18 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.

Sorry we had to begin a little late today so you could all cover the Secretary-General and the launching of the UNIFEM Report.

**Press Conferences Today

There is another press conference today 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, who will brief on the upcoming 2008 Treaty Event.  And following my briefing, you will have the General Assembly Spokesperson, Enrique Yeves.

**Secretary-General Appoints Two New Special Envoys on Climate Change

I’ll start with the Secretary-General’s appointments of two new Special Envoys on Climate Change.  The Secretary-General has appointed two new Special Envoys:  Festus Mogae, former President of Botswana, and Srgjan Kerim, former President of the United Nations General Assembly and former Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

Climate change is one of the Secretary-General’s top priorities.  He is determined to stay proactively engaged in this global process and continuously urge the international community to intensify its efforts.

Mr. Mogae, as the third President of Botswana, provided exemplary service to his country.  Dr. Kerim brings with him a wealth of experience in the international political and economic affairs and knowledge of the United Nations system, including as former Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.

The Secretary-General’s new Special Envoys, together with the other two already-appointed Special Envoys -- Gro Harlem Brundtland, former Prime Minister of Norway and former chair of the World Commission on Environment and Development, and Ricardo Lagos Escobar, former President of Chile -- will support the Secretary-General in his consultations with Heads of State and of Government, as well as other key stakeholders, to facilitate progress in the ongoing UNFCCC [United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change] negotiations in Poznan with a view to reaching an ambitious, comprehensive, inclusive and ratifiable post-2012 agreement in December 2009 in Copenhagen.  And you can have more information on these two upstairs in the Spokesperson’s office.

**Security Council

And the Security Council, as you know, just held an open meeting and finished consultations a short while ago on the Middle East.  In his remarks during the open meeting, the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, said that 10 months after negotiations were re-launched at Annapolis, the Middle East peace process remains at a crossroads. 

He said that the largely unsung success story in the region is the gradual but systematic process of Palestinian self-empowerment that has taken place in the West Bank under the leadership of President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad.  The Palestinian Authority continues to make real strides in the implementation of its security plan, he added.  In that context, he noted that the casualty rate from violent clashes this past month is one of the lowest in recent years.

Serry said he was pleased to note that Israel had released 198 Palestinian prisoners last month as a goodwill gesture to President Abbas.  But over 600 obstacles to movement remain across the West Bank, he added.  Serry also noted intensified settler violence this month, stressing that credible action to bring perpetrators of such crimes to justice has been lacking, and is essential.

On Gaza, Serry said the humanitarian situation remains extremely grim, with movement into and out of the Strip still largely restricted.  UN priority projects in Gaza, which the Secretary-General has raised with Prime Minister Olmert, remain stalled as a result of the shortage of materials in the Strip, he added.

We have Serry’s full remarks upstairs and we were told that he would be heading to the stakeout shortly to take your questions.  And while on the topic of the Security Council, the Secretary-General will be having his monthly Security Council luncheon this afternoon.

And just one more thing from the Serry briefing this morning, he also mentioned that the Secretary-General will be in the coming days holding a number of important meetings to review the peace process and chart the way ahead, including the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting next Monday, the Quartet on 26 September, and also an iftar following that Quartet member meeting.  The dinner will include the Arab partners.

**Human Rights Council -– Middle East

And also on the Middle East, the Human Rights Council this morning discussed the report of its High-Level Fact-Finding Mission to Beit Hanoun in Gaza.  You’ll recall that the Mission was established by the Human Rights Council at its third special session of 15 November 2006 which focused on the human rights situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a member of the Mission, presented the report, saying there was a possibility that the shelling of Beit Hanoun constituted a war crime.  The Archbishop and Christine Chinkin, who was also on the Mission, gave a press conference on the report today in Geneva, and we have the transcript of that upstairs.

** Zimbabwe

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has just issued a statement on Zimbabwe.  In it, Under-Secretary-General and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes says that the humanitarian community there is moving quickly to provide assistance to those in need, particularly the most vulnerable. 

This is a critical moment, coming immediately after the peaceful political resolution and the lifting of restrictions on field operations of non-governmental organizations, he says.  Already, NGOs [non-governmental organizations] and UN agencies are re-establishing life-saving operations; they expect to reach nearly 3 million people across Zimbabwe by next month.

Holmes adds that the 2008 Consolidated Humanitarian Appeal is currently funded at 60 per cent of the $394 million required.  Critically underfunded sectors include emergency agriculture and emergency education.  Funding for health, water and sanitation also remains low.  Holmes calls on the donor community to step up its funding, adding that the Government of Zimbabwe must also ensure safe, unfettered access by the international community.  And you can read that statement upstairs.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the overall disengagement plan envisaged by the Goma Acts of Engagement, prepared by the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), has been approved by the Congolese Government in a meeting that took place this week in Goma.

Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the country, said he was satisfied that this big step was taken.  “What counts now is action,” he said.  “Time is passing for the thousands of displaced people who must return home in full security.”  There is a press release from MONUC upstairs.

Meanwhile, UNICEF reports that increased fighting over the last two and a half weeks is causing more suffering to children in North Kivu province.  Clashes between different armed groups have forced over 100,000 people to flee their homes, social services to close, and humanitarian organizations to suspend assistance.  In response, UNICEF is scaling up its existing emergency programmes.  And it has more information in a press release upstairs.


Available as a document today is a report, transmitted by the Secretary-General to the Security Council, of a fact-finding mission that visited Djibouti and Ethiopia recently in an effort to deal with the recent crisis between the two countries.  The team notes that Eritrea refused to receive the UN fact-finding mission, meaning that only Djibouti’s version of events was made available to the group.  You can pick up a copy of the report upstairs and, as you know, it was discussed by the Security Council yesterday.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) jointly called on all parties to the conflict in Afghanistan to take a pause on the International Day of Peace, which will be observed on 21 September.  Those three agencies said that the pause is needed to allow safe access so that polio immunization of children can take place, and so that the sanctity of schools will be respected.

They note that, so far this year, a total of 199 school attacks have taken place, resulting in 37 deaths and 33 injured.  Meanwhile, peace is needed so that polio immunizations can be conducted from 21-23 September, to vaccinate 1.8 million newborns and children under the age of five.  There is a press release, as well as today’s press briefing notes, from Kabul with more details upstairs.

** Cyprus

And just a quick update on the negotiations process in Cyprus, Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat today continued their negotiations in the UN Protected Area in Nicosia -- on the questions of governance and power-sharing.  They have agreed to resume negotiations on these questions on 8 October.

** Caucasus

The Director-General of the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Koïchiro Matsuura, today voiced concern over the safety of journalists in the Caucasus.  Saying that the killing of journalists is a crime against society as a whole, he called on all authorities in the region to do everything possible to improve the safety of media workers.

His comments came in reaction to reports about the killings of a reporter from the Republic of Dagestan and the owner of an independent news website in the Republic of Ingushetia.  Both republics are in the Russian Federation.  And there is more information on that upstairs as well.


On malaria, the global malaria burden remains enormous, according to a new report from the World Health Organization.  But at the same time, access to malaria control interventions, especially bednets in Africa, increased sharply between 2004 and 2006.

For the first time, three African countries reported dramatic reductions in malaria deaths by 50 per cent or more.   Eritrea, Rwanda and Sao Tome and Principe achieved this through a mix of bednet distribution, indoor spraying, improved access to treatment and advances in disease surveillance.

Outside of Africa, a fall in malaria deaths was also reported in Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Philippines, Suriname, Thailand and Viet Nam.  And there is more information on this upstairs as well.

**Food Crisis

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today warned that an additional 75 million people went hungry in 2007, as a result of rising food prices. 

Global hunger rolls grew to more than 900 million, even as the world became richer and produced more food than ever, FAO says.  It adds that hunger has a direct effect on productivity and income, which in turn perpetuates the cycle of poverty.

FAO is calling for urgent action to make food accessible to the most vulnerable, and help small producers raise their output and earn more.

And in this connection, we wanted to alert you that tomorrow morning there will be a background press briefing in this Room on the global food crisis and the international response, in advance of the 25 September High-Level Evening Event on the Food and Climate Change Crises, convened by the Secretary-General.  Tomorrow’s briefing, which will be attributable to a senior UN official, will take place at 11 a.m. here in 226.

**World Bank

And finally, in response to mounting global challenges, the World Bank Group has this year increased its support to the developing world by 11 per cent.

In the fiscal year that ended in June, the Group provided about $38 billion to developing countries.  That money was used to spearhead an effort to deliver funds rapidly to nations hit by food price shocks, to replenish the fund for the world’s poorest countries, and to encourage job growth and foreign direct investment.  And there is more in a press release on that subject upstairs as well.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

I believe that’s all I have for you.  I mentioned to you the background briefing tomorrow morning here at 11 a.m. and our guest at the noon briefing, John Holmes, UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, who will brief on the food crisis in the Horn of Africa.  And that’s what I have for you.  We have the General Assembly President Spokesperson here in the back.  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Last year, there was a high-level meeting on Afghanistan, has the Secretary-General done any review of the decisions taken at that time; one year now?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, the matter is something that the Secretary-General is very focused on.  He reports to the Security Council on the mission he has there in Afghanistan.  There’s no specific meeting involving the Secretary-General on Afghanistan as of now, but, as you know, during the sidelines of the general debate, the Secretary-General meets with dozens and dozens of leaders and all the critical areas that he is focusing on do come up in these meetings.

Question:  Marie, yesterday there was another (inaudible) attack by the United States inside Pakistani territory.  The Secretary-General has now commented on these attacks, but does he plan to take up this matter with President Bush when he meets him at the UN General Assembly?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We will provide you with readouts of the bilateral meetings that you are interested in.  So, we’ll gladly provide that for you when the time comes.

Question:  At the moment, he doesn’t have any position?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General’s position on civilian casualties has been well known and, as you know, that’s a subject that has been raised a number of times in the briefing.

Question:  There has been a call today from the International Transport Workers’ Federation.  It’s about piracy off the coast of Somalia.  It called on IMO [International Maritime Organization] and the UN to take real action to make the waters in the area less dangerous.  And they’re saying that the June resolution from the Security Council isn’t really having any effect that it was meant to.  Is there any reaction from the UN?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have any specific reaction to the press report that you’re mentioning.  But regarding the issue of piracy off the coast of Somalia, this is an issue in which the Secretary-General has paid a great deal of attention to.  It’s a very serious matter and he has discussed it with Security Council members.  As you know, through the Council, at the Secretary-General’s recommendation, they have arranged naval escorts of WFP [World Food Programme] deliveries.  As you know, the country providing this escort service currently is Canada and the Secretary-General hopes that the international community will be able to continue this naval escort so that WFP can continue to take care of the 2 million refugees as well as displaced persons.

Question:  Who will be participating in the International Day of Peace with the Secretary-General ringing the bell?  And will the young violinist, under this Director Yukako Tarumi, will she be part of it?  And what about the Messengers of Peace?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me get back to you on that.  I am not an expert on this event, but I am sure somebody is and we can get back with all those details.  Yes, in the back?

Question:  Has Secretary-General made any comment about the very, very serious financial crisis in this country, which has global repercussions and is probably disrupting everything?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the economic slowdown; particularly with what we’ve seen recently.  His view on this is that this could give a very serious negative impact to the overall capacity of the international community, national Governments, particularly the developed countries.  And he has expressed some concerns that this may affect the capacity, their capacity in realizing the Millennium Development Goals, for which he has attached priority and, therefore, also in that context, he finds it would be highly important at this time that we seriously look at the stalled multilateral trade negotiations, the Doha Round, so that they can resume so that the international multilateral trading system can be resumed.

Question:  Marie, today this world report on women; who answers to women, the Secretary-General has just spoken.  But far from this glossy paper report, is the Secretary-General or his office aware of all the killing of women in Muslim nations, especially in Pakistan, where 3,000-4,000 women are killed in the name of honour every year?  And just recently there have been five women who have been buried alive, and, in today’s papers, there are over a dozen women killed in different parts of the country in the name of honour.  Is the Secretary-General going to take up this matter with the President of Pakistan in the General Assembly?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, I’ll have to give you a readout on his bilateral meetings including the one with the President of Pakistan following his meeting with him.  Okay, if there is… You can’t go through a briefing without a question from Matthew!

Question:  No, I wanted to ask, this call that Secretary-General Ban had with Sergei Lavrov about Georgia.  The Russian Foreign Ministry has put out a statement saying that they agreed that the Abkhaz authority should have more input into the mission and that there should be a UN presence in South Ossetia.  What’s the UN’s readout of that?  Either of what they agreed to or…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, I have nothing beyond what I told you yesterday.  I confirmed to you that the Secretary-General spoke with the Russian Foreign Minister as part of his nearly daily efforts in reaching out and speaking to world leaders on this subject; Georgia obviously came up in it, but beyond that, I have nothing further that I can talk to you about a tête-à-tête phone conversation.  And as you know, I can draw attention to the remarks by his top peacekeeping official yesterday on the mission in Georgia and his remarks that were in response to questions about that subject yesterday.

Question:  In the follow-up to this question of the global financial meltdown, Governments all over the world sort of have announced their response to it saying things like New York State is, going to kind of like cut its budget.  They announced how it impacts them, as well as, obviously, the wider goals.  How have recent events -- is there any thought process for adjusting the UN’s budget, and also…including the pension funds?  Some people are saying that there has been some effect on it by this.  What’s the actual impact of…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You’ll have to talk to the Member States about that, I have nothing more solid than what I just mentioned in response to the earlier question.

Question:  (inaudible)…on the UN Pension Fund…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing immediately available on that subject.  I think as this crisis is unfolding now, these are issues that are being looked at very closely by institutions around the world, including the United Nations.

Question:  Can we maybe get a briefing by either the new Comptroller that’s come in or Mr. Sach, as the Pension Fund representative of the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We can make that request.  We’ll have the General Assembly Spokesperson, Enrique.  Have a good afternoon.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

Let me start by giving you the status on where we are at the General Assembly.

Yesterday, as I mentioned, there was a meeting of the General Committee and they discussed agenda items for the sixty-third session.  To make this useful for you, I’m not going to go through the long list of issues, which is already available in the documents list.

Let me only flag that, out of the 11 items which have not previously been considered, which we were talking about yesterday, the Committee deferred, the Committee postponed, three of them for inclusion:  one on natural resources and conflict; one on the commemoration of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Great Famine of 1932-1933 in Ukraine; and a request on an observer status.

As I said, these were postponed for further consideration.

There was one item rejected, the one on Taiwan, and finally, there was one issue, on allocation, which was also postponed, and that is the allocation of the Human Rights Council report.

Let me clarify that this is not an issue of inclusion on the agenda.  It is only an issue on whether it should be discussed, basically whether it should be discussed at the General Assembly or discussed at the Third Committee, which is dealing, as you know, with human rights issues.

The plenary is expected to take action on the General Committee’s recommendations tomorrow, Friday, 19 September.

Now, before I give the floor to you for questions, let me go back to some of the questions you asked me yesterday.

On the arrears status, a question asked, I think, by Masood, there is a public document, A/63/350, in which it states the current situation.  There are right now seven countries that might lose their vote at the General Assembly if they don’t bring their contribution up to date.  I have the document here with a list in case anyone wants to take a look at it.

There was also another question, on the level of participation for the different meetings we are going to have next week.

Okay, the latest figures we have for the general debate which, as you all know, starts on Tuesday the 23rd, we have confirmed for the time being 82 Heads of State, 41 Heads of Government, then for the African needs meeting that starts on Monday, 22nd, we have 34 Heads of State and 11 Heads of Government, and for the high-level meetings on MDGs [Millennium Development Goals], which is going to take place on Thursday the 25th, as you also know, we have 57 Heads of State and 38 Heads of Government.

On another question, I think by Matthew, about whether the President of the General Assembly has been informed about any problems on visas addressed to the Committee on Relations with the Host Country, I have checked up and up to a few minutes ago, the Committee had not received any formal complaints.

And that’s basically what I have for you.


**Questions and Answers

Question:  I asked the President in the press conference whether he was planning to participate in an ecumenical meeting with Ahmadinejad and he said, “If I’m invited, I’ll go.”  But his name appears on the list of people that’ll speak there.  Is he going to be there or not?

Spokesperson:  Well, he now has been invited.  Because when you asked the question, he had not been, but he has now been invited, and, if the meeting takes place, he’s going to participate.

Question:  Is that the only event that happens during that week where he’s going to participate outside (inaudible)?

Spokesperson:  There are many other events; next week is going to be very busy, not just for the President of the General Assembly, but busy for all of us, and with many meetings going around, and I don’t have his agenda right now, but he’s been invited to several and he’s going to try to attend as many as he can.

Question:  (inaudible).

Spokesperson:  I have to check it.  I have to check it.

Question:  I want to confirm the Nigerian Heads of State (inaudible) there are 82 Heads of State on (inaudible) Nigeria?

Spokesperson:  I have to check that for you because I don’t have the breakdown; it was just given half an hour ago, the latest breakdown figures, but I don’t have them by countries.

Question:  The provisional list of speakers for the general debate listed the Head of State of Venezuela, but I was told that he’s not coming.  Do you know anything about that?

Spokesperson:  I think the same applies to the question of your colleague from Nigeria -- I don’t have the breakdown.  I think the wisest thing to do is to check with the Mission since they are the ones who know to the very last moment changes that go on.  I gave you the figures, but I don’t have the breakdown by country.  Any further questions?  Okay, thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record