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

29 October 2009

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

29 October 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 Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

** Afghanistan

The Secretary-General will brief the Security Council on Afghanistan in closed consultations at 3:30 this afternoon.  He then intends to speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout.

Speaking to the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) of the General Assembly this morning, the Secretary-General expressed once more his shock and indignation at the heinous attack in Kabul on UN personnel, and his sincere condolences to the families of those who lost their lives in yesterday’s attack.  He also asserted his pride and admiration at the bravery shown by the officials in the face of the attack.

The Secretary-General said that a strengthened and unified security management system should be of paramount importance to all of us.   The proposals, he said, will enable us to strengthen security for our staff, their dependents and UN premises.   He urged Member States to consider these proposals favourably, saying: “After all, our people are your people.”

UN agencies in Afghanistan met today to review security for their staff in the wake of yesterday’s attack.  A number of recommendations for immediate action have gone forward, and further discussion of longer-term measures will continue in the coming days.  Steps are ongoing to care for the survivors of the attack, and arrangements are being made for those who died.  The Security Council was briefed on the attack yesterday by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Edmond Mulet.

The Security Council members, in a press statement issued afterwards, condemned the attack in the strongest terms and reiterated their steadfast support for the United Nations role in Afghanistan.  I am sure you got that statement last night.

**Security Council

The Security Council began its work this morning by hearing a briefing in a closed meeting from the President of the International Court of Justice, Hisashi Owada.

The Security Council adopted a resolution extending sanctions on Côte d’Ivoire by one year.  The Council will also hold a formal meeting to consider the draft of the Council’s annual report to the General Assembly.

The Security Council yesterday afternoon adopted a presidential statement welcoming the support by the Summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for the Secretary-General’s decision to establish an international commission of inquiry that would investigate the killings that occurred in Guinea on 28 September.

The Council takes note that the authorities of Guinea have officially committed to support the work of the international commission of inquiry in secure conditions.  The Security Council strongly condemned the violence in Guinea, which reportedly caused more than 150 deaths and hundreds of wounded, and included numerous rapes and sexual crimes against women.


The Secretary-General today addressed the Special Forum on the Food and Economic Crises in Post-Conflict Countries.  He said that, unfortunately, aid to post-conflict countries far too often tapers off prematurely -- and just when countries are better placed to use it more effectively.  The Secretary-General added that sustainable peace is the most important goal for aid.  He also said it makes no sense to abandon post-conflict countries in times of budget constraints.  We have his full remarks upstairs.

This afternoon, the Secretary-General will observe World Food Day at an event in the Economic and Social Council Chamber.  He is expected to stress that vulnerable people, especially women and children, must get the food they need for nutritional security and well-being.

**Secretary-General Appointment

On the same subject, the Secretary-General has appointed Dr. David Nabarro as his Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition.  As Special Representative, Dr. Nabarro’s role will be to assist the Secretary-General as he encourages and supports country-led actions for food security and nutrition through comprehensive approaches, coordinated strategies, a strong role for multilateral agencies and increased international assistance.  Dr. Nabarro has been working on the food issue since January of this year.  We have a note on his appointment in my office.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has strongly condemned yesterday’s assassination attempt on the life of President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed of Somalia.

The President was apparently targeted as he returned to Mogadishu from a trip.  A similar attempt was made last week Thursday at Mogadishu airport as President Sharif boarded a plane for Uganda to attend an African summit.

Ould-Abdallah warns that extremists are again trying to terrorize the Somali people in order to wreak further havoc on the nation.  He added that assassination attempts that kill innocent Somali bystanders, including women and children, are absolutely the wrong way to gain power.  Committing suicide goes against all religious teachings, he added.

Ould-Abdallah stated that such attempts undermined efforts to bring a semblance of normalcy and stability to Somalia. 

** Darfur

The Acting Head of the African Union–United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Henry Anyidoho, has held discussions in Khartoum with senior Government officials over various issues, including ways to address banditry and criminality in Darfur.

During discussions with the Sudanese Minister of Interior, Ibrahim Mahmoud Hamid, and the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Al Saman Al Wasila, Anyidoho raised the issue of the UNAMID staff members who are still being held hostage in Darfur, and the situation of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) staff member recently kidnapped in the troubled region.  Anyidoho urged the Government of Sudan to step up efforts for the safe release of the hostages and also for measures to be taken to end kidnappings and abductions.

** Guinea- Bissau

The latest report of the Secretary-General on developments in Guinea-Bissau and on the work of the UN Peacebuilding Support Office (UNOGBIS) in the country has been released today.

In the quarterly report, the Secretary-General commends the people, the Government and the Electoral Commission, plus the defence and security forces, for the peaceful and well-organized elections in June and July, following the political assassinations of key political leaders earlier this year.

The Secretary-General has been encouraged by preparations being made by the National Assembly to hold a national conference to identify the root causes of conflict and political instability in Guinea-Bissau.

The Secretary-General further notes with satisfaction the decision by the newly elected President, Malam Bacai Sanha, and the Government to hold investigations into the assassinations in order to combat impunity and also foster justice and national reconciliation.

** Zimbabwe

We were asked yesterday about Manfred Nowak and the general situation in Zimbabwe.  The Secretary-General is disappointed that the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Manfred Nowak, was not given access to enter Zimbabwe, as had been previously agreed.  He supports the High Commissioner’s call on the Government of Zimbabwe to give full access to the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations.

More generally, the Secretary-General regrets the circumstances that led to the decision of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to temporarily disengage from the Cabinet and Council of Ministers in Zimbabwe.  He believes that the inclusive Government has brought an improvement in the lives of Zimbabweans and hopes that this latest challenge will be overcome as soon as possible.  In this context, he welcomes the mission of the Ministerial Troika of the Southern African Development Community (SADC), expected in Harare today.  He urges all parties to respect the commitments they made in the Global Political Agreement of 15 September 2008 and ensure that the Agreement is implemented in its entirety.

** Lebanon

On Lebanon, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) reports that the investigation into the firing of a rocket from Lebanon into Israel on 27 October is ongoing.  There has so far been no claim of responsibility.  UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces are continuing intensive patrolling and search throughout the area from where the rocket was launched.  During the joint search operation yesterday, four other rockets, three of them set to be fired, were found in the same area and deactivated.

UNIFIL says that the launch of rockets from Lebanon into Israel is a serious violation of UN Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).  Such attacks are evidently aimed at provoking renewed hostilities to undermine the security and stability in south Lebanon.  It is also a cause for concern that the Israeli Defense Force returned fire with artillery shells into Lebanese territory.  The Secretary-General condemned the firing of the rocket in a statement we issued yesterday.   We also have a statement by UNIFIL with more details upstairs.

** Iran

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei has received an initial response from the Iranian authorities to his proposal to use Iran’s low-enriched uranium to manufacture fuel for the continued operation of the Tehran Research Reactor.  The Director General is engaged in consultations with the Government of Iran, as well as all relevant parties, with the hope that agreement on his proposal can be reached soon.

**United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, reports that States Parties to the 1972 World Heritage Convention have elected new members to the World Heritage Committee.

The 21-member Committee reviews requests by States Parties to inscribe new cultural and natural heritage properties on the World Heritage List.  It also reviews the state of conservation of sites already inscribed.

The newly elected members are Cambodia, Estonia, Ethiopia, France, Iraq, Mali, Mexico, Russian Federation, South Africa, Switzerland, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.  They join Australia, Bahrain, Barbados, Brazil, China, Egypt, Jordan, Nigeria and Sweden.  We have more on that upstairs.

And this is all I have for you today.  Any questions?  Yes, Khaled?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  It’s not going to be a question, but I understand that Mr. ElBaradei is having lunch with the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Yes, he is.

Question:  Today?  Is there any chance he can come to speak to us afterwards?

Spokesperson:  We have asked that he go to the stakeout.  We are still expecting an answer.  Anything else?  Yes, Pat.

Question:  Yes, as you all know I’m sure, we just had a briefing by a very impressive young man from the Dominican Republic who is going, as others have done similar things before him, is going to try and swim linking [inaudible] five continents for, to help end poverty and achieve the [Millennium Development] Goals.  And that reminded me that we had a year of sport, a decade of sport, and there was another impressive young man who swam the Hudson, I think, around Manhattan, and we’ve had Eskimos rowing kayaks down, always in the name of poverty, and I was just wondering if you had a sense or would share what you think, what impression this does make on behalf of the UN, these previous efforts.

Spokesperson:  Well, I think it’s very positive, and of course we encourage this.  This was a press conference that you had under the sponsorship of the United Nations, so we are all in favour of it, of course.

Question:  So in other words there have been good, positive outcomes from the earlier things as a basis for what he’s doing?  Or it’s just that he’s doing a very impressive…?

Spokesperson:  I think you should direct your question to the people who were with you today.  They are certainly open to your questions.  Yes, Khaled.

Question:  Could you remind me, on the Afghanistan issue, is there any chance that the United Nations would look into postponing the elections in light of the deteriorating security situation?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, no.  We are still continuing our electoral support.  You heard the Secretary-General yesterday, saying that we would not disengage and we would continue to support the electoral process in Afghanistan.

Question:  So it’s the Secretary-General who offered this meeting, or the members of the Security Council asked for this meeting?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know in what order, but I think it’s a joint effort of trying to find solutions to the security issues that we confront not only in Afghanistan but also elsewhere.  Yes.

Question:  Michèle [inaudible] that so many Israeli rings, espionage rings were caught in Lebanon.  Is the United Nations, UNIFIL, investigating whether they had a role in firing the rockets?

Spokesperson:  Of course UNIFIL is investigating.

Question:  Even including this…?

Spokesperson:  We are investigating all violations.

Question:  Mentioning violations again, I’m sorry, does this investigation by UNIFIL of the explosion that took place in [inaudible] and I was wondering whether the results of that investigation were out or not?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have it yet, no.  They haven’t finished.

Question:  Will it be included in the [Security Council resolution] 1701 (2006) report?

Spokesperson:  I’m sure it will be, yes.  It probably will be. 

Question:  I wanted to ask, just after the Secretary-General introduced the budget this morning down in the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), the Group of 77 issued a statement saying… critical of the 2 per cent cut requested of programme managers last year without the endorsement of the General Assembly and saying… they go on from there.  My question was, can you confirm that, in fact, the Secretary-General did ask for that 2 per cent cut and what’s your response to the criticism that it was without approval of the General Assembly?

Spokesperson:  As you know, there are internal things that the Secretary-General has to do.  He’s the manager of this place, of the Secretariat.  And he has taken a number of measures to diminish expenses.  I cannot comment on the specifics of what you’re saying.  As you know, it is a discussion taking place right now in the Fifth Committee.  And I’m sure there will be exchanges between the Secretary-General and the members of the Group of 77 on that same issue, so I will not intervene right now on this.  But I can tell you that there are some responsibilities which are the Secretary-General’s.

Question:  I guess my question is… What they’re saying is that is there’s a whole budget process.  What sense does it make if that Secretary-General can make his own budget decisions outside of the process?

Spokesperson:  As I said, the process of discussion around the budget is ongoing in the Fifth Committee and will continue.  Of course, we’ll try to get -- you already had a briefing here on the budget -- we’ll try, of course, once the conclusion is reached.  I’m sure Member States will be willing to speak about it.

Question:  [Inaudible] this came up last year.  The question was, they’re saying that Ban Ki-moon issued a directive to the programme managers to cut by 2 per cent.  I’m just asking, are you going to answer yes he did that or not?  I understand that he has responsibilities.  I’m saying did he ask for a 2 per cent cut or not?

Spokesperson:  I think he will discuss this with the Fifth Committee.

Question:  And I also wanted to ask you.  There’s this expanding problem of, there’s a ship of Sri Lankan refugee asylum seekers that was trying to get to Australia.  They were derailed to Indonesia, and now there’s talk of Australia forcing them off the ship into Indonesia.  So, this has been going on for about 10 days now, big news in Australia.  In the UN system, is either the Secretariat or anyone monitoring this, trying to…?

Spokesperson:  Well, of course.

Question:  …see that people are not pushed into…?

Spokesperson:  We have an organization which is actually there for that.

Question:  They’ve asked to meet with UNHCR, but it hasn’t happened, so I’m wondering…

Spokesperson:  I will revert to UNHCR to find out what has happened and whether there are a number of countries involved in this.  It’s not a UN issue as such.  However, I’m sure that the UN has intervened in some way with the countries involved to discuss that issue.

Question:  Whatever the UN has done, that’s what I’d like to know.

Spokesperson:  Yes, I can try to find out for you whether there was anything.  It might be just through diplomatic means.  As you know, we have had that problem with several cases of migrants crossing the seas where one country sends them back to another country.  We have had this…  Unfortunately, it’s not the only case.  So, we have had quite a few of those cases and every time the UN has tried to intervene by speaking to the countries involved to try to resolve the issues.

Question: [Inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Yes, we can try to find out.  Thank you.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you, Michèle.  Bon après midi.  Good afternoon.

**Goldstone Report

Just to recall that, on the Goldstone report, the President of the General Assembly, His Excellency Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, intends to convene a plenary meeting of the General Assembly on 4 November to consider the report of the Human Rights Council on its twelfth special session.  The President of the General Assembly received a letter from the President of the Human Rights Council transmitting the report of the twelfth special session of the Council, recommending that the General Assembly consider the report during the main part of its sixty‑fourth session.  The Arab Group in New York, supported by the 118‑member Non-Aligned Movement, requested the President of the General Assembly to consider the report in the General Assembly plenary during the first week of November.

** Afghanistan Attack

Following the terrorist attack in Afghanistan, you must have heard yesterday, the President made a statement in the General Assembly.

Since there was no noon briefing yesterday, let me quote verbatim what the President said:  “I wish to convey on behalf of the General Assembly our deepest sympathies and condolences to the families of the United Nations staff members who were killed in the recent shocking and shameless raid by terrorists in Afghanistan.  I join the United Nations Secretary-General in condemning all threats and acts of violence against humanitarian and United Nations personnel, and reaffirm the need to hold accountable those responsible for such acts.  All Member States are encouraged to comply fully with their obligations under international humanitarian law in protecting humanitarian and United Nations personnel.”

I would like to recall to all colleagues that these statements, we usually post them in English and French.  Those of you who want them in French can go on our website, or you can ask me.  Thank you.  Any questions?  Yes, Khaled.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Jean Victor, I was wondering, concerning the session on 4 November, whether there are any plans to vote on a particular resolution in that session?  Is this something in the works?

Spokesperson:  That’s too early to say.  The decision was made only yesterday, so we have to give it a bit more time.  I cannot really say what will be going on in terms of, if or which type of resolution may or may not be tabled.

Question:  Will the resolution, I mean you were talking about four or five days coming up, personally, do you know of some countries working on some sort of a resolution?

Spokesperson:  Again, one could easily think that there will be a resolution, but again, we have to be prudent, because we cannot look into that glass ball and say for sure that there will or will not be a resolution.  We really have to wait a bit.  When and if individual Member States or groups start working on such a resolution, and if this comes across to us, we will definitely keep you posted.

Question:  I guess I wanted to ask you whether, because this was sort of a big day in the Budget Committee, the Secretary-General went down, the Secretary-General [inaudible] stayed and the G77, the largest block, said that the General Assembly is, you know, powers have been abrogated by the Secretary-General making budget cuts without their approval.  Does Dr. Treki, as President of the General Assembly, does he feel that the General Assembly has primacy in setting the budget of the Organization or not?

Spokesperson:  This is a very fresh statement, but I think that one way of finding out exactly what is going on in the thinking of the Committee is to check with the Chair of that very specific Committee, the Fifth Committee.

Question:  But, I guess, maybe I’m asking… I didn’t explain.  Maybe you couldn’t answer, but I’m saying, as the head of the General Assembly, is this a position?  I’m not asking you to give a yes or no now; maybe you can ask him.

Spokesperson:  I’ll ask him.  No, no.

Question:  It’s about the power of the General Assembly.

Spokesperson:  Fair enough.  Fair enough.  I will ask him and we will find out if the President of the General Assembly has a specific view.  He might.  He might not.  We’ll see.  Shukran Khabir.  Good afternoon.

* *** *

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