DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

20 October 2008

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

20 October 2008
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
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 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.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Killing of Aid Workers

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the killings of aid workers in Somalia and Afghanistan.

The Secretary-General condemns the killing of aid workers in Somalia and Afghanistan, and offers his condolences to their families, friends and colleagues.  He is deeply distressed to learn that two aid workers in Somalia and one in Afghanistan have been killed over the past three days. 

The Secretary-General deplores these acts of deliberate violence against those who are making every effort to alleviate the dire suffering of Somali and Afghan citizens.  He is alarmed at the increasing trend of killing and abduction of aid workers in both countries. 

He calls upon all parties to respect the neutral and impartial status of humanitarian staff, to allow them to do their work bringing vital life-saving assistance to the millions of Somalis and Afghans who are counting on this support for their survival.

**Secretary-General on Financial Crisis

The Secretary-General is back from Quebec City where he attended the twelfth Summit of the Francophonie.  He met with a number of leaders, including French President Nicolas Sarkozy, with whom he discussed the international financial crisis and its serious impact on all nations, particularly the poorest among them.

In an ensuing letter to Sarkozy, parts of which were reflected in a statement we issued on Saturday afternoon, the Secretary-General said that the international community must act together.  We must do so, above all, to ensure that the negative impact of the financial crisis on the world’s economies does not undermine the major UN efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.  We must also ensure that we keep up the fight against the effects of climate change and address the food crisis.  He offered the UN facilities in New York for a meeting on the crisis, saying that holding it here will lend it universal legitimacy.

In his exchanges with the world leaders in Quebec City, the Secretary-General also noted that the urgent need to devise a concerted and decisive response to the financial crisis should be reflected in the consultations at the International Conference on Financing for Development, which is due to take place on November 29th in Doha.  And here at Headquarters, the Secretary-General intends to make the financial crisis and its possible impact on all nations and on all UN development initiatives, including the MDGs, the main focus of the planned meeting of the UN System’s Chief Executive Board.  That meeting is due to take place in New York on Friday.

**Financial Crisis – ILO

The global financial crisis could increase world unemployment by an estimated 20 million people, from 190 million in 2007 to 210 million in late 2009, the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Juan Somavia, said today.

Somavia added that the number of working poor living on less than a dollar a day could rise by some 40 million.  And he said the current crisis would be especially hard on such sectors as construction, the automotive industry, tourism, finance, services and real estate.

“We need prompt and coordinated government actions to avert a social crisis that could be severe, long-lasting and global,” he added.  We have more on that in my office.

**Security Council

The members of the Security Council will hold their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General today.

** Darfur

On Darfur, the 108 first officers of the Nepalese Formed Police Unit have arrived in Nyala, where they will be based for a one-year tour of duty as part of the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur.  They will be followed by the rest of the 147 member unit this week.

The Formed Police Units are specialized, self-sufficient and fully mobile rapid reaction police units, entirely composed of police officers from a single contingent, with expertise in crowd-management and other police tactical operations.

They may be called upon to engage in high risk assignments and the protection of people in imminent danger, preventing attacks and threats against civilians, and in monitoring and providing security and protection in camps for internally displaced persons, threatened villages and migration routes.

Besides providing security, they will also assist national authorities and UN agencies in delivering humanitarian assistance in times of need and conducting escort duties in order to build the confidence of the local population in the rule of law.

** Côte d’Ivoire

The final report of the Group of Experts on Côte d’Ivoire is now out on the racks.  It includes descriptions of the latest cases of movement of weapons and ammunition, in particular in western Côte d’Ivoire. It also details violations of the ban on the export of rough diamonds and gives an update on two individuals facing assets freezes.  The report notes a lack of government administration in regions controlled by the Force Nouvelle rebel group.  This situation has hampered any real progress in restoring and unifying the state treasury.

On the arms embargo, the report deplores a lack of adequate customs checks at border posts, insufficient inspections by the government and the UN Mission (UNOCI) and an overall lack of government cooperation.

**UNRWA

The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reports that more than 490,000 children stood up against poverty yesterday as UNRWA schools marked the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.

The activities organized at UNRWA schools across the agency’s five fields of operation -- Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza -– were designed to give children the chance to discuss and protest against their own poverty.

In Gaza, where thousands of students stood up and shouted “No to poverty”, John Ging, UNRWA’s director of operations in Gaza, said, "Our message is clear. We must simply lift the blockade to ensure a respectful life for Gaza's people in order for them to exercise basic human rights."

** Iraq

The UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) today announced the launching of a nationwide Election Coverage Network, aimed at supporting the provincial electoral process.  The newly launched network will provide Iraqi citizens with timely, fair and balanced information and reporting on elections.

The six-month project includes the production and dissemination of “Voter Education Radio Programmes” countrywide, to provide objective information on the provincial elections and in-depth analysis of campaign issues, as well as elections results.  These materials will be made available to a network of FM radio stations throughout the country.

** Iran

The Secretary-General, in a report on the racks today, reviews the human rights situation in Iran, noting some concerns over the rights of women and of minorities, as well as on the death penalty, including juvenile executions and stoning.

The Secretary-General encourages Iran to continue to revise national laws, particularly the new Penal Code and juvenile justice laws, to ensure compliance with international human rights standards and prevent discriminatory practices against women and ethnic and religious minorities.  He welcomes the recent steps taken by the Iranian Government to explore cooperation on human rights and justice reform with the United Nations and encourages the Government to ratify major international human rights treaties, including those on women’s rights and on torture.

** Myanmar

In his report to the General Assembly on the human rights situation in Myanmar, the Secretary-General stressed that it remains a source of frustration that meaningful steps have yet to be taken by the Myanmar Government in response to the concerns and expectations of the United Nations and the international community in the context of the good offices process.

Underlining that the future of Myanmar ultimately rests with the Government and its people, the Secretary-General reiterated that the role of the U.N. is to ascertain the positions of all parties and facilitate their efforts to work together through dialogue towards a mutually acceptable process of national reconciliation and democratization, in full respect for Myanmar’s sovereignty and in accordance with the expectations of the international community.

Adding that there is no alternative to dialogue to ensure that all stakeholders can contribute to the future of their country, the Secretary-General urges that the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners will be key for the resumption of an enhanced, all-inclusive, substantive and time-bound dialogue.  The full report is available on the racks upstairs.

**Climate Change

On climate change, representatives of more than 150 corporations, civil society organizations, governments and UN agencies from around the world are gathering in Geneva today and tomorrow for the first meeting of signatories to Caring for Climate.  The meeting will showcase and discuss new business solutions to the climate challenge.  It will set the stage for a World Business Summit on Climate Change, to be convened in Copenhagen next May.

Caring for Climate is a voluntary global action platform that was launched in 2007 by the UN Global Compact, the UN Environment Programme and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development.  We have an embargoed press release with more information upstairs.

**ESCAP

The Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), Noeleen Heyzer, has said that there is a need for greater cooperation between Central Asia and the rest of Asia -- in order to achieve inclusive and sustainable development in the current climate of global financial instability and food and energy insecurity.

Heyzer was addressing the Governing Council of the UN Special Programme for the Economies of Central Asia (SPECA).  There is more information in a press release upstairs.

**Guest at Noon Briefing Tomorrow

The guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Dr. David Nabarro, UN System Influenza Coordinator, who will brief you on the status of the current avian influenza threat and the quality of the global response.  More information will be available in my office later today. 

**Press Conference on Wednesday

And on Wednesday at 11 a.m., UNDP Administrator Kemal Derviş will hold a press conference to launch UNDP’s report entitled “Post-Conflict Economic Recovery:  Enabling Local Ingenuity”.  This report examines how countries rebuild the foundations and establish the conditions for self-sustaining, inclusive growth after emerging from violent conflict.

And this is all I have for you today.  Any questions?  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  When is Kemal Derviş going to have his press conference?

Spokesperson:  It’s going to be at 11 a.m. on Wednesday.

Question:  Thabo Mbeki has been in Zimbabwe trying to mediate the power sharing deal.  What does the Secretary-General think of the fact that he’s no longer president, but he’s trying to act as mediator?  And will the UN be supporting his efforts this time as when he was previously acting as mediator in Zimbabwe?

Spokesperson:  Of course.  As you know, the United Nations is part of the support group for that initiative and we really have no comment.  If the parties agree that Mr. Mbeki remains the mediator, he remains the mediator, and we’re supporting the efforts he is leading towards a solution to the impasse in Zimbabwe.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General think that the deadlock can be broken?

Spokesperson:  Well, they’re working on it.  I don’t have any comments to make on whether it will reach a good conclusion or not.  For the time being I can just say that we support that effort and I would like to reiterate what the Secretary-General has been saying over and over again, that it is important that there is resolution of the conflict through dialogue.

Question:  On Myanmar, at what level is the channel of communication between the UN and the Burmese military junta?  Do we have any communications with them right now?

Spokesperson:  Well, we always have communications with them.  We have a UN team on the ground working full time.  We haven’t stopped, and that team has always been there in Myanmar.  It’s nothing really new.

Question:  And on Afghanistan, besides one aid worker, as many as 27 soldiers were also killed yesterday.  Is the Secretary-General aware about that?

Spokesperson: He is certainly aware and he was quite shocked at the methods used.  I have nothing else really to add. 

Question:  Michèle, are there any updated figures on the number of humanitarian workers who’ve been killed in the last year; not just in those two countries, but in other hot spots?

Spokesperson:  We’ll certainly get a number for you, but I assume that OCHA will be having the proper count.

Question:  There are these reports in Abyei in South Sudan and [inaudible] of these oil workers being taken hostage by the Justice and Equality Movement.  Does UNMIS have any involvement, or UNAMID, either in trying to find out who took them hostage and get them released?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know, really.  I can try to find out whether they were at all doing an investigation on that.  I wouldn’t suppose they would, but I’ll try to find out for you.

Question:  Okay, thanks.  The other is, there is also the EULEX force in Kosovo, not force, Rule of Law Mission, is now said to have included the United States which is obviously not a member of the European Union.  Did the UN in handing over its power to this EULEX, that it was in its understanding that non-EU members would become part of that?

Spokesperson:  The UN has not handed over power.  The UN is still functioning under 1244.  In working with EULEX on these issues, what EULEX decides in terms of its own composition is not for the UN to decide.

Question:  Would its [inaudible] put countries that have nothing to do...

Spokesperson:  That has to do with, those are their own decisions.

Question:  And this guy, Mr. Gallucci, who was one of the deputies of UNMIK that covered northern Kosovo, has said that he’s been transferred to East Timor.  Was this against... is that a transfer that he requested?  I mean, because he is a controversial figure in Kosovo, you may think it’s not important, but he was siding with Serbia in the takeover of the court house on 17 May.

Spokesperson:  Well, you should ask him whether it is a voluntary transfer.  You should ask him.

Question:  Okay.  I guess, I am saying, you’re not aware of any move within the UN here to transfer Mr. Gallucci to placate other forces?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  Okay.  And then, it sort of somewhat related to the question about Zimbabwe.  In Kenya, Kofi Annan got a report about the violence in the elections, including the suggestion that various people be prosecuted in a tribunal.  He says he supports that.  Is he saying that on behalf of the UN?  Is he saying...

Spokesperson:  No, he is the mediator of the post-electoral crisis in Kenya and he is speaking as the mediator in this case.

Question:  Is that a UN...?

Spokesperson:  No, he is not.  It’s his role; his own role...

Question:  Does the UN support his...

Spokesperson:  We supported his role all throughout and we still do support his effort in Kenya to try to mediate the crisis.  And as you know, the Secretary-General went there to express his support for that mission.

Question:  Would the UN, if requested, would the UN; there is a call for a tribunal, whether it’s a national one or may be an international one.  Is the UN aware of any request that it participate in that tribunal?

Spokesperson:  No, there is no such request and I won’t answer a hypothetical question of that sort.  Thank you so much.  Enrique.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you, Michèle.  Good afternoon to everybody.

Let me start by providing you some more details on the Interactive Panel on the Global Financial crisis that will take place here on 30 October here in New York.

We have now the confirmation of the panellists.  They are Professor Joseph Stiglitz from the United States, Dr. François Houtart from Belgium, Professor Prabhat Patnaik from India, and Dr. Pedro Páez from Ecuador.

In relation with the financial crisis, I have also an important announcement to make.

In response to the current turmoil in the financial crisis, the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Miguel d´Escoto, has announced today to Member States and the international community that he has decided to establish a high level task force of experts to undertake a comprehensive review of the international financial system, including the major international economic institutions, and to suggest steps to be taken by Member States of the United Nations to secure a more stable global economic order.

The President of the General Assembly has appointed economics Nobel Laureate Professor Joseph Stiglitz as the Chair of this taskforce and as the principal advisor to the President for coordination of this process.  The composition and the precise terms of reference of the task force will be announced soon after the Interactive Panel on the Global Financial Crisis to be held in the United Nations on 30 October 2008, as I mentioned.  And the contributions of Member States to this interactive event will shape the definition of functions and scope of the task force.

“Currently, developing countries’ voices and interests are not fairly represented in existing global institutions of economic governance,” said President d´Escoto, for whom the so called Bretton Woods institutions “need to be fundamentally reformed to better reflect contemporary economic realities in today’s interdependent world and to better respond to the new challenges in a sustainable and equitable manner”.

There is a full press release available for you online and we have also some copies here, in case you are interested.

And this is basically all I have for you today, unless there are any particular questions.  Edith, welcome back, good to see you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  How do you see this high-level task force interacting with the panel with the meeting that President Bush has said that he is convening after the elections to discuss basically this same kind of issue? 

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, there is a growing recognition that the current turmoil in the financial system cannot be solved through piecemeal responses at the national and regional levels, but requires a coordinated effort at the global level.  And currently, developing countries’ voices and interests are not fairly represented in existing global institutions of economic governance, as President d´Escoto has been repeating.

And the President of the General Assembly welcomes the initiatives and declarations of the leading industrial countries –- most recently expressed this weekend at Camp David -- and developing countries that are actively expressing their concern regarding the current situation and calling for urgent action.

And the UN Organization, the General Assembly, continues to represent the most legitimate forum where the interests of all countries can be articulated.

Question:  Has President d´Escoto spoken with leaders from the IMF and World Bank?  And when he speaks of fundamental reforms, is there any specifics on the type of reforms, even broadly, what he’s talking about, what he’s looking for?

Spokesperson:  Well, President d´Escoto has been talking to several leaders before, during and after the General Assembly debate.  And as you know, this is nothing new.  He expressed very clearly in his speech, I believe it was on 16 September, when he announced his plans for this presidency, a very clear road map of the changes that he wanted to put forward to the Member States to discuss.  The democratization of the United Nations was one of the key elements and he announced three high-level meetings, and one of them was on the functioning, evaluation, and restructuring of the Bretton Woods institutions.  And President d´Escoto believes that this meeting on 30 October and this task force will provide elements for the Member States for such a meeting which should be taking place -- we don’t have a proper date yet -- should be taking place probably at the beginning of 2009.

Question:  [Inaudible] the IMF and the World Bank?  Has he spoken to the leaders...?

Spokesperson:  He has been talking to Member countries and he has been talking to several leading figures of the specialized United Nations agencies.

Question:  A follow up on this one.  Does that President believe that the financial crisis is in any way related to the lack of representation of developing and small economies?  Does he see that as part of the problem?

Spokesperson:  Well, as he has made it very clearly, I repeat myself, since day one when he started his presidency, he believes that this is an important problem; it’s an important element in the equation for the best functioning of the Organization.  And this is a new element, the crisis that has triggered this urgent meeting that will take place next week and that he has called at his own initiative.  And certainly that is one of the elements that need to be put into the discussions for the better functioning of the different institutions.

Question:  When do you expect discussion by the General Committee to take place on the agenda item concerning commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the great famine in the 1930s by the Ukraine?  This item was, of course, postponed.  Is there any update?

Spokesperson:  There is no update.  I will check more for you, but as far as I know, for the time being there is no date for the discussions to be taking place.  But, I can give you a precise and detailed answer tomorrow.  Matthew.

Question:  One final follow up on the Security Council elections on Friday.  Maybe I didn’t ask it right.  Is there a way we can see, not how people voted, but what the ballot looked like? Because, it seems that that ballot that was…

Spokesperson:  It was a normal ballot box.

Question:  Oh, yeah?

Spokesperson:  Yeah. I mean, the ballot box.

Question:  Okay. No, no, the actual thing that people voted on; were these ones like, Madagascar, Brazil and it turns out when you got it out, it didn’t say Australia.  Apparently, Australia, maybe I misheard you.  Apparently Australia got a vote in the [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  Let me get the official counting for that for you.

Question:  … Australia got a vote and it was said that this was, somehow some voter mistook Australia for Austria and cast their ballot.  So, I didn’t figure [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  I don’t remember seeing Australia.  I mean, I hear the President of the General Assembly giving the votes, the breakdown and I took notes.  And I don’t remember Australia; but may be I am wrong.  Let me check that more precisely for you.

Question:  I don’t mean the boxes; I mean the actual, whatever, form the people voted on.  People just checked as the thing was running.

Spokesperson:  Sure.  I can try to get a copy for you.

Question:  See, if you can, just to figure that out.  And the other one

is -- this has to do with the Fourth Committee.  There was this postponement of the decolonization and the Western Sahara resolutions.  Do you have any idea if, is there some deadline to vote on them or they’re going to be voted on today?  Where is that?

Spokesperson:  I am not sure what the deadline is.  I can check that for you.  But I think it is supposed to be today and tomorrow, the discussions.

Question:  Okay.  And also exactly, it also said the Fourth Committee is going to consider “questions of information”, I guess that’s functioning as the Committee on Information, maybe?

Spokesperson:  I assume so.

Question:  Anyway, are the presentations by the Department of Public Information (DPI) to the Committee, are they publicly available?  For example, on this issue of UN affairs where [inaudible]... for submissions.  Is that something the public gets or...?

Spokesperson:  To be honest, I don’t know.  I’ll check that for you and I’ll let you know immediately.

Question:  Okay, great.  Thanks very much.

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  I think it’s a First Committee question.  On the two resolutions that are sponsored by Arab League members that are going through the First Committee on non-proliferation in the Middle East and a nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East.  These resolutions have come up before in the past every year that past, and yet they haven’t had the effect that’s been desired and the Middle East is not nuclear-weapons free.  I’d be interested in your opinion and the opinion of the President on what is the value of the resolutions that actually don’t realize what they’re designed to do.  And obviously, President d´Escoto is hoping to get General Assembly resolutions become binding in international law.  So, also if you can possibly comment on what you’d like them to become in this case.

Spokesperson:  I suppose you’re much more interested in what the President thinks than what I think, so I will get a quote for you from the President himself on this issue.

Question:  About two weeks ago Oxfam was here and presented a report called “Shooting down the MDGs” and they were calling for a strong arms trade treaty and back in 2006 the General Assembly voted to have a group of experts look into this matter and come up with the treaty and the deadline seems to be the fall of 2008.  So, I was wondering if you had any updates on when they’re going to have this treaty and how the issue is unfolding?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have an update right now, but I can certainly tell you that this is one of the priorities of President d´Escoto, as he has mentioned several times, disarmament.  No more questions?  Thank you very much.

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