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

24 November 2009

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

24 November 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

Good afternoon all.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Philippines

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Philippines.

The Secretary-General is saddened by the reports of the brutal killing of more than 40 civilians in the Maguindanao Province, southern Philippines.  He condemns this heinous crime committed in the context of a local election campaign.  The Secretary-General extends heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and hopes that no effort will be spared to bring justice and to hold the perpetrators accountable.

AIDS

New HIV infections have been reduced by 17 per cent over the past eight years.  That’s one of the key findings of a new report which was launched today by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization (WHO).

The report also shows that some 33 million people -- more than ever before -- are living longer with HIV, in part because of antiretroviral therapy.  It adds that the number of AIDS-related deaths has declined by over 10 per cent over the past five years as more people have gained access to treatment.  UNAIDS and WHO note that, since the availability of effective treatment in 1996, nearly 3 million lives have been saved. 

According to WHO Director-General Margaret Chan:  “International and national investment in HIV treatment scale-up have yielded concrete and measurable results. We cannot let this momentum wane.  Now is the time to redouble our efforts, and save many more lives.”  We have more on that upstairs.

Security Council

As you know, the Security Council is today holding its periodic meeting followed by consultations on the Middle East.

Briefing Council members this morning, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios said the UN has not yet received a satisfactory response from Israel to the proposal, put forward in May, to complete stalled UN projects in Gaza in the areas of housing and school and health facilities.

He said it is “completely unacceptable” that no meaningful progress has been made in kick-starting UN civilian construction activities in Gaza, which are essential for the well-being and recovery of a war- and blockade-affected population, half of whom are children.

Menkerios added, without a credible political horizon in the Middle East, forces of violence, tension and extremism on both sides will fill the vacuum.  He said that we now face a very real danger of such a vacuum, with no Israeli-Palestinian negotiations underway, no agreed terms of reference for such negotiations, and no framework in place to ensure implementation of Road Map obligations.

Menkerios said the decision of President [Mahmoud] Abbas not to seek a new term as Palestinian President reflects a worrying assessment that the political process lacks sufficient content and credibility at this time.  He added that if we cannot move decisively forward to a final status agreement we risk sliding backwards, with both the Palestinian Authority and the two-State solution imperilled.

It is vital at this juncture that the international community takes a clear and united position, Menkerios said.  We have his full remarks upstairs, and I know many of you were at the stakeout listening to different positions on the issue.

Secretary-General’s Statement on Côte d’Ivoire

I have just received a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Côte d'Ivoire.

The Secretary-General welcomes the publication of the provisional list of voters by the Ivorian Independent Electoral Commission on 23 November 2009.  The Secretary-General believes that with this important development, the Ivorian parties and institutions have made significant progress towards the establishment of a consensual and transparent voters list.  He notes that his Special Representative has endorsed the provisional list of voters as well as the process followed in compiling it.  The Secretary-General now encourages all the Ivorian parties to build further on this critical milestone in order to prepare the final voters list and move forward in determining a new election date as soon as possible.

The Secretary-General thanks the Facilitator, President [Blaise] Compaoré of Burkina Faso, for his continuing efforts and assures the Ivorian parties that the United Nations will continue to provide the necessary financial, technical and logistical support to help them organize and conduct open, free, fair and transparent elections.  Of course we have the statement upstairs, also in French.

Men Leaders

The Secretary-General launched this morning the Network of Men Leaders to end violence against women.  The Network consists of men -- young and old -- who have pledged to work to end violence against women and girls.

The establishment of the Network comes in support of the “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” campaign, which the Secretary-General launched last year.  In launching this campaign, I acted not only as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, but as a son, a husband, a father, a grandfather, said the Secretary-General.

The Secretary-General said that unless attitudes and behaviour change, violence against women would continue.  He called on men and boys everywhere to join the fight to end violence against women.  We must act together, he emphasized.  We must build on the efforts of so many women and women’s organizations who have worked tirelessly to address this epidemic, he said.  Violence against women and girls will not be eradicated until all of us -- men and boys -- refuse to tolerate it, he added.

We have his remarks upstairs, and I know that some of you followed the press conference earlier today.

Pakistan

As temperatures drop in north-west Pakistan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has begun to distribute additional relief supplies to some 85,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) living in camps.  This aid will help the camp residents to cope with the hardships of winter.

The first phase of the winterization drive started on Monday in the Jalozai camp.  Each family will receive six blankets, four sleeping mats and two plastic sheets for warmth and insulation, in addition to other relief supplies that they received when they initially registered.

Up to 900,000 people in north-western Pakistan could still be displaced and staying with host communities, according to overall relief distribution figures. In partnership with other agencies, UNHCR is carrying out a re-screening process in five districts of the North-West Frontier Province to better understand the scope and needs of the remaining displaced population.

Sudan

A delegation from the African Union Peace and Security Council today held meetings in North Darfur with regional government officials, community leaders and UNAMID staff, as part of a three-day visit to Sudan.

The delegation, headed by Ambassador Joseph Nsengimana of Rwanda, was in El Fasher to gain a first-hand assessment of the security situation and to take part in discussions with UNAMID officials on matters related to the implementation of the mission’s mandate.

Western Sahara

In response to questions we have been getting in the past few weeks about Western Sahara, we can inform you that the Secretary-General is concerned by the growing tension between the parties to the Western Sahara negotiations, which has increased following the recent detention of several groups of Saharawi activists and the situation of Aminatou Haidar.  He has responded in writing to letters received from the Frente Polisario in this regard.

The Secretary-General has urged both parties to continue to cooperate with his Personal Envoy, Mr. Christopher Ross, in seeking to schedule another set of talks and to work together to achieve progress toward a mutually agreed political solution.  Regarding the human dimension of the conflict, the Secretary-General has reiterated his call to the parties to remain engaged with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Cyprus

On Cyprus, Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat met today under UN auspices in Nicosia.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, spoke to the press afterwards.  He noted that the leaders had had “very fruitful” discussions on citizenship, immigration and asylum.  We have more on that in my office.

Yemen

As the holiday of Eid al-Adha approaches, World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Josette Sheeran says that our thoughts are with tens of thousands of displaced people in northern Yemen who will not be able to celebrate Eid in their own homes.

Since the conflict in northern Yemen re-erupted in August, the World Food Programme and its partners have distributed more than 2,000 metric tons of food to more than 100,000 people in the region.  While access has been difficult, it has opened up new supply routes, including bringing assistance across the border from Saudi Arabia.

WFP is still worried about the situation in Sa’ada town, which has been virtually cut off from the rest of the world for more than three months now.  Sheeran called for localized humanitarian ceasefires and humanitarian corridors to allow for safe and uninterrupted access to families trapped by the conflict.

School Meals

School meals and other food-based safety nets are vital to keeping children in school, improving their learning and health, and promoting food security, as Governments still grapple with the global economic crisis.

That’s according to a new study by the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Bank.  The report stresses that in many countries school feeding programmes are one of the key incentives to get children -- especially girls and the poorest and most vulnerable children -- into school.  It adds that providing school meals to children in qualifying families can be the equivalent of adding an extra 10 per cent to average household incomes.  There is more on that upstairs.

Honduras

And I just want to add in response to a question about Honduras yesterday, the Secretary-General has been supporting the search for a consensual solution to the political crisis in Honduras.  He is concerned that the election is approaching in Honduras without such a consensus in place, and amidst divided opinions in the region.  The Secretary-General will continue to monitor this situation carefully, in close consultation with regional counterparts as to the appropriate way forward.

Nigeria-Cameroon

And we were also asked about the Bakassi Peninsula.  UN Civilian Observers are liaising closely with the Government of Cross River State in Nigeria to assess the situation of those displaced from Bakassi.  The UN works with both Nigeria and Cameroon in the framework of the Follow-Up Committee to ensure continued compliance with Greentree Agreement.

Guest at Noon Briefing Tomorrow

The guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.  She will be here to brief you on her recent trip to Sudan.

And of course, after your questions we’ll have Jean Victor Nkolo, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly who will be on the podium.  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  [inaudible] 90,000 IDPs in Pakistan, you said what percentage is still without shelter or UNHCR is still trying to find…?

Spokesperson:  We have been giving different figures all last week, so if you want to get a final one we’ll get a percentage for you of how many still need assistance.

Question:  [inaudible] some contradictory figures…?

Spokesperson:  You’re right. We have had a number of partial reports and really not quite a complete overall of the situation right now.

[The Spokesperson later added that solid numbers are not available since many internally displaced persons are staying with host communities.  Movement back and forth between displacement and return areas has also made it difficult to have a more precise estimate.  She reiterated that, in partnership with other agencies, the Office of the United NationsHigh Commissioner for Refugees is carrying out a re-screening process in five districts of the North-West Frontier Province to better understand the scope and needs of the remaining displaced population.]

Question:  Yesterday the Spokesperson, Marie, said that Anne Bayefsky had admitted to this and the other… some events and got her pass back and neither of those things have happened.

Spokesperson:  No, she didn’t say she got her pass…

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  No, she said that there had been an agreement on her getting her pass back.  But she didn’t say that she had gotten her pass back, nor that Ms. Bayefsky had agreed on the terms of…

Question:  [inaudible] so, I mean, we just have to go back and [inaudible] She did say that she…?

Spokesperson:  Yes, we can go over what she said, but I think…

Question:  She’d actually said that she’d admitted to…she didn’t say what, but some events.

Spokesperson:  We can go back to what was said yesterday.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  She said that, once they had agreed, then the pass would be returned.

Question:  What’s the situation then, Michèle, because neither of those things happened that the Spokesperson said yesterday?

Spokesperson:  She didn’t say that it was returned.

Question:  All right.  So what’s the situation now?

Spokesperson:  Well, the situation is between Ms. Bayefsky and the security people in the building, concerning the return of her pass.  I don’t know the status of Ms. Bayefsky’s side. I do know that there was a willingness to give her her pass back.  That’s all I can say.  Yes.

Question:  I wanted to just ask a follow-up on that. And I’ll try and keep it brief.  But Marie did say, she said: “I have just been informed that there was an amicable agreement…” and then I spoke to Ms. Bayefsky and she said there was no agreement at all at the time that was read out, that Gregory Starr called her and read a statement, that’s not acceptable to her, so…

Spokesperson:  Well, then that’s where it stands.

Question:  Right.  So, I guess my question…

Spokesperson:  I guess you have more information than I do.

Question:  No, no.  My question was sort of on what… Is it DSS that erroneously informed you that there was an amicable agreement or is there some…?

Spokesperson:  That’s what they told us, yes. 

Question:  Okay. And I guess just the last question I’ll ask on this.  Is it her statement that she initially turned in [inaudible] was, in a sense political? She tried to guess at why she had been expelled and the statement that she had provided…?

Spokesperson:  I haven’t read the statement.  I think what the statement -- that’s what I understood -- that the statement meant simply that she recognized a misuse of the pass.

Question:  [inaudible] admission to then turn it over to the NGO Committee to have the group ultimately expelled?

Spokesperson:  No, no, that is not at all the objective.

Question:  Okay.  I have another…

Spokesperson:  The only people who can expel the group is ECOSOC, and there is no such thing in the works.

Question:  [inaudible] to the NGO Committee?  The normal, my understanding is the normal renewal of such passes, of which hers needs to be renewed next month, is just renewed, it doesn’t go back to the NGO Committee.  Is this going back to the NGO Committee?

Spokesperson:  No, not that I know of. I mean, the question of the NGO itself, it’s not being questioned.  ECOSOC has an agreement with that NGO, and they are a part of the NGO network of ECOSOC.  And this remains.  In terms of the pass issue, how the pass was used, this is what DSS has a problem with -- that the pass was used, that it was given to someone else who used that pass to get in.  So I think this is the only issue being discussed right now.

Question:  The other thing is that she was detained by the security -- nothing to do with whether, how the pass was used, because they had no knowledge of that whatsoever.  She was detained actually because she had gone to the mike.  So…

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  …and then [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  …because she was not allowed to go to the mike, because an NGO…

Question:  [inaudible] other events, you know, presumably questioning or further investigation, all the focus now is on how the pass was used whereas she was, you know, detained on something that has got nothing to do with that.  Is that…?

Spokesperson:  She was not detained.  She was escorted out on the basis...

Question:  She was escorted down to their offices; held there for a while and then escorted out?

Spokesperson:  “Detain” is not quite the word.  I think what happened is that she…

Correspondent:  [inaudible] the guys are on me, you know, that’s you know, they’re bigger and they’re brawny; that’s “detained,” really.

Spokesperson:  I think I said this weeks ago, days ago.  I said about the use of the microphone, I said what are the conditions for the use of the microphone outside of the General Assembly or the Security Council. Someone who is not a Member State or representative of a Member State can go to the mike only if that person is escorted by a Member State or is a member of the Secretariat.  We have had some cases of people being escorted by one or another delegation and going to the mike.  That has happened. However, one is not allowed to just go in.  An NGO cannot just walk in and either go to a microphone in the General Assembly or the Security Council or a stakeout, unless they are sponsored by a Member State.  And in cases like this, there are rules and regulations in this house concerning this.

[The Spokesperson later added that, although Anne Bayefsky appeared in person today to follow up on an understanding reached earlier with the United Nations Department of Safety and Security, she has since declined to acknowledge violating United Nations rules.  The issue of the pass cards consequently remains unresolved.]

Question:  I guess I’m wondering if we can get an update on the return, if any of UN staff to Kabul.  There is a report out saying that people who have left thus far, no [inaudible] have been made and that no one has returned from Dubai and that in fact…?

Spokesperson:  Not yet.

Question:  …morale is low and people are not renewing their contracts.  Is there some way you can… what sort of a plan, I guess, without getting into.. to return people?  What’s the timeline?

Spokesperson:  The plan was that we were going to take six weeks to refurbish offices and make them safer.  This was the agreement when people went to Dubai and to other countries in the area. That was the whole issue, and as soon as this is completed, those people are getting back to Kabul or to other places in Afghanistan.

Question:  I also wanted to ask you, the Sudanese Permanent Representative here has been quoted as saying that the UN should begin, you know, the process of getting ready to leave the country.  According to him, there is no more war.  Is that something that Sudan…? What’s the response of the UN to the Permanent Representative saying that it’s time to leave Darfur?

Spokesperson:  I have to say that the two peacekeeping missions, UNMIS and UNAMID, are both being voted on. And their mandates are established by the Security Council.  It is a matter for the Security Council.  That’s all I can say.

Question:  Because the Permanent Representative of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been quoted as saying that he has begun to meet with the Secretariat about preparing exit plans.  So what I am wondering is why… if you’re saying in the DR Congo is the exit… does the Secretariat play any role in planning an exit?  You see, it apparently does according to the DRC.

Spokesperson:  Any mission right now on the ground always has an exit strategy.  It is an intrinsic part of any mission.  Whenever you go into a country you always have an exit strategy. It doesn’t mean that it determines for the Security Council when that exit will take place. It is a matter for the Security Council to decide when that exit will take place.  However, planning for it is part of every single mission on the ground.

Question:  I guess it’s just that in comparing the two cases what you just said about Sudan, you said it’s entirely up to the Security Council.  That’s between Sudan and the Council?

Spokesperson:  The decision to exit.

Question:  Right.

Spokesperson:  The decision to change a mandate or to exit out of a country.

Question:  But apparently for DRC, prior to the Security Council making a decision, there is some discussion between the country and the Secretariat, maybe DPKO?

Spokesperson:  But there are always discussions of that sort. Those are not two different things.  They’re the same thing.

Question:  Is Sudan having such discussions, is what I was trying to get at.  Has Sudan raised to DPKO this issue of trying to get the missions to actually leave the country?

Spokesperson:  There are constant contacts between the Government and mission people. And in every single case of the mission, the issue of an exit strategy is an established thing.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  Michèle, given the dismal picture painted today in the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, the Secretary-General being one of the major parts of the so-called Quartet -- the Middle East Quartet -- does he plan, really plan, on making some bold proposal to break the impasse that it there?  Does he ever intend to do that?

Spokesperson:  I can tell you that there are a lot of discussions going on about how to break that impasse.  I’m not at liberty to tell you what is being discussed, but it is all the time.  In the last few weeks, the issue of the impasse has been an overwhelming concern of all the Quartet partners. So there have been contacts between the partners of the Quartet group to actually try to break the impasse.  Whether there is any new bold initiative that the Secretary-General is going to take, I cannot say.

Question:  But what you’re saying now is that there are discussions now taking place in view of…?

Spokesperson:  There are always discussions taking place on the impasse.

Question:  I know always, but always nothing happens.  This time you’re suggesting something will happen?

Spokesperson:  I can’t promise something will happen.  I mean, you know how long the Middle East situation has been in an impasse.  So I cannot tell you that tomorrow you will have an answer.  It has been 60 years.  What I am saying is that we have come out with several statements about our own position on issues like settlements.  We have come up with a number of positions about the issue of the isolation of Gaza.  Those are our own positions.  In terms of the political process itself and the impasse you’re talking about, of course it is a concern.  But it is being discussed with different partners, and if there was a big breakthrough I’m sure you’d get to know about it soon. Yes.

Question:  I wanted to follow up on the UNDP Associate Administrator post.  I’d asked a couple days ago whether the Secretariat generally had gotten a letter from the African Group about the position and about that it had been committed to the African Group.  Now they still didn’t get an answer on the letter, and they said they sent, they say they transmitted it.  So I want to make sure that…

Spokesperson:  This is something to be addressed to UNDP.  I have absolutely no knowledge of that.

Question:  Of that letter?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  Okay. So I mean, but it’s fair to ask if a letter was received?  So you’re apparently…?

Spokesperson:  You said it was addressed to UNDP, right?

Correspondent:  No, I said it was addressed to…  They say it was, they’ve told me it was addressed to the Secretary-General with a cc to Helen Clark and concerned the Associate Administrator position.  So I wanted to know…

Spokesperson:  I don’t know, I haven’t checked today.  But the last time I checked, they had not received it.

Question:  But who sets up the panel?  I heard that there is a panel to interview the candidates for it, and I wanted to ask you if Mr. Diarra was on the panel and who nominated the panel?

Spokesperson:  I have absolutely no idea.  You know, we do not comment on members of panels to interview candidates.

Question:  But who makes the decision?  Who appoints the Associate Administrator?

Spokesperson:  You know the panel takes the decision.

Question:  But who appoints the panel?  That seems fair enough.  [inaudible] Helen Clark or Ban Ki-moon?

Spokesperson:  Different groups, depending on which department you’re talking about.  There are always people from Human Resources present on each panel; there are always people from whichever department the person being hired is a candidate for. There are different compositions for different panels.

Question:  I just want to know about this post.  Who chooses?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I cannot answer this.  We usually do not give out names of panel members; we do not.

Question:  But is it fair…like who, ultimately, who is appointing to this high post in the UN, Associate, number two post of UNDP?  I just want to know if it’s Ban Ki-moon that appoints it or Helen Clark.

Spokesperson:  It has to be approved by both.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you, Michèle.  Good afternoon.

I will be brief.  The general committee meeting will start later today at 3 p.m.  Eastern Standard Time with the following five items: Observer status for the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean in the General Assembly; Cooperation between he United Nations and the Interntional Organization for Migration; United Nations University; Observer status for the Council of Presidents of the General Assembly in the General Assembly; and the Question of Mayotte.

It’s a closed meeting.  So that’s what I have for you today.  Any question?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  There is word that the General Assembly discussion of the draft resolution on the situation of the occupied territories of Azerbaijan has been delayed.  It was supposed to be 3 December; it’s been put back.  There is some questioning about…what’s the status and also does the PGA have any involvement in trying to reach some agreement on this long-standing issue?

Spokesperson:  As on all lingering issues, the PGA continues to be a consensus builder; looking for a solution and looking for political outcomes that are satisfactory to all.  On the specific question of Azerbaijan and the scheduling of this discussion, I will go back to both the PGA and the entities that are concerned and I will bring you a specific response to that.

Question:  I know I’d asked; I just want to sort of nail this down.  In this Associate Administrator position of UNDP, does the GA play any role, and separately does the PGA have any view whether this post, as many in the African group said, had been somehow committed to the African group or would be well-served by having an African candidate in?

Spokesperson:  On the appointment of the UNDP Administrator, I can confirm that the General Assembly’s role comes into play.  However, on the question of the Associate Administrator that is certainly less certain.  I think this is a Secretariat question, that you have to put to the Secretariat.

Question:  I’ll try.

Spokesperson:  Thank you, and have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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