5 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, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, all.

**Guest at Noon Briefing Today

Our guest at the noon briefing today will be Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, who will update you on the Central Emergency Response Fund.  And of course, we have the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President who is here with us also.  So, Enrique will be briefing you later.

**Secretary-General Statement on Burundi Peace Process

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Burundi Peace Process.

The Secretary-General welcomes the adoption of the Declaration of the Summit of the Heads of State and Government of the Great Lakes Region on the Burundi Peace Process, convened by the Chairperson of the Regional Initiative, President Yoweri Museveni, in Bujumbura, on 4 December.

The Secretary-General is very encouraged by the outcome of the Summit.  He calls on the Government of Burundi and the Palipehutu-FNL to implement their agreements and the steps outlined in the Summit Declaration in good faith, in full and with a sense of urgency and determination, so as to bring this last phase of the peace process to a successful conclusion.

The Secretary-General expresses his gratitude to the leaders of the Regional Initiative for the Burundi Peace Process, the South African Facilitation and the African Union for their tireless efforts to help the Burundian people in their quest for durable peace, and encourages them to remain actively engaged in support of the full implementation of the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement.

The Secretary-General reaffirms the commitment of the United Nations to continue its support for the peace process, in full coordination with regional and international partners, and to work with these partners in support of Burundi’s peace and development agenda.

**Secretary-General Statement on Conclusion of Signing Conference of Cluster Munitions Convention in Oslo

We have another statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Conclusion of the Signing Conference of the Cluster Munitions Convention in Oslo.

The Secretary-General warmly welcomes the conclusion of the signing conference of the Convention on Cluster Munitions, held in Oslo from 3 to 4 December.  The conference brought out 94 signatures and 4 ratifications.  He hails the Convention as a step forward in international efforts to protect civilians and control the spread of deadly weapons.

The Secretary-General pays tribute to the broad-based coalition of States, international organizations and civil society groups that has made this Convention a reality, further strengthening international humanitarian law. 

The Secretary-General applauds the signatory countries and urges others to sign and ratify the Convention.  He looks forward to the Convention’s early entry into force.  The United Nations will provide its support to, and will implement its responsibilities under, this Convention.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on the Great Lakes Region, former President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo, will be in Nairobi on Monday along with his co-facilitator from the African Union and the International Conference on the Great Lakes, former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, to launch a dialogue between the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the National Congress in Defence of the People (CNDP). 

The agreement to launch a dialogue follows President Obasanjo's and President Mkapa's recent consultations with regional Heads of State, the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, CNDP and other armed groups, in which they strongly urged a dialogue, as well as respect for the ceasefire to help address the dire humanitarian crisis.

MONUC [United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] has welcomed the outcome of the meeting, including the decision to normalize bilateral diplomatic relations and regional economic cooperation.  It took note that the Congolese Government announced it would meet with CNDP on 8 December.

On the operational plan to disarm the FDLR, this was a document produced bilaterally between the Rwandan and Democratic Republic of the Congo Governments.  The United Nations Mission (MONUC) will have to review this before passing any further comment.

On the ground, the Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo says that it is working to secure a durable ceasefire between North Kivu’s warring parties and re-energize peace talks between them.  It also reports that the deployment of peacekeepers and reinforcement of their positions continues in North Kivu.

Additional French-speaking troops have been sent to Goma to beef up the numbers of those assigned to the protection of civilians.  Mission combat helicopters in the region remain on alert and have orders to respond swiftly to any attack against civilians.  And United Nations Special Forces are monitoring the Democratic Republic of the Congo-Rwanda border and other sensitive areas.

The United Nations refugee agency, for its part, says that it has been unable to account for some 90,000 internally displaced civilians in the Rutshuru area.  The IDPs [internally displaced persons] had originally found shelter at three makeshift sites and at a United Nations-run camp, all of which were later forcibly shut down, leaving the IDPs to fend for themselves.  It is believed that many of them have returned to their original towns and villages as the general security situation is improving all across North Kivu.

And the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) now estimates that repeated raids by the Lord’s Resistance Army since September have led to the displacement of some 83,000 people in Province Orientale.  With the raids showing no signs of abating, OCHA says aid workers are now returning to the area to help care for the displaced.

** Somalia

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the United Nations Special Representative for Somalia, has appealed for the freeing of hostages being held in Somalia without delay or conditions, on the eve of the Eid holiday.

He added that many of those being held captive came to the region to assist the Somali people or to explain their situation to the rest of the world.  Their disappearance has caused untold anguish to their friends and families and has unnecessarily hurt the reputation of the Somali people.

Ould-Abdallah appealed in particular for the release of the two Catholic nuns who were abducted last month from a town on the border between Kenya and Somalia, saying, “I do not see any excuse for holding them for any longer.”

** Middle East

The United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, has welcomed the evacuation by Israeli security forces of approximately 200 settlers from a house in Hebron yesterday.

But he condemned the ensuing violence and attacks by Israeli settlers against Palestinian civilians and the destruction and desecration of Palestinian property, mosques and graves.

Serry reminded Israel that, as the occupying Power, it is obligated to protect Palestinian civilians, property and holy sites.  At the same time, he also noted and deplored settler attacks on the Israeli security forces themselves.  Serry expressed concern about the potential for a further escalation of the tense situation.  In that context, he called for an immediate end to settler attacks and restraint and calm from all parties.

He also urged vigilance from the Israeli authorities to ensure that the events of yesterday are not repeated.

Serry stressed that actions of extremists continue to pose a threat to the peace process, and further underline the need for action to fulfil Road Map commitments.  We have his full statement upstairs.

Meanwhile, Serry’s office in Jerusalem, known as UNSCO, reports that all Gaza goods crossings are closed today after a partial opening yesterday.  Once again, no humanitarian supplies, fuel or commercial commodities are being allowed in.  But the limited fuel that did get in yesterday has led to fewer power cuts in Gaza City.

And still on the Occupied Palestinian Territory, United Nations agencies held cultural events in both the West Bank and Gaza yesterday to stress the importance of fighting violence against women.  The three messages of the events were that killing a woman has nothing to do with honour; we must break the conspiracy of silence surrounding domestic violence; and youth, especially young men, can play a positive and driving role in combating violence against women.  We have more on that upstairs.

**Security Council

Taye-Brook Zerihoun, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, briefed the Security Council in consultations this morning about the work of the United Nations peacekeeping force in that country.  He also briefed troop contributing countries about the peacekeepers, whose current mandate expires on 15 December.

This afternoon at 3, the Council has scheduled an open debate on Bosnia and Herzegovina.

** Nepal

Today in Kathmandu, Nepal, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, met with Nepalese Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, who agreed to move forward on the discharge of nearly 3,000 minors remaining in Maoist army cantonments.

The agreement by the Nepalese Government to discharge the children will be processed in cooperation with the United Nations Mission in Nepal and the UN Country Team there -– to work out the modalities and to ensure that it is implemented.

The process, hoped to be finished by the end of February 2009, is in line with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and responds to Security Council recommendations within the framework of resolution 1612 (2005) on the issue of children and armed conflict.

** Zimbabwe

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that the number of suspected cases of cholera in Zimbabwe has risen to 12,700, with 575 deaths reported.  The bulk of cases have been reported in Harare (6,448 cases and 179 deaths).

The World Health Organization says that it had details of the situation in Harare and the two other big cities that were most affected, but does not have details about what was happening in the countryside. 

Some 42 of the 62 regions of Zimbabwe were now affected by the epidemic, according to UNICEF.

WHO notes that there is a clearly ascending trend of new suspected cases since 20 November.

WHO is airlifting emergency stocks of supplies from Dubai and mobilizing additional drugs and supplies from South Africa. 

UNICEF reports that Harare continued to suffer from a serious shortage of water.  UNICEF had made available a one-month supply of chemicals for the treatment of water and was distributing 360,000 litres of drinking water daily.

OCHA also noted a new logistical problem, a shortage of fuel, as well as a shortage of trained staff and volunteers to help with the sanitation campaigns. 

**Global Compact

This afternoon, the Secretary-General will be addressing the Global Forum for Responsible Management Education, which is being hosted by the United Nations Global Compact.

He will welcome the fact that 178 business schools, from every continent, have signed up to an initiative that will help shape generations of business leaders by promoting sustainable and inclusive globalization.  We’ll have his full remarks upstairs later this afternoon.


The World Health Organization reports that international experts have established a tolerable daily intake for melamine, the implicated chemical found recently in contaminated milk products.

This was the outcome of a meeting, which was organized by WHO and held this week in Ottawa, Canada.

According to WHO, this standard could better guide authorities in protecting public health.  We have more on that upstairs.

** Myanmar

And for your planning purposes, this afternoon, the Secretary-General will convene and chair a meeting of the Group of Friends on Myanmar to discuss current developments in the country and ongoing efforts, in the context of his good offices mandate.  The meeting is closed; however, the Secretary-General will address the press at the stakeout outside Conference Room 7 after the meeting at 5:30 p.m.  And of course, any other participant might speak to you at the stakeout.

**Press Conferences on Tuesday

There are several press conferences scheduled for next Tuesday -– don’t forget that Monday we’re closed -- to mark both the sixtieth anniversary of the United Nations Genocide Convention, which falls on that day, as well as the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which falls on the 10th of December.

Starting at 10:30 a.m., former United States Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former United States Secretary of Defense William Cohen, both Co-Chairs of the United States Institute of Peace Task Force on Genocide, will hold a press conference to launch a report on genocide.

At 1 p.m., General Assembly President Miguel D´Escoto Brockmann and Maude Barlow, an adviser to the General Assembly President on water issues, will brief on issues relating to human rights and water. 

At 2 p.m., we will have High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay.  Following her press conference, at 3 p.m., there will be a launch of the World Public Opinion and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights reports.

And finally, at 5 p.m., Hillel Neuer, Executive Director of the United Nations Watch, will launch yet another report entitled “Eleanor's Dream:  How to Strengthen the UN Human Rights Council”.  So you have quite a few events on Tuesday.

On Monday, as I said, United Nations Headquarters is closed for an official holiday, Eid al-Adha.  Just to look ahead again, Wednesday and Thursday the Secretary-General is in Poznan, Poland, to attend the latest round of United Nations–backed climate change talks.  And the following Friday, 12 December, the Secretary-General wraps up his trip in Poznan, Poland, and heads to Geneva where he will participate in the Human Rights Council’s commemorative session to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

And that’s all I have for you.  I’ll take your questions.  But make them short please because Enrique has to brief and then our guest.  Yes, go ahead, George.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  (Inaudible) part of one sentence earlier in your presentation, Michèle, (inaudible) on Israeli settlers?  Settlers attacked Israeli security forces?  Do I understand that correctly?  Israeli citizens in some settlement attacked members of the Israel Defense Forces?

Spokesperson:  The Israel Defense Forces were trying to get them out of the building, as you know.  I mean, this is a public thing. 

Question:  It sounds like there is a separate episode…

Spokesperson:  No, no.  After that, they attacked Palestinian property.  That was another event that took place after they were expelled from the building.

Question:  So, they attacked their own soldiers, in effect?

Spokesperson:  They were resisting their own soldiers pulling them out of the building, yes.  But they also attacked Palestinian property and mosques.  That’s what I said.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Michèle, in Iraq, there are these migrant workers that have been trapped.  They were brought to the country to work; they weren’t paid.  They have sort of appealed to the United Nations to help them get repatriated to their countries; mostly from South Asia.  Is the United Nations aware of that request and is UNAMI [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq] doing anything on behalf of these trapped migrant workers?

Spokesperson:  I’m not myself aware of that request.  We can check with the United Nations Mission in Iraq.  Actually, you can get in touch with them and get your information.

Question:  And also, there was a story in the Times of London that said a United Nations spokesperson said they would speak on it today, so I was thinking that might be you.  But maybe it’s the spokesperson over there.

Spokesperson:  Probably.

Question:  There is also a call, in this you know, the controversy around UNIC [United Nations Information Centre] Tokyo.  You know this case of Ms. Koda and Mr. Akasaka; recently there has been both a newspaper report and this Japanese consumer group have come out; there have been questions raised about ¥5 million account that UNIC Tokyo had.  And even in the legislature in Japan, they’ve said the United Nations has to explain why this money was on hold.  Have you seen…?  And they’ve also called for freedom of information policy at the United Nations…

Spokesperson:  Well, you can talk to DPI [Department of Public Information] about this.  DPI has all the information concerning that case.

Question:  Okay, but it seems like it’s a money question, at this point.  It’s not about the case about Mr. Akasaka.  It’s about actually the accounting.  So, you’re saying DPI is the one?

Spokesperson:  Yes, because if there were expenses done, they would know about what UNIC did or didn’t do. 

Question:  Michèle, the report about Cyprus, the Secretary-General has a sentence where he said that the politicians should refrain from negotiating through the media.  Does the Secretary-General have some specific instance where politicians used the media as a negotiation (inaudible), or is he suggesting that politicians should not give out many details about the process?  And also, do we know why nobody was willing to talk to the press after today’s consultations in the Security Council about Cyprus?

Spokesperson:  Because they were just consultations, that’s why.  It was not a formal meeting.  And about your other question, the report stands for itself.  If you want some details, you can show me what you’re referring to and we can talk about it, of course.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Michèle, the Secretary-General has been appealing to the Israeli politicians to release the Palestinian prisoners time and again.  Has there been any update, any further release of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli custody?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have a recent update beyond what I told you last time about the same issue.

Question:  A question about housekeeping.  You know, at various security points today and yesterday also, I saw, along with the security guards, people dressed in suits with these United Nations badges on.  What have they been there for?  (Inaudible)…Secret Services?

Spokesperson:  Well, I can check for you.  I didn’t see them.  So, if it has to do with beefed up security, they probably thought it was important.

Question:  But maybe they’re a new Secret Service that…

Spokesperson:  A new Secret Service?  I don’t think we have such a thing (laughter). 

Question:  …(laughter)you know, in these times!

Spokesperson:  I’ll try to find out exactly why there were different procedures today.

Correspondent:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  I just want to give the floor quickly to Enrique and then we’ll have Mr. Holmes come and join us.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you, Michèle.

Let’s try to be quick, although we have several items today.

Good afternoon and good to see you all again.  As you probably know, President d´Escoto returned yesterday from Doha and, first of all, he would like to release a statement attributable to the Spokesperson of the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d´Escoto.

The President of the General Assembly, Miguel d´Escoto, welcomes the remarkable Doha Declaration on Financing for Development, after its adoption by consensus.  The Conference urged that donor countries maintain their aid commitments to developing countries, despite the global economic crisis.  It was also agreed that the United Nations is the uniquely representative forum where major changes in the international financial and monetary architecture can be discussed to make the system more stable and equitable.  The Doha Declaration calls for the convening of an inclusive international conference under the President of the General Assembly to review the international financial and monetary architecture.  This key meeting should take place in the first half of 2009.

It is now very clear that the confluence of crises affects all countries and the G-192 must be involved in finding the global solutions that meet every country’s needs and concerns, not just the traditionally dominant interests of groups like the G-8 [Group of Eight] or, more recently, the G-20 [Group of 20].

Doha marks the last rites of the so-called Washington Consensus and represents a call to greatly expand the narrow representation of institutions such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.

The Doha consensus sets the basis for an inclusive, democratic and transparent process to rebuild trust of all nations in the international financial, monetary and trade institutions.  Only with the participation of all nations can we ensure that these policies truly benefit all people, especially the most vulnerable and poorest among us.

And I have copies here available for you, in case you need them.

On another front, also this morning, in a statement to the Open-Ended Working Group on Security Council Reform, President d´Escoto underlined that, and I quote again: 

No UN organ needs that democratization as much as the Security Council does.  The twenty-first century does not require a horseshoe table, but a circle-shaped one, with room for extra seats.  We must come full circle, realizing our founders’ vision of a Council with the legitimacy to act on behalf of all Member States.

I have devised, the President of the General Assembly added, a work plan for this Open-Ended Working Group, but you need to make it work.  It is up to Member States to come up with detailed ideas and suggestions that could sway their peers.

And, finally, a reminder.  As Michèle already mentioned, on Tuesday, next week, one day before the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the President of the General Assembly will hold a press conference here, at 1 p.m., on human rights and water.  Also participating will be Maude Barlow from Canada, an international expert adviser to the General Assembly President on water issues.

And this is all I have for you.  I’ll take a few questions before giving the floor to Mr. Holmes, if there are any, of course.  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, Enrique.  Welcome back.  What update can you give me on that agenda item of the seventy-fifth anniversary of the commemoration of the great famine of the 1930s in Ukraine and Josef Stalin, which, I have to say, some reports indicate is being deliberately blocked.  I know it’s controversial, but I’d like an answer.

Spokesperson:  It is certainly controversial, and let me check where we stand on that, because before I left for Doha last week, there was no decision yet when the item was going to be discussed.  But I am not sure whether the last days anything has developed.  But I’ll check for you and come back to you this afternoon.  Matthew?

Question:  Speaking of controversial, I guess two related questions:  one, while he was in Doha, this organization called the European Jewish Congress has asked for Mr. d´Escoto Brockmann to resign based on his comments about Israel.  And I also wanted to know if he had any comment about the blocking of the Libyan ship that tried to reach Gaza.  Does he have any thoughts or comments on that?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any further comments on the Palestinian issue by the President of the General Assembly at this stage.  He read the newspaper story, but that’s basically it.

Question:  How responsive are the permanent members of the Security Council to the calls for the democratization of the Security Council?  How responsive are they?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, there is a wide consensus that the Security Council must be restructured.  But then, there are different positions depending of the different countries.  What President d´Escoto has made very clear is that he would really like to make a big push this year for the reform of the Security Council.  Today we had the open-ended group.  We have a deadline for the open-ended group.  The open-ended group should finish their work before 1 February 2009.  But the President of the General Assembly has asked -- and today again -- to the member countries to try to speed it up and, as soon as they finish, we could start with the inter-governmental negotiations.  And as you are probably aware, he has nominated one of the vice presidents, the Ambassador of Afghanistan, to be the focal point on the negotiations, and they’re already having negotiations on several fronts.  And as I said, there is a general consensus that some kind of restructuring must be done with the Security Council.  Then depending on the different countries, they have different positions, and what we need is really now to put those positions in a negotiation process and have an agreement.

Question:  Enrique, can you give us some details of this 10 December ceremony for Human Rights Awards.  The programme, how will it go?

Spokesperson:  Well, you already have the formal programme online on the page of the President of the General Assembly, if you go there.  He sent a letter yesterday with a detailed programme of what is going to happen on Wednesday.  Very quickly, I can tell you the programme we’re going to have in the Trusteeship Council, two roundtables, one called “60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  lessons learned” and it will be moderated by Julia Dolly Joiner from Gambia.  And the panellists, very quickly I am going to go through them, will be Caroline Gimoz from Jamaica, Mary Robinson from Ireland and Dennis Mukwege from the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  That’s from 9 to 11. 

From 11 to 1 p.m., we will have the second panel under the tile “The full implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  challenges ahead and ways forward”.  The panellists will be Maud Barlow from Canada, whom you will be able to talk with during the press conference on Tuesday; Latif Hűseynov from Azerbaijan; and Ghassem Salame from Lebanon.  And in the afternoon, from 3 to 6 p.m., in the General Assembly Hall, we will have an opening statement by President d´Escoto and statements by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, the President of the Human Rights Council and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.  And we will have the presentation of the Human Right Awards, seven recipients.  You have the full list of the nominees in a press release that was issued by the President of the General Assembly last week.  We will have the adoption of the draft declaration and the conclusion of the commemoration.  Again, you have much more details on the web page of the President of the General Assembly.

And if you don’t have any more questions, I don’t want to keep Mr. Holmes waiting any more.  Mr. Holmes, please.

Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:  Before I introduce Mr. Holmes, I have an answer for Masood.  The security officers you referred to are newly recruited staff from the Department of Safety and Security.  It’s not some dark special secret service.

Question:  So, they’re just on training?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  Okay, as I announced earlier, we have with us Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes, who will brief you on the Central Emergency Response Fund.  As you know, there was a special meeting yesterday.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record