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

30 May 2008

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

30 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Press Conference Today

Following the briefing, at 12:30 sharp, there will be a press conference here by the by Ambassadors of Burkina Faso, France, South Africa and the United Kingdom, on the upcoming Security Council trip to Africa, which I understand, departs tomorrow.  So that will start as soon as they arrive.

And at 1:15 p.m., there will be a background briefing by a senior UN official on the UN budget, which has been requested by you.

I have two statements attributable to the Spokesperson.

**Statement on Cluster Munitions

The Secretary-General is delighted that the strong calls to address the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions have been answered with the adoption today of this new Convention.  He welcomes this successful outcome of the Dublin Diplomatic Conference and congratulates everyone who contributed to the process.

A broad-based coalition of States, international organizations and civil society has brought about a new international standard that will enhance the protection of civilians, strengthen human rights and improve prospects for development.

The United Nations will provide its full support and is ready to assist in the implementation of the responsibilities under this Convention.  The Secretary-General has accepted depositary functions under the Convention, which he urges all States to sign and ratify without delay, and he looks forward to its rapid entry into force.

**Statement on Burundi

The Secretary-General welcomes the return to Burundi of the Chairman of the Palipehutu-FNL, Agathon Rwasa.  The significant development follows a number of positive steps in the Burundi peace process, including the 26 May Joint Declaration on the cessation of hostilities between the Government of Burundi and Palipehutu-FNL.

The Secretary-General urges Palipehutu-FNL and the Government of Burundi to seize this opportunity to finally end the long-standing conflict in Burundi.  He urges them to stay the course and implement the agreements reached between them without delay.

The Secretary-General appreciates the critical role played by the leaders of the Regional Peace Initiative for Burundi, the South African Facilitation and the Political Directorate, and encourages them to continue their assistance to the parties.

** Myanmar

Today marks four weeks since Cyclone Nargis first struck Myanmar, and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that 11 international UN and NGO [non-governmental organization] staff, as well as numerous medical teams from ASEAN [Association of South-East Asian Nations] and neighbouring countries, have been able to travel to hard-hit areas.  OCHA says it welcomes the Myanmar Government’s approval of all pending visas for UN staff.  At the same time, however, it urges the Government to demonstrate the same flexibility towards NGO visa requests.

OCHA adds that, as relief efforts pick up speed, it is now critical that all population movements, including those of people returning to their homes to rebuild their livelihoods, are voluntary and done on a consultative basis.  OCHA stresses that any forced or coerced movement of people is completely unacceptable.  This point has been made very clearly to the authorities and the UN will continue to watch the situation closely, OCHA says.

Meanwhile, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports that it is setting up two field units in the [Irrawaddy] Delta area to better respond to the emergency, monitor the distribution of its relief items and further assess needs in the region.

UNHCR has now flown more than 400 tons of emergency supplies into Yangon from its global stockpiles in Dubai on nine flights –- enough for more than half of the 250,000 cyclone survivors.  Their items -– including plastic sheeting, blankets, mosquito nets and kitchen sets -– have been distributed by international NGOs and community organizations.

For its part, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] reports that it is working with Myanmar’s Ministry of Education to help reopen schools by distributing repair materials and essential school supplies.  And there is more information on these efforts upstairs.

**Peacekeeping

Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, this morning awarded the Dag Hammarskjöld Medal to the 90 military, police and civilian personnel from 42 countries who lost their lives last year serving in UN peacekeeping operations.  The medals were received by representatives of the 42 countries concerned. 

In his prepared remarks at that event, Guéhenno said, “After 60 years of peacekeeping, we cannot claim victory in the pursuit of peace.  But we can take credit for stabilizing societies that were once the scenes of intractable conflict, saving countless lives in the process.”  We have copies of his remarks upstairs.

And at 2:30 p.m., Mr. Guéhenno will award more peacekeeping medals to the military and police officers currently serving in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations here at UN Headquarters.

**Security Council

The Security Council here, as you know, held a closed meeting this morning on the situation in Georgia.

Tomorrow, as you know, will be the last day of the United Kingdom’s presidency of the Security Council.  On 1 June, the United States will assume the rotating presidency for the month of June.

** Nepal

The Nepal Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has voiced serious concern about the killings by Nepalese police of three individuals when officers opened fire on a crowd of protesters on Wednesday.  UN human rights officers have confirmed that at least one of the victims was shot in the head as police attempted to control a rowdy crowd throwing stones at an official building.  Seven other people were wounded in that incident, which came a day after a journalist was beaten up by individuals angered by the criticisms of local officials.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights calls for the arrest of those who beat the journalist and also urges the authorities to launch an independent investigation into the police’s deadly use of force on Wednesday against unarmed protesters.

** South Africa

The UN refugee agency says it is releasing 2,000 tents to the South African Government to help provide much-needed shelter to thousands of people made homeless in the recent xenophobic attacks against foreigners, including refugees and asylum seekers.

UNHCR also said it is making available to the Government an expert site planner who will help the authorities in identifying suitable locations for temporary shelter.

Field teams from the agency’s South Africa Office are deployed in Gauteng Province, Cape Town and Johannesburg, and have been assessing the needs at makeshift sites near police stations and other public venues where the victims of violence have gathered.  UNHCR is working through its partners to provide food, shelter, blankets and other basic household items.

To date, it says, some 42,000 migrants, including refugees and asylum seekers, are sheltered in 95 makeshift sites.  Among those affected are thousands of refugees and asylum seekers from Zimbabwe, Somalia, Ethiopia and other African countries whose homes were destroyed and businesses looted and burned.

As you’ll recall, the UN country team has said it stands ready to provide assistance and support for immediate humanitarian needs faced by the victims of attacks, as well as to find medium- and long-term solutions to the unfolding developments there. 

**United Nations Population Fund

“Of all the Millennium Development Goals, Millennium Development Goal 5 -- preventing women’s deaths during pregnancy and childbirth –- is generating the least resources and lagging the furthest behind.  And African women and families are paying the price.”

That is what UNFPA [United Nations Population Fund] Executive Director Thoraya Ahmed Obaid said at the Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development in a session on achieving the Goals.  She called on all leaders “to make the health of women a political and development priority”.

“African leaders and their development partners have recognized that investing in women and reproductive health is critical to successful development,” she said, after the Action Plan there was adopted.

**World No-Tobacco Day

Tomorrow is World No-Tobacco Day.  To mark the occasion, the World Health Organization (WHO) has urged Governments to ban all tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship in order to protect young people.  And there is a press release on that upstairs.

**Week Ahead 

We have the “Week Ahead” for you, as always, to help you in your coverage of the UN next week.

Our guest on Monday at the noon briefing will be Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, who will brief on her recent visit to Chad and the Central African Republic.

Also on Monday, the Human Rights Council’s eighth regular session starts in Geneva.

On 3 June, the High-Level Conference on World Food Security will take place in Rome from 3 to 5 June.  The Secretary-General will attend.

The rest of it is available for you upstairs.  I didn’t think we had time for a General Assembly briefing, but I think that Janos is going to be down here later to take your questions, if you have any.  So while we wait for our guests, anything for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yesterday, Myanmar’s State-owned newspaper accused international donors for being stingy for not filling their pledges to the UN Flash Appeal.  Does the United Nations have any response?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’d have to get you the latest figures from OCHA, but they have been updating every day the number of pledges that have come in for their Appeal.  I think yesterday they had a statistic on how much of the Flash Appeal had already been given.  Let us get an update from them on that.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that the UN Flash Appeal is only 40 per cent funded, if only actual contributions (and not pledges) are counted.  She noted that OCHA says that, with access seemingly improving, particularly for UN staff, and Government restrictions easing, further pledges and contributions should be made without further delay.]

Question:  In Myanmar, the access desired by the Secretary-General and the United Nations, is that now being described by the Secretary-General as good, satisfactory, or not so good?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I read you a note today that summarizes where we stand.  Factually speaking, we reported to you that the visa requests from the UN side have been approved, but, at the same time, OCHA today has asked the Government to demonstrate the same flexibility to NGOs.  As you know, humanitarian agencies work very closely with NGO partners, so it is essential that they get in also to act as the arms and legs for carrying out the vast effort that is needed on the ground.  I think there is improvement -- relief efforts have picked up speed -- but it is critical that more can be done, and be done as quickly as possible.

Question:  I also wanted a reaction to the deaths of civilians in Afghanistan, which I was not being able to get from the Secretary-General.  Last Friday, the New York Times reported that 19 civilians have been killed by the Marines and that the United States has said it would not charge those two Marines, because the morale would go down.  What is the reaction of the Secretary-General in such a case?  [Inaudible] and human rights group were accusing that they were being killed high-handedly.  What is the reaction of the United Nations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General’s position on the protection of civilians in conflicts has been well–known.  As for the specific incident there, I will have to check with the Mission on the ground whether or not they have followed up.  But as you know, previously, if there were civilians involved in such attacks, the Mission there was talking it up with the parties that were involved.

Question:  The Russian Ambassador, Vitaly Churkin, said that the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) has confirmed that the Abkhaz Government has shot down three drones flown by Georgia.  Is that…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I refer you to the report that was posted on their website, I believe it was a few days ago…

Question:  But they talk in that report about one drone…

Deputy Spokesperson:  That is the latest we have from the Mission on that. 

Question:  This is in light of this issue of either housing subsidies or wage supplements.  There is an article in NRC/Handelsblad in the Netherlands saying that, if these payments are prohibited, the Netherlands is going to have a hard time detaching senior military officials to work for the UN or, I guess, in peacekeeping missions.  I guess what I want to know is, do force commanders or senior military figures from Governments that work for the UN on peacekeeping missions, are they entirely paid by the UN, or are they allowed, despite or around the Charter, to receive wage supplements from their Governments?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, they are not.

Question:  They only are paid by the United Nations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Of course.

Question:  How far is Ban Ki-moon concerned that the biggest producers of cluster bombs did not sign the Treaty reached yesterday?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Today, the statement that he has stands.  I have nothing further to add.

Question:  More of a general question.  I’ll put it like this:  is the Secretary-General aware that there are some “think-tankers” in Washington that are suggesting that a “League of 100 Democracies” would be created, and some political candidates running for President this year in America are also in favour of that?  So, is he aware?  If he is, what is he thinking about and what is the general sort of opinion of that in the UN?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General is in the air right now, so I am not sure if he is aware or not, but I’ll certainly look into it for you.

Question:  It is not new; it is not from yesterday; it is more than a month-and-a-half ago, so somebody should be thinking about that here.  Anybody thinking about this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of the press reports that you mentioned, so I’ll look into that for you.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General [inaudible] basically [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We announced yesterday an update on the Secretary-General’s travel plans.  It is an official visit to Saudi Arabia.

Thank you, and have a good afternoon. 

* *** *

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