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

7 December 2007

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

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

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES 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 Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Guest at Noon Today

Our guest at the noon briefing today is Youssef Mahmoud, head of the UN Integrated Office in Burundi, who will provide updates on the political situation in Burundi.

**Security Council

The Security Council is taking up Cyprus this morning.  It already held a meeting of troop-contributing countries to the UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus.  It is now holding consultations on Cyprus and other matters.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Michael Møller, is briefing Council members on the Secretary-General’s latest report on Cyprus.  The report says that, over the last six months, there has been no progress on implementing the agreement of 8 July 2006.  In that context, all parties need to show greater flexibility and political courage.

The Secretary-General adds that it is regrettable that the ongoing debate on lifting the Turkish Cypriots’ isolation has become a debate on recognition.  Recognition, or assisting secession, would be contrary to Security Council resolutions, he says.  He also says that, given the lack of a comprehensive settlement, the UN Mission’s mandate should be extended by a further 6 months.

This afternoon, the Security Council will hold consultations on Sudan sanctions and other matters.

**Kosovo

Still on the Security Council, we have had a number of questions on Kosovo.  I can now confirm to you that the Secretary-General has received the Contact Group’s latest report on that topic.  It is now expected that the Kosovo report will be transmitted to the Security Council on Sunday evening.

**Climate Change

Turning now to the climate change talks in Bali, negotiating groups today continued their work on draft decisions for adoption next week.  Trade ministers are meeting on the margins of the conference over the weekend, followed by a meeting of Finance Ministers at the beginning of next week.

The Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, Yvo de Boer, today said that investments of around $20 trillion would be needed by 2030 to meet the world’s hunger for energy.  More than half that demand will come from developing countries, which would need incentives under any new climate-change deal to manage what he called an “investment supertanker”.

** Western Sahara

In response to questions we’ve received, we can now announce that the next meeting of the parties for negotiations on Western Sahara is expected to take place from the 7th to the 9th of January in Manhasset, New York.  Letters of invitation from the Secretary-General to the parties and neighbouring countries have been sent.

The meeting will be facilitated by the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General for Western Sahara, Mr. Peter van Walsum.  This will be the third round of talks following the meetings this past June and August.

** Chad

The UN Refugee Agency has expressed shock and sadness at the shooting death of one its national staff members in south-eastern Chad.  Mahmat Mahamadou, a driver for the UNHCR field office, was returning from a routine assignment when he was attacked on the road between Bedaya and Koumra.  Details of the incident remain unclear and the Chadian authorities are expected to investigate.

** Somalia

Turning to Somalia, UNICEF is appealing to all parties to the current Mogadishu conflict to grant those in need of medical care safe access through checkpoints set up around the city.

UNICEF cites reliable reports that children, adolescents, pregnant women and mothers -- some of them injured by shells or stray bullets -- are being turned back, particularly at night, while attempting to reach health posts.  We have more information on this upstairs.

** Sierra Leone

Available today is the Secretary-General’s latest report.  In it, he takes note of recent developments in Sierra Leone, including the presidential and parliamentary elections.  The Secretary-General also proposes to replace the current UN operation with a leaner, integrated office when its mandate expires in September 2008.

** Iraq

Although it says that the number of Iraqis returning back home is difficult to determine precisely, the UN Refugee Agency says that, between August and November it had received reports from the Iraqi border authorities that 97,000 Iraqis had entered Syria from Iraq, while at the same time a total of 128,000 left Syria to Iraq through the main border crossing point.

Currently, the UN Refugee Agency is not promoting returns to Iraq.  Many areas are still considered unsafe and conditions are not conducive for return in safety and dignity.  There is a general lack of access to material, legal and physical safety and proper services.  But UNHCR will, to the extent possible, continue to assess the situation and advise and support the Iraqi Government where feasible.

Meanwhile in Syria, where some 1.4 million Iraqi refugees still reside, UNHCR and the World Food Programme have broadened the criteria for food assistance after it became clear that tens of thousands of Iraqis are running out of resources and will need food support in the coming months.  We have more in today’s UNHCR briefing notes.

**Human Rights – Iran & Angola

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today expressed grave concern over the execution of a young man in Iran, who had allegedly raped three boys seven years ago, when he was just 13 years old.  According to reports, the execution was carried out despite the withdrawal of accusations by the alleged victims and the issuance of a stay of execution order by the Head of the Judiciary.

Arbour noted that Iran is a party to both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which legally obligate States parties not to impose the death penalty on those who are under the age of 18 when their alleged crimes are committed.

In other news, Arbour also expressed concern about reported abuses by Angolan security forces against Congolese migrants, especially women.  We have more on that upstairs.

**UNDP -- External Independent Investigative Review Panel

The External Independent Investigative Review Panel, which is looking into a number of issues concerning the UNDP’s operations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and related matters, is making substantial progress according to a statement issued by the Panel.

The Panel has collected information and data, has studied a large number of relevant documents provided by different sources, interviewed many individuals from within and outside UNDP, and set in train a thorough investigation of all the issues covered by its Terms of Reference.  This will include examination of documents from the UNDP Office in the DPRK, which are on their way to New York and will be kept in a secure environment.  The Panel has engaged the services of independent experts to assist it in this and other areas of its work.

In view of the significant work still ahead of the Panel, it has concluded that it will not be able to complete its task before the end of this year, as envisaged when its Terms of Reference were drawn up.  However, the Panel will complete the work and submit its report not later than the end of March 2008.

** Rwanda

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda today sentenced François Karera, a former Prefect (or chief administrator) of Kigali-Rural province, to life in prison on three counts of genocide and crimes against humanity.  Karera was accused of actively taking part in a mass killing of ethnic Tutsis in April 1994 in the province for which he was highest-ranking official.

**Central Asia

The United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA) will be inaugurated in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan on Monday.  The Centre is an initiative by the United Nations and the five Central Asian countries to help the region’s Governments manage an array of common challenges and threats, including terrorism, drug trafficking, organized crime, and environmental degradation.

The inauguration will take place at the outset of a two-day international conference on “International Cooperation in Preventive Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution,” where the United Nations will be represented by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe.  Pascoe will deliver an inaugural message on behalf of the Secretary-General.  We have a press release upstairs with more details.

**Children and Armed Conflict

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, yesterday presented the reports of the Secretary-General on the situation of Children and Armed Conflict in Burundi and Myanmar to the Security Council Working Group dealing with that matter.

She said that the issue of recruitment and use of children continues to be a problem in Myanmar both with regard to the Government and various non-State actors.  She also raised concerns about the issue of access for UN monitors in Myanmar.

Regarding Burundi, Coomaraswamy condemned the new reported cases of recruitment and use of children by the Forces Nationales de Libération (FNL).  The Special Representative deplored the alarming increase of cases of rape and sexual violence in that country.  We have more in a press release upstairs.

**Press Conference on Monday

On Monday at 1:15 p.m., Carla Del Ponte will hold her last press conference as the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.  Of course, it will be right here in Room 226.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

Saturday and Sunday in Lisbon, Portugal, the Deputy Secretary-General leads the UN delegation to the African Union-European Union Summit.  On the margins of the summit, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Côte d’Ivoire, Choi Young-Jin, is expected to participate in a mini-summit on Côte d’Ivoire.

On Sunday, the Secretary-General begins his trip to Asia.  From today through 11 December, he is in Bangkok.  From 11 to 14 December, he will be in Bali, Indonesia, to attend the high-level segment of the climate change meeting.  From 14 to 15 December, he will be in Timor-Leste, followed by stops in Jakarta and Tokyo before he returns, of course, to New York.

Monday would be Human Rights Day.  In Bangkok, the Secretary-General will officially unveil the logo of the Sixtieth Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  And at 1:15 on Monday, Carla Del Ponte, as I said, will hold her last press conference here.

In Geneva, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, launches the Humanitarian Appeals 2008.

All this on Monday.

Through 14 December in Geneva, the Human Rights Council holds the second part of its sixth session.

You can have access to the “Week Ahead” upstairs in my office.  This is all I have for you today.  Yes, Widad?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, Michèle, I just wanted to know if the Secretary-General has any reaction in regards to the Kosovo report or if he will be talking to the press later on about it.

Spokesperson:  No, he will not.  He will simply transmit the report to the Security Council, as we originally said.

Question:  And I have a follow-up.  He was supposed to meet the Troika –- he sort of said that yesterday at the stakeout.  What happened with that meeting?

Spokesperson:  No, I think it was a mistake.  Actually, he knew that he was supposed to receive the report, not to meet them personally.  That was what was agreed upon.

Yes.  Any other questions?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Two questions.  One, is it’s reported from Sri Lanka that the UN’s Resident Coordinator has been summoned in to discuss a number of critiques that the Government has of UN operations there.  Armour-plating of vehicles and something about importing military meals from a military supplier and participating in a protest against the killing of humanitarian workers...  Has the UN, what’s the UN -- this has been sort of brewing for some time, but it seems to have come to a head.  What is the UN -- how is it responding to requests by the Sri Lankan Government that UN staff be expelled, you know, leave the country, and be laid off?

Spokesperson:  Well, let’s wait until we hear a little more.  If they are meeting now, then we’ll know more about it later.

Question:  And also, I guess this is Bali -- or a question about the Conference.  There’s a protest by indigenous groups saying they were not allowed to participate and that -- including this UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues were not, actually wasn’t allowed to even go into the meeting.  What is -- are those groups allowed and what is the Secretariat’s or the UN’s position on the involvement of indigenous people in this important environmental event?

Spokesperson:  I’m sure there is room for NGOs.  I have to find out for you exactly what the rules are.  But I’m sure you can find out on the site of the meeting, the Bali meeting.

Question:  I guess I’m just wondering, given the importance that the Secretary-General put on it, whether, whether, I guess I’ll just ask you, whether he thinks that, that in particular the UN’s main body for indigenous people should be involved in the meeting or not.  They think they should be.

Spokesperson:  This is something for the organizer of the Conference to work out, you know.  It is not for the Secretary-General to decide on.

Question:  But what is the relation then between the UN and the Bali Conference?

Spokesperson:  The UN is organizing the Conference.  But the details of who is admitted, how many journalists are accredited -- those details are, of course, worked out there, not here, as you can probably understand.

Question:  They’re saying it’s kind of a policy issue.  They’re saying --

Spokesperson:  They don’t know – well, the indigenous people have access here, you know.  In fact every year we have meetings of indigenous people here.  There are, of course, I’m sure, regulations on participation of NGOs and I’m sure the Bali Conference is dealing with it in a way, and I should get more information on it for you.

Question:  On Israel and the construction -- in Israel, the Government is allowing construction in the occupied territories as against every other statement that has been issued from the United Nations, against warnings issued by other countries.  The Secretary-General yesterday was noting that, and he just said, “I am concerned”.  Doesn’t he think that the peace process will be undermined by Israel’s allowing these settlements to be in the occupied territories?

Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General has given his opinion on settlements all throughout the last year he has been here at the UN as Secretary-General.  You know what he said yesterday, that he is concerned and he has been following it up and raising the issue every time he meets leaders from the area and every time he meets with the Quartet.

Question:  And also does he raise the question about the wall that is being constructed over there and -- the wall that is there, which is also a bone of contention?

Spokesperson:  Yes, this has been raised.  All this has also been raised.

Question:  The other question:  Any progress on the investigation in Chad about these kidnapping of the children, or rather these children by the French NGOs, who were kidnapping these children in Chad and they were stopped at the last minute?  Has the investigation produced any results as yet?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the investigation is being carried out by the Chadian authorities.  And I don’t have any new input on that, but I will try to see for you whether we have more information on what the UN bodies were doing, which were simply taking care of the children.

Question:  On Iraq -- I know I have been asking that question again and again.  On Iraq, now you know the situation had stabilized a little bit.  Now again it is bad.  Has the Secretary-General or the Secretariat revisited the issue as to decide whether or not the United Nations should go back to Iraq to help the United States stabilize the situation over there?

Spokesperson:  We have a Special Representative there who is very active, Mr. de Mistura.  He has been taking stock of the situation and, of course, the decisions to take the number of people who are there -- the UN people who are there in Iraq -- is going to depend on the assessment on the ground.  At this point, this is not the case yet.

Question:  And the representative has still not issued another report.  Since he has come, he has not had any report. No other new report?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have it.  Not at this point.

Yes, Tarek?

Question:  Regarding this new round of negotiations on the Western Sahara, there are some reports that the Polisario Front is going to study in one of its major conferences, I believe to be held next month also, whether to go back to military struggle or to proceed with negotiations with Morocco.  Are there any comments of Mr. Ban Ki-moon on this issue, the idea of going back to military conflict and using force?

Spokesperson:  Well, at this point, I just mentioned the fact that they will be meeting again in Greentree and I just gave you the information.  After they meet in Greentree, where the UN is playing the role of facilitator -- that’s the role that the UN is playing, we cannot speculate on what the Polisario is doing, or any other party.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  Good to see you.  I’ll give you a very quick update on what the Assembly is up to.  Actually, it’s going to be more like a head’s up for next week and a little bit about what the Committees are doing.

**Assembly Plenary

The General Assembly will meet in plenary on Monday.  In the morning it will have a joint debate on two related items:  oceans and law of the sea and sustainable fisheries.  Both of those sub-items have a corresponding Secretary-General report, as well as a draft resolution to be introduced and acted on.

Monday afternoon the Assembly will continue its plenary meeting and it is scheduled to deal with a number of different things, including draft resolutions related to the Question of Palestine and the Situation in the Middle East.  These were topics that were discussed by the Assembly in a debate last week.

But what is probably something that you are all waiting for is that Monday afternoon, according to the agenda, the plan is to take up the report of the Fifth Committee containing the text of the recommended resolution on the Capital Master Plan as was adopted yesterday by the Fifth Committee.

Then, let me flag something for Tuesday and Wednesday.  Tuesday and Wednesday the General Assembly will hold a high-level commemorative plenary meeting devoted to the follow-up to the outcome of the Special Session on Children.  The meeting is to evaluate progress made in the implementation of the Declaration and the Plan of Action contained in the document entitled “A world fit for children”.  This is what was adopted in 2002 at the Special Session (document A/RES/S-27/2).  But there is lot of background material, including this resolution -- it’s about 23 pages -- on this Plan of Action on the website of the General Assembly President.

The commemorative high-level meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday will comprise plenary meetings and two thematic, interactive round tables to be held in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.  The two round tables are expected to look at four areas, in accordance with the Plan of Action.  These four areas are:  promoting healthy lives; providing quality education; protecting against abuse, exploitation and violence; and combating HIV/AIDS.

And let me flag that on the opening day, 11 December, Tuesday, we will have the President of the Assembly along with the Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) as the guests at the noon briefing.

It looks like the meeting is attracting considerable attention from Member States.  We have over 130 countries signed up already to speak in those plenary sessions.  Also related to the whole two-day meeting is an outcome document that is being negotiated by Member States.

**Main Committees

As mentioned a couple of times, there are only two Committees that are still in action.  That’s the Second Committee and the Fifth Committee.

The Second Committee is meeting today in a formal session -- whole day -- and is expected to take action on a number of draft resolutions.  It has also requested an extension of work and it will have probably two meetings next week to wrap up its whole work for the session.

Of the draft resolutions that it is looking at today, let me cherry pick just one for you simply because it deals with financing for development and, therefore, it is related to one of the five priorities of the sixty-second session.  It deals with the basic logistical framework for the follow-up international conference on financing for development to review the implementation of the Monterrey Consensus.  And as you may remember that review meeting is set to be in Doha next year.

And on the Fifth Committee:  it is continuing its work in informal consultations today and will do so all throughout next week.

That’s all I have.  Any questions?  Well, that’s nice and easy -- well, please, Masood, yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Can you just tell me, because maybe I missed it: On the Capital Master Plan, has any date been set for the Master Plan to come into operation at all?  I mean, I do believe that that particular resolution…

Spokesperson:  I think on that the best would be -- and we have mentioned this yesterday -- to ask the head of the Capital Master Plan Office, Mr. Adlerstein, who is to come here on the 17th as the noon guest and I am sure he would be able to give you all the details on that.

Question:  Two questions, Janos.  There was a resolution that the GA passed on Wednesday about depleted uranium.  [inaudible]  And it was a contested vote, a recorded vote.  There seems to be, in the Netherlands, there seems to be some Parliamentary move to get, to say that the vote cast by them here wasn’t the Government’s position.  So I have two questions.  One, do you have any background as to why, as to what the particular dispute is -- about a particular word of the resolution, somehow linking depleted uranium to health effects?  Is this even on your radar screen?  And also, what happens if a country, at the -- back in the country itself -- somehow claims that a vote in the GA wasn’t the position of the Government?  Is there any provision to, like, redo the vote?  Or has this come up?  Are you aware of that?

Spokesperson:  I’d be surprised if there would be a way to redo the vote.  But, I’ll check on the procedures of what happens.  In this case, the resolution itself was only on my radar screen as far as it was one of those resolutions in the First Committee that attracted considerable attention because it was -- and I think we’ve mentioned this -- that it was one of the first times that this issue came up and received, in spite of the fact that you say it was with a “contested vote”, it received considerable approval from the membership.

If you go back in history, you may see that this was an issue that came up in 2001 and 2002 in the form of a draft resolution tabled by Iraq.  And in 2001, it did win a very slim majority in the First Committee and in 2002 it was rejected.  So it’s an issue that, that is not on the radar screen of the Assembly for the first time, but definitely something that has come back again and seems to carry more of an approval, or a larger segment of approval, from the Member States based on the outcome.

Question:  I was just wondering, and I don’t know if you’ll answer this question, is… there were… five countries voted against it.  One of them was like the Czech Republic, the US, UK, Israel and the Netherlands.  Is there… this may be… maybe you won’t answer this one…

Spokesperson:  Maybe not…

Question:  There’s some question that these are manufacturers of weapons that use depleted uranium.  Is that… you don’t have to…

GA Spokesperson:  Let’s look at the records of the meeting at least from the point of view of the press release and see if there were explanations of votes given, either in the plenary or when originally the resolution -- or the draft resolution -- came up in the First Committee.  That’s one thing that we can do.  And that may give you some reflection of why those who voted against this resolution did so.  They usually tend to explain it.

If not, then what I can suggest is you approach those specific countries and ask what was their problem, what’s their position, why they have decided to vote against it.  And I’ll look into the Netherlands issue and see what happens in this case, if there’s a complaint and in what form that complaint is.  If this is just a press report in the Netherlands, it’s one thing.  I mean the next step should be some sort of formal complaint on the part of the Dutch Government, I assume to the President of the General Assembly, outlining the problem that has arisen here.  And then obviously things would be looked into here.  But, as long as it’s just some kind of a press report, or on the level of press reports, that’s different.

Okay.  Thank you.

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