2 August 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

**Council Briefing

Good Afternoon.  Just after this we’ll try to have, at 12:30, the President of the Security Council, Ambassador Pascal Gayama of the Republic of Congo.  So I’ll try to get through this quickly and that will be the next briefing following this one.

**Secretary-General in Haiti

The Secretary-General today is in Port-au-Prince, where he is presently meeting the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the Chamber of Deputies on the second day of his official visit to Haiti.  The Secretary-General this morning visited the slum area of Cité Soleil, where UN peacekeepers have helped to restore order.  There, he met some schoolchildren at the site of a school secured by the UN Mission, MINUSTAH, during the recent gang violence in the slum.

The Secretary-General last night met with President René Préval, and the two later held a joint press conference, in which the Secretary-General stressed the importance of consolidating achievements on the security front in Haiti and of making progress in establishing the rule of law and fighting corruption.  He said that the international community must not step aside and allow spoilers to succeed in jeopardizing Haiti’s progress.  This time, he added, the United Nations, which has been in Haiti five times in the past, “will not leave until the future is secure”.  We have that transcript upstairs.

The Secretary General is travelling this afternoon to Barbados for an official visit there.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning held its first consultations under the Congolese Presidency of the Council for the month of August, and Council members agreed on the programme of work for the coming month.  Immediately after this briefing at 12:30 the new Council President, Ambassador Pascal Gayama of the Republic of Congo, will talk to you in this room about the Council’s work during August.

** Gaza

On Gaza, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the economy in Gaza continues to deteriorate as a result of the limited opening of the crossings there.  The vast majority of import-dependent industries, notably the wood, construction and garment sectors, have temporarily closed down, and only 10 per cent of Gaza’s industries, those depending on previously stored raw materials, remain partially functional.  The total accumulated and direct losses since the closure of the Gaza crossings in mid-June is now reaching about $23 million, with an average daily loss of about half a million dollars, OCHA says.

The Office also reports that, on Sunday and Monday, 414 Palestinians who were stranded in Egypt for 51 days returned to Gaza through the Nitzana and Erez Crossings.  Additional returns to Gaza are planned in the coming days.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Swiss-funded Fondation Hirondelle have denounced the continued attacks on the press, particularly on journalists working for the UN-backed Radio Okapi.  In the latest attack on the press, on 29 July, four armed men invaded the home of a Radio Okapi reporter in the town of Bunia in the restive north-eastern Ituri province.  They ransacked the house and beat the journalist for reasons that are still unclear.

The Mission and Fondation Hirondelle, which jointly manage Radio Okapi, have appealed to the Congolese authorities to ensure that journalists can discharge their vital duty of informing the population without fear of reprisals.

** Guatemala

We put out a statement yesterday afternoon in which the Secretary-General applauded the decision by Guatemala’s legislature to approve, as a matter of national urgency, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).  He believes Guatemala has sent a clear message both to its people and to the international community that it is committed to fight crime and impunity, and to provide security for its citizens.  Under the terms of its agreement with the Government of Guatemala, the United Nations will now work in close cooperation with the national Government and judicial authorities to make the Commission a reality.  The Department of Political Affairs will be in the lead in that effort.

** Sierra Leone

The Special Court for Sierra Leone has convicted two former leaders of the pro-Government Civil Defence Forces militia of war crimes committed during Sierra Leone’s decade-long civil war.  The Court found Moinina Fofana and Allieu Kondewa guilty of murder, cruel treatment, pillage and collective punishments.  Kondewa was additionally convicted of recruiting child combatants under the age of 15.  The three-judge panel was not unanimous in its decision, with Justice Bankole Thompson electing in his dissenting opinion to acquit both men of all charges, while Justice Pierre Boutet found the two not guilty on two counts of crimes against humanity and on one count of war crimes.  The case against a third accused, Sam Hinga Norman, was halted after his death in February.  The Court has not yet specified a date for the sentences against the two convicted former militia.

** Peru and Colombia

Severe weather in Peru and Colombia has left thousands of people in need of emergency food assistance, according to the World Food Programme (WFP).  In Colombia, the worst floods in decades have claimed at least 57 lives, with 100 people still missing, and more than 400,000 left homeless.  WFP is boosting the Government’s relief efforts, and plans to distribute food rations for an initial period of three months to some 60,000 beneficiaries.  In Peru, the coldest weather in 30 years has caused an epidemic of pneumonia and other respiratory diseases, and at least 70 children have died.  The agency will distribute food assistance to 34,000 people affected by the freezing cold.  And we have a press release on that upstairs.

**UNESCO on Gorillas

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is voicing concern over the rising number of mountain gorillas slaughtered in Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Mountain gorillas have been declared a threatened species by the World Conservation Union (IUCN).  Since the beginning of the year, seven gorillas have been shot and killed, four of them in July alone.  And that’s more than the numbers lost during the conflict in the Great Lake region in the 1990s, reports UNESCO.  And you can find more details about that in a press release upstairs.

**UNEP on Asian Pollution

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), a new analysis of pollution-filled “brown clouds” over South Asia offers some hope that the region may be able to halt the retreat of Himalayan glaciers by reducing air pollution.  These glaciers are the third largest ice mass on the planet and supply water to several major Asian rivers that are the chief water source for billions of people.

Researchers found that soot particles are increasing the atmospheric warming caused by greenhouse gases by as much as 50 per cent in Southern and Eastern Asia.  They add that the warming trend is more pronounced at higher altitudes than at sea level.  Achim Steiner, the head of the UN Environment Programme, which helped support the research, said that the impact of “brown clouds” on atmospheric warming should be part of the discussions on climate change in Bali, Indonesia, in December.  And we have more information in a press release upstairs.

**Tree Campaign in India

Also from UNEP, the Forest Department of the State of Uttar Pradesh in India and the United Nations Billion Tree Campaign may be soon gracing the pages of the Guinness Book of Records after the planting of 10 million seedlings in one day, according to the Executive Director of UNEP, Achim Steiner.  Some 600,000 people, ranging from farmers, members of the private sector, children and Government officials, took part in the record-breaking planting on 31 July.  And UNEP has some more information on that.  That’s it for me.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  There’s this report of Russia planting this flag on the seabed in the North Pole, saying they own it.  And various countries are saying that the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea will have to rule on this.  Is there anyone to ask?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’re aware of the reports.  We don’t have any comment on them.  You could check with the Tribunal dealing with the Law of the Sea, in Hamburg, whether they have anything to say at this stage.  I don’t believe that they have had any comment at this early stage of this case.

Question:  The library downstairs, does DPI have any say in the content, what is being sold there and what’s being displayed?

Associate Spokesperson:  You mean the library or the bookstore?

Question:  Bookstore, sorry.

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I’d have to check on that.

[The Associate Spokesperson later said that the Department of Public Information has oversight over the bookstore.]

Question:  I was just wondering if there’s any comment from the Secretary-General concerning the proposed Middle East conference and whether there’s any coordination between the two sides of the United Nations and the United States on this issue.

Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, the United Nations is part of the Middle East Quartet, which in its last statement commended the efforts to hold this conference.  You can look at the text of the statement from a couple of weeks back on this matter.  At this stage, the arrangements, however, are being made, not by us, but by the United States, by the State Department.

Question:  I’d like to find out; recently, the Israelis released some Palestinian political prisoners.  Does the United Nations have any figures on how many Israelis still hold, as far as Palestinians are concerned, from the Occupied Territory? 

Associate Spokesperson:  I can check what are figures are about that.  It is clear that there were a few hundred who were released in recent days.  But I’ll check back to see if we actually keep figures of the Palestinian prisoner population.  You might be better placed to ask that question of the Palestinian Observer Mission.

Question:  Has the Palestinian Authority told anything to the United Nations at all?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’re in touch with the Palestinian Authority, so we may have information that way.  But, like I said, you might be better placed getting information first hand through the Observer Mission here.

[The Associate Spokesperson later said that approximately 11,000 Palestinians are reportedly imprisoned n Israel.]

Question:  Has the Secretary-General welcomed an enhanced role for the United Nations Mission in Iraq, in line with the draft resolution being circulated by the Americans and the British in the last 24 hours, to beef up the presence and the role of the United Nations in Baghdad?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, as for this draft resolution that’s just being circulated; at this stage, the United Nations Secretariat is being consulted during this process but obviously we don’t comment on draft resolutions that are up for discussion among the members of the Security Council.  As for the principles behind it, the Secretary-General has said repeatedly that the United Nations is committed to helping the people of Iraq through these difficult times.  At the same time, we remain mindful of the security situation and the constraints that are presented by the security situation, so we have to bear that in mind.

Question:  I want to follow up on that, and then I have something else, too.  There’s some talk among the staff, about concerns about the United Nations not taking sufficient safety steps if they were to go back into Iraq.  There’s some talk about passing a resolution about it.  So what, from Ban Ki-moon’s position, as regards the United Nations staff, what would be a minimum level of either safety or protection that you would look for in the case of an increased presence?

Associate Spokesperson:  As with all duty stations, we are constantly monitoring the security and safety conditions in Iraq and we base our presence on the ground on whether the adequate security conditions are in place.  And so we would continue to do that before making any other decisions about the level of staff who would be there.

Question:  Any news from the 38th floor on who’s going to replace Ms. [Carla] Del Ponte, who’s going to be the new Prosecutor?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, there’s no news on that yet.

Question:  And when the new Prosecutor will be in the office in The Hague, actually for how long will his mandate [be]?

Associate Spokesperson:  At this stage, there’s nothing new to say about Carla Del Ponte.  She remains in her job through September.  If we have anything to say prior to that point, I’ll let you know at that time.

Question:  For how long will the new mandate of the new Prosecutor take place?

Associate Spokesperson:  There’s nothing to announce about the term of the new Prosecutor at this stage.  Right now, we’re still working with the current Prosecutor, Ms. Del Ponte, and we’ll take these decisions at a later point.

Question:  I’m asking this only because there’s something not clear understanding whether the Tribunal will continue to work after 2008 to 2010.  That’s why I’m asking.  What would be the renewal factor and the position of the new Prosecutor?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’ll deal with the mandate of the next person once we have that official to name.  Until then, I don’t really have that to give you.

Question:  Just a quick one.  Are you going to replace Mr. Ashraf Qazi in that announcement on Iraq?

Associate Spokesperson:  Mr. Qazi’s current mandate expires during the course of this month.  At this stage, we have been looking at a list of names of potential successors.  I don’t have anything to announce at this stage, though.

Question:  Just on that, do you have a date when you might want to get a potential successor?  Just on Iraq, is there any word on what the United Nations is doing at the moment with regards to delineating internal borders such as, for example, borders around Kirkuk?  And just on another issue, with regard to the Law of the Sea, I realize the United Nations is making no comment on this Russian flag mounting, but could you explain, or could somebody from the Law of the Sea Secretariat come down to explain?  Because I find it completely bizarre that the Law of the Sea Secretariat is completely ducking this issue.  Could they come down and explain what process it is, in this day and age, for resolving those kinds of disputes, if a country goes and places a flag and starts drilling for oil, whatever, does the United Nations make any comment at all?  Is it up to a Member State to take another one to court, or does the United Nations have any sense of jurisdiction?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’ll check with the Law of the Sea Secretariat to see if they’d be willing to provide a background briefing on that.  As to your question on Kirkuk, at this stage, no, the United Nations has not been dealing with delineating Kirkuk.

Question:  Who’s currently coordinating the Middle East policy in the Secretariat and is there any news as to Michael Williams’ position?

Associate Spokesperson:  There’s nothing to say about Mr. Williams at this stage.  He is the central person as the United Nations Special Coordinator on the Middle East Peace Process.  If I have anything to say on this in the coming days, I’ll let you know then.

Question:  I wonder if the Secretary-General’s been asked officially by anyone in South Korea to help with the freeing of members of the church group being held, and if there’s any progress that’s been made or anything that you can tell us about what’s happening in that situation?

Associate Spokesperson:  There’s nothing specific to say about this.  The Secretary-General made his own concerns about this known in a statement that we issued just a few days ago on 31 July, where we talked about his concerns about the safety and welfare of those hostages, as well as of all the hostages who are in Afghanistan right now, both international and Afghan.  Beyond that, we don’t have anything further to say about these discussions.  We’ll of course continue to monitor developments as they take place, but we wouldn’t care to comment at a fairly delicate stage of dealing with this matter.

Question:  There’s a report that some South Korean legislators are coming to the United States to meet various people in Washington and that they’re going to meet with Ban Ki-moon, as well.  Can you confirm if he’s given them an appointment?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, I can’t confirm that, no.

Question:  And also, yesterday, Senator Dick Durbin said he spoke to Ban Ki-moon about the Darfur resolution before it was passed.  Can you confirm that that took place, and who else did Ban Ki-moon speak to about the Darfur resolution?

Associate Spokesperson:  He spoke with a wide range of people in the days preceding the passage of this resolution.  I’ll check to see if he had a call with Senator Durbin.  And if that’s that, then have a good afternoon and, 10 minutes from now, Ambassador Pascal Gayama will be in this room to brief you on the programme of work for August.

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For information media • not an official record