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

17 June 2009

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

17 June 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL

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

Good afternoon, all.

**Energy Advisory Group

The Secretary-General is launching today a high-level Energy and Climate Change Advisory Group.  The Group brings together business leaders, experts and energy practitioners to help the Secretary-General make timely and appropriate policy contributions to the climate and energy challenges.

The Group will provide expert advice of direct relevance to the climate change negotiations.  It will identify key issues in the run-up to the Copenhagen Conference, particularly regarding the critical role that energy efficiency can play in addressing climate change.

The Advisory Group, meeting today for the first time, is chaired by Mr. Kandeh Yumkella, Director-General of UNIDO and UN Energy Chairman, who will be our guest in a few minutes.

** Gaza

On Gaza, 41 UN bodies and humanitarian non-governmental organizations today expressed their deepening concern over Israel’s continued blockade of the Gaza Strip, which has now been in force for two years.

The groups, in a joint statement, say that the amount of goods allowed into Gaza under the blockade is one quarter of the pre-blockade flow.  They warn that the suffocation of Gaza’s economy has led to unprecedented unemployment and poverty rates and almost total aid dependency.

The groups call for free and uninhibited access for all humanitarian assistance, in accordance with the international agreements and universally recognized international human rights and humanitarian law standards.  They also call for a return to normalized trade to enable the poverty and unemployment rates to decrease.  We have the full statement upstairs.

** Iraq

On Iraq, the Iraqi Council of Representatives and the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) organized a two-day conference in Baghdad earlier this week that was dedicated to a discussion of hydrocarbon revenue and water sharing.  The participants stressed the existing broad agreement between the Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government on the principle of revenue sharing, including automatic transfers.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

Humanitarian agencies in the Democratic Republic of the Congo are urgently appealing for $38 million to provide life-saving assistance to some 1 million civilians affected by violence and insecurity in the east.

A statement issued by the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, OCHA, says the new funds would be used in the provinces of North and South Kivu, where 800,000 people -- especially women and children -- are affected by armed attacks and military operations.  Weeks of fighting have left many civilians in very dire and poor humanitarian conditions.  The situation has been characterized by massive displacement, killings and acts of sexual violence.

The UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the Congo, Ross Mountain, warns that the coming months will be trying times for thousands of men, women and children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  We have more details in an OCHA statement upstairs.

** Darfur

The Deputy Joint Special Representative for Darfur, Henry Anyidoho, travelled to West Darfur yesterday and met with people who have recently voluntarily returned to their villages.

Meanwhile, the African Union Panel on Darfur, which is led by the former South African President, Thabo Mbeki, and includes two other former Heads of State, Burundi’s Pierre Buyoya and Nigeria’s Abdulsalami Abubakar, was in North Darfur yesterday.  They met with the commanders of the Sudan Liberation Movement, Abdul Wahid faction.  There is a press release issued by the African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur with more details upstairs.

** Somalia

A new wave of aggression and hostilities against humanitarian operations in Somalia is putting at risk the lives of Somali children and women; that is according to the UN children’s agency, UNICEF.  The acting UNICEF representative to Somalia, Hannan Suleiman, cites specifically the takeover and continuing occupation of UNICEF’s compound in Jowhar in central Somalia by militiamen, after the town came under the control of the Al-Shabaab group last month.

The Jowhar compound is the biggest operational hub for UNICEF’s support to about 200 feeding centres, and the subsequent looting and destruction of vital humanitarian items have seriously affected UNICEF’s ability to assist the most vulnerable children and women.  UNICEF is demanding that its facilities in Jowhar town be vacated by the militiamen and that all of its looted supplies and equipment be returned.

**Security Council

The Security Council has scheduled an open meeting at 3 p.m. today on Kosovo.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, Lamberto Zannier, will brief the Council on developments there and on the Secretary-General’s latest report.

In that report, the Secretary-General welcomes the assumption of full operational capability by European Union Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo (EULEX) and says that he is encouraged by the level of cooperation between the UN Mission (UNMIK) and EULEX on the ground.

**Civilians in Armed Conflict

The latest report of the Secretary-General on the protection of civilians in armed conflict is out on the racks today.  In it, he notes that 2009 marks the tenth anniversary of the consideration by the Security Council of the protection of civilians in armed conflict as a thematic issue.  He says that the protection of civilians has come to occupy a prominent place on the Council’s agenda and has resulted in concrete proposals and decisions intended to improve the situation of countless men, women, girls and boys affected by the horrors and indignities of war.

But, the Secretary-General adds that further efforts to strengthen the protection of civilians remain crucial.  He says that actions on the ground have not yet matched the progress in words and the development of international norms and standards.  The Secretary-General calls for determined action to meet five core challenges: enhancing compliance by parties to conflict with international law; enhancing compliance with the law by non-State armed groups; enhancing protection through more effective and better resourced peacekeeping and other relevant missions; enhancing humanitarian access; and enhancing accountability for violations of the law.

**Desertification

Today is the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.  This year’s observance highlights the growing threat to national and regional stability posed by desertification.

In a message to mark this occasion, the Secretary-General notes that nearly one third of the world’s cropland has become unproductive and has been abandoned in the past 40 years.  Almost three quarters of rangelands show various symptoms of desertification.  Let us recognize the security risks of letting desertification advance unchecked, he says, adding that, as usual, the poor will be the first victims and the last to recover.

Calling for a global response to this problem, the Secretary-General says that sealing the deal on climate change can help reverse desertification, increase agricultural productivity, alleviate poverty and enhance global security.  We have the Secretary-General’s full message upstairs.

**United Nations Environment Programme

Also, the United Nations Environment Programme’s (UNEP) $10 million Desert Margins Programme provides promising new anti-erosion techniques.  UNEP says that land degradation and desertification is threatening 1 billion people in some 100 countries and a third of the world’s lands.  So far, the programme has been a success, as it has improved livelihoods and produced better managed drylands.  The UNEP Executive Director, Achim Steiner, says that land degradation and desertification is not inevitable and the multiple inspiring solutions from the programme underscore this confidence.  There is a press release on this upstairs.

**Agricultural Outlook

As long as the world economic recovery begins within two to three years, decreases in agricultural prices are likely to be moderate, according to a report jointly launched today by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Because food is a basic necessity, agriculture is showing more resilience than other industries vis-à-vis the current global economic crisis.  Food prices have come down from the record peaks of early 2008, but they remain high in many poor countries.  The report warns that, over the coming decade, prices for all farm commodities are unlikely to fall back to their levels before the economic crisis.

The report calls for more effective international aid, targeted policies such as infrastructure investment, research and development systems, and incentives for the sustainable use of soil and water.  A press release is available upstairs.

**Humanitarian Award

Tonight, the Secretary-General will receive the Foreign Policy Association’s Global Humanitarian Award.  In his acceptance speech, the Secretary-General is expected to highlight the humanitarian work the United Nations is carrying out worldwide, adding that he speaks for the powerless in the councils of power.

He will also highlight the growing demands on the United Nations.  He will underline the Organization’s essential role as the only universal multilateral forum for tackling the great challenges of this generation, including climate change.  The Secretary-General will stress that these challenges demand a new multilateralism, with all nations working in full collaboration.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Press conferences ahead: at 11 a.m. tomorrow here in this room, Gilles Noghès, Permanent Representative of Monaco; John B. Kelly III, Chairman of the Prince Albert II Foundation USA; and Giampaolo Pioli, United Nations Correspondents Association (UNCA) President, will hold a press conference to launch the Joint Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation/UNCA Global Prize for best coverage of climate change issues.

And after the noon briefing tomorrow, at 12:45 p.m., Andrei Dapkiunas, Permanent Representative of Belarus, and Tariq Banuri, Director of the Division for Sustainable Development of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, will be holding a press conference as a side-event to the General Assembly’s thematic dialogue on “energy efficiency, energy conservation and new and renewable sources of energy”.

And this is all I have for you today, thank you.  Yes, Masood.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, can you tell me, how many times has the Secretary-General spoken to the new Israeli Prime Minister regarding lifting of this blockade in Gaza and also stopping the settlements?  When is the last time he spoke?

Spokesperson:  Well, the last time we actually gave you the string of visitors we had the last two weeks.  As far as I know, there has been no new conversation on this issue.  But, as you know, the issue is being pressed by all our channels on the ground.

Question:  Has he spoken with the new Israeli Prime Minister, Mr. Netanyahu, about the settlements and about the blockade?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check that for you.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Okay.

Question:  I mean, because if he has not, I don’t know, has he had any contact with him at all?

Spokesperson:  I’ll check whether there was a conversation between them.  You know, as I told you, last week a number of Israeli officials came through here.

[The reporter was later informed that they had a telephone conversation after Mr. Netanyahu had taken office as Prime Minister.]

Question:  Okay, that I know, but not the Israeli Prime Minister?

Spokesperson:  No, no, he didn’t come.

Question:  And is there any reaction to his statement about his… that he gave on Palestine and the Palestinian State [inaudible] Monday?

Spokesperson:  No, the Secretary-General already expressed himself at the stakeout the day before yesterday, or yesterday.  Yes, I think it was yesterday on it.  So you have his answer.

Question:  So no contact as yet?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have anything new on this.  Anything else?  Yes.

Question:  Michèle, I’ve got to go down the road for a second.  The World Bank, two reports came out last week -- I got them early this week in my e-mail.  One, that racial slurs were found scrolled on the walls in the World Bank.  Second, that there had been several discrimination cases filed.  Some on racial harassment and others in terms of promotions, and none of this has… and this has been going on for years, according to these new reports, nothing has been done.  Is there a line of demarcation here, I mean, can I ask you as the Spokesperson to…?

Spokesperson:  No, it is a matter for the spokesperson for the World Bank to talk about.

Question:  And if they don’t talk about it to me, can I come back to you?

Spokesperson:  We’ll try to find someone who can talk to you.

Correspondent:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Yes, Masood.

Question:  Michèle, any update on the IDPs in Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  No, nothing new from what Marie told you yesterday.

Correspondent:  Not today, okay.

Spokesperson:  Okay, thank you all so much, and have a good afternoon.  We’ll come back in a few minutes to have our guest here at the briefing.

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