DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

17 September 2007

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

17 September 2007
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

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 Ashraf Kamal, Spokesman for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, all.

**Statement on Sudan

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the recent upsurge in fighting in Darfur, which could adversely affect the success of the upcoming political negotiations due to begin in Libya on 27 October.  Reports of the most recent fighting in Hashkanita, Northern Darfur, on 10 and 11 September, involving aerial bombardments and ground military clashes, refer to the death of dozens of civilians.  This has occurred in spite of the signing of a Joint Communiqué on 6 September, during the Secretary-General’s visit to Sudan, in which the Government of Sudan committed to a full cessation of hostilities in Darfur in the lead-up to the political negotiations, under the auspices of the African Union and the United Nations.

The Secretary-General reiterates his concern that acts by any of the parties, including the ones that occurred in Adilla, Southern Darfur, and Wad Banda, Kordofan, last month, endanger the peace process.  The Secretary-General strongly urges all parties to show restraint and cease all military action in order to create a positive atmosphere for the envisaged political negotiations.

**Statement on Sierra Leone

The Secretary-General welcomes this morning’s announcement by Sierra Leone’s National Electoral Commission of the official results from the second round of the presidential elections, which took place on 8 September. The results show that Mr. Ernest Bai Koroma of the All People’s Congress Party received 54.6 per cent of the vote and Vice-President Solomon Berewa of the Sierra Leone People’s Party obtained 45.4 per cent of the total valid votes cast. The Secretary-General extends his warm congratulations to Mr. Koroma and commends all Sierra Leonean parties and their supporters for exercising patience and restraint during the tallying of the votes.  He also commends the National Electoral Commission and Sierra Leone security agencies for the professional and efficient manner in which they performed their duties during this period. The Secretary-General wishes to assure the newly-elected government of Sierra Leone of the continued support of the United Nations as the country continues to move towards durable political stability and sustainable economic development.

** Sudan

Meanwhile, the UN mission in Sudan (UNMIS) reports that a vehicle belonging to a Non-Governmental Organization was carjacked by two armed men in North Darfur over weekend. The armed men forced the driver and 10 other staff members off the vehicle.

Also yesterday, in South Darfur, two unknown men stopped a three-vehicle UN/NGO convoy and looted Thuraya (satellite) phones, mobile phones and money from the passengers of the first vehicle, while the other two vehicles managed to turn around and escape. The first vehicle was later released with all passengers unharmed. Following a shooting of an NGO vehicle by armed men, Sudanese authorities at the request of NGOs assisted in escorting them to Nyala, the capital of South Darfur.

And in Southern Sudan, government officials and aid agency representatives held a donor conference on security challenges and focused their discussion on the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration of former combatants.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has released its report on human rights in the country for the month of July. The report finds that Congolese government soldiers remain the main rights abusers in the country and are responsible for at least ten documented cases of arbitrary executions. Police officers were also involved in violations of the rights to life, physical integrity and liberty, while members of the various armed groups opposed to the government continue to perpetrate serious human rights abuses in the Kivus. The report also finds continued weaknesses and systemic failures in the administration of justice.  Prison detainees, including at least one pregnant woman, continue to suffer various forms of abuse.

**Violence in Nepal

Over in Nepal, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned the Sunday killings of a local leader and a member of the Armed Police Force. The High Commissioner’s office is also urging the Nepalese people to show tolerance and refrain from further violence, adding that violence undermines the genuine efforts to bring about durable peace during this transition period. Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Nepal is monitoring the situation and has dispatched officers to the area, along with the Human Rights Office in Nepal, which is conducting its own human rights investigation.

**IAEA

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is holding the 51st session of its General Conference in Vienna today, and its Director General, Mohamed ElBaradei, informed the Conference that Iran and the Agency’s Secretariat agreed last month on a work plan for resolving all outstanding verification issues. These verification issues, ElBaradei said, are at the core of the lack of confidence about the nature of Iran’s programme, and are what prompted actions by the Security Council.  He called Iran’s agreement on a work plan, with a defined timeline, “an important step in the right direction”.  But he added that it is “regrettable” that Iran has not suspended its enrichment related activities, and is continuing with its construction of the heavy water reactor at Arak.

ElBaradei also welcomed the return of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to the verification process and the active cooperation that the Agency team has received from the DPRK. We have his statement upstairs.

Also, the Secretary-General, in a message delivered by High Representative for Disarmament Affairs Sergio Duarte, said that the IAEA’s activities are more important than ever to advance safe and peaceful uses of nuclear energy, promote non-proliferation and disarmament and reduce the risks of nuclear tension. That message is available upstairs.

**Security Council

Here at Headquarters, the members of the Security Council are holding their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General today.

** Rwanda

On Rwanda, Prosecutor Hassan B. Jallow of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is seeking a minimum of 12 years imprisonment for Juvenal Rugambarara, a former mayor of Bicumbi Commune who in July pleaded guilty to a single count of extermination as a crime against humanity. The Tribunal says that a date for the sentencing has yet to be chosen and will be announced later. 

** Guatemala

In a press release we issued late on Friday, we announced the appointment by the Secretary-General of Carlos Castresana Fernández of Spain to head the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, established under an agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Guatemala that entered into force on 4 September 2007.  Castresana took up his duties immediately, and this morning he arrived in Guatemala to begin a week-long preparatory mission during which he will consult with officials in Government, judicial and security institutions, as well as representatives of political parties, civil society and the diplomatic corps.

**Mines

The UN agencies, funds and programmes that jointly provide mine action services have issued a statement applauding the progress made in the struggle against the scourge of landmines since the Anti-Personnel Mine-Ban Treaty was adopted 10 years ago. The steady decline in casualty rates, the return of formerly mined areas to productive civilian use, and the destruction of tens of millions of these indiscriminate weapons are encouraging. The Anti-Personnel Mine-Ban Treaty is a testament to what can be achieved when the international community works collectively to tackle a grave humanitarian and development challenge. We have copies of the joint statement upstairs.

** Montreal Ozone Meeting

Twenty years after the adoption of the Montreal Protocol to reduce gases that damage the ozone layer, environment ministers from around the world are meeting this week in Montreal to discuss speeding up some of the Protocol’s provisions. In a message to mark yesterday’s International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, the Secretary-General hailed the success of the Montreal Protocol, saying it shows that there are global instruments that can help curb the impact of human activities on the global environment.  Such success should be replicated, he said, urging continued multilateral action on the world’s many other environmental problems. We have more information upstairs, along with a press release on next Monday’s high-level climate change meeting, convened by the Secretary-General to secure political commitment and build momentum ahead of December’s UN Climate Change Conference in Bali.  Heads of state and other top officials from more than 150 countries are scheduled to attend. 

**World Bank/UNODC Report

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Bank are today launching a joint Stolen Asset Recovery Initiative, aimed at helping developing countries recover assets stolen by corrupt leaders, help invest those assets in effective development programmes and combat safe havens internationally.  The launch is taking place at 4 pm in Conference Room 5.  The Secretary-General, World Bank President Robert Zoellick and UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa will speak. Upstairs in my office, we have copies of the press release and the fact sheet, both of which are embargoed until 4 p.m.

**Press Conferences

And we have several press conferences scheduled for tomorrow and the day after. At 10.30 a.m. tomorrow, the Secretary-General will hold a press conference on the upcoming high-level event on climate change, which will take place at the UN Headquarters on the 24th of September. Press kits on the event are available here and upstairs.

Please note that since the Secretary-General will be briefing you, there will be no noon briefing tomorrow.

Tomorrow at 1 p.m., the President of the 62nd session of the General Assembly, Srgjan Kerim, will hold a press conference on the opening of the session, to take place at 3 p.m. tomorrow.

But before all this, today at 3 p.m. there will be a press conference by Robi Damelin and Khaled Abu Awwad of the Parents’ Circle on an exhibit entitled “Offering Reconciliation”, which is currently taking place at the UN Visitors’ Lobby and features the works of 135 Israeli and Palestinian artists. This press conference is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Sweden.

And just looking ahead, on Wednesday at 11:15 a.m., Craig Barrett, Chairman of the UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development, and CEO of Intel Corporation; Hamadoun Toure, Secretary-General of the International Telecommunications Union; Walter Fust, Director-General of the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation; and Mohsen Khalil, Director of Global ICT and the World Bank Group, will brief you on the new “Connect Africa Initiative”, a joint effort to bring ICT connectivity to the continent.

Our guests at the noon briefing on Wednesday will be Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, and Academy Award-winning actor Kevin Kline, who will brief you on human trafficking and the world premiere of the film “Trade”, starring Mr. Kline.

Later that day at 3 p.m., there will be a press briefing by the UN Safety and Security Service and the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit on the upcoming high-level events and the General Assembly 62nd session.

This is all I have for you, thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:   Going back to the item on Darfur, is there any particular party that the Secretary-General holds responsible for this recent escalation of violence -- or the UN groups there –- who is responsible?

Spokesperson:     Well, what he is asking right now is that the ceasefire become a reality before the peace talks. He is asking for calm, so the peace talks can proceed, as scheduled.

Question:   Yeah, but this particular round, does the UN… You don’t hold any particular party responsible.  Who started the fighting, or something like that?

Spokesperson:     We are not dealing with this at this point.

Question:   On this Quartet meeting, which will take place on 23 September, and [inaudible] will take place. Where will it take place?

Spokesperson:     It will be here. Both meetings will be here. There will be the first meeting from 4 to 6, which will be the meeting of the principals. After the meeting of the principals, there will be a press conference with the principals and Mr. Blair. And then right after that, there will be a meeting with the Arab partners.

Question:   Where at the UN?

Spokesperson:     Well, we don’t have the exact location yet. At any rate, it will not be an open event, but you will have access, too. There will be a stakeout at the Delegates’ Entrance.

Question:   Any news about this clarification from Israel regarding the overflight over Syria?

Spokesperson:     No, we don’t have any more on this.

Question:   Are you expecting anything?

Spokesperson:     So far, we haven’t got anything additional from what I told you Friday.

Question:   [inaudible]

Spokesperson: I think, as I have mentioned, this is a matter for which Syria has written a letter to the Security Council, so it is right now in the hands of the Security Council. If there is any further action to be taken, it will be taken by the Security Council.

Question:   Last week, President Mubarak of Egypt and the Foreign Minister of Saudi Arabia said that their countries will not attend the regional peace meeting in Washington if there is no clear agenda and if the core issues are not discussed. Now, we have learned that Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian leader, does not intend to go to Washington if there is no agreement with Prime Minister Olmert. What can the Secretary-General do to advance the bilateral discussions between the Israelis and Palestinians in such a way as to allow them to go to Washington?

Spokesperson: The event in Washington is not organized by the UN, as you know. We are having the Quartet meeting, which was just asked about, which is going to be on the 22nd.  So I think our effort is focused on that meeting here in New York, at Headquarters.

Question:   The Rwandan general, who was supposed to be the Deputy of UNAMID in Darfur is now reportedly in El Fasher -– I guess, he has now begun his job, so I wanted to know:  does this mean that the openness of the UN said for human rights groups to submit proof if they have any on his previous record in Rwanda -– is that period for receiving information closed? What does this indicate?

Spokesperson:     So far, the UN has requested from a number of organizations to provide tangible information to support the allegations against Major-General Karenzi. Apparently, there was not enough evidence for anything to change, so the African Union, the United Nations have decided to proceed with the appointment, because they don’t want to exclude the candidate on the basis of unsubstantiated allegations. However, if further information should come through about these allegations, of course, this case will be reconsidered.

Question:   I was wondering if the Secretary-General has any reaction to the criticism of Mr. ElBaradei by the US Administration. I mean, that he is basically siding with Iran. Does the Secretary-General share the same views?

Spokesperson:     No, he is following the process, and he is listening to what is happening right now at the conference that is taking place at the IAEA.

Question:   And he has no reservations about the agreement he has reached with the Iranians, Mr. ElBaradei?

Spokesperson:     It is right now a process that is in the court of IAEA.

Question:   Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee for President, has written a press release that he has written a letter to Ban Ki-moon having to do with President of Iran’s attendance at the General Assembly session. So I guess I just wanted to know: has such a letter been received and if the Secretary-General has any response to it?

Spokesperson:     The letter would be from whom?

Question:   Mitt Romney, a previous Governor of Massachusetts, running for the Republican nomination for the US President.

Spokesperson:     I am not aware of a letter, but I will ask whether it has been received.

Question:   The Mitt Romney letter comes on the heels of other people such as Elie Wiesel and so on asking to ban Iran from membership at the UN because of its violation of the UN Charter by threatening a Member State. The question is: does the Secretary-General have anything to add to that angle?

Spokesperson:     Well, any questions about the membership of a Member State – it has to go through the General Assembly. It cannot go through any other body.

Question:   But does the Secretary-General have anything to say about that?

Spokesperson:     No.

I think, Ashraf is waiting to give you his last press briefing.

Question:   About the Special Tribunal for Lebanon – will there be a special Security Council meeting?

Spokesperson:     There is one scheduled for the 19th, yes.

Question:   Do you know if Nicolas Michel will come to brief us?

Spokesperson: We have asked him to brief you at the stakeout after, and I hope this can be done. I don’t know at exactly what time they will be examining the issue of the Tribunal.

Question:   Will the Secretary-General, tomorrow at this press conference, focus exclusively on climate change, or will he cover other subjects and take questions?

Spokesperson:     He will take questions on all subjects.

Thank you very much. Ashraf?

Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President

Thanks.

**Closing of 61st Session

The 61st session of the Assembly had its last meeting this morning. In her remarks concluding the session, Assembly President Haya Rashed Al Khalifa states, “It is clear to me, without any doubt, that when we stand united we are stronger; when we pursue our common goals with purpose …, the General Assembly makes a real difference... To do this effectively we must all accept our shared responsibilities and differences to work together for change.”

“More than ever before, we need to focus on the underlying lack of dialogue between civilizations, cultures and nations that is at the core of many of today’s problems.

“We must tackle these issues squarely and accept that while doing this, we have to face some fundamental issues related to conflict, poverty, injustice and human indignity. In doing so, we will have to move beyond the outdated mindset that separates the world into donors and recipients -– North and South.”

“We must match our words with deeds -– our rhetoric with action,” she continues.  “The promises that Member States of the United Nations have made deserve to be kept.  Living up to our promises and achieving the MDGs by 2015 is one of the greatest gifts that we could give to humanity, and our future prosperity and stability. We cannot allow our commitments to become pledges, then only words that symbolize our broken promises.

“My challenge now to you,” the president concludes, “is to continue to carry the torch of multilateralism forward -– to bring light where there is darkness, to bring hope where there is fear.”

Copies of this statement are available upstairs.

**Security Council Reform

And at the same meeting this morning, the Assembly decided “that the question of equitable representation on and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other matters related to the Security Council” -– the item euphemistically referred to as the reform of the Security Council -– “should be considered during the sixty-second session of the General Assembly, so that further  results may be achieved, including through intergovernmental negotiations, building on the progress achieved so far, particularly in the sixty-first session, as well as the positions of and proposals made by Member States.”

This was my last briefing to you. I thank you so much, and if you have no further…

**Questions and Answers

Question:  You mentioned building on the achievements” – so what was achieved during the 61st session concerning the Security Council reform?

GA Spokesman:  Well, I think we are closer than ever to movement on that item, and what happened in the past few days can demonstrate that. Now, whether that translates into reality, or not – I’ve said in the last briefing that I do not see it during my lifetime – but I’ve always been optimistic, and I have been wrong before.

Question:  Could you elaborate on what happened in the last few days?

Spokesperson:  You know what happened in the last few days – there was a draft resolution that was tabled by a group of Member States, but it was withdrawn at the last moment, when the language of the report was changed to accommodate the different interests of Member States.

Question:  I asked this question before – maybe you have an answer. What are the immediate plans of the President?

Spokesperson:  She’ll go back to Bahrain and resume her law practice.

Matthew?

Question:  Sure, Ashraf, I have one very dry question for you…

Spokesperson:  Nah, that’s a surprise – a dry question from you, Matthew?

Question:  In the Journal today, there is an incredibly long agenda, and I guess they are just running through items…

Spokesperson:  That’s almost… if it’s not adjourned by now, it will be adjourned in the next few seconds.

Question:  So what I don’t understand: it says “administration of justice at the United Nations”, but meanwhile, ACABQ has just started considering that. So is it just that all these items are just being passed over to the next session?

Spokesperson:  Yes, most of them are passed over to the 62nd session.

Question:  OK, so that’s why it is going so fast.

Spokesperson:  Yeah, that’s why it’s so dry.

Question:  And also, there is this thing about Article 19 – the countries that are behind in… Does this get voted today, whether they are still allowed to still vote if they are behind?

Spokesperson:  Every time there is a vote – not just at the end of the 61st session, at the end of every session – there is always a report on who is falling behind or who is going to fall behind if the session ended today. But every time there is a vote at the General Assembly, a list of countries that have no right to vote because they have fallen under Article 19 is read out, and some of these countries sometimes meet their obligations, like, one night before. So they are out of being under Article 19, and they are allowed to vote.

Question:  But in the case of Somalia, the request for payment is to the Transitional Government?

Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check on that… Yeah, it has to be – it’s the Government that the UN recognizes.

Question:  Do you have any information about the application that Taiwan has submitted for membership?

Spokesperson:  Yes, it was returned.

Question:  Has the President conveyed to the new President any lessons she has drawn from her experience?

Spokesperson:  I think they have had several very long meetings, and she basically told him about everything that she went through.

Question:  Did she convey to him any lessons in writing?

Spokesperson:  I am sure, yeah – a report was referred to him in writing, as well. And the current team met with the incoming team to talk about all the items that were discussed during the session.

Question:  You mean, it was rejected? [letter by a Member State transmitting a letter from the Republic of China ( Taiwan)]

Spokesperson:  It was returned.

Question:  Can you speak about the content of that? Was it a new form?

Spokesperson:  A letter from the Office of the President was sent to the Mission of the Marshall Islands, making referrence to the 1971 General Assembly resolution 2758, and indicating that the General Committee of the Assembly would make a recommendation on whether the item should be included on the agenda of the 62nd session.

Question:  Was it anything new this time that they proposed?

Spokesperson:  New from what?

Question:  From the form that they submitted last time?

Spokesperson:  I wasn’t aware of the form submitted last time, so I couldn’t tell you if it was new or not. [This is the first time that there has been mention of application for membership.]

Question:  Who will be the Spokesman for the new President of the General Assembly?

Spokesperson:  Janos Tisovszky, a very nice man.

Thank you so much.

* *** *

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