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

2 September 2009

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

2 September 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General in Norway

The Secretary-General has wrapped up his visit to Norway after ending a boat trip this morning that took him to the polar ice of the Arctic Circle yesterday, where he stood on the ice and urged world leaders to take action against climate change.

The Arctic, he said, is ground zero for analysing the impact of climate change, and it is where climate change is accelerating faster than in any other region in the world.  He warned that we are losing the glaciers at a rate of 150 cubic kilometres per year, an amount he described as “alarming”.

“We do not have any time to lose,” the Secretary-General said at the Polar Ice Rim.  “The time is short.  We must seal the deal in Copenhagen in December, a deal which will be comprehensive, equitable and balanced so that both industrialized and developing countries, and all citizens of the world, can live in an environmentally sustainable way.”   And we have his remarks upstairs.

While travelling to the Polar Ice Rim on board a Norwegian vessel, the Svalbard, the Secretary-General was shown by a group of scientists their work on monitoring the ice to see how it changed over time; they showed him data on how the polar ice cap is shrinking quickly.  The Secretary-General said that what he had seen, and the information he had received, should serve as an alarm bell, with the effects being seen in the Arctic as a sign of what can happen in the world.  The loss of ice in the region, he said, appears to be happening at a rate 30 years ahead of schedule.  “Our foot is on the gas pedal and it is time we put it off,” he told reporters who accompanied him on the boat trip.

Before leaving Norway for Geneva, the Secretary-General visited the Global Seed Vault in Longyearbyen, which contains seeds from around the world that contain the essential characteristics that plant breeders and farmers will need to ensure that crops become climate ready and even more productive.  “Sustainable food production may not begin in this cold Arctic environment, but it does begin by conserving crop diversity,” he said, while standing in the Seed Vault, where the temperature is kept at -15°.  “My lips are frozen,” he added.

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will deal with another set of climate issues when he speaks at the third World Climate Conference in Geneva.  He will also meet with a number of world leaders on the margins of that conference.

**Security Council

The Security Council, in its first consultations this month under the US presidency of the Council, adopted its programme of work for September.  At 12:30, right after this briefing, the new Council President, Ambassador Susan Rice of the United States, will talk to you about the Council’s work over the coming month.  So I’ll try to keep this part brief.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, Peter Galbraith, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, today said that the suicide bomb attack that took place at a mosque in Laghman Province was “indefensible”.  The attack, he noted, killed Afghanistan’s deputy intelligence chief and killed and injured several other Government officials and many civilians.  Galbraith said that the contrast between the vast majority of Afghans, who yearn for peace during the holy month of Ramadan, and those who conducted the attack could not be more stark.  And we have his statement upstairs.

** Afghanistan -- Drugs

Also on Afghanistan, in its 2009 Afghan Opium Survey, which was released in Kabul today, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that “the bottom is starting to fall out of the Afghan opium market”.  Opium cultivation is down by 22 per cent, production by 10 per cent and prices are at a 10 year low.

The number of poppy-free provinces has increased from 18 to 20, and drug seizures continue to rise, thanks to more robust counter-narcotics operations by Afghan and NATO forces.  “At a time of pessimism about the situation in Afghanistan, these results are a welcome piece of good news and demonstrate that progress is possible,” said UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa.

At the same time, he warned that a marriage of convenience between insurgents and criminal groups is spawning narco-cartels in Afghanistan linked to the Taliban.  As in other parts of the world, like Colombia and Myanmar, the drug trade in Afghanistan has gone from being a funding source for insurgency to becoming an end in itself.  And the full report is on the UNODC website.

** Yemen

The humanitarian community, in consultation with the Government of Yemen, today launched a flash appeal seeking $23.5 million to provide humanitarian relief to people displaced by the recent fighting between Yemeni Government forces and armed groups.  Current estimates suggest that around 150,000 people are displaced in northern Yemen, including 95,000 people displaced by previous bouts of fighting and 55,000 who have left their homes since this July.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, who launched the appeal in Geneva, said that, following the latest wave of displacement, needs are now acute.  The additional resources that are being requested will help to get desperately needed supplies to displaced people. And we have more details in a press release upstairs, and we also have John Holmes’ press comments in Geneva upstairs.

**Deputy Secretary-General on Disabilities

The Deputy Secretary-General today addressed the second Conference of States Parties to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

She said the Convention provides a solid basis for advancing the human rights of the 650 million women, men and children around the world who live with disabilities -- and for enabling their full participation and inclusion in society.  The Deputy Secretary-General said it is encouraging that a significant number of countries have already adopted new legislation and policies in line with the Convention, or modified existing legislation.  Such legislation is an integral part of the implementation strategy, she noted.  And we have her full remarks upstairs.

** Indonesia

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that an inter-agency assessment team will start work tomorrow, following today’s earthquake in West Java, Indonesia.  The team will be led by the Government of Indonesia, with support from the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the World Food Programme (WFP), OCHA, the World Bank, the UN Department of Safety and Security, and UNICEF.

** Rwanda

The Secretary General’s Special Envoy to Stop Tuberculosis (TB), Jorge Sampãio, and UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé have witnessed first hand how progress is being made in the treatment of HIV and TB using an integrated approach in Rwanda.

During a visit to a Socio-Medical Centre in the town of Biryogo, the two officials observed how patients reporting tuberculosis are also tested for HIV, and those found to be HIV-positive are given integrated care and support.  “It reflects Rwanda's impressive progress nationwide on coordinating TB and HIV services,” said Sampãio.

Sidibé highlighted how Rwanda’s efforts in dealing with TB and HIV co-infection through better collaboration underlined the UN’s commitment to tackle the dual epidemics effectively.  He added that Rwanda’s bold leadership is achieving impressive results that show the rest of Africa what can be achieved.

**United Nations Development Programme

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark was in Berlin today and spoke out forcefully on sexual and reproductive heath and development at a forum in Berlin co-hosted by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and the German Government.

Clark said: “As long as 200 million women in the world have an unmet need for family planning, their chances of finishing their education, being in paid work, and breaking out of poverty are reduced.”  She said that women have the right to make their own decisions about whether or when to have children, how many to have, and with whom -- and then to receive support and care to give birth safely. Her statement is available on the UNDP website.

**United Nations Environment Programme

A new study on climate change, backed by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), reports that inaction is already threatening the world’s ecosystems and the livelihoods of half a billion people.  Among other things, it finds that investing in the restoration and maintenance of the Earth’s ecosystems -- like forests, mangroves, wetlands and river basins -- can have a key role in countering climate change.  Such investment can also be a crucial anti-poverty and adaptation measure, UNEP says. And there is a press release on that upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

So after this, like I said, we will have Ambassador Susan Rice of the United States, the Council President.  Then tomorrow, at 11:15 a.m. there will be a press conference by Ambassador Claude Heller, the Permanent Representative of Mexico; Kiyo Akasaka, the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information; Sergio Duarte, the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs; and Charles Hitchcock, the Chair of the 62nd Annual DPI/NGO Conference.  They will be here to brief on the upcoming DPI/NGO Conference, which will take place from 9 to 11 September in Mexico City.  And the theme of that conference will be “For Peace and Development: Disarm Now!”

That’s all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  I wonder who is accompanying the Secretary-General to the polar region on the UN side?  Who is going from the UN?

Associate Spokesperson:  Who accompanied him on the UN side?  He was with his senior advisers, Robert Orr and Janos Pasztor, who both deal very strongly with climate change issues.

Question:  The production of opium is still at 90 per cent… the Afghans still provide 90 per cent of the opium for the world.  We heard some reports this morning that they’re just producing too much.  Is that something that this report underscores? can you give us a response to that?

Associate Spokesperson:  The report actually says that cultivation and production are both down across the board, and there is less production overall in the country, and there is less production in fewer provinces as well -- there are now more opium-free provinces than before.  So beyond that, I’d recommend the full report, that’s available and we also have a press release upstairs with some more.

Question:  There are these reports of flows of refugees from Myanmar into China’s Yunnan province.  I’m wondering whether either UNHCR or any UN agency is following that.  There has been an upsurge in fighting in Myanmar and people are fleeing across the border.  Are those people refugees, and if not, why not?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of that, we had some information about this at the end of last week.  I think UNHCR did provide some information about displacement from Myanmar, and so I’ll just refer you to what they said and to UNHCR.

Question:  Also I wanted to ask you, there is a report on something that’s come up here, and Michèle has answered, that the nephew of Sri Lankan President [Mahinda] Rajapaksa that was an employee of the International Criminal Tribunal on Rwanda, that the authorities there have arrested three people in connection with his death or perhaps murder.  First she’d said he’d been murdered and then she said he wasn’t murdered.  Is the UN tracking this, and what can you say about it?

Associate Spokesperson:  We continue to get information.  Obviously, this is a person who worked for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, and so the Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is receiving information on this, and we’ve been consulting with them as new information comes out.  The reason she mentioned that foul play had been ruled out last week, that was following autopsy results.  If we get further information, we’ll reflect that once we hear from our colleagues on the Rwanda Tribunal.

Question:  And just one more on that.  There is in this schedule for the General Assembly debate, it’s listed that Sri Lanka will be represented at the level of Head of Government, which is the Prime Minister.  There is only one problem: that the Prime Minister is not the Head of Government, even according to the Sri Lankan Constitution -- he’s further down.  The President is both Head of State and Head of Government.  Since the schedule of who speaks is based on this, if a Government either misrepresents who somebody is or errors are made, what’s done on this?

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, the Protocol Office deals with all the respective Governments on who will be representing and what their placement is, and they get the information about this.  It would be up to the Sri Lankan Government to provide accurate information on who is coming.  I don’t know at this stage who the individual is who is going to show up.

Question:  Farhan, the Secretary-General seems to be confident that the international community will take very important decisions at the conference in Copenhagen.  Does he have any reasons to believe that?  Has he got any assurances?

Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General has been meeting widely with world leaders, not just this year, but even in previous years, trying to secure their support for a successful Copenhagen conference.  And he is confident, particularly given the message -- he is confident that the message has been received about how severe the crisis is, how urgent the need is for steps to be taken right now to deal with climate change.  And he is confident that you can get a deal sealed that will be positive and will be equitable.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General going to attend the DPI/NGO Conference in Mexico?

Associate Spokesperson:  We will have more of an announcement on this tomorrow, and I think I mentioned that we’ll also have a press briefing about the DPI/NGO Conference on this tomorrow.  But yes, he does intend to participate in the DPI/NGO Conference, and we’ll have some more information for you, like I said, tomorrow.

Question:  How many Governments have agreed to attend the SG’s high-level event on climate change, and where can we find further information about this high-level event?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’d have to get the latest number upstairs.  I believe we’re at more than 100 Governments who will be attending this high-level event, and I think we have some of the information on our counter upstairs.  I’ll see how updated that is.

Question:  In the Cuban press it says that Ban Ki-moon has received a letter from Cuba protesting the US’s denial of a visa to the wife of one of the so-called Cuban five, Adriana Perez.  Can you confirm that Ban has received this letter?  And does he believe that the host country has a duty to allow in the wife of what Cuba calls an incorrectly imprisoned person?

Associate Spokesperson:  First let me check whether we’ve received it, and I’ll check and see whether that’s the case.

[The Associate Spokesperson later said that the letter has been received and was circulated as a document.]

Question:  Do you have any reaction regarding the Israeli refusal to freeze settlements?  Today, Mr. [Binyamin] Netanyahu declared clearly that they will set it wherever they see as fit for them.

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have any response for any particular comments made today.  In general, you know what our policy is on settlements -- and the Quartet has already made clear its own views about the unhelpfulness of settlement activity -- and our position on settlements and against continued settlement activity stands.

Question:  As you know, in the press there has been talk of [Barack] Obama chairing a meeting between [Mahmoud] Abbas and Netanyahu here at the UN.  Do you have anything more to say about that?  Has there been anything official coming out of the UN?  Will Ban be involved in that?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything to say about that, but luckily, in just a few minutes from now, the Ambassador of the United States will be here to talk to you and she can probably handle that.  And with that, I wish you a good afternoon.  Susan Rice will be here in just a little over 10 minutes.

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