11 December 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon.  We will do this briefing in three parts.

**Guests at Noon

We have one of them here already -- Ann Veneman, Executive Director of UNICEF.   She will discuss the General Assembly’s World Fit for Children+5 Event, which starts today.  The other guests will be the General Assembly President, Mr. Srgjan Kerim, as well as Asha-Rose Migiro, Deputy Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General’s recent report entitled Children and the Millennium Development Goals: Progress towards a world fit for children, and UNICEF’s latest Progress for Children report will also be discussed.  This will be immediately following the briefing.

** Algeria Statement

I will start with the bombings in Algiers earlier today and take your questions on that before I will read the rest of the briefing.  I will start with a statement.  This is a statement by the Secretary-General.  It is issued in the first person, but I will read it in the third person.

The Secretary-General, in a statement we have upstairs, says that words cannot express his sense of shock, outrage and anger at the terrorist attack on the United Nations mission in Algiers today.  This was an abjectly cowardly strike against civilian officials serving humanity’s highest ideals under the UN banner -- base, indecent and unjustifiable by even the most barbarous political standard.

We do not yet have an accurate count of the many casualties, both among UN staff and the local population.  But our hearts go out to the victims, the Secretary-General says.  Their sacrifice cannot and shall not be forgotten.  The perpetrators of these crimes will not escape the strongest possible condemnation -- and ultimate punishment -- by Algerian authorities and the international community.

The Secretary-General has instructed senior advisers from his Executive Office, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Department of Safety and Security to proceed to Algiers immediately.  We will take every possible measure to aid those injured in the attack and their families.  The security of UN staff is paramount, the Secretary-General says.  We will take every measure to ensure their safety, in Algeria and elsewhere, beginning with an immediate review of our security precautions and policies.

** Algeria Attack

At this time, we are unable to confirm the extent of UN casualties, while we check with hospitals, examine the site of the blast and try to obtain any proof of death, if necessary.  Rescue efforts are continuing right now.

What we can confirm is that, at approximately 4:30 a.m. in New York –- or about 10:30 in the morning in Algiers -– the UN Development Programme office in Algiers collapsed following a bomb blast, which Algerian authorities have indicated was caused by a car bomb.  There was another car bomb explosion that took place near Algeria’s Constitutional Court.

The UNDP offices house staff from UNDP, the World Food Programme (WFP), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) and the Department of Safety and Security, as well as the UN Information Centre there.  Also, the offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), located across the street, sustained damage.

There is no claim of responsibility at this time.

The UN flag here at Headquarters is currently flying at half mast to mark this tragic occasion.

For your background -– and this is a response to questions we’ve been getting this morning -- we have a total of 40 international staff presently in Algeria, including 19 international staff who are based there and an additional 21 who were there temporarily.  There are also 115 local UN staff in Algiers.

We are continuing to work with the Algerian authorities in pulling people from the rubble.  In fact, one person was pulled alive from the rubble just within the past hour.  We are going to all the area hospitals to obtain information.

We are still trying to account, at present, for 14 people.  I cannot provide any figures on fatalities until we have confirmed proof of death and the families have been informed.  This is information I just obtained from the UN Resident Coordinator in Algiers, who says he was in the half of the three-story building at the time of the blast that did not collapse.  Half of the building has collapsed and those in it are obviously the ones that they are currently searching for.

Questions on this?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Had there been any prior threat assessments done for the mission there?  Do you have any information on that?  And can we get some information from Security and Safety as to what sort of assessment was done for those particular stations and buildings there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I just mentioned to you, right now, we are focusing on trying to account for our staff, to determine the cause, and we are in an emergency mode on that.  In terms of security risk assessments, it’s something, as you know, that is not something that we discuss publicly.  But what I can do is assure you that, on a routine basis, in every country, the UN, together with the host country, has a routine security assessment.  And that has been done around the world.

Question:  But had the staff there been aware of any particular security threats or a higher level degree of risk than for another station?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I mentioned, there is no claim of responsibility at this point and, at this point, I cannot go into any security details.  But what I can tell you, though, in general, is that, according to our Department of Safety and Security, routine risk assessments are being done constantly.  Threats are being constantly measured and monitored.  But the UN still has to continue to work in difficult places around the world, as you know.  Yes?

Question:  Was there any threat received just before this?  And if yes, can you tell us what it was about?  And…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no reports that there was any threat received immediately before this.  And I’m not going to take any other questions on security.  Yes?

Question:  I just want to know, historically, has the UN ever been targeted in Algeria?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Not that I have information on, no.

Question:  The Secretary-General’s statement said that, reportedly, among those killed were several UN employees.  Is there an update on that figure?  The UN refugee agency confirmed to us that two drivers were killed.

Deputy Spokesperson:  At this point, as I mentioned to you, all I can say, based on the information from the Resident Coordinator on the ground, is that we are still trying to account for 14 people.  The situation on the ground is very confusing.  As I mentioned, they are trying to locate people in hospitals, they are digging through the rubble.  And, at this time, I have to tell you this -- according to preliminary information that is not confirmed -- we believe that there may be four deaths.  [The Deputy Spokesperson later revised that figure to 11.]

Question:  And identifications…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We will not get into that until next of kin are notified.

Question:  Just one quick follow-up.  There was, I noticed, on the website, there was a driver killed just in May.  Is there a particular danger for drivers above and beyond others?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not going to get into an analysis of the death toll when I can’t even confirm it yet.

Yes, Benny?

Question:  Can you give us a sketch of what exactly the UN mission in Algiers does?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I mentioned to you, the UN is represented by 19 international staff and more than 110 national staff.  The UN house there was housing, at the time, the World Food Programme, ILO, the UN Population Fund, UNIDO, UNAIDS, UNDP, as well as the Safety and Security office and the UN Information Centre.  Now that’s in the UN house.  I understand UNICEF had a presence in a different location, as does the World Bank, the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).  So from this you can, I think, see what kind of activities the UN was doing on the ground.

Benny, yes?

Question:  Is there any political dimension to any of those activities, such as, I don’t know, that have to do, say, with terrorism activities, because the UN has a terrorism office?  Or anything that has any political dimension?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I mentioned, these are the UN agencies on the ground, so I think that will give you an indication of what kind of activities that we have there.

Question:  Marie, when I ask you a question, you tell me, “I’m not going to take any questions”; then you turn around and take a question.  I’m asking… can you tell me, 45 dead, is that confirmed or not?  45 dead?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you are citing news reports there, and what news reports are saying, I believe, is that… they are reporting that 45 people were killed.  Based on what statistics, I don’t know.  I’m telling you from the UN side.  The only statistics that we can be accountable for is the UN side.  And I can tell you that is what I was trying to confirm for you.  Yes?

Question:  Do you have any information on the nationality of the 14 missing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We will not get into that until everybody is accounted for, and if there are any deaths, that the next of kin are notified.

Question:  How about the nationalities of the whole staff there?  The staffers?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is not something we will go into in the middle of this situation.

Question:  All nationals? Locals?

Deputy Spokesperson:  19 international staff, 115 local staff.

Okay, if there are no questions on this, let me finish the rest of the briefing.

**Security Council

As the Security Council here convened this morning, the Council President circulated a draft presidential statement on the terrorist attacks that took place in Algeria and that statement could be considered later today.

The Security Council is holding consultations this morning on the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights, on which they heard a briefing by Lisa Buttenheim, Director of the Asia and Middle East Division of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations.  The consultations were preceded by a meeting with the troop-contributing countries for the Disengagement Observer Force.

They are then to hear a briefing by Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane on the Secretary-General’s recent report on missing persons and property in Iraq, which we flagged for you yesterday.

Then, at 3 this afternoon, the Security Council will hold consultations on the Central African Republic, with a briefing by the head of the UN Office in that country, François Lonseny Fall.

**Capital Master Plan

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson, this time on the adoption of the resolution on the Capital Master Plan by the General Assembly:

The Secretary-General welcomes the adoption of the resolution on the accelerated strategy IV for the Capital Master Plan by the General Assembly, allowing for a completion of the project in five years instead of seven years.

By approving the accelerated renovation strategy, it will be possible to minimize the inconvenience and risk for delegates, occupants and visitors to the UN Headquarters during construction.

After the completion of the Capital Master Plan in 2013, the UN Headquarters will not only be a safer, healthier, greener and more secure place, our renovated workshop for peace will also stand out as a symbol for building a revitalized United Nations for a better world.

The Secretary-General would like to thank the Member States once more for funding the Capital Master Plan and for their continued support of the Capital Master Plan.

Michael Adlerstein, the head of the Capital Master Plan, is coming to brief you on this on Monday.

**Secretary-General in Bali

The Secretary-General, meanwhile, has arrived in Bali to participate in the Climate Change Conference, and he said at an event organized by the UN Development Programme concerning its latest Human Development Report, that climate change is “the defining issue of our time”.  He said it is visible, it is global and its first victims are the poor and defenceless.

He added that, although scientists describe the situation as grim, they also say that the measures required to prevent a catastrophe are achievable and affordable.  All we need, he said, is the resolve to act. 

We have his remarks upstairs.

The Secretary-General is also meeting with key officials dealing with environmental affairs on the margins of this Bali meeting, and he attended a dinner hosted by the Indonesian President for the Conference participants this evening.

**Human Rights Council

In Geneva, the Human Rights Council today resumed the second part of its sixth session.  Council members heard a briefing from High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour on the recent activities of her Office.

Arbour said that, during her latest visit to Sri Lanka, she had paid special attention to the issue of abductions and disappearances, which had been reported in alarming numbers over the past two years.  Meanwhile, on Afghanistan, which she recently visited after two years, she said she was concerned by how little the women’s rights agenda had progressed.  On Pakistan, Arbour expressed concern that emergency rule had inflicted severe, long-term injury to the judicial and civil society there.

Arbour also drew attention to Sudan, where grave violations of international human rights and humanitarian law continued to be committed, for the most part with total impunity.  She also expressed worry over Somalia, where the human rights situation, particularly in Mogadishu, continued to deteriorate.

There’s more information on the Human Rights Council upstairs.

** Sudan

Sudan requires more than $2.29 billion for humanitarian, early recovery and development projects in 2008.  That’s according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), which says that 20 per cent of that amount has already been secured, with $1.84 billion outstanding.  The amount is expected to fund 59 projects across Sudan in the course of 2008.

In 2007, OCHA was able to secure 70 per cent of the amount needed to fund its work programme, enabling it to address Sudan’s emergency assistance, recovery and development needs.

There’s more information from OCHA upstairs. 


There is also from UNHCR today a notice saying that it has opened its annual pledging conference in Geneva today.  The agency -– which relies almost entirely on voluntary contributions -– is asking donors to help fund its nearly $1.1 billion budget for assistance to the millions of refugees, displaced and stateless persons around the world.  The largest operations for which UNHCR is seeking funding are in Chad, Afghanistan, Kenya and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  There’s more information on that upstairs.

** Uganda

We also have an update from OCHA on the situation in northern and eastern Uganda, which was devastated by flooding between August and October.  The first wave of emergency response was a success, it says, with food delivered to those in need and any outbreak of epidemic disease prevented, but much more is needed to help the population recover.

There’s more on that, as I mentioned.

**Other Press Releases

And to flag for you a couple of other press releases:

The World Food Programme is out with its list of global hunger hotspots.

UNICEF has issued a press release, embargoed until tomorrow, on the effect of climate change on children.

A group of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) experts who recently visited the Sundarbans World Heritage site in Bangladesh found massive devastation of the mangrove forests in the wake of last month’s deadly cyclone there.

And the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is out with press releases on how urban areas can do their part to fight climate change, and on how protecting peatlands could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 10 per cent.

All those press releases are upstairs.


The Secretary-General welcomes the concurrence of the Security Council with his intention to appoint Edward Luck as Special Adviser on the Responsibility to Protect.  Mr. Luck, a distinguished international scholar with extensive knowledge of the United Nations system, would serve at the Assistant Secretary-General level on a part-time basis.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

That’s what I have for you.  And, just for tomorrow, following the noon briefing here tomorrow, there will be a press conference by John Mourikis, Permanent Representative of Greece, and Hilde Johnson, Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF, on the impact of climate change on children.

At 3 p.m. tomorrow, Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, will hold a joint press conference with Sheik Tamin bin Hamad al-Thani, Crown Prince of Qatar, on the Doha-based Global Sports Fund, which promotes sports as an antidote to drug use and juvenile delinquency.  During the event, Mr. Costa will be presenting the Crown Prince with the UNODC Certificate of Honour.

That’s what I have. Before we have our three distinguished guests, do you have another question for me?  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On the helicopters that came up yesterday, who did the Secretary-General ask at the United States Government, because the White House and the Pentagon say they were never asked by the Secretary-General for a donation of helicopters?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think what we said was that the Secretary-General, his senior advisers, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations have approached all potential contributors of helicopters.

Question:  They say they never got the question.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I can’t help you on that.  That’s what I mentioned to you yesterday.  Yes?

Question:  On the tour guides, the tour guide slowdown, I think it was 26. Was there a working group yesterday?  Are they back?

Deputy Spokesperson:  My understanding is that, yes, they’re back at work.  And Mr. Akasaka, the head of the Public Information Department, will be meeting them this afternoon, as far as I know.  Yes?

Question:  Yesterday, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, while in Nicosia, he was a bit critical of the Secretary-General’s report on Cyprus.  Do you have any comment on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t.  The report stands for itself.  I don’t have anything further.

Yes, Matthew?

Question:  A couple of questions.  One, there’s this UN staffer that’s been taken hostage in Brazil.  Do you have… is there any… supposedly, there’ve been attempts to free him… have there been communications between the people who took him and the UN system?  David Martin Castro, do you have anything on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has confirmed that a staff member is being detained at a reserve in Brazil’s Rondonia state, where he had travelled to meet with indigenous persons.  The UN team in Brazil is working with the Brazilian Government to secure his release and he is reported as being in good condition.  That’s all I have for you for now.

Question:  Can I ask also, there are these reports that, that are, that… about Abdul Wahid al-Nur, the rebel leader of the Sudan… France… there are conflicting reports that he is going to be expelled from France if he doesn’t participate in the UN-sponsored Sirte talks.  Number one, do you have… do you know if that’s the case?  And also, does the UN system have any position on whether France should, in fact, bring pressure to bear or up to the point of expelling him if he doesn’t participate?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We do not have any comment on the actions taken by France.  Our general position on the Sirte process is something that the Secretary-General very much is engaged in, together with getting a peacekeeping force on the ground and ending the humanitarian crisis on the ground and to stop the fighting there.  And to do so, the Secretary-General has a fully engaged Special Envoy on the peace process who is trying to bring together as many of the groups and movements as he can to the Sirte process.

Question:  Does he think that this type of pressure on rebel leaders who don’t participate would be appropriate or…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I would have to ask Mr. Eliasson his personal views on this particular situation.  But I don’t think we would have a direct comment on an action by another country.

Question:  One last thing, on the budget -– I’m sorry.  In the Fifth Committee today, the US representative called the Secretariat’s budget the largest increase in the history of the UN by a dollar basis, estimated that it would come to $5.2 billion when all is counted up, and suggested that maybe it should be considered until the second resumed session of the Fifth Committee.  Does the Secretariat contest those numbers?  Does it want a vote before the end of this year?  How would you characterize it…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t think I would go beyond what the Secretary-General outlined about the budget in the report.  As I think the Spokesperson, Michèle, has mentioned, we are trying to get to you a briefing on these issues as soon as the coast is clear.

With that, I think I will -– yes, Benny and then Masood.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General confident that the budget will pass?  Because, I mean, there’s so much criticism within the Fifth Committee from all sides and the question is, do you foresee any trouble in passing that budget?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General’s report is out there and I don’t think we will have any comment until the Member States are finished with their work.  Masood?

Question:  On these accidents in which these –- I mean helicopter and airplane accidents -– last year some 24 Pakistani peacekeepers were killed and there are investigations going on by the United Nations.  Has there been any result of those investigations announced just yet, do you know?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not familiar with the subject you are talking about, but I will definitely look into it when I go upstairs.  Right now, I do have to turn the floor over to the three distinguished guests that we have today.  Thank you.

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For information media • not an official record