2 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.

**Secretary-General Statement on India

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

The Secretary-General spoke this morning with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh of India over the telephone.  He once again expressed his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and the wounded in the terrorist attacks in Mumbai last week.  They agreed that it was critical to bring the perpetrators to justice, and that all should fully cooperate in this effort.

While commending the courage and resilience shown by the Government and people of India, the Secretary-General reaffirmed his condemnation of terrorism and his determination to provide a lead role for the United Nations in dealing with this global menace.

** Iraq

On Iraq, the UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) today issued today its thirteenth report on human rights in the country, which noted substantial improvements in general security conditions, but added that targeted killings and criminal abductions for ransom continued during the first six months of 2008.

During the reporting period, minorities continued to be the victims of targeted violence, threats, assassinations and the destruction of property and cultural sites.  The report also highlights serious concerns about the situation of detainees across the country, including in the Iraqi Kurdistan region.  Many detainees have been deprived of their liberty for months, or even years, often under harsh physical conditions, without access to defence counsel, or without being formally charged with a crime or produced before a judge.  We have a press release upstairs with more details.

** Lebanon

On Lebanon, the Secretary-General today transmitted to the members of the Security Council the eleventh report of the International Independent Investigation Commission that has been looking into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri.

The Secretary-General informed the Council that the Commission has reported acquiring new information that may allow it to link additional individuals to the network that carried out Hariri’s assassination.  The Commission, he noted, has requested that its mandate be extended until 28 February 2009, to allow it to gradually transfer operations until the Special Tribunal for Lebanon starts functioning on 1 March 2009.

** Gaza

On Gaza, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) reports that all crossings for goods going into Gaza remain closed today.  No fuel, humanitarian supplies or commercial commodities are being allowed in.

The Kerem Shalom crossing was last open on 27 November.  The Nahal Oz fuel pipelines and the Karni conveyer belt were last open on 26 November.  The crossings at Sufa, meanwhile, have been closed since 13 September, UNSCO notes.

** Middle East Peace Process

The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, has been speaking of the urgency of an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in 2009.

Talking to an international media seminar on peace in the Middle East, in Vienna, Austria, Mr. Serry said: “We have genuine international unity and determination behind the drive towards a two-State solution.  What we may not have is the luxury of time.”

** Zimbabwe

The World Health Organization (WHO) said that, according to the latest figures on the cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe, there were now nearly 12,000 cases, including 484 deaths.

The death rate at this point was 4 per cent of all cases, which WHO characterized as high.  For the epidemic to be considered under control, the death rate had to be under 1 per cent.

WHO says it was working with around 10 partners in the health cluster in Zimbabwe, and it had presented an emergency plan to control the cholera epidemic.  The Ministry of Health of Zimbabwe has accepted the emergency plan.

The areas most affected by the epidemic were Harare and other urban areas.

UNICEF announced a rigorous 120-day emergency response to intensify relief efforts to Zimbabwe’s children.  This was not only in response to the cholera outbreak that 42 out of the 62 Zimbabwean provinces were suffering from.  It was also in response to a total collapse of the education and health systems in the country.

**Security Council

In its first consultations for December, the Security Council approved its programme of work for the month.  The new Council President, Ambassador Neven Jurica of Croatia, will brief you on that programme of work at 12:30 today.

After that, the Council adopted a resolution allowing States and regional organizations to enter into Somalia’s territorial waters to repress acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea, for a 12-month period.

The Security Council then heard from Francois Lonseny Fall, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Central African Republic, about the situation in that country.

** Central African Republic

The Secretary-General’s latest report on the Central African Republic and the work of the UN Peacebuilding Support Office there is out today.  In it, he says that the political, security and economic situation remains fragile, a situation fuelled by impunity for human rights violations by both rebel and Government troops.  He reaffirms the United Nations commitment to supporting the country’s recovery process and he appeals to national stakeholders to work together on the various peace agreements they have signed.

** Darfur

On Darfur, the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that it had received information that two men reported to be Janjaweed militia armed with a rifle were involved in a violent incident yesterday at a camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in West Darfur.

UNAMID dispatched a team to the camp to verify the information and found out that a quarrel had erupted between the two men and the IDPs.

During the incident, one IDP sustained a minor injury and one of the militia members was severely beaten and later died.

UNAMID just informed us that, today, 10 armed men in a land cruiser attacked a water pump in the vicinity of the same camp.  They started shooting at the pump.  During today’s incident, another IDP sustained a minor injury and was evacuated to hospital, while one water pump and five generators supplying the camp were set ablaze by the armed men.

A UNAMID team was immediately dispatched to the camp and interposed themselves between the armed men and the IDPs, and it was able to calm down situation, which they continue to monitor.


And tomorrow, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, will head to the Security Council stakeout following his briefing to the Council on the situation in Chad and Sudan.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

UNICEF reports that children continue to be enlisted by armed groups in North Kivu, with at least five of them recently drafted into armed groups in the town of Kitshanga.  UNICEF also expressed concerns that the majority of schools in Rutshuru territory remain closed to some 150,000 students, despite promises by Laurent Nkunda’s rebels to reopen them.  It called for armed personnel to create a safe environment for children to resume their education.

The UN Refugee Agency, meanwhile, is continuing the voluntary relocation of displaced civilians from the precarious Kibati camps to safer sites just west of Goma.  And further north of Goma, in Kanyabayonga, aid agencies report that some 40,000 displaced persons have returned to their homes only to find them looted and destroyed.

** Cyprus

On Cyprus, the Secretary-General’s latest report on the United Nations Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) is available today.  In it, he says the formal negotiations towards a comprehensive settlement in Cyprus are moving ahead well.  Both parties are engaging with each other in a constructive and open manner, he adds.

The Secretary-General also notes that the establishment of economic, social and cultural ties will have a positive impact on the ongoing efforts on Cyprus.  Such contacts would nurture a sentiment of trust between the communities and help ease the sense of isolation felt by the Turkish Cypriots, he adds.

In the meantime, he says, and in the absence of a comprehensive settlement, UNFICYP continues to play a vital role on the island, both as a stabilizing factor on the ground and as a source of critical support for his good offices mission.  He, therefore, recommends that the Security Council extend the mandate of UNFICYP by a further period of six months, until 15 June 2009.

Still on Cyprus, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Cyprus, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, spoke to the press in Nicosia today, following today’s meeting of the Cypriot leaders in the UN Protected Area.

He said the leaders had resumed their discussions on governance, focusing this time on the federal public service.  There were several areas of convergence, he noted.

Zerihoun said the leaders will meet again on 16 December to take up the issue of external relations.

For his part, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Alexander Downer, will be back on the island on 11 December.  We have more on that upstairs.

** Doha Conference

The Follow-Up Conference on Financing for Development wrapped up earlier today in Doha, Qatar.  We’ve just received the final joint statement by the General Assembly President and the President of the Conference, and it is available upstairs right now.


The global economic crisis could make poor people more vulnerable to slavery-like practices.  That’s according to the Secretary-General’s message for today, the International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

The Secretary-General adds that Governments, civil society organizations, businesses and individuals must join forces to protect victims, raise awareness and demand an end to all forms of slavery and exploitation.  We need new strategies to deal with this old curse, he says.

Meanwhile, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay stresses that slavery is a crime against humanity.  She notes that that idea was first accepted internationally at the 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban.  We have more on that upstairs.

**International Criminal Court

Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, is expected to brief the Security Council tomorrow morning on his investigations in Darfur.  After his address to the Council, at around 1:30 p.m., we expect the prosecutor to brief journalists here in Room 226.

**Press Conferences

And our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Mark Bowden, Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, who will brief on the situation in that country.

And following that, at 1:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein, and International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo on the Court’s recent report on the situation in Darfur, as I announced a few minutes ago.

And on Thursday, our guest at the noon briefing, Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, will brief on the new Convention on Cluster Munitions, which opens for signature in Oslo tomorrow.

**Cluster Munitions

Talking of the Convention, tomorrow, the international treaty that prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions is opening for signature, adding a new chapter to international humanitarian law, as well as disarmament and non-proliferation.

In his message to the 3-day signing conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, the Secretary-General will encourage all Governments to sign and ratify the Convention without delay.

Adding that much work remains in mitigating the dreadful humanitarian suffering caused by cluster weapons, the Secretary-General will also reiterate the United Nations commitment to continuing those efforts.

The Secretary-General will also highlight that this Convention indicates a significant and fundamental change in the position of many Governments and that the signing conference also offers hope that States can depart from other long-held positions in the light of new evidence and new understandings of their own interests.  We have more information on the conference itself, and as I said, Alain Le Roy will brief you tomorrow on this.

On Thursday at 2 p.m., there will be a press conference by Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General, and Janos Pasztor, Director of the Secretary-General’s Climate Change Support Team.  They will brief on the Secretary-General’s strategy and engagement at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Poznan, Poland, and during next year, leading up to the Copenhagen Conference in December 2009.  And as you know, the Secretary-General is expected to travel to Poznan shortly.

And this is all I have for you.  And we’ll try to make it short, because we have of course, the President of the Security Council who will be here in five minutes.  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, does the Secretary-General have any response to the letter written by the Pakistani Ambassador, speaking as…?

Spokesperson:  Not yet.  I’ve just confirmed that the letter was just received, so I don’t have any comments right now.  I just can confirm that it was received.

Question:  So, there is no response?

Spokesperson:  Not yet, no.

Question:  Important voices are being raised now expressing concern about the possibility of adverse impact of the current financial situation on this climate change conference taking place now in Poland.  How concerned is the Secretary-General about this?

Spokesperson:  He is concerned, the way he was concerned when he went to the Doha Conference, about the fact that it might have an impact on, in the case of Doha, on the assistance being pledged by countries or being actually paid for by countries that had already pledged to financing for development.  He is also concerned that, of course, the efforts for climate change might be, let’s say, lessened.  But Mr. Orr will talk to you and Mr. Pasztor will talk to you about this at length on Thursday, about the Secretary-General’s expectations.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Michèle, the Kenyan Mission has raised issues about the UN’s construction in Nairobi that has been delayed since 2001.  They claim that nothing has actually been done and they’re asking for a clearer chain of command.  It was unclear to me… Mr. Adlerstein, I think, was bonded to some of this.  Is his job on the Capital Master Plan, does it now include, you know, outside of New York, does it include the Nairobi accounts, the construction?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of, no.

Question:  Then who ultimately is in charge?  The Kenyans are saying that they want the chain of command to know how the construction actually gets done.

Spokesperson:  I will find out for you who is in charge.

Question:  Okay, thanks.  And then there is one other thing.  I got a copy of a letter that was sent, I believe “cc’d” to the Secretary-General, but also to Ms. Angela Kane and (inaudible) about what they claim are irregularities in the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), in terms of hiring and promotions.  It’s a pretty, it’s a long letter.  Are you aware of it?  Has the Secretary-General received it and what’s going to be done to look into the claims made in it?

Spokesperson:  We’re certainly aware of it. The Secretary-General, as you know, came back this morning, at 1 o’clock in the morning, so I cannot answer on his behalf on whether he has been briefed on that.  But of course, Ms. Angela Kane received the letter and Ms. Inga-Britt Ahlenius has already received it also.

Question:  But who is it, I guess this is sort of a structural question, if the OIOS is the investigative unit of the UN, who investigates OIOS in the face of this type of allegations?

Spokesperson:  We’ll get some answers for you on that.  I know we have already asked for some answers.

[The Spokesperson later added that the letter in question was an anonymous one that had been sent to staff members in OIOS and one media outlet.  As soon as Under-Secretary-General Inga-Britt Ahlenius received the letter, she forwarded it to all staff in the Audit Division and to all Directors, and she encouraged them to discuss and comment on it.  Ms. Ahlenius said that “the only way to deal with such issues is to bring transparency to it”.  The Spokesperson also noted that her Office does not comment on unsigned complaints.]

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  Just a point of clarification, the Secretary-General just came back early this morning at 1 o’clock…?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  …and he’s flying to Poland today?

Spokesperson:  No, not today.  On the 9th.  Okay, thank you all so very much.  In about two minutes, you’re going to have the President of the Security Council.  Also, Enrique is not briefing today because he is in Doha.

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For information media • not an official record