Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

26 March 2009

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

26 March 2009
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.

Good afternoon all.

**Press Conferences Today

Our guest at the noon briefing today is Marc Scheuer, Director of the Secretariat of the UN Alliance of Civilizations.  He will brief on the upcoming Second Forum of the Alliance to be held in Istanbul from 6 to 7 April.

Following that, at 1:20 p.m., economist Joseph Stiglitz, Chairman of the Commission of Experts of the President of the General Assembly on reforms of the international monetary and financial system, will be here to present the recommendations of the Commission.

**Secretary-General Appointment –- United Nations Development Programme

Following consultations with the UNDP Executive Board, the Secretary-General has written to the President of the General Assembly requesting the General Assembly to confirm Helen Clark of New Zealand as the new Administrator of UNDP for a term of four years.  Ms. Clark replaces Mr. Kemal Derviş of Turkey.

The Secretary-General is deeply grateful to Mr. Derviş for the services he has rendered to the Organization and for so ably leading UNDP at a critical juncture.  The Secretary-General is particular appreciative of the great leadership displayed by Mr. Derviş in the implementation of his mandate.

Ms. Clark’s nomination came at the end of an extensive selection process which included the establishment of a senior appointments panel chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General, which consisted of senior UN officials, as well as two outside experts in financial and developmental economics.  After an interview process, a short list of candidates was then recommended to the Secretary-General for his consideration.

Ms. Clark was selected, amongst a group of excellent candidates, for her outstanding qualifications and numerous accomplishments in her long career.  She is expected to bring to the position her well-honed consensus-building skills and commitment to a multilateral approach to addressing global financial and development issues.

Ms. Clark has been a member of the New Zealand Parliament since 1981 and was Prime Minister from 1999 to 2008.  We have more information on her in her bio upstairs.

**Group of 20 Letter

As you know already, the Secretary-General has written to the participants at the G-20 meeting in London emphasizing his strong concern that, unless urgent and decisive action is taken to buffer the blows of the global downturn on the most vulnerable, the economic crisis may soon be compounded by an equally severe crisis of global instability.  He writes: “A prolonged and severe recession, if not addressed boldly with urgent attention given to the needs of the vulnerable, could affect countries and regions with profound consequences for the security and stability of us all.”  Noting that financial flows to developing countries have fallen precipitously, he stressed the need for a global stimulus package that meets the needs of developing countries.

A quarter of the resources urgently needed would be for the protection of the most vulnerable people and countries.  In his letter, the Secretary-General urges the G-20 leaders to meet the funding needs of the programmes of the United Nations and World Bank to enable them to respond effectively to the crisis -- including through the proposed vulnerability fund -- as well as the funding needs of established vehicles such as the Global Fund to fight AIDS, TB and Malaria.  In particular, he urges them to help address the root causes of the food security crisis by establishing a new mechanism to support smallholder farmers in developing countries.

Reminding them of their pledges last November to refrain from raising new barriers to investment and trade, the Secretary-General appealed to G-20 leaders to avoid erecting new barriers that could slow economic recovery, and trigger grave social consequences.   He also urged them to consider the plight of migrants as they respond to the crisis.

A genuine solution of the crisis, the Secretary-General said, requires a new international financial and economic architecture that reflects the changing realities in the world and gives greater voice to emerging and developing economies.

These issues were discussed during the Secretary-General’s meeting yesterday with Prime Minister Gordon Brown, as the Secretary-General himself told you at the stakeout.  We have a transcript of that stakeout upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning is holding closed consultations on Sudan.  Djibril Bassolé, the Joint African Union-United Nations Chief Mediator for Darfur, briefed Council members on the Darfur political process.  This was his first briefing to the Council since he took up his post last August.

The Council will also hear from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, will brief the members on his recent visit to Darfur and the work of the UN-Sudanese Government assessment mission to the three Darfur states.  Mr. Holmes will speak to you at the stakeout after he briefs the Council.

** Sudan

Still on Sudan, the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) today assisted in airlifting exam materials to remote secondary schools located across North Darfur.  Three helicopter flights distributed exam papers to nine locations around the state.  This is the second such airlift that UNAMID has conducted for the 2009 certificate examinations, which are being held across Sudan and are scheduled to start on 30 March.

UNAMID reports that the security situation in Darfur is relatively calm, with few incidents of banditry activities.

Meanwhile, the ongoing disarmament, demobilization and reintegration process in Sudan marked another milestone on Tuesday, when the reintegration component of the programme started in Ed Damazin, in Blue Nile State.  We have a press release with more details upstairs.

**Secretary-General in Moscow

The Secretary-General has arrived in Moscow, where tomorrow he will speak at the Special Conference on Afghanistan that is being convened under the aegis of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.  This evening, the Secretary-General will have a working dinner with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

** Afghanistan

The UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights today released a report saying that many Afghans are often detained without lawful reason, with detainees in many instances not enjoying their basic rights enshrined in the country’s Constitution.

The report says that detainees frequently do not have access to a lawyer, are unable to challenge the legality of their detention before an impartial judge and do not enjoy the presumption of innocence before being tried in a lawful court.

In a briefing today in Kabul, Norah Niland, UNAMA’s top human rights official, said the United Nations looks forward to working with the Afghan authorities to develop practical activities aimed at ending arbitrary detention in Afghanistan.  We have a press release with more details upstairs.

**International Atomic Energy Agency

The Board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is meeting today in closed session in Vienna to decide on the appointment of the next Director General.

Japan has nominated Ambassador Yukiya Amano for the post, and South Africa has nominated Ambassador Abdul Samad Minty.  In order to be appointed, a candidate must secure a two-third vote of the 35-member IAEA Board of Governors by secret balloting.

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei’s term of office expires on 30 November 2009.  He has served as Director General since 1997, and has said that he is not available for a fourth term of office.

**Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

The Asia-Pacific region is at the epicentre of what is now being referred to as a “triple threat” -- the convergence of the food and fuel crises, climate change and the current economic crisis.  That’s according to the 2009 Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific, launched today by the UN’s Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).

Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Secretary of ESCAP, said that the severity of the triple crises required a more responsive, action-oriented agenda.  She added that the Survey’s findings and recommendations will serve as a guide to policymakers during these uncertain times.  We have more on this upstairs.

And then tomorrow at 11 a.m., Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Assistant Secretary-General on Economic Development at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, will be here to launch the latest Economic and Social Survey of Asia and the Pacific.  So you will get more details on that tomorrow at the press conference.

**United Nations Population Fund

We also have a note saying the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) is welcoming the announcement by the United States State Department to officially resume funding to the Fund -- around $50 million for 2009.

Thoraya Ahmed Obaid, UNFPA Executive Director, said this marked a new era for women, girls and their families around the world.  She also noted that the United States will, once again, take a leading role in championing women’s reproductive health and rights.

Obaid said that the resumption of United States funding would allow UNFPA to maintain its ongoing global initiatives, such as training midwives, expanding access to family planning, delivering reproductive health supplies to clinics in remote areas and ending violence against women.  We have her remarks upstairs.

**Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs Panel

And just a reminder, at 3 p.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, there will be a panel discussion entitled “Left in the Dark: The Unmet Need for Communication in Humanitarian Response”.  The discussion will examine the information needs of affected populations.

The event will be chaired by John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and other panellists will include representatives of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), the BBC World Service Trust, Internews and the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

And this is all I have for you today.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Tim Wilson from TV New Zealand.  Was Helen Clark coming from New Zealand a help or a hindrance to her being appointed?

Spokesperson:  I think that was not what was considered.  What was considered was essentially her exceptional qualification for the post.

Question:  And I am confused, it’s been reported variously that it’s the third highest job in the UN, the second highest job.

Spokesperson:  No, the second would be the post of Deputy Secretary-General.

Question:  Michèle, two things.  Number one, there is now, we’re told, an interactive dialogue in the Security Council on Sri Lanka this afternoon.  Do you know who from the Secretariat will be briefing and what can you say about the meeting?  And also is there a readout from the Secretary-General’s meeting with Gordon Brown where afterwards he mentions that Sri Lanka was discussed?  Exactly what was discussed?

Spokesperson:  Yes, that’s all I could get for you.  The Secretary-General gave the list of the topics.  I couldn’t get more information on it.  So, I don’t have any specific readout, except that those topics were the ones that were addressed.  Your earlier question, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs will provide the briefing.  I don’t have the name of who that will be, but it will be OCHA.

Question:  And can that individual speak to the press after his…?

Spokesperson: I don’t know, but we can ask.

Question:  Will it be Mr. Holmes?  I am sorry, I was told by…

Spokesperson:  Maybe it’s Mr. Holmes himself, I don’t have… maybe it’s him.

Question:  I just had another question on Sudan, Michèle.  Today President Bashir went again to Libya and I was wondering whether there is any reaction from the United Nations on the repeated trips by the Sudanese President, whether this is seen as a defiance of the ICC or not.

Spokesperson:  Well, we have absolutely no comments on that.

Question:  And also, President Bashir announced today that he’s willing to look into Mr. Holmes’ offer for new partners to work on the NGO problem that was created there.  I mean, is this something that (inaudible) as the United Nations…?

Spokesperson:  Well, I suggest that you ask the question to Mr. Holmes himself.  As I said, he will be at the Security Council stakeout.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  The Secretary-General, in his message to the Group of 20 members, urged them to establish new mechanisms to deal with protectionism.  Would this be something replacing [the World Trade Organization]?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think it will be.  [The World Trade Organization] is a large organization.  He is talking about specific mechanisms.  And, of course, I am sure you can get some of the details from the letter itself.  I quoted only parts of it.  And I can try to get more information for you on what it entails.

Question:  I was just wondering if this would not be infringing on the functions, the mandate of [the World Trade Organization].

Spokesperson:  No, it would not.  It would definitely be an integrated mechanism.  As you know, the Secretary-General has made a proposal, that proposal is to be discussed by the G-20 countries.  The Secretary-General is not a member of the G-20 countries.  He is making a proposal and he has also mentioned the Vulnerability Fund, which is an idea floated by the World Bank.  So there are several things being involved in that package.  Yes?

Question:  There was report today that either some aeroplanes -- Israeli or American, it’s not clear yet -- have bombed some targets in Sudan about two months ago.  The Sudanese themselves have announced something like this and they said it was targeted against a shipment of arms heading to Gaza.  I was wondering if you can look into this and get us a reaction from the United Nations.

Spokesperson:  Well, for the time being, we have read the news report, that’s all I can tell you.  We have no information on the matter.  We tried this morning to get additional ones. We could not get any.  But we’re following developments on it.

Question:  Not even verify…?

Spokesperson:  No. That’s it.  We cannot, at this point, verify the information.  That’s why I cannot have a reaction yet.

Question:  (Inaudible) on that trillion dollar figure that’s in the letter and is in the Financial Times and then yesterday there was some confusion at the stakeout about whether that still is the UN’s number…

Spokesperson:  Of course, it is.

Question:  Is there a way to get even one page…?

Spokesperson:  It’s in the letter.

Question:  No, no, exactly.  But I guess what I’m saying is that there would seem afterwards, some were saying that there was some confusion about how… What exactly is counted in it?  Not exactly, but how was it calculated?

Spokesperson:  First, it covers two years and it includes mostly commitments that were already made and some new money.  And it also involves creating the conditions for private flows of revenues to developing countries.  It includes not only developing countries, it includes emerging economies, it includes most vulnerable countries.  And the breakdown can easily be, you have this in the letter, the breakdown.  On ODA, the current level of aid is roughly about $100 billion per year and the Secretary-General’s proposal is to increase it to $125 billion for each of 2009 and 2010.  This is more than doable if countries fully implement the pledges they made at Gleneagles.

Question:  And this would include that vulnerability fund, the 0.7 [per cent] of all stimulus and bailouts?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  This also includes long-term lending.

Question:  By the IMF?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Okay.  On the Deputy Secretary-General’s schedule, there was a meeting at 9 a.m. with the UN official dealing with Madagascar.  Can you say what, now given the change of Government essentially there, what is the UN now doing in Madagascar?  What is its role?

Spokesperson:  We’re still examining our options and we’re still following the situation closely.  As soon as I have from the Department of Political Affairs the way forward, of course, we’ll let you know. 

Question:  Do we know if President [Barack] Obama is going to attend the conference in Istanbul yet, has that been verified?  And also, has the President indicated or been invited to come to the UN and address us here, President Obama?

Spokesperson:  Well, the first question, this question is not for me, it’s for the Obama Administration.  I cannot answer for them.  The second question, whether he will come, he has of course been invited.  As you know, every year the General Assembly, the host country is one of the first two to speak at our General Assembly.

Question:  And who has been invited to come?

Spokesperson:  It will certainly be the President.

Question:  And can we have him here after that? 

Spokesperson:  (Laughter) You can always address that request to the Mission of the United States.  I cannot answer that question.  It’s for them.  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, a delegation from the African Union and the League of Arab States was supposed to have visited the Security Council sometime this month to discuss this question of the ICC indictment of President Omer al-Bashir of Sudan.  Has that delegation arrived?

Spokesperson:  No.  As far as I know, they have not come in yet.  It was indeed announced by them.  Any other questions?  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, there has been increasing demand by major Pakistani political opposition groups and civil society groups that Pakistan’s (inaudible) military President Musharraf be prosecuted on crimes against humanity.   Could there be any response from the UN?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have any response to that, of course not.  Not at this point, really.  And John Holmes will brief this afternoon.

Question:  It doesn’t say whether…?

Spokesperson:  He is briefing after the Security Council. After the meeting this afternoon, which is not going to be held in the Security Council Chamber, as you know, it is going to be held in a conference room, he is not planning to brief.

Question:  One more question?

Spokesperson:  Yes, sure.

Question:  What’s the next step in Helen Clark’s appointment?  She has to (inaudible) on by the General Assembly, is that right?

Spokesperson:  Yes, it has to be approved by the General Assembly.  Thank you so much.

Question:  One last question?

Spokesperson:  Yes, sure.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General responded to the Special UN Rapporteur’s report of the United States and Britain and Canada being involved in kidnapping and torture?

Spokesperson:  As you know, the Special Rapporteurs report to the Human Rights Council.  So the Secretary-General does not give an opinion on the matters that are submitted to the Human Rights Council.  So, at this point, each Special Rapporteur reports to the Human Rights Council.

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Okay, thank you so much.  And of course our guest is here and he’ll come and join us.

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