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

26 November 2008

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

26 November 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.

**Security Council on Democratic Republic of Congo

The Security Council this morning heard, in an open meeting, from Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  If he can get out of the open meeting in time, we expect Mr. Doss to be the guest at the noon briefing; we’ll inform you if he has to speak to you in this room later than that.

Doss gave the details of the Secretary-General’s latest report on the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC), which is out as a document today.  In that report, the Secretary-General says that the crisis in North Kivu has entered a critical phase, with an immense humanitarian toll on the civilian population.

Doss noted that diplomatic activity at the highest level has been initiated to help end the military confrontation and revive the peace process.  But he added that it is also necessary to establish a solid defensive posture to discourage new military action, in order to give the peace talks under the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Olusegun Obasanjo, a chance to progress.

He asserted that the reinforcement of MONUC should not lead towards charging the mission with unrealistic tasks and responsibilities.  MONUC, Doss said, should remain a peacekeeping and not a peace enforcement mission.

The Secretary-General’s report recommends that the Council renew MONUC’s mandate for an additional twelve months, until the end of 2009.  He firmly believes that the Security Council should review the UN Mission’s structure and its objectives over the coming year.

Earlier this morning, Doss also spoke to troop-contributing countries about MONUC’s needs, a week after the Security Council authorized some 3,000 additional personnel.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has condemned so-called “police and pacification operations” by rebels loyal to General Laurent Nkunda.  The operations amount to full-fledged military actions in violation of the ceasefire.  They also add a new layer of danger to ongoing humanitarian work, in addition to worsening the security climate, the Mission said.  And UN peacekeepers also report that fighting took place yesterday afternoon between Nkunda’s rebels and ethnic Mai-Mai militias east of Kiwanja.  The fighting, whose toll remains unclear, caused the local population to flee toward the Ugandan border.

Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency is launching a 16-day campaign to improve awareness of gender based violence and promote strategies to fight.  The campaign will last until 10 December and will consist of various countrywide events and a sensitization drive.

** Somalia

The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has welcomed the latest progress in the reconciliation talks between the transitional government and the opposition Alliance for the Re-liberation of Somalia.  The parties are reported to have agreed on matters of power-sharing in the government, justice administration and security.  Ould-Abdallah said today’s agreement “is very encouraging because it advances the commitment made by both sides to form an inclusive parliament and unity Government”.  The deal creates 75 additional seats in parliament and promotes the inclusion of civil society, including women, business leaders and Somalis abroad, in the reconciliation process.  There is more in a press release upstairs on Somalia.

** Sudan

On Sudan, the Secretary-General welcomes the decree signed yesterday by Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir appointing the National Electoral Commission.  The appointment of the Commission, a key requirement for organizing free and fair elections next year, constitutes major progress towards implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

The United Nations, in line with Security Council Resolution 1590 (2005), stands ready to support the electoral process.

John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, on his second day visiting Darfur, visited Hamadiya camp -- home for up to 40,000 displaced persons.

He also visited the town Zalingei in West Darfur for the first time, where Mr. Holmes met with Government and civic leaders and also called attention to the devastating effect the conflict is having on the environment.

Earlier in the day, Mr Holmes met with local governmental officials. 

He also visited Taiba, the only Arab internally displaced camp in Darfur, and met with families and the elderly who told him about the daily challenges they face including food and particularly the need for secondary school education for their children.

On Thursday, the Emergency Relief Coordinator will depart Darfur for a two day visit to South Sudan which will include Agok, Abyei and Juba.

**Security Council

This afternoon, starting at 3, the Security Council will hold an open debate on Kosovo.  You’ll recall that the Secretary-General’s latest report on Kosovo was issued yesterday.

Following that meeting, the Security Council will hold consultations to discuss the Secretary-General’s recent report on the implementation of resolution 1701, concerning Lebanon.  Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, will brief the Council, and he has also agreed to speak to you at the stakeout once those consultations have finished.

** Afghanistan

The Security Council mission currently visiting Afghanistan today flew to the city of Herat, in the west of the country.  The Council ambassadors met with the Governor and local leaders, civil society representatives and UN Mission staff.  There are more meetings scheduled for the Security Council in Kabul tomorrow.

** Gaza

The Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) reports that the Kerem Shalom crossing, the Karni conveyor belt, and the Nahal Oz fuel pipelines were all open today.

As a result, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) was able to get 12 trucks into Gaza.

The remaining seven contained medicines and food, which were donated by Jordan.  But despite fuel coming through for the power plant, UNSCO says spare parts are still needed -– meaning that Gaza City will still be experiencing rotating power cuts of several hours. 

Meanwhile, a humanitarian appeal for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, which was launched last week in Geneva, was launched locally in Jerusalem today.  Speaking at the launch, the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for the territory, Maxwell Gaylard, said the situation there was “an assault on human dignity”.

He added that many people, especially in the Gaza Strip, are paying a heavy price, struggling daily to have enough food and water to feed and wash their children.

** Iraq

Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, marked yesterday’s International Day on the Elimination of Violence against Women by calling for the urgent establishment of a national legal framework guaranteeing the protection of women in Iraq.

He warned that the situation of women in some parts of the country, after years of conflict, is very unsatisfactory.

The UN Mission in Iraq, he said, urges all law enforcing agencies to help redress the current climate of impunity by prioritizing the resolution of cases of violence against women and bringing those responsible to justice.

** Haiti

The UN Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) is funding the construction of two roads in the Central Plateau region to the tune of $250,000, it said in a public announcement yesterday.  The project will add 7 fresh kilometres of paved road in the town of Marmont and pave 600 meters of road in the town of Hinche.  The Mission says the project will create temporary employment for some 2,500 people.

** Zimbabwe

In an update on the response to the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that UN and non-governmental organizations are supporting cholera treatment centres in 26 districts where cholera was reported.

A comprehensive cholera response operation plan has been drawn up by the World Health Organization.  WHO is in the process of procuring emergency stocks to run cholera treatment centres for one month.

Around the country, humanitarian agencies have constructed emergency latrines, and clean drinking water is being delivered to affected areas.  Boreholes are being rehabilitated.  Hygiene promotion activities are being conducted, and mobile clinics and support units are being set up.

Uncontrolled sewage, lack of sanitation in congested areas, and general lack of hygiene practiced by vendors, food outlets and transient populations are challenges in several areas.  Accessing sufficient water in Harare is also difficult.  Solid waste and refuse removal is a major cause of the continued increase of infections.

**International Labour Organization -- Wage Report

In its annual Global Wage Report, released today, the International Labour Office finds that millions of workers will likely face wage cuts next year, as a result of the global financial crisis.  This comes after a decade in which wages failed to keep pace with both economic growth and inflation.

Since 1995, inequality between the highest and lowest wages has increased in more than two thirds of the countries surveyed, often reaching socially unsustainable levels, the ILO says.  The pay gap between genders remains high and is closing only very slowly.  In most countries, women are paid between 70 and 90 per cent of what men receive, and much less than that in some places, particularly in Asia. 

The report encourages governments to protect the purchasing power of workers through minimum wages and other income support measures.

**HIV

The World Health Organization today said that universal and annual voluntary testing, followed by immediate antiretroviral therapy treatment, can reduce new HIV cases by 95 per cent within 10 years.  WHO says that strategy could also have additional public health benefits, including reducing the incidence of tuberculosis and the transmission of HIV from mother to child.

**Human Rights Awards

Enrique was unable to come to the noon briefing today.

But he wanted me to flag to you a press release from the President of the General Assembly about the 2008 winners of a human rights prize.  We have that press release upstairs, of course, available right now.

**Tomorrow

UN Headquarters is closed for an official holiday tomorrow, as you know.  We are not planning on having a noon briefing on Friday, but my office will be staffed as on a regular work day.  Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

We already have it just in case you are not here on Friday.

On Saturday, in Doha, Qatar, the Secretary-General and the Emir of Qatar jointly convene a high-level retreat on the global financial crisis.

In Geneva, the Human Rights Council holds a special session on “The situation of human rights in the east of the Democratic Republic of the Congo”.

From Saturday until the following Tuesday, the Follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development to Review the Implementation of the Monterrey Consensus takes place in Doha, Qatar.

Monday will be the first day of Croatia’s Security Council presidency.  From Monday until 12 December, the latest round of UN-backed climate change talks takes place in Poznań, Poland.

The following Tuesday, 2 December, at 12.30 p.m. in Room S-226, Ambassador Neven Jurica, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Croatia and President of the Security Council for December, briefs on the Council’s programme of work for the month.

And then looking ahead to Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in Room S‑226, International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo will be joined by other speakers to brief on the Court’s report on the situation in Darfur.  So this is just for your planning purposes.  And this is all I have for you.  Thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yesterday, the Secretary-General expressed alarm about the situation in Zimbabwe.  And UNICEF, in this report I am seeing here, calling the Government, the Zimbabwe Government to immediately tackle the country’s water and sanitation structure and to halt the spread of cholera.  Zimbabwe’s Government’s inability to address water and sewage structure problems has a lot to do according to (inaudible) with the country’s inability to access international credit facilities, which is a direct result from the sanctions imposed by the United States government and the EU.  If the United Nations is serious about the government of Zimbabwe tackling these issues, does the UN plan to address the question of the sanctions that have been imposed on the government of Zimbabwe?

Spokesperson:  This is a question for the Security Council to answer.  These are measures by the Security Council, not by the UN Secretariat.

Question:  I’m sorry?

Spokesperson:  They are measures to be taken by the Security Council.  I am saying that it is not for the UN Secretariat to say anything about the sanctions.  This is a decision taken by the Security Council.

Question:  Is the UN Secretariat aware or cognizant of the fact that the problems in Zimbabwe in regards to its inability to deal with the construction and sanitation issues is directly related to its inability to access credit?  If you are aware and cognizant of that, why don’t you raise those issues?

Spokesperson:  We have been aware of those issues for quite awhile.  We have been raising them for quite a while.  You are new here, but the issue of Zimbabwe, the UN has been talking about, and the Secretary-General in particular, has been talking about the issues in Zimbabwe for the last four or five months extensively and I’m sure that we can refer you to everything that was said on the issue.

Question:  I am familiar with the Secretary-General’s comments about Zimbabwe but the Secretary-General has not addressed the question of sanctions which is directly related to the government’s inability to deal with these questions…

Spokesperson:  Well I am just telling you that it is not for the UN Secretary-General to address the issue of sanctions.  It is the matter for the Security Council, not the Secretary-General, it is not in the purview of the Secretary-General’s mandate.

Question:  But those sanctions are Security Council sanctions?

Spokesperson:  I am saying they are individual countries.  The whole issue of sanctions is to be taken up by the Security Council.  They are not sanctions of the Security Council at the present, but any issue of sanctions has to be addressed by the Security Council.

Question:  So are those sanctions considered legal or illegal?

Spokesperson:  Those are the decisions taken by the individual states at this hour.

Question:  I guess with respect to that I have been wondering what the sanctions are and what the effect of them is and is there some section within the UN that can be looking into that, because that does seem to be an area that the UN can at least do some kind of report about, so that there is knowledge in the international community about what’s happening. 

Spokesperson:  When the sanctions are taken by the Security Council, there are regular reports on those sanctions.  On sanctions taken by individual countries, against another country, those are bilateral matters that we have absolutely no impact upon.  Of course, a Member State can address the Security Council to ask the Security Council to weigh on this.  But, this is not the case yet for Zimbabwe.

Question:  The Secretary-General has the ability to look into situations like…

Spokesperson:  Yes, we have been saying this, Rhonda, for quite a while.  And what I’m telling you is that the Secretary-General has a limited mandate.  He can, in some extreme cases, of course, address the Security Council on a number of matters or refer cases to the Security Council.  He cannot overrule the Security Council.

Question:  But this isn’t that the Security Council has the sanctions but it is a humanitarian situation that is affecting the health and well-being of the population and if there is knowledge about what’s leading to this…

Spokesperson:  We have been doing what we can about those humanitarian situations.  In fact, I gave you a report yesterday on Zimbabwe and today I did a follow-up on what is being done to face the situation in Zimbabwe, the humanitarian situation.  So I cannot go beyond that, nor can the Secretary-General at this point.

Question:  There were some news reports today that UN Secretary-General is going to launch the International Court for Lebanon next March.  Is that correct?

Spokesperson:  As soon as the report is out, we shall let you know, but the report is not out yet officially.

Question:  Yes, there are some news reports today…

Spokesperson:  Yes, I saw them but I cannot personally comment on them because the report is not out yet.  Only when the report will be given to the Security Council officially can I comment on it.

Question:  Okay… today that the report it is going to be published?

Spokesperson:  We are hoping it goes to the Council either today or tomorrow.  Tomorrow is closed.  We are trying to find out when it is going to be.  I know it is ready, but I don’t know when the Council will issue it to its members. 

Question:  So it’s not going to be discussed this afternoon within the 1701 report?

Spokesperson:  The Lebanon report?  I don’t think so.  The 1701 report, yes, the report of OLA on the Tribunal, I am not sure it will be discussed today.  But I can of course find out for you a little further on this exactly when it will be available.

Question:  Yesterday’s conference by UNIFEM, one of the handouts of the Fund to end violence against women, described a grant to the UN country team in “ Macedonia”.  Since the official name, at least in the United Nations, is FYROM, do you know who is responsible for this publication?  Do we know who runs the country team and if something is going to be done about this?  And the last question, in the Sudan, someone was jailed for speaking to the ICC.  Does the UN or the Secretary-General have a comment about this?

Spokesperson:  Your first question on the issue of FYROM, your question should be addressed to UNIFEM.  UNIFEM is actually the one who took care of the event yesterday.  So you should address your question to them.  Your second question is about…?

Question:  Sudan.

Spokesperson:  Sudan.  About whether the SG is going to react?  The answer is no.  The SG is not going to react on one specific case of that sort.  No. 

Question:  I have a question regarding a report by colleague from the Agence France-Presse who said that the president, the Congolese government had sent a letter to the Secretary-General asking for Ban Ki-moon not to send any more Indian troops, Indian peacekeepers to reinforce MONUC, so I was wondering if you were aware of that letter, if you could confirm the content of the letter?

Spokesperson:  Well we can confirm that the letter was received by the Congolese authorities, but it does not single out any particular country.  This will be a matter for the Secretary-General to consider when deciding on troop deployment, and since you mentioned the Indian contingent, I can only say that the Indian brigade is on the front line in North Kivu.  It has been quite active in the last few months.  They have been performing quite well and beyond the call of duty, and as you know under very difficult circumstances.  So, at this point, this is all we can say.  Of course we always take into account the point of view of the host country, and the Secretary-General will certainly take that into account.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comments on the events in Thailand? 

Spokesperson:  No.  Not really.  We are just following the situation quite closely. 

Question:  Someone reported the failure of the head of, particularly the World Bank, Robert Zoellick, to go to the Doha talks has been described as a snub of Ban Ki-moon.  Does he view it that way, has he spoke to Mr. Zoellick about it, does he view it as a good sign that the head of, neither the IMF either will go to the Doha talks?  What’s his response to that?

Spokesperson:  Well he spoke to both of them and he’s encouraged by the fact that there is a 25 strong delegation, 25-member strong delegation of the World Bank going over there, and from what I gather, the Bank delegation will be lead by Chinese national Justin Lin, who is Senior Vice President and Senior Economist of the World Bank, and he will represent Mr. Zoellick.  The SG did discuss the participation of Mr. Zoellick when he met him at the G-20 meeting in Washington, but there were enforcing circumstances requiring Mr. Zoellick to stay right there in Washington, so we certainly welcome the World Bank’s critical participation in the Doha conference. 

As you know developing nations have a very high expectations for the World Bank, particularly at this time of crisis, and we must all work together, the UN, the World Bank, IMF, the community of nations and … okay.  I’m sorry.  Something to tell you that Mr. Doss will head to the stakeout after the Security Council’s consultations, so we will be … it’s lasting a lot longer than we expected so we’ll let you know.  You’ll let us know, right?  We’ll let you know when he is going there.  Thanks.  And what is important in that meeting in Doha is that the voice of developing countries be heard.  There are number of side events that have been organized, one by the World Bank, one by the Financing, the Innovative Financing for Developing Mechanism, so what is important is that we get results in Doha.  And the participation of the World Bank is crucial.  It is very important.

Question:  And also I wanted to ask you, there was a press conference here at 11 by OCHA about Zimbabwe, the scope of which was explicitly Zimbabwe only… but an issue that arose was when, the UN, apparently up until two weeks ago when they converted donor dollars in Zimbabwe, they received a foreign exchange rate significantly lower than the market rate.  But, they said that they were unwilling to compare the two, because the UN doesn’t do business “on the black market”.  Is it, does the UN, I guess, if it’s spending donor money, is some attempt made to see that in fact the money is not just being lost to governments like, in this case Zimbabwe, or what happened in Myanmar.  What safeguards are in place to make sure that money is not being lost to governments when they require conversions of funds with them?

Spokesperson:  Okay, what we are also concerned about is not going through illegal channels.  And the UN cannot afford to go the black market.  What Ms. Bragg said was true.  In terms of trying to find the best rates, as you know, they negotiate in every single country where the UN operates.  So, short of going through the illegal market, we are doing what we can to try to get the best rate we can possibly have. 

Question:  I tried to ask Ms. Bragg if the UN had compared other rates available other than the one they were getting from the government and she said, no, we only take one with the government.  So how would, how would the UN know if it’s getting a good rate or not if it doesn’t, I guess I’m, maybe the question to you or to OCHA is, what has been the spread between what other people get as an exchange rate and what the UN gets from the government?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information.  If Ms. Bragg could not give to you, I don’t have it.

Question:  She said it was a matter of policy.  They won’t even say what the comparison is because they don’t want to talk about a “black market”.

Spokesperson:  I understand her point.

Question:  So, I go back to this.  With these cap appeals that come out, how is there any way to know how much of the money is being lost in government foreign exchange conversions, if the UN has a policy of never comparing the rates.

Spokesperson:  Well, the situation is that we are an intergovernmental organization.  You have to take into account the legal government that is in any country, whether there are problems or not, of course.  The policy is trying to find the best rates, but within legal ways. 

Question:  I guess I’m…

Spokesperson:  In some countries it’s not a black market.  It’s a competitive market.  Then the UN tries to get the best rate.  Whenever you have a government-controlled system like this one, the UN does not have a choice.

Question:  Right.  I guess, just to deal with that, I understand what you’re saying, it seems important to know what, to know what the losses are, to know…

Spokesperson:  I’m sure they are aware of it. 

Question:  Then why wouldn’t they disclose them?  If they just asked the international community for hundreds of millions of dollars, if the UN knows how much is being lost to the Government, why would it be against the policy to say…?

Spokesperson:  Because they cannot officially take into account the black market. 

Question:  Could it be done on some unofficial basis?

Spokesperson:  It’s certainly done on an unofficial basis.  But it won’t be valuable to you.  Okay?

Question:  I have one last question.

Spokesperson:  Certainly. 

Question:  The Secretary-General expressed, in regards to the Elders, according to this here, he expressed regret that they, of the decision of the Zimbabwean Government’s “not to cooperate with their timely, well-intended effort to assist the people of Zimbabwe”.  He expressed regret.  So why hasn’t he expressed regret in regards to the sanctions that have been imposed by the United States and EU, and that again has affected the Zimbabwe Government’s ability to respond to this challenge?

At the very least, he can express…

Spokesperson:  It’s a lot like the question you just formulated earlier.  What I am saying is that in this specific case of support of the Elders, the Elders were going on a humanitarian mission, and he offers his support and he regretted that they could not go into Zimbabwe.  The fact that he regrets a decision taken by the Zimbabwean Government, I think, is explicit enough. 

Question:  But the sanctions have triggered an humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe.  Why does he not express regret about the sanctions?

Spokesperson:  There are a number of governments taking decisions about sanctions against this country or that country or that other country.  We are not in the business of analysing every bilateral decision taken by every country.  We have 192 Member States.

Question:  I’m not asking you for an analysis of… I am asking for an expression of regret.  Is he comfortable with the sanctions that have triggered this humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe? Or is he regretful…?

Spokesperson:  He is giving his opinion on the humanitarian crisis.  We are trying to do our best to address that humanitarian crisis on the ground.  This is our position.

[The Spokesperson later added that the situation in Zimbabwe is a result of poor governance and the country’s political situation, as well as agricultural problems, climate change, land degradation and HIV/AIDS.  It is not realistic to single out any one factor, she said.]

Question:  Thank you.  First of all there is a report that one of the, one of your colleagues in the Hague Tribunal said that the Hague Tribunal would not close its doors before the two others accused of war crimes that are at large are captured and transferred to The Hague.  What is your comment, can you reaffirm the position of the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Well, the position of the Secretary-General has been that even though there was an official position that the Tribunal should end its work in 2010, that it’s a decision by the Tribunal to stay on and take care of the remaining cases.

Question:  So he supports that idea for Tribunal to continue?

Spokesperson:  Of course.

Question:  And the second one is whether this report on Kosovo somehow expressed taking the distance from the Secretary-General towards Ahtisaari’s plan since he supported the neutrality of EULEX in Kosovo and obviously somehow that means the Secretary-General will no longer support Ahtisaari’s plan?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think the report speaks for itself. I will not add anything more to it.

Question:  Meaning what?

Spokesperson:  Meaning the report is there.  Read it.

Question:  Well I read it.

Spokesperson:  Well OK, good, so you have your answer.

Question:  I don’t.

Spokesperson:  (laughing)  It has nothing to do with whether the SG supports the Ahtisaari plan or not.  It has to do with the evolving situation on the ground.  Since the Ahtisaari plan you have had a number of events on the ground that have made adaptation a necessity. 

Question:  So he departed somehow from his original idea.  Thank you. 

Spokesperson:  Thank you all very much and I will let you of course over the loudspeaker when Mr. Doss will head to the Stakeout. 

* *** *

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