8 October 2008
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


And the spokesperson for the General Assembly president


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.

Our guest at the briefing is Mr. Ralph Zacklin, former Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs and head of the Independent Panel on Accountability related to the attack on the United Nations premises in Algiers in December 2007.  He will brief you on the Panel’s report.  Another member of the Panel, Jean-Jacques Graisse, will also be here to talk about the report.

We distributed earlier an executive summary of that report, and you have additional copies on that table.

**Security Council

Hédi Annabi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, briefed the Security Council in an open meeting on the devastating series of hurricanes that hit that country recently, as well as the nomination and confirmation of the new Government there.  He said that we stand simultaneously at a time of challenge and one of hope.

Annabi emphasized that an exceptional large-scale effort is needed to help Haiti recreate a basic infrastructure, warning that without such an effort, Haiti cannot hope to truly begin the process of recovery.  He said that if we stay the course and remain engaged in an effective partnership with Haiti, the country can emerge from its troubled past towards a better future.

He also briefed troop-contributing countries for the United Nations Mission in Haiti earlier, and the Council continues to discuss Haiti in its closed consultations.

** Sudan

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, is travelling to El Fasher, North Darfur, today, as part of his first visit to the Sudan, as well as to the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) for the first time since he assumed his post.

UNAMID also reports that the African Union (AU), United Nations and Government of the Sudan Tripartite Committee for the Deployment of UNAMID held its first meeting yesterday in Khartoum.

Leading the AU and UN Tripartite Committee delegations were the AU Commissioner for Peace and Security, Ambassador Ramtane Lamamra, and the UN Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Susana MalcorraRodolphe Adada, the AU-UN Joint Special Representative, also took part in the meeting.

Briefing the press about the meeting yesterday, Ms. Malcorra said the discussions focused on the logistical aspects of UNAMID’s deployment, and actions required to ensure that it was expeditious and effective.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

Early yesterday, the new Force Commander for the Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUC), Lieutenant General Vincente Diaz de Villegas, completed his first working visit to North Kivu.  General Diaz took up his functions last week.

While in North Kivu, he met with UN peacekeepers and the UN coordination team.  He was briefed on the security and military situation, and was later escorted on a tour of strategic peacekeeping bases.

Meanwhile, in Kinshasa, Mission and Government officials discussed the implementation of the Amani Programme, which focuses on peace, security and development in the north east.  Government officials assured MONUC of their commitment to the military disengagement plan agreed between the Government and various armed groups.

And the Mission notes some progress in creating buffer zones between the warring parties.  However, as of today, violence continues, with increasing intensity, in the northeast.  And the Mission continues to call on the parties to conform to the Goma acts of engagement signed last January.

** Greece -- FYROM

The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for the talks between Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, held a meeting this morning with the two sides here at UN Headquarters.

In a press encounter following the meeting, Nimetz confirmed that he had presented the representatives from Athens and Skopje with a new set of ideas, which they would now take back to their capitals for further study.

Asked if these ideas represented a “final proposal”, Nimetz said that mediators were not in a position to offer “take-it-or-leave-it” deals.

** Kyrgyzstan

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the death toll from the earthquake in Kyrgyzstan is not expected to increase dramatically, but approximately 211 displaced families have also been identified.

A camp is being set up for the displaced families, and the Government of Kyrgyzstan is assessing the situation and providing assistance with the support of the humanitarian community present in the country.

Relief items, including tents, mattresses, blankets, warm clothing, food and other basic necessities, are starting to reach the affected areas, and the electricity supply has been restored.

OCHA is allocating an emergency cash grant to provide basic non-food items, as well as two generators, while the International Organization for Migration is providing accommodation and care to up to 50 children from the affected village of Osh.

Two emergency health kits that were stockpiled by the World Health Organization (WHO) have been used in the response, and UNICEF has released hygienic and sanitary kits for the affected population.  The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has provided clean delivery kits and other supplies.

** Rwanda

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda says that Augustin Ngirabatware, the former Rwandan Minister for Planning, was transferred today to Arusha from Germany.  He is now in pre-trial detention at the seat of the Tribunal in Arusha.  He was arrested in Frankfurt two weeks ago on nine counts of genocide and crimes against humanity, including mass murder and rape.

**International Day of Disaster Reduction

Today is the International Day for Disaster Reduction.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says that now, more than ever, when we are trying to accelerate national and international efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals, disaster risk reduction needs to be acknowledged and incorporated as a key plank of that work.

He also adds that we need to mobilize society at every level to reduce risk and protect health facilities so that they can save lives.

This year’s International Day falls on the third anniversary of the earthquake that hit South Asia.  We have the full message upstairs.

**Climate Change -- Health

A meeting of experts convened by the World Health Organization in Madrid agreed today to develop a plan of action to explore how climate change affects human health.  We have more on that upstairs.


We have several environment-related items to flag today.  The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), the World Bank and the World Resources Institute today launched the World Resources Report 2008.  The report focuses on how expanding nature-based enterprises and granting local communities more authority over their natural resources can increase income for the rural poor, and help them become more resilient to climate change and other threats.

In a separate item, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) and the umbrella organization for organic agriculture worldwide have unveiled new tools to help farmers in developing countries market their organic products.  Specifically, the tools assess the wide range of organic standards and regulations around the globe, and also set minimum requirements for organic certification bodies.

Lastly, the UN Environment Programme has launched a website that features standout entries from its International Children’s Painting Competition.  The works are part of UNEP’s “Paint for the Planet” campaign.  Some of the artworks will also be exhibited here at UN Headquarters, starting on 23 October.  And two days later, some of the works will be auctioned at the Harvard Club to raise emergency funds for children affected by climate-related disasters.

**UN Book Days

The first-ever UN Book Days will take place tomorrow and Friday in the Visitors’ Lobby.  Organized by the Department of Public Information, the event will be opened by the Secretary-General.  It showcases information on products and services from the UN system and from intergovernmental organizations.  The Secretary-General will take part in tomorrow’s launch at 10 a.m.

In addition to table-top displays of publications and other materials, there will also be presentations where attendees can meet representatives from the roughly 25 organizations expected to attend.  UN Book Days are open to all, and are free.

Also being launched tomorrow morning is the first-ever online version of the UN Yearbook.  The new website will provide free public access to the yearbook collection’s volumes, detailing the work and achievements of the UN system since 1946.  The website is UNYearbook.UN.Org.

**Upcoming Press Conferences

This afternoon at 3 p.m., there will be a press conference by Vuk Jeremić, Foreign Minister of Serbia.

The guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Angela Kane, Under-Secretary-General for Management, who will brief on management reform.

And this is all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  This, today is the release of the report of the Independent Panel on Accountability, and it is the third report on the Algiers bombing in December.  From the Secretary-General’s point of view, does this close the matter?

Spokesperson:  He will pursue, of course, the issue.  There is going to be a small review board that is going to be established because there are some administrative measures and some disciplinary actions that are suggested by the report, but I will let Mr. Zacklin answer those, but there will be definitely a follow-up as soon as possible.

Question:  And there will be more details about that?

Spokesperson:  There will be more details about that later.  But I will wait for Mr. Zacklin to do his briefing to you.  Yes?

Question:  Just a brief question.  This report that’s just being released, is that a public report of which one can get copies?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  Or is it an internal document for the SG’s eyes only?

Spokesperson:  It’s an internal document.  What we have released is the executive summary, which you have on the table.  And there are two good reasons why the report, which is an internal report, has not been released.  One of them, and the most important one, is the security issue, because we must consider the security impact of the full report, and I have to say it is extremely sensitive and describes how we gather, analyse and use information to protect staff.  So for that reason and another reason, which is due process, we cannot release the full report.  We cannot release the full report for the staff members for whom disciplinary or administrative action has been suggested.  So the executive summary, you have it right here and you can consult it.  And what I was saying is we will have an internal review mechanism to enforce what the recommendations were.  Yes?

Question:  This report mentions I think, 10 or 11 individuals, many of whom apparently are in the Secretariat and a number that are probably at the agencies and funds and programmes, but I can’t tell.  Of those who are in the Secretariat, and therefore, under DSS [Department of Safety and Security], and eventually under the Secretary-General’s mandate, will they be reassigned out of positions of authority or they…  I know we’re talking without faces and names…

Spokesperson:  Yes, let’s just wait for Mr. Zacklin’s report.  And then, about the action we’ll be taking, we’ll keep you informed of the actions taken.  I cannot do hypothetical things. I cannot quote names, give you names.  So this is where I stand right now.  And in this context, I think it is important that I stress the profound appreciation that the Secretary-General has for staff working under very difficult, and sometimes very dangerous, circumstances.  I think when we are talking about that report, it’s important to stress that.  Yes?

Question:  In light of this, does the Secretary-General advocate increasing the budget of DSS?

Spokesperson:  I cannot answer that question at this point.  As I said, there are going to be specifics in terms of implementation of the recommendations that are contained in the report, and I cannot right now answer what will be done.  Okay?

Question:  One non-security and then security –- There’s a…  From the Democratic Republic of the Congo, there was a wire service report today saying that in the city of Sake, people say MONUC doesn’t do anything.  They just pass through watching.  When there’s fighting, they do nothing.  What is the current…  We heard Mr. Doss saying something totally contrary to that.

Spokesperson:  What Doss has been saying, you have to see what the mandate of MONUC is.  And MONUC has been acting according to its mandate.  It cannot engage in actually fighting.  What it can do, it can engage in fighting only if it involves protecting lives.  Okay?  So, what people are saying is one thing, I cannot comment on that.

[The Spokesperson later added that MONUC has a Chapter VII mandate to use force to protect civilians, to defend the Mission and to further MONUC’s objectives.]

Question:  Okay.  The other one is there’s this trial going on in London about alleged corruption in the Global Fund to Combat Disease, a UN-affiliated fund about the Congo in which a company brought, supposedly paid bribes to get the contracts.  Is the UN monitoring the case and has any, since it deals with the [inaudible] two years ago, has any steps been taken to make sure that this type of procurement fraud doesn’t take place?

Spokesperson:  Well, we have to find out first the real information.  I don’t have that real information.  I don’t have the confirmed facts that they gathered, so I cannot comment on that at this point.

Question:  On safety, two things.  One is there is this report that the UN is either pulling all its staff or restricting the use of staff in Merca in Somalia.  Is that the case?  Is everyone leaving?  There was a car bombing there.  Then there’s a local report from there saying that the UN is pulling out.

Spokesperson:  Well, I’m not aware of that, but we can ask, of course.  We will ask for you whether that is the case.

Question:  The other thing is -- and this may be related to this accountability report -- it was pretty much confirmed yesterday that UNDP ordered that its employees no longer use their building in Amman, Jordan, due to safety concerns, but it was also said that the UNDP hadn’t informed UNICEF, WFP or other agencies that they were doing that, and caused some uproar in the UN system.  Is a UN agency expected to tell its brethren and sister agencies what it’s doing on safety?

Spokesperson:  I cannot comment on this.  I do not comment on security issues, as you know, so it’s nothing new.  We have lives at stake, and I cannot comment on issues like this.  I will let you know about the Somalia situation, whether people have been pulled out.  I will let you know.  But I cannot comment on whether one agency feels this way or that on security issues.  I cannot comment on that.  So I will ask, since we are waiting for Mr. Zacklin, I will ask Enrique to come first, because I know some of you are interested in the Kosovo debate going on right now.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you, Michèle.

Good afternoon to everyone.  Very, very briefly, as Michèle was saying, only to let you know that, over half an hour ago, the General Assembly adopted, approved, the resolution put forward by the Serbian delegation requesting an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on whether the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo is in accordance with international law.

The final result for your information was 77 countries in favour, 6 against and 74 abstentions.  Twenty countries took the floor after the Serbian delegation.  What this means, in practical terms now, is that the ICJ will provide an advisory opinion for the Member countries, and the decision is not binding, as you know.  And that’s all, unless you have any particular questions.  I have the breakdown of the countries, if you are interested.  Is that what the question was?  I have the breakdown of the voting, and we’ll make copies right after the noon briefing and I’ll pass them on to you.

That was quick and easy.  Thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record