21 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, all.

** Gaza

We expect a statement shortly concerning the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

On that subject, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes today urged all parties to the conflict in the Gaza Strip to refrain from violence and to allow the immediate and sustained reopening of border crossings.  “Measures which increase the hardship and suffering of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip as a whole are unacceptable and must cease immediately,” he stated.

Holmes noted that the Secretary-General has repeatedly condemned rocket attacks aimed at Israeli civilian targets.  But Holmes also expressed particular concern that the human dignity and well-being of the civilians in Gaza, over half of whom are children, do not appear to be a major issue for the parties to the conflict.

**Statement Attributable to the Spokesperson on the Situation in Gaza

[The following statement was actually read towards the end of the noon briefing, when it was delivered to the Spokesperson.]

The Secretary-General continues to express his concern at the humanitarian situation in Gaza.  He has underscored the importance of having Israel urgently permit the delivery of humanitarian assistance to the civilian population of Gaza, and regrets that his calls have not yet been heeded.  The Secretary-General has been briefed on the humanitarian situation in Gaza by the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, and supports the statement just released by his office.

The Secretary-General reiterates his condemnation of rocket and other attacks by Palestinian militants against Israeli civilian targets.  He calls for an end to such attacks and urges full respect by all parties for the calm that has been in effect since 19 June 2008.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Bangladesh

We also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Bangladesh.

In response to a request from the Caretaker Government of Bangladesh, the Secretary-General has established a high-level panel for the forthcoming parliamentary elections slated for December.  The panel is tasked with assessing the preparations and conduct of the elections through visits to Bangladesh before and during the elections.  The Panel will be headed by Mr. Francesc Vendrell, former Special Representative in Afghanistan of the European Union and previously Personal Representative of the UN Secretary-General for Afghanistan.  Its other members are Mr. Bhojraj Pokharel, Chief Election Commissioner of Nepal, and Ms. Aracelly Santana, former Deputy Director of the UN's Electoral Assistance Division and most recently Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Nepal.

The Panel will report to the Secretary-General with its key findings and recommendations.  It will undertake its first visit from 23-29 November, and will return for about a week at the time of the elections.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The situation in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo is calm overall, according to the UN Mission in that country (MONUC).  The ceasefire is holding, and the reinforcement of UN peacekeepers is proceeding as planned in and around Goma, where joint day and night patrols with the Congolese army continue.  The Mission reports three minor incidents involving brief exchanges of fire between Mai Mai fighters and General [Laurent] Nkunda’s rebels.  There were no casualties.

In other news, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said that looting has continued in North Kivu, even as military hostilities have abated.  Just this week, Congolese soldiers ransacked a therapeutic nutritional centre in Kayna, while an office of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Kirumba was looted.  OCHA says civilians in North Kivu live in a constant state of fear due to the insecurity and looting, illegal roadblocks and forced labour.  In Goma, there were 20 cases of sexual violence in the past week.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR), meanwhile, is increasingly concerned about public safety among the 67,000 IDPs at the Kibati camps where a 20-year-old woman was shot and killed this morning.  Many families have been forced to abandon their shelters, which were subsequently looted by armed men.  UNHCR says the situation makes it all the more urgent that the Congolese authorities work with the United Nations to move the IDPs to a new site that has already been identified.

** Afghanistan

Available today is a report by the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Afghanistan.  In it, he urges all anti-Government elements who are party to the conflict to immediately stop the use, exploitation and recruitment of children.  And he strongly urges the Taliban to immediately cease attacks against civilians, especially children.

Also in the report, the Secretary-General asks the Government of Afghanistan and international military forces to grant the UN and human rights monitoring bodies full access to all their detention facilities, including the National Directorate of Security and the Bagram Airbase.

He also encourages the Government of Afghanistan to do more to prevent and punish sexual violence, support victims, and monitor grave sexual violations against boys as well as girls.

**Security Council

Following consultations yesterday afternoon, the Security Council voted unanimously to extend the authorization of the European forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, known as EUFOR, for a further 12 months.

Security Council members also issued a press statement welcoming the peaceful and orderly holding of the 16 November elections in Guinea-Bissau.

There are no Council meetings or consultations today.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the World Food Programme (WFP) has resumed work in the Somaliland region, where it was forced to halt its work following the multiple bomb attacks in the city of Hargeysa on 29 October.  One of those bombs targeted the UNDP compound there.

During the past week, WFP distributed a total of 522 tons of food through various projects in the region.  Food deliveries have been slow, due to security concerns.  WFP also began the delivery of assorted kitchen utensils and cutlery to 105 new schools in Somaliland for the implementation of the school feeding programme.

Meanwhile, UNHCR has reported that an estimated 25,000 people fled the town of El Waaq last week fearing insecurity in the area.  As of today, the majority of the IDPs refused to return to their homes and are in need of humanitarian assistance.

**Deputy Secretary-General

The Deputy Secretary-General today addressed the Sixth African Development Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.  She noted that, while many African countries have experienced economic growth in recent years, there remain glaring gender disparities in the areas of health, higher education, employment and empowerment. 

The crises of climate change, global financial turmoil and high prices for food and fuel have the potential to widen gender inequalities, she said. 

Women in Africa and throughout the developing world are largely responsible for the household water supply and energy for cooking and heating, as well as for food security, she noted.  At the same time, they tend to have little income and unequal access to resources, land, technologies and other assets.  When food becomes expensive, women and their families fall deeper into poverty.

The Deputy Secretary-General said the world must move beyond short-term solutions like emergency food aid and address the underlying causes by improving access to education, health, marketing infrastructure, technologies, secure land rights, irrigation water and clean energy sources.

She also called for greater involvement of women in the decision-making processes in addressing climate change, the food and energy crises and the financial crisis.


A United Nations Workshop on Implementing Security Council Resolution 1540 will be held from 24 to 28 November 2008 in São Paulo, Brazil, organized by the Office for Disarmament Affairs.

The workshop aims to enhance national capacities for the management of export control processes at a practical level as well as to improve information and experience-sharing between national export control and enforcement authorities.  It is also expected to facilitate assistance and cooperation related to the implementation of resolution 1540.  We have more information upstairs.

Computer Recycling

UNESCO has launched a free guide to computer recycling for entrepreneurs and project sponsors.  The guide seeks to address the effect of computer equipment waste on health and the environment, which is a particular concern in developing countries.

This year, almost 180 million computers have been replaced; an estimated 35 million of them were simply dumped, despite the toxic substances they contain.  UNESCO says that obsolete and unwanted IT and computer equipment should be recycled to benefit other users, whenever possible.  Equipment and components not fit for reuse should be disassembled and processed to recover raw materials in an environmentally sound manner.  There is more information also upstairs.

**Press Conferences

Today at 1 p.m. in this room, Ambassador Jorge Valero Briceño, Permanent Representative of Venezuela to the UN, will be joined by other speakers to announce a new draft resolution entitled “The World Economic and Financial Crisis and its Consequences”. This draft resolution is co-sponsored by the “Group of 77” and China.

And on Monday at 12:15 p.m., before the noon briefing, there will be a press conference by UNDP Administrator Kemal Derviş and Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development Jomo Kwame Sundaram on the upcoming Financing for Development Review Conference and the Secretary-General's high-level retreat on the global financial crisis with leaders of the G20 and non-G20 countries in Doha.

My regular press briefing will follow this press conference.  And this is all I have for you today.

**Week Ahead

And we also have the “Week Ahead”, which is available upstairs.

The Security Council is scheduled to begin, on Saturday, a one-week mission to Afghanistan.

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes is scheduled, on Saturday, to begin a week-long visit to Chad and Sudan.

Next Thursday, UN Headquarters is closed for an official holiday (U.S. Thanksgiving).

And on Friday, November 28 in Doha, Qatar, the Secretary-General and the Emir of Qatar jointly convene a high-level retreat on the global financial crisis, on the eve of the Follow-up International Conference on Financing for Development to Review the Implementation of the Monterrey Consensus.  And, as you know, the Conference is going from 29 November to 2 December.

And that’s all I have.  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

QuestionMichèle, you just said that the Afghanistan report called on the Taliban not to cause civilian casualties.  But does it also call on the United States not to bomb civilian targets, especially weddings, et cetera.  Does it also call on the United States and the coalition forces not to attack the civilians?

Spokesperson:  I’d suggest that you go to the report itself and find the information.  It’s available.

Question:  It’s available?

Spokesperson:  It’s on the counter outside.  Yes, Bill?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General believe that the Israeli actions vis-à-vis access to Gaza is a violation of international humanitarian law?

Spokesperson:  He is extremely concerned about that, and you should have a statement a little later today.  He’s certainly stressing that the aid to the population in Gaza should be unconditional.  You’ll get that statement a little later today, Bill.

Question:  Could you be more specific as to the timing of it?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the statement yet.  We should have it soon.  Yes?

QuestionMichèle, the Secretary-General has the ability to present something to the Security Council.  Is this the kind of issue that is critical for him to use that ability?  Is there a way to ask him?

Spokesperson:  You’re talking about the situation in Gaza?

Question:  In Gaza, yes.

Spokesperson:  He hasn’t really gone that way yet, but he could, yes.

Question:  Could you ask him about that?  Because this is a critical issue.  It’s gone on for a long time; there are a number of people’s lives that are at stake.  Is there a way to ask him about that?

Spokesperson:  Well, the issue has gone to the Security Council several times, as you know already.  Yes, Masood?

QuestionMichèle, yesterday you said that the American bombing inside Pakistan was a bilateral issue and that the United Nations will not comment on it.  Could you please say that if there is an attack on another country by an outside force, that goes to say that if there is…?

Spokesperson:  No, no, no, I didn’t say it in this way.  What I meant was essentially that it was being treated on a bilateral level, because, as you know, it was reported in the press that the US administration was meeting with the Pakistanis.  It’s in that sense that I said that.  The Secretary-General certainly has his own concerns about this; about different attacks that have taken place across borders.  I cannot generalize on those attacks because every time there are a different set of circumstances.  So, that’s the way I meant it yesterday.  Yes, Bill?

Question:  There are reports that Foreign Minister Livni’s office characterized a phone call between Ms. Livni and the Secretary-General in which she was critical of the Secretary-General and the UN for putting too much pressure on Israel to open up these crossings and not focussing enough on the rocket attacks.  What is the UN’s view of this phone call?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General spoke to Ms. Livni and he was very strong about his concern for the population in Gaza.  And he felt very strongly that even though he understood the security challenges faced by Israel, at the same time, he felt that the civilian population should not be paying for a situation in which they are the victims.  Yes?

Question:  The Prime Minister of Serbia has been quoted as saying that the plan to hand over some control from UNMIK to EULEX is completely unacceptable.  How is Ban Ki-moon planning to proceed after this development?

Spokesperson:  You mean after the statement was made?

Question:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  Well, why don’t we wait for his report to come out on the situation there?  That should be coming to the Security Council very soon.  Yes?

Question:  The spokesman for the CNDP in the Congo has said that they pulled out of the town of (inaudible), but that the FDLR has, in fact, moved in.  That they’d asked MONUC to, if they were going to pull back consistent with the ceasefire, that MONUC should patrol the area rather than letting these other militias in.  Did the UN move in, or is it aware that the FDLR rebels have, in fact, occupied the lands that the CNDP has pulled back from?

Spokesperson:  You can get that information from our colleagues in DPKO.

Question:  Right.

Spokesperson:  It has to confirm the information.

Question:  I guess the main thing I’d say is, is MONUC endeavouring, since the UN is encouraging CNDP to pull back from Goma, does the UN then take control of those areas so that other militias...?

Spokesperson:  That’s what I am saying. For what is happening in the field, you’re best to call DPKO and try to find out.  They will get for you the exact situation on the ground in that specific area which I don’t have myself.

Question:  Right, right.  I mean, I guess, could somebody... it’s like the Congo policy issue.  So, you may say the same to this, but in Liberia, the press union of Liberia has said that UNMIL peacekeepers were involved in the seizing of a camera from a journalist at the request of the Chief Justice of the country.  So, I guess, although you may say I ask Liberia, I want to know, does UNMIL, does it have a sort of a press freedom component?  Or would you be surprised that that took place; and if it took place, why it took place?

Spokesperson:  Well, let me check first whether it took place and what happened exactly.  As soon as I get the circumstances, then I’ll let you know.

[She later confirmed that the UN Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) is aware of the allegations and is investigating.]

Question:  Okay.  I’m just wondering, there is no place else I can ask this one, so I’ll ask it here.  It has to do with the internal justice system of the UN.  I notice that this evening the Secretary-General is going to this, I guess it’s the ending of the Administrative Tribunal.  But there is nothing to take its place.  It’s been said by ACABQ and others that the new system of justice that was supposed to begin 1 January is not going to begin.  So I think I asked earlier in the week but there are a lot of countries that I asked yesterday, what is the plan for 2 January for, you know, staff members or whatever, you know, for people to be able to (inaudible) claims for the UN to consider?

Spokesperson:  For the time being it’s still being discussed, as you know, within the Budget Committee, about the money aspect of the whole set up.  Why don’t we let this discussion take its course?  And then we’ll find out, first, whether they will be able to start as planned in January.  And then, of course, I will let you know what is being put in place in case it’s not ready.

[The Spokesperson later added that the Secretariat is fully committed to preparing for the new system to start as soon as possible.  The Secretariat is making the necessary preparations to ensure that the current system can remain functional until the new one is ready to be implemented to avoid any vacuum in the justice system, she said.]

We now have the statement from the Secretary-General.  It’s attributable to the Spokesperson.  [Reads statement on Gaza.  See above.] 

QuestionMichèle, I just wondered, the Israeli Prime Minister (inaudible) Mr. Ban Ki-moon talked to the Israeli Prime Minister (inaudible) that the attacks of the Israeli rockets until they stop will not reverse the… is that (inaudible)?

Spokesperson: We already gave you a readout of the statement of the conversation with Mr. Olmert.

Question:  Yeah, but has this been determined, that these Israeli, the rocket attacks began before or after the crossings were stopped?

Spokesperson:  We can check on the exact sequence for you.

Question:  I’m sorry, just the last question.  In Myanmar, a very well-known comedian and activist was recently sentenced to 45 years just because of his point of view.  Does the Secretary-General or his adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, have any comment about this situation that’s just getting worse and worse?

Spokesperson: On this specific case I can only reiterate what the Secretary-General has been saying, about Myanmar and about the need to free all political prisoners.  He has been saying it over and over again.  In this specific case, we can try to find out whether any special approach was taken by Mr. Gambari.  I will ask him the question, of course. 

QuestionMichèle, [on Gaza] it would seem a bit as if collective punishment is okay, if there is…?

Spokesperson:  No, not at all.  I think you are misunderstanding what it says.  It does not talk about collective punishment.  On the contrary, the Secretary-General has been very strong against this type of collective punishment against the population.

Question:  (inaudible) equalize the two situations.  There is a difference in degree and quality… (interrupted).

Spokesperson:  It is not equalizing, I’m sorry to interrupt you but it is not equalizing the two situations.  It is just saying that the Secretary-General, of course, is aware of the challenges to Israeli security.  It is not equating the two situations.  If you heard the statement correctly, it is saying that what is the strongest point is that the population should not be paying the price.

Question:  But doesn’t the statement then fail to say that the rocket attacks do not... Israel’s condemnation of that does not justify collective punishment… (interrupted)

Spokesperson:  I just said that the Secretary-General… (interrupted)

Question:  …as long as the Secretary-General doesn’t say that it doesn’t justify it, isn’t this indeed in a way justifying it?

Spokesperson:  It is not.  The Secretary-General was very strong in saying that the assistance to the population is unconditional, should be unconditional.  The allowance of humanitarian aid to go through the crossings should be unconditional.  The Secretary-General has said it over and over again, and he has said it again here.  He is concerned; he is very deeply concerned about the situation.  And he has expressed this to both Mr. Olmert and Ms. Livni.

Question:  Has any decision been made as yet on appointing a commission for Benazir Bhutto’s investigation as yet?

Spokesperson:  Not yet.  Thank you all so very much.

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For information media • not an official record