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

14 May 2008

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

14 May 2008
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

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

**Statement on the Bombings in India

First of all, I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning the bombings in India.

The Secretary-General is outraged by the series of bombings yesterday in the Indian city of Jaipur, which have claimed the lives of a large number of people and injured many more.  He strongly condemns such terrorist attacks, and sends his heartfelt sympathies to the Government of India and to the families of the victims.

**Secretary-General on Myanmar

The Secretary-General this morning was asked about his recent conversation with UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown about Myanmar, and he noted that he has been talking with many leaders on various ideas about the situation in that country following Cyclone Nargis.

He said that, this afternoon, he has invited representatives of key Member States, including donors and members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, known as ASEAN, to a meeting to discuss what kind of concrete measures can be taken to deal with the situation in Myanmar.

Even though the Myanmar Government has shown some sense of flexibility, he said, it has been far too short.  The magnitude of this situation requires much more mobilization of resources and aid workers.

And we have the transcript of his comments upstairs.

**Security Council on Sudan

The Security Council this morning heard in an open meeting from Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno about the recent fighting in Sudan, including the weekend attacks by the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) in the area near Khartoum.  He told the Council that we are concerned that the movement of significant numbers of JEM fighters from Darfur to Khartoum went undetected, and added that the incident underscores the serious shortfalls in the [United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur’s (UNAMID)] resources, especially aerial reconnaissance capabilities.

The Security Council yesterday afternoon adopted a presidential statement strongly condemning those attacks and urging all parties to cease violence immediately, respect their obligations under international humanitarian law and commit to a peaceful resolution of all outstanding issues.

Guéhenno also said that there has been an alarming increase of violence in Darfur itself.  During the last six weeks alone, violence between rebels and the Sudanese Armed Forces, as well as between rebel factions, have taken place in both North and South Darfur.

And we have his statements upstairs.

The Council continued its discussions about Darfur in consultation, and Mr. Guéhenno said he would speak to reporters at the stakeout once consultations have ended.  That could happen fairly soon.  If anyone informs me, I’ll pass a note along to you.

**Security Council

In addition to its consultations on Sudan this morning, the Security Council is also holding consultations on the International Tribunals dealing with Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia.

Then, at 3 this afternoon, the Council will hold consultations on Somalia, and will receive a briefing on developments there from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe.  Also, on the racks today is a letter from the Secretary-General to the Chairman of the African Union Commission, detailing UN support to the African Union Mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM.

In that letter, the Secretary-General says UN support should be geared towards assisting the African Union to build up its institutional capacity to carry out its responsibilities, and to help ensure that AMISOM is deployed, to the extent possible, on the basis of UN standards.

The Security Council this afternoon also expects to receive a briefing from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations on the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, known as UNMEE.

** Somalia

Also, on Somalia, faced with massive logistical and security difficulties, in addition to droughts and soaring food prices, UNICEF has continued its work in Somalia unabated, getting food to some 44,000 children in recent days.  The children are among 300,000 displaced Somalis who fled fighting in Mogadishu and are temporarily housed in UN-run camps in central and southern Somalia.  UNICEF says the children will each be receiving 10 kilos of fortified corn-soya blend per month.  And there’s more in a press release from UNICEF upstairs.

**Commission on Sustainable Development

The Secretary-General this morning addressed the opening of the high-level segment of the sixteenth session of the Commission on Sustainable Development.

He said that, after a quarter century of relative neglect, agriculture is back on the international agenda.  The onset of the current food crisis has highlighted the fragility of our success in feeding the world’s growing population.  Agriculture needs reinvigorating, he stressed.

The Secretary-General added that we will need to prepare our agricultural systems for the effects of climate change, which is predicted to have negative impacts on agricultural and land productivity in many parts of the tropics -- and especially in Africa and South Asia.  We have his full remarks upstairs.

**International Labour Organization

The International Labour Organization (ILO) is launching a process to adopt a new international labour standard, which would bolster the role of the workplace in the global response to HIV/AIDS.

In a new report, ILO lays the groundwork for discussion on this labour standard.  It is the first report of its kind to give a comprehensive overview of action taken by Governments and international organizations on HIV/AIDS, with specific reference to the world of work.  And we have more on that upstairs.

** Israel

Last week, we flagged the President of the General Assembly’s trip to the Middle East.  I draw your attention to the comments made yesterday by the President of the General Assembly’s Spokesperson about the visit.  He noted that the President of the General Assembly held a series of bilateral meetings, including with Presidents Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, and attended the opening of the “President’s Conference”.

**Press Conferences

For press conferences tomorrow, Rob Vos, Director of the Development Policy and Analysis Division of the United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) and the author of World Economic Situation and Prospects report -- and he’ll have a press conference tomorrow at 11, where he will present the mid-year update of that report. He will be accompanied by the Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, Jomo Kwame Sundaram.

And that’s it for me.  Any questions? Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  While the President of the GA was in Israel on the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, 14 people were hurt today in a direct hit on Ashkelon.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about that?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have a statement for you, but certainly the Secretary-General has repeatedly condemned the rocket attacks against innocent civilians in Israel and he’s called for a halt to all such attacks, and we reiterate that call today.

Question:  Because of the circumstance that brought the President of the General Assembly to the region, do you think there’s any message in that?

Associate Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t have any linkage between these things.  I don’t know what the motives were of the attacks.  Whatever they were, certainly they’re unjustifiable, and we ask for them all to cease.

Question:  Can you confirm whether or not the Secretary-General spoke with the EU High Representative Javier Solana over the weekend on Myanmar?

Associate Spokesperson:  He as spoken with Mr. Solana in recent days.  I don’t know what the topic of their discussion was.  I do believe that he has been in discussions on Myanmar with a number of leaders, and certainly within the past week, he has spoken with Mr. Solana.

Question:  Can you get a readout on that?

Associate Spokesperson:  I can try and get one.  I don’t have one though.  Yes?

Question:  The meeting this afternoon on Burma, is it the friends of Burma or some new group?

Associate Spokesperson:  As the Secretary-General made clear in his comments to the press this morning, it would include members of ASEAN and members of key donors.  As Mr. Holmes just told you, it would also include some of the other neighbouring countries in the region.  We expect to have some details once the meeting actually takes place.  Yes?

Question:  Can you give us an update on the attempts the Secretary-General has made to contact the Burmese authorities?  When was the last, was there another letter?

Associate Spokesperson:  He did send another, a second letter, to Than Shwe, I believe it was two days ago, on Monday, he sent a second letter to Than Shwe.  We have not been able to contact Senior General Than Shwe by telephone, even to this point.

Question:  Have there been more attempts made to contact?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Has there been any response to the first letter, which was sent six or seven days ago?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of any response from the Myanmar authorities.  As you know, our contacts with them have been fairly limited.  We’ve tried, but have not been able to get them.  Yes?

Question:  A Myanmar question a little closer to home, Myanmarese staff that work for the UN said that, about a week ago, they asked the Secretariat for permission to try to raise funds for victims of the cyclone, and they said they didn’t receive a response for a week.  More recently, they indicate that this is on the 38th floor -- to give an approval that they need.  Are you aware of that and can you explain that delay?

Associate Spokesperson:  It wouldn’t necessarily be a question of a delay.  It takes time to consider approaches, but I’ll have to check and see what the status of this request is.

Question:  It seems like a no-brainer.  If the UN is saying everyone should move fast, like if their own staff is saying they want to raise funds for Myanmar, what could explain the delay?  And I also wanted to ask another question.  This is a factual thing.  Is UNMIK in Kosovo -- do they still issue passports for residents of Kosovo?  Are they issuing passports?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’d advise you check with UNMIK on that.  That’s a procedural detail.  So, check with Alexander Ivanko, who is the Spokesperson for UNMIK.

Question:  And one other thing, the Chinese Ambassador to Nepal was quoted in Kathmandu angrily saying that UN officials have been present at protests in Kathmandu, and he claims that this is a serious violation of the UN Charter and he wants some explanation.  So, I’m not sure, I don’t have -- are you, number 1, can you confirm that UN staff participated in it, and…?

Associate Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  …is there a problem under the Charter or not?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, no, I cannot confirm.  What I do know is that we have an office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal that deals specifically with human rights in Nepal and, of course, they monitor all kinds of human rights situations in Nepal, and that has included recent protests that have been on the ground.  And they’ve made their concerns known to the Nepalese Government and the Nepalese authorities that any protests in Nepal that are conducted peacefully be dealt with appropriately, in a similarly peaceful manner.  And so, to that extent, they would be monitoring these events.  That doesn’t mean that they’re present at the rally.

Question:  Just one last thing, and thanks a lot, because there’s no response to this thing, to his quote.  He says, for what’s it’s worth, and maybe you’ll respond to it on the spot or not, he said, quote, I don’t know what the purpose of human rights organizations in Nepal is -- are they here to supervise the human rights of Tibet?  So, is the function -- they’re obviously arguing that by speaking about the demonstration somehow reflects… [talkover]

Associate Spokesperson:  The purpose of the Human Rights Office in Nepal is to deal with the human rights situation that exists in Nepal, and they simply monitor all of the relevant events pertaining to their mandate within the country.

Question:  One more time -- I don’t know if this was brought up yet, but there’s a new whistleblower in UNDP who alleges some money transfers to illegitimate bodies in Somalia -- his name is Beslan.  Is there any UN involvement or is that a total UNDP issue, and does the Secretary-General urge them to be investigated as did the case of the [inaudible]?

Associate Spokesperson:  On that, I have received some information from UNDP.  UNDP has said that it takes these allegations extremely seriously and it’s investigating them thoroughly.  UNDP now has a new legal framework to process exactly these types of cases.  The new Ethics Adviser is part of this new framework.  There are two separate issues raised by the person involved in this case; issues of retaliation and issues of corruption.  Those two issues are being dealt with separately.

On retaliation, the Office of Audit and Investigation has investigated the claims and has now submitted its report to the UNDP Ethics Adviser.  He will review the issue for possible action.  And there’s also a possibility, as you asked, for having that case reviewed by the UN Ethics Office.

And, on the issue of possible fraud, UNDP has been looking formally into these new allegations since the beginning of the year.  A team of investigators has been working on this, and will travel to the region, as necessary, to examine the situation on the ground.  And, until that investigation is complete, UNDP cannot address detailed questions emanating from the allegations.

Question:  Could you say there is the possibility of the UN Ethics Office involved in a capacity if the UNDP is resistant?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Is there any legal change…?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, no.  At this stage, the report is with the UNDP Ethics Adviser, as I said, and he’ll review the issue for possible action and bearing in mind that it could then go on to be reviewed by the UN Ethics Office.  No decision has been made on that level yet.  Yes?

Question:  The report that was supposed to be done about the North Korea whistleblower many months ago was supposed to be finished by the end of the year, then it was said by the end of March, now we’re in May.  What’s the status of that report, and why hasn’t it been finished and released?

Associate Spokesperson:  It hasn’t been released.  The work is still being done.  We’ll try and find out when it can be completed, but, as you know, there’ve been a number of procedural delays.

Question:  Can we find out -- the three members of it -- can we get a read on what they’re being paid, and whether they’ve been paid throughout and whether the inquiry taking this long has resulted in extra costs, I guess?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, those costs would be evaluated once the report is turned in.  But, at this stage, we don’t know how long it takes, how much work is involved in writing the report until it’s complete.

Question:  There’s no [estimated time of arrival] on that?

Associate Spokesperson:  None that I have been aware of, no. 

Question:  Is the Secretary-General satisfied with the measures announced by Tony Blair, the Representative of the Quartet, regarding the economic situation in Gaza?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, in fact, Mr. Serry came out with a statement declaring his satisfaction with that, yesterday.  We have that upstairs, if you want.  And you have one?

Question:  It’s just a request that might make your job easier, if you have a UNDP person come and give a briefing.

Associate Spokesperson:  There’s a brand new UNDP person, who I am sure you know, and you can talk to him at any time.  He loves to talk to you guys.

Question:  Maybe he’ll do it from here, so you’re not the one…

Associate Spokesperson:  Oh, he’s familiar with this podium, but I think he’ll talk to you somewhere else.

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