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

9 November 2009

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

9 November 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.


**Security Council


The Security Council this morning received a briefing in an open meeting from Olusegun Obasanjo, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes Region.  He noted that he has informed President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) of his intention to step back from an active role in the peace process in the eastern DRC and the Great Lakes region.


Obasanjo said that, in about a month, his senior special adviser will lead a team to the DRC to make a further assessment of progress.  Then, at the end of January, Obasanjo and his African Union counterpart, Benjamin Mkapa, will submit a final report to African Union leaders.  The Special Envoy is now working to retool his existing support office in Nairobi as a small, dedicated “listening post” that would continue to assess the implementation of the 23 March agreements and regional rapprochement.


He added that there has been substantial, if intermittent, progress in implementing the 23 March agreements, and he said that the rapprochement between the DRC and Rwanda gives him hope for the future.  We have his remarks upstairs.


The Council continued to discuss the Great Lakes region with President Obasanjo in consultations.  Of course, you just heard from there because he was earlier at the stakeout.


Last Friday, after the Secretary-General briefed the Security Council on his visit to Afghanistan, the Council President read a statement to the press, acknowledging the conclusion of the electoral process.  He said that Council members stressed the need for a renewed, inclusive political process led by the Afghan Government.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) and the Government of that country today launched a national stabilization and rehabilitation fund.


Speaking at the event in Kinshasa today, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the DRC, Alan Doss, said that the stabilization fund represents an example of how the UN and its international partners can support the Congolese Government.  He also said that UN development assistance work in the field will intensify.


So far, donors have pledged some $30 million, some of it through UN programmes such as UNICEF.  Generally, the fund will allow for a faster and flexible financing of Government priority projects in the country’s recovery.  There’s more in a press release upstairs.


** Darfur


In a strongly worded statement earlier today, the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) has called on the Sudan Liberation Movement/Abdul Wahid (SLA/AW) rebel organization to desist from impeding the work of the mission.  Deploring the continued harassment and detention of its personnel, the mission says it will not tolerate any further attempts at intimidation or attacks on its staff.


This comes in response to an incident last week, in which armed SLA/AW members prevented a UN helicopter carrying mission staff from taking off from a town in South Darfur.  The aircraft was held up for three hours in an act that the mission has called unacceptable.  The UN mission says that such deliberate attempts to interfere with its work go counter to the overall effort to secure peace and stability in Darfur.  They also have an adverse effect on the humanitarian situation in the region, it says.


** Gaza


The UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Maxwell Gaylard, today called for the immediate opening of crossings into Gaza so that Palestinians can prepare for the coming winter.  He was joined by a group of non-governmental organizations.


Gaylard noted that, with winter rains and cold weather on their way, the people of Gaza are even more desperately in need of materials to build and repair homes destroyed and damaged in Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead”.  He added that the rigours of a cold, wet winter will be particularly hard on Gaza’s children.


According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Gaza is currently experiencing electricity cuts of 12 to 18 hours per week.  But it’s expected that the cuts will rise to nearly 40 hours per week when the cold weather hits.  OCHA also notes that, in the winter, Gaza requires more than 1,000 tons of cooking gas per week, which is also used for heating.  But currently, the average supply of cooking gas to Gaza is only half of that.  We have more on that in my office upstairs.


**Secretary-General’s Statement on Fall of Berlin Wall


We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the twentieth anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall:


Twenty years ago today, the fall of the Berlin Wall changed the course of history and came to symbolize the triumph of ordinary people in their quest for freedom.  We owe it to all of those who fought for their fundamental rights and freedoms to never forget their struggle.  Their story still inspires today.  It is a reminder of the difference people can make for the greater good, whether it is fighting for human rights in 1989 or working in the twenty-first century to end poverty, feed the hungry and combat climate change.  The United Nations salutes them today.


**Iraq


In a statement issued yesterday, the Secretary-General welcomed the agreement reached in Iraq’s Council of Representatives on amendments to that country’s electoral law.


These elections will be a crucial opportunity to advance national reconciliation and contribute to Iraq’s political progress.  The Secretary-General appeals to all political blocs and their leaders to demonstrate true statesmanship during the election campaign and participate in a spirit of national unity.


The Secretary-General reaffirms the United Nations commitment to support and assist the Independent High Electoral Commission during the electoral process.  He encourages the Iraqi people and all political parties to participate in a process that will shape their country’s future.


** Madagascar


In another statement we issued over the weekend, the Secretary-General welcomed the agreement reached by the four Malagasy leaders in Addis Ababa for the establishment of a power-sharing administration.  He urges the Malagasy leaders to speedily inaugurate the Government of National Unity and to put in place the transitional institutions foreseen in the Maputo agreements.


The United Nations will continue to support Madagascar throughout the transition and beyond, and to work closely with the Joint Mediation Team on Madagascar, chaired by former President of Mozambique Joaquim Chissano.


**China-Africa


The Executive Director of the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP), Ms. Josette Sheeran, has applauded the weekend’s declaration by the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation underlining the important role that investment in food security, agriculture and infrastructure plays in meeting the food needs of Africa’s people.


WFP notes that by strengthening infrastructure it has helped to cut the cost of transporting people and goods over the long term.  In Southern Sudan, for example, the repair of 2,500 kilometres of roads by WFP has led to a significant cut in local food costs.  In the process, lives have been improved and saved.


WFP further notes that China’s own success in addressing malnutrition and bolstering food security stands as an example to the world that hunger can be beaten in a generation, especially when small farmers are given access to credit and markets.  We have more details in a WFP press release upstairs.


** Yemen


The World Food Programme and its partners have reached almost 100,000 displaced people in northern Yemen with food assistance since the latest round of new fighting erupted in August.  In spite of better access to some of the areas affected by fighting, however, WFP says that the situation remains volatile and supply routes are unreliable.  The situation is particularly dramatic in the town of Sa’ada, where access has been extremely difficult for the past three months.  WFP has a press release with more details upstairs.


**Women’s Health


Despite considerable progress, societies are still failing to meet the health-care needs of women at key moments of their lives, particularly during adolescence and older age.


That’s according to a new report on women and health, which was launched today in Geneva by the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Margaret Chan.  In light of today’s report, Chan called for urgent action, both within the health sector and beyond, to improve the health and lives of girls and women around the world, from birth to older age.  We have more on that upstairs.


**United Nations Conference on Trade and Development


Developing countries will be spending an additional 17 per cent of their revenues servicing their debt.  That’s what Supachai Panitchpakdi, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), said earlier today at the opening of [the] UN’s seventh Debt Management Conference.


He said that, while poor countries need to fund social and health programmes and build infrastructure for long-term economic progress, borrowing heavily to do so will only slow their growth.  However, not making such investments also leads to slow growth and will keep these countries from reaching the Millennium Development Goals.  He also renewed UNCTAD’s call for a temporary moratorium on official debt for low-income countries.


**Corruption


Over 1,000 delegates from 125 countries are meeting this week in Doha, Qatar, to review implementation of the United Nations Convention against Corruption.  Opening the conference today, Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) said that corruption was “the cause and consequence” of the financial crisis.  But, he urged all States to recognize a silver lining to the crisis by using the UN anti-corruption Convention as “a blueprint for restoring confidence in markets, businesses and Governments”.  Corruption is preventable, not a fact of life, or part of business, he said.


Costa also urged participants to agree on a review mechanism which would, for the first time, enable States to see how effectively they are fighting corruption, and identify where more progress is needed.


**Secretary-General in Washington, D.C.


The Secretary-General will be in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, 10 November for meetings with senior Administration officials and congressional leaders to discuss the status of international climate change negotiations.  A press encounter is being arranged by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee tomorrow afternoon.


And Janos Pasztor, Director of the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team, will be my guest in a few minutes.  He is right here to support and update on those negotiations.  And this is all I have for you today.  Any questions?  Because I would like to give my seat to Janos as soon as possible.  Yes, James.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Thanks, Michèle.  On the relocation of UNAMA and other UN staff in Afghanistan, my colleagues learned over the weekend that a bulk of the staff are going to be relocated in Dubai.  Can you give me any more details about numbers, when, where…?


Spokesperson:  No.  I don’t have all the numbers.  I know that some of them have already arrived in Dubai and there are still discussions going on.  It’s a process, and I don’t have the exact number of how many will be relocated in Dubai, how many will be relocated elsewhere in the region.  But I will get back to you as soon as we have confirmed information.  Yes, Khaled?


Question:  I am sorry, I came late and I was wondering whether you made an announcement on the Secretary-General’s transmittal of the Goldstone report to the Council.  Has this happened?


Spokesperson:  No, it hasn’t happened yet.  It is going to happen shortly, as far as I can understand.


Question:  When you say shortly, you mean today?


Spokesperson:  Not today, but when I say shortly, it’s going to mean probably, certainly, this week.  Yes.


Question:  On this alleged arms ship from Iran to Lebanon, as has been said by Israelis, have you established where the ship originated and whether those shipments were armed shipments?


Spokesperson:  No.  We don’t have any additional information from what I told you last time.


Question:  You have received a letter from the Israelis.  What are you going to do about it?  Is there any particular status?


Spokesperson:  I don’t have any information on that and I will get it to you when I have it.  We cannot confirm, independently, exactly, where they came from and where they were going.


Question:  Again, over the weekend, there has been an escalation of tensions in the Gulf, with Saudi forces regaining territory captured by the [inaudible] rebels in Saudi Arabia and northern Yemen.  Has the Secretary-General been monitoring these events?  Does he have any concerns?


Spokesperson:  He has been monitoring events, yes, absolutely.  He has no reaction at the moment but he is being informed on a regular basis on what is happening to the extent that we know what is happening.  We cannot confirm all the information we are getting.


Question:  Have you spoken to the Yemenis or the Saudis about it?


Spokesperson:  Not yet.  Yes, Catherine?


Question:  On the escalating tensions between Colombia and Venezuela at the border, there are reports saying that Colombia will seek UN help.  Did Colombia seek UN help on that matter, and also what’s your assessment of the situation there with troops being moved on the Venezuelan side?


Spokesperson:  As far as we know, we have not received anything from Colombia directly, so I cannot confirm reception of any correspondence on that issue.  In terms of troops being gathered in the border area, we have no information on that.  The UN is not present as a force in the region, as you know.


Question:  If this letter was to come ‑‑ this is a hypothetical question ‑‑ what could the UN do?


Spokesperson:  We will study our options, what we can do to help.  If a Government asks for help, of course, we always study that request and see what we can do.  But, as you know, a matter like this would be a matter for the Security Council, not for the Secretariat as such.  Yes, Matthew.


Question:  I wanted to ask about Afghanistan.  There’s a Christian Science Monitor article which says how, after the UN’s decision, the price of food has jumped up and quotes an international NGO worker saying that the UN should have offered to relocate the staff rather than issuing a blanket retraction, saying it’s a bad signal to everyone.


Spokesperson:  But we have already answered that, haven’t we?


Question:  I’m not so sure, I guess, I’m wondering…?


Spokesperson:  What is your question?


Question:  Okay, here’s my question.  The 200 figure, there still seems to be in the press various reports of how many people left.  Did it include UNICEF workers, for example?  It said UNICEF, 14 of 42 have left.


Spokesperson:  The 200 that are going to be relocated outside of Afghanistan are from all agencies and from UNAMA.  We talked about the fact that they were administrative people, people involved with human resources, administration, procurement and things of that sort.  So administrative people are going to be the ones to go outside.  The others are going to be relocated, as we said, within Afghanistan.


Question:  The Secretary-General seemed to say that some electoral workers were staying but it’s unclear if…


Spokesperson:  If they are involved in other things besides elections, then of course they are staying.  If they are UNDP people involved in development projects, they are staying.  As I said, we are not going to stop helping Afghanistan.


Question:  And I wanted to ask you something about Nepal.  After the criticism by the ruling party alliances of the Secretary-General’s report, the Minister for Reconstruction there has said he is seeking clarification from the Special Representative of the Secretary-General.  Has that request been received, and what is the clarification that’s being offered to the Government there?


Spokesperson:  I will wait for them to let me know.  As far as I know, we don’t have anything yet.


[The Spokesperson later recalled that she had already provided an answer to this question at the noon briefing on 6 November 2009, when she had said:  “It was the ruling alliance of parties; they were criticizing the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council.  And the observation of the Secretary-General is consistent with his repeated calls for unity and consensus among the political parties in order to assure the success of the peace process.  They are quoting extensively what the Secretary-General said in the report.  But the report is intended to encourage Nepal’s political parties to achieve what they themselves have expressed about the desirability of a unity Government and does not in any way represent a form of interference.”]


Question:  Michèle, I have to request, just to follow up on James’ issue on Saudi and Yemen.  There have been reports that the Saudis have been bombing villages and [inaudible] along the border.  Does the UN have any information on this, considering that…?


Spokesperson:  Well, that’s what I just said.  We don’t have any independent information on what is happening.


Question:  How many humanitarian workers are on the ground working…?


Spokesperson:  We don’t have enough information to have a reaction on this really.


Question:  On the same subject?


Spokesperson:  Yes sure.


Question:  How about the treatment of the refugees who are fleeing to Saudi Arabia themselves?  Many refugees from northern Yemen are fleeing into Saudi Arabia.  Is there any arrangement to support them or to monitor the human rights issues there?


Spokesperson:  They are valid questions.  I will ask our people involved in refugee issues to give us an answer on this.


[The Spokesperson later noted that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) calls on the Saudi authorities to offer safe shelter and assistance to vulnerable displaced Yemenis who may seek refuge across the border as they flee the heavy fighting in northern Yemen.  UNHCR is poised to assist in these efforts, she added.]


Question:  A different subject please, in reaction to the new information of the new Government in Lebanon, there have been reports that Mr. Hariri is presenting his…?


Spokesperson:  Well, those are reports.  We are waiting for this to happen.  And we would welcome it when it happens.


[Later in the day, the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General was issued:


The Secretary-General welcomes the formation of a National Unity Government in Lebanon.  He expresses his satisfaction that, five months after the parliamentary elections of 7 June, Lebanese political leaders have been able to reach agreement on the formation of a cabinet.  The Secretary-General hopes that Lebanese political leaders will continue to work together in a spirit of unity, dialogue and cooperation.


The Secretary-General calls on the new Government of Lebanon torecommit to the full implementation of Security Council resolution 1701 (2006).  He also urges the new Government to quickly take upthe challenges that remain to consolidating both the sovereignty of Lebanon and the institutional capacity of the Lebanese State, as called for in the Taif Agreement and Security Council resolutions.]


Question:  What are the rules for who can speak at these stakeouts, microphones, in front of the GA and the Security Council?  There was an incident on Thursday where an NGO was escorted from the building.  On Friday, the US asked [inaudible] about another presentation that was made and MALU said, “Ask the Spokesperson’s Office,” so what are the rules?  So, what are the rules and who sets them?


Spokesperson:  The rules, I think, are very simple.  The people who have access to the stakeout microphone outside of the Security Council or outside of anywhere have to be sponsored by a Member State.  If they are accompanied by a Member State or they are here as, in the case of Mia Farrow, she was here as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, those are the rules.  An NGO cannot just come out to the microphone and just speak out.  It doesn’t work this way.


Question:  After the election for the Human Rights Council there was, some NGOs did speak.  Is it, every case that takes place it’s done at the request of a Member State?


Spokesperson:  Under the sponsorship of a Member State, yes.  And of course, I say Member State, but it can also be an Observer Mission, who has status here.


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