1 October 2008


1 October 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, all.  Hope you had a rest yesterday.

**Security Council

With the start of a new month, Ambassador Zhang Yesui of China takes over as Security Council President, replacing Ambassador Michel Kafando of Burkina Faso.

Ambassador Zhang is holding bilateral discussions tomorrow with other Council members on the programme of work for this month, and no Council meetings or consultations are scheduled today.  He expects to meet with you in this room on Friday to discuss the Council’s work over the coming month.

On Monday, the last working day of Burkina Faso’s Presidency, Ambassador Kafando delivered a press statement on behalf of Council members condemning the terrorist attack that took place in Tripoli, Lebanon, earlier that day.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN refugee agency has confirmed reports of an influx of Congolese refugees into an area of the Sudan bordering the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Local authorities and aid agencies operating in the area reported that, in recent days, approximately 1,200 refugees fled to two villages, following attacks by armed groups believed to be Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) fighters around the Dungu region of the DRC.

A four-day journey on foot brought the refugees to safety inside South Sudan.  Refugees gave accounts of abducted children and homes set ablaze in acts of savagery.  Asked why they fled to the Sudan, they said that the LRA had blocked all other routes out of the region, says UNHCR.  Unconfirmed reports indicate that bodies were seen floating in rivers along the way.

Immediate concerns identified by aid agencies include the proximity of the refugee settlements to the border, the likelihood of LRA attacks and abductions of civilians, poor living conditions, and the diminishing stocks of food held by the local population.  UNHCR is working with partner agencies, particularly WFP and UNICEF, to rush emergency assistance to the beleaguered population.

There’s a press release with more details upstairs.

** Syria

The UN today launched an appeal for more than $20 million to help up to 1 million drought-hit Syrians for a period of six months.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Syria’s current drought is, by far, the worst it has experienced in the last four decades.  The vast majority of funds requested in the appeal will go towards agriculture, livelihoods and food.  Nearly $2 million from the UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund has already been put towards the appeal.  We have more on that upstairs.

** Myanmar

On Myanmar, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Financial Tracking Services, says that, to date, nearly half of the requirements in the revised United Nations Flash Appeal for Cyclone Nargis victims remains unfunded.  Total contributions now stand at $242 million out of the $464 million required, with agriculture and early recovery continuing to be the least funded sectors.

Nearly five months into the post-disaster response in Myanmar, over 30,000 metric tons of food have reached more than 733,000 people affected by the cyclone.  But the United Nations underlines the importance of continuous support through the various recovery phases, and calls upon the international community not to forget the cyclone survivors, as the months pass.

Meanwhile, the Tripartite Core Group finished off its eighth meeting, recognizing that the needs of the Cyclone Nargis victims are still great, and that financial support is necessary, in order to continue assistance to the cyclone survivors.

** Sri Lanka

The United Nations in Sri Lanka says that it deplores the placing of explosives by an unknown party on a Government truck that was due to join a UN food convoy to the Wanni area.  The UN reiterates that humanitarian operations and personnel must be protected at all times, in accordance with international humanitarian law, and acknowledges the actions by the Government to meet this responsibility.

The UN remains committed to supporting humanitarian operations that will reach Sri Lankan citizens in Wanni with vital aid.  Because of the effective cooperation of all involved, the convoy is now scheduled to depart in the coming days accompanied by UN international staff.

**Landlocked Countries

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro today addressed a high-level forum on investing in landlocked developing countries (LLDCs), and she told them that external investment is critical in enabling those countries to mitigate their unfavourable geographic locations.  Halfway to 2015, she said, we need to accelerate progress in implementing the Millennium Development Goals, particularly in the 31 landlocked developing countries.


Senior representatives from the United Nations, developing countries and the donor community convened for a high-level conference in Copenhagen today to push forward the early recovery agenda, exploring the concrete realities of countries in crisis, and how to begin to better rebuild in the immediate aftermath of a crisis.

Jointly sponsored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Early Recovery Practitioners’ and Policy Forum aims to outline a set of commitments and actions to boost early recovery efforts.  Early recovery builds on humanitarian programmes.  It lays critical foundations for generating self-sustaining, nationally-owned recovery.

Forum participants will draw upon the lessons learned from crisis situations in four countries, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Myanmar and Pakistan, where early recovery strategies have been put in action.  We have a UNDP press release upstairs on that.

** Central African Republic

A new United Nations initiative, the Common Humanitarian Fund, has set aside $2.5 million for 16 priority projects in the Central African Republic.  The new fund is managed by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), with the UNDP as its administrator.

The monies that it provides will help aid agencies protect the lives of newly displaced people, and provide health care and water to those struck by violence.  And, it will also ensure that infants and young children can survive crises, and will help displaced people restart their lives, upon return to their original place of residence.

OCHA says that some $2.8 million has been pledged to the Fund by some Member States.  It adds that a quarter of that money has already been reserved for the humanitarian air service, which was just about to cease operation for lack of cash.

**Treaty Event

The 2008 Treaty Event concluded this morning with additional three countries taking treaty actions.  During the more than week-long event, 42 Member States took 81 treaty actions –- there were 32 signatures and 49 ratifications, accessions, consents to be bound and other actions.

This morning, Iceland and Greece signed the Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances, while Cameroon signed the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and its Optional Protocol.

The Disabilities Convention received the most attention at this year's Treaty Event, with six signatures and three ratifications.  That brings the total number of States Parties to 40.  The Optional Protocol to the Convention received seven signatures and two ratifications.

Since the first Treaty Event was held in 2000, a total of 1,442 treaty actions have taken place during these events.  There is more information upstairs.


We have several education-related items to flag today.  Ahead of World Teachers’ Day, which is this Sunday, UNESCO is calling attention to the worldwide shortage of qualified teachers, especially in Africa.  To reach the goal of universal primary education by 2015, at least 18 million more teachers are needed, the agency says.

Meanwhile, UNESCO has announced the winners of the Mondialogo School contest.  In that competition, students work in bi-national teams on photo essays, plays, sculptures, web pages and other projects.  This year, the Lebanon-Serbia team took first prize, while second prize went to the Indonesia-Ukraine team.  The Syria-United States and Germany-Mexico teams shared third place.

And the UN Environment Programme and UNESCO have released an updated version of their popular YouthXchange Training Kit, which is used to promote sustainable consumption patterns among young consumers worldwide.  The guide includes several new chapters, including on how young people can balance dressing “cool” and fashionably, with an awareness on how their consumption impacts human rights and the environment.  There is more information on all of these items upstairs.

**International Day of Older Persons

And today is the International Day of Older Persons.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General reminds everybody that, in many parts of the world, the rights of older persons are still violated every day.  For example, older persons face age discrimination in the workplace.

In that regard, the Secretary-General says that national ageing-specific policies need to be improved, and the concerns of older persons need to be noticed in a wider policy framework.  We have the full message upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And then, looking forward, at 1.30 p.m. tomorrow, Cheick Sidi Diarra, Under-Secretary-General, Special Adviser on Africa and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, will be joined by other speakers to brief on the implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action for Landlocked Developing Countries.

And this is all I have for you today.

Questions?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, following up on some of the negative press about Secretary-General Ban, are you able to give us any sort of statistics on the quantity of work that the Secretary-General does?  We know that he’s obviously very, very busy in his quiet way, behind the scenes, but do you have any stats on the number of bilaterals he’s held during the General Assembly?

Another thing is that he’s very keen on his international travel, and those international efforts.  Do you have any idea how many days he spends abroad on these types of trips?

Spokesperson:  Yes, we have the statistics upstairs for you.  I could tell you the total for the meetings he had during the general debate was a total of 172.  This includes bilaterals, it includes special conferences, special events he participated in, and press conferences, press encounters.  A total of 172.  But I can give you more, of course I can break it down for you upstairs, I have all the numbers.  And actually, I think Marie gave you some of those numbers on Monday.

Question:  Yeah, I think she gave us 125, I think.

Spokesperson:  Yes, so now it has increased.  They have gone through the whole set of events.

Question:  Do you know how much time he spends abroad a year of his 20 months so far?

Spokesperson:  We also have statistics on that.  You can go upstairs, and speak to anyone in my office –- they have those statistics.

Question:  Just a quick question, today started an EU mission, observer mission in South Ossetia, so I wonder how coordinated is that with the United Nations, and how you exchanged information, in which direction, etc?

Spokesperson:  As you know, there is going to be a meeting in Geneva very soon, on the whole issue.  And there will be discussions and consultations on that specific collaboration.

Question: When is that going to be –- next week or this week?

Spokesperson:  It’s going to be the 14th and 15th.

Question:  Mr. Downer, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on Cyprus, is in town, I guess, and he’s meeting the Secretary-General this afternoon, according to his schedule.  Could we please know exactly who he’s meeting with during his stay in New York?  If there were a request to the United States to have a meeting with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, because there were similar requests to other countries, to have meetings at the highest level, so if he had a similar request?  If a meeting is planned with him with the Security Council, to brief or anything else?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, I can only confirm the meeting he’s having with the Secretary-General this afternoon –- we’ll try to get you a readout, as soon as the meeting is over.  In terms of his other meetings, I have to contact the people working with Mr. Downer to find out.

Question:  Finally, is he planning to meet the journalists?

Spokesperson:  We can ask that for you.

Question:  The Secretary-General is reported to be preparing to travel to Nepal at the end of this month.  What does he hope to achieve on this trip?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that answer for you yet.  As you know, the trip is being planned.  We cannot confirm dates yet, but the plan is that he will go there, yes.  That’s all I can say, at this point.  I’ll let you know more, as we get closer to the date, when I confirm the dates.

Question:  First of all, on this widely publicized story of the ship off Somalia with the tanks in it -– does the UN have any, in terms of its enforcement of arms embargos or otherwise, any, either knowledge or involvement, in trying to figure out where this stuff on the ship was going, or in trying to be involved in resolving the situation?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, no, we’re not directly involved.  We are only involved when we have ships carrying cargo for WFP humanitarian aid, and that’s when we get directly involved on the issue.  But directly on the issue itself, it’s being discussed by the members of the Security Council.

Question:  My thought was that there’s been an allegation that the tanks were meant for South Sudan, and I don’t know if that violates any existing UN arms embargo that has an expert group to it.  But the allegation was that they weren’t going to Kenya, they were supposed to go to South Sudan.

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm those allegations in any way.

Question:  Okay, so basically the expert group would get involved only after the incident’s resolved somehow?  Because I’ll write a report, one way or another, on this.

Spokesperson:  On the expert group?

Question:  I guess they don’t meet all the time.  And you mentioned this Tripartite Report on Myanmar.  I looked at the OCHA situation report they put out in connection with that report.  It says two things:  one, there’s absolutely no update given on the currency exchange losses issue.  And I know there’d been a claim that it wasn’t 20 per cent, as the memo said; it was down to 5 per cent.  We heard from Jody Williams on Monday…

Spokesperson:  You also heard from Mr. Holmes too about this…

Question:  I understand.  I guess it just seems strange that Jody Williams was here on Monday, Nobel Prize winner, and she said 25 per cent loss, and she quoted ASEAN sources for that.  So it seems that, is the purpose of OCHA situation reports really to report on what’s happening there, or just to provide some update?  Since it’s not mentioned in the report, does this mean zero losses now, or does the issue just disappear?

Spokesperson:  Not that the issue disappeared.  As you know, those concerns were expressed by Mr. Holmes when he spoke to you last –- the question was asked of him, he answered it, and this is what we have so far on the issue.  In terms of the website, I don’t know what’s on the website, I haven’t looked at the website, specifically, but, if you want to know more about where we are in terms of the currency issue, we can certainly direct your questions to OCHA.

Thank you so much.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

Let me start by giving you the final figures on attendance of the general debate, at the General Assembly.  We had 75 Heads of State, 36 Heads of Government, five Vice-Presidents, seven Deputy Prime Ministers, one Crown Prince, 51 Foreign Ministers, two Deputy Foreign Ministers and 13 Chairmen of Delegation, which makes a total of 190, plus two observers, which makes a total of 192.

Now, with the general debate over, we start the work.  We have an agenda, and we have a mandate.

A brief overview on the Main Committees that are already meeting:

Today, there is already a meeting of the Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions.  There is also a technical briefing to the delegates of the First Committee, which will hold its organizational meeting tomorrow, Thursday, to consider its tentative programme of work and timetable.  This Committee will begin its substantive work with a general debate on all disarmament and international security agenda items from Monday to Tuesday, 6‑14 October.

The Second, Third, Fourth and Fifth Committees are already starting their work too.  You have all the details in the UN Journal.  And if you need any more details also, I can try to give you a hand on that.

And a reminder.  Tomorrow, there will be an informal plenary meeting at the General Assembly to commemorate the International Day of Non-Violence, although, as President Miguel d´Escoto says:  “Certainly, peace needs more than one day of celebration.”  He will make some remarks on this topic tomorrow.

And the day after tomorrow, on Friday, President d´Escoto will have a press conference in this room to attend to your questions.  We will confirm the exact time later today.

And that’s basically what I have for you, unless you have any questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Is it going to be in the morning or afternoon?

Spokesperson:  In the morning, as it stands right now, I think it will be at 11 o’clock, but I need to confirm that for you.  I will confirm that later today.

Question:  When do you expect a meeting to have the Serbian proposal for the asking of support for the seeking opinion of the International Court of Justice to be on the agenda for the voting, and how it will be, voting or discussion, what?

Spokesperson:  Okay, we have already the date, that’s 8 of October, if I remember well.  Yes, it’s the 8 of October and it will be in the plenary.  It will be a plenary session, and I can give you an idea of how it normally goes, with this kind of issues.  The delegation, which will be the Serbian delegation, will explain why they put forward such a resolution, or a draft resolution.  There will be, normally, a discussion among the member countries, which will ask for the floor.  And then, after that, we can have three different possibilities:  the first one is that there is a general agreement, and the resolution is approved.  The second one is that there is no agreement, and they decide to postpone for further deliberations among the member countries.  And the third is that there is a vote, and they decide on that vote, whether it’s going to be approved, that resolution, or not.  In that kind of vote, in this issue, you need a simple majority of members present.

Question:  Meaning that if there are only 30 members present, simple majority is 16.

Spokesperson: If there are how many?

Question:  If only 30 members…

Spokesperson:  Yes, and if there are 20 members?  You need 11.

Question:  Enrique, the General Assembly President, at the end of the debate last week, insisted on ending business on usual on his own terms -- what does he mean concretely by that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think it would be a good idea if you ask him this question on Friday, and I think he makes it very clear already during his different interventions with member countries and in the press.  What he believes, basically, is that it is time for action, and it is not business as usual, so we’ll try, really, all to make a major effort to put forward all the different actions that need to be done.  But he will be able to give you much more, an explanation in depth, if it’s okay, if you can wait for Friday.  Matthew?

Question:  I was watching the end of the general debate, I guess on Monday, and it seemed like Djibouti ended up not speaking.  They were down to speak, and I think they wound up not to speak.  One, when can you confirm that, and two, you said there were 190 countries or Member States spoke.  What were the two that didn’t speak, and do you know why they didn’t speak?

Spokesperson:  There were two countries that didn’t speak: one was Saudi Arabia, and the other one was Djibouti.  I don’t have an explanation.  I can try to find that out for you.  But you are good at math.

Question:  Because you had said two observers, but that’s 192.

Question:  He is good at many things…

Spokesperson:  Is that so?  Good to know (laughs).

Question:  Also, in the run-up to this Host Country Committee tomorrow, are you aware of any complaints filed, what the agenda is, and will there be any way to cover that meeting?

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of any complaints right now.  But I think that’s a closed meeting, so I will try to report on that for you.

Question:  But last time this happened, they called it a closed meeting -- I think it was the first time -- but they allowed in the Department of Public Information and press release people, so they went in and wrote a release on it, so it was unclear…  If it’s closed…

Spokesperson:  Okay, I will find out for you.

Question:  See if it can be open…

Spokesperson:  I’ll find out for you.  Make sure to check in the Journal, in any case, whether it is open or closed.

Question:  I don’t think it’s closed, so I’m going to go.

Spokesperson:  If it doesn’t say it’s closed, it’s open.  That’s the rule.

Question:  Okay, thank you.

Spokesperson:  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  I know the President will give a press conference on Friday, but I won’t be here, so I’d like to ask this question.  Did the President receive any invitations to visit other countries, and from which countries?

Spokesperson:  He has received several invitations from the Heads of State and foreign ministers to visit their countries.  I don’t have a list right now, but I can confirm that at least one dozen countries, where he received invitations.  I can give you some by heart, I know.  He received some invitations from Brazil, some invitations from Bolivia, some invitations from Spain.  But in order to make it comprehensive, I can make up a list for you afterwards, because I wasn’t present at all the meetings.

If there are no further questions, see you tomorrow.  Thank you.

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