13 November 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  We have already here the General Assembly Spokesperson who will brief you following my briefing.

**Culture of Peace

Today is the second and final day of the General Assembly meeting on the interfaith dialogue, which has brought together the Heads of State and senior officials of more than 75 Member States.  At the close of the meeting, the Secretary-General and Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister, will hold a joint press conference at 5 p.m. in Conference Room 4.

During that press conference, the Secretary-General will read a declaration and will also take your questions.

**Group of 20 Letter

In advance of this weekend’s G-20 summit on financial markets in Washington, D.C., the Secretary-General has sent a letter to leaders of those countries.  In it, he underlines the need to prevent the financial crisis from becoming a human crisis that would assume overwhelming political and security dimensions.  One important way of doing this will be by meeting existing commitments on aid, he says.

Reforms cannot be restricted to financial sector regulation alone, the Secretary-General adds.  They must also deal with the broader challenges for human security, including climate change, conflict prevention and the eradication of poverty.  An early resolution of issues holding up the Doha Trade Round would also be a significant contribution to overcoming the crisis.

“These broad challenges can only be met through a reinvigorated and inclusive multilateralism,” the Secretary-General says.  “The United Nations has much to contribute and remains the anchor of such a system.”

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

And from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, specifically from North Kivu, the United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has reported two skirmishes late yesterday between Government troops and the armed PARECO movement.  These incidents, for which there are no reported casualties, appear to be isolated, as the rest of the region remained relatively calm for a second straight day.  The Mission, meanwhile, has confirmed the recent arrival in Goma of some 3,000 displaced civilians and some further movements of civilians across the Ugandan border.  And UN aid agencies say they have restored full service to the displaced after a difficult week, fuelled by insecurity, during which they have had to cut off some key services.

Distribution operations have resumed for health kits, immunization packages, fresh water and sanitation equipment, food and shelter.  And the World Health Organization (WHO) says it is attempting to prevent and control an outbreak of cholera as the number of new cases has tripled to 150 a week.

And on the political side, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on peace to the Great Lakes region, former President Olusejun Obasanjo [of Nigeria], will be travelling for a first round of consultations on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, beginning tomorrow in Luanda, Angola.  He will meet there with the President of Angola before travelling later on Friday to Kinshasa for an expected meeting with President [Joseph] Kabila.  He is expected to proceed on the weekend for further discussions in Goma.

** Gaza

Turning to Gaza, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) reports that crossings into Gaza were closed today, meaning that commercial and humanitarian food deliveries were not allowed in for the eighth day in a row.

As a result, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA, was forced to suspend food distributions to some 750,000 Gazans.  It is unprecedented for UNRWA warehouses to be empty of food, the agency notes.  UNRWA says it is not clear when the crossings will reopen, or when it will be able to resume its distributions.  The Agency stressed today that “having hundreds of thousands of hungry and desperate people in Gaza is not in the interests of anyone who believes in peace”.

Meanwhile, UNSCO reports that fuel was prevented from entering Gaza today, with the Israeli Government citing as its reason the firing of mortars and rockets into Israel.  As a result, Gaza’s power plant will shut down today and probably remain closed until Sunday.  Supplies of diesel and petrol are also running low, according to UNSCO.

**Secretary-General Statement on Darfur

We issued yesterday afternoon a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Darfur.  In it, the Secretary-General welcomed President Omer al-Bashir’s declaration of an immediate ceasefire between the Government of Sudan and the armed movements in Darfur, as well as the intention by the Government of Sudan to disarm all the militias.

The Secretary-General stressed that the effectiveness of any ceasefire depends on all parties demonstrating their commitment to a cessation of hostilities, particularly since past efforts to uphold a ceasefire in Darfur were not successful.

He further emphasized that the international community continues to have high expectations that the Government of Sudan and the rebel movements will make concrete progress towards a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), also welcomed the announcement and noted that the ceasefire could signal the start of a new phase in the search for a just and lasting peace in Darfur.

** Afghanistan

Chris Alexander, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan, has condemned the three attacks in Afghanistan over the past days in which civilians have been the principal victims.  The attacks include one yesterday in Kandahar in which acid was used to harm girl students on their way to school, which Alexander called “a hideous crime” that is contrary to previous assurances Afghans have been given that there would not be further attacks against schools or students.

Also yesterday, a large explosion in Kandahar resulted in the deaths of civilians and injuries to members of the Provincial Council and many others.  Today’s attack in Nangarhar, which took place in a crowded market area, has inflicted enormous suffering in an otherwise peaceful community.  The Deputy Special Representative called for an end to this cycle of senseless violence.

** Iraq

On Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for that country, expressed today his shock and outrage at the continued targeting and killing of religious minorities, following the murder of two Christian sisters in the northern city of Mosul.  That murder was followed by the flight of thousands of Mosul residents from their homes after a campaign of threats and attacks.

De Mistura said that Mosul has historically been, and must remain, a cradle of religious and ethnic diversity.  He reiterated the United Nations position that respecting and guaranteeing the rights of minorities in Iraq is “absolutely fundamental to a stable and democratic future for that country”.

Staffan de Mistura will brief the Security Council on Iraq in an open meeting tomorrow, and we expect him to be the guest at tomorrow’s noon briefing, if the Council meeting wraps up in time.  Otherwise, we’ll try to get him through the stakeout.

** Somalia

And turning to Somalia, the UN Special Representative there, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has welcomed the European Union’s decision to send ships to combat piracy off the coast of Somalia.  Ould-Abdallah said that piracy in that region has led to increased prices of food and fuel, with a direct negative impact on the lives of the poor.  It also poses a serious threat to the environment through attacks on oil tankers and other ships.  The EU’s naval mission, which is expected to begin next month, will protect vulnerable vessels off the coast of Somalia and the delivery of aid.  It will also join NATO’s already operating vessels, which are protecting food shipments to Somalia.  A number of individual countries have also sent warships.

**Secretary-General Statement on Myanmar

Yesterday afternoon, we also had a statement on Myanmar in which the Secretary-General expressed his deep concern by recent reports of sentences and severe prison terms imposed in connection with the peaceful demonstrations of last year in Myanmar.  He calls once again for all political prisoners to be released and for all citizens of Myanmar to be allowed to freely participate in the country’s political future as part of an inclusive national reconciliation process.  That came out late yesterday.

** Cyprus

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, meanwhile, spoke to the press in Nicosia today, following the second meeting this week between the Cypriot leaders.  Alexander Downer noted that the leaders’ discussion today focused on the judiciary and that “good progress” had been made.

The leaders are scheduled to meet again on Monday afternoon to discuss deadlock-resolving mechanisms.   We have a full transcript of his press encounter upstairs.

**Conventional Weapons

I his message to the 2008 Meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, the Secretary-General commended the 25 years of efforts to make the treaty an indispensable element of contemporary humanitarian, disarmament and arms control machinery.  He also highlighted the major achievements reached in the conventional weapons process but stressed that much more could be done to further address anti-vehicle mines.  And we have that upstairs.

**United Nations Environment Programme

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) scientific panel today meanwhile released a study on atmospheric brown clouds.  It found that these clouds, which result from burning fossil fuels and biomass, combine with greenhouse gases to produce dramatic effects across Asia.

They are “dimming” sunlight by up to 25 per cent in Shanghai, Beijing, New Delhi and Karachi.  Meanwhile, ground pollution has been linked with a variety of health effects, such as respiratory disease and cardiovascular problems, and is also contributing to the melting of glaciers in the Himalayas.

While brown clouds have been most intensively studied over Asia, scientists stress that the phenomenon also exists across North America, Europe, Southern Africa and the Amazon Basin.  And there’s more information on this phenomenon upstairs.

**HIV/AIDS – Asia

The UN Development Programme (UNDP) reports that, as Southeast Asians search for economic opportunities and mobility increases within their subregion, millions of people are becoming more vulnerable to HIV infection.  The new report, produced jointly by the United Nations and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), features a country-by-country assessment of HIV and mobility in the 10 ASEAN member countries.  The report shows that, despite their contributions to national economies, migrants have little or no right to legal or social protection and generally lack access to HIV/AIDS services and information.  We have more information on that upstairs.

A few more announcements and we’ll be finished.

**International Telecommunication Union

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) today launched a new initiative to safeguard children, who are described as “the most vulnerable users of the Internet”.  Addressing the ITU’s high-level meeting on cybersecurity by video message, the Secretary-General said: “We have to protect against cyberthreats, especially when they target children.”

The Child Online Protection initiative brings together partners from all sectors of the international community, with the aim of creating a safe and secure online experience for children everywhere.  Through the initiative, participants will work to identify key risks and vulnerabilities to children in cyberspace, create awareness of the issues, develop and promote practical tools to minimize risk, share knowledge and experience and facilitate international partnerships.  The Secretary-General has urged all States to support the initiative.  And there’s more on this upstairs.

**Other Press Releases

There are several other press releases to flag.  First, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is hailing the comeback of cassava in the Great Lakes region of Africa.  This staple crop, one of the continent’s principal foodstuffs, had been devastated by a virus in recent years.  New disease-free varieties have helped turned around crop yields.

UNESCO says that 100 countries have now signed the International Convention against Doping in Sport.  Yesterday in Paris, Paraguay became the 100th signatory to the Convention, which aims to ensure a consistent approach to anti-doping efforts across the globe.

And the World Tourism Organization has launched a new project to increase energy efficiency in hotels.  The initiative aims to reduce energy consumption by 20 per cent overall, while increasing the use of renewable energy by 10 per cent.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. in this room, there will be a press conference sponsored by the Mission of Nigeria to promote awareness of health issues of concern to Africa.

And that’s what I have for you.  We have the General Assembly Spokesperson here.  Anything for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  In light of these oppressive conditions, (inaudible) in Gaza, with the stoppage of fuel to territories, has the Secretary-General spoken with the Deputy Prime Minister of Israel who was here, as was the President of Israel, about alleviating the plight of the Palestinians?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, as you know, met with the Israeli Foreign Minister yesterday afternoon.  They discussed the interfaith initiative and the briefing to the Quartet in Sharm el-Sheikh by Foreign Minister [Tzipi] Livni and the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.  Other topics included the situation on the ground in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including Gaza, settlements, demolitions, the need for UN humanitarian projects to be allowed to proceed, the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006) on Lebanon, and the Israeli-Syrian track.  And I also draw your attention to the remarks that the Secretary-General did make in Sharm el-Sheikh over the weekend on this matter.

Question:  (inaudible) this is a very comprehensive conversation… In light of what happened there, they need immediate help over there.  Did he speak about that too or was it part of the conversation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Clearly, if he’s talking about the situation in Gaza now, he’s up to speed with what is going on there and he’s discussing the current plight and how to ameliorate the humanitarian situation on the ground.  Yes?

Question:  Another question, Marie.  It’s about… Has the Secretary General moved forward on the inquiry requested by Pakistan on Benazir Bhutto?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything further on that.  But as soon as I do, you know you’ll be the first one to be told.  But I don’t have anything on that.

Question:  Her husband is here speaking (inaudible).  There’s been no progress?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing further on this to report to you.

Question:  I would like to ask you, what is the Secretary-General’s position on the controversial pending resolution about the (inaudible) of religion.  We all know that it’s a little bit like the right of religion, the outcome of individual rights.  So what is his position on this issue?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think his position, in the context of this current dialogue going on, has been made very clear by him at his press conference and in his remarks yesterday, and he will read a declaration today at 5 p.m., summarizing the outcome of the two-day meeting.

Question:  You said before that he welcomed al-Bashir’s ceasefire.  There have been some reports that the International Court of Justice is facing some diplomatic pressure to freeze the case against the genocide issues he’s facing.  What is the Secretary-General planning to do in order to ensure there’s going to be justice?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you’re not referring to the International Court of Justice, but the International Criminal Court (ICC) and I think his position on this has been clear -- that the ICC proceedings are independent and I think he respects that.  At the same time, he is hopeful that the Government of Sudan continues to press for an end to the conflict and to allow the UN Mission in both – the Mission based in Khartoum and the Mission based in El Fasher [Darfur] to continue their work, and for the humanitarian agencies to get to all the people on the ground who desperately need their assistance -- that we’re trying to get to them.

Nothing else for me?  Then we turn to Enrique.  Thanks.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.  Let me give you the latest figures that we have for the attendance for the meeting of the Culture of Peace.  We still have 80 delegations, but the breakdown of figures has changed a little bit, so let me remind you.

We have 10 Heads of State; we have 4 Heads of Government; we have 18 Ministers, and we have 48 Permanent Representatives, that’s Ambassadors, for a total of 80.  The meeting, as you know, will be ending today, and I think it’s going to be a long afternoon or evening, because we still have many speakers to go.

And this is basically what I have, unless you have any particular questions.  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Enrique, what about the resolution that is being proposed by Pakistan and the Philippines on the conclusion of this meeting?  Is that resolution going to be made public, has it been adopted as consensus?

Spokesperson:  It is public -- I can give to you a copy of the draft resolution.  The resolution looks like it’ll be adopted by the end of today.  Yes, at the end of today, at the end -- after all the speeches, they will be adopting the resolution, as it was scheduled.

Question:  (inaudible) resolution, or is that the only one?

Spokesperson:  That’s my understanding, that there are two resolutions, you know, put forward.  One, the one you’re referring to from Philippines and Pakistan, my understanding is that it’s going to be adopted.  My understanding also, but I don’t want to prejudge the work of the General Assembly, is that the other one might be postponed.

Question:  Who are the sponsors of the resolution?

Spokesperson:  I think you have the list.  It’s the one put forward by Bangladesh.  But there are many other countries.  I can give you the numbers if you want, of both resolutions.  The one by Philippines and Pakistan, it’s called the Promotion of Interreligious and Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding and Cooperation for Peace.  That is A/63/L.24/Rev. 1.  And the other one, from Bangladesh, is International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World, 2001-2010.  And the number is A/63/L.23.

Question:  The Ukraine will be addressing the General Assembly today on the Culture of Peace.  However, based on a press conference with the Ambassador, they still seem to be very concerned about this agenda item on the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Great Famine of the 1930s which led to 7 million deaths in Ukraine under Joseph Stalin.  Can you give us an update on this agenda item, and let us know if it’s moving anywhere, what the future looks like.

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is what happened last time, as you probably know, which was that that item was postponed for further discussion.  I assume there have been discussions right now.  They will need to take a decision pretty soon.  I don’t have it at hand, but I can check for you whether there is any schedule for that to be discussed right now.  But the latest was that it was discussed, as you know, and it was decided to be postponed.

Question:  What happened with the consensus, if there wasn’t going to be any kind of resolution, that there’s going to be just an oral statement at the end of this?  How did that become a resolution?

Spokesperson:  No, you are mixing up two things.  Let me clarify.  It’s not easy because you need to understand what resolutions we’re talking about, and what is a statement.  Under item 45, culture of peace at the General Assembly, there are some resolutions, and, as it has been in the past, we have two resolutions, very similar to resolutions already approved in the past.  One from Philippines and one from Bangladesh.  Those resolutions are the ones I’ve just given you details on -- which I can give you a copy if you want, I have them with me.  Those are draft resolutions and it looks like, as I said -- it’s the General Assembly who’s going to take that decision, but it looks like, from what I get back from the Ambassadors, that the one from Philippines is going to be adopted, and the other one is going to be taking more time.  Now, for the high-level meeting that we’re assisting today with all the Heads of State, there’s going to be a statement which the Secretary-General is going to facilitate today, and also, as I said yesterday, at the end of the conference, meeting, we will have the President of the General Assembly making a statement, as well.

Question:  So there’s no written resolution coming out of the high-level meeting at all?

Spokesperson:  No.  There’s going to be a statement.

Question:  But what about the Philippines President -- when she was speaking yesterday, she talked about introducing a resolution.  But that’s not going to come out of…?

Spokesperson:  That’s what I said you are getting confused -- that’s the other resolution and I…

Question:  They’re not going to vote on that?

Spokesperson:  Again, I don’t want to say what is going to happen.  It looks like it will be adopted without vote.  But you never know at the very last moment what can happen in the General Assembly.  Okay?  James?

Question:  Does the President have any plans, moving forward, about what’s going to happen after this interfaith summit?  What does he see happening next?

Spokesperson:  I have not discussed this with him, so it would be premature to give you what he thought about it.  What I can tell you is what he has publicly said, that this meeting is a very interesting meeting, and that it is very good that we all have good intentions and all these nice and beautiful words, but now all this needs to be translated into action.  And he said he sees that these actions will have now a place, and it’s Doha in a couple of weeks, where there’s going to be a very important conference on financing for development, and all these good intentions that we have here, yesterday and today here at the General Assembly need now to be translated into political action, and he hopes that is shown clearly with the Doha commitments and the Doha negotiations.

Thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record