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

3 July 2008

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

3 July 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. 

**Guest on Monday

On Monday, my guest at the briefing will be Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, who is coming to brief you on her recent trip to Afghanistan.

She gave a press briefing today in Kabul, discussing her trip and her concerns about the deteriorating security situation in the country, and she urged all parties to begin to take action to prevent children from being used on the battlefield.  The transcript of that briefing is available upstairs and of course you will be able to ask her questions when she comes in on Monday.  As you know, we will not have a noon briefing tomorrow because, of course, the building is closed.

**Secretary-General in Republic of Korea

The Secretary-General today arrived in Seoul, in the Republic of Korea.  This is his first visit to his home country since becoming Secretary-General. 

He met today with Korean peacekeepers who had either served or will be serving with the United Nations in Lebanon.  He commended them on their global outlook and their commitments to serve not just their own national interests, but those of the world.

The Secretary-General also met with Yi So-yeon, a Korean astronaut who recently carried the United Nations flag into outer space.  She presented him with that flag as well as photos of it in space.  The Secretary-General, for his part, praised the important role that women are playing in all fields of work in the Republic of Korea and throughout the world.

The Secretary-General then met with United Nations staff, noting the sacrifices they make to serve the international community, before heading to Seoul National University to accept an honorary degree.

At the University, the Secretary-General said that now was the time to help others follow the Republic of Korea’s path to prosperity, democracy and respect for human rights.  He added that Koreans can and must play a larger role in addressing the pressing challenges on the global agenda, given their economic potential, scientific and technological advances.  We should have his full statement later this afternoon.

The Secretary-General also made remarks to the United Nations Association of the Republic of Korea, which we should also have later today, before attending a private dinner with the Korean Foreign Minister.

**Secretary-General in Europe

The Secretary-General is expected to return to New York on 9 July from his trip to North-East Asia.  He will travel again on the 12th, as he has been invited by President Nicolas Sarkozy to participate in the Paris Summit for the Mediterranean, which will take place on 13 July.  The following day, the Secretary-General will attend the French National Day Military Parade, which will for the first time include United Nations peacekeepers from different parts of the world.

On the 15th and 16th, the Secretary-General, upon invitation by Chancellor Angela Merkel, will visit Germany.  During his stay, he will meet the Chancellor, the Foreign Minister and other Cabinet Ministers in Berlin.  He will address a conference organized by the Bertelsmann Foundation.  He will also visit the UN campus and meet United Nations staff in Bonn before returning to New York on the 16th.

** Colombia

In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General warmly welcomed the announcement by the Government of Colombia, earlier that day, of the rescue of hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), including former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three United States citizens and 11 members of the Colombian armed forces.

The Secretary-General called on FARC to immediately and unconditionally release the remaining hostages, whose security is their responsibility.  He urges FARC and other groups to engage in dialogue with the authorities, with a view to freeing hostages and ending the violence that has afflicted Colombia for so long.

**Security Council

In consultations this morning, the members of the Security Council discussed a draft resolution, concerning Zimbabwe, which had been circulated by the United States.  That draft text is to be discussed further at the expert level this afternoon.

** Georgia

A United Nations assessment mission on the Georgian-Abkhaz peace process will be heading to the region this weekend to carry out consultations with key actors involved in the process.  It will be led by Dr. Bertrand Ramcharan, former acting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Director of the International Conference on the former Yugoslavia.

The mission will visit Tbilisi and Sukhumi for meetings with the parties and representatives of the international community.  It will also visit the capitals of the Group of Friends of the Secretary-General and consult with relevant regional organizations.  The mission will report back to the Secretary-General on key challenges in the UN-led peace process and possible solutions.

** West Africa

A report by the Secretary-General on the UN Office for West Africa is now out on the racks.  In it, he says that most West African countries are currently in a period of transition, from conflict to peace consolidation, and remain fragile and vulnerable to outbreaks of renewed violence.  In that regard, he says the UN’s ability to meet expectations in terms of assistance and coordination will be key if it’s to preserve its effectiveness and influence in the subregion.

The Secretary-General adds that Said Djinnit, his Special Representative for West Africa and Chairman of the Cameroon-Nigeria Mixed Commission, will continue to promote the smooth and peaceful implementation of the relevant ruling and agreement -- so that the settlement of the border dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria can serve as a model for West Africa.

**Chad/Central African Republic

On MINURCAT, the UN Mission in Chad and the Central African Republic, known as MINURCAT, is holding a blood drive today in collaboration with the World Health Organization and the Chadian Centre for Blood Transfusion.

** Mongolia

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights today expressed concern about developments in Mongolia.  It called upon the authorities there to exercise the utmost restraint, to ensure that due process is followed in the case of any detentions, and to properly investigate the incidents leading to deaths and injuries.

The Office also noted that Mongolia is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which stipulates that fundamental rights -- such as the right to life and the prohibition of torture -- cannot be suspended even in times of emergency.  We have more on that upstairs.

** Myanmar

Exactly two months after Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar, the World Food Programme (WFP) says much devastation remains.  Large areas of cultivable land and vital crops have been flooded and rendered useless.  Yet the people of Myanmar have proven resilient, WFP says.

Over the past two months, the agency has delivered more than 18,000 tons of food to nearly 700,000 people in the Ayeyarwady delta.  But its ongoing emergency operation remains less than half funded, with a shortfall of $38 million.

** Ethiopia

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme is expanding its operations in Ethiopia, in response to an urgent request from the Government.  WFP plans to reach more than 4.5 million people with food aid, up from approximately 3.2 million people now, even as it faces a major shortfall in food and funds.

The agency is also providing aid to roughly 4 million people elsewhere in the Horn of Africa.  As we mentioned yesterday, the Regional Humanitarian Partnership Team in Nairobi says that more than 14 million people in the region will require urgent food aid and other assistance in the coming months.

** Egypt

The United Nations refugee agency has now interviewed 179 detained Eritrean and Ethiopian asylum seekers in southern Egypt to assess their claims for refugee status.  UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] has welcomed the cooperation of the Egyptian authorities in permitting these interviews to take place and under good conditions.

The agency has requested information about some 1,400 Eritreans.  It continues to seek prompt and unhindered access to all asylum seekers believed to be in detention.  There is more information upstairs.

**ICTY

The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) today acquitted Naser Oric, a former commander of Bosnian Muslim forces in and around Srebrenica, of crimes committed during the 1992-1995 conflict.

Oric had been sentenced in 2006 to two years in prison for failing to take necessary and reasonable measures to prevent the murder and cruel treatment of a number of Bosnian Serbs, but both the prosecution and the defence appealed the judgment.

The Appeals Chamber found that the Trial Chamber failed to make all of the findings necessary to convict a person for command responsibility under the Tribunal’s statute.  We have more information in a press release from the Tribunal.

**International Criminal Court

And today, the Belgian authorities surrendered and transferred Jean-Pierre Bemba, President and Commander in Chief of the Mouvement de libération du Congo (MLC), to the International Criminal Court.

Bemba is alleged to be criminally responsible for five counts of war crimes and three counts of crimes against humanity committed on the territory of the Central African Republic from 25 October 2002 to 15 March 2003.  In a statement, the Court appreciated the steps taken by the Belgian authorities in the enforcement of the arrest warrant and Bemba’s surrender and transfer, as well as the cooperation of the Dutch authorities to transport him to the detention centre.

Yesterday, following its decision imposing a stay on the proceedings of the case involving Thomas Lubanga, the Court’s Trial Chamber ordered Lubanga’s release.  However, since an appeal may be filed within five days, the order granting release shall not be enforced until the expiry of the five-day time limit.  Further information on both suspects can be found on the Court’s website.

**UNCITRAL

Today, UNCITRAL, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law, a standing subsidiary body of the General Assembly, is scheduled to approve a draft convention on carriage of goods by sea.

The draft treaty -– to be submitted to the next session of the General Assembly for adoption without additional negotiation –- is of great importance for world commerce in that it will establish a more equitable regime which takes into account the interests of all parties and which will reduce transaction costs.

**UN-HABITAT

UN-HABITAT has responded to earlier reports about the possible postponement of the World Urban Forum by announcing today that the Forum will take place as previously planned from 3 November 2008 in Nanjing, China.

**Tourism

Despite the uncertainties posed by the global economy, international tourism has remained stable in recent months.

According to the World Tourism Organization’s “World Tourism Barometer”, international arrivals grew by roughly 5 per cent between January and April, compared to one year earlier.  All regions posted gains, with the fastest growth in the Middle East, North-East and South Asia, and Central and South America.

Despite rising fuel prices and a deteriorating economic picture, World Tourism Organization expects tourism to continue to grow for the rest of the year, though at a slower pace.  There is more information upstairs.

Week Ahead

And in the week ahead, as you know, tomorrow, Friday, UN Headquarters is closed for an official holiday.  There will be no briefing by the Spokesperson.

On Monday at 10 a.m., the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) substantive session holds a dialogue with the Executive Secretaries of the Regional Commissions.  ECOSOC’s coordination segment will focus on the role of the United Nations system in efforts to eradicate poverty and hunger.

On Wednesday, the Security Council is scheduled to hold consultations on the 1701 report.  In the afternoon, a debate on Afghanistan is scheduled.

And at 11 a.m. that day, Wednesday, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim briefs on his activities, recent developments related to the work of the Assembly’s sixty-second session, and on upcoming events.

And this is all I have for you, thank you.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you Michèle.  British Prime Minister Gordon Brown reportedly spoke to the Secretary-General yesterday about sending an envoy to possibly put together a power-sharing Government [in Zimbabwe].  Can you confirm if that’s the case?

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm that.  I will find out for you whether this took place.

Question:  All right.  And also, a UN office in Pakistan reportedly told its staff workers to go home after receiving a threatening phone call.  Have you heard anything?

Spokesperson:  No, I haven’t.  But you know this has happened in several missions several times.  So I don’t think it’s a matter of particular concern.  I am sure security measures will be taken in case of a threat.

Question:  And do you have an update on the aid workers that were kidnapped in Somalia?

Spokesperson:  No, I do not.

Question:  I just want to follow up on the Zimbabwe issue…

Spokesperson:  I’m sorry, on the aid workers, you mean the ones that were held earlier this week [on Saturday]?  They have been released.

Question:  They have been released?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Again, I’m sure that the resolution on Zimbabwe has just been introduced, but I was just wondering what the Secretary-General thinks about the principle of imposing sanctions again in Zimbabwe, whether it’s going to be useful in that kind of situation or not?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General will not give his opinion on what is happening within the Security Council.  It is a matter for the Security Council at this point.

Question:  But he thinks that…well, if he can pose the question that whether sanctions will help at this stage in general and the country…

Spokesperson:  He will not comment.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Michèle, has any decision been made by the Secretary-General on the new human rights chief now that Ms. Arbour is gone?

Spokesperson:  No, as soon as we have someone chosen for the post, and whose name would be submitted to the General Assembly, I will let you know immediately.  This is not the case yet.

Question:  So you can’t even tell us the shortlist of the three candidates that he is considering?

Spokesperson:  No.  All I can say is that interviews are continuing for the post.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Yesterday, the US Envoy for Sudan, Richard Williamson, was here and he said…  He had some criticism for the Government of Sudan, but also for the UN itself in terms of the slowness of the deployment of UNAMID.  I wanted to know if there is any response.  He said he met with Ms. [Susana] Malcorra; that there was some meeting of friends of UNAMID.  Do you have a readout on that?  What’s the UN response?  Because he just didn’t criticise Sudan.  He wasn’t really specific, but he said that the UN is not moving fast enough to deploy.

Spokesperson:  Well, I’m sure that within the Security Council he can express these reservations and it will be discussed at the level of the Security Council.

Question:  Okay.  I’m not sure he met with the Council.  Anyway, I think he met with Malcorra.  And also, I wanted to ask you one thing.  I have heard that, on this matter of General Karenzi [Karake], the number two in UNAMID, that some are saying that the Secretariat has written to Rwanda, asking them to propose an alternative candidate.  Is that the case, and, if so, did the Secretariat confer with the African Union before starting such a letter?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think I can confirm this letter.  I can only say that we take this issue, of course, seriously and we are continuing our consultations with all parties, including the Rwandan authorities, and we’ll have more to say in the near future.  I don’t have anything else to say.

Question:  I mean, whatever decision the UN is going to make about that, will it confer with the African Union?

Spokesperson:  Of course, of course.

Question:  A question about Myanmar.  You mentioned a while back that Professor Gambari will go back to Myanmar sometime soon, maybe in July.  Will he actually go in July or will it be sometime soon?

Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t have a date yet.  He has a standing invitation.  Of course, for a meeting like this, you need to be prepared, and we are right now in the process of preparing for his visit there.

Question:  And one more thing about this.  The Secretary-General said that he’d like to go to North Korea?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Did he say that?

Spokesperson:  He did say that, yes.

Question:  Is he going to go there?

Spokesperson:  Not this trip, no.  But he has announced that he will go.

Question:  He’s got an invitation or…?

Spokesperson:  Well, of course, when it’s ready, we will let you know when he is going, but, at this point, this is not an immediate decision.  Yes?

Question:  I’m just trying to follow up on General Karenzi [Karake].  In a situation where someone who might be thought to be unsuitable to be holding a particular peacekeeping job, whose authority is it to make the changes?  Is it the Secretary-General, DPKO or the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  It has to be done in consultations with, of course, the country contributing the person and it has to be done in consultations between the different groups and the senior advisers at the UN.

Question:  But the final decision would be made by whom?  By the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  It would be made by the Secretary-General, yes, of course, as I said, in consultations.

Question:  One more on that.  Some diplomats are saying that Rwanda has said that if General Karenzi [Karake] is replaced, they will pull their peacekeepers out of UNAMID.  I am just wondering if you can confirm if that’s the case?

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm that.  Ask your diplomatic sources.

Question:  One last question.  I’m not sure if you can confirm this, but there is a report that a UN human rights committee was denied entry into Israel…

Spokesperson:  Into where?

Question:  Into Israel, a fact-finding mission there.  If you can confirm that?

Spokesperson:  I was aware of that report.  I’ll try to get more on it from the Human Rights Council because it is coming from the Human Rights Council.  We’ll try to find out for you.

[The Spokesperson later clarified that the correspondent was probably referring to the “Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories”, which was established in December 1968 by a General Assembly resolution and composed of representatives of three Member States.  Since its establishment, she later added, the Special Committee has repeatedly been denied cooperation by the Government of Israel or access to the occupied territories.]

Question:  This may be a lighter question, but does Mr. Ban, while he is in South Korea, does he have any intention to have American beef?  Does he have any view of that whole American beef situation?  What’s his view?

Spokesperson:  (laughter) I think he will certainly eat American beef.  I don’t think he has any special theoretical view on it.  It is, of course, an issue that has really been taken very seriously in his home country, but he has no specific opinion on that.

Question:  But I think the Prime Minister, whom he knows well, bought like 18 kilogrammes of American beef to somehow show that it is safe, I am just wondering if he wanted to say that it’s safe or does he…?

Spokesperson:  You mean whether he will eat it?  I don’t have such details!  (laughter)  Thank you very much.

Question:  One last question please.  There is this reported agreement that’s to be signed on the release of Lebanese and Israeli prisoners.  I was wondering whether this agreement is expected to be signed any time soon.

Spokesperson:  Well, we’re not really…

Question:  It was a German UN mediator, right?  I was wondering, when will this agreement be signed?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information for you.  But we can find out and we’ll let you know, of course, when it is ready to be signed.  Thank you very much.

* *** *

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