|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
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.
I’m sorry, I am a little late; I was waiting for a couple of things. We do have the General Assembly Spokesman here as well to give you an update immediately after my briefing.
**Secretary-General’s Statement on Democratic Republic of the Congo
I’ll start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Secretary-General is deeply saddened by the news of a plane crash in the area of Bukavu in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.
His thoughts are with the families and colleagues of those United Nations and NGO aid workers, Congolese officials and crew who were on board the aircraft. He notes that a team from the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) is making every effort to reach the site of the accident in order to verify the fate of those on board.
The Secretary-General expresses his gratitude to all the United Nations staff and international aid workers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo who continue to work tirelessly under difficult conditions to support the Congolese people in their efforts to consolidate peace in their country.
** Democratic Republic of the Congo -- Plane Crash
And a team from MONUC has located the wreckage belonging to the private aviation company “Air Serv International”. The plane had been chartered by UN and agencies and the humanitarian community in the country. It disappeared late Monday, and search-and-rescue operations were conducted this morning.
UN peacekeepers were able to locate the plane and view the crash site from a helicopter but, due to the difficult terrain, they were unable to land and verify the fate of those on board.
The plane had been en route from Kisangani to Bukavu when it apparently crashed into a mountain about 15 kilometres north-east of Bukavu Airport while beginning its landing approach in bad weather.
The Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Humanitarian Coordinator, Ross Mountain, has left Kinshasa for Bukavu to coordinate the emergency operation with the United Nations and humanitarian community.
An investigation will be undertaken to determine the cause of the crash.
And the Secretary-General himself is now on his way back to New York from Madrid, where he met this morning with the Spanish Prime Minister and the Spanish Foreign Minister.
During a joint press conference with the Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero, the Secretary-General referred to the situation in Georgia and expressed his concern over the complex and unpredictable humanitarian situation on the ground. The Secretary-General stated that teams from the UN refugee agency continue to closely monitor those movements and to provide material support to the displaced.
Responding to a question regarding the situation in Western Sahara, the Secretary-General noted that he recognized the importance of maintaining the momentum of the negotiations as long as the parties are committed to the process. In the meantime, he said, he welcomed the parties’ agreement to expand the programme of confidence-building measures. It has a direct impact on the quality of life of Saharans and it can help build trust, which could help break the impasse in other areas, he said.
Yesterday, the Secretary-General made a stop-over in Zaragoza, where he visited the international EXPO 2008 under the theme “Water and Sustainable Development”. He visited a number of pavilions. And the Secretary-General addressed guests at the pavilion which is a forum devoted to Water, where he expressed the UN´s commitment to protecting and properly managing the world´s precious water resources.
That morning, the Secretary-General had attended in Geneva a ceremony to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the bombing of the UN Headquarters in Baghdad. He had met with families of the victims and some survivors of the event that struck the Organization on 19 August 2003.
Prior to that, he visited the site where the remains of the UN flag that was retrieved from the December 2007 attack on a UN office in Algiers, and laid a wreath.
On Sunday, he addressed the opening of the twenty-ninth session of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that marked the twentieth anniversary of the Panel.
And here at UN Headquarters, there are no meetings scheduled in the Security Council today, but with the beginning of the new month, there is a new presidency. The Permanent Representative of Burkina Faso will brief here in this room at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow afternoon on the Council’s programme of work for the month.
And on Georgia, the UN refugee agency says it remains concerned about the humanitarian situation in and around the Georgian town of Gori, just south of the boundary with the region of South Ossetia.
The current shelter capacity in Gori is exhausted, with some 4,200 people registered as internally displaced persons. All came from villages in the so-called “buffer zone” between Gori and the South Ossetian border. Some 1,200 are in the UNHCR tented camp in Gori, which was set up for internally displaced Georgians just five days ago. Another 1,000 are staying with host families and some 2,000 are dispersed in 22 collective centres around the city. And you can read more about their situation and what the UNHCR is doing in the briefing notes from Geneva upstairs.
** Ethiopia –- Holmes Trip
Meanwhile, the Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, yesterday began a three-day visit to Ethiopia.
He travelled to the Southern Nations Nationalities and People’s Region to review humanitarian efforts to address Ethiopia’s drought and food crisis. While there, Mr. Holmes met with farmers who had lost their crops to drought and visited an outpatient therapeutic centre.
Noting that Ethiopia is facing one of the world’s worst food crises, Holmes stressed that it was important to make every effort to respond to the tragedy. Seventy-five thousand children are at risk of severe malnutrition, and 4.6 million people receive emergency food aid. There is more information in a press release upstairs on that.
**World Health Organization -- Floods in Nepal/India
And in South Asia, the World Health Organization said the recent flooding in India has affected some 3.1 million people, with the death toll increasing to 56. In Nepal, some 70,000 persons have been displaced due to the floods.
So far, there have been no outbreaks of communicable diseases, but Nepal has seen an increase in diarrhoea and acute respiratory infections.
In both countries, there was an increased risk of water-borne infection and diseases due to the number of people displaced, the hot climate, inadequate levels of hygiene and sanitation, and the pools of stagnant water once the water receded.
The World Health Organization is working with the local Ministries of Health to provide technical assistance as requested. And you can read more about this upstairs as well.
Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Edmond Mulet is in Chad for a working visit. Earlier today in N’Djamena, he met with the President, President Deby. They discussed the performance of the UN Mission in Chad and the Central African Republic (MINURCAT) after a six--month presence in the country. Mulet also met with the head of Chad’s main agency for coordination and support of the international humanitarian deployment in eastern Chad.
Both Mulet and Victor Angelo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Chad and the Central African Republic, are now en route to Bangui, where they are expected to discuss cooperation between the United Nations and the Central African Republic in the area of peacekeeping.
OHCR -- New Chief Takes Up Post
And just a couple things on appointments:
On Monday, Navi Pillay officially began her four-year term as the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Appointed as the fifth human rights chief in July by the General Assembly, on the recommendation of the Secretary-General, Ms. Pillay takes over a growing organization that now hosts 1,000 staff working in 50 countries with a total annual budget of some $150 million.
And the Secretary-General has an appointment today. He has appointed Takahisa Kawakami of Japan as his Deputy Special Representative for Security Sector Support and Rule of Law in the UN Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT).
Mr. Kawakami is currently serving as Chief of Staff in the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA). He has held a number of posts within the UN, both in the field and at Headquarters. Prior to joining the United Nations, he served in the Japanese Foreign Ministry. And we have more information on Mr. Kawakami upstairs.
The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) Maritime Task Force (MTF), currently led by the European Maritime Force (EUROMARFOR), underwent a transfer of command from Rear Admiral Ruggiero Di Biase of Italy to Rear Admiral Alain Hinden of France.
A formal handover ceremony was held aboard the flagship Scirocco off the coast of Lebanon. It was attended by UNIFIL Force Commander Major General Claudio Graziano, senior Lebanese military officers and diplomatic representatives from countries contributing troops to UNIFIL. There is more information in a press release upstairs.
OHCHR -– Iran Juvenile Executions
And just a couple of other announcements: the High Commissioner for Human Rights is very concerned and saddened by reports from the Islamic Republic of Iran that two minors were recently put to death, in violation of the country’s obligations under international law, which contains an absolute prohibition of the death penalty for juvenile offenders.
The human rights office is also concerned about two other minors facing imminent risk of execution and has urged Iran not to impose the death penalty on juvenile offenders, in strict compliance with its international human rights obligations. And you can read more about this in a press release issued by the High Commissioner’s office available upstairs.
UNICEF and WFP are bringing life-saving assistance to thousands of hurricane-affected people now living in temporary shelters across Haiti. This follows Hurricane Gustav’s landfall on the island, which destroyed livelihoods, homes, livestock and crops. And there is a press release with more on that upstairs.
**Text Messaging For Peace
Ahead of the International Day of Peace, which is 21 September, a text messaging for peace campaign has been launched today. In the United States, cell phone users are urged to compose a 160-character message beginning with the word “PEACE” and send it to the number 69866.
The UN Department of Public Information will gather the messages, and publish them at www.un.org/events/peaceday/2008, as well as deliver them to world leaders gathered at the General Assembly later this month. And there is more information in a press release upstairs on that.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
And tomorrow at 12:30 p.m., as I mentioned, there will be a press conference here, a press briefing on the Council’s programme of work for the month of September by the Permanent Representative of Burkina Faso. He will be the President of the Security Council, Ambassador [Michel] Kafando.
**Death of Lee Love
Finally, on a sad note, we send our best wishes to the family of long-time UN correspondent Lee Love, who passed away on Sunday night.
In her decades of covering the UN, Lee focused especially on efforts to ensure the peaceful use of outer space. She wrote about the Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space from its early days.
Lee will be missed.
We understand that UNCA is sending out details on her funeral arrangements, and I believe there will be services held tomorrow in Manhattan. So you can pick up some information on that later. And that’s all you have from me today. Before I turn to Janos; anything for me? Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Reports persist about the worsening situation in Indian-administered Kashmir and there are new reports that there is starvation in the disputed state following the economic blockade by the Indian authorities. If not on the political front; is the United Nations doing anything on the humanitarian front to provide relief to the people?
Deputy Spokesperson: I will certainly look into that for you. As of now, you’ve seen what has been said on that subject to date. But I will look into the humanitarian aspects of that for you.
Question: Do you have anything on the direct talks on Cyprus that resume tomorrow?
Deputy Spokesperson: Only that, as you know, the Secretary-General had warmly welcomed the agreement to launch the talks and that’s what we have for you.
Question: Anything on the modalities of the talks?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing for you today on that; nothing further.
Question: Is Commissioner Pillay expected to visit New York any time soon? I know her job is in Geneva and, if so, will she be introduced to us at a briefing of some sort?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, we can certainly ask her. It’s General Assembly time and generally the heads of agencies do come for the General Assembly.
Question: That would be appreciated, I am sure. Thank you.
Question: (Inaudible) if there are any updates on the terrorism victims conference that’s supposed to take place in September?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’m hoping that we will have a background briefing for you by a senior UN official. I believe it will take place either later this week or on Monday, for you, where you can ask all the questions that you have. Masood?
[The Deputy Spokesperson later announced that the background briefing would take place at 11 a.m. on Monday, 8 September.]
Question: Marie, do you have any update on the humanitarian situation in occupied Gaza?
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, we have both the UN Special Coordinator, Robert Serry, and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), have issued statements today.
Mr. Serry expresses his concern at the reports of transfers and replacements of health and teaching professionals in the Gaza Strip. These actions and subsequent strike called by the unions threaten the provision of health and education services to the people of Gaza who already face considerable hardship. The situation only further entrenches the division between Gaza and the West Bank and prejudices the prospects for Palestinian reunification within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian authorities.
UNRWA, for its part, says the UN is increasingly concerned about the interruption in health and education services that is exposing hundreds of thousands of people already hard-hit by the deteriorating humanitarian situation to further suffering. And it calls on all concerned to put the interests of the civilian population they serve first and to insure delivery of the vital public services of health and education. So that’s available for you.
Question: First, can you confirm that David Harland of DPKO is being named as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Kosovo?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have anything on that today. Not yet.
Question: I wanted to ask; a former or recent UNMIK official, Alexander Borg Olivier, has been quoted that, while he worked for UNMIK he was lobbying his Government, Malta, to recognize the unilateral declaration of independence in Kosovo. Is that an appropriate action by UN staff?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any information on that. I’ll have to look into that.
Question: If you could also look into whether for an individual to go directly from a mission like UNMIK to work for the Kosovo Government is consistent with Ban Ki-moon’s call for showing the UN’s impartiality, etcetera?
Deputy Spokesperson: If it’s the official that I’m thinking of, then that person did resign and had left the UN before taking up his new post.
Question: Don’t you think it’s…(inaudible) for Mr. Borg Olivier…
Deputy Spokesperson: That’s what you’re asking about, but let me double-check that for you.
Question: A U.S. probe today found that that raid in Afghanistan, according to that probe, actually killed 35 Taliban and up to seven civilians. How does that square with the UN report which says that 90 civilians were killed, and generally, how does the UN determine civilians in a zone where civilians are sometimes combatants as well?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have too many details of the questions that you are asking, but I did check with the UN Mission in Afghanistan and they do say that it continues to stand by its findings, as spelled out in the twenty-sixth statement issues by the Special Representative, Kai Eide, that women and children were among the many casualties of this incident, and furthermore, that the UN Mission on the ground priority is to assist those suffering from the humanitarian situation on the ground.
Question: And the second part of the question, how does the UN determine which is civilian and which is not civilian...?
Deputy Spokesperson: I refer you to the press release issued by the Mission that goes into the details of how they came up with what they did.
Question: Marie, you mentioned Mr. Serry and the UNRWA reactions to the situation in Gaza. Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the situation there?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, this is the first reaction that we just got from the ground, from our two top people dealing with the situation there. The Secretary-General has been on a flight for a few hours now, so I don’t have anything direct from him. But, as you know, he has constantly flagged the importance to resolve the humanitarian; his concerns about the humanitarian situation on the ground in Gaza.
Question: With reference to the original report about Gaza that you read a few moments ago, I listened very carefully and I did not particularly hear anything, but has there been any suggestion or implication there that these problems were in any way due to the closure or now occasional closure of the border crossings on the part of the Israelis?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think today’s statement had to do with the particular situation, the health and education services, but we can certainly see if the statement...(interrupted)
Question: (Inaudible)...problems entirely within the Gaza Strip and the Government in educational system?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have nothing beyond what I’ve read to you.
Correspondent: Thank you.
Question: Marie, there are reports in the Philippines that the UN food convoys delivering aid have been stopped by the Philippine Army because foreign aid workers were on them. Are you aware of these reports?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, but I can certainly ask OCHA for you. If they’re listening they can get back to you on that.
Question: And also, I wanted to ask you; there was this controversy about Evelyn Herfkens, the Dutch official that took money from her Government to pay her housing while serving as the UN Millennium Campaign Director. She’s now said she’s not going to return any of the money but will somehow work for the UN for a dollar a year. Are you aware of that? And is that a sufficient response to $280,000?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think I have to direct your question to UNDP on that one.
Question: I think she’s described as the UN system’s Millennium Campaign Director, that’s why I asked you.
Deputy Spokesperson: I believe that UNDP asked that the question be referred to them.
Question: Okay. And finally, did Ban Ki-moon meet with Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari in Turin and if so, what is the UN’s position on whether the recent trip was useful or not?
Deputy Spokesperson: I already explained to you that Mr. Gambari, yes, indeed, briefed the Secretary-General last week in Turin and he will brief you as soon as he briefs the Security Council.
Question: (Inaudible)...advance, since he’s sort of his envoy, does he...after 10 days after the trip ended and the opposition parties in Myanmar are without exception said it was a trip that fell far short of expectations...
Deputy Spokesperson: The position of the Secretary-General has not changed since what I reported to you last week. As for Mr. Gambari’s personal assessment of the mission, he’ll give that to you directly as soon as I get a date and I am asking his office now to see when he is going to brief you.
Question: A follow-up to this, it’s been a while now since Gambari failed to see Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Have you determined yet the reason why she wouldn’t see him?
Deputy Spokesperson: No. As far as I know, I still don’t have anything beyond what I reported to you.
Question: Without disclosing what he did report, did he report about that part to the Secretary-General?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’m sure he reported on his entire mission to the Secretary-General and, as I said, he would like to brief you and the rest of the press corps as soon as he briefs the Security Council.
Question: (Inaudible), meanwhile, we want to know, because, you know, we’re in the media where things don’t wait for such a long time. So maybe is there is any hint why?
Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll let you know.
Question: Do you know if the Secretary-General will address the press before the beginning of the general debate?
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, he will and I believe it will be some time next week, but let me double-check the date and the time and we’ll announce it as soon as we can. He will have a press conference to outline his vision for the General Assembly. On that note, we’ll switch over to the General Assembly Spokesman. Thank you.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Good afternoon, and good to see you all. Just a couple of things on the activities of the General Assembly and its President. Let me begin with Security Council reform.
**Security Council Reform
The Open-Ended Working Group on Security Council Reform (Open-Ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters Related to the Security Council) began its meeting this morning to discuss a draft report on its work including also a draft recommendation on the next steps forward. This draft report is available to you on the racks as document A/AC.247/2008/L.1.
According to the draft recommendation, the General Assembly would decide to “commence intergovernmental negotiations, in good faith, with mutual respect and in an open, inclusive and transparent manner, on the question of equitable representation and increase in the membership of the Security Council and other matters related to the Council, with the objective of seeking a solution that can garner the widest possible agreement among Member States”.
The draft recommendation also lists the various proposals and documents which would form the basis for the intergovernmental negotiations.
Please note that the General Assembly will need to take action in a plenary meeting on the recommendation of the Open-Ended Working Group.
In opening the meeting, the President of the General Assembly, Srgjan Kerim, in his capacity as the Chairman of the Open-Ended Working Group made it clear that he believed that “we should now move to a next stage by launching intergovernmental negotiations”.
He also pointed out that “the result of our deliberations was that Member States were not willing to give up their initial positions prior to the start of intergovernmental negotiations. While recognizing the differences in the position of Member States, we can only agree that all positions and proposals form a basis for intergovernmental negotiations”.
He also noted that the key issues of the negotiations would be: categories of membership; the question of veto; regional representation; size of an enlarged Council; working methods of the Security Council; and the relationship between the Council and the General Assembly.
He stressed that, “given the complexity and sensitivity of the issue, there is also a need to stress that, while commencing intergovernmental negotiations, we must aim at seeking a solution that can garner the widest possible political acceptance by the membership”.
He also said that “the negotiation process must be open, inclusive and transparent, to be conducted in good faith and with mutual respect”.
Finally, the President emphasized to the membership that the “the only alternative to negotiations is no reform”.
The full speech of the President is available for you on his web site. It has been posted.
**President’s Video Message for DPI-NGO Conference
The General Assembly President has also sent a video message for the sixty-first annual DPI/NGO Conference entitled “Human Rights for All: 60 Years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”. This will open tomorrow in Paris.
In the message, he stresses his strong belief in the value of partnership between the United Nations, its Member States and civil society, and notes that the institutional reform of the United Nations must encompass the participation of other stakeholders, including NGOs [non-governmental organizations], as an indispensable dimension.
Let me once again remind you that, on 4 September, Thursday, the General Assembly will meet in plenary to review the implementation of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy adopted by Member States two years ago on 8 September 2006. General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim has made the implementation of the Strategy one of the main priorities of the current session of the General Assembly. The review meeting will have before it a draft resolution (A/62/L.48), available for you on the racks.
The draft, amongst others, reaffirms support for the global Strategy, reiterates Member States’ strong condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations; reaffirms Member States’ primary responsibility to implement the Strategy; and decides to discuss the implementation of the Strategy in two years time as part of the agenda of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly.
As one of the inputs to the review process, the Secretary-General has compiled a report on activities of the UN system in implementing the Strategy. This has been issued as document A/62/898, which has been out for a couple of weeks.
The 4 September meeting will be held in the General Assembly Hall and will begin at 10 a.m. with an opening statement from the President of the General Assembly followed by a statement from the Secretary-General. Then the floor will open to delegations to address the topic. The meeting will be open for media to attend and observe.
It is expected that, due to the high number of delegations interested in addressing the meeting, the plenary will most likely overspill and continue on 5 September. Taking this into account, we are planning to have a press briefing on the outcome of the meeting, most likely on 5 September.
High-Level Meeting on Millennium Development Goals
Finally, one thing that is for the sixty-third session, but let me just mention it here. On 25 September, there will be a high-level event on the Millennium Development Goals. This meeting is jointly convened by the President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General. The Secretary-General is scheduled to brief Member States on the preparations for this event on 9September in the afternoon. An invitation to that event has been sent out by the current General Assembly President.
That’s all I have for you, and I am of course ready to answer questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: In the recommendation of the Open-Ended Working Group, is there any deadline of any sorts to conclude negotiations?
Spokesperson: No, there is no set deadline. As what is said in there is to conduct it in good faith, with mutual respect, and, of course, with the intention to conclude.
Question: Previously, there were sort of deadlines such as as soon as possible or something like that.
Spokesperson: There is no wording as such.
Question: You didn’t mention anything about the appointment of the new Spokesperson.
Spokesperson: I will announce the new Spokesperson for you and will bring the person here and introduce the person to you in the next days or so.
Question: Can we put in a request that he meet with us informally in the UNCA Club as President Kerim did last year.
Spokesperson: Oh definitely. You mean for the President-elect, yes, definitely.
Question: The Special Committee on Decolonization is meeting this week to discuss adding members. Do you know who is a candidate for membership?
Spokesperson: No, I would have to look into that, sorry.
Question: A question that maybe goes the other way. There have been protests in front of the building by Burmese opposition who say that they want to de-credential the current Government of Myanmar from their seat in the General Assembly. Can you describe what the process is by which a “credential challenge” is brought? Which Government represents a country in the General Assembly?
Spokesperson: Okay, I’ll look into that and follow up with you on procedures how the credentials are reviewed.
Question: Like last year, and all years before that, it seems that there is going to be no progress on reform of the Security Council. Does this President have any creative idea, or any other ideas to move the process forward? It is all same old, same old.
Spokesperson: What you can definitely deduct from the way the President has been conducting his work as the Chairman of the Open-Ended Working Group and as somebody leading this process –- or at least guiding the Member States on this –- is by looking at his various statements he has made. First, in the middle of November –- when this issue was discussed on the level of the General Assembly Plenary –- and then when the Working Group met three times –- 14 December, 10 April and 17 June.
The statements that were delivered by President Kerim clearly attest to his dedication to this process and to move it forward. Definitely move it to the stage of intergovernmental negotiations, which is in fact what he, as the Chairman of the Task Force, is proposing through this report which he has submitted to the Member States and the Open-Ended Working Group. But as he said to you and to others many times: this is a process that is in the hands of the Member States. It is for them to decide how to take this forward. And, I think, even his speech that he delivered today on this issue clearly points out where Member States stand on this issue; namely, that all previous proposals continue to be on the table and thus should together serve as the basis for intergovernmental negotiations.
As regards novelty and new ideas -– I think the seven principles that the President has put forward; the idea of having a four-member task force; also his previously voiced support for an intermediary approach; also his approach to imbed Security Council reform into a broader reform process of the United Nations -– I think all of those taken together are clear proof of his commitment and his willingness to engage Member States as much as possible. As much as possible in this case means: as much as the powers, the rules and regulations that govern his work allow.
If no more questions, then thank you very much for your attention.
* *** *