17 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 am sure you are more interested in what Enrique has to say than about what I have to say.  But good afternoon anyway.


Today marks the UN's International Day for the Eradication of Poverty, which commemorates the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  The theme this year is “Human rights and dignity of people living in poverty”.

To mark the occasion, earlier this morning here at Headquarters, UN staff, students and representatives from delegations and non-governmental organizations symbolically stood up to pledge their support to the fight against poverty and to call on world leaders to deliver on their commitments to meet the Millennium Development Goals.

Addressing the gathering, the Deputy Secretary-General said there is no time to waste if we are to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by the target year of 2015.  We must redouble our efforts and form a true partnership for development -- a partnership of rich and poor countries alike, civil society, the private sector, and communities, she added.

The Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights also issued messages.

The Secretary-General said hundreds of millions of people are still deprived of basic human rights such as food, housing, education, and decent working conditions.  Those forced to live in poverty often face social exclusion, discrimination and disempowerment.  Poverty robs the poor of their human dignity, he added.  In that regard, he stressed that poverty will not be eradicated without due respect for human rights.

For her part, the High Commissioner said that international days such as this often stimulate fine words, but they need to be backed by deeds.  The philosophy and structures for combating poverty at the international level exist.  But a true commitment to translate that philosophy into effective action is still far from evident, she noted.  We have all three messages upstairs.

Meanwhile, the annual ceremony to mark the Day will take place in Conference Room 2 this afternoon.  Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang will speak.  And you can read more about all the events taking place throughout the world today at www.standagainstpoverty.org.

**Secretary-General in Quebec

The Secretary-General is presently in Quebec to attend the twelfth Francophonie Summit.

He is expected this afternoon to address the meeting of Heads of State and Government.  The Secretary-General will be welcoming most strongly a reform of the international financial system.  The UN, he will say, is ready to support and assist in such initiatives in every possible way.

Noting the recent pledges of $16 billion made towards realizing the Millennium Development Goals, he will stress the need to safeguard these gains during these difficult times, in the name of our common humanity and the responsibility to protect those less fortunate than us.  He will also stress the need to move forward on climate change issues and not allow the financial crisis to impede our progress in Poznan in December, and Copenhagen next year.

The Secretary-General will be returning to New York over the weekend.


Despite a drop in their numbers, Iraqis remained by far the top nationality seeking asylum in industrialized countries in the first half of 2008, according to UNHCR’s [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] latest asylum report released today.

During the first six months of 2008, a total of 19,500 asylum claims were lodged by Iraqis in the 44 industrialized countries included in the report.  In spite of a downward trend, Iraqis still accounted for 12 per cent of all asylum applications lodged in the industrialized world.

UNHCR’s report shows that the number of asylum claims made by Iraqis was higher than the combined number of asylum claims submitted by citizens of the Russian Federation and China, the second and third most important source countries.  Other important countries of origin of asylum seekers were Somalia, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Sixty per cent of all Iraqis claimed asylum in only four countries:   Sweden, Germany, Turkey and the Netherlands.

The United States remained the largest single recipient of new claims by asylum seekers of all nationalities during the first six months of 2008.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

The Secretary-General, in a report to the Security Council, notes that Côte d’Ivoire has experienced sustained peace and stability since the signing of the Ouagadougou Agreement 18 months ago.  The peace process, he writes, crossed a critical milestone with the launching of the voter-registration process on 15 September, and he notes the satisfactory progress of the electoral process thus far.

The Secretary-General says that it is now imperative to carry forward the simultaneous issuance of identity cards and voter registration in a credible manner.  He adds that, although the cantonment of former combatants is making progress, the effort to collect their weapons and place them in secure storage has so far yielded disappointing results.

He warns that, if not managed properly and transparently, elections could become a source of instability.

** Somalia

On Somalia, civilians continue to bear the brunt of continued fighting in Mogadishu.  According to UNHCR, an estimated 5,500 people were displaced from the city during the week and over 61,000 since 21 September.

UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] and partners continue to provide safe drinking water to over 100,000 displaced persons.  UNICEF and local partners have now provided emergency school tents and foundations for 20 classrooms, enabling access to education for another 1,000 children.

World Food Programme will undertake direct distribution to beneficiaries of supplementary feeding, mother and child health centres and social support programmes in the Bakool region, where malnutrition rates stand at 25.5 per cent, one of the highest in Somalia.

** Ethiopia

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warns that the food situation in several regions of Ethiopia is deteriorating, with the cost of maize, the staple food for many Ethiopians, increasing by 275 per cent in some areas, compared to the same period in 2007.  Rural-urban migration by people in search of food is increasing and the nutritional situation is dire.  A rapid-assessment team has verified critical water and pasture shortages in some areas and humanitarian agencies have identified critical malnutrition.

Pipeline breaks have resulted in reduced rations for beneficiaries which began in July and will continue until December 2008.  As a result of reduced rations, OCHA expects to see increased malnutrition and a rise in child labour and begging.  If the October-December rains do not deliver, food insecurity will likely continue well into 2009.

** Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka today, a major UN food convoy finally reached the north of the island, transporting food aid to some 230,000 displaced persons trapped in the conflict zone.  This was the second attempt for delivery after the 50-truck World Food Programme convoy was forced to turn back due to fighting and an exchange of heavy fire along a major route into the Vanni region.

The United Nations reiterates its full commitment to assisting the Sri Lankan Government in its efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the civilians who need it.

** Georgia

Over the past week in Georgia, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has witnessed a massive return of more than 20,000 internally displaced people to the buffer zone around South Ossetia.  The agency is warning returnees to watch out for landmines as casualties have already been registered.

Earlier this week, the UNHCR tent camp in the Georgian town of Gori was closed after the last of the displaced left for their homes in the buffer zone or were relocated to collective centres.

In addition to assisting returnees with tools and reconstruction materials, UNHCR is also distributing stoves, firewood, blankets, mattresses, bedsheets and kitchen stoves.  Meanwhile, its teams also plan to convert unused public buildings into apartments for some 5,000 persons who cannot return home.

UNHCR says it urgently needs additional funds.  Thus far, it has only received 31 per cent of what it needs.  We have more on that upstairs.

**Secretary-General’s Appointments

The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Lieutenant General A.T.M. Zahirul Alam of Bangladesh as Force Commander for the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and Major General Kim Moon Hwa of the Republic of Korea as Chief Military Observer in the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP).

Lieutenant General Alam will replace Lieutenant General Chikadibia Obiakor of Nigeria and Major General Kim will replace Major General Dragutin Repinc of Croatia.  The Secretary-General is grateful to Lieutenant General Obiakor and Major General Repinc for their exemplary and highly professional service in UNMIL and UNMOGIP, respectively.

**Deputy Secretary-General

The Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, is scheduled to leave for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this weekend.

She plans to chair a meeting of the Regional Consultation Mechanism of UN Agencies and Organizations Working in Africa in Support of the African Union and its New Partnership for Africa's Development programme, known as NEPAD.

The meeting will focus on “Delivering as one in support of Africa's development at the regional and subregional levels”.

While in Addis Ababa, Mrs. Migiro will also meet with the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Ethiopia.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

We also have the Week Ahead.  On Tuesday, the Secretary-General will visit Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government to deliver a speech, entitled “Securing the common good in a time of global crises”.

On Thursday, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes will be in Haiti for two days.

And Friday, the Secretary-General is scheduled to convene a meeting of the Chief Executives Board, which will include a special session devoted to the financial crisis issue.

And this is all I have for you, thank you.  Yes, George.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Number one, if I have a question about the Security Council it’s for Enrique and not for you?  I just wanted to clarify.  The UN force in India-Pakistan; two questions on that.  Am I correct that (a) it’s primarily a force in Kashmir, or responsible for the Observer Force in Kashmir?  And am I right historically that that is the oldest UN force?

Spokesperson:  We can check those details for you upstairs.

Question:  In theory, it should or could date from late summer or early fall of ’47.  In other words, six or eight months to a year before Palestine.

Spokesperson:  We’ll check for you.

[The Spokesperson later added that the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) was set up in 1949 to supervise the ceasefire agreed between India and Pakistan in the State of Jammu and Kashmir.  The first and oldest peacekeeping operation established by the United Nations was the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization (UNTSO), which is based in Jerusalem and was set up in 1948.]

Question:  I just want to make sure that what I got from you yesterday is correct, that we’re on the same page.  When I spoke to you last evening about the Secretary-General (inaudible), him not going to Pakistan, you had indicated to me, as I understand, that he will visit Pakistan when he will be on his way out from the Doha Round of talks…?

Spokesperson:  No, I did not say that.  I said that he is planning to go to Pakistan; a date has not been set yet.  That’s what I said.

Question:  A date has not been set.  No, because you indicated, I mean, as I understood, that some time around the end of November or December, but you were not pinned on a date.

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  You said a date has not been set yet.  But can we say that you said that he will go to Pakistan some time in November or December?

Spokesperson:  I cannot give you a date.  I said that, Masood, if I had one I’d give it to you.  There has to be an arrangement made between the Government and the UN on exactly when the Secretary-General can go there.

Question:  You’re still being vague.  I know you’re being vague.  You’re not being straight; you’re being vague, I know that.  But I just thought that between the months either November or December…

Spokesperson:  I cannot say at this point, but he will definitely go to Pakistan.  And there is no “snubbing”, as was implied in your article.

Question:  I know, article in my paper.  Thing is that it was no snubbing, I realize that that is what you want to establish that there was no snubbing.

Spokesperson:  Oh?  After you titled it “snubbing” you’re now asking?  Well, there is no snub.

Question:  I understand that there is no snub.  The thing is that if we can get a date, that would be good, you know.

Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll get a date when we have one.

Question:  What’s the name of the new United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan that you gave, what is his name?

Spokesperson:  You want to have the name?  You can get it upstairs, of course.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  There are these reports that the UN Sudan sanctions experts having looked into the flight of Ethiopian weapons into Juba and South Sudan.  There is also separately the issue of the tanks that are held by pirates off Somalia and whether they also were headed to Southern Sudan.  From the first one, there have been published reports that UN experts have looked into this and reached some conclusion about the Ethiopian flight of weapons into South Sudan.  Is that the case?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information, and at any rate, questions like that are directed to the Security Council.  I have to get the answer for you.  It’s a group of experts that you’re referring to, right?

Question:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  I’ll try to get that information for you.

Question:  That would be great.  The other thing is, I saw that the Secretary-General met with the heads of the regional commissions, recently.  Maybe that was yesterday.  One, whether or not there is a readout on that meeting.  But I wanted to ask, several of them have not made their “personal financial disclosure”.  They did not disclose their finances, as it was said that Mr. Ban had encouraged and wanted people to follow his lead on.  So did he raise this issue to the ones that have not filed and is he raising it at all to the senior officials who have not filed?

Spokesperson:  These issues are not raised by the Secretary-General.  This is a matter for the Ethics Office.  The Secretary-General doesn’t raise every issue with every person who comes and sees him, Matthew.  There are other bigger issues to discuss.

Question:  (Inaudible) He said in his speech in Turin that he tried to lead by example but no one followed him.  What was he referring to?  If not this issue which issues was he referring to?

Spokesperson:  Yes, but he is not going to raise this when he is discussing the financial crisis and the impact of the financial crisis on the regional centres.  There are levels of importance in discussions you know.

Question:  Well, what was he referring to when he said no one followed him?  Is that still on…?

Spokesperson:  There are a number of issues that we can discuss with you.  We have talked about it over and over again.

Question:  So that was the purpose of the; that’s what he met with them about; it was about the financial crisis…?

Spokesperson:  About their own work.  I mean, they’re part of the UN system, so he met with them about their own work and what they do and what the issues are in their own regions, and of course the financial crisis was certainly an element of their discussions.

Question:  This is just a follow-up of the thing from yesterday.  This petition that went online with the ID numbers and signatures of people.  Apparently it’s now been taken down.  Do you have any comment on why?  Was there a second thought, was there a thought that there was problem having it online?

Spokesperson:  First, as I said yesterday, this is an internal website.  So I am not commenting in a public setting like this one about an internal website, to start with, okay? I told you that we would try to get the answer for you.  But we don’t have to comment on this.  And we have no comment.  I can try to find out what happened, but I also think you can try to find out on your own, Matthew.

Question:  Some people said that somebody made a big mistake in outing those online; in fact the Staff Union passed a resolution asking the Secretary-General to take action against whoever the individual was.  Are you aware of that resolution?

Spokesperson:  I am not.  Thank you all.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

Although most of you already know the results, let me go on the record also for the ones following on television and have not managed to follow the procedures for the election of the five non-permanent members of the Security Council.  The new members elected are:   Japan, Uganda, Mexico, Austria and Turkey.

And let me give also for the record the proper results.

In Group A, Iran got 32 votes, Japan got 158 votes, Uganda 181, and Madagascar 2 votes.  For the Latin American and Caribbean States, Mexico got 185 votes and Brazil 1 vote.  And for the Western European there were two seats, as you know, Austria got 133, Iceland 87 and Turkey 151.  And there was no need to go to a second ballot because they got two thirds of the majority.

And as you also probably know, the list of the new Permanent Representatives of the new countries is a list that the Spokesman’s Office has, in case you are interested; I also have a copy that is available for you.

Let me add that in the middle of the exciting vote on the Security Council, while votes were counted, President d´Escoto managed to attend a brief ceremony of the Stand Up Campaign and reminded participants that:

“The poverty in which half of the Earth's inhabitants are living prevents them from enjoying the rights to health, education, decent housing, sanitary conditions, gainful employment, and so forth.  This poverty is inexcusable, since it is a man-made problem caused by the dominant culture's perverse logic of selfishness and is within our power to eradicate.  The persistence of poverty represents a flagrant violation of the human rights of most of the world's people.”

He also added that:  “This situation is an outrage in the modern world.  It attests to the maniacal selfishness of the dominant culture of individualism and indifference to the welfare of others.  The crumbs that fall from the plentiful tables of the rich, it is said, can meet the needs of the dispossessed -- the half of humanity that struggles to survive in hunger.”

“As President of the sixty-third session of the United Nations General Assembly, I call”, said President d´Escoto, “on all parties not to reduce aid in these trying times; instead, we should triple it.  Let us not wait until the poor and excluded take to the streets to demand it.”

And this is all I have for you today, unless you have any questions.  George.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The ceremony which Father d´Escoto participated in, is that the one that involves the cast performers from A Tale of Two Cities?

Spokesperson:  That’s correct.

Question:  Okay.  I assume there will be some kind of written bulletin with all these results and exact numbers somewhere upstairs?

Spokesperson:  Correct.

Question:  And there will be a list shortly of the membership and the monthly presidency very shortly also from….

Spokesperson:  That list is already available right now.

Question:  Okay.  The question -- correct me if I am wrong -- the question of when Iceland, should they wish, can stand again for the Security Council, am I right, that depends entirely on the rules or procedures of WEOG [Western European and Other Group], and if I have a question I should contact either the Icelanders or other members of WEOG as candidates, Israel or somebody?

Spokesperson:  There is nothing that prevents Iceland to run again in the future.  So, you have to ask the Iceland delegation what are their ideas or their plans.  But from the rules….

Question:  (inaudible)…in particular, rules within WEOG?

Spokesperson:  No, no, there are not.

Question:  There are not?  Okay, thank you.

Spokesperson:  There are not.  It’s up to the negotiation….

Question:  Because I know that WEOG has a list of countries that they’re sponsoring for the seats allotted to them at least, 10,12 years in advance.  And I know that what concerns me as a Jewish journalist is 10 years from today, they have Israel on the list.

Spokesperson:  No, no.

Question:  …for 1920s.

Spokesperson:  No, we’re talking about different things.  You’re talking about if Iceland can present their candidacy here again for next year, and I am telling you, “yes”.  Now it’s up to Iceland to get enough diplomatic support from the Member States, especially from the European Group to get his candidacy endorsed….

Question:  But it does depend on their regional group, on the procedures and operations of WEOG?

Spokesperson:  Mostly, but not only.

Question:  Thank you very much.

Spokesperson:  Thank you, George.

Question:  Do you mind repeating the number of votes for the five countries?  I got half way through and then….

Spokesperson:  Okay.   Iran 32, Japan 158, Uganda 181.  For the Latin American and Caribbean States, Mexico 185.  For the Western European, Austria 133, Iceland 87 and Turkey 151.  And let me also underline which I though was very interesting and very important:  all the 192 Member countries voted, which I think is an interesting sign.  George, again.

Question:  It seems to me contrary to that last statement, that two members did not vote for the Asian seat.  You’ve got 158 to 32, that’s 190.

Spokesperson:  There were some abstentions.  I can go into that, but they voted.  I have to go through the list, but in the Mexico group there were six abstentions, for instance.

Question:  How about Asia?

Spokesperson:  In the Asia group there was one abstention and there were 192 valid votes.  In all the three groups there were 192 valid votes.  So, 192 countries voted.

Question:  Forgive me for… you’re still down to one.  There were 158 votes for Japan.

Spokesperson:  Mexico…

Question:  No, I’m talking about the Asian seat:  158 votes for Japan, 32 for Iran, 1 abstention, that only leaves 191.  I don’t want to put blame on one vote, but was there one not voting?  You said there were 192 valid ballots.

Spokesperson:  I think we have to go into the numbers later on, because I…

Question:  Okay, thank you very much, I appreciate it.

Spokesperson:  …because I also have it that Madagascar got two votes.  So maybe that’s what the numbers make it up.

Question:  No, I’m talking about the Asian seat only.

Spokesperson:  Let’s go for the math afterwards.

Question:  Okay, thank you.

Question:  Well, if we’re going to go down to this level, it’s said that in the seats of the General Assembly that Turkey put out some chocolates, some…  Are you aware of this?

Spokesperson:  I didn’t get any! (laughter)  I don’t know.

Question:  What are the rules in terms of…?

Spokesperson:  Seriously talking, the rules are very clear.  Member States, up to before starting the voting can give information to anybody and I assume that must be part of the information kit.  But as soon as the vote is called by the President of the General Assembly, that should stop.  I didn’t hear any complaints, but I can double check for you.

Question:  (inaudible) just to finally close this out, is the two from Madagascar and the one from Brazil?  Do people just write on the ballot, are these write-in candidacies?

Spokesperson:  That’s my understanding.

Question:  Okay, all right.

Spokesperson:  Any more questions?  Otherwise, have a nice week end, thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record