11 December 2008


11 December 2008
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York




The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, all.

** Algiers Attack

This morning, the United Nations marked the anniversary of the terrorist attack against the United Nations in Algiers one year ago, in which 17 UN staff died and 40 were injured, with a minute of silence in honour of the fallen staff and a solemn ceremony at Headquarters.

At the ceremony, the Deputy Secretary-General read out a message on the Secretary-General’s behalf, recalling his outrage that terrorists had inflicted such brutality on the very people who were working for a better life for all Algerians.

“Terrorists have taken these noble individuals from us,” the Secretary-General said in his message.  “But they can never extinguish our hopes for global harmony nor our conviction that working together is the only path to a better world.”

In terms of follow-up to the Algiers attacks, I had received some questions yesterday and I wanted to provide an update on the improvements we’ve been making on security.

In June 2008, you’ll recall, the Secretary-General received the report of the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of UN Personnel and Premises, chaired by Lakhdar Brahimi.  Following the release of that report, the Secretary-General established a Steering Committee to follow up on the Panel’s recommendations.  That Committee presented its findings at the October meeting of the Chief Executives Board and, since then, further work has been done to develop a comprehensive plan for a system-wide security management system.  The Chief Executives Board will consider that plan at its spring 2009 session, to ensure that we have the best possible security system for our staff.

As we make progress on the recommendations of various expert committees, the Secretary-General is also committed to look at how the UN can better support the families of victims.  Under the leadership of the Under-Secretary-General of the Department of Management, a working group has been formed to examine how we can better respond to the need for sustained support for surviving staff and families of deceased staff.  This includes, for example, improving institutional capacity for counselling, reviewing and updating insurance claim procedures, specifically the Malicious Acts Insurance Policy and Appendix D; carrying out a lessons-learned exercise; and assessing the feasibility of establishing a trust fund to further assist the families of the victims and survivors.  The working group is also reviewing the concerns of individual survivors.

**Climate Change

The Secretary-General spoke at the high-level segment of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland, today, and he called for bold, urgent steps to tackle the defining global challenge of our time.  “The next generation is counting on us,” he said.  “We must not fail.”

Saying that the coming year is the year of climate change, the Secretary-General spoke of the need for a Green New Deal and for leadership.  He said that we look for that leadership from the European Union and from the United States.

The Poznan Conference, which has drawn more than 11,600 participants, constitutes the halfway mark in the negotiations on an effective international response to climate change, which is to be agreed in Copenhagen at the end of 2009.

The Secretary-General told the Poznan delegates, “Twenty years from now, let our children and grandchildren look back upon this day and say:  Yes, that is where it began.”

The Secretary-General held a number of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the meeting, including with the Prime Minister of Sweden, the President of Poland, US Senator John Kerry and former US Vice-President Al Gore, as well as ministers from Malta, the United Kingdom and the Republic of Korea.

He also attended a number of side events, such as a meeting with representatives of the small island developing States and a ministerial round table on shared vision.

A press conference was scheduled in the late afternoon, which should be taking place right now.  So we’ll have more for you a little later on that.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Olusegun Obasanjo, yesterday said that the dialogue between the DRC Government and the Congrès National pour la Défence du Peuple (CNDP) had made some progress in forging consensus on the format and ground rules for substantive discussions.  But he warned that success has been blocked by two difficulties that need urgent resolution.  He said that the CNDP continues to demand discussions on what it sees as the challenges facing the country as a whole, not just the ongoing conflict and humanitarian emergency in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Obasanjo said that he and his Co-Facilitator, Benjamin Mkapa, believe that this goes beyond their mandate.

Second, Obasanjo said, progress has been slower than desired because the powers given to the CNDP delegation by its leadership appear to have severely limited its ability to make decisions on matters of concern without continuous recourse to its leadership in North Kivu.  We have the full statement upstairs.

** Somalia

The two-day International Conference on Piracy around Somalia wrapped up in Nairobi today.  It had been chaired by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, and the Minister for Foreign Affairs of Kenya.

A communiqué was issued after the meeting by the participating ministers.  In it, participants condemned all acts of piracy and armed robbery against vessels in the territorial waters of Somalia, in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Eastern Africa.  They also stressed the importance of enhancing coordination and cooperation in the fight against piracy.

The ministers added that the problem of piracy around Somalia cannot be durably resolved without the return of peace, stability and a functioning Government.  In that regard, they stressed that Somali leaders who impede the stabilization of their country will be placed under sanctions.  We have the full text upstairs.

** Sudan

Officials of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) in Sector West received information yesterday that the Sheikh, or traditional leader, of the Hassa Hissa camp for internally displaced persons had been shot dead by unknown armed men.  A UNAMID patrol dispatched to the camp confirmed these reports, but found the camp to be calm.

Meanwhile, UNAMID’s Deputy Police Commissioner for Operations paid a one-day official visit to Kabkabiya, in North Darfur.  The visit is part of his familiarization tour of UNAMID’s area of operations.

** Côte d’Ivoire

Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet is in Côte d’Ivoire, where he met in Yamoussoukro with President Laurent Gbagbo, with whom he discussed the work of the UN mission in that country (UNOCI).

The UN mission’s current mandate expires at the end of January, and Mulet is conducting a technical evaluation mission during which he will meet with a range of political leaders in Côte d’Ivoire.  He expects to meet as well with Alassane Ouattara and Henri Konan Bédié, among other leaders.

** Gaza

The Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) reports that 93 trucks were able to cross into Gaza today.  That represents a slight increase from yesterday.  Of those 93 trucks, 21 were for humanitarian agencies.

At the same time, UNSCO notes that, in October of this year, the average number of trucks crossing into Gaza was 123 per day.  And in May 2007, the average was 475 a day.  So today’s figures are still relatively low.

For its part, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reports that it got seven trucks into Gaza today, containing sugar, canned meat and whole milk powder.

UNSCO also reports that industrial fuel made it to the Gaza power station today.  But despite the plant’s increased output, most of Gaza is still experiencing power cuts of four to eight hours a day.

** Iraq

On Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, today expressed concern about the situation of more than 1,000 foreign workers brought by international contractors who are currently in Baghdad International Airport.

De Mistura said that the UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) takes the allegations of human trafficking by contractors in Iraq very seriously and is concerned about their predicament.

He said that the UN Mission has just conducted its own evaluation of the situation in the airport, and added that the relevant authorities and contractors concerned are expected to ensure that international labour standards are respected and enforced.  UNAMI has a press release with more details upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning is holding consultations on the work of its monitoring group dealing with Somalia and its Peacebuilding Office in Guinea-Bissau.

Then, at 3 this afternoon, the Council has scheduled an open meeting, followed by consultations, to discuss the UN Peacebuilding Office in Burundi.

Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council’s 1267 Sanctions Committee, which deals with Al-Qaida and the Taliban, approved the addition of four individuals to its list of the people and entities subject to a travel ban, assets freeze and arms embargo.  It also revised three entries on its list to include additional entities.


And I just want to draw your attention to an event here at Headquarters that may interest you as it deals with media issues.

The Department of Public Information, in collaboration with the Peacebuilding Support Office, will hold a full-day conference on “Media and Communications in Peacebuilding” in Conference Room 4 starting at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

The meeting is chaired by DPI Under-Secretary-General Kiyo Akasaka and opening statements will come from Jane Holl Lute, Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacebuilding, as well as Ambassador Yukio Takasu, the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission.

The conference will be in a panel discussions format focusing on the government, the media and the international assistance aspects of the issue in three separate panels.  We have, of course, more information upstairs on that meeting.

**Press Encounters Tomorrow

At 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, UN Messenger of Peace and maestro Daniel Barenboim will hold a press conference to discuss his upcoming Human Rights Day concert with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, to be held on 15 December at 7 p.m. in the General Assembly Hall.

And I would like to remind you also that tomorrow we will have Serge Brammertz, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, and Hassan Jallow, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.  They will be guests at the noon briefing tomorrow.

That’s all I have for you.  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, this is in regard to the 1267 Committee, the sanctions committee, there are certain questions that…

Spokesperson:  Pardon me, I didn’t hear you.

Question:  The sanctions committee, the announcement you just made imposing sanctions on four individuals and several entities in Pakistan.  The Pakistani Government has already arrested these individuals and banned these entities and so forth.  Does the United Nations… has the Secretary-General any reaction to it?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have any reaction to it.  As you know it is a matter for the Security Council.

Question:  Okay, I just want to also, can somebody from the 1267 Committee come and brief us, because there are certain questions about certain other individuals that are already being considered to be put on the list and we don’t know whether…?

[The Spokesperson later said that Belgium, as Chair of that Committee, would decide the matter.]

Question:  Michèle, what happened to the 17 staff members who died in Algeria?  Why does it take so long for the UN to assist the (inaudible) of the survivors or the victims?  Why?

Spokesperson:  There was assistance given to the victims immediately after the Algiers bombing, and you can have the information upstairs.  We have detailed information about what was received by each family member.  What they’re trying to do right now is set up a fund that will address not only the Algiers situation, but address any other incidents of this sort that might occur.  So, it is a larger scope.  But in terms of assessing support to the victims, it’s not just about the Algiers bombing.

Question:  But because for Iraq it took sometimes three years to four years…

Spokesperson:  It took a long time.

Question:  …for the people to get reimbursed for what they paid when they went to the hospital or whatever.  So that is a little too much.

Spokesperson:  I agree with you, and I think there were lessons learned from the experience of the attack on UN premises in Iraq, and in Algiers they have been trying to do a bit better.  We still are far short of doing what we should be doing to help the victims; far short of it.  Yes, Khaled?

Question:  Yes, Michèle.  Can you please provide us with a little bit more information on what the upcoming Quartet meeting is expected to achieve; whether it’s going to be the last meeting before this US Administration is going to be in office and whom do you expect to attend that meeting besides the SG and (inaudible).

Spokesperson:  All members of the Quartet will be there and I understand that Minister Bernard Kouchner will represent the European Union as Foreign Minister of France.  And you’re going to have the usual members of the Quartet present.

Question:  Lavrov of Russia…?

Spokesperson:  Of course, yes.

Question:  And what do you hope to achieve and whether this is the last meeting before the Bush Administration...?

Spokesperson:  It is probably the last meeting before the end of the current US Administration.  In terms of what it will achieve, I will get back to you on this because we don’t have yet enough elements to tell you what they’re working on right now.  As you know, the envoys are working on the actual content of the meeting itself.

Question:  But considering the reality that there is not going to be an agreement before the end of this Administration is leaving office, what’s the purpose of the meeting?

Spokesperson:  Well that’s what they’re working on right now.  Obviously, they think there is a purpose, otherwise they wouldn’t have one.

Question:  Is it a farewell for Dr. Rice?

Spokesperson:  There is also going to be a farewell to Dr. Rice, of course.

Question:  We heard from the Council that Tony Blair has said that he will not brief them in December based on their invitation; that he may in fact not come to the Quartet meeting.  Is it your understanding that he will be here at the Quartet meeting but...?  He cited some time constraint, is my understanding.

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that.  I can try to find out whether Mr. Blair will be there.  I don’t have that information at this point.

Question:  And also if he’s declining the invitation to brief the Council, what’s the reason for that?

[The Spokesperson later added that Mr. Blair, as well as Mr. Kouchner, were scheduled, as of now, to participate in the Quartet meeting via videolink.]

Spokesperson:  Sure, we’ll try to find out for you.  Yes, Betsy.

Question:  On Algiers, there have been three internal reports, one of which was made public.  (Inaudible) today there’s a Steering Committee, a working group, a trust fund.  Could you be any more specific about anything that has happened within the Organization to take measures to prevent this from happening again either in Algiers or anywhere else?  I know there is a large and comprehensive report that has been filed, but is there anything specific and concrete that you can point to?

Spokesperson:  As I said, we will try to get someone to come and brief you on that.  We don’t have that person today.  What we’re hoping to get, as you know, there are efforts on several segments.  One of them is the support to staff; that would be the trust fund effort.  There is an effort right now within the UN on accountability, which means the people who were cited in the Zacklin Report are now being pursued and the process is an internal judicial process that is ongoing right now.  As you know, they made findings with regard to certain individuals and to one entity, and recommended administrative measures and disciplinary measures.  And from what I gather this is right now ongoing.  So these are efforts, because we’re not just dealing with Algiers; now we’re dealing with the possibility that Algiers might be repeated elsewhere in the world.

Question:  That sounds pretty scary.  Any idea how long it’s going to take to finish these efforts?  I mean, for example the apprehension on an internal system, when do you expect that to be completed?

Spokesperson:  You mean the follow-up to the accountability report?

Question:  The accountability of UN staff, yes.

Spokesperson:  I don’t have a date on this.

Question:  Okay.  Can you update us on the search to replace David Veness, who tendered his resignation 11 months ago?

Spokesperson:  As I said yesterday, I don’t have anything on that and I don’t have any information I can give you on that.

Question:  A follow-up on Algeria, I mean has there been any major arrest or trial of those suspected of being responsible for the bombing?

Spokesperson:  From what I gather, there have been arrests and we’re trying to get details for you on what was done with the people arrested.

Question:  Can I just follow up on my colleague’s question?  Surely the Secretary-General and his Chef de Cabinet have been in close touch with the Algerian Mission and the Algerian Foreign Ministry.  No updates from them?

Spokesperson:  No, not yet.

Question:  Okay.  Is the Secretary-General satisfied with the efforts by the Algerian Government to pursue or apprehend these people?

Spokesperson:  I cannot respond yet because I don’t have the details of what their reporting was to the Secretary-General or his Chef de Cabinet.

Question:  Okay.  Are there any more open or ongoing claims by survivors of the bombing?  Widows?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know, but if there are, we’ll find out for you.

Question:  How much money is the Secretary-General or the UN Department of Safety and Security seeking to strengthen its… to undertake its strengthening message…(interrupted)?

Spokesperson:  You mean the trust fund?

Question:  No, not the trust fund.  The strengthening of security around the world, how much money is that?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that number.

Question:  I’m sorry, has the Secretary-General or the Department of Management already put in for these improvements or have they not, officially?

Spokesperson:  As far I know, there has been nothing official submitted in terms of budget.

Question:  This morning’s commemoration was a closed meeting.  Why?

Spokesperson:  It was not a closed meeting.

Question:  I heard it was.

Spokesperson:  No, it was open.

Question:  Are you sure?

Spokesperson:  Yes, it was an open meeting.  I saw some of your colleagues there.  So I guess it was open.  (Laughter)  Yes?

Question:  There is this pretty troubling report about the killing of civilians in Kiwanja in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the part that I wanted to ask you about is the part where it says that the peacekeepers were less than a mile away inside their base; somehow unaware what was going on.  But more troubling that, they had no translators to speak to the local population and they had the wrong vehicles.  What’s the UN’s response to this pretty damning…  What’s being done to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future as well?

Spokesperson:  Well, I have read both reports, the story in The New York Times, the story also of the Human Rights Watch report on Kiwanja.  As you probably remember, on 8 November, if I remember correctly, I did report on what had happened then and we told you about what was being done then.  Both the New York Times story and the Human Rights Watch report, they paint a pretty stark picture of the overwhelming conditions in which MONUC peacekeepers try to protect populations caught up in the conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  We have talked about those conditions very often here.

The factors cited by both The New York Times and Human Rights Watch have been highlighted repeatedly in reports of the Secretary-General to the Security Council, and in briefings to the press:  too few peacekeepers to cover vast and difficult terrain; belligerents who respect no rules and who use civilians as human shields; difficulty in communicating with local populations who are manipulated by various actors who incite hostility towards MONUC for their own ends; and a national army in complete disarray, which MONUC is mandated to support.  So these conditions we have talked about over and over again.

These factors were precisely why the Secretary-General called for additional capacities for MONUC and why he has appealed for a multinational force, which was a request made to the Security Council.  That is also why MONUC has redeployed nearly 92 per cent of its troops to the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo and is moving two battalions from Ituri into North Kivu.

Both pieces, the Human Rights Watch report and The New York Times piece, I think they unfairly minimize the efforts of fewer than 150 peacekeepers to protect some 60,000 people in two adjacent towns.  They scarcely mention the more than 5,000 civilians who sought protection around the MONUC base at Kiwanja, which was the situation that prevailed around early November.  You had all those people who had fled their villages and were around the base and they had to protect those civilians, the 60,000 civilians who were there.

And then the headline of The New York Times article and the title of the Human Rights Watch report, I think, fail to acknowledge the peacekeepers in Kiwanja -- and elsewhere -- for protecting large numbers of civilians, often at great risk to themselves.  They don’t acknowledge that those peacekeepers have been protecting civilians.

And they also fail to make any reference to those who are responsible for victimizing the Congolese population -- even though both reports note the involvement in Kiwanja of the CNDP’s Bosco Ntaganda, an indicted war criminal and the belligerents’ utter disregard for civilians in the course of combat.

I think this is our response to those two pieces, those two stories.  Yes?

Question:  Noting first that Human Rights Watch is now a UN Human Rights prize winner.  (Inaudible) this issue where they specifically say that the peacekeepers there do not have translators, could not speak to the local population and had the wrong vehicles.  Is part of the Secretary-General’s request beyond just getting peacekeepers?  What has…?

Spokesperson:  This is giving them capacities to function.

Question:  Okay.  Translators included?

Spokesperson:  Of course, of course.  It’s not just getting more people there.  It’s getting people who can be deployed in a way that they can effectively protect more of the civilian population.  I don’t know if you remember the circumstances which I had related on 8 November, where you had had a struggle between the Mai Mai troops and Nkunda’s troops in that village.  Actually there were two series of attacks at two different times and, in between the two, the UN peacekeepers went there to investigate what the population had been saying.  And they did find some bodies and they reported it; we reported it here.  Of course, there was additional combat afterwards in the same village and more people were killed.  So, it is a fact that our peacekeepers are functioning, but they are too few of them and they don’t have the means to actually protect the civilian population the way they should.  They are there to support an army that has left the area.  That’s really it.  Thank you all so much.

Enrique, your turn.  And by the way, the Human Rights Division of MONUC is in that village right now investigating.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good morning to everybody.

I don’t have much new to say this morning, just to report that the different Main Committees are reporting back, they have presented their different reports to the General Assembly before the end of the year.  Today it was the turn of the Sixth Committee.  And as you probably know, for your information the First and Fourth Committees have also presented their reports and we’re now waiting for the Second, the Third and the Fifth Committees to present their reports to the General Assembly.

As you know, all the Main Committees must present these reports to the General Assembly before the end of the year except for the Fifth Committee, which has a couple of more sessions in 2009; in March and May of 2009.

And this is basically what I have for you, unless there are any questions coming from you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Enrique.  Is the Fifth Committee expected to file a report before the end of the calendar year?

Spokesperson:  Yes, that’s the idea.  They’re trying to finalize their work, I’ve been told probably by 22 December.  Masood?

Question:  That’s cutting it close.  Okay, thanks.

Question:  Enrique, yesterday I had asked about this wall, the resolution of (inaudible) the General Assembly on the wall built by Israel in the Palestinian Territory, and you said that you will find out about it, update on the (inaudible) that they have created.

Spokesperson:  I still have no information about that, Masood.  I’ll come back to you again on this.  Matthew.

Question:  Just a follow up to Betsy’s question.  In the Fifth Committee, do you know or can you describe the status of any possible extension of the internal justice system that will have to be done by the end of the year.  I know that the Secretary-General has made some proposals to try to get some extension of it.  But where does that stand?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any more details on that.  Basically, as I said, they are now trying to finish their report before 22 or 23 December -- I think the deadline they have put themselves is 22 December –- and by tradition, as you know, in the Fifth Committee, there have always been many hot issues and they are right now in the negotiating process between the different groups and the different countries and trying to reach an agreement on that.  But there is nothing new that I can add on this particular issue.  Okay, thank you very much.

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