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

2 October 2009

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

2 October 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.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning adopted its programme of work for October, in its first consultations under the Vietnamese presidency of the Security Council.  Ambassador Le Luong Minh of Viet Nam, the new Council President, will talk to you in this room at 12:30 about the Council’s work over the coming month.

**Secretary-General in Sweden

The Secretary-General is on his way to Copenhagen after completing his official visit to Sweden.

Earlier today in Stockholm, the Secretary-General met with the Speaker of Parliament and representatives of political parties and then with Swedish non‑governmental organizations.  He is now travelling to Copenhagen, where he plans to have a working dinner with the Danish Prime Minister, Lars Løkke Rasmussen.

The Secretary-General and Mrs. Ban also plan to meet this evening with the President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, and Mrs. Rogge.

Tomorrow in Copenhagen, the Secretary-General is scheduled to give the keynote speech to the Olympic Congress.  He will discuss how the Olympic Committee’s Sport for Environment agenda is helping to make the concept of “Green Games” a reality.  He will also deliver a lecture at the University of Copenhagen, entitled “The Road to Copenhagen:  Meeting the Climate Challenge”.

**Human Rights Council

This morning in Geneva, the Human Rights Council decided to defer action on a draft resolution concerning human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  That draft dealt with the Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza conflict, which had been headed by Justice Richard Goldstone.

Because of that decision, which was requested by the draft resolution’s sponsors, the Human Rights Council will now take up the text at its thirteenth session, to be held in March 2010.

In related news, the Human Rights Council today adopted six resolutions and one decision on a wide variety of subjects, including on the freedom of opinion and expression; the elimination of discrimination against women; adverse effects of toxic waste dumping on human rights; the effects of foreign debt on human rights; extreme poverty and human rights; Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners in Myanmar; and promoting human rights in accordance with traditional human values and international human rights law.

** Sumatra Tsunami

Following the earthquake in Sumatra, Indonesia, which measured 7.6 on the Richter scale, the latest reports show 715 people dead, 2,400 injured, thousands trapped under buildings, and about 20,000 houses severely damaged, according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

The number of internally displaced persons at this time is unknown, but the initial rapid assessments are under way and will provide a clearer picture of the number of fatalities, injured, displaced and the damage.  Electricity and communication have not been restored.

** Philippines

Meanwhile, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that the tropical storm that hit the Philippines a few days ago has affected more than 3.1 million people and claimed the lives of 293 people, while 42 people are reported missing.

OCHA says that nearly 651,000 people are accommodated in 508 evacuation shelters.  Relief efforts are being slowed by the approaching Typhoon Parma, which is expected to hit the Philippines this weekend and has now been downgraded to a Category 3 cyclone.  OCHA is very concerned, as some 8.5 million people live in the path of the typhoon and 1.8 million people are living in areas that are expected to bear the full force of the storm.

A flash appeal will be launched in Geneva on 6 October 2009.  An application for funds from the Central Emergency Response Fund is under preparation to support the projects presented in the appeal.

The World Food Programme’s (WFP) first response had been to roll out 750 metric tons of food, mostly rice, for 180,000 people affected by the storm there.  WFP is looking to launch an emergency food relief programme for 1 million people for a three-month period.  UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund ) is working to ensure that 20,000 children could return to school as soon as possible.  The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Regional Centre in the Philippines had sent first aid kits, as well as 10,000 containers of water.

** Iraq

The Secretary-General has appointed Christine McNab of Sweden as his Deputy Special Representative for Iraq.  Ms. McNab will head the Development and Humanitarian Support component of the UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).  She will also serve as the United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Iraq.

She will replace David Shearer.  The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. Shearer’s leadership and contribution to improved coordination of the United Nations system in Iraq.

Ms. McNab has a wealth of experience in development cooperation, with a particular focus on public sector reform, democratic governance and capacity development in support of the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals.  She currently serves as the UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Resident Representative and UN Resident Coordinator in Bosnia and Herzegovina.   She held a similar position from 2002 to 2006 as UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Jordan.

** Somalia

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) says that the civilian population in Somalia is bearing the brunt in the latest upsurge in fighting in the troubled south‑central region.  The Agency says that its local partners report that 145 people have been killed and another 285 injured in heavy clashes throughout Somalia, mainly in Kismayo and Mogadishu, in September alone.

Yesterday, Al-Shabaab said it had taken control of the southern city of Kismayo from their former allies, Hisb-ul-Islam.  According to hospital sources, some 12 people were killed and 50 others injured, UNHCR says.

The Agency says that the rate of displacement of civilians within Somalia had diminished over the last two months, as compared to May and June, but it is still high, with 17,000 people displaced within Somalia during September alone.  UNHCR fears that, if the fighting between Al-Shabaab and Hisb-ul-Islam escalates, more than half a million internally displaced people (IDPs)in the Afgooye corridor, some 30 kilometres south of Mogadishu, could be affected and uprooted once again.

UNHCR provides protection and assistance to more than 515,000 Somali refugees in the nearby countries of Kenya, Yemen, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Uganda.  There are also more than 1.5 million IDPs in the country and the number is constantly increasing.  There are more details in the Geneva briefing notes.

Also today, the UN Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould‑Abdallah, congratulated Somali officials on the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding on the way forward to holding presidential elections, which had been previously postponed; and we have a press release on that upstairs.

** Haiti

The UN Special Envoy for Haiti, Bill Clinton, has welcomed 500 international business executives to the country, as part of his two-day visit, which concludes today.

According to the Office of the Special Envoy, the trade delegation travelling with Clinton was the first of this kind to the country in over 25 years.  The visit coincided with an Inter-American Development Bank Investment Conference and an International Labour Organization (ILO) Conference, bringing together an unprecedented number of companies and investors to Haiti.

Yesterday, Clinton spoke before the Inter-American Development Bank Conference, emphasizing the significant business opportunities in Haiti, in such industries as agriculture, renewable energy, textiles, and infrastructure.  “This is the right time to invest in Haiti,” he added.

The UN Special Envoy also met with Haitian President René Préval and Prime Minister Michèle Pierre-Louis.

Today, Clinton is travelling to the northern coast of Haiti to highlight tourism opportunities.  This morning, he visited the Sans Souci Palace, a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage site and national park.  There is more in a press release upstairs.

** Honduras

The Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Koïchiro Matsuura, today voiced concern over civil liberties in Honduras, following a Government decree that curtails such liberties for a period of 45 days.

Matsuura says he is particularly concerned about freedom of expression in the country.  He adds that it is important that political tensions in Honduras be resolved in a manner that recognizes the rights of citizens to engage in informed debate.  And he calls on the authorities to reconsider their position in light of democratic principles and to ensure that respect for good governance is maintained.

**Deputy Secretary-General

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro this morning addressed an informal meeting of the General Assembly on the rule of law.

The Deputy Secretary-General, who was also speaking in her capacity as Chair of the UN Rule of Law Coordination and Resource Group, noted that the Organization is now engaged in rule of law activities in more than 120 countries.

Her remarks also include an update on the implementation of the UN Joint Strategic Plan, which she described as a significant step in coordinating the work of the nine leading UN departments and agencies engaged in rule of law activities.  She said the Plan will strengthen coherence, keep Member States engaged and reinforce global action for the rule of law.  We have copies of her remarks upstairs.

The Deputy Secretary-General is also expected later today to deliver remarks on this year’s observance of the International Day of Non-Violence, which celebrates the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi.  She is expected to underline UN efforts to reach a world free of weapons, and underscore how the UN’s drive to combat climate change can contribute to reducing the causes of violent conflicts.  

**Non-Violence

Also on the International Day of Non-Violence, in a message marking this occasion, the Secretary-General calls on all people to celebrate and embody the legacy of Mahatma Gandhi by heeding his call for a movement of non-violence. 

He highlights the UN’s work to end violence, for example by striving to rid the world of weapons of mass destruction.  The call to non-violence also applies to stop the human assault on our planet, adds the Secretary-General. 

On this Day, the Secretary-General also urges all partners to join his UNiTE to End Violence against Women campaign.  We have his full message upstairs.

**Climate Change

Negotiators have concluded the first week of the UN Climate Change Talks in Bangkok.  The talks are the penultimate negotiating session ahead of the Copenhagen conference in December.

Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said he found it encouraging that progress was being made towards effective draft agreements in key areas.  He underlined the progress made in adaptation, technology, and building capacity to deal with climate action in developing nations.  He also said he found it very positive to see negotiators finally getting into the text and beginning to slim it down.

De Boer however warned that progress towards higher industrialized world emission cuts remained disappointing.  Progress on finance, he added, was disappointing as well.

**Lao People’s Democratic Republic

The World Food Programme (WFP) is rapidly expanding its operations in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, following a destructive typhoon that hit the southern part of the country on Wednesday.  WFP’s Executive Director, Josette Sheeran, has said she is “extremely concerned” about people’s ability to “get back on their feet”.  In the meantime, the Agency is providing rations of rice and canned fish to the survivors.

**Girls

The Secretary-General’s report to the General Assembly on girls is out.  The report particularly highlights activities undertaken to end female genital mutilation.  The Secretary-General says that ending female genital mutilation and cutting will contribute to the achievement of several Millennium Development Goals, including promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women, reducing child mortality and improving maternal health.

**Human Development Report 2009

The UN Development Programme says that the 2009 Human Development Report will be launched this Monday in Bangkok.

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark and the Prime Minister of Thailand will be there for the launch.  This year’s report demonstrates that migration -- both within and between countries -- can improve the lives of millions of people, including those who move, those in destination communities and those that remain at home.  The Human Development Report, which comes out once a year, is an independent report commissioned by UNDP.

**Peacekeeping

Next week the Under-Secretary General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, will travel to Bangladesh, India and Pakistan as part of an official visit to top troop-contributing countries.  One of the main purposes of Mr. Le Roy’s trip is to thank the countries for their long-standing dedication to peacekeeping and engage in an open discussion regarding current and future peacekeeping challenges.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

We do have The Week Ahead document upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.  Among other items, on Monday and Tuesday, the Secretary-General will be in Geneva, following his visit to Copenhagen; and in Geneva, he will discuss the International Telecommunications Union’s Telecom World and will hold a press conference on Monday.

Also on Monday, the Security Council will hold an open debate on women and peace and security.

And on Tuesday, the thirty-fifth session of UNESCO’s General Conference will start and run through 23 October in Paris.  During the session, the General Conference is expected to endorse the nomination of the new Director-General of the Organization.

On Thursday, the Security Council will hear a briefing on Somalia.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Does the Secretary General or the Secretary General’s Office have any reactions on this recent report that Israel released 14 Palestinian women in exchange for a video showing this frustrated Israeli soldier?

Associate Spokesperson:  The only thing to say about that is that we welcome this series of gestures; as you know, the Secretary General has repeatedly called, among other things, for the release of the Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit and he continues to do so.

Question:  But Israel also holds about 10,000 Palestinians?

Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, he has also taken up the issue of the prisoners.

Question:  I am saying that because it has stipulated the release of the Israeli soldier to opening up the Gaza crossings.  Is that still the case?

Associate Spokesperson:  He, of course, has repeatedly called for not only the release of Gilad Shalit, but also he has repeatedly called for the opening of the crossing points into Gaza.  He certainly hopes that both things will happen.

Question:  On Afghanistan, has Mr. Peter Galbraith officially removed himself from his post?  And any progress on the election outcomes?

Associate Spokesperson:  Mr. Galbraith’s separation from service is being processed now.  He will be employed up to the completion of that process and as of 30 September, which was I think, the day before yesterday, he no longer executed the functions of the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General [for Afghanistan].

Question:  Any word on the elections?  Any word on the progress?

Associate Spokesperson:  We of course continue to await the work of the two respective Commissions:  the Independent Electoral Commission and the Electoral Complaints Commission.  And we look forward to seeing what the results of their work will be.

Question:  In Myanmar, the appeal of Aung San Suu Kyi has been rejected by the courts.  I am wondering if the UN has taken note of that and has any response to it?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, the Secretary General has learned of the court’s decision to reject Aung San Suu Kyi’s appeal.  His position has been clear and remains the same; Aung San Suu Kyi and all remaining political prisoners should be free and allowed to participate in their country’s political process.

Question:  Before the GA, the Group of Friends meeting, Secretariat officials said that they were monitoring these reports of Myanmar working with North Korea on perhaps developing nuclear weapons.  So the question arose, if they’re concerned and monitoring it, what unit of the Secretariat actually monitors that?  Apparently, it’s not Mr. [Sergio] Duarte.  And Michèle seems to say it’s the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency].

Associate Spokesperson:  If it’s about nuclear material, it’s a matter for the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Question:  So if something is not on the agenda of the IAEA, then there’s no way for the Secretariat to monitor it?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, the question of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea nuclear programme is in fact on the agenda of the IAEA, so they are dealing with that.

Question:  Do you have a breakdown of the top troop contributors to UN peacekeeping and how much they contribute?

Associate Spokesperson:  If you go upstairs, we actually do have tables of all the contributions by country to UN Peacekeeping Missions and we can show you that.

Question:  Is there any update on the Pakistani IDPs?  Most of them are being settled, but there are lots more IDPs now.  Is there any update on this?

Associate Spokesperson:  Actually, I think we do have a recent update.  I can provide some of those figures.  But, we do have some more figures and I’ll make them available once we get those in.

Question:  On Somalia, there is a story that the United States has cut $50 million in aid shipments to WFP to distribute food in the country.  Is that something that they have said previously, that said they might cut it, and now they said they did cut it?  Do you have anything on whether that has taken place or not and what the UN is going to do about it?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, I believe the point on that is that the World Food Programme has been looking into the question of allegations that their food supplies have been diverted to different groups.  So they are awaiting a report on an audit they have done about the possibility of diversion and they are looking into the matter.

Question:  Is it your understanding that these funds won’t be released until the audit is finished?  And if so, when is it going to be finished?

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s not my place to comment on when the United States releases money, but certainly the audit process is underway from WFP’s side.

[The Associate Spokesperson later added that, regarding allegations of the diversion of food aid, the World Food Programme and the Somalia Monitoring Group are both looking into this matter.  WFP systematically follows an established procedure to check the contractors it works with in Somalia.  Given the seriousness of the allegations raised, in June, WFP hired two external investigating companies with experience in Somalia.  Based on those findings, WFP launched a formal investigation under its own Inspector General at the end of August.  When the investigations are complete, WFP will determine its course of action.]

Question:  There has been some controversy, the President of the General Assembly, I know you won’t comment on what he said, but he did say that, to him, homosexuality is unacceptable and he denounces it.  This has given rise to some statements in Congress about the UN generally, and saying what an outrage it is.  I wonder if you could state, is there a UN position on this?  Or does Ban Ki-moon have any view, not at Mr. [Ali Abdussalam] Treki’s comments, but of this issue and whether it falls in the ambit of human rights, or that’s a perfectly acceptable statement that reflects well on the UN?

Associate Spokesperson:  First of all, you are right; I’m not going to comment on what Mr. Treki expressed as his personal views.  Secondly, the United Nations has no specific positions by Member States on this.  However, we do uphold the human rights of all peoples, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  And with that, I bid you all a good afternoon.

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