26 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 Michèle Montas, 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, all.  I see that there are a few of you here.

** Bolivia Statement

We first have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Bolivia.

At this moment of challenge and change in Bolivia, the Secretary-General wishes to express his strong support for the country’s democracy and democratic institutions. During his meeting with President Evo Morales this week on the margins of the sixty-third United Nations General Assembly, the Secretary-General welcomed the Government’s efforts to pursue dialogue with opponents in search of peaceful, mutually-agreed solutions to the problems facing the country.  He voiced his expectation that all parties will refrain from the use of violence to further their positions.

The Secretary-General welcomes the determined diplomatic efforts of the Association of South American Nations, the UNASUR, the Organization of American States (OAS), the European Union (EU) and the Catholic Church, who -- together with the UN -- are serving as witnesses to the process of dialogue in Bolivia.  He further welcomes the creation of a UNASUR commission of inquiry into the deplorable killings in the Department of Pando, Bolivia, on 11 September. Those responsible should be punished in accordance with the law.

**Secretary-General Address to Group of 77 Meeting

The Secretary-General today addressed the annual meeting of the Foreign Ministers of the Group of 77 bloc, as well as China, and he highlighted the challenges posed by the weakening world economy, steep rises in food and energy prices, and climate change, which all threaten to reverse previous development gains.

This complex development emergency makes it all the more imperative that we take urgent action, he said.  He added that he was heartened by the renewed pledges made at yesterday’s high-level meeting on the MDGs.

The Secretary-General also renewed his appeal to Member States to rapidly conclude the Doha Round of world trade talks. A pro-development Doha Round would be a strong catalyst for integrating developing countries into the international economy. In these turbulent times, he stressed, it is more critical than ever to act.

**Millennium Development Goals Meeting

As you know, yesterday’s high-level event on the Millennium Development Goals yielded at least $16 billion in commitments.  The exact figure is still being tallied, but we should have a better idea by the middle of next week.

At least $4.5 billion was committed for education alone.  That includes $3 billion from the World Bank, and $500 million each from Saudi Arabia and Australia to launch the “Class of 2015” Partnership to get 24 children into school by 2015.

The newly-launched Global Malaria Action plan received more than $3 billion in commitments, with more than half of that coming from the Global Fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Seven billion dollars were committed to reducing mortality and improving maternal health over the next seven years. And at least $1.6 billion was pledged to bolster food security.

In his remarks to the closing plenary, the Secretary-General thanked everyone for their response, calling it an “inspiring day for the United Nations”.  He urged those gathered to forge ahead to accelerate progress on the Goals, adding that it was important to seize the opportunity of the upcoming review conference in Doha on implementation of the Monterrey Consensus.

Later in the evening, the Secretary-General hosted leaders and senior officials from 30 countries at a dinner to discuss the food and climate change crises.  At that event, leaders expressed their support for the Secretary-General’s proposals on increasing productivity, especially for smallholder farmers, and investing more in agricultural development, research and technology transfer.  They also agreed on the urgent need for an ambitious global agreement on climate change, and that the upcoming climate talks in Poznan, Poland, should result in a concrete work programme for negotiations in 2009, and a vision on what a final agreement should contain.


This afternoon at 3:30, here at Headquarters, there will be a meeting of the principals of the Middle East Quartet.  Participants will include the Secretary-General; United States Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice; Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov; the High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy of the European Union (EU), Javier Solana; European Commissioner for External Relations Benita Ferrero-Waldner; French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, on behalf of the EU Presidency; and Quartet Representative Tony Blair.

The principals are expected to issue a joint communiqué at around 5 this evening.  They will then head to Conference Room 4 for a press conference.  Copies of the communiqué will be brought to you in Conference Room 4.

Later this evening, the Secretary-General will host an Iftar dinner, also here at Headquarters. In addition to the Quartet principals, the Secretary-General of the Arab League and 12 Arab foreign ministers will be in attendance.

** Myanmar

Tomorrow, Saturday, the Secretary-General will convene and chair a high-level meeting of the Group of Friends of the Secretary-General on Myanmar.  The Group will hear remarks by the Secretary-General and a briefing by the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, on recent developments in the country.  The Secretary-General looks forward to a constructive discussion.

** Myanmar Credentials

Many of you had asked me about the request from members of Myanmar’s Parliament Union to receive credentials to represent Myanmar in the General Assembly.  That request, you’ll recall, came in a letter to the Secretary-General on 9 September.

I can inform you that the Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Patricia O’Brien, has responded to the letter, noting the Secretary-General’s technical role in reviewing the formal criteria for credentials set forth in the General Assembly’s rules of procedure.  She said that the Secretary-General has decided not to take action on the letter he received, as it does not comply with the formal legal requirements set out in Rule 27 of those Rules of Procedure.  Just for your information, Rule 27 of the Rules of Procedure says credentials shall be issued by the Heads of State or Government or by the Minister For Foreign Affairs of the country.

**Security Council

The Security Council began its work today with an open briefing by the Officer-in-Charge of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Now, Council members are holding an open debate on the Middle East, concerning the question of Israeli settlements.


On cooperation, the Secretary-General will address a seminar this lunchtime on UN-European Union cooperation, and he will say at that session that cooperation between the two organizations goes well beyond crisis management, including such issues as climate change, HIV/AIDS, gender, migration, emergency relief, development and peacebuilding. He will say that the UN and the EU share a responsibility to show that multilateralism works -- that it delivers results and can address the crises of today and tomorrow.

Out on the racks today is a report by the Secretary-General on cooperation between the United Nations and regional and other organizations.  In it, he says that the United Nations and the African Union have deepened their collaborative and mutually reinforcing relationship with the establishment of the AU-UN Hybrid Mission in Darfur.  Among other topics, he mentions his strong support for the League of Arab States’ initiative in solving the political crisis in Lebanon.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

A team from the Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, MONUC, has begun a mission to Dungu, a town in the province of Orientale, where the situation remains tense as fighting rages in nearby North Kivu between Government and rebel forces.  Lately, civilians in the Orientale Province have been the target of looting raids and abductions by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), causing many to flee and schools to close.  The UN team will assess humanitarian and security conditions, focusing on how they affect the exercise of basic human rights.  Among other tasks, the team will seek to identify the victims of recent large-scale human rights violations, determine their number and collect testimonies.

** Somalia

On Somalia, and the latest food security analysis for Somalia, the UN country team calls the ongoing crisis in Somalia the worst humanitarian situation it has observed in 17 years.  The number of civilians in urgent need of assistance has reached a staggering 3.2 million, or 43 per cent of the population. This represents an increase of some 77 per cent since the start of the year.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency says that the fighting now under way in Mogadishu and elsewhere is the most brutal since February 2007.  It has forced some 15,000 people into the Afgooye relief camp.  On average, 5,000 Somalis have managed to cross into Kenya every month, even though the border between Somalia and Kenya is officially closed.   Kenya, meanwhile, has identified additional land to erect another camp.

In spite of the worsening conditions, UNICEF intends to hand out some 8,000 non-food items and press ahead with a feeding programme for 10,000 children under the age of five.

** Haiti

On Haiti, World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Josette Sheeran has begun a two-day visit to Haiti.  She’ll survey the damage caused by recent tropical storms and hurricanes, which have devastated Haiti’s agricultural sector and much of its infrastructure.  Sheeran believes that now is the time for concerted support to the Haitian Government’s search for a sustainable solution to hunger and poverty.  She’ll be travelling along with the CEO of Yum! Brands, which has committed $50 million in cash to the World Food Programme.  The money will be spent on some 200 million school meals, in Haiti and elsewhere, for children over five years.

Meanwhile, WFP says that it has fed half a million people in Haiti with some 2200 tonnes of food.  Even so, the agency continues to appeal for some $54 million to continue its relief work in Haiti.  So far, however, only $1 million was received.

** Nepal

On Nepal, the World Food Programme is mobilizing emergency assistance for up to 170,000 people displaced by severe flooding in western Nepal.  WFP will provide a “mixed-commodity basket” of rice, lentils, vegetable oil and salt.

In the meantime, WFP continues its work in eastern Nepal, where it’s providing relief supplies to some 70,000 people displaced when the River Koshi burst its banks last month.

** China

Regarding the ongoing milk crisis in China, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization today urged affected countries to ensure safe feeding for millions of infants.  They also called on countries to be alert to the possible spread of melamine-contaminated dairy products.

Both agencies have used WHO’s International Food Safety Authorities Network to inform and update the relevant authorities on this food-safety crisis, one of the largest in recent years.  We have more on that upstairs.


The United Nations, together with the Mission of Qatar, Autism Speaks, and the Autism Society of America, launched today the “UN World Focus on Autism” conference on the sidelines of the sixty-third General Assembly, with the concept of an annual observance devoted to promote awareness of the condition.

Co-chairing the event with First Ladies Mrs. Laura Bush of the United States and Mrs. Dorrit Moussaieff of Iceland, the wife of the Secretary-General, Mrs. Ban Soon-taek, in her keynote speech, said that autism is still dismissed as a lost cause in many parts of the world.

Last year, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution declaring 2 April as World Autism Awareness Day, devoted to raising awareness of the signs and the need for early diagnosis of autism.


The head of the International Telecommunication Union, Hamadoun Touré, today said that worldwide mobile cellular subscribers are likely to reach the 4 billion mark before the end of this year.

He added that this growth in mobile phone use means that it’s technically feasible to connect the world to the benefits of information and communications technology.

Such technology has the potential to act as a catalyst to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, he said.  We have more on that upstairs.

**Week Ahead

At 11 am on Monday, in this room, Sergey Lavrov, Foreign Minister of Russia, will hold a press conference on the outcome of the general debate.

The meeting on Myanmar tomorrow is from 11:30 to 12:45 in Conference Room 7, tomorrow, and the Secretary-General is expected to go to the press stakeout immediately afterwards.  I have to say that the meeting itself is closed as usual, but the Secretary-General will come to the stakeout afterwards.

And because tomorrow is a regular workday for the Secretary-General, my office will be staffed.

**Monday High-Level Event on Climate Change

On Monday also, the Secretary-General is hosting a ministerial meeting on “reducing disaster risk in a changing climate”, as part of the lead-up to the upcoming climate change talks in Poznan, Poland, in December.  The event is taking place at 3:30 pm in the ECOSOC Chamber.  It is open to the press.

**Week Ahead

And this week ahead at the UN, you have, of course, the “Week Ahead” in my office, a little later today, but just to remind you that Tuesday, UN Headquarters is closed for an official holiday and that Wednesday would be the first day of China’s Security Council presidency.  And you can have, of course, the Week Ahead upstairs a little later.

Thank you all.  Yes, George?

**Questions and Answers

Question: A quick question, the Security Council meeting on Israeli settlements –- that was starting this morning at 10 am –- so it should be over just about now?

Spokesperson:  It’s still going on.

Question:  There are reports of trucks being looted in Somalia. Have you heard about this?

Spokesperson:  Yes, several trucks from WFP, yes.

Question:  What is the UN’s response to that – that seems like a lot of trucks.  Any precautions…?

Spokesperson:  Still trying to get more info on it.  I heard it… we did confirm the incident, it did happen.  A number of those trucks were hijacked or looted and we’re trying to get more information and we’ll get back to you as soon as I get it.

Question:  I don’t know if UNAMA in Afghanistan can confirm it, but there are these reports of NATO, or in fact, US-run helicopters, being fired at by Pakistan.  The US said it happened over Afghan territory, so I’m wondering if it’s in the mandate of UNAMA to look into that, as, for example, they did in Abkhazia.  Has UNAMA taken any steps to determine what’s happened on this potential threat…?

Spokesperson:  We can check with the mission and check on their mandate for you.

Question:  Monica Guttierrez from Television Dominicana.  I’d like to know what the Secretary-General is doing, the United Nations is doing about domestic violence against women, to reduce it around the world?

Spokesperson: In fact, a lot is being done about it and we had actually a full press conference concerning domestic violence right here at the United Nations.  We can get you all the information you need and I can direct you to the people who can really help you document that issue and what the UN is doing.

You’re welcome.

Yes, one last one?

Question:  At this press conference by the President of Cyprus he said, that Lakhdar would be travelling to Cyprus –- I wasn’t sure in what capacity.  Is he a  full-time UN employee?

Spokesperson:  He’s not full-time, but he works as a consultant for the UN on a number of issues.

Question:  Do you know if his trip to Cyprus would have anything to do with…  would he be going in any UN capacity, or none at all?

Spokesperson:  I can check that for you.

Question:  And I’ve heard a lot of people ask this, and maybe it’s in development or maybe it’s coming out, but is there a way to get a simple chart of the $16 billion commitments, who made them, how much and what each one is for?

Spokesperson:  Go to the website and you’ll see – they’ve been updating it practically twice a day, and you can get – there was one evaluation done at 4 o’clock yesterday, there was another one done last night, and there was another one this morning.  So you can check the numbers –- they are tallying them because they have to compare to find out exactly whether there are duplications, whether in some cases those are promises that cover, how many years they cover… they have to evaluate what exactly it means, so they are tallying the results right now, but as soon as they get a number confirmed, it is on their website.  So you can have that.

Thank you so much.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

This morning, the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d´Escoto, attended the annual meeting of the Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the Group of 77.  In his opening remarks, the President warned that:

Today, we must be vigilant that the threat of global recession not be used as a pretext for breaking promises.  We must use all the means available to us to prevent backsliding.’

I urge all of us here to work diligently to ensure that the Doha Review Conference significantly enhances our global partnership for development.

Billions are looking to us to place people-centred development at the centre of our concerted global action.  We have the opportunity and we have the forum.  We must show that solidarity is indeed the greatest single force for promoting life with dignity for all.

And I have a reminder of the latest figures that we have on the attendance for the general debate, that is we have 76 Heads of State and 36 Heads of Government.

And that’s all I have for you today unless you have any other questions.

No questions?  That’s an easy one.  Thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record