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

24 October 2008

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

24 October 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.

**Secretary-General on Financial Crisis

The Secretary-General this morning convened a semi-annual gathering of the Chief Executives Board for Coordination of the United Nations System, which will focus on the international economic situation, including the special challenges facing developing countries in the context of the worldwide financial crisis.  We have a background note upstairs.

At 3 p.m., the Secretary-General and the other leaders throughout the UN system will hold a special session on the financial crisis in Conference Room 8.  The meetings are closed, but once that session ends at around 6 p.m., the Secretary-General will talk to reporters at a stakeout outside that conference room to let you know about the results of that discussion.

We have upstairs a statement on the discussions the Secretary-General had yesterday with a group of five eminent economists to share views and brainstorm on the international economic situation.

During that discussion, the Secretary-General stressed the need to keep the long-term objectives -- such as the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and the fight against extreme poverty, as well as the need for action against climate change -- at the centre of the global agenda.  He underlined his pledge to advance the voice of the poor, voiceless and excluded, including by demonstrating the UN's responsibility for leading an “inclusive multilateralism” that would need to be reflected in any discussion of the reform of the international monetary and financial system.

It was generally agreed that the era of self-regulation was over.  Multilateral financial institutions cannot function as they are doing currently.  In designing a reform regime, however, a comprehensive approach was needed.

If past history is a guide, a prolongation of an economic slowdown can be averted only if States resist pressures to adopt trade protectionist measures while pursuing appropriate macroeconomic policies.

**United Nations -- World Bank

This afternoon, here at Headquarters, the Secretary-General and World Bank President Robert Zoellick will sign a partnership framework that will affirm their commitment to work together more effectively in countries hit by conflict and/or natural disasters.

Among other things, the UN-World Bank Partnership Framework for Crisis and Post-Crisis Situations will provide common guiding principles for working with national authorities and partners to support crisis prevention, stabilization and recovery strategies -- while acknowledging the humanitarian principles of neutrality, impartiality and independence.

It will also call on the World Bank Group and UN system organizations to improve inter-agency communications, strengthen joint planning, increase collaboration on funding mechanisms, and foster a culture of greater collaboration through joint training, evaluation and research.  We have more on that upstairs.

**Disarmament

In his address this morning to the East-West Institute’s session on “The United Nations and Security in a nuclear-weapon-free world”, the Secretary-General stressed that, although Member States make the key decision in the field of global peace and security, the United Nations has important roles to play, to provide a central forum where States can agree on norms to serve their common interests.

Analysing and advocating in the pursuit of agreed goals towards peace and security in a nuclear-weapon-free world, the Secretary-General laid out a five-point proposal, including urging all Non-Proliferation Treaty parties, in particular the nuclear-weapon States, to fulfil their obligations under the Treaty to undertake negotiations on effective measures leading to nuclear disarmament.

He also proposed that the Security Council’s permanent members should begin discussions, perhaps within its Military Staff Committee, on security issues in the nuclear disarmament process.

** Lebanon

On Lebanon, the Secretary-General, in his latest report to the Security Council on the implementation of resolution 1559, concerning Lebanon, says that the country has experienced both sectarian violence, on the one hand, and hope and optimism, on the other, over the past six months.   Lebanon, he says, was taken to the brink of a civil war and back; but President Michel Suleiman’s election signalled the reactivation of the country’s constitutional process.

The Secretary-General says that he remains concerned by the political assassinations and explosions that continue to plague Lebanon.  And he notes the continuing issue of Hizbullah’s weapons, and reiterates his conviction that the disarming and disbanding of militias in the country should be accomplished through an inclusive political dialogue that addresses the political interests of all Lebanese.

The Secretary-General adds that he is encouraged by positive developments in relations between Lebanon and Syria and the initiation of a process of normalization between the two countries.

** Central African Republic

On the Central African Republic, acting on a request from the Security Council, a 15-member inter-agency mission arrived this morning in Bangui to study how to improve United Nations system coherence and coordination in the Central African Republic.  The UN Peacebuilding Support Office in that country (BONUCA) says that the assessment team will be meeting with Government and civil society representatives, the UN country team and members of the international community.  Upon completion of its week-long visit, the assessment team is expected to begin drafting recommendations to the Security Council on how to integrate all UN activities in that country.

** Chad

On Chad, a contingent of 100 UN-trained Chadian police officers is now en route from N’Djamena to north-eastern Chad, where they’ll be taking up the task of helping to protect refugees and internally displaced persons.  The United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) says that this deployment is the first in an initiative that, when completed, will have a total of 850 UN-trained protection officers working full-time in and around IDP and refugee camps in eastern Chad.

**Women/Peace and Security

The Secretary-General’s latest report on women and peace and security is out as a document.  In it, he notes progress in making the UN’s overall peace and security architecture more sensitive to women’s needs.  However, there remains a noticeable gap between policies and their effective implementation.

The Secretary-General says that more needs to be done at the country level to mainstream gender perspectives at every stage of conflict prevention, resolution and management, as well as in peacebuilding.

He also recommends that efforts to prevent and halt sexual and gender-based violence be intensified, including through more systematic responses by UN peacekeeping missions and humanitarian assistance programmes, the protection of women in situations of displacement, and more comprehensive strategies to address impunity for perpetrators of sexual abuse.

** Haiti

On Haiti, there’ll be no celebration of UN Day in Haiti this year as the occasion comes at a very difficult time for the island, said Hédi Annabi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country.

Mr. Annabi noted that Haiti has suffered a crushing loss of lives and property during this year’s hurricane season, with the overall material damage estimated at over $1 billion by the World Bank.

All efforts are now geared towards finding urgent humanitarian assistance for the millions of Haitians whose lives were left in tatters by four successive storms.  Mr. Annabi has urged UN staff in the country to take part in conferences, TV and radio programmes, and other public forums to advocate for greater humanitarian assistance to Haiti, given that the world’s response to Haiti’s plight so far has been tepid at best.

In the face of this, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, who is presently in Haiti, expressed his willingness to make an additional allocation from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to fund the urgent humanitarian needs of people affected by the recent hurricanes in Haiti.

More details will soon be available about this new allocation.

** Afghanistan

UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie concluded her first visit to Afghanistan, where she saw both the successes and difficulties of refugee return and reintegration.

She appealed for long-term commitments to Afghanistan and greater humanitarian support for the population as the harsh Afghan winter approaches.

According to UNHCR, Ms. Jolie is no stranger to the refugee agency’s Afghan operation, one of its biggest worldwide.  She had met with Afghan refugees in neighbouring Pakistan twice in recent years and wished to see for herself how returnees were coping on their return to Afghanistan.

Her visit, which ran from Tuesday to Thursday, was also aimed at raising awareness of the refugee issue ahead of an international conference on return and reintegration to be held in Kabul in November.  Despite the huge returns to Afghanistan -- more than 5 million people have gone home over the past six years -- about 3 million registered refugees remain in neighbouring Iran and Pakistan.  There is more on this in UNHCR’s briefing notes.

** Iraq

On Iraq, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is helping thousands of Iraqi Christians who have fled the northern city of Mosul over the past fortnight, with most of them going to villages elsewhere in the province of Ninewa, and some 400 of them crossing the border into Syria.  It is still not clear who is behind the intimidation that caused them to flee.

More than 2,200 families, or some 13,000 people, are estimated to have left Mosul by midweek, mostly to safe areas to the north and east of the city.  That is more than half of Mosul's Christian population.

UNHCR and its partners have delivered aid to at least 1,725 of the displaced families in about 20 areas of northern Iraq.  We have more details in today’s UNHCR briefing notes.

**Guinea–Bissau

On Guinea-Bissau, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that Guinea-Bissau is currently struggling with a cholera epidemic.  This year so far there have been more than 12,000 cases recorded, with more than 200 deaths.  But OCHA expects these figures to rise.

UNICEF and the World Health Organization are working with Guinea-Bissau’s Ministry of Health to fight and contain the outbreak and train Government officials, teachers and hundreds of volunteers in cholera-prevention practices.  UNICEF says it is worried that the country’s electoral campaign, which is now starting, could result in a new increase in cases.

According to OCHA, more than a million dollars has been mobilized by the UN system this year to support Guinea-Bissau, but more funds are needed.  We have more on that upstairs.

**UNEP -- Migratory Birds Of Prey

Twenty-eight countries yesterday signed an agreement to protect migratory birds of prey in Africa and Eurasia.  The agreement, reached under the UN Environment Programme’s Convention on Migratory Species, covers more than 70 species.  Among them are ospreys, eagles and owls; all have lost habitat to industry and agriculture or are threatened by hunting and poisoning.  The agreement enters into force on 1 November.  There is more information on that upstairs.

**Capital Master Plan

Out as a document today is the Secretary-General’s latest report to the General Assembly on the implementation of the Capital Master Plan (CMP) to renovate the United Nations Headquarters Complex.

In a nutshell:  The CMP is on schedule;

All leases for swing space have been concluded; work is progressing well on the North Lawn Conference Building; and the relocation Plan for the moves of approximately 6,000 staff has been finalized.

The updated design will achieve a reduction in energy consumption at UNHQ of 44 per cent.

**United Nations Day

Today, as you know, is the 63rd United Nations Day.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says that this year has been crucial for the United Nations.  The midpoint in the struggle to reach the Millennium Development Goals has now passed, and we can see more clearly that the threats of the 21st century spare no one.

He adds that he is deeply concerned about the impact of the global financial crisis.  Leadership and partnerships have never been more important than today.  We have the full message upstairs.

The Secretary-General will be delivering related remarks at a UN Day concert tonight in the General Assembly hall.

Meanwhile, to mark UN Day 2008, the UN has launched a newly redesigned website that provides information about the UN in 130 languages.  You can visit it at unic.un.org.

UN Day is being celebrated around the world today.  In Russia, this year’s UN Day also marks the 60th anniversary of the UN presence in that country.  Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov attended a ceremony, to which the Secretary-General has sent a message.

In Addis Ababa, the celebration at the Economic Commission for Africa will mark not only UN Day, but also the 50th anniversary of the Commission.

Meanwhile, Bangkok kicked off the festivities a day early with the opening of a “One UN” multimedia exhibit by 17 UN entities in the city’s largest shopping complex.

And in Windhoek, Namibia, UN staff participated in a blood drive, organized in part by the World Heath Organization.

And right here in New York City, some 3,500 high school students in all five boroughs commemorated UN Day with UN staff members as the Department of Public Information launched a new project called UN4U.

As part of the project, school assemblies were addressed by UN officials, including Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information Kiyo Akasaka; the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy; Executive Director of the Capital Master Plan Michael Adlerstein; and the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, Rachel Mayanja.

Even our own Devi Palanivelu spoke at the Bronx School for Excellence.

The speakers gave students an overview of the Organization, presented a video showcasing the UN’s work around the world, shared their own experiences as UN staff members, and interacted with the students in a Q & A segment.

**Press Conference Today

Looking ahead, at 3 p.m. today here in room 226 there will be a press conference by Raquel Rolnik, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living.

**Press Conferences on Monday

Here in room 226 at 11 a.m. on Monday, there is a press conference to follow up on the launch of UN-Habitat’s new State of the World’s Cities Report 2008/9:  Harmonious Cities.

The speakers will be:  Mrs. Anna Tibaijuka, Executive Director of UN-Habitat; and Eduardo Lopez Moreno, Director, City Monitoring Branch of UN-Habitat, principal author of the report.

At 3 p.m., still on Monday, Olivier de Schutter, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, will brief you here in 226.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

And we also have upstairs for you The Week Ahead, as usual, today is Friday.

That’s all I have for you, thank you.  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  We heard from you yesterday that there have been about 5,000 tons of food delivered to Haiti.  Given the devastation of the hurricanes, my question is, given that it’s the same hurricane that hit Haiti that hit Cuba, will the UN also , that has been defining the situation in Haiti as a humanitarian crisis also deem that the situation in Cuba also is a humanitarian crisis?

Spokesperson:  Yes, we spoke about the situation in Cuba yesterday, and certainly I think there are efforts being put into place to help Cuba.  I don’t have the details yet, but I’ll be sure to get you the details as soon as I get them.

Question:  But is it a humanitarian crisis in Cuba also?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know how they have defined it.  I guess when you talk about a crisis you’re talking about the number of victims usually, and because of the very efficient prevention setup in Cuba, there have maybe been a lesser number of victims in Cuba.  But it is definitely a very worrisome situation, and it is a situation of great concern.

Question:  (inaudible) ...an estimate of the amount of the cost of this situation after the hurricanes in Cuba in terms of the devastation?

Spokesperson:  As I said, I will find out for you what has been done.

Question:  Will Angelina Jolie also visit Pakistan and see Afghan camps there?

Spokesperson:  You should ask the question to UNHCR, not to us.  She is a Goodwill Ambassador for them, and they can certainly answer that question.  They have a spokesperson who can answer your question, and we will give you the right contact person.

Question:  Michèle, does the Secretary-General share the opinion of the President of the General Assembly who said yesterday in a statement that the world financial crisis cannot be resolved by just a meeting of G-8 or G-30 or G-24; it has to be resolved by a meeting of G-192, meaning thereby, 192 Member States of the United Nations.  Does the Secretary-General share that opinion by the General Assembly President?

Spokesperson:  He definitely feels that the crisis is affecting all countries.  He has been saying this over and over again.  The fact that there is going to be a G-20 meeting; the fact that there is going to be a debate at the General Assembly among all Member States on the financial crisis are important steps.  Right now at this point, we’re discussing in all possible forums, what can be done about the financial situation and how to stop the financial situation from having too great an impact on the poorest of the poor.  So, this is the essential goal, I think, of both the President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General.

Question:  So, they’re on the same page as far as the membership of the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  Of course, they are; of course, they are.  But you know, in the case of the meeting taking place, of the G-20 in the Washington area, the Secretary-General, as I said yesterday, will be attending.

Question:  Another question.  Maybe I missed it; has the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Iraq issued any report lately or not?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.

Question:  You just read out this UNHCR statement about Mosul and so forth.  Nothing?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  I don’t have anything, no.

Question:  You see, that is why; the United Nations pays a hell of a lot of money to these SRSGs and they’re not reporting back to you.  Is there any specific reason why they’re ...?

Spokesperson:  No, they’re reporting regularly to Headquarters.  A lot is being done.  I suggest that you go to the website and you’ll see what is being done.  You have an extensive number of interventions being done by the UN.

Question:  In the past, whenever such a report used to be issued, the United Nations used to come over here, and make a statement.  I remember Mr. Qazi when he was there, he would come often.  I haven’t seen the Special Representative of the Secretary-General who is in Iraq now coming over here at all and making any statement or telling us any problem ...

Spokesperson:  Well, that’s because he hasn’t been coming here.  He is over there and he is very busy, believe me.  And you can have some additional information on what he is doing by going to that website.

Question:  Well, can he come here and also talk to us?

Spokesperson: If he comes to Headquarters, I’ll be sure to ask him to come and brief you.

Question:  A couple of questions; one, is there’s reports in the Sri Lankan media that when Ban Ki-moon met with the Minister of Human Rights and other things for Sri Lanka that, it’s described as “UN Chief praises Sri Lanka’s humanitarian assistance programme and safeguarding of human rights in the country …”, is that an accurate depiction of the communications that the Secretary-General had?

Spokesperson:  I’d have to see that information.  Is it quoted by a newspaper?  It’s quoted by whom?

Question:  It’s by the Sri Lankan Broadcasting Corporation.  There’s three articles in Sri Lanka that say the communications were entirely positive whereas there’s public reports of civilians are raped and ...?

Spokesperson:  We don’t comment on media reports, but I’ll try to find out for you what was said during those meetings.

Question:  I mean, I remember one time in Sudan where the Sudanese media said something that Ban had said to President Bashir and your Office did say that’s not correct.  So, I’m just wondering ...

Spokesperson:  We say it’s not correct when we have the right information.  I do not have the information.  So I have to get it before I can give it to you, right, Matthew?

Question:  The Special Rapporteur on torture, Mr. Nowak, earlier today here, said that the UN -- he suggested that the UN should do more to make sure that peacekeeping does not include either soldiers from countries that engage in torture or soldiers who themselves have engaged in torture, and that the UN should in fact screen peacekeepers individually as they come in, or have some mechanism in place.  Does the UN have such a mechanism in place?

Spokesperson:  We certainly depend on the troop-contributing country to send us people that they have vetted.  However, I will ask DPKO to give you more information on that; on how they proceed.  And you can actually get in touch with the DPKO spokesperson on this issue directly.

Question:  He’s made it as a pretty high profile to the UN system.  So that’s why I was asking you.  And also, I wanted to ask, you said that Haiti; is that the only country that the UN system is saying it’s not celebrating UN Day?  Is that Mr. Annabi’s statement there or there other ...?

Spokesperson:  Yes, it’s Mr. Annabi’s statement, yes.  I don’t know whether there are any other countries not celebrating for the same reasons; but in the case of Haiti, I think it’s to stress the notion that things in Haiti are extremely difficult.

Question:  A UN Day question here.  Yesterday evening in the GA lobby, there was this event, you know, sort of calypso band, people in tuxedos.  Some UN staff that were there; they really didn’t understand what the event was.  They were told, if they don’t leave security will be called.  This is an event of the UNA, United Nations Association of the United States of America.  So the question was asked:  were they paying rent for this space?  Sort of, the threat to call security on UN personnel in UN premises gave rise to the question of why ...?

Spokesperson:  If it was something on an event that involved invitations, of course, only people who are invited can go.

Question:  I understand upstairs that that’s done and a fee is paid to Aramark to use the Delegates’ Dining Room.  But are the lobbies of the UN; can the lobby of the Secretariat entrance ...?

Spokesperson:  They can reserve the lobby, yes.  You have receptions all the time where you have people invited by ...

Question:  Do they take the space ...?

Spokesperson:  Well, I can get the question asked for you.  I am pretty sure they reserved the space and there is some financial agreement ...

Question:  (Inaudible) ...

Spokesperson:  Well, if it’s an event by invitation; I stress it again ...

Question:  No, no, I’m asking, what organizations can get the space and exclude other people and who’d they pay?  Who decides who can get it?

Spokesperson:  The management of the Building space here, and I’m sure you can talk to them about how you ...

Question:  Angela Kane?  Department of Management?

Spokesperson:  No, no.  It’s the Department of Management, but it’s a service within the Department of Management.

Question:  Okay.  The event that took place yesterday to celebrate UN Day, is there a way to find out whether rent was paid and what was the basis of; it seems like they were getting (Inaudible) ...?

Spokesperson:  We will give you right people to talk to.

Question:  Michèle, at the Dag Hammarskjöld luncheon yesterday, which the Secretary-General attended and you yourself you were also present, our scholar from Saudi Arabia made a very moving call for women’s rights in Saudi Arabia.  Does the Secretary-General endorse her call, just like he does so strongly in the case of Iran?

Spokesperson:  He certainly endorses that call.  He has been talking about women’s rights for a very long time.  He wasn’t there, unfortunately, when she was making her speech, which was a very powerful speech.  The Secretary-General was, unfortunately, attending another event; the World Food Day event with former President Clinton.  So, he couldn’t be in two places at the same time, but I am sure he supports her call.

Question:  Yesterday, according to a report in The New York Times, it seems NATO is considering the possibility of increasing the number of military exercises with the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and they said in response to the Georgian conflict.  And their viewpoint is that this is a preventative measure and that NATO is part of the alliance; this is part of what they think to do everything that they can to prevent any attacks by any potential aggressors.  Since NATO has a relationship with the United Nations, do you think the Secretary-General would have any opinion on this and how are we working with NATO?

Spokesperson:  The relationship with NATO is concerned with places where the UN has activities.  In this specific case, your question should go to NATO.  The UN itself is not involved in these activities at all.  We’re not involved in most of NATO’s activities.  The agreement that exists is simply about places where the UN is already cooperating with NATO on specific situations.

Question:  One follow-up on Georgia.  I’m not sure how to reach Mr. Verbeke, so I’ll ask it here.  Yesterday, it was announced that Georgia has imposed a ban on investment in South Ossetia and Abkhazia.  They’re calling any banking down there illegal and even the passage of people from Russia into those territories, illegal.  Does the UN system or I guess Mr. Verbeke, as he’s the one in charge of responding, how do they view, do they have some response to it?  Because it seems like a pretty high-profile announcement of trying to isolate the ...

Spokesperson:  This is a decision taken by a sovereign country.  There is nothing we can say about it.

Question:  I mean, there are decisions made by, for example, the Government ...(inaudible)

Spokesperson:  We have, as you know, a presence in Abkhazia which has limitation in terms of mandate, and I don’t think this falls within the mandate of the mission we have there.

Question:  Right, so I guess it’s ...(inaudible)

Spokesperson:  It’s a decision by Georgia, and you should address the question to Georgia.

Question:  Okay.  So, whenever (inaudible) ... the UN has no comment?  Or, ...I’m just trying to understand ...

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have any comments to make, unless this falls under a mandate that we have.  We don’t have a mandate to give an opinion on every single country that takes a decision within its own territory.  By the way, on your question about [Staffan] de Mistura, he is expecting to brief the Council, Masood, on the first week of November.  So, when he comes, we will ask him if he would come and talk to you.  Thank you all.

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