2 October 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.

**Press Conference Today

At 1:30 p.m. today, Cheick Sidi Diarra, Under-Secretary-General, Special Adviser on Africa and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, joins other speakers to brief on the implementation of the Almaty Programme of Action for Landlocked Developing Countries.

**Security Council

The new Security Council President, Ambassador Zhang Yesui of China, is holding bilateral discussions with other Council members on the programme of work for this month, and Council consultations on that topic are expected to take place tomorrow.

Once those consultations are done, Ambassador Zhang expects to meet with you in this room tomorrow to discuss the Council’s work over the coming month.  That may happen right after the noon briefing.

** Iraq

On Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, today said that the United Nations is concerned at the extraction of an article dealing with minority rights from the provincial election law that was passed last week.

He said he was “surprised and disappointed” that the provision, Article 50, was not included in the provincial elections law, and he called for it to be reinstated into the legislation as soon as possible, so minorities can participate in the upcoming elections.  Those elections are to be held sometime before 31 January 2009.

De Mistura emphasized that protecting the human rights of minorities is fundamental to a democratic Iraq. He calls on all political blocs to reintroduce Article 50 into the law, no later than 15 October, when the Independent High Electoral Commission opens the process to nominate candidates.

De Mistura also strongly condemned the series of criminal bombings in Baghdad and other cities in the last few days, which killed dozens of innocent civilians and wounded scores more.  He described these recent attacks as particularly abhorrent, targeting men, women and children as they prepared to break their fast and celebrate the Eid holiday or travelled on their way for pilgrimage.  We have that statement upstairs.

** Guinea-Bissau

The Secretary-General’s latest report on Guinea-Bissau is out on the racks today.  In it, the Secretary-General says he remains concerned over the volatile security and political situation there, especially when the country is preparing for crucial elections.

He also expresses concern that drug trafficking –- the volume of which is much greater than previously thought –- and organized crime are threatening to undermine peacebuilding efforts.  He notes that the country is reportedly becoming not just a transit hub but also a major marketplace for the drug trade.

The Secretary-General reiterates his call to the Security Council to consider establishing a panel of experts to investigate drug trafficking and organized crime in Guinea-Bissau, with the possibility of taking measures, including punitive, targeted sanctions, to reverse the growth in drug trafficking.

** Sierra Leone

The UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone, or UNIPSIL, was established yesterday in Freetown.  It replaces UNIOSIL, which completed its mandate on 30 September.  Authorized by Security Council resolution 1829 two months ago, UNIPSIL will coordinate the work of all UN agencies, funds and programmes, as well as regional and international partners, to ensure the country’s long-term peace, security and development.  It will also work closely with the Peacebuilding Commission.

The UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone has approximately 70 staff and is led by Executive Representative of the Secretary-General, Michael von der Schulenburg.  There is more information in a press release upstairs.

**Human Rights

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, held her first press conference in Geneva today.  She began by highlighting a new project by her office, called the Dignity and Justice for Detainees Initiative.

The Initiative’s purpose is to draw attention to the rights of people who are deprived of their liberty and who are being held in prisons and other places of detention.  Another goal is to ensure that conditions in prisons and other places of detention are brought in line with minimum international standards.

Pillay stressed that her office is not against prisons and detention centres per se –- but they should be reserved for those who really deserve to be there according to the extensive, detailed and fundamentally sound international standards governing criminal justice.

Fielding several questions on Guantanamo, Pillay said that detainees there have the right to a prompt review of the reasons for their detention.  They also have an unequivocal right not to be sent to places where there is a risk of torture, she added.

In response to a question about Myanmar, Pillay said that the Government’s release of seven political prisoners last week was a beginning, but still a long way off when one considers that there are 2,000 activists in detention.  We have a transcript of the full press conference upstairs.

** Zimbabwe

According to the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, the humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe is deteriorating and will continue to worsen through 2008 and into 2009.

It is estimated that up to 3.8 million people would be food insecure between now and the end of the year.  During the peak of the hunger season in January-March 2009, nearly half of the population of 12 million would require food assistance, meaning over 5 million people.  People affected by the fast-track land reform programmes, eviction campaigns and violence are among the most vulnerable population.

John Holmes says there is a very large resource gap, and aid is needed now, and that although almost half of a year of humanitarian service delivery was lost, there is still time to avert increased human suffering.  Challenges include critical shortages of all basic services, including food security, clean water, health services, education, and the so-called “brain drain”.  The crisis affects both rural and urban areas.

Critical needs exist for aid to emergency agriculture and emergency education.  The window of opportunity for the first planting season is very narrow —- an estimated five to six weeks.  All pledges must urgently be turned into actual contributions.

** Sri Lanka

Over in Sri Lanka, a United Nations convoy carrying 650 metric tons of food crossed the Omanthai border this morning, en route to 200,000 civilians displaced behind the lines of confrontation in Vanni.  The convoy will transport and distribute food to four locations to the east of Kilinochchi, where the majority of displaced civilians are concentrated.

The convoy is accompanied by seven UN international staff who will monitor the initial distribution.  The convoy was reduced from 60 trucks to 51 after explosives and other illicit items were discovered on government-provided trucks that were due to join the convoy.

The United Nations reiterates that humanitarian convoys are protected under international humanitarian law, and condemns the attempt by unknown persons to disrupt the aid effort.  Another UN humanitarian convoy is planned to be dispatched next week.


Just a month after floods devastated a huge swathe of Nepal’s eastern region, floods have once again ravaged the Himalayan republic, this time in the west.  The latest spate of flooding hit eight districts in the mid- and far west.  The United Nations World Food Programme is responding by mobilizing urgently-needed food resources to feed up to 170,000 people displaced by the floods.

Those affected in both the east and the west come from some of the country’s poorest, most marginalized communities.  WFP is providing them with mixed-commodity relief supplies including rice, lentils, vegetable oil and salt.  Daily cooked, fortified food is also being given to vulnerable adults and children.

** Haiti

We have an update from the World Food Programme (WFP) on hurricane relief efforts in Haiti.  WFP has now supplied food for 536,000 people since the launch of the operation.

About two thirds of those receiving rations are in Gonaïves, the city worst hit by flooding.  Flood waters there have receded, leaving behind just mud in most parts of the city.  WFP is now able to reach Gonaïves by road from Port-au-Prince, and is currently delivering 90 tons of food a day.  In all, WFP has distributed nearly 2,800 metric tons of rice, beans, cooking oil, fresh water and other supplies.  There is more information upstairs.

**World Bank

According to a new report, made public by the World Bank today, between one fourth and one half of income inequality in Caribbean and Latin American adults is due to childhood circumstances beyond their control.  These include race, gender, birthplace or the parent's education or social status.

The report marks the first time the World Bank has used the Human Opportunity Index. The index shows the role personal circumstances play in gaining or preventing access to those services needed for a productive life.  There is more information in a press release upstairs.

**Former Yugoslavia

A Serb accused of crimes committed in Kosovo in 1999, Nikola Šainović, was granted temporary provisional release to Serbia on compassionate grounds by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia.  That provisional release will last until 17 October and is subject to a number of specific conditions, including 24-hour surveillance by Serbian authorities.

Šainović, along with five other people, has been charged with deportation, forcible transfer, murder and persecutions of thousands of Kosovo Albanians and other non-Serbs.  Closing arguments in his trial concluded on 27 August 2008.

**Secretary-General Remarks

Today is the International Day of Non-Violence, an occasion that coincides with the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi.  Addressing the General Assembly this morning next to a bust of Gandhi, the Secretary-General said that the rights of too many people around the world are still violated.  That is why the Mahatma’s legacy is more important than ever.

The Secretary-General also addressed a meeting on the needs of landlocked developing countries this morning.  He said it is vital that landlocked developing countries increase their volume of exports in order to meet the Millennium Development Goals.  We have both sets of remarks upstairs.


Each year, more than 2 million people die from alcohol-related causes.  That’s why the World Health Organization (WHO) was asked by its Member States at the World Health Assembly last May to develop a global strategy to combat the harmful use of alcohol.

All parties with an interest in this topic are now invited to share their views in a public hearing being organized by WHO.  The one-month, web-based hearing will start tomorrow and run through the end of the month.

A number of the submissions received will form part of the documentation to be considered and discussed at future meetings on the harmful use of alcohol, including one next month with economic operators from the alcohol industry.  We have more on that upstairs.


The United States retailer Marshalls is partnering with the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) on its “Say No to Violence against Women” campaign.

Over the next two weeks, Marshalls will help UNIFEM add at least 150,000 signatures to the online “Say No” campaign.  The retailer will also donate $1 for every shoe purchased, up to $150,000.  There’s more information upstairs.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

At 11:15 a.m. tomorrow, General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann will provide a wrap-up of the general debate.

At 12:30 p.m., Ambassador Zhang Yesui, Permanent Representative of China and President of the Security Council for October, will brief on the Council’s programme of work for the month.

Alan Doss, the Secretary General’s Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, will go to the stakeout tomorrow after he briefs the Council on the security situation in the DRC.  We will let you know the precise time when the Security Council issues its plan of work for the month of October.  We don’t have it yet.

That’s all.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Forgive me if missed it, but did you say anything about raising the security level and pulling out family members of UN staffers from Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  I didn’t say anything, but we have, as standard UN procedures, regular security assessments, and they take place at every duty place around the world.  Due to recent attacks in Pakistan, we determined it was appropriate to take the precautionary measure to raise security levels in the country, in Pakistan, so that family members of staff could temporarily be relocated to other sites.  I’m talking about dependents, family members.  All essential staff will remain on duty and all UN work will proceed as normal.

Question:  The whole country, not just Islamabad?

Spokesperson:  No, it covers some specific regions.

Question:  Does it also affect part of Afghanistan?

Spokesperson:  No, it is just for Pakistan.

Question:  When is the Secretary-General planning to have a press conference?

Spokesperson:  It’s going to be next Tuesday.  He promised the first Tuesday of every month, so he’ll try to stick with it, unless he travels or he has a really demanding schedule.  We’ll try to stick to this.

Question:  What time?

Spokesperson:  I’ll let you know, but probably it will be 11:30.

Question:  It’s reported in the Cambodian press that the Secretary General, when he met with representatives of both Cambodia and Thailand about their border dispute, he was portrayed as saying he told them to solve this by themselves, “dashing the hopes of the Cambodian Government” for an intervention. Is that accurate?

Spokesperson:  I will have to get back to you, look back at the notes taken during that meeting.  I cannot say about the “dashing of hopes,” but probably that part is the conclusion taken by the writer.

Question:  Is it true he said don’t look to the UN…?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t think he said that.  He did say –- and I will check the notes on that for you on this –- he probably did say, he encouraged them to come to a conclusion through bilateral talks.  Yes?

Question:  Is there a reaction from the Secretary-General regarding the decision of Iran to withdraw from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have anything on that.

Thank you all so very much.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

Today, as you know, is the International Day of Non-Violence, a subject which is very much close to heart of the President of the GA, Miguel d’Escoto.  So this morning, in opening remarks of the plenary session, which are, by the way, available also always online, he underlined: “From the groundbreaking work of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, to the ongoing example of the Free Gaza movement, we can discern the transforming power of non-violence at the crossroads in our history.  Having developed the means of our own extinction by war, we are called by truth, at the very centre of our being, to turn to a non-violent way of transformation into a just and peaceful future.”

Also today, at the opening of the high-level meeting devoted to the midterm review of the Almaty Programme for Landlocked Developing Countries, President d’Escoto said, and I quote, “Today, high trade transactions costs remain the single most important obstacle to the equitable and competitive access by landlocked countries to global markets.”  And I’m sure you are all familiar with it, but just in case, for those of you who are not, the Almaty Programme of Action for underdeveloped countries was adopted in 2003 in Almaty, Kazakhstan, and it aims to build partnerships to help these countries overcome the problems of landlocked countries caused by their lack of territorial access to the sea and their remoteness and isolation from world markets.

And finally, as Michèle said before, to confirm that there will be a press conference tomorrow by President d’Escoto in this room at 11:15 a.m.  So you can save your questions for tomorrow, but if you cannot, I’m all yours.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Is there going to be some discussion about what’s happening with Internet development within the Economic and Social Council?  Do you know when this is going to come up?

Spokesperson:  I think they’re discussing actually today the programme of work of the different committees.  I can find out definitely for you, but I think it is today when they are deciding on the agenda on the provisional timetable.  Matthew?

Question:  In the absence of our colleague, Benny, I’ll ask this question, did he refer to the Free Gaza movement?  If so, what exactly do you mean by that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think it’s pretty clear in his speech today.  As I said, he gave the example of the Free Gaza movement as one of the non-violent actions that it’s worth mentioning.  As you know, the Free Gaza movement has succeeded in breaking the siege of Gaza by non-violent direct action.  After sailing from Cyprus, 44 activists from 17 countries landed in two small wooden boats at Gaza port on 23 August 2008, where they were greeted by many people.  This non-violent initiative allowed Palestinians to enter and leave freely their own country for the first time in over 60 years.  As I said before, President d’Escoto made this quote in his speech.

Question:  When does the President intend to resume negotiations on reforms of the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  What you call the negotiations -- the dialogue to further democratize the organization he has already started -- this is an ongoing process.  It was during the general debate he was meeting with several world leaders, and as soon as it finished, already yesterday he was meeting several ambassadors discussing that issue.  So we don’t have a precise date of when this is going to be a formal meeting, but he has already been in action on that particular issue.

Question:  Can you say what the difference will be between the intergovernmental negotiations and the meeting of the open-ended working group?  Will intergovernmental negotiations be more twosomes, or threesomes, or what is the difference in the process of these two?

Spokesperson:  Right now, as it stands, as you know, the ball, to put it in his words, is in the General Assembly, in the plenary of the General Assembly, and it’s up to Members now to decide how the ball is going to be played.  And this is why the President is now talking to the different permanent missions, different ambassadors, to see the different positions, and what is best way forward.  As you know, the President already announced he intends to convey three high-level meetings on this particular issue, but right now, he’s trying to see with the Member countries what is the right timetable and to see what are their different positions and what is the best cost-effective way to go forward.

Question:  To follow-up on the follow-up.  What is distinctive or particular regarding these consultations in the General Assembly on the best way to reform the Security Council –- it has been taking place for the past 25 years…

Spokesperson:  Correct.  I think what is different now, first of all, is the spirit among several Member countries at the General Assembly, which have made it very clear to the President that we should move forward, and we cannot stay the same way as we’ve been for 15 years.  There is a huge political backing for the President to take action on this.  That, first of all, is a very important element and I think everybody’s aware of that.  I don’t want to go into details on that right now, because, as I said, already during the general debate, before and right after, the President was already meeting yesterday with a few ambassadors to discuss what is going to be the best approach forward.  As I said, he’s going to be here tomorrow and I will save some of the details for him to provide to you himself, if that’s okay with you.

Question:  I noticed there’s a photo showing the President of the General Assembly meeting with the Vice-President of Cuba, Mr. Machado.  Were they meeting, was it just more photo-ops or was there some back and forth.  Can you say what was said in the meeting?

Spokesperson:  That’s part of regular meetings that the President has with all delegations.  When there’s a Head of State or Government, we will have pictures taken normally by the Department of Public Information, but also by whoever was the media companion of that delegation.  So it’s part of the normal procedure.  He met those delegations as he met dozens of delegations.

Question:  For example, this delegation raised complaints about how they were being treated by the host country or UN system?

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of any complaints being said to the President.  However, I was not present at that meeting.  There were many meetings going on, but I can check that for you, certainly, but I’m not aware.

Question:  You said a few minutes ago, can one conclude the President is under pressure to act and decide on the Security Council reform?  Where is the pressure coming from?  Specific group of countries, pertaining to specific regions, or is this wide geographical representational pressure?

Spokesperson:  Well, with all my respect, I don’t think “pressure” is the right word.  It would be much better to say that he is echoing the political environment right now and it is not something new.  As he put it very much forward to all of you, since day one, this is the most important issue, the democratization of the United Nations, that he’s getting from Member countries, to act upon.  And he’s getting from most of the countries -- he always uses the count of at least 85 per cent of the countries who are already saying, look, we need to change the way the Organization works.  This is an organization of the twentieth century, 1945, post-world-war, and we need to have an organization which reflects the needs of the member countries in the twenty-first century.  This is going to be one of the most important issues, if not the most, for President d’Escoto.

Question:  If they’re asking him to act, decide, and the word “pressure” is not the correct one, which word do you use to describe it and again, which countries, without naming them, geographical regions are asking him to act and decide?

Spokesperson:  He has met with all the regional groups, and also individually, and you can imagine some of the regional groups from Latin America, Asia, Africa, have been very active in these demands, and more than demands, they’re putting together their opinion that things should now be moving quickly and we can’t stay in the same situation as we have in the past 15 years.  You were asking me yesterday what does it mean not business as usual?  This is going to be one of the main points the President is putting forward –- this is not business as usual.  We certainly need to move forward on the democratization of the organization and he’s making the most out of the political support to lead such an effort.

Question:  Is the President confident, then, that the reforms of the Security Council would be undertaken this year?

Spokesperson:  The President knows very well that one year is not enough.  But, the President is also very confident that it is the right moment, right now, to start making a radical process of democratization of the Organization.

On that note, thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record