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

20 November 2008

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

20 November 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.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning discussed, in an open meeting, the latest developments in Somalia, including the Secretary-General’s most recent report and an update on the incidents of piracy off Somalia’s coast.

Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios said that the agreement on political cooperation signed by the Somali parties on 25 October has given the peace process renewed impetus.  But he noted the continuing tensions between the country’s President and Prime Minister, and said that the situation in Somalia remains volatile.

Raisedon Zenenga, Director of the Africa Division in the Department for Peacekeeping Operations, told the Council that the approach pursued by Member States to combat piracy sets an example of what is required to tackle the real source of the security challenges in Somalia.  He said the United Nations appeals to Member States to deploy a multinational force to stabilize Mogadishu and prepare the ground for a UN peacekeeping operation to be deployed.

Efthimios Mitropolous, the Secretary-General of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), briefed the Security Council on the more than 120 attacks of piracy and armed robbery that have been reported off the coast of Somalia this year alone.  He expressed concern at both the frequency of the attacks and their ferocity.

Prior to the open meeting, the Security Council voted unanimously to freeze, without delay, the funds and other financial assets of individuals designated as engaging in, or providing support for, acts that threaten the peace, security and stability of Somalia.

The Security Council this morning also voted to authorize, as recommended by the Secretary-General, a temporary increase in the authorized military strength of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) by up to 2,785 military personnel, as well as an increase in the strength of the formed police units by up to 300 personnel.

Following today’s meeting on Somalia, the Council will go into consultations, during which, under other matters, it expects to receive briefings by Assistant Secretary-General Haile Menkerios on recent developments in Zimbabwe and in Western Sahara.

The Council President also expects to read a press statement on Guinea-Bissau, following consultations.

And President Óscar Arias of Costa Rica, which holds this month’s Council Presidency, will speak to you at the stakeout at 12:30.

** Darfur

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), today presented evidence to the ICC judges against rebel commanders for their alleged responsibility for crimes committed against African Union peacekeepers in Darfur in September 2007.  The Court notes that this was the largest in a series of attacks against peacekeepers, when 1,000 rebel-led soldiers surrounded and attacked the Haskanita camp in North Darfur.  Twelve peacekeepers were murdered and eight injured.

Such acts constitute war crimes under the Rome Statute of the ICC.  “I will not let such attacks go unpunished,” Ocampo said in a statement, copies of which are available upstairs.  We are expecting a Secretary-General statement on this subject.

** Sudan

On Sudan, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, in Geneva today participated in the launch of the 2009 Sudan Work Plan, which is part of this year’s $7 billion Consolidated Appeal launched yesterday.

The largest component of the 2009 appeal, the work plan for Sudan, is valued at $2.2 billion.  This fifth annual work plan remains the largest predominately humanitarian appeal in the world.  Almost half of the funding, or $1.05 billion, is for Darfur, where approximately 4.5 million people continue to be in need of aid after six years of conflict.  In Darfur, out of a population of more than six million, some 2.7 million people have been displaced, mostly into camps, and millions more require life-saving assistance in some form.

Elsewhere in the country also there is an urgent need for humanitarian support, not just to save lives but to shore up a peace process that remains fragile.  In some regions, more than half the people do not have access to clean water, and many less have proper sanitation.  In the east, malnutrition rates are over the emergency threshold, and in parts of Blue Nile diarrhoea is still a leading cause of death. 

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Darfur-International Criminal Court

I have just received a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Darfur-ICC Prosecutor requesting arrest warrants against Darfur rebels.

The Secretary-General takes note of the request made by the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court for the issuance of arrest warrants against commanders of rebel groups in Darfur, with respect to the war crimes committed on 29 September 2007 at the Haskanita base of the African Union Mission in Sudan.  The Secretary-General emphasizes that the United Nations respects the independence of the Court and its judicial process, and stresses the critical importance of full compliance by all parties to the actions of the Court.  

The United Nations peacekeeping operations in Sudan will continue to conduct their important work in an impartial manner, cooperating in good faith with all partners to further the goal of peace and stability in the country.  The United Nations will also continue its vital humanitarian and development work there. 

This is the end of the statement on Darfur.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo says that the security situation is calm overall today.  The Mission has confirmed that rebels loyal to Laurent Nkunda have begun withdrawing from positions they identified in a declaration yesterday.  Even as the calm appears to gain hold, the Mission says UN peacekeepers came under fire in Rutshuru territory from Mai-Mai armed groups.  There were no casualties.

UN Force Commander General Babacar Gaye meanwhile, has concluded a 48-hour visit to the region around Goma.  Gaye said that UN peacekeepers had lived up to their mandate during the recent fighting.  He was proud to note that UN peacekeepers evacuated several wounded Government soldiers from the front and gave them appropriate care in UN hospitals or the state medical facilities in Goma.

Meanwhile, an apprenticeship and training college for mothers with badly nourished children has just been opened in the village of Iyonda.  Financed by the Mission under its Quick Impact Projects programme, the initiative trains these women in various trades, in particular in the hand manufacture of soap.  The centre has fields of soy and other beans, which make it possible for the women to compensate for the lack of protein in their children’s diet.

** Côte d'Ivoire

On Côte d'Ivoire, the mission in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI) has handed so-called reinsertion kits to some 400 newly demobilized former rebels.  This was done at a ceremony in Bouaké, the former rebel stronghold.  The kits are a package of work tools and some cash that the Mission hopes will ease the return of the former combatants to regular civilian life.  

This is the second group of former rebels to complete the UN-backed disarmament, demobilization and reinsertion programme.  Earlier this month, some 200 former rebels also completed the programme in Seguela, a town near the border with Mali.

** Afghanistan

The Afghan Government and the UN Refugee Agency have pledged to strengthen efforts for returnees and displaced people within the Afghanistan National Development Strategy.

More than 5 million Afghan refugees, 20 per cent of Afghanistan's population, have returned home since 2002.  The vast majority have gone back to their areas of origin, but recent returnees are facing more difficulties as the country's absorption capacity reaches its current limits.

**Parliamentary Hearing

The Secretary-General today addressed this year’s Parliamentary Hearing at the UN, an event organized by the UN and the Inter-Parliamentary Union.  He said parliamentarians were the UN’s natural allies, since, like them, the UN is answerable to the world’s people.  And the common aim of parliamentarians and the UN is building consensus in order to address the urgent issues of the day, he added.  We have the full text in my office upstairs.

** Rwanda

On Rwanda, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), Hassan Bubacar Jallow, has been holding consultations with Rwandan officials on the strategy for referral of ICTR cases to Rwanda for trial.  The discussions are taking place at the seat of the Tribunal in Arusha.  While Rwanda has noted the recognition by the Tribunal of its court system’s apparent impartiality, Tribunal officials continue to have reservations on referring cases to Rwanda.  The ongoing consultations should help clear some of the misunderstandings and lay a clear path for further collaboration.  There is more in a press release upstairs.

**Iceland/Lebanon

The International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Executive Board has approved a stand-by arrangement for Iceland.  Under the Fund’s fast-track Emergency Financing Mechanism, $2.1 billion will be disbursed over the next two years to help Iceland restore confidence and stabilize its currency, while restructuring its banking system.

Last month, Iceland’s three main banks all collapsed in less than a week, causing a sharp drop in the country’s currency and setting the stage for a prolonged and severe recession. 

In other news, the IMF has also approved nearly $38 million in emergency post-conflict assistance for Lebanon, to support the country’s economic program for 2008-2009.  The IMF provided similar assistance last year.  There is more information on both of these upstairs.

**Disarmament

The seventh annual Joint Conference on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Issues will take place in Jeju Island, Republic of Korea, from 24 to 26 November, co-organized by the United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs and the Government of the Republic of Korea.

Under the theme of “Nuclear Renaissance and the NPT:  Reinforcing the Three Pillars of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty”, the Conference will address several critical issues in the fields of nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

These include revitalizing the NPT process; nuclear renaissance and multilateral assurance mechanism for nuclear fuel supply; challenges and responses to nuclear non-proliferation and nuclear disarmament; and non-proliferation challenges in North-east Asia.

Some 40 representatives of Governments, international organizations, academic and research institutions, as well as civil society, will participate in the Conference, which is an important forum for dialogue and exchange of views on pressing security- and disarmament-related issues facing the international community.  The Conference also addresses particular disarmament and non-proliferation concerns in the Asia-Pacific region.

** Africa Industrialization Day

Today is Africa Industrialization Day.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says the theme of this year’s observance, “Processing of Raw Materials for Sustainable Growth and Development”, is very timely.  After all, a slowdown in the global economy will hit exporters of primary products hard.

He also notes that more than half of Africa’s people are employed in the agricultural sector.  This makes it essential to develop the agri-business and agro-processing industries, he adds.  We have the full message upstairs.

**Environment

On the environment, the Deputy Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Richard Kinley, addressed yesterday’s Global Climate Summit, convened by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in Beverly Hills.

Kinley stressed that a complex global problem like climate change must be addressed through an international agreement, but state and provincial governments also have a role to play.  Early action on their part can show national Governments that tackling climate change is possible without bankrupting an economy; they can also contribute to national Governments’ ability to commit to ambitious targets internationally.  He urged those gathered to advocate for a new climate change deal in Copenhagen by the end of 2009.

The heads of both the UNFCCC and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) also welcomed US President-elect Barack Obama’s video message to the Summit, in which he said his presidency “will mark a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change”.

In other news, the world’s first carbon-neutral airline has joined UNEP’s Climate Neutral Network.  NatureAir, which is based in Costa Rica, is the first airline to join this network.  The company’s entire ground fleet runs on biofuels, while emissions from flight operations are offset through carbon credits and the protection of tropical forests in southern Costa Rica.

**Press Conferences Today

At 1:30 p.m. in this Room there will be a press conference to mark Universal Children's Day.  During this press conference, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, and Ambassador Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata, the Permanent Representative of Italy to the UN, will be joined by Saad Houry, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, as well as former child soldiers and youth advocates, to launch a new global network of children formerly affected by war.

On the same topic, later today at 6 p.m. in the Visitors Lobby, there will be a reception for the opening of a photo exhibit on “Child Soldiers - Children of War:  Broken Childhood”. 

And at 2:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by Aira Kalela, Head of International Affairs at the Ministry of the Environment of Finland; Janet Macharia from the UN Environment Programme; and Liane Schalatek from the Heinrich Böll Foundation in North America, on issues relating to gender and climate change.

And this is all I have for you today, thank you.  Yes, Talit?  I’m sorry, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, I just want to find out, does the Secretary-General have any reaction or anything to say about how Pakistan has protested today that the United States has attacked (inaudible) inside Pakistan.  Earlier it used to be inside the tribal areas, now it’s inside Pakistan.  So, Pakistan has protested.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to this?

Spokesperson:  No.  For the time being, it is being treated on a bilateral basis.  So, the Secretary-General has no special reaction to that.

Question:  And has any Government reacted to the Secretary-General’s request to ease the border crossings, and do you have any updates on Gaza?  Do you have any updates on that?

Spokesperson:  No, I do not have an update on Gaza.  What we know is that the crossings are still closed, and we don’t have any further information on what will be done.  That’s all I have really, on Gaza.

Question:  Earlier on, the Secretary-General had called the Israeli Prime Minister and asked him; but so far no reaction?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  It’s about Somalia, Michèle.  I understand from MONUC the Secretary-General has asked for a surge of the numbers of forces.  When it comes to Somalia, is the Secretary-General asking for a multinational force, or is he asking for a surge in the African Union forces?  What is his exact position in terms of these peacekeeping operations in that country of Somalia?

Spokesperson:  For the time being, this is still being discussed, which form an international force would take, and I think we have to wait before we get specifics on this one.  As you know, this is a topic of discussion right now in the Security Council. 

Question:  Did he make any recommendation to the Council about what it should be like?

Spokesperson:  I will get that information for you.  

[The Spokesperson later clarified that the Secretary-General feels that the African Union Mission in Somalia deserves international support and encouragement.  He adds that it will be imperative to tie that Mission, the ongoing anti-piracy operation, and an envisaged multinational force in a coordinated effort to address both the consequences and the sources of lawlessness in Somalia.  As current conditions are not conducive to a United Nations peacekeeping operation, he appeals to Member States to pledge troops, funds and equipment for a multinational force.]

Question:  …2,700 military personnel that are going to be deployed in the Democratic Republic of the Congo; do we have a time when they will be in the Congo?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think it’s a very positive move that the Security Council adopted that resolution, which was being asked for.  I think we have already started engaging troop-contributor countries to actually bring troops in, preferably troops that have had previous experience with the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  So the contacts have been taken.  How long it will take?  I cannot answer that question at this point.  It will depend on how the troop contributors will react.  So I think what is important to say is that, whether we’re talking about 3,000 or 2,900 or 30,000 troops, the answer to the situation in the Congo is a political answer.  There has to be a political solution.  And I think it’s important to stress that, and to stress also that a peacekeeping force cannot actually make peace.  We’re there under a mandate to support MONUC -- I’m sorry -- to support Government troops, and this is our mandate so far.  Of course, it is a positive step that we have more troops.  Now we need resources, that we have asked for, to support these troops. 

Question:  (inaudible)

Spokesperson:  Well, I cannot at this point, when they’re still under discussion, I cannot reveal which country has been approached.  But of course, as soon as they actually decide, make a pledge of sending their troops, we will let you know, of course, immediately.  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, (inaudible) come up today at the stakeout, which is, what’s the process for appointing a new Special Representative or Envoy to Western Sahara?  It’s been a number of months.  Who is performing the job, and is it getting any closer to actually naming one?  What’s the hold-up?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am hoping that we’re getting closer to that point.  From what I gather, there is enough agreement among the parties for the Secretary-General to announce an appointment.  But I will let you know as soon as it is confirmed.

Question:  I wanted to ask, were you in Geneva with the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  No, I was not.

Question:  Okay.  I guess, maybe it’s the last time I’ll ask this.  But the controversy about the ceiling that he inaugurated, there was a lot of press coverage.  So, I’m just wondering if, now that he has seen how it was covered, was there some, and the Spanish Government has said that its international cooperation budget was used for this $25 million ceiling in Geneva.  Was there any response from the UN about whether, maybe the project started before the financial crisis, maybe it would have been done differently, but thus far there has been no statement at all despite many questions and many articles.  What’s the thinking about…?

Spokesperson:  Well, the project was under way before any financial crisis.  And as far as I can understand -- and you should probably ask the question to the Government of Spain -- they have a budget that treats not only cooperation matters and assistance to a number of countries, but in the same budget, they also have UN affairs.  And it is a decision by the Spanish Government to use some of that money from that fund to sponsor the work of art that is that ceiling.

Question:  Forgive me (inaudible),… then I promise this is the last one on this.  Does the Secretary-General, is it your sense that he’d feel, given the financial crisis now, that if a Government has a mixed budget like that, that it may be important to deal with the needs of the poor or Millennium Development Goals first and $25 million ceilings later?

Spokesperson:  In the case of a gift from any Government, it is matter for the Government itself to decide.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Michèle, on this crisis on the high seas, the piracy of ships and so forth, is the Secretary-General thinking of recommending to the Security Council to authorize some sort of rapid deployment force to deal with this piracy?  Now it has become endemic and so pervasive that there’s really (inaudible)... financial system by, you know, there is the whole oil tanker being now hijacked and so forth?

Spokesperson:  As you know, Masood, this is being discussed.  This is exactly the subject that we were talking about, that it is being discussed, and we’re hoping to have the representative of the IMO to come and talk to you at the press stakeout.  In terms of what is being done, as you know, a number of countries have already deployed ships in the area, and they have been acting against the pirates.  But right now it is a matter being discussed at the Security Council.

Question:  They have not been effective so far.

Spokesperson:  Well, I wouldn’t say that.  I think they have been, in the last two days, more effective than they ever were.

Question:  Michèle, in the press conference list it says at 4 p.m. the Minister for Defence of Germany is to hold a press encounter, after his meeting with the Secretary-General.  You didn’t mention that; or is that still on, and do you know anything about what it will be about?

Spokesperson:  I don’t.  We can check, you can check upstairs whether it’s still on.  I don’t know.  I don’t have that information.  Okay, thank you all very much. 

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you, Michèle. Good afternoon to everybody.

We have a busy day at the General Assembly on several fronts and committees.  This morning the President of the General Assembly participated at a meeting on the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly.  And in is opening remarks, President d´Escoto said:

“I believe we need to take radical steps to regain the authority of the General Assembly so that it can perform its duties as the most democratic organ of the United Nations.  We are certainly the most representative body of the international system.  But I don’t think we can say we are the most democratic.  Yes, each Member State has a vote in the Assembly, and this is what makes it unique within the international community.  But until the Assembly restores the authority assigned to it under the Charter, our democracy will fall short of exercising the real leadership that the world requires at this juncture in history.  It is imperative to re-establish the balance among the principle organs of our Organization and to ensure that the powers assigned to each in the Charter are fully respected.  This is what I see as the ultimate goal of this process of revitalization.”

The President also attended the Parliamentary Hearing of the Inter-Parliamentary Union at the General Assembly and he underlined that -- and I am going to quote again:

“The central role that you as parliamentarians play in ensuring that international policies in the areas of peacekeeping, human rights, development and the environment are reflected in your national debate is of enormous support to us at the United Nations.  Such debate ensures that citizens understand our work and therefore can better support the Organization.”

And this is what I have for you, unless you have any questions.  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Enrique, maybe I missed it, has there been any progress reported on this Security Council reform, how far is it going, are they ready to have intergovernmental dialogue?

Spokesperson:  You missed it yesterday.  I made a briefing yesterday on the status.  I’ll make it very short.  The Open-ended Working Group, which, as you know, needs to discuss this after the sixty-second session, restarted their work on 11 November, last week.  And they now have a deadline to finish their work, which is the end of February 2009.  And as soon as they finish their work -- the President of the General Assembly would like that they finish earlier than that date if possible, but in any case, they have a deadline of that -- then they would start the intergovernmental negotiations at the General Assembly.  And that should be not later than 28 February.  The President of the General Assembly is following very closely and talking to the different parties to make sure that the process goes ahead and, as you know, he asked one of his Vice-Presidents, the Ambassador of Afghanistan, Mr. [Zahir] Tanin, to be leading this process.  This is where we are, and they have been discussing this in the last couple of weeks.

Question:  (Inaudible) deadline to begin the negotiations, right?

Spokesperson:  Not later than 28 February 2009.

Question:  But what moves this forward?  I mean, it just seems -- we have the same deadlines now, that’s something.  But is there anything else to move the process forward?  It seems there is a lot of frustration on some people’s part that the process doesn’t seem to ever move forward, whereas there are other African nations that are not so happy about having changes.  So, what can help the process?  What is the President doing before the 28th and what is his Vice-President doing to help this process make some change?

Spokesperson:  On the contrary, I think the process is moving and they are really moving now.  For the President of the General Assembly -- as I said, this is one of his priorities -- is making sure that the process is as quick as possible.  He has inherited these deadlines from the previous session of the General Assembly, and that’s why he is asking Ambassador Tanin to follow the negotiations.  Ambassador Tanin has already been meeting with several groups.  The President himself has been meeting with several groups to hear the different opinions and try to get the work of the Open-Ended Working Group as soon as possible so that, with that background, with that work before the intergovernmental negotiations, we can start immediately the intergovernmental negotiations as soon as possible.  But if not, the deadline will be 28 February.

Question:  Is there any thought of inviting other people in some other processes to speak and to have suggestions or to be opening the process up in some way?

Spokesperson:  With all due respect, we don’t need more people.  We need the political will to move ahead from the Member States and the process is there.  And as I said, nobody involved believes that a different step should be done.  We have a plan of action very clearly stated.  We have a clear leadership from the President of the General Assembly and the process is moving ahead.  So, we expect to have results.  I have already said this is up to the Member States.

Question:  (inaudible) for another, a different question.

Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  When you had the talk by President [Evo] Morales about the… about what Bolivia is doing about the economic crisis in terms of the development in Bolivia, I thought that was a very interesting alternative to other discussions about the economic crisis and development.  Is there any plan of trying to have more of that kind of discussion at the UN so that the G-20 is not left as only the G-20, but a greater number of nations have a chance to speak up and to discuss the issues, what to do about the crisis?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think it’s a very relevant point.  And, as you certainly probably know, the President of the General Assembly is doing his utmost to make sure that whatever discussion is taking place in whatever forum is as inclusive as possible, and inviting all the Member States to participate.  That’s why he insists that the discussion, the forum for that kind of discussion for the restructuring of the international financial architecture should be the G-192.

Question:  Is he getting any traction in that?  It’s a very laudable view, perspective, in my view, very laudable.  But is he getting any traction?  Is it just he may be talking about that?  What kind of support is he receiving and then, you know, second question related to what is his reaction to the outcome of the G-20 that met Friday and Saturday in Washington, D.C.?

Spokesperson:  Well, he thinks it is a positive outcome that a group of countries have coordinated among themselves and have made some decisions among themselves on the financial crisis.  But, as you know, his position is very clear and very public that these kinds of decisions that affect all of us should be taken in the General Assembly with the G-192.  And he is taking all the steps that are on his hand to make sure that the process goes ahead, which is not a new one, as you know.  And he nominated -- we had this meeting on the financial crisis a few weeks ago here, and after that he has named a working group -- a commission of experts which are right now already working on a document which should be the basis of discussion for the high-level summit that he expects to take place here at the UN in New York in the spring of 2009, precisely to address those issues of the financial crisis and those issues of the restructuring of the international architecture of the financial institutions.  And in that regard, he is getting a lot of support from several countries.  We have seen not only in Washington already, but in Doha, and the different leaders that are supporting this political broad support effort to make sure that those decisions, those very important decisions for all of us, are taken here at the UN with all the Member States.

If there are no more questions, thank you very much.

* *** *

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