28 May 2008


28 May 2008
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  Our guest in a few minutes will be Shamil Idriss, Acting Director of the Alliance of Civilizations, who will brief you on 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.  His briefing is apparently under embargo until 3 a.m., New York time, Monday, 2 June.  I’m sure he will tell you more about that when he’s here.

And we also have the General Assembly Spokesperson here already to brief you.

**Secretary-General’s Trip to Sweden

The Secretary-General, as he mentioned to you yesterday, this afternoon embarks on a two-day trip to Sweden to attend the Iraq Compact Annual Review Conference to take place Thursday in Uppsala.  This is the first Annual Review of progress made under the framework of the International Compact for Iraq, which includes commitments of Iraq on economic, political and security reforms and commitments of the international community to provide financial and other support.  The meeting will review the Annual Review Report prepared by the Iraqi Government with assistance from the United Nations, which provides a comprehensive assessment of the progress so far and the challenges ahead.

As co-chair of the event, the Secretary-General reiterates in his remarks that the United Nations, for its part, remains committed to doing all it can to support the people and Government of Iraq under Security Council resolution 1770.  The Conference is expected to close with the adoption of the Stockholm Declaration.  The Secretary-General is expected to hold several bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the event, including with the Prime Minister of Sweden, the Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, the U.S. Secretary of State, the Foreign Minister of Italy and Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.  He is also scheduled to meet with the King of Sweden.

** Myanmar

Turning to Myanmar, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, if both pledges and contributions are counted, the UN’s Flash Appeal is now 60 per cent funded.  But more is still needed.  With access improving and Government restrictions easing, OCHA urges donors to turn pledges into contributions and commit funds to the Appeal without further delay.  On the question of visas, OCHA reports that, today, the Government of Myanmar approved all remaining visa requests for various UN agencies.  There had been 45 of those requests pending, according to OCHA.

To date, OCHA estimates that more than 40 per cent of the 2.4 million cyclone survivors have received some type of assistance from local, national or international actors.  The majority of UN and NGO [non-governmental organization] aid has gone to those in the Yangon Division, since they are more easily reached.  But OCHA remains deeply concerned that major unmet needs remain in more than half of the 15 hardest-hit townships.  OCHA adds that relief efforts will likely last for at least another six months.

And as you all know, yesterday, the Secretary-General spoke to you at the stakeout.  In addition to his statement on the continued detention under house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, today the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, expresses her profound disappointment at the extension of that detention and her remarks are available upstairs.

**Deputy Secretary-General in Japan

The need for higher investments in agriculture has been highlighted by the vulnerability of many net-food importing countries to the steep rise in food prices over the past year, which threatens to drive millions of Africans further into poverty.  It is time for intensified support for the international community and African Governments to build productive, resilient and sustainable agricultural sectors.  Climate change and its expected impact on agriculture in Africa makes this task all the more urgent.  That’s what the Deputy Secretary-General said today when she addressed the plenary of the Fourth Tokyo International Conference on Africa’s Development, known as TICAD, which is being held in Yokohama in Japan.  And copies of her statement are available upstairs.


And in Tokyo, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] today called for large-scale, focused investments in improved health systems for sub-Saharan Africa, to capitalize on recent achievements and help children who have inadequate access to health care.  And this call came as the children’s agency launched its first State of Africa’s Children 2008 report at the Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD IV) in Japan.  And there’s a press release from UNICEF with more details.

**Food Security

Meanwhile, the upcoming High-Level Conference on World Food Security, to take place next week in Rome (3-5 June), offers a historic chance to relaunch the fight against hunger and poverty and boost agricultural production in developing countries, says the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  In a key policy document prepared for the summit, FAO said that the international community should take urgent and concrete actions to address the issues of hunger and malnutrition in the face of soaring food prices, scarce land and water resources, climate change, increased energy needs and population growth.

The report lists 22 countries that are particularly vulnerable due to a combination of high levels of chronic hunger and being net importers of both food and fuel.  Countries such as Eritrea, Niger, Comoros, Haiti and Liberia are particularly affected, according to FAO.  The report said that increases in domestic prices, even by moderate rates, can have immediate negative impacts on poor households that spend a large part of their income on food staples.  FAO’s estimate of the number of hungry people in 2002-04 stands at 862 million, with 830 million in developing countries.  And there’s more information on the FAO website on the upcoming food Conference.

**Security Council

And today, here at UN Headquarters, the Security Council, as you know, is meeting on the Middle East.  In an open meeting this morning, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, said that, even by the standards of the region, it has been an event-filled month.  Serry said Egyptian efforts to achieve a calming of violence in and around Gaza are extremely important and the UN strongly supports these efforts.  He also said that the reopening of crossings for humanitarian relief and commercial flows, with the presence of the Palestinian Authority, will also be crucial if any calm is to be sustained.  A calming and easing of the situation in and around Gaza is essential for genuine progress in both the Israel-Palestinian negotiations and in reuniting the West Bank and Gaza within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority, he added.

Serry also said that the progress must be intensified on the Annapolis track, both in the political negotiations and in action on the ground.  The Council is now holding consultations on the Middle East, and following those, Mr. Serry said he will go to the stakeout to take your questions, and we’ll let you know when he is about to do so.

[The announcement was made later during the course of the briefing.]

And yesterday, for the record, in the Security Council, a presidential statement on the protection of civilians in armed conflict was adopted towards the end of the day.  In that statement, the Security Council expressed its deepest concern that civilians continue to suffer the brunt of the violence during armed conflicts.  The Council also condemned all violations of international law that threaten non-combatants, and reaffirmed the responsibility of States and other parties of conflicts to protect them.

** Zimbabwe

We also have a statement today by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, on Zimbabwe.  She said that she is shocked at the reported discovery of several more bodies of murdered political activists in Zimbabwe.  She strongly condemned the killings and the continuing harassment of NGO workers, human rights defenders and other members of civil society.  Among the dead, Arbour noted, are a provincial treasurer and an activist for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change, both of whom were seen last being driven away from their homes by armed men.  The High Commissioner urged the Zimbabwean authorities to prosecute those responsible for the murders and other unlawful acts, and to protect all Zimbabweans from further attacks.  Arbour also said that the news of more killings in Zimbabwe gives even sharper edge to the large-scale violence directed against migrants and refugees in neighbouring South Africa.

**Security Council Mission to Africa

The Security Council is, meanwhile, travelling to Africa.  A delegation is leaving New York this Saturday for a 10-day visit to Africa.  The delegation will begin work on 2 June in Djibouti where talks are being held between the Somali Government and opposition.  It will then travel to Khartoum on 3, 4 and 5 June for meetings with the Government and a visit to El Fasher in Darfur.  From there, the delegation will stop in Chad’s capital for a two-day visit.  That includes a visit to a refugee and internally displaced persons camp on the border with Darfur.

Then Kinshasa, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, will be the next stop on 7 June and the delegation plans to meet the Congolese leadership, civil society and the UN Mission in that country.  Delegates will also visit Goma, the main town in North Kivu, on 8 June.  And then Abidjan will be the last stop of the trip.  That will be on 9 June.  There, the delegation will hold meetings with the key actors in the implementation of the Ouagadougou Peace Agreement, including the country’s leadership and the UN Mission. 

And this Friday, at 12:30 p.m., that’s the day after tomorrow, the four leaders of the Security Council delegation, the Ambassadors of Burkina Faso, France, South Africa and the United Kingdom, will hold a press conference in this Room to discuss the objectives of the mission.  So 12:30 on Friday here, you’ll learn more about this mission.


The Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, today delivered a message on behalf of the Secretary-General to the Ninth Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is taking place in Bonn.  According to the Secretary-General’s message, the loss of biodiversity is an environmental crisis with profound economic and human dimensions.  And there’s a copy of the message upstairs for you to read in full.


I have two appointments of the Secretary-General.  One, the Secretary-General has appointed Lieutenant General Chikadibia Obiakor of Nigeria as Military Adviser for Peacekeeping Operations.  The Lieutenant General is currently Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and has served in the Nigerian Army since 1973.  And there’s more information on him upstairs.  

The Secretary-General also appointed Major General Paban Jung Thapa of Nepal as Force Commander of the United Nations Mission in the Sudan, or UNMIS.  He is expected to take up his duties in the Sudan by the end of the month.  Major General Thapa has served in a number of United Nations peacekeeping operations during his career in the Royal Nepalese Army, including UNPROFOR [United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia and Herzegovina] and UNIFIL [United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon], that’s the UN Protection Force in the former Yugoslavia and the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.  And there’s more information on him upstairs as well.


A few more announcements.  The United Nations will mark the sixtieth anniversary of UN peacekeeping tomorrow, that’s 29 May, the International Day of UN Peacekeepers, with a series of events at Headquarters and in field missions around the world.  Here in New York, Jean-Marie Guehenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, will lead a wreath-laying ceremony to honour the more than 2,400 peacekeepers who have given their lives in the cause of peace over the past 60 years, including 90 in 2007 alone.

Also taking place here will be a multimedia exhibition chronicling UN peacekeeping efforts.  The exhibition titled “Looking Back, Moving Forward” will also be shown in many countries tomorrow.  And both Jean-Marie Guéhenno and the new head of the Department of Field Support, Susana Malcorra, will be the guests at the noon briefing here tomorrow.

**Upcoming Press Briefings

Also, at 11 a.m. tomorrow, Ambassador [Irakli] Alasania of Georgia will brief you on Georgia’s response to the recent report by the UN Observer Mission in Georgia on the downing of a Georgian drone over Abkhazia, Georgia.  And in response to requests from some of you here for a briefing on the UN budget, we have invited a senior UN official to provide that background briefing for you on Friday.  This is this Friday at 1:15 p.m. in this Room.  So that’s what I have for you.  We have Janos here already and we will have a guest.  So any questions for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yesterday, I read something in a Dutch paper that Ambassador [Van] Walsum, the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, had given an interview to this Dutch paper on Western Sahara.  Can we have the full text of this interview?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you go to the newspaper for it.  You should go to the newspaper.  They’ll probably be able provide that.

Question:  Is Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon planning to attend the 12 June conference on Afghanistan?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me check on a confirmation on that for you.

Question:  It’s reported in the press in Kosovo that Stefano Sannino, an Italian diplomat, is slated to take over at UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo] for Mr. Rücker on 15 June.  Do you have any comment?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing on appointments other than the two I have announced today.

Question:  Is it your understanding that Mr. Rücker and his Deputy will leave on 15 June?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing new on UNMIK or new appointments other than what I had for you today.

Question:  One other thing on UNMIK.  I know the Secretary-General is meeting with the head of NATO today, and the NATO spokesman had said that the purpose of the meeting is to understand NATO’s role in Kosovo under 1244.  Is that what this meeting is about?

Deputy Spokesperson:  If that’s what the NATO spokesman is saying, obviously that’s what they would like to discuss.  As far as our issues are concerned, we’ll get you a readout after the meeting.

Question:  Can we get a readout at the end of the Afghanistan meeting?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Usually we give you a read-out after the meeting, so we’ll get you one. 

[The following statement was provided. 

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, met with the Secretary-General of NATO, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, today.  The meeting focused on Kosovo, with the Secretary-General sharing his vision for the way forward while taking note of NATO’s concerns.  They also exchanged views on the risks ahead.

The Secretaries-General also briefly touched on Afghanistan, praising the regional dimension of the work being done by the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide.  They also looked ahead to the upcoming Pledging Conference on Afghanistan, to be held in Paris.]

Question:  In the case of this Evelyn Herfkens, the former UN Millennium Campaign person who took money from the Dutch Government while she was here, there’s a brouhaha in the Netherlands where they’ve asked her to repay $280,000 that she received, while working for the UN, from the Government.  She said it’s none of their business; it’s between her and the UN.  What’s the UN position if somebody works for the UN and takes money from a Government?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is a UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] matter and UNDP, as you know, Stéphane Dujarric, is willing to take any questions on this matter.

Question:  The only reason I’m asking you is because her quote was “it’s a matter between me and the UN”.  She didn’t say UNDP; she said “me and the UN”.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m referring your questions to UNDP.

Question:  The interview I referred to previously with Ambassador [Van] Walsum on Western Sahara was an important one.  Why is it not included in the Spokesperson’s morning headlines?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The question is why is it not included in the Spokesperson’s headlines?  I think you’re discussing a matter that is not really relevant to the briefing, so we can discuss this afterwards. 

Question:  I have a question regarding the Secretary-General’s visit to Saudi Arabia.  Why is he going there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing official to announce on that.

Question:  Is he going to discuss something related to the international dialogue among religions maybe?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m sorry.  I don’t have anything further than the Secretary-General’s trip today that he announced yesterday, to go to Sweden, and the June Summit.  I have no other trip announcements to make today. 

Question:  Marie, this question has been asked before and I put it to you again, that the new democratic Government of Pakistan is signing numerous agreements with tribes in the tribal regions, including one today with a tribe.  Does the Secretary-General have any comments?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond what Jean-Marie Guéhenno had in response to questions on this issue when he was in Afghanistan, and he answered them as the top peacekeeping official of the UN.

Question:  Marie, usually it has been the tradition not to announce the trips of the Secretary-General ahead of time.  Why has it been announced regarding the visit to Saudi Arabia?  What is special about it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We have not announced any trip.

Question:  It has not been announced?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we have not announced any trip, other than the one that I just mentioned, today, and the forthcoming one to the Food Summit in Rome, for which he has sent out letters seeking active participation on an issue that he is very seized upon.  And on that note, Janos.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon, good to see you.  I have a couple of things on the General Assembly and on the activities of the President.

**Statement on Myanmar

Let me start with a statement that is attributable to the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly and it’s on Myanmar and it reads as follows:

United Nations General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim expresses his disappointment over the decision of the Government of Myanmar to extend for another year the detention under house arrest of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the General Secretary of the National League for Democracy (NDL).  The President stresses the continued interest of the General Assembly in resolving the human rights situation of Myanmar, as expressed by a number of resolutions of the Assembly.  In the spirit of those resolutions, he calls for the release of all political detainees.  The President continues to believe that it is important to have serious engagement and strong commitment from all parties to continue the process of national reconciliation that needs to be credible and inclusive and must lead to concrete results, as envisaged by the relevant General Assembly resolutions.

**General Assembly President in Germany

General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim has wrapped up a three-day official visit in Germany today.  This morning, the President was in Bonn attending the ministerial segment of the ninth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.  In his statement to the meeting, the President drew attention to the unprecedented degradation of biodiversity and called for urgent action to reverse the trend.  He said that, by undermining global biodiversity, we undermine sustainable development, both of which are being exacerbated by changing climatic conditions, a hitherto unprecedented environmental challenge.  Because of the interconnected web of all life on Earth, degradation in one area limited progress in others.  The converse was also true:  improvements in one area supported progress in others. 

The President noted that the celebration of 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity would provide a unique opportunity for stocktaking and assessment on how far we were able to collectively achieve the 2010 target and, at the same time, will enable us to chart a way forward for the post-2010 phase.  And in this context, he expressed support for the call to convene a one-day high-level segment of the General Assembly, at its sixty-fifth session, to focus global attention on the biodiversity crisis and to solicit the necessary high-level political guidance to chart the way forward.

On the sidelines of the ministerial meeting, the President had a chance to talk with Chancellor Angela Merkel.  The two discussed the current UN efforts to address climate change, stressing the need for creating a positive and constructive environment to facilitate progress for a post-Kyoto framework.  They also discussed biodiversity, with the Chancellor expressing her support for the President’s call for a high-level General Assembly meeting in 2010.  UN reform issues, including the reform of the Security Council, were also discussed.  As regards the latter issue, support was expressed for the idea of the launch of intergovernmental negotiations if Member Stares were in favour of this.  Biodiversity and climate change was also the topic of the meeting that the President had this morning with Environmental Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

And while in Germany, the President also met with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.  Their discussions focused on current reform initiatives, including the reform of the Security Council, and also on the Millennium Development Goals, with attention to the preparations for the 25 September high-level meeting.  The President also had a meeting with Development Minister Heidemarie Wieczorek-Zeul and discussed issues relating to development, as well as the Financing for Development process, climate change, the current food crisis, the concept of “responsibility to protect” and also current UN relief efforts in Myanmar.

The President also held a meeting with members of the Foreign Affairs Committee of Parliament.  While in Germany, he gave two lectures, one on UN reforms and the work of the General Assembly during the current session.  This was to the UN Association of Germany, on Monday.  Yesterday evening, he gave a lecture on the work of the United Nations to address climate change, and this was to the Policy Forum of the Ruhr Region in Essen.

From Bonn, the President is travelling to the Albanian capital, Tirana, tonight, where he will have a full day of official talks tomorrow, including with the President, Prime Minister, Speaker of the Parliament and key officials from the Foreign Ministry.  I will brief you on that tomorrow.  He will also meet with members of the UN country team in Albania, as Albania is one of the eight pilot countries of the system-wide coherence process that, as you know, the UN is engaged in.

**General Assembly Meetings

A couple of other quick things.

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), as you know, is continuing its meeting.  It’s in its fourth week of the second part of its resumed session.  The focus is on the budgets of peacekeeping missions, and the tentative schedule for the week is on the Committee website.  Watch that for any changes.  And in this regard, let me also note -- because this was asked by some of you in previous briefings -- that the President of the Assembly did meet with the Chair of the Fifth Committee on Friday, and they discussed the current developments as regards the work of the Committee.

Let me draw attention to a couple of upcoming meetings of the General Assembly for this week.  On Thursday, tomorrow morning at 11:30, Under-Secretary-General John Holmes, in his capacity as the Coordinator for the Secretary-General’s High-Level Task Force on Global Food Security, will brief Member States.  This comes after Member States expressed their views of the need for the Assembly to be involved in the food crisis issue during the briefing that the Secretary-General gave the Member States on 16 May.  Also on Thursday, tomorrow in the afternoon, the Assembly will continue the informal briefing it held on 21 May, and that was on the implementation of the UN’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.  The afternoon briefing tomorrow will feature Robert Orr, the Assistant-Secretary-General who is the Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, and he’s going to answer Member States on some questions they had, which they posed at the 21 May briefing.

Also, on a question that some of you had a couple of weeks ago that relates to management reform in the UN.  You may remember that, on 8 and 9 April, the Assembly held a thematic debate on management reform.  In fact, it was the first thematic debate on that subject and questions were asked about the outcome of that debate and about the so-called informal Chair’s summary, when would that be available?  For those of you who have not noticed it yet, it is on the website of the President.  So, it is accessible, the full summary of that meeting, for you.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  You said the General Assembly President discussed Security Council reform with Angela Merkel?

Spokesperson:  That’s correct.

Question:  Did the subject of Germany acquiring a permanent veto in the Security Council come up, and is the President in favour of Germany acquiring that status?

Spokesperson:  What I had on the details of the discussions that the President had with the Chancellor I gave you already, and that’s all the details I received, from actually the President himself.  I talked to him this morning. 

Question:  Has the President talked to Mr. Gambari on the issue of Burma because, in the last three of four weeks, Mr. Gambari has not been visible on his mandate, either on the referendum or the Aung San Suu Kyi detention.  Have they had any talks on that, do you know? 

Spokesperson:  The President and Mr. Gambari have met on a regular basis, the last time they had a face-to-face meeting was on 17 March.  I’m not aware that since then they have met, definitely not face to face, but I’ll find out if they had a telephone conversation of any sort.  But I know the President is keeping a tab on the situation in Myanmar.  That’s why he has issued the statement.

Question:  A couple of years ago or more, maybe five years ago, the General Assembly established a Registry of sorts, of people affected by the wall being built by Israel at the border, which they call the fence.  Is there any update on that Registry?  Are there more people who have registered?

Spokesperson:  Yes, you’re quite correct; this relates to a resolution taken by the General Assembly (document A/RES/ES-10/17 (2007)), following an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice.  I’ll have to get back to you on this, but, as far as I know, an office has been created in Vienna [the Office of the United Nations Register of Damage caused by the Construction of the Wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory], and actually I think it is headed by [Executive Director] Vladimir Goryayev, but let me just double check, to give you all the details, where exactly that process stands.  I’ll get back to you on that.

Question:  You said the President discussed with Angela Merkel Security Council reform, including the work of the intergovernmental organ on reform?

Spokesperson:  No, no, no.  They discussed a couple of things and, when they discussed, apparently, the issue of UN reforms and, within that Security Council reform, then the idea of taking the process to the level of intergovernmental negotiations was discussed, with support expressed for this idea if Member States support this process.  That is what was discussed.

Thank you very much.

* *** *

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