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

24 December 2008

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

24 December 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  I will begin with three statements attributable to the Spokesperson.  And then Enrique is here to give you everything on the General Assembly.

**Statement on Budget

I’ll start with news at UN Headquarters.

The Secretary-General is deeply appreciative of the fact that Member States have adopted early this morning resolutions on additional resources, as well as administrative matters, for the 2008-2009 programme budget period that covers such areas as development and political affairs, as well as human resources management, information technology and administration of justice.

The Member States also adopted a resolution to guide the Secretary-General in his preparation for the 2010-2011 programme budget proposals to be deliberated in the sixty-fourth session of General Assembly.

This morning’s decision by the General Assembly enhances the United Nations ability to better respond to the needs of the Organization.

And as I mentioned, Enrique is here to give you more on the General Assembly proceedings.

**Statement on Gaza & Southern Israel

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General on Gaza and southern Israel.

The Secretary-General is gravely concerned about the situation in Gaza and southern Israel, and the potential for further violence and civilian suffering if calm is not restored.

He condemns today’s rocket attacks on southern Israel and calls on Hamas to ensure that rocket attacks from Gaza cease immediately.  He urges all parties to work to secure the immediate restoration of the calm and an urgent easing of humanitarian conditions in the Gaza Strip, including the continuous provision of humanitarian supplies.  He calls for respect by all parties of international humanitarian law.

The Secretary-General reiterates, as the Quartet stated when it met on 15 December, that a lasting solution to the situation in Gaza can only be attained by peaceful means.

** Gaza Humanitarian

And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has published a new report on the occupied Palestinian territory.  It notes that Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets and mortars today at Israeli cities and towns, which resulted in extensive property damage, but no reported casualties.  It also notes that the Gaza crossings have now been closed completely for eight consecutive days, including for humanitarian supplies.  This is the second longest period the crossings have remained closed since the Hamas takeover in June 2007, according to OCHA. 

The report adds that the ongoing closures have significantly reduced the capacity of UN humanitarian agencies to provide aid in the event of an escalation in violence.  The UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), for example, has no flour or cash to distribute, affecting thousands of Gazans.  And the World Food Programme (WFP) has been unable to preposition stocks -- meaning that, in the event of an emergency, it has no food available within the Gaza Strip.  OCHA also reports shortages of critical emergency surgical kits.

Due to the lack of fuel and spare parts, the power plant in Gaza has been shut down since 19 December.  This is affecting all aspects of daily life, including sanitation and the supply of water and power to households, schools and civilian institutions.  OCHA says that 60 per cent of the Gaza population is receiving running water only once every five to seven days.  In addition, the wastewater treatment plant, unable to operate regularly, has since Saturday doubled the amount of raw sewage it is dumping into the sea to 40 million litres per day.  We have more on this upstairs.

**Statement on Iraq

And the third statement is on the International Compact with Iraq. 

The Secretary-General welcomes the 22 December decision of the Paris Club members to cancel the remaining 20 per cent of Iraq’s debt, amounting to $7.8 billion, in the context of the International Compact with Iraq, co-chaired by the United Nations and the Government of Iraq.  This is a major achievement and acknowledgement of the Iraqi Government’s determination to implement necessary reforms despite overwhelming challenges.

The Secretary-General takes this opportunity to call on creditors, other than those of the Paris Club, to advance Iraqi debt relief to facilitate the country’s path to prosperity and reintegration into the regional and international economy.

** Darfur

And turning to Darfur, the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports today that a contingent of 156 military personnel from Pakistan, including 29 doctors and specialists in paramedics, logistics and administration, as well as medical equipment, have arrived in South Darfur to join UNAMID.  The contingent is with the Pakistani level-III hospital, which will provide advanced medical services for the entire Mission, especially major operations and advanced treatment.  Immediately upon arrival this past weekend, UNAMID says, the contingent started building the hospital buildings, which are expected to start operating soon.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

And turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Today, in keeping with the Secretary-Genera’s “zero-tolerance” policy for sexual exploitation and abuse by UN personnel, the UN Mission in that country says that the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) is investigating allegations of misconduct by peacekeepers in North Kivu.  MONUC, that’s the Mission there, says the reported misconduct includes possible cases of sexual exploitation and abuse.  It adds, however, that the information it has received so far is incomplete and not substantiated at this time.  MONUC also urged all members of its staff to cooperate with OIOS investigators.

**International Court of Justice

And on the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Germany yesterday filed a complaint against Italy.  The case concerns the awarding of damages to victims of Nazi war crimes.   In its filing, Germany says it has already paid reparations for Nazi crimes under international treaties with Italy.  It argues that, as a sovereign State, it has immunity in Italian courts, and that any decision rendered in the Italian judiciary is unenforceable.  And yet, it says, the Italian legal system “has infringed and continues to infringe” on Germany’s sovereignty by accepting new cases against the German State.  And there’s a press release from the International Court of Justice with more on this upstairs.

** Guinea

And finally, you may have noticed that the UN flag here at Headquarters is flying at half mast today, and it’s in observance of the official mourning for President Lansana Conté of the Republic of Guinea.  And as you’ll recall, we had a statement from the Secretary-General on Guinea yesterday.

**Briefings

And before I turn over to Enrique, just to remind you, this is the last scheduled noon briefing between now and New Year’s Day.  The Secretary-General will hold his first press conference of 2009 on 15 January at 12 p.m. in this room.  With that, before I hand over?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I have a question concerning the appointment of a new envoy for Western Sahara.  It has been reported in the press that someone is to be appointed shortly.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that for you.

Question:  On the Gaza situation, does the Secretary-General have anything to say other than the statement?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The statement, I think, expresses his very strong concern and I think the agencies are working at whatever they can do to alleviate the humanitarian suffering on the ground. I think the statement speaks for itself.

Question:  Has he been in touch with Israeli or Palestinian officials?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is always in contact on this issue with all parties concerned.  I have nothing specific to report.

Question:  Does the UN have any staff in Guinea, and are we getting any independent reports about what’s going on there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The UN agencies have a presence there, so yes, there is a UN presence on the ground.

Question:  Two questions.  One about Gaza, is there any way we can hear more about what the Secretary-General is doing because it does seem that it’s a tremendous crisis at this moment?  So I wonder, is there any way of asking the Security Council?  Is he on the phone talking to people?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is always on the phone talking to people, but if there’s anything specific to report on that, I will.  It’s up to the Security Council to meet on this issue if they so deem.

Question:  The Secretary-General does have the right to ask for a meeting of the Security Council?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the statement right now stands on its own.

Question:  The second question is, Richard Barrett is slated to go to Pakistan, is it possible to have more information about that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I answered your colleague yesterday on that.  He is an independent expert on the Committee so you need to deal directly with him.

Question:   He’s involved with terrorism?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He’s on the panel, yes.  He’s an independent expert, so you need to reach him directly on that.

Question:  So there’s a way to get in touch?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Couple of questions.  There’s a newspaper called The Australian that published this report of a DPKO report on Timor-Leste that said the threat of violence is high and that, if the chemistry between José Ramos-Horta and [Kay Rala Xanana] Gusmão goes wrong, it’s a detailed report.  But [United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT)] now says everything is fine.  So where does the UN stand?  Is it saying that the UNMIT report is not a UN report, or is UNMIT not telling the situation as it is?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I refer you to the UN Mission in Timor Leste’s press release.

Question:  Okay, you mentioned MONUC and OIOS.  In the budget process, now that it’s been passed, the resolution criticizing OIOS for maintaining vacancies and various irregularities.  Also, in light of the letter received by the Secretary-General on the same issue, what is the Secretariat going to do on the issue now raised by the General Assembly and staff of OIOS?

Deputy Spokesperson:  What specifically is the question?

Question:  The issue is the intentional leaving open of eight vacancies in order to move, without following UN rules, the entire Procurement Task Force, into OIOS.  That’s an allegation made by Singapore and Russia, as well as staff of the agency.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think Enrique can tell you a little more about what transpired in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) as well.

Question:  I know, but I, Angela Kane and some other Secretariat staff were there all night, but there was a separate debate about Mr. Ban’s envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, and various countries spoke and said it’s not consistent with resolution 1559.  I mean, various things were said, and so it seems fair to ask, what is the Secretariat’s response to the Member States’ concerns expressed in the final GA meeting?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The immediate reaction from the Secretary-General is the one I read to you, the welcoming statement, and I think you missed it because you came in late.  I refer you to that.

Correspondent:  This is your opportunity.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, that’s why we had a statement.  You walked in late and you missed it.

Question:  No, the statement, to the best I can make out, is entirely positive, whereas Member States said that the Secretariat was once again trying to eliminate the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa.  Can you just confirm that an attempt was made by the Deputy Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, you have the Assembly President’s Spokesperson here.  He can tell you what the Assembly decided.  There’s a 25 page press release on the outcome of the proceedings.

Question:  This is for the record.  That states what the Member States said.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have really nothing further.  I’m sorry we have to end the last briefing like this.

Question:  You said there would be no comment until it was passed, but now it’s passed and there’s still no comment.  What’s the point?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This happened just a few hours ago, Matthew.  Okay?  And we have an immediate statement that the Secretary-General issued.  It is out there and let’s follow-up in the New Year. And with that, I would like to wish everybody a good holiday and a very happy new year.  And I will turn it over to Enrique.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

As you know, the General Assembly concluded this year’s work last night, or I should say early today, since the delegations were working until around 8:00 in the morning and they were working without any stop during the whole night.

And the result, as you know, is that we have now an agreement also in the Fifth Committee –- they’re the one dealing with budgetary matters -- and the items were approved afterwards at the plenary meeting of the General Assembly.

If you want, I will try – we have several documents of what was approved last night, but I assume you want me to give you some highlights of what happened there. 

Apart from some items that were already agreed –- and I mentioned yesterday, including the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, the scale of assessments for the former Yugoslavia, and the construction sites in Nairobi and Baghdad -- the issues that were being negotiated late in the night and were still pending, and they reached an agreement were, among others, the ones from human resources and the different types of contracts; the UN Administration of Justice – the cost of it – and as I mentioned yesterday, it will start on July and there will be a transition period; and the PBIs revised estimates – finally, as I said yesterday, they went on a vote for PBIs on Durban II and on small arms –- I have all the names and the official documents available for you.

Also approved were the special political missions called for in Iraq, Sudan and Afghanistan.  There was an agreement on the budget outline for 2010-2011 for $4.871 billion, and the two main elements that were being discussed that I mentioned yesterday -- the one on strengthening the development pillar that was agreed –- we’re going to have 92 new posts with a budget of around $15 million.  And the other major item that was being discussed -- preventive diplomacy, which is basically the restructuring of the Department of Political Affairs – we will have there 49 new posts. 

We can come back to that in the questions if you want, but I also wanted to add that, at around 7 in the morning, in his closing remarks, President [Miguel] d’Escoto made an overview of the General Assembly up to date and thanked all the delegations for their really constructive attitude. And he ended up saying – and I’m going to quote here:

“Let us use the holidays to recharge our batteries and return in 2009 with renewed vigour. We cannot afford to rest on our laurels after this intensive period. Indeed, we have a busy schedule ahead and there are many important issues that call for dedication and diligence from all of us.”

Prior to this, President d´Escoto also recorded an end-of-the-year message that is being distributed today to televisions. It is also available online and I have hard copies in case you are interested or you need them. The message is both in Spanish and in English.

In his message, President d´Escoto reminds all of us, and I’m going to quote again:

“May we never forget that another world is, indeed, possible.  A world without war, without criminal embargoes, without hunger, without extreme poverty, without Guantánamos, without nuclear weapons, without imperial dreams or attitudes, without the insane and suicidal selfishness in which we now find ourselves. A world with employment possibility and just wages, with housing, health, education, food and clean water accessible to all is a world we could attain if only we put our hearts and minds to it.”

And on this note, I end here before wishing all of you Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, unless you have any questions on the budget.  Questions on the budget? Shall we go from the back, if that’s okay?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  For the current budget for 2008-2009, is there a dollar figure for the amount that the GA agreed to increase it?

Spokesperson:  Okay, I’m going to ask my colleague, Luis Guilherme Nascentes da Silva, who is from the Cabinet of the President of the General Assembly, and is one of the guys who has not slept during the whole night.  And we’ve been trying to figure it out.  And, as I said, it’s a complex issue because there are many documents, many figures, and they were changing up to the last minute.  Did you get the question Luis?

Mr. Nascentes da Silva:  Good morning.  Sorry for being late.  The revised budget for 2008-2009 figure is $4,865,080,200. 

Question:  That is the total figure, correct?

Mr. Nascentes da Silva:  That is the new budget. 

Question:  I was actually going to ask the same question, but since you’ve asked it, I wonder if I could get a clarification? So, you’ve pointed out $4.8 billion roughly.  How much does that increase the existing budget size?

Mr. Nascentes da Silva:  I’m looking for that figure here.

Spokesperson:  While he tries to find out, in the meantime, I’ll get other questions.

Question:  Can you tell us what the major increases are?  Are they especially the new posts?

Mr. Nascentes da Silva:  No, no.  There are many, it’s around $1 billion add-ons, more or less, and they have to do with special political missions in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Darfur, peacekeeping operations, and other reforms as well.  It’s not only the issue you had referred to.

Spokesperson:  As I was explaining before -- let me go on the record -- when you were asking me before about the meeting,  there were several issues that were discussed in this meeting.  One is the increased budget for the current biennium, 2008 and 2009, and this is the figure we just provided because there were what they call add-ons, like the new political, the new missions, etc.  And, apart from that, it was discussed, for the future, that is, for the next biennium 2010 and 2011, and there, it was included the two major elements -- strengthening the development pillar and preventive diplomacy – the restructuring of DPA.  And what they agreed was also the outline that this, the limit of the amount of money that they’re going to approve, but those discussions will be taking place during the next year.  And that amount is $4.871 billion.

Question:  So this new figure is mainly for 2009?

Spokesperson:  That’s correct.

Question:  So, that means that the increase from the 2008-2009 budget will basically go from $4.865 to $4.871 in 2010-2011.

Spokesperson:  Yes, basically.  Correct.

Question:  And that’s what the GA wants, the Secretary-General wants -- to keep his budget proposals within that amount?

Spokesperson:  That’s correct.  It’s the ceiling of the next budget.  And then during 2009, what we’re going to see are the discussions on the breakdown of that budget.  Did you want to add something?

Question:  I did, either for you or Luis.  In that resolution that was adopted on development-related activities, there’s a line about “not to abolish the post of the Special Adviser on Africa and to fill the post as a matter of urgency”.  First, Luis, since you were there, can you confirm that the Secretariat made a last minute push to abolish the office again?  Second, what does this mean as a General Assembly matter?  Is it your expectation that the Secretariat will do what is called for in the resolution?

Mr. Nascentes da Silva:  I am aware that there had been some demarches toward what you have mentioned.  I am not comfortable to speak on the implications of that move.  I can get back to you on that.

Spokesperson:  Matthew, let me check that for you and I’ll get back to you for sure.  I’ll check that, but I think the resolution is pretty clear, correct?

Correspondent:  Right.

Spokesperson:  This is part of the negotiation.  Different countries have different ideas.  They push one.  And as I said yesterday, when you make a package deal, every small detail jeopardizes the whole full agreement.  However, what is positive here to underline is that we reached an agreement.  Representatives of the General Assembly provided leadership until the very last moment, making sure that all the different parts were able to gain and to negotiate to reach an agreement, until the very last minute, on the resolution.  That’s pretty clear.

Question:  I just wanted to ask -- and it seems fair to ask -- for example, when should we expect this USG on Africa to be appointed?  When would you expect it, as a GA person?

Spokesperson:  I think it’s a very proper question but it’s for the Secretariat to answer because it’s not the mandate of the President of the General Assembly.

Question:  One more thing.  On the OIOS resolution, after the vote, the Russian delegate read into the record that he expects that particular members of the PTF will not be given these vacant posts in the OIOS.  What’s the legal aspect?  And nobody spoke up.  Nobody in the Secretariat said that is not the case.  How should we read what happened?

Spokesperson:  Let me also check that for you because, as I said, we have small items, resolutions, documents that were changing at the very last moment.  But as you know, when I tell you I’ll come back, I come back.

Question:  Can you clarify when the new posts for DPA and for development will begin.  Will they begin with the 2009 add ons for the budget or will they start in 2010?

Mr. Nascentes da Silva:  They will be phased in, some posts in the first semester and some posts later, but I can’t tell you how many in the beginning and how many later.

Question:  We know the total so they’ll be phased in through 2009.  Could you give us the highlights of what was in the Durban resolution?

Spokesperson:  I have the resolution here, entitled “Global efforts for the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and unrelated intolerance and a comprehensive implementation of a follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, and it was adopted.  I have the results of the vote somewhere for you in my office.

Question:  Enrique, you were going to get back to me on the President of the Assembly’s thoughts on the whole process of listing and delisting people, not having due process?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check on that.  I’ll come back to you on this one.  Sorry about that.

Question:  We’re still waiting for the baseline question.

Mr. Nascentes da Silva:  You can refer to document A/C.5/63/L.24.  This is the report of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary).  There are some blanks here.  The information should be here but it’s not.  It’s about a billion.

Question:  So the figure that would be added to would be the budget adopted last year.  Let’s go outside and look at the papers and figure it out.  And on that note, I wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.  Pleasure to be with you the first part of the year.

* *** *

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