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

2 June 2009

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

2 June 2009
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 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.

**Security Council

The Security Council held consultations this morning and adopted its programme of work for the month of June under Turkey’s presidency.  Council members also discussed other matters.

And right after this briefing, at 12:30, Turkish Ambassador Bakiİlkin, the Council’s President for this month, will brief the press on the Council’s programme of work.  And right before that, we will have some updates from the General Assembly.  Enrique will come right after me.  So it’s going to be a tight briefing.

** Sri Lanka

On Sri Lanka, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is working with the Government of Sri Lanka and humanitarian agencies to provide urgently needed aid to hundreds of thousands of people who fled the former conflict zone in the last several months.

Some 300,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are accommodated in the 40 emergency shelter sites spread across the districts of Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee.  UNHCR and partners are carrying out emergency shelter work, regular non-food distributions and protection monitoring.

So far, United Nations agencies have erected some 8,800 emergency shelters and more than 14,000 tents, and will continue to set up more as land clearance continues.  Additional aid from Colombo is being transported to replenish stocks in the areas concerned.  The main priorities here are to decongest and improve conditions in the sites, stabilize the population and prepare for return.

The United Nations is also in close dialogue with the Government to ensure that persons in the camps have freedom of movement, with the ultimate objective to support Government efforts to restore normalcy in the lives of IDPs by ensuring that they can return home as soon as conditions are in place.

The dialogue includes addressing security issues; demining and removal of unexploded ordnance; village profile assessments and reconstruction of damaged homes; infrastructure and livelihood development; and revival of civil administration in the affected districts and provinces.

** Pakistan

In Pakistan, thousands of people took advantage of the lifting of a curfew over the weekend to flee from their villages and towns in the Swat valley to reach safer areas in the North-West Frontier Province (NWFP), according to the UN refugee agency.

To respond to this new influx, UNHCR, its partners and authorities have established new camps.  At one camp, some families told aid workers that they had been living in their basement for a month.  They said they were about to run out of food when the curfew was finally lifted last Saturday and Sunday and they were told to evacuate the area.  One family said they ate spinach and bread for 25 days before they were finally able to leave their home for safety.  The displaced cited shortages of food and medicine as major problems for those who remain stranded in the conflict zone.

Many of the families said they were transported out of the Swat valley by Government-arranged trucks.  Others said they had walked some of the way before taking buses to reach safer areas, then renting private accommodation or finding a place to stay with host families or in schools.  That’s our update on the humanitarian situation in Pakistan.

** Iraq

On Iraq, the UN refugee agency has renewed its appeal to donor countries for Iraqi refugees and internally displaced persons.  UNHCR says that more than 50 per cent of its nearly $300 million appeal for Iraq remains unfunded.  It says it might not be able to cope with the demands on the ground if new money isn’t received soon.  There are still well over 1.5 million Iraqis outside Iraq while another 2 million are internally displaced.

With security conditions still unstable, UNHCR has also warned that uprooted Iraqis should not be forced back to their homes.  That, the agency says, could negatively affect the country’s already fragile ability to take them back in.

At the same time, UNHCR calls on the Iraqi Government to make further progress in its policy on displacement and return.  Iraqi authorities should move decisively on land allocation, property restitution and compensation.  They should also work to set up a major housing and rehabilitation programme fit enough to deal with the country’s considerable housing problem.

**Human Rights Council

In Geneva this morning, the Human Rights Council opened its eleventh regular session.  The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is expected to address the session tomorrow.  She will update the Human Rights Council on the latest developments since she last briefed in March.

This session of the Human Rights Council will run through 18 June.  During the two coming weeks, the Council will consider, among others, reports on protecting the human rights of civilians in armed conflict, and on the draft guiding principles on extreme poverty and human rights.  The Council will also discuss the report of the High Commissioner on the resolution to dispatch an urgent, independent international fact-finding mission to investigate all violations of international humanitarian law against the Palestinian people throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip.

Other scheduled events include a day-long discussion on women’s human rights, on 4 June, and a panel on human rights and climate change, on 15 June.

You can find out more on the Human Rights Council website.

**Secretary-General/Ehud Barak

In response to questions I have been getting about the Secretary-General’s meeting with Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, the two discussed the Board of Inquiry, the Gaza fact-finding mission led by Justice [Richard] Goldstone, access and movement issues relating to Gaza, the importance of the peace process, Lebanon, and the upcoming report on Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).

On the Gaza fact-finding mission, the Secretary-General renewed his call for cooperation from Israel.

** Burundi

The Secretary-General’s latest report on the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) is out on the racks.  In it, the Secretary-General says that Burundi has made commendable progress in the implementation of the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement and laying the foundations for holding free, fair and peaceful elections in 2010.  He adds that in this improved political context, Burundi has an opportunity to conclude the implementation of the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement and continue to take steps to improve the human rights situation as well as to progress in terms of reform of the justice and security sectors, civilian disarmament and democratic governance.

The Secretary-General recommends that the mandate of BINUB remain unchanged at this time, with a primary focus on support for the conclusion of the peace process, facilitation, and support for peacebuilding.

** Darfur

Security conditions in Darfur have been relatively calm in the past 24 hours, according to the UN-AU Mission there (UNAMID).

Meanwhile, the Mission says that a first group of some 140 police officers from Zambia arrived yesterday in El Fasher to beef up its ranks.  More are expected next week.

**Refugees -- European Union

High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres has called on the European Union (EU) and its member States to ensure that migration control measures do not undermine the basic rights of asylum seekers and refugees. In a letter he addressed to the Czech EU presidency ahead of a gathering later this week of EU justice and interior ministers, Guterres said he is concerned about European responses to the situation of migrants intercepted at sea in the Mediterranean.  He also appealed for EU assistance to Libya to ease conditions for intercepted migrants and to admit into EU countries those in need of international protection.  The EU should also press ahead with improving asylum facilities and procedures in its effort to build a common european asylum system, Guterres said.

** Madagascar

On Madagascar, as a result of growing food insecurity in Madagascar’s rural southern regions, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, has allocated some $6.45 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of more than 190,000 people.

Since the start of this year, Madagascar has suffered the combined effects of drought, cyclones and some political instability.  A recent assessment by the World Food Programme (WFP) revealed severe food insecurity for many households, with families resorting to selling their livestock and household goods.  The UN Children’s Agency, UNICEF, also reported an alarming increase in levels of malnutrition among children from the ages of six months to five years.  There’s more information in a press release from OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) upstairs.

** Tajikistan Floods

In Tajikistan, prolonged and heavy spring rains have resulted in multiple floods and mud flows in 40 out of 58 districts of the country.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says more than 12,000 flood-affected people are still in need of urgent assistance.  Water and sanitation is the highest priority for 3,000 displaced people in camps.

Humanitarian partners in Tajikistan are appealing for $1.3 million to help those affected.  OCHA has already released an emergency cash grant of $118,250 for the purchase of tents, household items and fuel for the delivery of clean water to those affected.

**World Food Programme

With global hunger on the rise, 115 million people joined the ranks of the hungry within the past two years.  The World Food Programme reports that today’s youth are eager to know more about food shortages around the world.  In response, WFP has set up a one-stop resource platform for them on its website.  In addition to informing and educating students on hunger issues, the web platform will motivate young people around the world to take action against hunger at a grass-roots level.  There is a press release upstairs.

**International Labour Organization

Future forecasts are predicting that there will be continued job losses, persistent unemployment and poverty well into 2010.  In response, the International Labour Organization (ILO) will focus on this issue during its annual conference from 3 June to the 19th, in Geneva.  The agenda is set to search for effective responses by discussing a range of measures and policies to promote employment and to provide social protection to those affected.

There is more on this upstairs.

**Eyeglasses

According to research published today in the Bulletin of the World Health Organization (WHO), huge economic gain could be made by providing eyeglasses to approximately 150 million people in need.  The global productivity loss due to visual impairment in people aged from 16 to 50 years is approximately $120 billion.  For further information, the press release is available upstairs.

**Secretary-General’s Next Trip

The Secretary-General is scheduled to travel to Washington, D.C., later this week.  During his 4-5 June visit, he plans to meet with US Vice-President [Joe] Biden and the Secretary of Energy, Steven Chu.

He will also take part in a dialogue on international affairs at the Brookings Institution on Thursday evening.

**Security Council Stakeout Today

And later today, at around 4:45 p.m., Silvan Shalom, Vice Prime Minister and Minister for Regional Development of Israel, will speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout, following his meeting with the Secretary-General.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Michael Adlerstein, Assistant Secretary-General and Executive Director of the Capital Master Plan (CMP).  He will be here to provide an update on the CMP.

And this is all I have.  We will take very few questions because Enrique is waiting.  Yes, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Okay.  This is on Pakistan.  The head of the Jemaat-u-Dawa (JUD) [name inaudible] was released last night.  This organization has been banned by the UN and he was arrested after the UN put this ban on him.  So what would your reaction be and from the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything for you at this point.  Yes.

Question:  Maybe it’s clear, I don’t get it; Mr. Shalom and Mr. Barak are here on different days.  Is there a reason for that?

Spokesperson:  You should ask them.

Question:  Okay.  And also, do we have an update on… The SG has said that he will be looking into damages, into UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East), personnel and premises that were not in the Board’s reference on a case-by-case basis.  Do we have an update on that?

Spokesperson:  Well, right now he is trying to follow up on the report, first, of the Commission.  And he has instructed his Legal Counsel to begin the process of preparing and formulating claims to compensation for the losses that were sustained by the United Nations in the incidents that were actually investigated by the board.  And so that’s what we’re doing right now.  So far, that’s what we’re concentrating on. The Secretary-General will address the other issues later.

Question:  And has any of the about $11 million in damages; has any of that been paid back yet?

Spokesperson:  No, not yet.  As I said, they’re right now formulating the claims.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  Michèle, two questions.  One is that the Government of Sri Lanka has expelled the head of the Norway-based NGO, Forut, from the country.  Does the UN have any response to that as it did in say, Darfur?

Spokesperson:  No, not at this point.  Not at this point, at all.

Question:  Okay.  The other question is, one, I e-mailed you, but I’m compelled to ask it.  Whether you participated in an 18 May meeting with Ms. Angela Kane and certain others about how the UN would have a legal strategy on the Wall Street Journal, Fox News and Inner City Press, including seeking to de-list it from Google News?

Spokesperson:  Okay, Matthew, I just want to point out that I don’t have to account to you about the meetings I participate in.  I participate in about seven meetings a day, okay.  I don’t have any accounts to give you about what was discussed in a specific meeting that was held here at UN Headquarters!

Question:  I have seen the minutes, but I guess my question to you is simply, before writing the article, how was the content of that meeting consistent with Article 19 and the First Amendment and what Mr. Ban said on 7 May about freedom of the press and of online meetings?

Spokesperson:  Those were discussions based on people who actually complained about things that you wrote about.  I am talking about what you wrote concerning particularly the Medical Service where you really touched upon people’s reputations without any proof!  And I want to underline the fact that whenever we have sent to you or other media, some other media -– very few of them, we have sent rectification saying this is untrue; this is what the truth is.  You don’t bother to print that.

Question:  [inaudible] sent me something from Ms. Ahlenius that said that they couldn’t verify the claims against the Medical Service because of confidentiality.  But Ms. Kane, here in this room, said that the Medical Service was cleared, which isn’t even what Ms. Ahlenius said. So, I did run it, I am always happy to run it, but I guess, I don’t want to dominate this…

Spokesperson:  The fact that we get together, any staff member, any senior adviser here, get together in a meeting and discuss some specific claim, some specific allegation in some press report, in some media, about people whose lives are affected by media, and where issues of libel are discussed, I think it’s something that is [inaudible].

Question:  [inaudible] that the UN is seeking to complain to Google News and to have Inner City Press removed, does that confirm that previously when Inner City Press was removed that the UN was behind it?

Spokesperson:  The UN had nothing to do with it.

Question:  But this time the [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Things were discussed because of the fact that a number of allegations that you have printed are erroneous, do not respect the facts, and…

Question:  [inaudible] confirmed this.

Spokesperson:  …and it’s…

Question:  Fox News ran the same story [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  May I finish, please?

Correspondent:  I’m sorry, please.

Spokesperson:  Not only you do not respect the facts, and I think some of your colleagues agree with me on this… not only you do not respect the facts, you do not accept when we actually call you, call upon you and we send a rectification.  The third aspect of it all is that, whenever I speak to you or anybody else speaks to you, what we have is not a different approach, no! It is “I met so and so in the hallway”, and that’s what appears in your blog, “and he told me so and so”.  I think this is, there are some definite ethics issues involved here.  We have a press corps here, and unfortunately we don’t have an ethics code the way a number of organizations, news organizations, have.  And the ethics code should also apply; a basic ethics code should basically be applied.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Since you actually talked to me about this and you mentioned in your e-mail my own background as a journalist, I would say that what I have read in your blog goes against many of the ethical values of journalism.

Question:  [inaudible] talking about Sri Lanka [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I am not talking about Sri Lanka.  I am talking in general.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Just a coincidence.

Question:  Michèle, there is a report by the Arab League about the Gaza investigation, and the Secretary-General, as far as I know, did get at least the summary of that report and I am wondering if he has any response.

Spokesperson:  You mean… Which report are you talking about?

Question:  I’ll have to look up the name, but John Dugard was the person in charge of that…

Spokesperson:  Oh, that’s the Human Rights report.

Question:  It was about the attack on Gaza and what happened…

Spokesperson:  Yes.  That was sent to the Human Rights Council, not to the Secretary-General.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I can check for you.  I’ll check for you.

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Since Maxwell Gaylard was here last week saying that the UN humanitarian [inaudible] at least has always been consistent with the Secretary-General on down, that the blockade of Gaza must be lifted.  Did the Secretary-General press that specific point to the Defence Minister yesterday?

Spokesperson:  Yes, he did.

Question:  Did he get a response?

Spokesperson:  I cannot… I mean the response of the Government was given to you yesterday at the stakeout.  I mean, I cannot talk for them, on their behalf.  Yes, Dennis.

Question:  Is there a date set yet for the Secretary-General’s monthly press conference?

Spokesperson:  Yes, the 11th.  Yes.

Question:  Yes, Michèle, although it’s too soon, the Secretary-General made a very strong appeal yesterday about funding the UN appeal for helping the Pakistani displaced.  Has there been any response?

Spokesperson:  Not yet.  Yes, Edie.

Question:  Michèle, on the Secretary-General’s trip to Washington, in his meetings with the Vice-President and the Energy Secretary, I would assume that with the Energy Secretary he is going to be focusing on climate change.  Is there anything specific he is going to be focusing on with the Vice-President?

Spokesperson:  Well, I will ask, but… And of course, you will have a readout.  So I will let you know as soon as I find out.  Yes.

Question:  If I can just follow up on Pakistan and the JUD.  Is this because it’s too early you haven’t had a chance to investigate the matter clearly?  Can we get a reaction from you as the day progresses?  Because the UN stand on this would be important because of the UN ban…

Spokesperson:  Well, as soon as I get something, I will let you know, of course.  Enrique please.  Oh, no first, I just received a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Mauritania.

**Statement Attributable to the Spokesperson on Mauritania

The Secretary-General is closely following the internationally mediated negotiations under way in Dakar, Senegal, to forge consensus around transitional arrangements for a return to constitutional order in Mauritania, including on the date of presidential elections.  The Secretary-General believes time is of the essence for reaching an agreement, and he calls on the Mauritanian parties to cooperate urgently toward this end with the African Union Facilitation, the United Nations and the International Contact Group.

That’s a statement on Mauritania.  Please, Enrique.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

I’ll try to be very quick in any case, because I just wanted to give you an overview on where we are on some of the issues at the General Assembly.

Let me start with the global economic and financial crisis summit 24 to 26 June.  The negotiations, as you know, have started.  On Friday, they met, all the groups together.  Yesterday, they met the different regional groups to start defining positions.  And today we had the very first negotiations at 10 a.m. this morning and there are going to be negotiations the whole day.

On Security Council reform, as you know, we are right now on the second round of negotiations, in full swing.  We had the meeting on 22 and 26 May, that was the very first meeting on the second round.  The next one is on 11 June and the third one will be on 23 June.  After that, we will decide, or Ambassador [Zahir] Tanin [of Afghanistan] with Member States, will decide what is the best route to follow ahead; whether we will have a third round of negotiations or not.

Another couple of issues:  On the revitalization of the General Assembly, tomorrow, Wednesday, we are going to have the second meeting of the working group.  As you know, we have two facilitators from the President of the General Assembly, Ambassador Maria Fernanda Espinosa from Ecuador and Mr. Wetland from Norway.  They’re trying to work together with the Member States to see different ways to revitalize the General Assembly.  And, as I said, this will be the second meeting of the working group.

We also have this week another initiative on the restructuring and the reform of the United Nations system.  The system-wide coherence group will have a meeting on Thursday, 4 June.  And also tomorrow, and as I said, I am going to be very quick, the General Assembly is going to discuss this draft resolution put by the small island States and others on climate change and security.

And this is all I have for you.  This is a record, one minute!  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, with regard to the Security Council reform, there was a summary that Ambassador Tanin presented to the Members.  If Members had some objections or problems with that summary, will Ambassador Tanin redo the summary or what will happen with the feedback he got from that summary to him?  Will he be…?  What is the process?

Spokesperson:  It was not a summary.  It was an overview.  He called it the overview paper, where he put together what he believed were the different options available for the Member States to try to go ahead in a constructive manner and try to get to solutions.  They discussed that in the last two meetings.  Some Members States were in agreement, some others were not that much in agreement, and, this is, as you know, basically part of any negotiating process.  He is not going to review the paper, because it is not an official paper.  It was basically a tool for the Member States to start discussing and, in the framework of these constructive negotiations, now, they’re going to move, as it was agreed in the schedule, to the second meeting of the second round.

Question:  Then how does the process develop then?  Because, if there was a response to the paper and he doesn’t do anything with regard to that response, then why bother to respond?

Spokesperson:  That paper is not an official document.  That is a paper trying to summarize, or to put in writing, some of the positions and how to move ahead.  And, as you know, the timetable that he set up is that they had this meeting where they were discussing basically the review or challenge mechanisms for the Security Council reform.  And then, on 11 June, the second meeting will be discussing size, categories of membership and regional representation, and on 23 June they will be concluding the second round, with a meeting on relations between the General Assembly and the Security Council, the veto issue and working methods.  As you know, this is a very complex negotiation and there are very different positions on whatever route it goes.  They move forward, and there are always some countries who would prefer another different route.  But that, I think, is part of the normal negotiating process.

Question:  Could we have Ambassador Tanin to come to a press conference with us?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I have mentioned it to him, but I think he really would prefer not to at this stage…  I am going to ask him again, when we have finished the second round of negotiations, to give you an idea on where we are.  James and then Matthew.

Question:  Thank you, Enrique.  During the last meeting we got from the General Assembly President, he appeared slightly infirm and had to be helped off the stage afterwards.  Has he had any health problems?

Spokesperson:  Not that I remember.  Which meeting are you talking about?  I mean, he’s healthy… he is healthy for a man of 76 years.  But, I don’t recall that he had any particular problems, neither in public nor in private.  So, he is actually travelling very well.  He went yesterday to El Salvador to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the President of El Salvador, Mr. Funes, and he’ll be back this afternoon.  And tomorrow, early, we’re going to be working.  So, I don’t know where this information comes from, but he’s healthy.

Question:  It was just an observation.

Spokesperson:  Well, then his health is very good.  [Laughter]  Matthew.

Question:  Sure, Enrique.  In the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee, this budget for supporting the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, has there been any movement on it?  When will it be acted on, and is it $200 million or $300 million?

Spokesperson:  I think they are discussing it today.  I am not sure whether there is going to be an agreement before tomorrow, that could be an option.  But, I have been told that they’re discussing this issue today and there is no agreement yet.

Question:  And do you yet know who will represent the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at the global financial crisis talks and…?

Spokesperson:  No. Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Gracias, Enrique.  The Secretary-General went before the General Assembly yesterday and, among other things, he said that the United Nations was only able to raise about a quarter, I think, of the $540 million for the humanitarian situation in Pakistan, and he warned about a secondary crisis deriving from the lack of resources.  What is the President of the General Assembly doing on his part to help Members fund this operation of humanitarian assistance in Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  As you know, in the mandate of the President of the General Assembly it is not one of his main tasks to be fundraising money, or for operations.  He has a very clear agenda in the General Assembly.  Having said that, certainly, within his capacity and his mandate, the President of the General Assembly is supporting any efforts by the UN system, and especially by the Secretary-General, in trying to fundraise money for any kind of operation, whether it is peacekeeping operations, or whether it is emergency operations of all sorts, whether they are political or natural disasters.

Question:  [Inaudible] whose mandate as the General Assembly President to appeal to the States to make the contributions?

Spokesperson:  In his mandate -- let me try to explain this -- is certainly supporting the efforts of the whole Organization in trying to fundraise money and to solve the problems and whatever crisis, whether they are political or natural disasters.  I mean, there is no difference.  Let me make it very clear, the bottom line here is the President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General are both working to make sure that the United Nations, as a system, as a whole system, works as efficiently as possible.

I understand the President of the Security Council for this month is here and we’ll give him the floor.  Thank very much

* *** *

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