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

2 June 2008

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

2 June 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

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

**Secretary-General on Bombing in Pakistan

I’ll start with two statements attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.  The first is on Pakistan.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the car bombing outside the Danish Embassy in Islamabad today which reportedly killed at least six and injured dozens others.  A security guard at a nearby UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] building was among those killed, and six locally recruited staff working for a UNDP project were injured.  The Secretary-General reiterates his total rejection of such acts of terrorism and expresses condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government of Pakistan.

**Secretary-General on Israeli Settlement Activity in East Jerusalem

The second statement is on Israeli settlement activity in East Jerusalem:

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned at the recent announcement by the Israeli Government to invite new tenders for construction in Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem.  The Government of Israel's continued construction in settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory is contrary to international law and to its commitments under the Road Map and the Annapolis process, as stressed by the Quartet when it met in London on 2 May. 

Those two statements are available upstairs, as is a statement we issued late yesterday afternoon in which the Secretary-General welcomed the return by Israel of a released prisoner to Lebanon and Hizbullah's release of remains of Israeli soldiers killed during the 2006 war.

In that statement, the Secretary-General says that he believes these developments are a positive step towards addressing the humanitarian issues that are an important component of Security Council resolution 1701.

**Secretary-General in Rome

The Secretary-General himself arrived in Rome this morning.  As you know, he is there to attend the high-level Conference on World Food Security, which starts tomorrow.

Today, the Secretary-General visited the headquarters of the World Food Programme (WFP), where he met with WFP staff, including those in the field who were patched in by videolink.  He also visited the headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and attended a flag-raising ceremony to inaugurate the offices of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Also in Rome today, the Secretary-General addressed a high-level meeting on food security in Haiti.  In his remarks, he said that, over the past few weeks, he has been urging the international community to spare no effort to address the situation in Haiti.  The island’s fragile governance and deteriorating living conditions have created a volatile and potentially dangerous atmosphere.  If we allow this crisis to go unchecked, he added, much of what has been achieved over the past four years in Haiti could easily unravel. 

The Secretary-General noted that the United Nations has already begun to carry out emergency response programmes, and is reorienting existing activities and resources to tackle the crisis.  But there is much more work ahead, and UN programmes in Haiti remain severely underfunded, he added.  We should have his full remarks in a short while.

In terms of bilateral meetings today, the Secretary-General met today with the Presidents of Djibouti and Argentina.  He is also scheduled to meet later today with the President of Brazil and the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping.

And regarding the Secretary-General’s remarks to the high-level Conference on World Food Security tomorrow, we will have embargoed copies of those available later this afternoon in our Office.

**Security Council Programme

Today, here at UN Headquarters, at 3 p.m., the Security Council will hold its first meetings under the U.S. presidency of the Council, to vote on two resolutions.  The Council intends to vote on a resolution extending the mandate of the International Independent Investigation Commission (IIIC) dealing with Lebanon until the end of this year, and it also has scheduled a vote on a resolution concerning piracy off the coast of Somalia.

Then, tomorrow, the Council intends to hold consultations on its programme of work for this month.  Following those consultations, the Council President for this month, Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad of the United States, expects to talk to you about the Council’s work during June at the Security Council stakeout microphone.

**Security Council Mission to Africa

Also on the Security Council, today, a delegation is in Djibouti on a 10-day mission to Africa that will also visit the Sudan, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Côte d'Ivoire.

The delegation received a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, on the UN-sponsored talks that he is chairing between the Transitional Federal Government and the opposition Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia.

Later, the Council met with Somali President Abdullahi Yusuf and members of his Cabinet.  Speaking on behalf of the delegation, Ambassador Dumisani Kumalo of South Africa, who is leading this segment of the mission, said that the talks represented an opportunity for a new chapter in Somali history after 18 years of a debilitating armed conflict.

Security Council delegates then met with an African Union team, with representatives of the Somali opposition and with the UN country team.  Meetings are also planned for tomorrow with a cross-section of Somali civil society.  Then the delegation proceeds to Juba, in southern Sudan, tomorrow.

** Darfur Update

Meanwhile, Darfurians have once again been called upon to stop fighting.  “Let’s return to the path of peace,” said the Deputy Joint Special Representative of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Henry Anyidoho, while speaking with principal Arab tribal leaders attending the Ad Da’en Equestrian Festival in South Darfur.

He stated that UNAMID was in Darfur to work with all parties to the conflict with a view to achieve durable peace for all Darfurians.  He stressed that UNAMID was very much committed to efforts that will bring peace to the Darfur region, but needs the cooperation of all Darfurians to be able to achieve it.  He admonished all Darfurians to remove all doubts and misconceptions from their minds regarding UNAMID’s neutrality, emphasizing that UNAMID is here for the peace of all Darfurians.

Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, is in the Sudan for consultations with the Government and other stakeholders.

**Special Adviser Egeland

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Jan Egeland, is in Burkina Faso today at the outset of a five-day mission to draw attention to the needs of countries in Africa’s Sahel region for assistance and cooperation in coping with the effects of climate change, arms and drug trafficking, and other risk factors that could lead to conflict. 

In comments reported in Ougadougou today, Egeland called the Sahel region “ground zero” for climate change, but said this need not lead to conflict if there is sufficient investment in adaptation and cooperation between the countries.  “Look at the water wars which we were predicting 15 to 20 years ago that didn't happen because people were able to cooperate,” Egeland said.

From Burkina Faso, Egeland travels to Mali and Niger.  He will visit vast lake areas in each country which have evaporated due to climate change and see how this has affected communities and increased social pressures.

** Myanmar

The Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Josette Sheeran, wrapped up a two-day visit to cyclone-hit Myanmar this weekend.

During a meeting with Myanmar’s Deputy Foreign Minister on Saturday, Sheeran said that, while access for international staff has improved, Government procedures for clearing the deployment of aid workers remain a constraining factor.  She also stressed the importance of allowing recently deployed helicopters to operate with greater freedom into and within hard-hit areas.

So far, WFP has managed to dispatch enough food to provide 575,000 people with a first ration of rice.  But many people have not yet been reached and others are now due for a second round of distributions.

Meanwhile, the agency’s $70 million operation is facing a 64 per cent shortfall, she said, and stressed the importance of sustained support by the international community, saying that, under the current level of contributions, WFP will run out of food by mid-July.  There’s more on that from the World Food Programme upstairs.

**Human Rights Council

And in Geneva, the Human Rights Council’s eighth regular session started today. 

Addressing the body for the last time as High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour sounded a cautious note of optimism about progress in the new system of scrutinizing the performance of States, known as the Universal Periodic Review.  But she also called for a stop to the “pursuit of narrow parochial political agendas”, which she said is the “greatest impediment” to the realization of human rights.

Arbour said increasing recourse to special sessions –- such as the recent one devoted to the global food security crisis –- will reinforce the Council’s relevance.  She hoped the food session might herald a new era when as much attention is given to economic, social and cultural rights as to civil and political rights, and pointed out that they are inextricably linked.

Arbour also called for new mechanisms to strengthen the system designed to prevent and punish genocide, which she called “the worst crime generated by discrimination and intolerance”.  She added that we should not hesitate to condemn human rights violations, irrespective of the origins of the perpetrators.  And we have her full address upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.

And as you know, Louise Arbour will complete her four-year mandate as High Commissioner for Human Rights on 30 June.

**International Atomic Energy Agency

In Vienna today, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mohamed ElBaradei, presented his report on the Agency’s work to its Board of Governors.

He noted that, this April, the Agency was provided with information claiming that an installation destroyed by Israel in Syria last September was a nuclear reactor.  He said that IAEA had been in discussions with the Syrian authorities to arrange a visit to Syria at an early date to verify the veracity of the information available to the Agency.

It has now been agreed that an Agency team will visit Syria during the period of 22 to 24 June.  And we have his statement to the Board of Governors available upstairs.

** Bonn Climate Change Meeting

The latest round of UN-sponsored global climate change negotiations began today in Bonn, Germany, where more than 2,400 participants –- including Government delegates from 172 countries –- are taking part in a two-week meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

The Convention’s Executive Secretary, Yvo de Boer, said that the challenge now is to start identifying what can be written into a climate change deal which is to be agreed to in December 2009 in Copenhagen.  Meanwhile, talks on further commitments for parties to the Kyoto Protocol will also continue in Bonn during the next two weeks.  And there are more details on this in a press release upstairs.

**HIV/AIDS

And turning to the fight against HIV/AIDS, nearly three million people are now receiving antiretroviral therapy in low- and middle-income countries.  That’s according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNAIDS and UNICEF.

The report highlights other gains as well -– including improvements in preventing mother-to-child HIV transmission, expanded testing and counselling, and greater country commitment to male circumcision in hard-hit regions of sub-Saharan Africa.

The findings represent a “remarkable achievement for public health”, says WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.  And there’s more on this upstairs.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And just to flag for you, a few press conferences scheduled for tomorrow.

Starting at 10 a.m., Madeleine Albright, Former U.S. Secretary of State; UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis; Hernando de Soto, Economist and President of the Institute for Liberty and Democracy; and Naresh Singh, Executive Director of the Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor, will brief on the findings of the Commission’s new report on the legal empowerment of the poor.

At 11 a.m., there will be a press conference by the General Assembly President; Anwar Gargash, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Arab Emirates; and actress and philanthropist Ashley Judd, on the General Assembly’s informal thematic debate on human trafficking.

And also, at 1 p.m. tomorrow, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); Deputy Director-General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM); and the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights will brief on the Global Initiative to Fight Human Trafficking.

And that’s what we have for you tomorrow.  We have Radhika Coomaraswamy coming here in a few minutes.  Before that, are there any questions for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Two quick questions.  In the statement the Secretary-General made on building settlements in East Jerusalem, did he also mention the demolishing of homes there that Syria had addressed last week?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is on the new tenders for construction.

Question:  And the other question is that Myanmar is still limiting access to aid agencies and it is now reported that the Government is evicting refugees from various camps.  Does the UN have any response to this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I gave a statement on that on Friday.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General know of or have any comment on the activities of the South Korean Government; beating on demonstrators and using water cannons, harassing and, in general, being against the large-scale demonstrations that have been taking place there, and the concern of the South Koreans that they not be taken backwards to the lack of civil rights and human rights that they fought so hard against?  This has been going on for a month and I wondered what the Secretary-General’s response is to what’s happening, and if there is some way he can be helpful in the activities of the Korean Government?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me look into that for you.

Question:  Did you make an announcement about the Secretary-General’s new…has he chosen anybody for the Human Rights Commissioner to replace Louise Arbour?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, no.  There was no appointment announced today.  This was simply to let you know that Louise Arbour had addressed the Human Rights Council in Geneva today. 

Question:  But does he have some candidates in mind?  Is there a shortlist that you can tell us about?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, the appointment of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is, in accordance with GA resolution 481/41, to be approved by the General Assembly on the nomination of the Secretary-General.  Concerning the selection process, it will follow the same basic steps as similar ones.  On 24 March 2008, the Secretary-General wrote to Member States seeking their help to identify the best qualified candidates for the position.  An interview panel has been constituted to interview those short-listed from a list of recommended candidates.  The panel will be chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General.  And the answer to your first question is yes, we have a shortlist of strong candidates from around the world and he hopes to submit… 

Question:  Who is on it?  How many are on the list?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That information is not publicly available, but he hopes to submit one name to the General Assembly for consideration during the course of this month.

Question:  How many candidates are on this list?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That information is not publicly available.

Question:  I have another question.  Can you give us an update on the contributions made by Member States to address the Myanmar emergency?  OCHA’s head had earlier said that it was still tabulating the list of contributions.  Have they come up with any numbers? 

Deputy Spokesperson:  They have been coming out periodically with updates on how much of their Flash Appeal has been funded.  And I know that they are tallying what was pledged and committed at the Pledging Conference, which, as you know, was co-chaired with ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations), so we’ll have to ask OCHA for the latest update for you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that the United Nations Flash Appeal is now 63 per cent funded if pledges and contributions are counted.]

On that note, our guest is here.  Radhika Coomaraswamy is here to talk about her latest travels to Chad and the Central African Republic.

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