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

18 December 2007

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

18 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 all.

**Guest at Noon

Our guest at the noon briefing today is Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning, who will brief on the recent Climate Change Conference in Bali.

**Secretary-General in Algiers

The Secretary-General today arrived in Algeria, where he visited the site of the bomb blast last Tuesday that hit the UN offices, killing 17 of our staff.  After visiting the site, the Secretary-General had an emotional meeting with UN staff in Algiers, telling them: “Since Tuesday last week, you have been on my mind every hour of every day.”

He said he was shocked at seeing the site of the bombing, and added, after seeing those who have been injured and the families of those who died, that he has no words to say how profoundly he feels about what has happened.  “But we will not be intimidated, we will not be discouraged,” the Secretary-General said.  He added that he will spare no effort in ensuring that the United Nations provides adequate security for its staff, wherever they serve.

The Secretary-General was visibly moved and pledged UN support to the people he met, particularly the children.  The Secretary-General was also given the tattered flag that had flown outside the UN offices, and he will bring that flag back to New York as a symbol of the UN’s determination to work in Algeria.

While in Algiers, the Secretary-General met with President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, with whom he discussed issues related to the security of UN staff in Algeria.  They also talked about counter-terrorism, migration, the Middle East, Darfur, climate change, the Millennium Development Goals and Western Sahara.

Before leaving Algeria, the Secretary-General held a press conference at the airport, in which he called terrorism a crime against humanity, and called on Member States to agree on a plan of action against terrorism, including an agreed definition of terrorism.  We’ll try to have his press remarks later this afternoon.

** Paris Statements

At the conclusion of the Secretary-General’s meeting late yesterday in Paris with the other principal members of the Middle East Quartet, the Quartet issued a statement, which lauded the success of the 27 November Annapolis Conference.  The Quartet expressed its strong support for the Palestinian Reform and Development Plan presented by Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, welcomed the generous support of the international community at the Paris Donors’ Conference and urged donors to maximize the resources available to the Palestinian Authority.

While in Paris, the Secretary-General also convened a meeting on Lebanon, at which the participants reaffirmed their strong, non-negotiable support for Lebanon and its people.

The Governments attending the Lebanon meeting expressed their deep concern at the prolonged political crisis in Lebanon and reiterated their call for unconditional Lebanese presidential elections, without any further delay.

We have both the Lebanon and Quartet statements upstairs.

**Death Penalty Moratorium

We also have a statement by the Secretary-General on the General Assembly resolution calling for a death penalty moratorium:

I welcome the adoption today by the General Assembly of a call on all States to establish a moratorium on the application of the death penalty.  Today’s vote represents a bold step by the international community.  I am particularly encouraged by the support expressed for this initiative from many diverse regions of the world.  This is further evidence of a trend towards ultimately abolishing the death penalty.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning heard an open briefing on the work of the Security Council’s 1737 (2006) sanctions committee, which deals with Iran.  The Chair of that committee, Ambassador Johan Verbeke, reported to the Council members on the implementation of the sanctions imposed under resolution 1737 on Iran.

** Myanmar

From 3 to 4 this afternoon in Conference Room 1, Ibrahim Gambari, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, will provide an informal briefing to the General Assembly about the Secretary-General’s good offices for Myanmar; those good offices derive from a General Assembly mandate.

This briefing is at the invitation of the President of the General Assembly, pursuant to requests from interested Member States.  Once Mr. Gambari has finished briefing the Member States, sometime around 4, he will go to the Security Council stakeout to talk to the press.

** Ethiopia

We have a response to yesterday’s questions regarding the New York Times article alleging that the Government of Ethiopia is forcing civilians, including employees of programmes financed by the World Bank and the UN, to fight rebels in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia.

UN staff, per se, have not been subject to this practice.  However, in order for the UN to effectively provide assistance, in some cases, Government staff need to be available in order to run UN-financed projects, including such essential humanitarian operations as rural health clinics.  Although we are not aware of specific cases in which these staff have been forced into supporting the Ethiopian military, we have nevertheless noticed that, in some instances, such clinics no longer have personnel available.

Since the UN only established a presence in the region in early November in the area of military operation within the Ogaden, we do not know how long this has been the case.  If this practice indeed occurred in hospitals or clinics, it would seriously affect the provision of basic humanitarian services to the civilian population.

Since the start of our presence, we have reinforced the monitoring of the delivery of aid and we are calling for increased humanitarian presence, in order to enhance the provision of much needed assistance.  The Government, thus far, has granted 19 NGOs access to the region, and we are looking forward to seeing more.  If more needs to be done, we would look into ways of augmenting our own staff in consultation with local authorities, in order to save lives and reduce suffering.

** Iraq

The UN Refugee Agency says it is very concerned about the displacement of people in northern Iraq caused by the ongoing shelling by Turkey.  It has urgently dispatched supplies to help those who fled, and those supplies will be distributed today.

Last weekend, more than 1,800 people fled their homes to move to safer areas, with displaced people telling UNHCR that 10 villages had been affected by the shelling.  One woman was reported killed and several people injured.  Yesterday, UNHCR teams reported ongoing shelling in the Sangasar Pishdar area, causing even more displacement.

On Monday, UNHCR, with its partners on the ground, quickly dispatched assistance, including blankets, mattresses, stoves, lanterns, jerry cans, plastic sheets, kitchen sets and soap to Sulaymania and Erbil, after being asked by the Kurdistan regional government to provide additional help to those displaced.

** Korea -- Oil Spill

Last Friday, we told you about the UN’s efforts to mitigate the effects of the worst oil spill in the history of the Republic of Korea.

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) now reports that it has activated an emergency response plan, through which the Republic of Korea’s neighbours have already sent chemicals to disperse the oil.  Additional experts have also been sent.

The plan, developed by UNEP and the International Maritime Organization, was adopted in 2004 by China, Japan, the Republic of Korea and the Russian Federation to deal with large oil spill emergencies.  We have more information on that upstairs.

**Migrants Day

Today is International Migrants Day.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says we must redress prevailing misconceptions about migrants and raise public awareness about their valuable contributions to both countries of origin and destination.

In a separate message, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour says migrants are among the groups most exposed to human rights violations in the twenty-first century and will continue to be so if we do not act now with serious determination.  We have both messages upstairs.

On a related note, the UN Refugee Agency says this year has been particularly tragic for people trying to cross by boat from the Horn of Africa to Yemen.  More than 1,400 people died in the Gulf of Aden in 2007.

**Silent March for Those Killed in Algiers Attack

The United Nations International Civil Servants Federation (UNISERV), the UNDP/UNFPA/UNOPS Staff Council and the United Nations Staff Union have called for a silent march, tomorrow Wednesday, 19 December 2007, at 11:30 a.m. in the Secretariat circle, to protest the attack on the United Nations and to remember our friends and colleagues killed in Algiers last week.

[It was later announced that the Secretary-General would address staff, upon his return to Headquarters tomorrow, at 11 a.m. in the Secretariat Lobby.]

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., Srgjan Kerim, President of the sixty-second session of the General Assembly, will hold an end-of-year press conference.  [This press conference was later scheduled to 10:30 a.m.]

And later tomorrow, at 3 p.m., on the occasion of the fourth UN Day for South-South Cooperation, Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference, will brief you on the organization’s initiatives towards advancing the South-South Cooperation.

**UPU -- Santa Claus

And on a holiday note, it turns out that Santa Claus, Father Christmas and other similar figures are the most popular recipients of personalized letters worldwide, according to the Universal Postal Union (UPU).

The UPU found that Santa received more than 6 million letters last year.  Some 20 countries employ “elves”, or postal operators, to respond to those messages.  Canada Post replies in 26 languages and Deutsche Post in 16.  In Canada, Santa even has his own postcode -- H0H 0H0.  We have more information upstairs.

This is all I have for you.  Thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, as you said, the Secretary-General, while in Algiers, discussed with President Bouteflika the question of the Sahara conflict.  Did he discuss with him specifically the threat of the POLISARIO to resort to arms to resolve the conflict?  And did he get any assurances regarding the implications of such course of action on the entire region?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have that information.  We don’t know exactly what the exact content of the talks were.  We know they did discuss the issue of Western Sahara, but I don’t have any additional information on that.  Yes?

Question:  Tomorrow, the Security Council is going to be holding a session on Kosovo.  Will the Secretary-General participate and what has… has his position changed regarding Ahtisaari’s plan for supervised independence for Kosovo?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General will be there.  He will participate in the special session of the Security Council.  And he is going to listen.  He’s going to listen essentially and you will get his answer afterwards.

Question:  Michèle, he has supported, in the past, the Ahtisaari plan.  Has his position changed?

Spokesperson:  Well, in the last few days he has been listening, as I am saying.  And we’ll find out a little more for you when he comes back.

Okay, and I’ve just been informed that the Security Council will hold consultations at 4 this afternoon to consider a draft resolution on the extension of the multinational force for Iraq.  Any other question?  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Sure, Michèle.  There’s a story today in the Washington Post about the Procurement Task Force (PTF).  This is working, finding apparently extensive irregularity and corruption in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) and procurement in the Congo and in Haiti.  Does the Secretariat, one, have any response and plan any actions on the things described in the article?  Then, can we, as the press, get either a briefing by PTF or DPKO, or somebody on the issues raised in it?

Spokesperson:  Second question, you will get a briefing.  First question, as you know, this was initiated on the UN side, I mean the whole investigation process.  So we are well aware there have been problems in procurement.  And this is why on the one hand we are moving full steam ahead with procurement reform, in order to have a system that is much tighter and transparent, leaving less room for abuse.  On the other track, the Secretary-General is committed to ridding the UN of any corrupt practices.  This is why he has proposed to the General Assembly an extension of the Procurement Task Force as a temporary measure.  This is not enough.  The Secretary-General has gone beyond that.  He would like to take a holistic approach to the whole issue and examine how the Organization’s investigative capacity can be strengthened.  He will be presenting a proposal to Member States next year.

The UN does not want, in any case, to sweep anything under the rug.  The cases of the staff members accused of wrongdoing in connection with procurement exercises in the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) and the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) are under consideration in the internal justice system, in accordance with established procedures.  The cases are being accorded the highest priority, that’s what I was told this morning.  We are not in a position to comment further on the cases at this stage of the process.

As part of the overall system for handling cases of wrongdoing, we also hope the new justice system that the Member States are on the point of approving, will ensure swift, fair and professional settlement of disputes.  This goes hand in hand with strengthening investigative capacity and procurement systems.

About the specific accusations, I should just say we cannot actually comment on them and we fully support the work of the Procurement Task Force and the need for a strong investigative arm in the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS).  That’s all I can say at this point.

Question:  Thanks a lot.  When you say we can get a briefing, will it be by PTF or DPKO?

Spokesperson:  We have been asking, and we will find out tomorrow.  Okay?  Or later this afternoon, who will brief you.  But we will definitively have a briefing on that.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, Michèle.  Just a clarification on tomorrow’s Security Council session on Kosovo.  You mentioned that Mr. Ban Ki-moon is going to listen to the Member States’ position on that.  Does it mean he has changed his mind about Mr. Ahtisaari’s plan, or does he still stick to it?

Spokesperson:  It’s a different version of the same question I was just asked.  I said, let’s wait.  The Secretary-General tomorrow is going to participate in the meeting on Kosovo, and you will get his view on it at the end of the meeting or a little later.  But, at this point, I will not comment on what he will do or will not say.

Question:  Am I to understand so far he has not formed an idea of a position yet on the issue?

Spokesperson:  Whether he has formed one or not is another story.  He has not expressed one at this point.  He is waiting to hear from the members of the Security Council first.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  After the Secretary-General observed the destruction of the office of the UN in Algiers, was he accompanied by security personnel from Headquarters?  And are they going to make any specific recommendations?

Spokesperson:  Well, they have already made some specific recommendations.  They are not public ones, but we have had measures taken since Tuesday for further protection of the staff.

Question: Was he accompanied by personnel from the security…?

Spokesperson:  Yes, security personnel at the UN, his own security detail and also security details, of course, from the Algerian side.

Thank you very much.  We are going to have our Spokesperson for the President of the Assembly.  Then I will invite Bob Orr to come speak to you.  Janos?

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  Good to see you.

**General Assembly Plenary

This morning, the plenary is taking action on the reports of the Third Committee, which contain the recommendations for action for the Assembly on the various draft resolutions that were passed by the Committee –- except, of course, for those that have programme budget implications.  Those are with the Fifth Committee.  And I’m mentioning this because some of the resolutions that do have programme budget implications and are deferred today are, in fact, ones that some of you have been interested in; for example, the report of the Human Rights Council and the human rights situation in Myanmar.  So these are being looked at by the Fifth Committee.  The Fifth Committee began discussing these yesterday.  Most likely, action will be taken tomorrow, and then the whole package of the Fifth Committee will come before the Assembly plenary on the 21st. 

But, as regards other recommendations from the Third Committee, those were taken up this morning and action has been taken with the same pattern as was the case in the Committee itself.  Which means that draft resolutions that were taken without a vote, here in the plenary were also taken without a vote.  Those that had a recorded vote also had a recorded vote here.

That brings us to the resolution that most of you were most interested in, and that’s the resolution calling for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty.  This was adopted this morning by the General Assembly around 11:45 with a recorded vote of 104 in favour to 54 against and 29 abstentions.

Let me note that, yesterday, the Assembly in the afternoon completed the consideration of the reports from the Fourth Committee, taking action on all recommended texts.

** Myanmar

As regards this afternoon, Michèle has already mentioned Mr. Gambari’s informal briefing to the Member States between 3 and 4.  After that, we will have Mr. Gambari at the Security Council stakeout area for you.

Following that, the Assembly will continue its work, and it will take up an issue it has already discussed on the 10th of December, but was unable to finish it.  That’s a joint debate on the Law of the Sea and on sustainable fisheries.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Looking ahead for tomorrow, Michèle again already mentioned that the Assembly President will hold his end-of-year press briefing here in this room at 11.  [It was later announced that the press conference would be held at 10:30.]

Tomorrow, the Assembly is scheduled to take action on a handful of remaining draft texts that are going directly to the Assembly.  Those are the ones that are listed in the Journal as well.  And one of them includes a draft resolution that would set the organizational aspects for next year’s comprehensive review of the progress achieved in realizing the Declaration of Commitments on HIV/AIDS and the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS.

Then afterwards, the Assembly is also scheduled to take up the reports from the Second Committee.

The Second Committee is scheduled to meet today in formal session.  In the Journal it was listed as meeting in the morning, but actually it has been postponed to meet in the afternoon to take action on all the various remaining drafts that it has before it.  Obviously, the one that most of you are interested in is the Triennial Comprehensive Policy Review.  That’s going to be taken up hopefully this afternoon.  And with that the Second Committee wraps up and its recommendations will go to the plenary tomorrow.

Fifth Committee, as you all know, is continuing its work.  And the plan is still for the Fifth Committee to finish tomorrow, and then all its reports will then go for consideration to the plenary on the 21st.

Let me just flag one more thing for you -- it’s in the Journal -- and that might be something that would interest you.  And that has to do with the meeting tomorrow of the so-called Ad-hoc Open-ended Working Group on Assistance and Support to Victims of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse.  This is a Working Group that was originally set up by resolution 61/291, so under the sixty-first session, but it actually began meeting during the sixty-second session.  It has a draft report, which it expects to adopt.  This draft report contains a draft UN comprehensive strategy on this issue.  Hopefully, it will be adopted tomorrow, and then the expectation is that then this will go to the General Assembly that will most likely adopt it on the 21st.  As far as I know, there’s going to be a press release explaining the work of this working group and the draft comprehensive strategy.

That’s all I have, unless you have questions.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesperson:  Colum, yes?

Question:  I actually have a question for Michèle, on Algiers.  In the August 19th attack in Baghdad, there were a series of public reports to kind of analyse and assess how well the UN conducted itself in providing security.  Will there be any sort of public account of what the UN knows, whether they had prior warning, whether the Algerian Government had prior warnings and whether…?  I gather that the embassies are quite hardened targets in Algiers and the UN is not.  So will there be anything public that answers a lot of these questions?

SG Spokesperson:  Well, there is still going to be a report on security issues.  How public will it be, will all the parts of that be public, I cannot promise at this time, because, as you know, because of security issues we cannot really make everything public.  However, there will be some form of a report that we’ll get to you.

Question:  Can I just follow up on that?

SG Spokesperson:  Yes, sure.

Question:  I mean, I am sure that there were the same concerns in Baghdad about security and the same reasons for not disclosing, but there was clearly a decision made that the UN had to be accountable.  Is there any reason why this is a new era in a case like this that the UN will not make this information transparent and accountable as it has in the past?

SG Spokesperson:  It’s all going to depend on the assessment made by our security people.  But I can promise you that there will be some form of report.  And some parts of it we’ll certainly get to you.  You’re talking about the Ahtisaari report after the Iraq incident?  Yes.  We do expect something similar.

Question:  On the GA, there was going to be a discussion about the six-month extension of the Task Force.  Has a decision been made on that?  Have they…?

GA Spokesperson:  Not yet.  That discussion began yesterday.  That’s when this issue was taken up, yes.

Question:  Like today or tomorrow –- will they make a decision, do you know?

GA Spokesperson:  Today, tomorrow.  That’s the idea, yes.

Question:  Yesterday, in the open session of the Fifth Committee, when they introduced all the budget proposals for the special political missions, the representative of Japan, I think some others did it, but the representative of Japan said this was sort of late in the session to be introducing these.  One’s for Iraq: it’s $185 million.  So they expressed some disquiet that it came in this late.  Do you know, is it the idea that those things will be rolled into the current budget, therefore reviewed for all of two days, or are they supposed to be put to the session in the spring?  The ones that were introduced yesterday, whatever -- special political missions?

GA Spokesperson:  My understanding is that those would also be looked at as part of the budget.

Question:  And is there any reason why?  I guess I’m focusing on Japan because they’re a major contributor.  But they said, why is it coming two days before they’re supposed to vote on it.  Is there any…? I guess you can’t answer that.  Then we’ll get a budget.

GA Spokesperson:  Yes.

Okay. Thank you very much.

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