15 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.

I’d like first to welcome the students from Lehigh University who are attending the briefing today.

**Guest at Noon

Our guest today will be Joel Boutroue, UN Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator in Haiti, who will provide you an update on the situation in Haiti after four consecutive hurricanes left close to 800 dead, thousands homeless and devastated the country’s infrastructure.

UNDP announced today that it has recently resumed a large employment programme in Gonaïves, Haiti.  Mr. Boutroue will talk to you about this.

**Statement on Cambodia-Thailand Border Clashes

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

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the exchange of gunfire today along the Cambodia-Thailand border and the reported casualties.  He calls on both parties to exercise utmost restraint and urges them to expedite bilateral talks so that their differences can be resolved peacefully.

**Statement on Lebanon-Syria

We have another statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the establishment of Syrian-Lebanese diplomatic relations.

The Secretary-General welcomes the historic steps taken by Lebanon and Syria to establish full diplomatic relations.  This joint effort between two nations reinforces the sovereignty, stability and political independence of the Lebanese State in accordance with the Taif Accord and relevant Security Council resolutions.

The Secretary-General hopes that this landmark event will encourage Syria and Lebanon to engage in further constructive dialogue that will bring mutual benefits to both countries and help ensure stability and progress in their bilateral relations.

The Secretary-General stands ready to support Lebanon and Syria towards these goals.

** Lebanon

Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, had his first meetings upon arriving in Beirut with senior Lebanese officials today, including President Michel Suleiman and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

Williams said that he and President Suleiman had a very good meeting in which they discussed the process of national dialogue and reconciliation in Lebanon, regional efforts and the establishment of diplomatic relations between Syria and Lebanon.

He said he was pleased to hear about the announcement yesterday of the decree by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad about Lebanese-Syrian relations, which he called a “very important and significant development” which had been called for by UN resolutions for some time.  We have his comments to the press upstairs.

** Georgia

The first session of the international discussions on Georgia wrapped up in Geneva today with a decision to hold the next meeting on 18 November.

In a press conference after the session, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Georgia, Johan Verbeke, said one should not dramatize the “procedural incident” that happened today.  In that regard, he noted that all participants had been present, had expressed their views, and had acted in a responsible way.

Verbeke said it had been decided to create some “breathing space” to address the few outstanding procedural points.  The current suspension of work was only temporary, he added.

Meanwhile, last night in Geneva, the Secretary-General had a working dinner with the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.  In the press conference that followed, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner read out a joint statement, and the Secretary-General answered reporters’ questions.

The Secretary-General said he was encouraged by the general consensus among the parties to resolve this issue through dialogue.  But he cautioned against being too impatient or in a hurry to have a so-called “quick fix” resolution.  We have the full transcript upstairs.

**Secretary-General Trip Announcement –- Asia

The Secretary-General, later this month, is set to embark on a four-nation Asia trip for official visits to the Philippines, India, Nepal and Bangladesh, as well as to attend the Second Global Forum on Migration and Development to take place in Manila.

In Manila, the Secretary-General will hold a bilateral meeting with President Gloria Arroyo.  The Secretary-General will also receive from President Arroyo a national honour -- the Order of Sikatuna -- in recognition of his diplomatic merit.  An honorary doctorate degree will also be conferred on the Secretary-General by the University of the Philippines.

On 29 October, the Secretary-General will attend the formal inauguration of the Second Global Forum on Migration and Development, where he will deliver opening remarks as well as hold a joint press conference with Hon. Esteban Conejos, Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines and Executive Director of the Forum.

The Secretary-General will then move on to India, where full details of his programme are being worked out.  He is expected to meet with the President, the Prime Minister, the Minister for External Affairs and the National Security Adviser, as well as other senior leaders and officials.

During the two-day visit, the Secretary-General will hold a public lecture hosted by a prestigious foundation, meet with the United Nations country team and staff, as well as meet with Indian business leaders active in the climate change area.

In Nepal, the Secretary-General will meet with President Ram Baran Yadav, Prime Minister Prachanda (Pushpa Kamal Dahal), Foreign Minister Upendra Yadav, as well as members of the Constituent Assembly of Nepal.

The Secretary-General will also visit Lumbini, birthplace of Lord Buddha.

While in Bangladesh, the Secretary-General is expected to meet with President Iajuddin Ahmed and other senior Government officials, including the Chief Caretaker Adviser and Caretaker Adviser for Foreign Affairs, as well as visit the United Nations country team and staff there.  He is also expected to visit sites for microfinancing and disaster reduction/climate adaptation activities.

** Sudan

I’ve been asked about reports indicating that the Government of Sudan has detained Ali Khushayb for crimes committed in Darfur, which the Secretary-General has noted.  If confirmed, this is a welcome step towards the vital need to end impunity and bring to justice those responsible for crimes in Darfur.

On the ground in Darfur, a team of UN-AU Police Advisers, together with the Bangladeshi Formed Police Unit, have embarked on confidence-building and security assessment patrols 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at the Kalma camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs), in accordance with UNAMID’s police mandate.  The primary focus of these patrols is to create an interactive and friendly environment conducive to peaceful coexistence among IDPs, as well as to demonstrate the commitment of UNAMID to achieving lasting peace in the region.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says that a committee was launched yesterday to facilitate the implementation of the military disengagement agreement in South Kivu.  In addition to the UN, European Union and Government representatives, several regional armed groups were present at the launching of the Provincial Committee for the Coordination of Disengagement Operations in South Kivu.  The Committee is made up of about 20 members representing political groups, the military and police, as well as the international facilitation team, including the UN and the armed groups.  Its mission will be to plan and direct disengagement operations.

The creation of the South Kivu committee follows a similar development in North Kivu a few days ago.


The UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) is now very close to completing its withdrawal from the region.  Sixty of the remaining peacekeepers returned to their country of origin this past weekend, and another fifteen are expected to leave by week’s end.  A farewell ceremony for the departing peacekeepers was held in northern Ethiopia, near the UN base at Adigrat.

At that event, the Acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Azouz Ennifar, thanked the peacekeepers for their service under the UN flag.  The Secretary-General’s good offices, he said, remain available to Ethiopia and Eritrea in their search for a lasting solution to their border dispute.

**Security Council

At 4 p.m. this afternoon, the Security Council intends to hold two formal meetings.  The Council will consider adoption of a presidential statement on Guinea-Bissau, and it will also vote on a draft resolution concerning a one-year extension of the Panel of Experts dealing with sanctions on Sudan.


Turning now to the International Court of Justice.  Regarding the case by Georgia against the Russian Federation, concerning the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, the Court has issued an order on a number of provisional measures.

Among other things, the Court has indicated that both parties shall refrain from any act of racial discrimination and from sponsoring, defending or supporting such acts; that they shall facilitate humanitarian assistance; and that they shall refrain from any action which might prejudice the respective rights of the parties or might aggravate or extend the dispute.  We have more on that upstairs.

** Ethiopia

The United Nations, in conjunction with the Government of Ethiopia, has revised upward the financial requirements for humanitarian aid to Ethiopia.  Some $266 million is now required over the next three months for urgent assistance to 6.4 million people in drought-stricken regions of Ethiopia.  There’s more in a press release upstairs.

**International Day of Rural Women

And today is the first ever International Day of Rural Women.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says that rural women produce more than half of the world’s food and provide immeasurable support to local communities.  But despite the lifesaving role they play, they are seldom appreciated or compensated.

He also adds that it’s important to foster a world where the woman who farms is also a woman with educational opportunities, political access, and a voice at the negotiating table.

We have the full message upstairs.  And a panel discussion to mark the Day will be held today at 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 4.

**Food and Agriculture Organization

The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), Jacques Diouf, said today that Governments should avoid reducing aid to developing countries’ agricultural sectors and not introduce protectionist trade measures in response to the unfolding global financial crisis.

In a statement to FAO’s Committee on World Food Security, Diouf warned that such steps could increase the risk of another food crisis occurring next year.  That could happen despite the record 2008 cereal harvest that is now expected.

Meanwhile, the European Professional Football Leagues and FAO today launched a campaign to raise funds and awareness about the critical problem of world hunger.  There’s more information in press releases upstairs.

**Handwashing Day

And then today marks the first ever Global Handwashing Day.  It is being celebrated in over 70 countries across five continents in an effort to get millions around the world to wash their hands with soap.

The inaugural Global Handwashing Day focuses on children and schools.  After learning about improved hygiene behaviour in schools, children can act as agents of change by taking these messages home to their families and communities.

According to UNICEF, handwashing with soap is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrhoeal disease and pneumonia, which together are responsible for some 3.5 million child deaths every year.

And today, right outside the UN cafeteria, UNICEF staff have set up a booth with water and soap.  I encourage you to go down and give them a hand.

Meanwhile, the Day is being celebrated around the world.  For example, in India, the popular cricketer Sachin Tendulkar will promote the Day by washing his hands with soap.  In the Philippines, over 100 schoolchildren will meet in Makati Park, in the heart of the Manila, to advocate for handwashing with soap as an important habit for their peers to adopt.

In Ghana, Global Handwashing Day will start at a children’s park.  Children will be in charge of the handwashing stations and parades in Accra and Tamale to sensitize the public to wash their hands.  And in Pakistan, newscasters endorsing the need of washing hands before meal times have been aired on the 7 p.m. news bulletin of the local Samaa TV for several weeks.  A handwashing-with-soap exhibition in the capital of Tajikistan will display schoolchildren’s drawings, essays and photos dedicated to handwashing with soap.

I think you have heard enough about handwashing.  And this is all I have for you.  Thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  You read out a statement about how not to misinterpret procedural disagreements in Geneva.  Some are saying the Russian delegation walked out.  They said the talks were finished.  Is that not the case?

Spokesperson:  That is not the case.

Question:  So, they have agreed to come on 18 November?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  I had asked you earlier in the week, when it would be decided who was going to provide security for the UNOMIG [United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia] observers?

Spokesperson:  We have asked that question and we’ll get the answer for you soon.

Question:  Do you think it was determined during this meeting or the meeting...?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  We don’t have the details yet.  We spoke with Mr. Verbeke about the general content of the meeting but we did not speak about the specific details.

Question:  Was the procedural thing that you referred, was this the inclusion of South Ossetia and Abkhazia representatives in the meeting?

Spokesperson: It was about participation, yes.

Question:  Did the UN have a position on whether they should be able to participate or...

Spokesperson:  The UN was not involved. Well, the UN was involved in the technical meetings, of course, but the position is to be decided at those meetings.  That’s the whole purpose.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  Michèle, not to belabour the point on an update on Darfur and peacekeeping force, we have been asking that question again and again.  Have they got the helicopters that they have been talking about?

Spokesperson:  As I said, I think the Secretary-General did answer that question partially, saying that there are some possibilities of us getting at least some of the helicopters.  And we’re trying to get an update for you.  As I said yesterday, we’re waiting for Mr. [Alain] LeRoy to come back and you will have a briefing from him.

Question:  Where is he?

Spokesperson:  He is there now.

Question:  So, you don’t have a figure as to how much is needed and how many…?

Spokesperson:  Well, you already heard the figure about how much was needed.  How much we got is something that you will be updated on when Mr. LeRoy returns.

Question:  Michèle, (inaudible) force in Lebanon, when it is supposed to be coming in.  And also whether the Secretary-General, in the framework of the statement issued on this establishment of relations between Syria and Lebanon is making any contacts to speed up this process and the demarcation of (inaudible)?

Spokesperson:  Well, you’ve asked me two different questions here.  On 1559, I’ll check that for you.  Your second question was?

Question:  It was about the Secretary-General’s contacts with Syria and Lebanon to speed up the process of demarcation of borders after this establishment of diplomatic relations.

Spokesperson:  As you know, he spoke about that issue when he met both leaders during the General Assembly meeting.  If we have any more on this, I’ll let you know.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  As you indicated, Jacques Diouf of the FAO is concerned that aid would be reduced to developing countries in the agricultural sector.  And today, the President of the General Assembly, addressing the New Partnership for Africa, expressed a different concern, that the commitment, because of the financial crisis, that the commitment made may be, in his words, “undone”.  Is the Secretary-General concerned about the same issue?

Spokesperson:  In the statement he issued on the financial crisis, as you know, he did express concern and asked and called upon the different countries who had actually given pledges to actually stick to their commitments for the developing countries.  Yes, Anne, but the last one, because we have first to give the floor to Enrique, then Mr. Boutroue will come in.

Question:  Do you have any details on that news blackout that occurred in Geneva and why photographers were not allowed to take photos of the delegations of participants as they went into the UN building?

Spokesperson:  Because, as you know, it was a very delicate matter.  The participation issue was a very delicate matter and, I guess the news blackout was lifted afterwards since there was, as you heard, a press conference afterwards.  So it was really a temporary measure.

Question:  I guess I’m going to ask Enrique something that’s related.  It actually has to do with DPI.  This week, the Committee on Information and the G-77 has issued a kind of a critique of the UN DPI, the Department of Public Information shifting from (inaudible) UN Chronicle to UN Affairs; was asked under what mandate the shift was made.  It asked a series of questions and so, I’m wondering, what the response?

Spokesperson:  Well, the response will be done by DPI.  Once the response is done to the Committee by DPI, then we can inform you on what was said.

Question:  But it said the new publication will save money, but I’ve spoken to people that are intimately involved with it and they’ve said that’s totally not the case.  That in fact the publication is more…

Spokesperson:  First, as I said, the answers will go to the Committee and to the General Assembly from DPI and then you, of course, in the press will be informed.  Thank you so much.  Enrique.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody, especially to welcome our guests the students.

I do not have much new information today. But I would like to mention that during the opening remarks at the plenary session of the General Assembly this morning on the progress of NEPAD, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development, President Miguel d´Escoto said that, and I quote:

“We are now deep into a global economic crisis and we must reinforce our efforts to protect our dear brothers and sisters in Africa from any retreat by the international community in our support for their development. As the global financial crisis deepens, so does my concern that our commitments may be undone. This would be an unforgivable reversal and bring shame on all of us.”

And that’s basically what I have for you today, unless you have any particular questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The Credentials Committee last week, did the issue of Burma come up?

Spokesperson:  I don’t hear you very well, can you repeat the question?

Question:  At the Credentials Committee last week, did the issue of Burma/Myanmar come up at the meeting?

Spokesperson:  Not that I am aware of.  But I am going to check that for you.  Matthew.

Question:  It’s related to the same thing.  I wanted to know if the General Assembly’s Committee on Information has the power to... Is its approval required before, you know, things that it has previously approved are suspended and new initiatives are begun by a UN Secretariat department? And also do they have, (inaudible) something like editorial independence of this UN publication.  What’s the role of the Committee in terms of its power to ask whether the Secretariat is acting under authority or not? Do you see what I mean?

Spokesperson:  The Committee on Information provides guidance on what are the priorities of the Organization in the area of public information.  That’s basically it.  I can give you more background on the precise mandate, but that’s basically it.

Question:  But if they said something (inaudible) “we have a mandate”, it sort of implies that they are supposed to approve things before they happen, or are they just get told after the fact…

Spokesperson:  No, you don’t go into such details.  They provide a guidance on what are the priorities in the area of public information of the Organization and they don’t go into details of approvals in the sense that the financial implications are being handled in the Fifth Committee.  Therefore, the Committee on Information is a forum to provide guidance and advice on the main priorities of the Organization in the public information area.

Question:  Thank you, Enrique. It’s a technical question on something that’s happening in the First Committee.  I don’t expect you to necessarily know the answer straight away, but there two resolutions being sponsored by the Arab Group.  One is the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the Middle East.  The other is about nuclear proliferation in the region.  I’m just wondering if you can give any idea when it’s going to be debated in the Committee and when it’s going to be voted on.

Spokesperson:  That’s the First Committee, correct?

Question:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  I’ll check that for you right after the meeting.  I’m not aware of it.

Question:  Yes, I know, I know.

SpokespersonSeñor Abbadi?

QuestionGrácias, Enrique.  As you mentioned, the General Assembly President spoke about the economic crisis and warned against any retreat from supporting the development of the African States.  Does he intend to follow up that with any concrete action?

Spokesperson:  Well, he is following up the Doha issue very closely.  He’s been talking to the Permanent Representatives, he’s talking to senior advisers.  For President d’Escoto, Doha is a key step in the area of development and that’s why he is expressing some concerns several times, now that we have a new element in the equation, which the financial crisis and he doesn’t want this to be used, if I may use his words, as an excuse for the international community not to fulfil the commitments that they have already made.  And in Doha, there is going to be another round of negotiations, but we don’t want, the President says, to “go backwards”, we need to go forward.  And that’s basically one of his main concerns right now.  At the same time, there is also, as you know, right now being negotiated, the draft document for Doha.  And that is also a very important element, that all those issues are included in the document.  And he is following this very, very closely.  And obviously, he will participate in Doha.

Any other questions?  If we don’t have any questions, we give the floor to the noon guest.

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For information media • not an official record