1 December 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.

Good afternoon.  I hope all of you here had a restful Thanksgiving weekend.

**World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day.  And to mark the day, the Secretary-General announced the appointment of Michel Sidibé of Mali as the next Executive Director of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS, known as UNAIDS.  Mr. Sidibé will take up his new position on 1 January 2009.

Speaking in Doha earlier today, the Secretary-General made that announcement and said AIDS continues to be one of the most devastating epidemics in history.  He noted that people are still being infected with HIV faster than we can treat them.

He added that, as we commemorate this year, the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is indeed shocking that people living with HIV are still denied entry, stay and residence rights in certain countries.

The Secretary-General said he will work hard to eliminate such travel bans with the concerned national leaders.

Meanwhile, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that marginalization of and hostility against sexual minorities, sex workers, injecting drug users, prisoners and other vulnerable groups all combine to drive them underground and away from HIV services.  Like all people, these groups are entitled to the right to health, she said.

For their part, UNAIDS, UNICEF, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Population Fund released a new report today.  It says that early diagnosis and treatment can significantly improve the prospects for survival of newborn babies exposed to HIV.  "Today, no infant should have to die of AIDS," said WHO Director-General Margaret Chan.

We have more information on all of these items, as well as a message from the International Labour Office (ILO).

**Secretary-General in Doha

On Saturday, the Secretary-General opened the Conference on Financing for Development in Doha, Qatar, which he started by reaffirming international solidarity with the Government and people of India, as they mourn the victims of the outrageous terrorist attacks in Mumbai.

He told the leaders gathered for the Conference that, without exaggeration, we can say that the well-being of our people and the health of our societies —- even the future of our planet —- depend on what we do in the weeks to come.  To promote needed coordination, we need to build a bridge between the “G-20” and the rest of the world —- the entire community of nations, he said.

The Secretary-General yesterday spoke at several side events held in Doha.  He told a high-level event on food that volatile food prices are a cause of suffering, but they are also a symptom that the global food system is in crisis.  He urged funding for food assistance, cash transfers and safety nets.

Speaking at a side event on education, the Secretary-General stressed that the impact of the world’s financial crisis on development gains in education made since 2000 is a major concern for all countries and all citizens.  The Millennium Development Goals cannot be achieved without education, he said.

And he told a high-level event on debt that there has been good progress in providing relief to the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries.  Now, he added, we need to do more to relieve the debt of other States that are climbing the development ladder.

The Secretary-General held a number of bilateral meetings in Doha on financial and regional issues.  Those meetings included bilateral discussions with President Idriss Déby of Chad; President François Bozizé of the Central African Republic; Jean Ping, Chairman of the African Union Commission; and the AU-UN Joint Mediator for Darfur, Djibril Bassolé.

**World Economic Prospects Report

And today in Doha, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs released the “Global Outlook” chapter of its 2009 World Economic Situation and Prospects report.  It finds that world per capita income is expected to decline next year, amid a calamitous and global economic downturn that will last into 2009 and likely beyond.

If the current credit squeeze isn’t addressed in the coming months, developed countries could enter into a deep recession in 2009, dragging down growth in developing countries to levels that threaten poverty reduction efforts and political stability, according to the report.

It calls for massive and better-coordinated economic stimulus packages, as well as stronger regulation of financial systems and other reforms.  There is more information on this report upstairs.

** Lebanon

And also in Doha, the Secretary-General yesterday met in Doha with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and he announced afterward that the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is fully on track to commence functioning on 1 March 2009.  He added that he and Prime Minister Siniora agreed that the launch of the Special Tribunal will be a significant step towards the end of impunity and hoped that the Security Council will endorse the plan.

The Secretary-General added that there will now be a build-up in momentum, with a coordinated transition starting on 1 January 2009, during which the staff of the International Independent Investigation Commission in Beirut will gradually transfer to The Hague.  This will be carried out in a manner that ensures that there is no interruption to the Commission’s investigation.

We have available today the Secretary-General’s third report on the preparations for the Special Tribunal, which says that all practical arrangements will be in place for the Prosecutor to arrive on 1 March.  And that is out on the racks as a document.

** Gaza

Turning to Gaza, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reports that it is still unable to get shekel bank notes into Gaza’s banks.  As a result, the Agency’s distributions of cash to some 94,000 of the poorest people in Gaza remain suspended.

UNRWA adds that its school feeding program for 200,000 children requires 200,000 shekels per day.  Schools are currently operating on credit with vendors, but are sounding the alarm bells that they will be forced to stop shortly if they do not receive the cash.

** Great Lakes Region

And an update on the activities of the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, Olusegun Obasanjo.  Mr. Obasanjo and the co-facilitator, former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, have completed their second round of consultations in the region beginning late last week.

On Thursday, Mr. Obasanjo met with President Denis Sassou Nguesso of the Republic of the Congo.  On Friday, the co-facilitators consulted with President Joseph Kabila of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, as well as with the Foreign Minister of that country.

On Saturday they met with the Head of the National Congress in Defence of the People, (CNDP) leader Laurent Nkunda.  The Special Envoy intends to remain closely engaged with the principals and other actors in the region.  He looks forward to the holding of a second regional summit of Heads of State, tentatively scheduled for mid-December 2008.

** Sudan

Turning to Sudan, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, has concluded his six-day visit to Sudan by reiterating the importance of protection of civilians and urging improved cooperation with the Government of Sudan in facilitating humanitarian assistance in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan.

Holmes said:  “What we need above all in Darfur is a comprehensive ceasefire followed by a rapid peace settlement.  But as long as we don’t have peace so that people can return home, the humanitarian response will be needed.”

He added, “The key issue remains protection on all levels; protection of civilians, particularly women and children; safety and security for aid workers; and respect for the fundamental principles of humanitarianism, to enable us to continue assisting those affected by conflict and natural disaster.”

He also emphasized the challenging security environment which Darfur poses for aid workers trying to deliver vital assistance for 4.7 million conflict-affected people.  And you can have details of the statistics in the press release upstairs.

During his visit, Holmes was also updated on the enormous challenges facing the south.  He urged donors to continue their funding to confront critical humanitarian and recovery issues, particularly in the health sector, and encouraged the Government of Southern Sudan to step up their efforts to provide basic services and develop key sectors, such as agriculture.


On Saturday morning, a rocket hit near a UN compound in the International Zone in the Iraqi capital, Baghdad.  Two people were killed and 15 others were injured among staff of a catering company supporting the UN facilities.  We issued a statement in which the Secretary-General strongly condemned the attack, and expressed his condolences to the families of victims and his hopes for a speedy recovery to the injured catering staff.

Meanwhile, in Afghanistan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Kai Eide, yesterday said that an Afghan woman who worked on a contract for the UN Refugee Agency was shot dead in the eastern province of Nangarhar last week.  He condemned her murder and called for a thorough investigation.

**Human Rights Council

In Geneva, the Human Rights Council’s eighth special session, which focused on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, wrapped up today in Geneva.  In its resolution, which it adopted by consensus, it expressed serious concern at the deteriorating human rights and humanitarian situation in North Kivu, and it called for the immediate end to all human rights violations there.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group began its third session this morning in Geneva.  You’ll recall that the Universal Periodic Review was created by the General Assembly in 2006.  It involves evaluating the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years.

This morning, the Working Group reviewed the fulfilment of human rights obligations by Botswana.  This afternoon it will take a look at the Bahamas.

** Nepal -- Special Representative of the Secretary-General Coomaraswamy

Turning to Nepal, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, is visiting Nepal from today until 6 December to assess first-hand the impact of the conflict on children.

During the six-day visit, the Special Representative will pay particular attention to the issue of the release and the reintegration of former child soldiers, as well as the current use of children by armed groups and their participation in political violence.  And you can read more about that upstairs in a press release.

** Kyrgyzstan -- Assistance Appeal

The United Nations, in consultation with the Government of Kyrgyzstan and other humanitarian partners, has issued a humanitarian flash appeal for $20 million in response to significant energy shortages at the start of Kyrgyzstan’s tough winter season.  The appeal will ensure energy and power for critical facilities and meet the basic needs of the 800,000 most vulnerable people in that country.

**Deputy Secretary-General

And just [three] more things:  One is that the Deputy Secretary-General will travel tomorrow to Turin, Italy, to chair the Ninth Session of the United Nations System Staff College Board of Governors on 4 December.  While in Turin, she will meet with the Mayor on 3 December.  During that meeting, she will emphasize the UN's gratitude for the support the city has given to the Staff College.  She will return to New York on 5 December.

**Security Council

And with the start of a new month, Croatia has taken over the rotating Presidency of the Security Council.  Ambassador Neven Jurica of Croatia is holding bilateral talks with other Council members today on the programme of work for December, and the Council is expected to hold consultations on that programme tomorrow.

The Security Council President is scheduled to speak to you in this room, at 12:30 tomorrow afternoon, to discuss the Council’s work during the month ahead.

**Climate Change Talks

And finally, the latest round of UN-backed climate change negotiations got under way in Poznan, Poland, today.  During the two-week session, negotiators are discussing the first draft of a document that could serve as the basis for a new global climate change deal, to be reached by the end of next year.

At today’s opening session, United Nations Framework Convention Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer said the current meeting also needs to achieve progress on issues which are important in the short run, such as adaptation, finance, technology, and reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Chairman Rajendra Pachauri told the Conference that he sensed that climate change was “still seen as distant and undefined”.  He stressed that there was a wealth of scientific information to serve as a basis for action.  He said emissions must start declining by 2015 if the world is to embark on a course that will limit climate change.

And there’s more information on this Conference upstairs, and as we announced to you, the Secretary-General will be attending the Poznan Conference next week.

That’s what I have for you.  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, in view of this weekend’s events in India, in which there is tension between India and Pakistan which has arisen, is the Secretary-General going to intervene at some point in time to caution, I mean some sort of, I mean talks between India and Pakistan, you know, to lessen the tension that has arisen over there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, as you know, was one of the first to express his strong condemnation of these attacks, as well as his sympathy and solidarity with the Government and people of India.  That solidarity extends to other nations who lost citizens in these heinous attacks.  He reiterates his strong condemnation today.  He also joins in the call, by Indian authorities, for full cooperation, by all concerned both inside and outside the country, with their investigation.

Question:  What will he do, you know, to, because there are indications that India may, in an act of reprisal, attack?  Pakistan fears it may attack Pakistan, because although it says it has nothing to do with those non-state actors, but still the responsibility is being pinned on Pakistan.  What does the Secretary-General plan to do about that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just read to you what the Secretary-General has said on the subject.

Question:  Do you have any reaction to this new appointment, new United States ambassador by Mr. Barack Obama, Susan Rice as new United Nations Ambassador?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I understand her appointment is part of a larger announcement, and as you know, the Secretary-General has already spoken with President-elect Obama of the United States, and he said he looks forward to working with the new United States administration.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, following up on the India-Pakistan situation, the Pakistan Ambassador sent a letter to the Secretary-General yesterday.  Does he have any comments on it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have to follow up on the receipt of the letter.  I am not aware of a receipt of a letter from Pakistan.  Yes?

Question:  Could I ask you about Gaza?  The Secretary-General appears to have received quite short shrift so far, from the Israelis, to his expressions of concern about events in Gaza.  And various officials have described the situation there as one of collective punishment, which would put Israelis in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention.  Now, as I understand it, under that Convention, the Secretary-General, as well as other representatives of the high contracting powers, is mandated to call a conference of the other high contracting powers if that is the situation.  Does he have any plans to do that?  And could you sort of enlighten me on the legal situation?  Is he obliged to call a meeting in such circumstances, or is it at his discretion under the terms of the Convention?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I will look into that for you, I don’t have anything legal, an update on what you refer to right now.

[The correspondent was later informed that the Secretary-General’s focus is to press the case for improving the humanitarian conditions in Gaza with Israeli authorities and whoever else can be of assistance; that is where his efforts are concentrated.  She also noted that it would be the Swiss Government, and not the Secretary-General, that would convene the contracting parties.]

Question:  While he was in Doha, this meeting with Robert Mugabe that’s been reported in the Zimbabwean press, I mean, was it set up before the trip?  What did Mr. Ban discuss with Robert Mugabe?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General did have a one-on-one tête-à-tête meeting with the Zimbabwean President.  And the Secretary-General was asked by one of your colleagues travelling with him about the meeting, and so he confirmed that the meeting had taken place, but added that they had agreed not to disclose what was discussed.  But, he did confirm the Secretary-General’s humanitarian concerns and the political issues, including on power-sharing, were discussed, and as you know, the Secretary-General issued a statement last week outlining his position on both these issues, and that was conveyed again to the President.  Yes?

Question:  I want to just follow up on that.  There was press conference here last week by OCHA about Zimbabwe, at which it was said that two weeks ago it was decided that United States dollars could be used by United Nations agencies in Zimbabwe… (interrupted)

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, I have nothing on this subject beyond what you asked then and you followed up, and then, if OCHA has nothing to say, I don’t have anything further on that.

Question:  It’s been said, since, that the reason that they switched to dollars was because there were $7 million missing from the UN Global Fund for AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis.  And so, I just wanted to understand, the way it was presented here, was that OCHA… (interrupted)

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not heard anything like that, but we can certainly look into that for you.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Marie.  In addition to announcing that Hillary Clinton will be the next United States Secretary of State and Susan Rice the next ambassador to the United Nations, the President-elect also said that he will work to strengthen the United Nations and to promote reforms.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to that…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, as you know, spoke to the President-elect, and as you heard about that, he very much looks forward to working with the new administration and the President.  Betsy?

Question:  On the same subject, can you remind me when they spoke; actually, when the Secretary-General and the President-elect spoke?  And also, has he met Susan Rice, in any conference or any particular…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I will confirm the date for you, because off the top of my head, I don’t remember the exact date.  But we can get that to you, and I will look into whether [he had any contact] with Susan Rice.  Yes?

[The Deputy Spokesperson later informed the reporter that the Secretary- General and President-elect Obama had spoken on 19 November.]

Question:  Marie, my question was:  Is the Secretary-General pleased with the announcement by the President-elect that he will strengthen the United Nations and would promote reforms?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is on an airplane, and so, obviously he hasn’t heard the announcement.  That’s why I keep referring you to the conversation he’s had with the President-elect on this and many other issues that they have in common.

Question:  But will he… (interrupted)

Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Abbadi, he is on the airplane now; he hasn’t heard this announcement.  It was presumably just made, and so, we’ll have to ask him when we see him.  Yes?

Question:  It’s reported that President Bashir of Sudan was in Doha, but did not meet with Mr. Ban.  Is that a conscious decision by Ban?  Was there a request made by Sudan to meet with the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Not that I know of, but he did not meet with him.  That’s all I know.

Question:  And on the Mugabe meeting, is this something that had been arranged before he travelled to Doha?  Did it happen spontaneously?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know, but I can find that out for you too.

Question:  And then also, there was a report last week by ACABQ that the UN Pension Fund, that actually the losses are $12 billion in the last, since the beginning of the year -- 29 per cent the value of the Fund.  What is the United Nations’ plan either to, I guess to try and make up that shortfall?  Are they going to ask for contributions from Member States?  What’s the plan?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, this is the first I hear of your report, so, we’ll have to look into that first.  Okay, if there is nothing else…

Question:  Just last week, I mean, and the week before, I had asked Michèle, and I think also you, about these outstanding contributions, dues that are outstanding.  You were supposed to give me, give us a list, rather, about these people who still owe…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, my understanding was that the list has been given to you.  If not, if my office is listening, please resend that list to Masood.  Thank you very much.  Okay.  Have a good afternoon, thank you.

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For information media • not an official record