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

15 December 2009

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

15 December 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 Martin Nesirky, 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

Welcome to the noon briefings in unusual surroundings.  But it’s just a temporary arrangement, I can assure you.

**Secretary-General in Copenhagen

The Secretary-General has arrived in Copenhagen, as you know.  And he has been meeting with key officials on climate change while an estimated 130 Heads of State and Government prepare to converge in the Danish capital for the high-level session of the Climate Change Conference.  And, as he told you yesterday here in New York, he made Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai a Messenger of Peace dealing with climate change issues.

As you probably know, the Secretary-General will shortly begin his address to the plenary session of the Climate Change Conference, to urge delegates to write a different future.  And he will say that we have a real chance to change the course of history, and that the time for maximalist negotiating positions is over.

And, as I think you know, we have embargoed copies of his speech in my office.  And after the plenary, the Secretary-General and Danish Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen will give a joint press conference.  And we’ll have a transcript of that available here later this afternoon.

**United Nations Environment Programme

Also in Copenhagen today, the United Nations system has announced its greenhouse gas footprint -- as part of a first step to reduce these emissions.  In response to the Secretary-General’s determination to make the UN a climate-friendly body, the UN’s Environment Management Group has covered emissions arising from the various UN agencies and its Headquarters, as well as field operations and peacekeeping missions.  The UN emits the equivalent of 1.7 million tons of carbon dioxide annually, of which approximately 1 million tons comes from peacekeeping operations.

This inventory is a first step in cutting back emissions.  The UN will now work towards a common approach on emission reductions and also towards emission reduction strategies for each UN institution.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, more and more civilians are fleeing Equateur Province in the north-west of the country, according to the UN’s refugee agency (UNHCR).  These civilians continue to cross into the neighbouring Republic of Congo.  It is estimated that 84,000 refugees arrived since early November when inter-ethnic violence broke out in the province.

UNHCR is trying to cope with the influx of refugees but says that aid reserves are running low.  It adds that humanitarian agencies are facing considerable logistical obstacles, as the entire refugee population is scattered along a 500 km stretch.

UNHCR also says that the refugees live in overcrowded conditions and that health risks are high.  The agency has helped put in place nine health centres near main refugee concentration areas.  It is also running mobile clinics for the more remote areas.  And there is more in the UNHCR briefing notes.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning heard a briefing on the Central African Republic from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, Sahle-Work Zewde.  In her first briefing to the Council, she said that the peace process has reached a critical stage, with national elections planned before the end of April 2010 and the need to complete the disarmament process before that date.  She said that the overall situation in the Central African Republic remains fragile and challenging.  A combination of good offices, mediation and financial support will be needed to bring about lasting peace.

The Security Council followed its open meeting on the Central African Republic with consultations on that same subject.  And they’ll also hear briefings in consultations about the work of the sanctions committees dealing with Liberia and Sudan.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

In a report today, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) describes the planning and zoning regime applied by the Israeli authorities in what is known as Area C of the West Bank.  Under this regime, it says, Palestinian construction is effectively prohibited in some 70 per cent of Area C.  Meanwhile, in the remaining 30 per cent, a range of restrictions virtually eliminate the possibility of obtaining a building permit.

As a result of this restrictive planning regime, tens of thousands of Palestinians wishing to build in most parts of Area C are left with no choice other than to carry out unauthorized construction on their land to meet their housing needs.  And as a consequence, they risk demolition of their structures and subsequent displacement.  The full OCHA report is available online.


In Cairo yesterday, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) launched its emergency appeal for 2010 at a meeting of the League of Arab States.

The appeal is for more than $323 million to fund programmes on job creation, education, health and protection.  In launching the appeal, the Agency’s Commissioner General, Karen AbuZayd, made clear that the past 12 months have seen an intensification of the crisis in the occupied Palestinian territory, beginning with Israel’s military offensive in Gaza.  The blockade on Gaza since then has had devastating consequences on all aspects of life for the 1.4 million people trapped in Gaza.  We have more in a press release in our office.

** Darfur

Two UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] staff members, Patrick Winful of Nigeria and Pamela Ncube of Zimbabwe, who have just become free after 107 days in captivity, are now on their way home to their respective countries.  The acting Joint Special Representative of UNAMID, Henry Anyidoho, has welcomed their freedom and expressed the relief of the UN over the happy outcome.  He thanked the Government of Sudan for its efforts in bringing the abduction to an end.  He pledged UNAMID’s commitment to serve the people of Darfur.

**Death Penalty

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is urging the international community to maintain momentum towards the abolition of the death penalty.  In a statement marking the twentieth anniversary of the death penalty Optional Protocol, which is commemorated today, Pillay said that she was opposed to the death penalty in all cases.  She acknowledged that abolishing the death penalty is a difficult process for many societies.  It can often only come about after a period of national debate, she added.  In the meantime, she urged States still employing the death penalty to place a formal moratorium on its use.  And we have her statement in my office.


The World Health Organization (WHO) released its 2009 World Malaria Report today.  It found that the increase in funding for malaria, in recent years, has led to increased work in several countries.  But WHO adds that the coverage of malaria programmes needs to be stepped up drastically in order to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria, Ray Chambers, said that the report showed the progress achieved in the global campaign to end deaths from this disease.  And he also notes that this month starts the 12-month countdown to the Secretary-General’s December 2010 deadline for universal access to malaria-control interventions.  And we also have more on that in my office.

And that’s where we are.  Do you have any questions?  Matthew.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Two quick questions.  One is, can you confirm that Vijay Nambiar is being given the Myanmar portfolio now that Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari is being assigned to Darfur?  Something that I’ve heard.  It seems important to know who is in charge of Myanmar for the UN.

Spokesperson: Well, as I think I’ve mentioned before, we’re in a kind of a transitional phase, and the new appointment for Mr. Gambari takes effect at the beginning of January.  And so that’s why we’re in a transitional phase.  And in the meantime, through the Secretary-General’s good offices, there will be a continued focus on Myanmar.  And precisely who is involved in that, I will need to double check.  But you can take it as a given that within the Secretary-General’s immediate team, there is a close eye being kept on Myanmar.

Question:  Speaking of eyes, I just wanted to get your comment -- above the new journalists’ space in the Library, there are security cameras that appear to be 360 degree and that film journalists at work.  I wonder if you can say the rationale for that and whether one of them has already been moved.  Are the other ones going to be moved?  Who watches it?  Is the film kept?  What was the thinking behind that?

Spokesperson:  A couple of things.  First of all, those cameras are not 360 degree.  They just focus on the doors.  They’re security cameras for the doors.  That’s the first thing.  The second thing is, as you already noted, one has been moved.  There are another two that are considered intrusive.  They are also being moved.  And the reason that they’re being moved is for the concerns that you’ve mentioned.  They are simply security cameras and they focus on the doors.  They are being watched in the security command centre.  As to whether things are being recorded, I will find out for you.  But there are cameras all around the Secretariat.  The reason for them is security, and it’s for no other reason.

Question:  I was wondering if you can find out where the films are kept and things like that -- I’m just saying because they are above journalists’ offices, that’s what led to the concern.

Spokesperson:  As I said, there are three cameras that we’re talking about; all three of them are being moved.  And they are not roving eyes; they are single focus, okay?  Like me.

Question:  Just a follow-up on that.  Would it be possible if we could have some input, because cameras do affect the journalists in terms of their placement?  You say there’s a decision taken to remove them, or whatever we’re talking about, but at the end of the day it would be nice to have, you know, some buy-in to the process.  If it’s purported to be security, maybe we should all be talking.

Spokesperson:  First of all, as I said, this is something that’s dealt with by the security people in this building, and I’ll find out more about exactly what the mechanism is to have the cameras moved.  But the key point is that they are there, they were there already, and as they are deemed to be intrusive, they’re being moved.  So I think that there is already a recognition of the concerns that the journalists have expressed, and I’ll follow up on the particular point that you’ve made.

Question:  What about the other point raised about whether the recordings, or what they’re seeing, whether those are recorded somewhere and how those are handled?

Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  Some assurances on that rather than just hearsay.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Well, what I’ve just said is not hearsay.  I’m telling you.

Question:  I’m so glad that we have security cameras, because we don’t have locks to the doors in case anybody walks off with whatever stuff we’ve put in there.  But this is not against you or Isabelle’s department, but the CMP [Capital Master Plan] planning.  I don’t know how anyone in their right mind could move journalists without telephones, without connections to television and without locks on the door.  It’s some of the worst planning I’ve ever seen.  We could have all stayed in our own place for another month until that was settled. 

Also, is there a report on Guinea out yet?  There is supposed to be a report on that.

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on Guinea for you.  On the first part, I hear what you’re saying.  Any other questions?

Question:  Has the Secretary-General spoken with the Iranian Government or the Iranian President recently, and does he have any plans within the next several weeks to do so?

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of any recent conversations.  Let me find out if there are any plans to do so.

Question:  Could you ask also whether the Secretary-General has any plans to meet with whoever the senior Iranian representative going to Copenhagen is? 

Spokesperson:  By all means.

[The Spokesperson later added that no meeting was scheduled in Copenhagen between the Secretary-General and the Iranian delegation there.]

Question:  I don’t know whether it’s the Foreign Minister or the Permanent Representative, I don’t know who is going from there, but I assume somebody is.

Spokesperson:  Well, given that there are 130 Heads of State and Government, that’s not a bad assumption.  But let’s find out for sure.

Question:  One, I just want to follow up on Copenhagen.  Do you have any, a large number of us have received the complaints of people who were there, who went yesterday and were unable, both journalists and NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and even some UN staff, were unable to get into the building.  And they seemed to say that the UN accredited 45,000 people, even though only 15,000 could fit in the building.  If that’s true, why would the UN have done that?

Spokesperson:  Two things, the figure I’ve heard is not 45,000 but 34,000.  That’s still a lot of people, absolutely.

Question:  The same question.

Spokesperson:  Yes, the same question.  As I understand it, and as we’ve heard from Copenhagen, they have a system to try to rotate the number of people going into the building, because, obviously, they’re over capacity.  Part of it is also, it’s not just NGOs, it’s journalists as well.  There are large numbers.  And as I’ve said here before, it clearly demonstrates the considerable interest there is in this event and in having access to this event.  As for why there was an over-accreditation, I would refer you to the organizers, actually the UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change], who are actually on the ground organizing this, and they have a media team there who I’m sure could help you with that.

Question:  And also, I wanted to ask, John Holmes has appeared on an interview with CNN’s [Christiane] Amanpour, and seemed to confirm that during the final days of the fighting in Sri Lanka, that Vijay Nambiar was telephoned by leaders who sought to surrender, who ended up being killed.  So, there is a big controversy right now in Sri Lanka about the charge that the Defence Minister, with whom Mr. Ban has met, gave the orders to kill surrendering prisoners.  I wonder if it’s possible, is that…  Number one, can you, it’d be good to hear instead from Holmes about Nambiar, or maybe from Mr. Nambiar, but what was the UN’s role in these attempted surrenders?  And where does it stand on Mr. Ban’s call for accountability or some type of an outside investigation or panel of inquiry into possible war crimes?

Spokesperson:  What Mr. Holmes said yesterday, he speaks for himself in this particular case; of course, I am not going to amplify what he said.  He knows what he’s talking about.  What I would suggest is that you let me find out some more details and then I can answer you with more certainty.

Question:  All right.  Maybe from Mr. Nambiar on some basis, because I think he’s confirmed that he got these calls from people who ended up being killed while waving white flags.  So, it seems important to nail down what happened.

Spokesperson:  Once he’s back in town, we’ll see what we can do.  Any further questions?

Question:  Just one more.  There is a story out where China has said that there are these Uighur refugees, or attempted refugees, who’ve gone to Cambodia and have applied for asylum status.  China has said openly that UNHCR should not accept them, that they’re criminals.  Several of them are children.  So I’m wondering if anyone -- the Secretariat had some things to say during the disturbances in western China, but whether the Secretariat agrees that children can be criminals and that these people, who may face either torture or execution if they’re returned, should be returned to China by Cambodia.

Spokesperson:  I’ve also heard these reports.  We’ve also heard about these reports about Uighur would-be refugees, asylum seekers, and I would refer you to UNHCR.  They will probably have more detail on that.

Question:  When we were preparing to move to the Library, we were told that you will have to bear with some inconveniences.  And that’s understandable.  When I came this morning, there was no chair, no telephone, no waste-basket.  Do you recognize that this is more than inconvenience?

Spokesperson:  It doesn’t sound terribly easy for you to work, and let me find out what’s going on.

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Anything else?  No?  Okay, tomorrow the briefing should be in the Auditorium.  So, let’s see.  The Library Auditorium, yes.  With chairs, I’ve been assured.  [Laughter]

Excuse me; we have our esteemed colleague here to brief you on the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you, Martin.  I should have actually given you the heads up.

This morning in Washington, D.C., the President of the General Assembly attended the second Global South-South Development Expo.  On this occasion, President Treki received an award for his tireless efforts to promote South-South cooperation.  The award was given by the High-Level Committee on South-South Cooperation.  President Treki’s statement is available.  President Treki will be in Washington, D.C., until 17 December.  He has several meetings scheduled separately, mainly with individual members of the Congress and State Department officials.

Today he will be meeting with the following:  Congressman Chris Smith (R ‑ New Jersey), Ranking Member, African Affairs Subcommittee, Foreign Affairs Committee; Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D – Ohio) Chairman, Domestic Policy Subcommittee, Oversight and Government Reform Committee; Congressman Dan Burton (R – Indiana), Ranking Member, Middle East Subcommittee, Foreign Affairs Committee; Congressman John Boozman (R – Arkansas), Africa and Global Health Subcommittee, Foreign Affairs Committee; Congressman Donald Payne (D – New Jersey), Chairman of African Affairs Subcommittee, Foreign Affairs Committee; Senator James Inhofe (R – Oklahoma), Foreign Relations and Armed Services Committees; Congressman Joe Pitts (R – Pennsylvania), Energy and Commerce Committee; Congresswoman Yvette Clarke (D – New York), Whip, Congressional Black Caucus; Congressman Hank Johnson (D – Georgia), Congressional Black Caucus; Congresswoman Shelley Berkley (D – Nevada), Middle East Subcommittee, Foreign Affairs Committee; and Maxine Waters (D – California), Congressional Black Caucus.

Tomorrow at the State Department, President Treki will meet with Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary for African Affairs; Ambassador-at-large Melanne Verveer, Office of Global Women’s Issues; Ronald Schlicher, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs; Curtis Reitsma, Food Security Initiative, Office of the Counsellor, and William Craft, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Trade Policy and Programs, Bureau of Economic, Energy and Business Affairs; Gerald Anderson, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary; Kerri-Ann Jones, Assistant Secretary for Oceans, Environments and Science -- that’s the official in charge of Climate Change [at the State Department]; Dr. Esther Brimmer, Assistant Secretary for International Organizations; Deborah Graze, Acting Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labour; and Suzanne Nossell, International Organizations Deputy Assistant Secretary.

We have another meeting that is not yet confirmed that will probably take place on 17 December with Congressman Bill Delahunt (D – Massachusetts), Chairman, European Subcommittee.

That’s what I have for you today.  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  [inaudible] trip to Washington, were there some meetings that he had requested that were turned down of particular officials, high-ranking officials that he’s disappointed that he was unable to meet?

Spokesperson:  Well, when meetings are organized, obviously there could be some scheduling conflicts.  But I wouldn’t use the word turned down at all.  I mean these are the meetings that President Treki wanted.  We’re very grateful that he managed to have them.  So in a sense, I don’t know which specific meetings you’re talking about.  So I think it will be speculative to say that he was turned down on some meetings.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  I mean, I understand that you speak for President Treki, but with yesterday’s, I guess, straw poll to choose probably his successor, I mean, well, I guess, well, here we go, does President Treki have any comment on the seemingly assured Swiss successor to his position?

Spokesperson:  Well, President Treki hasn’t shared his comments yet, if he has any.  But I will definitely ask.  One thing that is certain is that we can confirm that the Swiss candidate was the one who was earmarked or selected by the regional group to which Switzerland belongs.  So if you go by past history, I think he will probably become the next President of the General Assembly, for the sixty-fifth session.  But President Treki himself hasn’t made any specific comment on that yet, if he has any.

Question:  And is he part of the… Is there an organization called sort of former Presidents of the General Assembly that’s seeking accreditation or to participate in Sixth Committee matters?  Are you aware of that?

Spokesperson:  Absolutely.  Actually there was a meeting held here many weeks ago on which I can certainly find a report or President Treki’s statement, and he is part of that grouping, yes.

Question:  [inaudible] past, he is current?

Spokesperson:  Well, he is current.  He is part of that grouping, yes, currently.

Question:  One other question?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Previous General Assembly Presidents had spoken about the need for reform within the General Assembly, but we’re not hearing much of that during Mr. Treki’s time period.  At least I haven’t, maybe I have missed something?

Spokesperson:  I think you have missed a lot.  I beg to disagree.  President Treki has been very, very active on the front of not only the revitalization of the General Assembly, but also reform of the UN, including the reform of the Security Council.  I can pull out some statements and other documents to that effect.

Correspondent:  That would be useful, thank you.

Spokesperson:  Yes, sure.  Yes.

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  Can you speak on the microphone please?  Thank you.

Question:  [inaudible] Security Council are given every year.  Is there any thought of reforming the 90,000 resolutions that use up paper and no one reads? [That] burden down the UN?

Spokesperson:  That is your statement.

Correspondent:  I’ve been here long enough to know that it’s true. 

Question:  [inaudible] point that’s made, and yes, curious to know whether there is any movement on that front, that would be helpful?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think it’s a fair point, though.  I think that this is part and parcel of the effort to reform the United Nations.  But I think resolutions stand on their own and they have to be read on their own merits.

Question:  I think it’s more than [inaudible] it’s sort of like going out into an attic that hasn’t been visited in, you know 100 years or something.  You’ve got a lot of strange things up in the attic and when are they going to clear house and perhaps start deliberating or pushing paper aligned to certain things that happened a long time ago that have no relevance?

Spokesperson:  These are all reasons why the reform is so necessary.  And I think that this session of the General Assembly is particularly relevant and a very important opportunity for all Member States who are working so hard on having this reform push.  But it will not be easy, we all know that.  Yes.

Question:  [inaudible] which Secretary-General Kofi Annan started, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has continued, and seems to get nowhere in the GA itself, which has the final word on its mandate review?

Spokesperson:  Well, I wouldn’t close the door to that yet.  I wouldn’t be that pessimistic.  I think we have to give a chance to the Member States at this station to see what they come up with when it comes to reforms.  It is still very much a work in process and I think the jury is still out on this one, and I am pretty optimistic that progress will be made, for sure.  Thank you, good afternoon.  Thank you, Martin.

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