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

27 May 2008

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

27 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon all and I’m sorry I kept you waiting.

**Today’s Briefings

Our guest at the noon briefing today is John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator.  He will brief you on his recent trip to Myanmar.

At 1:15 p.m., there will be a press conference by Jane Holl Lute, Assistant-Secretary-General for the Department of Field Support, on reports of sexual violence against children.

At 2:40 p.m., at the Security Council stakeout, the Secretary-General will speak to the press on his just-concluded trip to Myanmar, Thailand and China.

**Statement on Save the Children Report

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General. 

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the Save the Children (UK) report focusing on the under-reporting of child sexual exploitation and abuse by aid workers and peacekeepers.  The abuse of children by those sent to help is a significant and painful issue and one that United Nations peacekeeping has and will continue to address candidly, comprehensively and robustly.  Even one incident is one incident too many.

The United Nations is committed to training and monitoring our civilian staff and working with our troop and police contributing countries to ensure that all categories of UN personnel are both trained in, and are accountable for, the highest standards of conduct.  As pointed out in the report, the United Nations has already undertaken a series of measures designed to tackle this problem directly, from establishing Conduct and Discipline Units in all of our Missions to strengthening our training regimes for all categories of UN personnel.  We are determined to redouble our efforts in this regard and to work with all of our partners to implement fully our policy of zero tolerance of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel.  The United Nations will continue to depend on the active efforts of its troop and police contributing countries in investigating and disciplining their national personnel found to have committed misconduct, including acts of sexual exploitation and abuse while serving in UN operations.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding an open meeting today on the protection of civilians in armed conflict.  Briefing this morning, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes said the Council could go further in addressing the protection of civilians in armed conflict.  In fact, a more consistent approach to integrating the matter into the Council’s work could make a very real difference to the lives of millions trapped in the chaos and horror of war.  In that regard, Holmes suggested the creation of an informal Security Council expert group to deal with this theme.  We have his full remarks upstairs.

** Iran

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has transmitted its latest report on Iran to the Security Council and the IAEA Board of Governors.  IAEA says the contents of the latest report cover developments since Director General Dr. Mohamed ElBaradei’s report of 22 February 2008.  The IAEA Board of Governors will discuss the report when it next convenes in Vienna on 2 June.  IAEA says the report’s circulation is restricted and cannot be released to the public unless the IAEA Board decides otherwise.

** Georgia

The UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) yesterday released a report on last month’s downing of a Georgian drone over Abkhazia.  The report concluded that the aircraft that shot down the drone belonged to the Russian Air Force.  The report stresses the importance of the Moscow Agreement, which provides for the Commonwealth of Independent States peacekeeping forces and no one else to perform the separation of Georgian and Abkhaz forces.

In that regard, from a strict peacekeeping perspective, UNOMIG considers that enforcement action by third parties, in this case the Russian Federation, in the zone of conflict is fundamentally inconsistent with the Moscow Agreement.  At the same time, and from the same peacekeeping perspective, UNOMIG reiterates its position stated to the Georgian Minister of Defence on 7 April 2008, that the overflight of the zone of conflict by surveillance aircraft also constitutes a breach of the Moscow Agreement.  The full report is available on UNOMIG’s website.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The International Criminal Court (ICC) said in a statement this weekend that Belgian authorities have arrested Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, the former Vice-President of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, on a sealed ICC warrant.  The Court says that Bemba, in his capacity as president and commander-in-chief of the Mouvement de libération du Congo (MLC), is alleged to be criminally responsible for four counts of war crimes and two counts of crimes against humanity committed in the Central African Republic between October 2002 and March 2003.  Specifically, the Court charges that, during that period, MLC forces led by Bemba carried out a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population, during which rape, torture, outrages upon personal dignity and pillaging were committed.  The warrant for Bemba’s arrest was issued under seal just four days ago. 

** Nepal

On the eve of the first meeting of Nepal’s Constituent Assembly election, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Nepal, Ian Martin, said that the successful election was a major milestone in the peace process, “but it does not represent the completion of the process”.  Speaking to the press in Katmandu, Martin highlighted the challenges that lay ahead for both the yet-to-be-formed Government and the 601-member Constituent Assembly.  He reiterated messages from his briefing last week to the Security Council, including challenges still faced in forming the new Government.  In a swearing-in ceremony today at the Birendra International Convention Centre, the site for Constituent Assembly meetings, 567 members took their oaths in preparation for tomorrow’s historic first session of the Assembly.

**Chad/Central African Republic

Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, yesterday began an official regional visit to Chad and the Central African Republic at the invitation of the Governments of these two countries.  Her mission aims to collect first-hand impressions of the situation of children in the region in order to enhance advocacy for protection and programme interventions for children in war zones.  Ms. Coomaraswamy will pay particular attention to child recruitment, including cross-border recruitment, by State and non-State actors.  She will also study conditions for humanitarian personnel and the safety and security in camps for the internally displaced.  We have a press release from her Office upstairs. 

Meanwhile, in a race against the start of the rainy season in mid-June, the UN refugee agency says it has begun the transfer of more than 9,500 newly arrived refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) to a new camp in Moula, in southern Chad.  This latest wave of CAR refugees arrived in southern Chad between January and March this year following violence in the northern Central African Republic.

** Côte d’Ivoire

On Côte d’Ivoire, Kyung-wha Kang, the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, is in Côte d’Ivoire for a working visit during which she will be meeting Government officials, members of the international community and the UN country team, among others.  She is also expected to visit Liberia later this week.  Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Côte d’Ivoire has confirmed the start of the first phase of post-conflict re-education for former combatants.  Yesterday, UN officials were among the guests at a formal induction of 250 ex-rebel combatants into a German-funded programme in Bouake, the former rebel stronghold.  Through this programme, a total of 730 former rebels will be receiving basic professional skills in agriculture, construction and computer sciences in the short- to mid-term.

** Lebanon Statement

On Lebanon, we issued the following statement on Saturday:  The Secretary-General congratulates the people of Lebanon on the election of Michel Suleimane as President of the Republic.  This election brings to an end the constitutional void that has endured in Lebanon since 21 November 2007.  The Secretary-General hopes that the historic event leads to the revitalization of all of Lebanon's constitutional institutions and a return to political dialogue within this framework.  We have the full statement on our website.

** Iraq

On Iraq, the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that its operations in Iraq to help hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Iraqis have just gotten a boost from a $40 million donation from the Iraqi Government.  WFP says Iraq’s donation shows the Government’s commitment to support all Iraqis.  WFP says it’s looking into the possibility of using a portion of the cash to purchase food inside Iraq, both as a means to reduce transport costs and to help to stimulate the local economy.  Much of this would depend on access and security.  Although security has severely hampered WFP’s ability to operate inside Iraq, the agency is now distributing food in 16 out of 18 Iraqi governorates.  We have more on that upstairs.

** Gaza

On Gaza, an independent high-level fact-finding mission by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Professor Christine Chinkin is currently in Gaza as part of its mission to Beit Hanoun.  The mission was established by the UN Human Rights Council in November 2006 after an Israeli attack in Beit Hanoun resulted in the deaths of 19 people, including seven children.  Archbishop Tutu and Professor Chinkin entered Gaza today from Egypt and, in addition to visiting Beit Hanoun itself, are holding a range of meetings, including with survivors and witnesses of the original attack.  The mission will submit a final report to the September session of the Human Rights Council.

**Racism

The Preparatory Committee for the Anti-Racism Review Conference has announced that the Conference will be held in Geneva from 20 to 24 April 2009.  The purpose of the Review Conference will be to review progress and assess implementation of the Declaration and Plan of Action adopted by the 2001 World Conference against Racism, Racial Discrimination, Xenophobia and Related Intolerance.  We have more on that upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

The guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Shamil Idriss, Acting Director of the Alliance of Civilizations, who will brief you on Silatech, a $100 million initiative established by the Qatar Foundation for Education, Science and Community Development to create jobs for young people in the Arab world.  Note that this briefing will be embargoed until 3 a.m. New York time on Monday, 2 June.

**Briefing for Correspondents

And then I know that some of you were dissatisfied with the pool arrangements made for our recent trip to Myanmar.  I would certainly like to discuss this issue with those of you who are interested at 4 o’clock this afternoon in this Room.  At this point, we have a very packed briefing, as we will have John Holmes on Myanmar in a few minutes, and Jane Holl Lute right after that on the report of abuses against children at 1:15 p.m., and then you have the Secretary-General later today.

I will be glad to answer your questions until Mr. Holmes arrives.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On the Save the Children reports, you’ve been very prompt at pushing back at them very quickly and the UN’s been very prompt at pushing back at similar reports in the past.  But they do keep coming up over and over and the prevalence seems to be wider and wider each time.  Is there an inherent structural flaw?  What practical measures can you take to adjust that?

Spokesperson:  We welcome this report.  It’s fair, at least essentially accurate, and you can ask further questions of Jane Holl Lute when she comes in.  Our policy has always been zero tolerance and the report is underlining something we have been saying, that we need to strengthen the UN investigative capacity in dealing with such cases.  We are supposed to consult with Member States, of course, before that is done.  And Jane will certainly answer all your other questions on the issue. 

Question:  Michèle, I know it’s a bit of a bore, but would you very kindly paraphrase what the Secretary-General said about the Save the Children allegations in your own words?  Would you kindly do that again for us?

Spokesperson:  Certainly.  You’re talking about the statement I made earlier?  Okay.  He expressed his concern, that was one of the things, and saying that the abuse of children is a significant and painful issue, and that we will continue to address the issue in a robust manner, saying that even one incident is one incident too many.  That, essentially, is what it is.

Question:  I was told before, a few months ago when I asked the question, that the reason that the United Nations considers Gaza to be occupied by Israel is that Israel controls all the entry points into the Strip.  Israel said “no” to Desmond Tutu and tried to bar his entry.  Now he’s entering through an entrance that Israel apparently doesn’t control, through Egypt.  So, the question is:  Is Gaza still occupied?

Spokesperson:  It is.  Gaza is part of the [Occupied] Palestinian [Territory], part of one entity.

Question:  So, it is occupied by Israel?

Spokesperson:  The fact that the West Bank is still occupied by Israel makes it one occupied Territory.

Question:  And Israel controls all the entry points into Gaza?

Spokesperson:  We didn’t say it controls all the entry points.

Question:  I know you’ve planned a meeting on it, but I just want on the record CNN’s concern about the pool arrangements for the trip, which we realize had to be hastily put together, but there are questions and issues that affect a lot of people in this Room, as to how many people went, how did people not operate as a pool person, people who were special guests.  It was a fiasco from my point of view.  I want it on the record.

Spokesperson:  I will be glad to discuss this with you.

Question:  A point of clarification.  As far as the United Nations is concerned, until the peace process in the Middle East, especially in the Occupied Territories, under resolutions 338 and 242, is completed, the Territories like Gaza and the West Bank are still considered to be the Occupied Territories in the international sense? 

Spokesperson:  I’m sorry, we’ll have to stop the questions because our guest is already here to talk about an important issue, which is Myanmar.

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