question:  Which is an armed force.  But still you employ the words terrorist attack.

Spokesperson:  Yes, it is the word that is used.

Question:  In Somalia, a current round of internally displaced persons leaving Mogadishu who claim that the mayor of Mogadishu has made statements that if [inaudible] clan, that they are terrorists and that humanitarian aid should not reach them.  They are reported by the Somalia media to be asking for the help of the UN, both to say something about what the mayor said about them being terrorists, but also to serve them.  So, I guess I am wondering, this seems to be a request to the UN...

Spokesperson:  Who has this request been made to?

Question:  Well, they talk about what Eric Laroche said and criticize him for not criticizing the mayor of Mogadishu for calling them terrorists.  And the report said they held a demonstration, and the media say:  “The demonstrators called on the United Nations to assist them.”  So, I am wondering if this is a legitimate...  Do they have to send a letter to the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Not to the Secretary-General.  As you know, we have in Nairobi our Special Representative to Somalia, and we have an office that deals specifically with Somalia.

Question:  You mentioned Mr. Chissano.  Can you confirm that he is going to be setting up an office, a permanent office in Kampala, for ongoing negotiations, to monitor the UN’s role in the LRA negotiations?

Spokesperson:  I can only confirm that he is there.  I cannot confirm that there is going to be a definite office set up.  I can check for you whether there are already plans for that.

Question:  This might be a General Assembly Spokesperson question.  In previous years we sort of had the spirit of the General Assembly debate -- last year it was, I guess, reform, the previous year the Millennium Development Goals -- is climate change the way that you sort of count this one?

Spokesperson:  No, I think that there is going to be a climate change meeting before the General Assembly, but I can’t speak for the General Assembly.  I do know that there is going to be that specific meeting on 24 September, which is going to be on climate change, with the high-level participation of a number of Heads of State who are going to be there on the 24th.  That is separate from the General Assembly.

Question:  So, we don’t have a theme yet?

Spokesperson:  No, no.  I think you should find out very shortly, because I think the new President of the General Assembly will come to speak to you very soon.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the theme for the general debate of the sixty-second session of the General Assembly is “Responding to Climate Change”.]

Question:  Just to follow-up on the question on Somalia.  The Security Council resolution adopted this week is asking Ban Ki-moon to develop plans for a possible UN force there.  Could I ask what Ban Ki-moon has in mind now regarding this?  What plans he is going to develop?

Spokesperson:  That is being studied by his Political Affairs Department and by DPKO, to see if there is going to be a deployment there.  At this time, it is being studied, so I don’t have an answer for you yet.

Question:  The Climate Change conference.  About two weeks ago, I have asked you this question, and you said you still do not have a list of Heads of State or Government who are coming.  Is the list ready?  Do you have a number of how many people here?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that, but we are going to have someone who is going to talk to you about what that meeting is going to be about way before it happens.  That I can promise you.

Question:  You think it will clash with what Washington is doing and what the United States is doing, on the same subject:  climate change?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think there is going to be any clash.

Thank you very much.

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