Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

12 May 2009

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

12 May 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Paul Hoeffel, acting Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Press Conference Today

Following today’s noon briefing, Paul Hoeffel from the Office of President of the General Assembly and Craig Mokhiber, Deputy Director of the New York office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, will be here, to brief you on the Human Rights Council elections.  Those elections are taking place currently in the General Assembly.

**Secretary-General Statement -- Sri Lanka

I have the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, which we issued yesterday afternoon, on Sri Lanka.

The Secretary-General is appalled at the killing of hundreds of civilians in Sri Lanka over the weekend.  Thousands of Sri Lankans have already died in the past several months due to the conflict, and more still remain in grave danger.

The Secretary-General has repeatedly called upon the parties to the conflict to stop using heavy-calibre weaponry, including mortars, in the areas with high civilian concentrations.  The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the continued use of heavy weapons in this situation.  The reckless disrespect shown by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the safety of civilians has led to thousands of people remaining trapped in the area.

The Secretary-General once again calls on both sides, in the strongest terms possible, to adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law.  The LTTE must immediately allow the remaining civilians in the conflict zone to leave.  He reminds the parties that the world is watching events in Sri Lanka closely, and will not accept further violations of international law.

The Secretary-General urges the Government of Sri Lanka to explore all possible options to bring the conflict to an end without further bloodshed and to make public the terms under which that can be achieved without further loss of civilian life, and for the LTTE to give sober and positive consideration of those terms.

And that statement is available upstairs and it’s also available on the web.

** Pakistan

On Pakistan, the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has allocated more than $8 million to fund humanitarian projects for hundreds of thousands of people affected by military operations in north-western Pakistan.  The World Food Programme (WFP) will use $2.8 million of that allocation to provide full food rations to displaced persons for one month.  Another $2.15 million will bolster the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) in its efforts to provide household items, such as blankets and cooking utensils to people living in camps.

The refugee agency reports that a cargo plane with 120 tons of relief supplies, intended for people fleeing fighting in Pakistan’s north-west, left Dubai this morning.  The supplies include mosquito nets, plastic sheets for emergency shelters and plastic rolls to build walls and privacy screens in camps.  As of late yesterday, more than 501,000 displaced people from the new influx have now been formally registered by authorities, with UNHCR's help, since 2 May.  Of these new arrivals, some 72,000 people are staying in camps, and more than 428,000 people are staying with relatives, friends or host communities.

WFP today announced plans to double the amount of emergency food needed to help thousands of families fleeing their homes in north-west Pakistan.  WFP has mobilized in-country stocks and is prepared to feed the growing population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) for the next two to three months.  WFP has been providing emergency rations to 650,000 people who have fled the conflict areas in the North-West Frontier Province.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has strongly condemned the continuing violence apparently aimed at Government facilities and officials in Mogadishu.  Ould-Abdallah called it unacceptable, noting that scores of people have already been displaced or killed.  The Special Representative also said that the attacks appeared to be conducted by Somali insurgents “backed by foreigners”, whose goal was to seize power.  “There must be an immediate end to this fighting,” he said.

** Sudan

The African Union-United Nations Joint Special Representative for Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, held discussions today with the Under-Secretary of the Sudanese Foreign Affairs Ministry, Mutrif Siddiq, and the Presidential Adviser, Mustafa Osman Ismail, during separate meetings in Khartoum.

Mr. Adada expressed concern over the recent inter-faction fighting that occurred in the area of Um Baru, North Darfur.  He said that the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) has medically evacuated those who were injured in that fighting, and calling for a cessation of hostilities and a focus on the peace process instead.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) says it has started distribution for May in areas affected by the departure of the expelled NGOs.

For food assistance beyond June, WFP is preparing to launch a special operation in Darfur.  The special operation is designed to compensate for capacity gaps left by the expelled NGOs.

In North and South Darfur, UNICEF has entered into agreements with partner organizations to set up a health clinic and psychosocial activities formerly managed by expelled NGOs in camps for internally displaced persons.

In West Darfur, 3 of the 13 therapeutic feeding centres formerly managed by expelled NGOs remain out of action, either due to insecurity or lack of alternative capacity.

** Sri Lanka

I have a humanitarian update for you on Sri Lanka.  In Sri Lanka, fighting in the conflict zone is continuing.  Shelling of the makeshift hospital in Mullivaikkal today reportedly resulted in loss of life and injuries among civilians, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

It also says that, in the last 48 hours, 1,039 internally displaced persons have crossed from the conflict zone and reached Omanthai.

Today’s shipment of 25 metric tons of World Food Programme food commodities dispatched to the conflict zone from Trincomalee did not reach the conflict zone due to intense fighting.

As of 12 May, the 2009 funding for Sri Lanka remains 32 per cent funded, with a little more than $49 million received out of the $155 million or so required.  In addition, $17 million, a little bit more than that, has been pledged by various donors.

UNICEF, meanwhile, said, because of the high number of civilians still trapped in the shrinking conflict zone in Sri Lanka, the number of children killed in this conflict could increase and UNICEF was gravely worried about the situation and the fate of these children.  Since the beginning, UNICEF had asked the Sri Lankan Government and the LTTE to allow civilians to leave the conflict zone and to respect their obligations under international humanitarian law.

Meanwhile, the World Food Programme said it is providing food assistance to more than 190,000 people in temporary transit centres in the Vavuniya and Jaffa districts.

Last, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, is horrified at the deteriorating crisis in Sri Lanka and its serious toll on children.

She stressed that the dreadful situation cannot continue, and said that children should not be held hostage, recruited as child soldiers and put in harm’s way.

She reiterated that “all the children should immediately be released by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and placed in a protected area with their primary caregivers, away from the fighting”.

The Special Representative is negotiating with the Government to allow a special envoy to visit Sri Lanka to assess the situation of children first-hand.

**Security Council

Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council concluded its ministerial meeting on the Middle East by adopting a presidential statement, which reiterated the Council’s call for renewed and urgent efforts by the parties and the international community to achieve a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in the Middle East.  The Council once more upheld the vision of a region where two democratic States, Israel and Palestine, live side by side in peace within secure and recognized borders.

The Security Council supported the proposal of the Russian Federation to convene, in consultation with the Quartet and the parties, an international conference on the Middle East peace process in Moscow in 2009.


On the Influenza A (H1N1) virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirms that the number of lab-confirmed cases has increased to 5,251, up from 4,694 yesterday.  North America remains the region that is reporting the largest number of cases.  There is more information upstairs in the Geneva press briefing notes.

**Forced Labour

The cost of coercion to the workers affected by forced labour reaches over $20 billion per year.  That’s according to a new study by the International Labour Organization (ILO).

The report details the growing number of unethical, fraudulent and criminal practices that can lead people into situations of forced labour, and calls for increased efforts to eradicate the practices.  It also notes the progress being made in reducing and preventing forced labour, but warns of the possible impact of the global economic and jobs crisis.  And we have more on this upstairs.


The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is calling for the protection of the trade capacities of developing countries during the global financial crisis

UNCTAD says that helping developing nations to cope during this financial turmoil will help them use their exports to recover later.  During a meeting of the Trade and Development Commission yesterday, UNCTAD’s Secretary-General, Supachai Panitchpakdi, stressed that stimulus packages in wealthy countries should boost demand for products on global markets.  And we have a press release on this upstairs.

**Law of the Sea

State Parties to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea have until midnight tonight to file their submissions, through the Secretary-General, to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf.

The Convention, which came into force in 1994, defines the rights and responsibilities of its State Parties in their use of the world’s oceans.  Among other provisions, the Convention establishes specific jurisdictional limits on the ocean area that countries may claim, including a 12-mile territorial sea limit and a 200-mile exclusive economic zone limit.  To date, 157 countries and the European Community have joined the Convention.

And we also expect an expert from the Commission to brief you here tomorrow or Friday, we’ll announce that later.


The Secretary-General, next week, is scheduled to speak at the commencement at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, known as SAIS, in Washington, D.C.

The Secretary-General, speaking under the topic of “Global Leadership in a Time of Crisis”, will address some 400 students who will receive graduate degrees.  And media interested in covering the Secretary-General’s speech must register in advance with the SAIS Communications Office.

**United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

And tonight, the American painter Ross Bleckner will be appointed a Goodwill Ambassador to Combat Human Trafficking for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

He will be inducted at the opening of “Welcome to Gulu”, an exhibition he curates on behalf of UNODC and the International Criminal Court’s Trust Fund for Victims.  It exhibits 200 paintings created by former child soldiers and abducted girls from Gulu, Uganda.  In recent years, Gulu and other areas of northern Uganda have been plagued by rebel groups abducting, recruiting and conscripting thousands of children, forcing boys to be killers and girls to be sexual slaves.

The Secretary-General will make remarks at the event.  He is expected to underline Ross Bleckner’s activism against human trafficking.  He will also stress the importance of shining a harsh light on the trade in humans.  There is more on this upstairs.

**Roxana Saberi

And we’ve been asked about the Secretary-General’s reaction to the release of journalist Roxana Saberi in Iran.  The Secretary-General welcomes Roxana Saberi’s release.  He had discussed the matter on several occasions with the Government of Iran, most recently with President [Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad in Geneva, and he is pleased that the case has been resolved.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Tomorrow, we will have a press conference at 2:30 p.m. Ambassador Andrei Dapkiunas of Belarus and Ambassador Maged Abdelaziz of Egypt will be here to brief on tomorrow’s General Assembly interactive thematic dialogue on human trafficking and on the global plan of action on preventing trafficking in persons.

And I see in the back row we have Craig Mokhiber, the Deputy Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and he will be here to brief you on the Human Rights Council elections.

And before we turn to him, is there anything for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Unless you spoke at the top of the press briefing, I just want to find out about the latest in the backdrop of the briefing given in Geneva by the High Commissioner for Refugees.  What is the latest assessment of the United Nations team over there, and has there been an update on the situation in Pakistan?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, there has been.  We did read that at the top of the briefing.  I won’t go through the whole thing again, but in terms of the numbers, just to let you know that, as of late yesterday, UNHCR recorded more than 501,000 internally displaced people from the new influx that have been formally registered by authorities since 2 May.  And we have some details we can provide you later about the work that’s being done, particularly by UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP).

Question:  On the contingency plan to alleviate the suffering of the people who are running away from the military action, are you going to announce that also?

Associate Spokesperson:  What we mentioned was the allocation of more than $8 million to fund humanitarian projects for hundreds of thousands of people.  So we also have some details on that.

Question:  The Secretary-General is meeting President [Asif Ali] Zardari this afternoon, is there any… What is the subject on the agenda?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’ll provide you with a readout once that meeting has taken place.  That’s a few hours from now, but once that’s happened we’ll give you a readout.

Question:  Did the [humanitarian] situation come up?

Associate Spokesperson:  One imagines that our efforts on the ground will be one of the topics they will discuss.  But we’ll provide you with a fuller readout later.

Question:  In Sri Lanka there was this television exposé of how the UN-funded camps involve starvation deaths and disappearance of women.  The journalist who filmed that, I asked about it and I think Michèle said that it hadn’t been seen by the UN, that the UN had no response to that exposé.  The journalist that filmed it has since been expelled by the Government.  Does the UN have any, in terms of either press freedom or a desire to know what’s done with its money in Sri Lanka, have any comment either on the footage or on the expulsion of the journalist who filmed it?

Associate Spokesperson:  We do not actually have comment on the footage.  We’d need to be able to see that first-hand.  Obviously we support the freedom of the press throughout the world, but we don’t have anything specific to say about this particular incident.

Question:  Just a question on the Secretary-General had mentioned last week that if he thought he could make a difference in Sri Lanka in terms of bringing an end to the human suffering going on there, has he rearranged his thoughts at all after this weekend’s events and the ongoing crisis there?

Associate Spokesperson:  I think his thoughts are expressed in the statement that we issued yesterday, which we read out just at the top of today’s briefing, and that position stands as his position.  We don’t have anything further to say about any travel plans.  So our position remains that he believes, that if he believes that it can make a difference, he certainly will go.

Question:  But just a quick follow-up, then.  In terms of where -- is this something that he is considering, or is it just something that is out there, that journalists are talking about, but it’s really not an option that is being considered right now?

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s something that he is considering, but there is no final decision to make on that.

Question:  The Secretary-General made a very impassioned appeal to Israel yesterday to stop the settlements.  Do you have any update on Israel’s action as far as settlements are concerned?  Has it spoken to the Secretary-General or anybody in the United Nations that it will stop settlement activity?  And what about Gaza?  I just want to find out about Gaza as to how many more, or have there been more border closings?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have any fresh update on the situation in Gaza for today.  And of course, for Israel’s response, we’d ask you to ask the Israeli side for that.

Question:  The former DESA [Department of Economic and Social Affairs] employee, Guido Bertucci, who left the UN system in the face of an OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] report saying that he’d been involved in negligence and the disappearance of funds from its Thessaloniki centre and otherwise, has just reappeared at a UN conference run by DESA held in Seoul, South Korea, as an expert, as a speaker.  Is there some statement by the UN on what is Mr. Bertucci’s status, whatever happened in the case when he left?  And does the Secretary-General think it’s appropriate that he be re-invited back as a UN expert?

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s not necessarily his decision on who can speak as an expert at different conferences around the world.  As far as Mr. Bertucci’s status goes, he has retired as of last year.

Question:  Whatever happened to the OIOS report?  Was there no, either accountability or redress or reimbursement?

Associate Spokesperson:  I think we provided details about the investigation last year when this matter came up.  I don’t have anything further to say since what we said last year on that.

Question:  On the release of the journalist in Iran -- there is a similar case in Israel, where [inaudible] our colleague in Al-Ahram was arrested in December, until now he hasn’t been released.  Has the Secretary-General conveyed to the Israelis the need to release such reporters?

Associate Spokesperson:  I need to look up the details.  I don’t have the details on that particular case.  So I’ll try and find out where that is.  And with that, let me invite Craig Mokhiber over to the podium.  And I believe Paul Hoeffel is here as well, who is from the Office of the President of the General Assembly.  Please come on up.

Briefing by Acting Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly

Good afternoon.

I have invited Craig Mokhiber, who is the Deputy Director of the New York office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, to join us this afternoon to brief us a about the General Assembly vote that just concluded at noon for the 18 new members of the Human Rights Council.  He will be able to brief you on any questions you have regarding that election and the work of the Human Rights Council

But before we address that issue, I would like to fill you in on the President of the General Assembly’s ongoing trip to promote the United Nations Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development, which as you know is going to be held from 1 to 3 June, a few weeks away.

As I mentioned yesterday, President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann completed a visit to Spain on Monday, where he met with a King Juan Carlos and with President José Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, as well as the Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.  He invited President Zapatero to attend the Conference in June.  And President Zapatero was very receptive to the draft outcome document that the President has circulated since last Friday.  It was presented to the Assembly, and it is now circulating, of course, in capitals around the world.  The purpose of his trip is to brief high-level officials specifically on the contents of the outcome document and the preparations for the Conference.

Today, the President had a very productive series of meetings in Geneva, where he arrived yesterday.  He met with Pascal Lamy, the Director-General of the World Trade Organization, who had reviewed the outcome document and expressed his support for its recommendations.  And he, the Director-General of the WTO, confirmed that he would be participating in the conference.

As well, he met with the Secretary-General of UNCTAD [United Nations Conference on Trade and Development], Dr. Supachai Panitchpakdi, who has also accepted an invitation to participate in the conference.  Later, over a working lunch, the President met with about 25 Geneva-based Ambassadors again to brief them on the preparations for the Conference.  And in general, he was very gratified by their support for the Conference and their understanding of its objectives, although, of course, Member States have very different positions on the objectives of the Conference and the outcome document as it now stands.  He also met with many of the representatives of the Geneva-based members of the extended UN family based in Geneva.

About an hour ago, he left for Tripoli, where he will be meeting with the Chairman Head of the African Union, Muammar Al-Qadhafi.  And from Tripoli, he is travelling to Moscow, before returning here to Headquarters in New York.

I will turn now to the elections of 18 new members to the Human Rights Council that were just announced at noon after a secret ballot in the General Assembly Hall.  I will be very brief in my presentation.  I will just present the results of the elections.  And I’ll go through very quickly, if I may.

There were five seats for the African states.  And those States that were elected were Senegal, Mauritius, Nigeria, Cameroon and Djibouti.

Among the five Asian States, the five seats for Asian States, it was Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Bangladesh, China and Saudi Arabia.

For the two seats that go to the Eastern European States, the Russian Federation and Hungary were elected. 

And for the Latin American and Caribbean States, there were three seats.   Mexico, Uruguay and Cuba were elected.

And finally, the three seats for the Western European and others -- Norway Belgium, and the United States were elected. 

There were 191 States represented in the vote, and you need a majority for each to win the seat, or 97 votes.  All of them received well above that.  So that is the result of those elections.

I will open the floor to questions.  And again, I’m very pleased to have Craig Mokhiber here from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to assist in the briefing.

[Briefing by Craig Mokhiber, Deputy Director, New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, issued separately.]

I want to advise you of a press conference tomorrow after the noon briefing relating to an Interactive Thematic Dialogue of the General Assembly on “Taking collective action to end human trafficking”.  It will be a very interesting day-long series of panels.  And the press conference at 12.45 p.m. here will include the Under-Secretary General Antonio Maria Costa, who is the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC); Ambassador Néstor Arbito Chica, who is Minister of Justice and Human Rights in Ecuador; and Dr. Saisuree Chutikul, who is a representative of the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women.  That will be here in 226, 12.45 p.m., Wednesday afternoon.

Thank you very much.

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