17 September 2008
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, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Press Conferences Today

I’m going to start, because we have today the new General Assembly Spokesperson, Enrique Yeves, and immediately after that, we’re going to have our guests at the noon briefing:  Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, and Edmund Mulet, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.

**Secretary-General Statement on Yemen Bombing

I will start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the bombing in Yemen:

The Secretary-General strongly condemns today’s terrorist bombing of the United States Embassy in Sana’a, Yemen.  He is saddened by the reported deaths of at least 16 people, including Yemeni guards and civilians outside the Embassy, as well as the wounding of many others in this attack.  He extends his condolences to the families of the victims, and wishes those injured a full recovery.  Attacks on diplomatic facilities and personnel worldwide are against international law and are totally unacceptable.  The Secretary-General calls on the Yemeni authorities to spare no effort in bringing those responsible to justice.

**Security Council

And the Security Council, as you know, this morning received a briefing on the recent dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti.  João Honwana, Director of the Africa I Division of the Department of Political Affairs, briefed the Council.

And the Council President will, in a short while, read a press statement also condemning today’s attack in Yemen, which Council members discussed under other matters.

** Georgia

We announced yesterday afternoon that a United Nations humanitarian assessment mission was being sent to South Ossetia and Tbilisi.  The mission is currently in the capital of North Ossetia.

It is being led by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and comprises representatives of key UN humanitarian agencies, namely the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), World Health Organization and the World Food Programme, as well as a representative of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The objective of the mission is to gain first-hand knowledge of the humanitarian and human rights situations and needs on the ground, including the position of those displaced by the conflict and other vulnerable groups.  The results of the mission will feed into the revision of the humanitarian Flash Appeal, launched on 18 August.  The mission has been coordinated with the Russian and Georgian authorities and will visit Moscow, South Ossetia and Tbilisi.

The United Nations is also planning a broader fact-finding mission to the region.  And that statement was issued yesterday afternoon.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

Turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC) has confirmed that intense fighting broke out yesterday between the Congolese army and rebels loyal to General Laurent Nkunda.

The fighting took place in Kirotshe, a town near Goma in the east, which has seen several fierce battles in recent days.  The Mission says that the regular army used rocket launchers and other heavy artillery.  But to ensure that civilians are not harmed, UN peacekeepers interceded with the Congolese troops who agreed to cease fire by the end of the day.

Meanwhile, UN humanitarian agencies and international NGOs [non-governmental organizations] are working to restore the delivery of essential medical supplies and services in North Kivu and South Kivu, also in the east.  The delivery was disrupted by the outbreak of hostilities in late August, leading to the displacement of some 100,000 people.

The movement of humanitarian personnel and relief workers has been greatly affected by the prevailing climate of suspicion.  And health facilities have been looted, leaving the population in even more precarious living conditions.

** Somalia

And on Somalia, the International Contact Group on Somalia met yesterday in Djibouti under the chairmanship of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah.  According to a joint communiqué, the Contact Group and the Special Representative discussed possible ways to help implement the recent agreement between the transitional Government and the opposition.

The Contact Group welcomed the participation of both parties in the meeting and pledged political and financial support to implement the agreement.  They also pledged to help deal with issues of justice and reconciliation.  They acknowledged the important contribution of the African Union peace mission (AMISOM), which was authorized by and enjoys the full support of the Security Council.

**Chad/Central African Republic

Out today is the Secretary-General’s latest report on Chad and the Central African Republic.  In it, he says that the causes of insecurity and instability in Chad, the CAR [ Central African Republic] and the subregion include weak institutions and poor infrastructure.  These, combined with an inability to deal with the insecurity and violence, have gravely weakened the region.

On the basis of the findings of recent assessment missions, which are included in the report, the Secretary-General recommends that the Security Council create a UN military force of up to 6,000 troops to take over from the European force (EUFOR) when the latter’s mandate expires in a few months.  He also invites Member States to work with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to establish a stand-by presence to be deployed on short notice in order back up the Mission in cases of increased security threats.  He advises, however, that the Council leaves in draft form the resolution authorizing the deployment until the Secretariat has received firm commitments of troops and other critical support equipment.

**World Bank -– Palestinians

In a new report on Palestinian economic prospects, the World Bank says that the Palestinian economy is becoming more aid dependent.

In addition, the closure policy in the Gaza Strip, which has been in place since the summer of 2007, is continuing to erode the Strip’s industrial backbone and leading to the collapse of the municipal sector.

The report adds that, despite the cessation of hostilities declared last summer, little progress has been made so far towards improving living conditions of the population in Gaza.

**World Food Programme -– Haiti/Cuba Hurricane Relief

In response to the recent hurricanes in Haiti, the World Food Programme (WFP) says it has tripled food deliveries in the past week.

Working with UNICEF and the UN Mission in that country, WFP has delivered 1,000 tons of rice, beans, cooking oil, fresh water and other supplies in recent days, and has fed 217,000 people since the relief operation began.  Over half of those receiving food assistance are living in shelters in Gonaïves, which is still 40 per cent under water and completely cut off from the rest of the country.  WFP is also set to launch its own air operation in Haiti, using four leased helicopters.

Meanwhile, WFP has undertaken an emergency operation to provide hurricane relief in Cuba.  Nearly 54 tons of high-energy biscuits and canned fish from Ecuador are on their way where people are still unable to prepare their own food. 

The World Health Organization is buying and distributing medical supplies and equipment, as well as providing maternal and child health care in western Cuba, where medical facilities have suffered extensive damage.  The UN’s Central Emergency Response Fund has provided more than $500,000 for the project.

**UNESCO/African University Initiative

UNESCO is teaming up with Hewlett Packard on a project to reverse “brain drain” in Africa.  With help from a French research centre, they’ve provided a university in Dakar with the latest in computer technology infrastructure.  The aim is to reduce the number of graduates migrating abroad by giving them the research tools they need at home.

The initiative will eventually be extended to universities in five African countries.  It follows the successful implementation of a similar project, launched in south-eastern Europe five years ago.  And you can read more about that in a press release upstairs.

**Other Press Releases

In other press releases, just to flag for you, the head of the UN Mission in Liberia Corrections Advisory Unit, speaking at a graduation ceremony for newly-trained corrections officers, urged graduates to uphold high standards of human rights.  The 12-month training programme they just completed was run jointly by UNMIL, the UN Mission there, and the Liberian Government.

And the World Meteorological Organization and the International Organization for Standardization have signed an agreement to cooperate in setting international standards for meteorological and hydrological data, products and services.

UNICEF has announced the nominees for this year’s International Children’s Day of Broadcasting Awards.  The prizes recognize outstanding achievement in children’s television and radio programming.  The winner will be announced here in New York on 18 November.

**Secretary-General’s Appointments

I have two appointments and the press conference in the days ahead:

The Secretary-General has appointed Nicolas Michel of Switzerland as the Special Adviser and Mediator of the Border Dispute between Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.  The Parties, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, have been informed about the decision of the Secretary-General.

Mr. Michel, who served as UN Legal Counsel from August 2005 to 1 September 2008, will bring a distinguished career combining diplomatic and legal skills, as well as recognized impartiality and commitment to the peaceful settlement of disputes.  He handled the mediation of the border dispute between Equatorial Guinea and Gabon as one of the many sensitive issues under his purview as UN Legal Counsel.

And I have a second appointment:  the Secretary-General has also appointed Karin Landgren of Sweden as his Deputy Special Representative for Nepal.

Ms. Landgren brings to UNMIN many years of political, managerial and international law experience with the United Nations in a number of duty stations.

She currently serves as UNICEF’s Head of Child Protection, and has also worked with the UN’s refugee agency, as its representative to Eritrea, Singapore and Bosnia and Herzegovina.  We have a full biographical note available upstairs, as we do with that of Nicolas Michel as well.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Now for press conferences here tomorrow, at 10:15 a.m., UNIFEM’s Progress of the World’s Women 2008/2009 report will be launched by Ines Alberdi, Executive Director of UNIFEM; Anne-Marie Goetz, the report’s main author; Christiana Thorpe, Electoral Commissioner from Sierra Leone; and Shankar Singh, an activist from India’s Right to Information Movement. 

The Secretary-General will make public remarks at an event marking the launch of this report at 12 noon tomorrow at the Delegates Dining Room.  The event will be open to the media, and please refer to the UNIFEM media advisory available both in this Room and in our office for more information.

And in order to facilitate your attendance at the UNIFEM event, our noon briefing will be starting at 12:30 p.m. tomorrow. 

Coming back to press conferences scheduled for tomorrow, at 11 a.m., Cheick Sidi Diarra, Under-Secretary-General and UN Special Adviser on Africa, will brief on the key development issues facing Africa and its international partners, as well as preview the goals of the 22 September General Assembly high-level meeting on Africa’s development needs.

At 3:30 p.m., UN Legal Counsel Patricia O'Brien; Ngonlardje Mbaidjol, Director of the New York Office of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; and Clarissa Brocklehurst, from UNICEF, will brief on the upcoming 2008 Treaty Event.

**Provisional List of Press Conferences

Just to let you know that, yesterday, we released a list -– this is at your request -– we released a list of confirmed press conferences scheduled for next week.  Updates will be posted both on the Media Alert Calendar and, as of this Friday, under the Press Conferences Schedule on the Spokesperson’s Office website as well.  We have copies of the list as well as more information on how to access the list online available upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.  And this is what I have for you.  I am going to turn over to Enrique if there is nothing for me.  Matthew.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The reported call between the Secretary-General and Mr. Lavrov of Russia; it said that they have agreed how UNOMIG [United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia] would be restructured.  How is that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General, I believe he has also told you, but he has been in almost daily contact with world leaders of the parties concerned on the issue of Georgia and I can confirm that he did speak with the Russian Foreign Minister yesterday and they did discuss Georgia, but I can’t go into further details than that.

Question:  Did they discuss Kosovo as well?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I know that they discussed Georgia.  I don’t have a further read out.  As you know, telephone conversations, it’s usually a tête-à-tête.

Question:  And the meeting that he’s having with Vuk Jeremic, Foreign Minister of Serbia, today, do you know what the topic of that is?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll certainly give you a read out afterwards.  All right, if there is nothing for me, because I’d like to get to the General Assembly Spokesperson’s briefing in full before we get the team from DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations].  Mr. Abbadi.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later informed the reporter that the meeting had been cancelled.]

Question:  Marie, yesterday the new President of the General Assembly called for the General Assembly’s resolutions to be mandatory.  Does the Secretary-General share these views?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of his views on that, but I’m sure the General Assembly Spokesperson can tell you more about that.  Just one minute, I had a question over there.  Yes?

Question:  It’s been reported that Sarah Palin will be coming to the United Nations during the general debate, can you confirm this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ve seen the same reports that you have and I’ve checked around everywhere in this building, at least, to find out if we can get a confirmation, and I cannot.

Question:  Just a follow-up to that:  what’s the protocol?  Can any delegation invite anybody they please?  Is there any sort of rules they have to follow?  Does Ban Ki-moon have any opinion on a delegation using the UN to promote a political agenda on an election?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said, we’re talking about press reports now.  I’ve checked around and have no confirmation from Protocol or anybody that works in this building that she’s on any delegation, and yes, a delegation can bring in anybody they want.  So you need to follow up with their delegation.

Question:  Leaders from South Ossetia and Abkhazia have been denied visas by the State Department; I’m wondering if the Secretary-General has any comment on this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that situation, but maybe the General Assembly Spokesperson has something on that as well.  Back to Matthew and then to you.

Question:  This one on Nicolas Michel, is it a full-time job; what level?  What is he, ASG [Assistant Secretary-General], USG [Under-Secretary-General]…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, he is an Under-Secretary-General and it is not a full-time employment.

Question:  Just a clarification; can you confirm that Ban Ki-moon will be, next week, at Clinton’s Global Initiative?  He’s supposed to speak there.  Do you know what he’s going to talk about or are we going to get a read out?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Whenever we have speeches, we try to give it to you in advance, to check against delivery.  So we’ll plan to do that and hopefully on Friday we’ll be able to give you, just as we just put out the list of press conferences for the week ahead; we hope to have something more detailed on the Secretary-General‘s main activities for next week.

Question:  Do you know what date?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have specific dates as of now.  As you can imagine, his schedule is chockablock for the next week or so.  All right, with that, Enrique.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you, Marie.

Good afternoon to everybody.  Since this is my first briefing, let me start by saying that I am very happy, I am very honoured to be the Spokesperson of the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto, and that I hope I will be able to facilitate your work as a journalist as much as I can.

Now let’s go to business.  As you already know, the opening ceremony took place yesterday and the President already met with you at length.

This morning, the General Assembly began its work with a meeting on the General Committee, which met on the organization of the work of the sixty-third session, on the adoption of the agenda and on the allocation of agenda items.  The plenary is expected to take action on the General Committee’s recommendation on Friday, 19 September.

The draft agenda for the sixty-third session contains 160 items, out of which 11 of those have not been previously considered.  The items not having been previously considered are the following:

-- the item entitled Review and Appraisal of the World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Persons, which was already approved this morning to pass as a recommendation for the General Assembly to decide; 

-- the item entitled Natural Resources and Conflict, the discussion was postponed this morning;

-- the item entitled Commemoration of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Great Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine (inaudible), which was being discussed just a few minutes ago when I left the meeting.

The other items have not been discussed yet, but are the following:

-- the Need to examine the fundamental rights of the 23 million people of the Republic of China (Taiwan) to participate meaningfully in the activities of the United Nations specialized agencies;

-- the item entitled Request for an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on whether the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo is in accordance with international law;

-- another item is Appointment of the judges of the United Nations Appeals Tribunal that have been requested for inclusion by the Secretary-General for allocation to the plenary meeting.

And then, three items, each regarding a request for observer status.  And that’s it basically.  Do you have any questions?  Masood.

Questions and Answers

Question:  I just wanted to know -- what does the President of the General Assembly intend to do, because he laid out a very ambitious agenda.  How does he plan to achieve it, and does he plan to start negotiations, talks with Members of the General Assembly immediately, especially given that he had said that the United Nations resolutions should be made binding (inaudible) and that the embargo on Cuba should be lifted, given that (inaudible)…  How does he plan to achieve these objectives that he set for himself?

Spokesperson:  Well, he has very clear ideas on the kind of action that needs to be taken in the next months because we don’t have much time.  The President is going to be only for one year and, if you read his speech yesterday, he is laying out a plan there, and among other things, he is going to call for three major meetings in the coming months for what he calls the democratization of the United Nations, and I think in his speech, he was very clear of how he is going to approach those issues.  Obviously, they will sit in, since we’re in the UN, with all the member countries.

Question:  So in this general debate in which all the Heads of State will be there, will he be broaching the subject to the (inaudible) Heads of State that will be coming?

Spokesperson:  I cannot hear you very well, Masood, can you speak a little bit louder?

Question:  I said, in this general debate, which is about to begin next week, will he be broaching the subject with the Heads of State, the Heads of Government?

Spokesperson:  Yes, of course.  He is going to be meeting with the Heads of State and the high officials coming to the meeting, and he is going to start already talking about his agenda.  And as you know, the agenda cannot go ahead unless we have a consensus.  Mr. Abadi.

Question:  I would like to ask you the same question I put to Marie before regarding the President’s wish to see the Assembly’s resolutions made mandatory.  Did the President consult with the Secretary-General on this specific topic of making the Assembly’s resolutions mandatory?  Did he have any discussions with the Secretary-General prior to his speech, and what were the discussions?

Spokesperson:  He had several discussions with several member countries before coming, as a preparatory work, and this is one of the elements that has been brought during the conversations, and that this is why he thinks this could be one of the elements for discussions during these coming months.  Obviously, it’s up to the Member States to decide what is going to be the final outcome.  He’s only going to try to give impetus to this process.

Question:  Do you know if any complaints have been filed with the Committee on the Relations with the Host Country about any visas being denied in connection with the general debates, specifically Abkhazia and South Ossetia?  And does the President of the General Assembly have a view on, given that his country’s recognized both territories, on whether the representatives should be able to attend, and should meetings of the Host Country Committee be open?  Do you know this or maybe you’ll find out…

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware.  I’m not aware, and I don’t think the President has any information on this, but I will check for you, Matthew.  In the back?

Question:  Could you tell us when the Credentials Committee is going to be meeting, because I’m assuming they’re taking up at least this letter on the challenge to Myanmar’s seat?

Spokesperson:  We don’t know yet when is the exact date.  I’m going to find out and I will let you know.

Question:  On the provisional list of speakers about a week ago, it said that Venezuela’s Head of State would be speaking, but I heard recently that the Head of State will not be coming here, that he may be going to China.  Do you know anything about that, and why he won’t be there?

Spokesperson:  Can you speak loudly?  I cannot hear you.

Question:  The provisional list of speakers said that the -– Venezuela -- would be represented by the Head of State during the general debate, but I heard yesterday that he will not be speaking and (inaudible) somebody else, and he will be in China.  Do you know anything about that? 

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any information on this.  I can check for you.  Masood?

Question:  Yesterday, in the General Assembly, the President said that there are several countries who are, who have not paid their UN dues fully.  Can you name those countries -- those who have not paid the UN dues fully -- and their memberships could be revoked, or they will not be allowed to vote?  

Spokesperson:  I can check that for you.  I don’t have that information on hand.  I think we are running out of time.  Okay, just one more question. 

Question:  One question –- I don’t like to jump on a small, semantic difference, but you say the President is concerned with the democratization and wishes to foster the democratization of the UN.  Would it not be more proper to say “increase” democratization?  Does he regard the UN as plainly undemocratic?

Spokesperson:  Well, in that regard, you hear his views.  He made it very clear what he thinks about the status of the Organization and how he feels the work of the Organization could be improved.  Okay, thank you very much.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record