|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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
**Guest at the Noon Briefing Today
Our guest today will be Mike Smith, Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate. He will be here shortly to brief on the outcome of an initiative to build counter-terrorism cooperation among countries in South Asia.
The Security Council today, as you know, is holding a meeting to receive briefings on the work of three of its committees -- which deal respectively with resolution 1267 (1999), concerning Al-Qaida and the Taliban; resolution 1373 (2001), concerning counter-terrorism; and resolution 1540 (2004), concerning weapons of mass destruction.
The Chairmen of these three committees are, respectively, the Ambassadors of Austria, Croatia and Costa Rica. They provided details of the work of their committees over the past six months. The open debate is continuing, with 31 speakers inscribed in all.
The Secretary-General’s latest report to the Security Council on the work of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) is out as a document today. In it, the Secretary-General notes that, following a request from Iraq’s Government, he had sent Assistant Secretary-General Oscar Fernandez-Taranco to Iraq for consultations related to Iraq’s sovereignty and security. Fernandez-Taranco visited Iraq from 1 to 4 November and met with the Prime Minister and the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, Defence, Justice, National Security and the Interior, among other senior officials.
The Secretary-General calls upon all Member States, and in particular Iraq’s neighbours, to respect Iraq’s sovereignty and to adhere to the principle of non-interference, a fundamental tenet of the UN Charter. For its part, and within the scope of its mandate, the United Nations is committed to supporting efforts towards a productive regional dialogue and cooperation in all key areas.
The Secretary-General says that he welcomes the agreement reached on 8 November in the Council of Representatives on amendments to the electoral law in Iraq. He encourages all Iraqis to exercise their right to vote in the upcoming elections, which will shape their country’s future. And he reaffirms the United Nations commitment to continue to support and assist Iraq during the electoral process.
Ad Melkert, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, is scheduled to brief the Security Council on Monday on this report, in an open meeting, which will be followed by consultations. And he intends to brief you in this room following his appearance in the Security Council, at approximately 12:30, but we will update you of course on Monday.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says that more and more Yemeni civilians are fleeing the embattled Sa'ada province in northern Yemen, as the fighting between Government troops and Al Houti forces enters its fourth month. They are seeking shelter in camps and with host families in the neighbouring southern provinces. This new displacement puts increasing pressure on UNHCR's attempts to alleviate the suffering of the people in need.
Over the past few days, some 150 new families have been arriving every day in a camp in Hajjah province. This is a significant increase over the 20 to 30 families per day in the previous weeks. The camp has now exceeded its capacity, with nearly 10,000 internally displaced people living there. Three or four families now share a tent normally meant for one.
The UN refugee agency is trying to improve conditions in that camp and to assist local authorities in speeding up the construction of a new camp that can take in thousands of displaced people. An estimated 175,000 people have been affected by the conflict in Yemen since 2004, including those displaced by the latest crisis.
UNICEF says it is deeply concerned about the escalation of the conflict in northern Yemen. Fighting has now spilled into Saudi Arabia, reportedly causing 240 villages to be evacuated and more than 50 schools to be closed. UNICEF urges all parties to ensure that children were protected from violence and that they received the assistance they needed. There are more details on the humanitarian situation on the ground in the notes from Geneva.
** Greece and The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia
The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, will meet later today in New York with Zoran Jolevski, Skopje’s negotiator for the “name issue”. They will discuss the positions of Mr. Jolevski’s Government, as well as next steps.
Yesterday, Mr. Nimetz met with the negotiator from the Greek side, Adamantios Vassilakis, and was presented with the approach and policies of the new Greek Government towards the “name issue”. Mr. Nimetz was told that there was a desire in Athens to settle this matter and to negotiate a lasting solution. He was also informed about the general parameters, in Greece’s view, of what an acceptable solution would involve.
Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat met today under UN auspices in Nicosia. The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, spoke to the press afterwards. He noted that the leaders mainly discussed the issue of property. And they will continue on that issue until they feel satisfied that they have reached a sufficient level of agreement to move on to another chapter, Downer said. The Cypriot leaders will meet again next Tuesday, and there is more information on this upstairs.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that serious acts of banditry in eastern Chad are jeopardizing humanitarian operations. Over the last two weeks, an employee of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was kidnapped and a local staff working for the NGO Solidarite was killed.
OCHA says that, to date, five NGOs and the ICRC have decided to temporarily suspend their activities in eastern Chad. It adds that this will affect 37,000 people. OCHA says that there is an urgent need to reinforce the capacities of the Government and of the UN Mission there, MINURCAT, to address the new security challenges.
According to OCHA, 110 security incidents affecting humanitarian workers were recorded in 2008 in eastern Chad. Since the beginning of 2009, the number of incidents recorded is around 190.
** Sri Lanka
As I informed you yesterday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, will be visiting Sri Lanka from 17 to 19 November. We have a media advisory out with more details.
Holmes will travel to assess the situation of internally displaced persons and those returning to their places of origin. And he will address ongoing concerns, particularly those related to continued restrictions on the freedom of movement for IDPs who remain in the camps and conditions in areas of return.
Holmes will also follow up on the commitments that Sri Lankan President made earlier this year to the Secretary-General and later to B. Lynn Pascoe, the head of the Department of Political Affairs.
High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has wrapped up a week-long visit to Brazil. Speaking in Brasilia today, she said that, despite Brazil’s impressive human rights laws and policies, Afro-Brazilians and the country’s indigenous people continue to face serious discrimination, injustice and violence. Until those groups are lifted out of poverty and given better access to basic services and employment opportunities, Brazil’s progress on many other fronts will be hampered, she said. There’s more on that upstairs.
**Department of Public Information
We have an announcement from the Department of Public Information. “UN Member States on the Record”, a research tool to highlight the work and actions of each individual Member State, will be launched today, 13 November, by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library.
Based on frequently asked questions, the Library developed this tool to highlight and consolidate information scattered in multiple databases into one user-friendly resource. Information available for each Member State includes the key documents related to its membership in the United Nations, statements made before the principal organs, draft resolutions sponsored, periodic reports submitted on human rights conventions, etcetera.
Training will be provided by the Dag Hammarskjöld Library. You can get the contacts upstairs for more information and the website as well.
I was just asked a question before I came down about press reports that business groups in Mexico had called for United Nations peacekeepers to be sent there. All I can say at this point is that first of all there would have to be such a request to the Security Council and, as you know, the Security Council is the only body that could authorize the deployment of peacekeepers.
**Food and Agriculture Organization
Yesterday, I was also asked about the Secretary-General’s reaction to the call by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to fast ahead of the World Summit on Food Security, which is going to be opening Monday in Rome.
I can tell you that the Secretary-General intends to join the fast over the weekend. The call for a fast by FAO is meant to show solidarity with the more than 1 billion people who live in chronic hunger.
And as you know, the Secretary-General plans to deliver a speech at the opening of the World Summit on Food Security on Monday. He is expected to say that it is unacceptable that more than 1 billion people are hungry when the world has more than enough food. He will also highlight the human cost of the recent food, energy and economic crises and say that these crises are a wake-up call for tomorrow. In particular, he will emphasize the link between food security and climate change. He will say we cannot have food security without climate security.
The Secretary-General will say that next month's climate change meeting in Copenhagen must conclude a comprehensive agreement that will provide a firm foundation for a legally binding treaty on climate change. We expect to have that speech for you under embargo this afternoon.
Tomorrow will be World Diabetes Day. There is a message by the Secretary-General on that that you can pick up.
** Sudan Visit – Coomaraswamy
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, will be visiting Sudan from 15 to 23 November, at the invitation of the Government of Sudan. There’s a press release on that as well.
**United Nations-Republic of Korea Disarmament Conference
The eighth annual United Nations-Republic of Korea Joint Conference on Disarmament and Non-Proliferation Issues will take place in Juju Island, Republic of Korea, from 16 to 18 November. You can pick up more information on this as well upstairs.
That’s what I have for you. I believe our guest is here and ready to come up so let’s take a couple of questions.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Two questions. First, where is the Secretary-General going to be over the weekend while he is doing this fast, just as a follow-up to that? And when you were talking about his report on Iraq, I didn’t hear you say anything about the request from Iraq for the UN to send a special investigator to look into the bombings. Is that issue addressed? And if it isn’t, why isn’t it in the report?
Deputy Spokesperson: Let me look into that for you. I just got the report myself so I don’t have anything further than what I read for you. As for the Secretary-General’s plans over the weekend, without going into too much detail for security reasons, as you know, he is on his on his way to the Food Security Summit in Rome. So he will be in transit over the weekend as well, from here to Rome. But, he intends to heed the call of this 24-hour fast in solidarity with the billion hungry. Yes?
Question: I didn’t know [inaudible] you made an announcement about the Goldstone report being officially transmitted to the Security Council by the Secretary-General. Was there…?
Deputy Spokesperson: That was done earlier this week.
Question: Okay. Is there an official paper about that, is there something, you know, is there an official document with regard to that?
Deputy Spokesperson: Well the document was transmitted, so the Member States have it now.
Question: But is there an official statement about it being transmitted? Was it on a form where it says it’s coming? Usually things that go from the Secretary-General to the Security Council are put up in the racks and you can see.
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, in this case, as you know, the report was already made available to you. So, it was simply a matter of letting you know that when the report was transmitted…
Question: We just have the online version and it would be helpful to have the version that was made available to the Member States. Is that possible?
Deputy Spokesperson: The report is the same. It’s a very big document. But, if you insist to have it printed out, I’m sure my office can help you do that. Masood?
Question: I just want to know, Marie, has the United Nations [inaudible] its profile in Pakistan? Or has activities in Pakistan… over the last few days bombings have occurred. There’s been no statement from the Secretary-General, nor any update on the IDPs [inaudible] pouring in. Has it stopped activities in those areas?
Deputy Spokesperson: No, I think the UN humanitarian agencies on the ground are continuing to do what they can, as I have continued to mention to you, in terms of assisting those that they can. In terms of any other developments, the Secretary-General is obviously very closely monitoring the situation. And, I am sure, when the time is right for him to say or to announce something, then he will. But I don’t have any new updates from today. Matthew and then Rhonda again.
Question: Sure Marie. Two questions, Sudan has told UN-sponsored [inaudible] radio that they intend to close the refugee camps throughout Darfur next year. Does the UN have any response to that? Do they think that’s a good idea?
Deputy Spokesperson: I’ll have to ask UNAMID. I don’t have a first-hand report on that.
Question: Earlier in the week, I had asked you about this [inaudible] Tony Blair and his Quartet representative and his appearance in Ramallah on behalf of Wataniya cell phone company, and whether it had been for the UN or not. Since then, I’ve seen that there was an ad hoc liaison committee that Mr. Ban attended, at which this thing was discussed, but it’s also emerged that Wataniya had under writing done by JPMorgan Chase, for which Tony Blair works and is partially owned by the Government of Kuwait, which Tony Blair Associates represents. My question is, what is the UN, if, as it appears, Tony Blair is operating for the UN/Quartet for a company that has connections to things that he has financial interests in, what is the UN going to do about it
Deputy Spokesperson: I’m not aware of the report or the connection, so I don’t have anything further to say.
Question: [inaudible] it goes almost to the Galbraith question, but what office in the UN reviews possible financial conflicts of interest by UN representatives?
Deputy Spokesperson: Again, it’s the same question I suppose you asked yesterday. There is an Ethics Office, and as you know, there is a financial disclosure process that goes on, and that would be in terms of the Secretary-General’s reforms as they pertain to senior UN officials. Otherwise, in terms of companies doing business with the United Nations, it would be the procurement section of the United Nations.
Question: Mr. Benson has said that like for example the Galbraith report is confidential, so I guess what I want to know is if the Secretary-General, if things like this arose and there’s no response by the UN, what would be the repercussions? Is there any such thing as the violation of the conflict of interest rule, or is it just a confidential disclosure…?
Deputy Spokesperson: You’re asking a hypothetical question based on a press report. I really don’t have anything further to say on that.
Question: I’m asking a specific question about Wataniya, JPMorgan Chase and Kuwait.
Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, and I said I don’t have anything on that. Alright, do I have one more? Rhonda?
Question: I wondered, since the Secretary-General needs to make a report to the General Assembly about the progress of what’s happened in three months, is there some process within the Secretariat that will go on to do the monitoring? Or can you give us some sense of what will be happening, so that it can make that report?
Deputy Spokesperson: You’re talking about Gaza?
Question: I’m talking about the Goldstone report.
Deputy Spokesperson: In terms of that, as you know, we have a number of actors in the field who are on the ground at present. And in terms of getting updated information, I’m sure that those sources will be utilized. I don’t really think I have anything beyond that.
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