19 November 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 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.  I am sorry I am late.  I was waiting for three statements.  I have one; I am still waiting for two others.

**Secretary-General Statement on Darfur

I’ll start with the one I have, and it’s a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on recent reports of increased military activity in Darfur.

During the past few days, the United Nations has received troubling reports of aerial bombings near Kutum in Northern Darfur, as well as reports of fighting in the area of Tine, Western Darfur, and along the border with Chad.  The Secretary-General takes these reports very seriously and calls on all parties to refrain from hostilities, to respect the spirit of the ceasefire recently declared by the Government of Sudan, and to cooperate with the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).  The Mission is investigating these reports.

** Darfur

Meanwhile, UNAMID, the Mission there, is reporting that Joint Chief Mediator for Darfur, Djibril Bassolé, is in Darfur as part of his efforts to re-energize the peace process.

He held consultations with various parties in Darfur, including the leadership of the United Resistance Front (URF).  He also met with the Assistant to the President and leader of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA/M), Minni Minawi.

** Somalia

Turning to Somalia, the Secretary-General’s latest report to the Security Council is out today, and he says that the Djibouti Agreement remains open to all Somalis, and he urges all of them to joint that process, implement it faithfully and commit unconditionally to peace.

He says that the deterioration of the security situation, particularly in the south-central regions, poses an immense challenge, not just to reconciliation efforts but also to the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The Secretary-General says that the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) deserves international support and encouragement.  He adds that it will be imperative to tie that Mission, the ongoing anti-piracy operation and an envisaged multinational force in a coordinated effort to address both the consequences and the sources of lawlessness in Somalia.  As current conditions are not conducive to a UN peacekeeping operation, he appeals to Member States to pledge troops, funds and equipment for a multinational force.

And on the humanitarian side, the World Food Programme (WFP) says that, in October, it dispatched a total of 21,198 metric tons of food aid commodities for distribution in Somalia to nearly 1.7 million people.

Nearly 80 per cent of the food distributed was through emergency food distribution to vulnerable residents and displaced populations in south-central Somalia.

WFP is now targeting over 700,000 food insecure, urban residents with relief food distributions, in response to high food prices in urban areas.  The agency began the expansion of targeted nutrition intervention to internally displaced persons’ settlements, targeting malnourished children under the age of five, as well as pregnant and lactating women.

And the second statement I was waiting for from the Secretary-General is on piracy off the coast of Somalia.

**Security Council

Here at Headquarters, the Security Council this morning is holding an open debate, chaired by Costa Rican President Óscar Arias, on the strengthening of collective security through the general regulation and reduction of armaments.

Sergio Duarte, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, read a statement on behalf of the Secretary-General, welcoming the recognition by the Security Council that progress in disarmament and the regulation of armaments can make important contributions to strengthening collective security, for the benefit of all.

He said that no serious discussion on the limitation or elimination of armaments can avoid the topic of improving transparency.  If States behave in a predictable and transparent way, this can build confidence and, thereby, promote collective security.  We have his full statement upstairs.

** Middle East

And turning to the Middle East -- yesterday, from Geneva, the Secretary-General telephoned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to express his deep concern over the consequences of the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza.  He strongly urged the Prime Minister to facilitate the freer movement of urgently needed humanitarian supplies and of concerned UN personnel into Gaza.

The Israeli Prime Minister denounced the continuing rocket fire into Israel from Gaza, but agreed to look seriously into the urgent matter raised by the Secretary-General.

On the ground today, no fuel, humanitarian supplies or commercial commodities were allowed into Gaza, according to the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO).

Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) says that, starting tomorrow, it will have to suspend cash assistance to some 98,000 of the poorest people in Gaza.  This is due to the unavailability of shekel bank notes in Gaza banks.

In related news, the Commissioner-General of UNRWA, Karen AbuZayd, has warned that UNRWA is facing what the agency is calling a “grave and imminent financial crisis".  She was addressing UNRWA's annual meeting, which brings together donors, host Governments, non-governmental organization partners and other stakeholders.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The third statement I am awaiting is on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Meanwhile, in its weekly press conference, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) reports that elements of the CNDP (Congrès national pour la défense du people), after having proclaimed a unilateral retreat, have, since last night, begun a notable redeployment in the two areas.  MONUC has deployed several patrols to verify the situation on the ground.

And on the political front, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Olusegun Obasanjo, accompanied by co-facilitator former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, met in Kampala, Uganda, yesterday with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni.  And as I mentioned to you yesterday, he will be coming to brief the Secretary-General on his initial exploratory mission to the region, early next week.  He will be in New York to brief the Secretary-General.

** Georgia

And on Georgia, international discussions on Georgia were held today at the UN Office in Geneva.  Johan Verbeke, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), spoke to reporters after the meeting, together with representatives from the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).

Verbeke said that an “important qualitative leap” had been made today, as the meeting had moved from a sterile procedural debate to a substantive one.  All delegations had engaged in dialogue, in a spirit of mutual respect.  Among other things, Verbeke said stakeholders should try to make sure that the few crossing points in existence should remain open and be managed internationally, if possible.  That was very important for the people living in South Ossetia and Abkhazia, so that they could continue to commute and communicate with family members.  And the summary of his expressed remarks have just arrived from Geneva.

** Afghanistan

And out on the racks today is a letter from the President of the Security Council providing details of the composition and the terms of reference of a Security Council mission travelling to Afghanistan from 21 to 28 November.

The mission will be headed by Ambassador [Guilio Terzi di Sant’Agata] of Italy.  Among other things, it will review the progress made by the Afghan Government, in accordance with the Afghanistan Compact, and the implementation of the enhanced coordinating role assigned to the UN Mission in that country.

**Humanitarian Appeal 2009

And the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes just launched the Humanitarian Appeal 2009 in Geneva.  The appeal represents the efforts of 360 aid organizations, including UN agencies, to meet the world’s major humanitarian challenges in a coordinated and prioritized way. 

It seeks $7 billion to aid 30 million people in 31 countries next year.  It is the largest such appeal ever, representing a 40 per cent increase from 2008.  The list of countries is similar to last year’s, with the addition of Kenya and a regional appeal for refugees from Iraq, which included seven countries.  The biggest requirement was for Sudan, at just over $2 billion.

In launching the appeal, Holmes noted that $7 billion is equivalent to only a few cents per $100 of national income in rich countries.  We’re expecting a press release from OCHA later this afternoon.


The UN Environment Programme (UNEP), meanwhile, reports that a state-of-the-art ozone and pollution monitoring station is being set up in Qatar.

It will be the first such station in West Asia, and will plug a serious gap in global atmospheric monitoring.  The two nearest, similar ozone monitoring stations are 800 kilometres away in Iran and more than 3,000 kilometres away in Nairobi.

Readings from the monitoring station will help determine whether the ozone layer is actually recovering from decades of chemical attack.  There is more information on this upstairs.


Ray Chambers, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria, will be speaking on a panel today, hosted by the US Mission to the UN on “Achieving our targets:  Stemming the tide of malaria in Africa”.

He will discuss concrete next steps for fighting malaria and achieving the Secretary-General’s goal of providing everyone at risk in Africa with anti-malaria interventions by the end of 2010.

The event is open to the public and will be held at 1:15 in the ECOSOC Chamber.

**Universal Children’s Day

And tomorrow is Universal Children's Day.  To mark the occasion, a new global network of children formerly affected by war is set to be launched.

That will take place at 1:30 p.m. tomorrow, here in Room 226.  The Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Ms. Coomaraswamy, and the Ambassador of Italy [Guilio Terzi di Sant’Agata], will be joined by Saad Houry of UNICEF, as well as Ismael Beah, Grace Akallo, Kon Kelei, as well as other former child soldiers and youth advocates.

And at 6 tomorrow evening, in the Visitors Lobby, there will be a reception for the opening of a photo exhibit on “Child Soldiers -- Children of War:  Broken Childhood”.  There is more information in a media advisory on this upstairs.

**Secretary-General Statement on the Democratic Republic of the Congo

And before I just flag to you some press conferences, I did get the second statement I was waiting for on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  It is on the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo by the CNDP, which we just reported to you on.

The Secretary-General welcomes the announcement on 18 November of a military pullback by the National Congress in Defence of the People (CNDP) and the opening of humanitarian corridors to allow unhindered access to people in need in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  In this context, the Secretary-General appreciates the efforts exerted by his Special Envoy, Olusegun Obasanjo.

He calls on the parties to observe the cessation of hostilities and to guarantee safe passage of humanitarian assistance, as they continue with the efforts to find a political solution to the crisis.  And that’s available for you upstairs.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And we have two press conferences to flag for you tomorrow:

At 11:15 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by [Esteban Conejos Jr.,] the Under-Secretary for Migrant Workers’ Affairs at the Department of Foreign Affairs of the Philippines; who will be joined by Hania Zlotnik from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, on both this year’s Global Forum on Migration and Development, which took place recently in Manila, and next year’s Forum in Athens.

And at 2:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by Aira Kalela, Head of International Affairs at the Ministry of the Environment of Finland; Janet Macharia, Senior Gender Adviser at the UN Environment Programme; and Liane Schalatek, Associate Director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in North America, on issues relating to gender and climate change.

**Press Conference on Monday

And finally, just to flag for you that we will have on Monday, next week, Kemal Dervis, the Administrator of UNDP, and Jomo Kwame Sundaram, Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development, who will be briefing on the upcoming follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development to take place in Doha later this month.  And, as you know, we announced to you the Secretary-General’s plans in Doha when he travels there.

And that’s what I have for you.  We have Enrique Yeves on the General Assembly here to brief you as well.  I’ll turn over to him if there is nothing for me.  Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Marie.  Marie, you indicated that the Secretary-General had called Prime Minister Olmert regarding the humanitarian situation in Gaza.  (Inaudible)... that the Prime Minister said that he will look into the situation.  Did the Prime Minister say that in the course of the telephone conversation or later on in writing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is a readout of the phone conversation which we relayed to you last night.  Yes, Lalit?

Question:  Is there any proposal for UN peacekeeping to tackle piracy off the coast of Somalia?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Somalia piracy?  I mentioned to you we will have a Secretary-General’s statement on that later today.  That would obviously be up to the Security Council to look into.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Somalia, then a couple of other things.  On that, there are some trade organizations, including the International Chamber of Shipping, inter-tanker or inter-cargo -- they said that they’ve called; they’ve asked Ban Ki-moon to take action on the piracy issue.  Has he received letters, other than from Member States on this issue, and has he responded to them?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware.

Question:  Alright.  Also you said this thing on Gaza -- Tzipi Livni has said that Israel will now boycott the Durban II Conference in April in Geneva.  Is the UN aware of that?  Do they have any… Do they see any linkage between the calls by Ban and the Human Rights Commissioner yesterday in this announcement?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights regrets Israel’s confirmation that they do not intend to participate in the Durban Review Conference.  Given the critical importance of the issues under discussion at the Conference, broad participation is essential.

These issues of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance are issues which affect all countries and millions of individuals around the world, on a daily basis.

The outcome document of the original Durban Conference was agreed to by consensus and is an extremely valuable document with important and innovative recommendations for tackling racism in all its manifestations.

This is the initial response from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Question:  I actually want to ask, on this, what they call the internal justice system, there is a report -- ACABQ came out with a report fairly critical of the Secretary-General for not having this system ready for January 1.  It was supposed to be ready.  One, what’s the reason for the delay?  And two, what’s the Secretary-General going to do to make sure that some internal justice system remains in place (inaudible) on December 31?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, it’s obviously a high priority for the Secretary-General.  I will look into the question that you have, because I don’t have anything further on it now.  Okay, if there is nothing for me, Enrique.  Thank you very much.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

Let me focus today on a couple of issues that are being addressed by the General Assembly.

The first one is the reform of the Security Council, which is being discussed in the Assembly's Open-ended Working Group on the subject.  In his opening statement to the Working Group yesterday, President d´Escoto took the opportunity to remind Member States that:

“Peace and security cannot be maintained by a Security Council that is out of date and out of touch.  Let our reform effort, therefore, not run out of time:  we are ready to assume our responsibilities and make the most out of our historic opportunity to democratize the Security Council.  Today the General Assembly has that opportunity, and I have, beforehand, encouraged Member States to especially use this debate to take advantage of it.”

As you know, the President of the General Assembly has launched a major effort to democratize the Organization, including the Security Council.  In this regard, the Open-ended Working Group restarted its work on Tuesday, 11 November.  It now must prepare the ground for the intergovernmental negotiations that should begin no later than 28 February 2009.  This takes the reform effort to a higher level.

And on another front, we are shifting into high gear for the follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development, to be held in Doha, Qatar, from 29 November to 2 December.  As you know, funding for development and the Millennium Development Goals have been a major UN priority this year, and the Doha Conference has taken on even greater significance and urgency, as a result of the global financial crisis.

The President of the General Assembly is following very closely the negotiations on the final outcome document of the Conference, which are in their final stages.  He had a meeting yesterday with the two facilitators for the negotiations, the Ambassadors from Norway and Egypt.  And the President is making himself available to the parties to make sure that we have a meaningful and substantive document to be signed in Doha next week. 

And finally, I would like also to mention that this morning President d´Escoto participated at Columbia University, here in New York -- along with other distinguished speakers, including Mayor Bloomberg –- in a round table on “The Politics of Food:  A Conference on New York’s Next Policy Challenge”.

President d´Escoto said in his speech that:

“We are at a moment of dramatic change, perhaps a turning point.  The voices for change are multiplying and, as old systems collapse in exhaustion, finally being heard.  It is time for a new politics of food, one that starts from the bottom up, not the top down.  We need to have an approach to food production that is multifunctional, that has a concern for the poor and their right to food; a concern for the earth and its right to life; a concern for communities and their right to self-governance; what is referred to as food sovereignty.”

We have the speech available online, and we have copies, in case you are interested, here.

And this is basically all I have for you, unless there are any questions.  Edie.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Enrique, are there any details on the key points that the General Assembly President wants included in this [draft] final document for Doha?

Spokesperson:  Well, he has made it quite clear what are the elements that he would like to be there in the final outcome.  But right now he’d like to see how it’s going to be, the final outcome of the negotiations that are taking place right now.  He is now in the phase of informing -- you know, this is a negotiation process.  I think by the end of this week or the beginning of next, on Monday, we will have a clear picture on what are the problems, if there are any, or what are the main issues for discussion.  Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Enrique, thank you.  Besides encouraging the members of the Open-ended Working Group to reform the Security Council, has the President proposed, or does he intend to propose, any concrete recommendations?

Spokesperson:  Well, he’s mediating in the process.  He has made a major goal of this Presidency that at least we start, seriously, the reform of the Security Council, the impending reform of the Security Council.  He has inherited, as you know, the rules of the game, if I may use this expression, coming from the sixty-second session period, which basically was that to allow the Open-ended Working Group for some time before intergovernmental negotiations start not later than 28 February.  He himself has appointed a focal point, as you know -- Ambassador [Zahir] Tanin from Afghanistan -- to make sure to facilitate the negotiations.  And we have a very clear deadline and a time limit there.  And President d´Escoto again is following very closely and talking to the different ambassadors to make sure that we somehow unlock the pending issue of reforming the Security Council.  James.

Question:  Can I follow up on that?  How does the debate that is happening today and yesterday relate to the broader process?

Spokesperson:  The debate for yesterday and today is basically the status of where we are on the Open-ended Working Group; and the Open-ended Working Group is making the negotiations and their positions public and discussing how they are going to move from there in terms of negotiations.  But in the Open-ended Working Group, we have the time limit and President d´Escoto would like that we don’t need to wait until February.  That’s what he has made very clear to the ambassadors who are participating.  He met with several of them in the past couple of weeks, trying that we accelerate the process and don’t wait until the deadline of 28 February.

Question:  Can I ask another question?  It’s on the Third Committee, which is voting on two quite controversial draft resolutions this week.  One of them is the moratorium on the death penalty, which should come up tomorrow.  And the other one is defamation of religion.  I’m interested in if the President is taking a position on either of these.  I know there was what he said in the press conference on the defamation.  I wasn’t entirely sure if that was his actual position or if he knew the resolution in depth.  Do you have any more on any of those?

Spokesperson:  Well, he has been also having a look at the resolutions that are coming up.  He knows that there are negotiations going on right now on the draft resolutions and, as President of the General Assembly, he doesn’t want right now to interfere in those negotiations.  So once we have the final outcome of the resolutions, he will make his opinion available.

Question:  Fast and furious attempts to find what he thinks.  One is this debate today in the Security Council involves (inaudible) Article 26 of the Charter, which called on the Security Council to make proposals about disarmament to the General Assembly, which he hasn’t done.  Do you think, as President of the General Assembly, does Father Miguel believe that, does he support this debate?  Does he think that a referral should be made?  Does he think that the Security Council has done what it should on disarmament?

Spokesperson:  Let me go back to have a look with more details, and I’ll come back to you.  However, having said that, you know that disarmament is also one of the main priorities of this Presidency.  And it is one of the issues, also, that President d´Escoto would like to start moving.  We have a very ambitious agenda, as you know, and there are many issues that have been already taken action, and this is one of the issues that we were actually talking this morning that he would like this process to be accelerated as well.

Question:  Maybe he has some comment on today’s, because it does involve the GA.  And then, this is sort of a strange one, but in his press conference with Evo Morales of Bolivia, he said at the end that “never has the Catholic Church sided with a revolution in favour of the dispossessed.”  I think that’s what he said.  So today the Permanent Observer of the Holy See has taken issue with that and has said, for example, that the Catholic Church backed up things in the Philippines and even mentioned Nicaragua.  So I wonder, I don’t know, I’m just putting the ball back in your court.  Is this a considered position of Father Miguel that the Catholic Church has never done...  What does he think of the example of the Philippines, if you can get an answer on that for the Holy See?

Spokesperson:  Let me check that, and I’ll come back to you on this particular issue.  Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  When the President gets the conclusions of the Open-ended Working Group in February, I think 20th or 26th, is there a deadline?

Spokesperson:  It’s a little more complicated.  I didn’t want to complicate your life, but since you ask, I’m going to complicate it.  The Open-ended Working Group should make their final decision before 1 February.  And the intergovernmental negotiations should start not later than 28 February.  That is the deadline.

Question:  And after the negotiating group gets the recommendations from the Open-ended Working Group, what procedure does the President of the General Assembly intend to follow?  Is there a deadline also for the negotiating group or is there no deadline, and what procedure is he going to resort to vote, or is it going to be open-ended again?

Spokesperson:  No.  First, we need to wait and see what are the recommendations by the Open-ended Working Group.  And in this particular case, most of the positions are already known.  But still, the President of the General Assembly wants to make sure that it allows enough time for the discussion in the Open-ended Working Group.  With those recommendations, then we will see, or the President of the General Assembly will decide, what is the best way to move forward.  But what we have already is a consensus that there are going to be negotiations at the intergovernmental level in the plenary in the General Assembly, which is already a major breakthrough.

Question:  So, the process within the negotiating group will also be open?

Spokesperson:  Correct.  That’s what makes it different now from before; one of the differences.

Question:  (inaudible)...day, no deadline for the negotiating group?

Spokesperson:  No, there is no deadline because that is something that the Member States have to agree among themselves.  As you know, it’s a very complex issue.  It’s a puzzle that the Member States need to try to resolve, although there is a broad consensus that it is not representative of the twenty-first century and that it should be reformed to allow -- both in terms of quantity and quality -- to improve the composition of the Security Council.

Question:  When are these recommendations to take (inaudible)?

Spokesperson:  As I said before, they are discussing them right now, and they have the deadline of 1 February 2009.  Okay, thank you very much.

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