4 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.

**Press Conferences Today

Our guest at the noon briefing today, Dmitry Titov, Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions, will brief on the new Convention on Cluster Munitions.

And 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, on the Secretary-General’s strategy and engagement at the UN Conference on Climate Change in Poznań, Poland, and during next year, leading up to the Copenhagen conference in December 2009.

** Middle East

On the Middle East, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) reports that some Gaza crossings, including the fuel pipelines, were open today.

As a result, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) managed to get six truckloads of Jordanian-donated aid into Gaza.  But UNRWA adds that the additional ten trucks of oil and tinned meat that it had requested were not allowed in.  Today’s influx was not enough, according to UNRWA, which stresses that it needs 15 trucks a day in order to maintain its basic operations.  UNRWA also notes that, over the past month, it has only been able to get 37 trucks into Gaza.

Meanwhile, today in Jerusalem, UNRWA’s Commissioner General, Karen AbuZayd, is opening a year-long series of events to mark her agency’s sixtieth anniversary, which falls on 8 December 2009.

In her remarks, which we have upstairs, she says that closures in the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza add to the terrifying sense of being trapped, physically, intellectually and emotionally, depriving children of that simplest of rights, the right to be a child.

She adds that this anniversary is a time for sober reflection on why an agency that the General Assembly created as a temporary body still exists at all.  The sixtieth anniversary of UNRWA is nothing to celebrate, she stresses.

In related news, the Security Council held an open meeting yesterday evening, at Libya’s request, to discuss what was described as Israel’s refusal to allow a Libyan vessel carrying humanitarian aid to reach Gaza.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning heard a briefing on the recently concluded Council mission to Afghanistan by the head of that mission, Ambassador Giulio Terzi di Sant’Agata of Italy.

The Council then went into consultations to hear from Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Patricia O’Brien about the Secretary-General’s third report on the preparations for the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  That report says that all practical arrangements for the Tribunal will be in place for the Prosecutor to arrive on 1 March 2009.

** Zimbabwe

The Secretary-General discussed the situation in Zimbabwe with President Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa during a telephone call this morning. They talked about the humanitarian situation, and the Secretary General stressed the need for the UN and other partners to respond urgently to the needs of the population and stop the cholera epidemic from spreading.  President Motlanthe and the Secretary-General also discussed the political situation and the South African Development Community’s mediation in the power-sharing negotiations.

Meanwhile, as the number of suspected cholera cases in Zimbabwe climbed above 12,600, with 570 resultant deaths, the World Health Organization (WHO) today pledged its continued support to the people of Zimbabwe.

WHO leads the Health Cluster that heads the group of health providers responding to the outbreak and the country’s wider health challenges.  Zimbabwean authorities have called for $1.5 million in financial resources to be provided monthly to help respond to the current cholera outbreak, attract health workers back to their posts, and provide medical equipment and supplies, WHO says.

Chemicals are also desperately needed, valued at $4.4 million, to ensure the country's water supply is safe. Longer-term support was also called for to properly re-equip the country's health sector. WHO said that diarrhoeal disease kits capable of treating 800 severe cases and 3,200 moderate cases have arrived in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe's long running humanitarian crisis is now highlighted by a cholera outbreak affecting 9 out of 10 provinces in the country and spilling across borders into South Africa, Botswana and Mozambique.

** Côte d’Ivoire

On Côte d’Ivoire, the mission in Côte d'Ivoire (UNOCI) says it is encouraged by the latest milestone in the identification and registration of citizens ahead of the presidential election in that country.  Despite some delays and sporadic incidents in recent months, two million people are reported to have received proper documentation, and most of them should be eligible to cast their vote.  The Mission says it will maintain and strengthen its logistical support for the identification drive.  It also appeals to the Ivorian political actors to show restraint in their actions and words in accordance with the Code of Conduct they signed earlier this year.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

In a response to a question yesterday on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission there (MONUC) says that fighters from the DRC-based Forces Démocratiques de Libération du Rwanda(FDLR) have entered the town of Ishasha in the north-eastern part of North Kivu near the Ugandan border.

The Mission disputes the information in some news reports that FDLR have systematically redeployed to "fill in" positions vacated by Laurent Nkunda’s CNDP rebels. 

UN peacekeepers, meanwhile, will be redeploying in the Ishasha region until later this month.  The peacekeepers are patrolling the region, and they intend to press the FDLR forces to leave.

And with the security situation improving in the Orientale province, UN peacekeepers are helping to redeploy aid agencies there.  The first group of humanitarians from WFP, UNHCR and OCHA arrived there on Tuesday to assist some 6,000 internally displaced persons.  The region has suffered repeated raids by the Lord’s Resistance Army, which has killed at least 20 people and abducted more than 150 children since September.


This morning, the Secretary-General addressed the annual high-level conference on the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF).  He noted that, in its first three years, the Fund has provided more than a billion dollars for food, shelter, clean water and health care for tens of millions of people, in countries from Afghanistan to Zambia.  93 nations are contributors to the Fund, and many of them have also been recipients in times of need.  “The CERF is truly a Fund by all, a Fund for all”, the Secretary-General said.

With the financial crisis, climate change and population growth likely to increase demands for relief aid in the future, he appealed to Member States to contribute as much as possible.  We have his remarks upstairs.

Also, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes will be our guest at noon tomorrow.  He will provide an update on the Fund.

** Doha -- Poznań

As you know, the Secretary General will head for Poznań, Poland, next week for the climate change negotiations underway there.  Meanwhile, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Kemal Derviş commended negotiators at the Financing for Development conference in Doha, Qatar, for heeding the Secretary-General’s call to come to an agreement that reaffirms international commitments to tackle global poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

Derviş stressed that the outcome document from Doha is an essential step in resolving what he called the “triple crisis” of financial turmoil, global poverty and climate change.  He urged countries to focus on opportunities that can arise from the crises as they turn their attention to the UN climate-change negotiations underway in Poznań.

“We must treat these crises as common rather than separate challenges,” he said.  We have a press release from UNDP upstairs.

**Cluster Bombs –- Signing Conference

The signing conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions concluded today in Oslo, with nearly 100 actions undertaken by States to the Convention, committing states to the international treaty that prohibits the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions.

The two-day conference resulted in 94 signatures as of now, 4 ratifications and 1 provisional application by the attending 100 governments.

The Convention will now be open for signature at Headquarters until after it enters into force.  Ratifications from 30 states are needed to trigger the entry into force of the Convention and make it binding on its Parties.  And of course, you’re going to have more details in a few minutes with Mr. Titov, on the Convention.

The Convention represents a new milestone in humanitarian disarmament and establishes important commitments regarding assistance to victims, clearance of contaminated areas and destruction of stockpiles.


On the health front, measles deaths worldwide fell by 74 per cent between 2000 and 2007, from an estimated 750,000 to 197,000.  That’s according to the founding partners of the Measles Initiative, which includes UNICEF, the World Health Organization and the UN Foundation.

In one WHO-designated region, which includes such countries as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan, measles deaths have been cut by 90 per cent —- from an estimated 96,000 to 10,000 —- during the same period.

Thus, the UN goal of reducing measles deaths by 90 per cent by 2010 was achieved in that region three years early. We have more on that upstairs.

**Internet Governance Forum

The third Internet Governance Forum got under way yesterday in Hyderabad, India, and runs through Saturday.  Its theme is “Internet for All”, with workshops addressing such topics as expanding Internet access, including for persons with disabilities; promoting cyber security and child protection; and the future of the Internet.

In opening remarks, Assistant Secretary-General Jomo Kwame Sundaram, representing the Secretary-General, noted that the Forum has become a valuable tool for forging a common understanding of complex Internet issues from diverse points of view.

Nitin Desai, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Internet Governance, added that multilingualism is key –- most of the expansion of Internet use is taking place in developing countries, where the English language and Latin script are not used.

**Global Compact

Today and tomorrow, the UN’s First Global Forum for Responsible Management Education will take place here at Headquarters.

Hosted by the UN Global Compact, the Forum will provide a platform for sharing perspectives and expertise on the Principles for Responsible Management Education. The Principles were an initiative launched in 2007 to embed corporate responsibility and sustainability in the mainstream of business education.

There will be a press conference on this Forum tomorrow at 11 a.m. in this room.  Speakers will include Manuel Escudero, Special Adviser to the Global Compact; John Fernandes from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business; Judith Samuelson from the Aspen Institute; and Liz Maw from Net Impact.

We have more on that upstairs, and, of course, you’re welcome to come to the Press Conference tomorrow.  And this is all I have for you, thank you.  Questions? Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  At the start of the briefing you said that Israel stopped this Libyan cargo going into the Occupied Territory.  When did that happen?

Spokesperson:  It has been in the news today.

Question:  Okay.  The other thing I wanted to ask, has the Secretary-General responded to the letter by the Pakistani Ambassador which you said that he had in fact received on…?

Spokesperson:  Yes, as you know, there was no action required from the letter.  The letter was sent to all Member States of the Organization as far as I know.  So, it’s a general letter, the Secretary-General does not have any specific response.  As you know, he did speak to President Zardari yesterday.

Question:  Actually, another letter question.  I was just at a DPI conference down in the library and a number of the groups that went to this DPI conference in Paris said that they had put together a letter to the Secretary-General about the sexual abuse by peacekeepers, asking that action be taken, that they read it into the record of the conference.  But just now they said that they haven’t received any response.  They’re curious what actually...  Are you aware of the letter and what is the response to the letter, and what is the follow up on that?

Spokesperson:  I will try to confirm for you whether the letter was received or not.  And in terms of the response, our response has been a pretty strong one when it comes to sexual abuse cases, and they have been termed “unacceptable” by the Secretary-General.  Is there any specific answer that will come to this letter? I don’t know at this point.  I can try to find out for you.

Question:  And just a follow up on it.  And I understand you may have to either check with DPKO or whomever, but there was a pretty high profile case of the Indian peacekeepers in the Congo where even the Secretary-General put out a statement saying that he was deeply concerned.  It’s never been said what discipline was imposed.  I know…

Spokesperson:  Well, we did talk about discipline measures taken, I’m sure we did.  Why don’t you talk to DPKO about this?  They should be the ones telling you.

Question:  They said ask the Indian Mission, and that doesn’t seem an appropriate response from the UN if the Secretary-General is expressing concern about this problem.

Spokesperson:  Well, they probably are saying this for one reason because, as you know, any cases involving one contingent from one specific country are followed up by the judicial system in that country.  And, as I know, there were some measures taken by India on those specific cases you’re mentioning.  Of course, try to pursue it further with the Indian Mission.  They should have an answer for you.

Question:  Well, they’re saying that they’re not speaking on it.  That’s why I am saying it’s the UN…

Spokesperson:  They’re not speaking on it?

Question:  Yeah, that’s correct.

Spokesperson:  Okay, so we’ll try to find out for you what did happen.  You should call DPKO again on this.  Yes, Lalit?

Question:  Has there been a change in UN policies towards the Taliban after the Afghan Government has been going for peace talks with the Taliban?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  There has been no big statement about this, no.

Question:  There is a statement coming from Mr. Kai Eide about the peace talks he is supporting, about the peace talks with Taliban.  Would you like to confirm it?  What…?

Spokesperson:  As soon as we have Mr. Kai Eide’s statement we’ll be flagging it for you.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Has the Secretary-General received any letter from the Indian Government asking him to refer the situation over there in Mumbai to the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General, as you know, spoke to the Prime Minister.  So, in terms of a letter received asking that there be a follow-up by the Security Council, I am not aware of it.  I can of course check for you. [She later added that no such letter had been received.]

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For information media • not an official record