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

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  I’m sorry I’m late.  I was waiting for a few notes to come fluttering down.  After my briefing we have the General Assembly Spokesperson here to brief you as well.

** Darfur in Security Council

A day after we briefed you on the Secretary-General’s report on the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI), today the Security Council heard a briefing on recent developments affecting the security and humanitarian situation in Darfur, the status of UNAMID operations and an update on the political process.  That briefing was given by the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy.

The Council also heard a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Susana Malcorra, who highlighted some key issues relating to the deployment of UNAMID, and some of the major challenges in that area.

As the conflict enters its sixth year, Alain Le Roy told Council members that millions continue to live in camps for internally displaced persons, dependent on the life-saving assistance of the humanitarian effort.  The situation has not improved.  Over the past six months alone, an additional 100,000 people have been displaced, he told the Council.

It is of grave concern that, year after year, the security situation remains volatile and unpredictable.  The past two months have been no exception.  Attacks on peacekeepers and humanitarian workers, as well as intertribal violence and clashes between the Government and the armed movements, have intensified, he reported.

It is amid this continued violence and in this complex operating environment that UNAMID has been trying to implement its mandate, even as it continues to deploy, he said.  Over the past year, the frequency of the Mission’s patrols has increased, he said.

As its numbers and capabilities increase, the Mission will be able to do much more of this good work.  We will need continued Government cooperation and sustained international support to reach this objective, he said.

Le Roy stressed that the fundamental responsibility for making real progress lies with the parties.  It is the Government of Sudan and armed rebel movements which must cease hostilities and agree to dialogue under the auspices of Chief Mediator Djibril Bassolé.  The Council is currently meeting in consultations on this subject -- that’s Darfur.

**Security Council

Earlier, the Security Council began a busy day by adopting resolutions extending the mandates of the monitoring group for Somalia and the sanctions on Liberia, both by one year.

The Council also adopted a resolution allowing for the Secretary-General to appoint additional ad litem (or short-term) judges for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda at the request of the Tribunal’s President, and adopted a presidential statement concerning the work of the two Tribunals.

** Zimbabwe

In Geneva, the coordinator of the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Disease Control and Emergency Operations, Dominique Legros, today briefed on the cholera situation in Zimbabwe.  Legros returned from there earlier this week, after setting up the United Nations control and command centre for the cholera epidemic.

He described the situation in Zimbabwean health facilities as “quite worrying”.  Hospitals were “basically empty” with no material or staff.  A major problem is that workers paid by the Government have stopped showing up because their salaries are too low.  Legros said there is an urgent need to address the pay discrepancy between Government workers and those employed by non-governmental organization, which pay substantially higher wages.

In other news, Legros said that WHO hopes soon to be able to offer daily updates on the cholera situation.

** Rwanda

In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General welcomed the delivery of the judgement by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the cases of Bagosora et al involving four senior officers of the Rwandan army in 1994, as well as in the judgement against a former Rwandan préfet.  These judgements constitute a major step in the fight against the impunity of those responsible for the most serious crimes of international concern.  You received that statement yesterday afternoon, and we have them upstairs if you still need to pick one up.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has urged rebel forces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to ensure civilian protection at a makeshift site for some 10,000 internally displaced persons.  That site sits near a UN peacekeeping base in the Rutshuru area, just north of Goma.

UNHCR’s appeal to Laurent Nkunda’s rebel forces follows continuing reports that displaced persons at the site are being pressured to go back to their villages.  All returns should be voluntary, the refugee agency said.  And there’s more on that upstairs.

** Somalia

The UN refugee agency is seeking $92 million to help nearly 250,000 Somalis in one of the world’s oldest, largest and most congested refugee sites.

There are growing fears that the Dadaab camp in Kenya will see even more arrivals as the situation in Somalia deteriorates.  UNHCR says that camps there are already at three times their capacity, with thousands more arriving each month.

The agency’s emergency assistance programme will include the construction of two new camps, which could each shelter up to 60,000 people.  There’s more information upstairs, as well in the UNCHR briefing notes.

** Nepal

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) today released a report on its investigations into a series of disappearances that occurred in Nepal from 2001 to 2003, during the conflict between Government and Maoist forces.

The 99-page report documents the cases of 156 people who were allegedly disappeared in the Bardiya district by both State authorities and by the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist.

The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, noted that the Government of Nepal has prepared legislation to establish a commission of inquiry to investigate all enforced disappearances committed during the conflict, including the cases documented in her organization’s report.  She welcomed the Government’s commitment to investigate the disappearances, and offered her organization’s full support for the commission during its investigations.

** Papua New Guinea

A five-member UN disaster assessment and coordination team arrived in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, this week, to help identify the needs of the estimated 32,000 victims affected by the 8 December rise in sea levels [sea swells].

The Office of the Coordination for Humanitarian Assistance said an inter-agency assessment team is set to remain in the islands for seven to 10 days.

**South-South Cooperation

In his message to mark the fifth observance of the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation, the Secretary-General stressed that today’s worldwide crises in finance, food and climate change call for greater cooperation among developing countries.  As never before, developing countries are collectively facing multiple global economic challenges that threaten to reverse development progress.

The Secretary-General also highlighted that South-South cooperation can play a significant role in the fight against climate change.  He added that many developing countries are adopting low-carbon development paths, backed by renewable energy and energy efficiency, and countries can share their experiences, policies and adaptation technologies.

**Economic Commission for Latin America and Caribbean

The Economic and Social Council for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has released its projections for the region’s economy next year.  ECLAC expects growth of slightly less than 2 per cent, down from nearly 2 per cent this year.

Further hampering growth will be falling revenue from tourism and migrant worker remittances, as well as declining foreign direct investment.  Unemployment is also expected to rise, along with growth in informal employment.  After six consecutive years of growth, the region is better prepared than previously to handle a crisis, but in no case is it immune, ECLAC says. 

**United Nations Correspondent Association

At the end of the briefing, I just wanted to say congratulations to those elected in yesterday’s UN Correspondent Association (UNCA) elections for the Executive Committee 2009.  Congratulations to Giampaolo Pioli for his election as President, first Vice-President Louis Charbonneau, second Vice-President Masood Haider, third Vice-President Sylviane Zehil, and for those other nine members at large.  Congratulations to those re-elected, and welcome to the new members.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

The last Security Council programme that is scheduled for now is for Monday next week.  And it’s scheduled to adopt resolutions on a number of missions, including the Democratic Republic of the Congo, DRC sanctions, and the UN Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB).

We’re projecting that, starting Christmas Day through New Years Day, we will not have the noon briefing.  On that note, I would like to take some questions and then turn over to the GA Spokesperson.  Anything for me? Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, I want to clarify.  Yesterday, did you issue a statement after this ceasefire was declared null and void in Gaza?  Did you issue a statement on this?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is extremely concerned at statements calling into question the continuation of the Egyptian-brokered calm in and around Gaza.  A major escalation of violence would have grave consequences for the protection of civilians in Israel and Gaza, the welfare of the Gazan civilian population, and the sustainability of political efforts.  We reiterate the appeal made yesterday by Special Coordinator Robert Serry, on behalf of the Secretary-General, that the calm should be respected and extended, rocket attacks against Israel must be immediately halted and all acts of violence must cease.

Question:  Just a follow-up.  Do you have anything, any update on Mr. Robert Falk?  Will he be allowed back by the Israeli authorities?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any update on that.  Who else had a question? Let’s go to Matthew and then Bill.

Question:  An official in Niger has been quoted that Mr. Fowler’s trip was official, but that “we were not aware of his trip out of town to the Samira gold mine”.  So I want to… now it’s pretty clear that the gold mine… it’s confirmed that he visited.  The United Nations has said that he went to the gold mine.  How can you describe a trip to a country where on official business, where there’s a side trip to a Canadian-named gold mine in a UNDP vehicle?  Was he going to reimburse the UN for the car?  What was the UN… or are envoys expected to inform the UN when they go on private business?  And what is your understanding of that business?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, I think on this subject we really don’t have anything further that we can report publicly.  The Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Niger, Mr. Fowler, was in Niger in his official capacity.  He was on official mission, as we repeated to you a number of times, and we just simply cannot comment or release information which may compromise our efforts and jeopardize the safety of Mr. Fowler, Mr. Guay and the driver.  And on the specific point that you mention on the mines, we just have nothing for you on that.  And as you know we are working very hard on this matter and the Secretary-General should be speaking with the President of Niger shortly.

Question:  Can you just say generally, putting aside this situation, when UN envoys go to a country, is there some… how do they inform the UN if they’re going to do some business that’s their own business or their country’s business?  Is it expected that they will tell the UN: “Look, this is what I’m going to do in the country”?

Spokesperson: Obviously, there are terms of reference for a special envoy when he visits a country, and the objectives are laid out and there are reporting channels established.

Question:  Are the terms of reference of Mr. Fowler’s mandate and of this mission public or not public?

Spokesperson:  They are not public.  Bill?

Question:  What resources has the UN shifted to Niger to assist in the investigation?  Are people going?

Spokesperson:  Without getting into too much detail, again, we have mobilized a team on site, and they’re working very closely with the Niger authorities.  And we appreciate their cooperation and we are working very closely with them.

Question:  You say a team?  Are you going to want to say any more about how many are in the team, where they came from, are they security people here from New York or what?

Spokesperson:  I can’t get into any details on that.  It’s just to let you know that we are working very hard on this matter.

Question:  Just to confirm -- I know you commented yesterday -- as of now there’s been no contact, no one’s claimed, made any claims, asked for anything, just the mystery sort of continues just as it was the first day?

Spokesperson:  That’s correct.  Yes?

Question:  Some of us have asked for a briefing of the 1267 Committee of the Security Council, and we haven’t gotten an answer.  It does say in their own procedures that they will brief the press.  So is there some way to find out?

Spokesperson:  Yes, you need to talk to the Chair of the 1267 Committee.

Question:  I have, but I didn’t get an answer.

Spokesperson:  We can’t help you with that.  It is a Security Council committee and, like all the committees, they are made up of all the 15 members.  So it’s a request that we… we can reiterate the request for you, but we can’t produce these people for you.  Yes?

Question:  This is a housekeeping issue.  You said there’s no briefing, there will be no briefing until 2 January, yes?

Spokesperson:  Between Christmas and the new year, we’re not anticipating having a briefing.

Question: I think you also said that the Security Council (unintelligible)?

Spokesperson:  As I mentioned to you, the last scheduled Security Council meeting as of today is on the 22nd.  What the incoming presidency will do in January, you’ll have to ask them how quickly they want to get up and running.

Question:  I ask because there was some activities up until the 31st.  But there is no…?

Spokesperson:  I think there are a number of mandates expiring.  That’s why they need to act on them probably before the end of the month.  Okay?  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  The OIOS [Office of Internal Oversight Services] investigative report about misuse of information and communications technology about which you were asked recently, and a staff member was suspended three months without pay.  The actual report says that there were some 80 other staff members involved.  So, I’m wondering, since the individual that you’ve suspended is a relatively low-level, G‑5 staff, if you can state without giving names whether the highest level of which the people that being inquired into by OIOS are, and whether there’s any inquiry into who leaked the name of this low-level staff as opposed to higher-level staff?

Spokesperson:  There’s nothing beyond what we told you on this.  If you have further questions, I think you need to ask OIOS. Yes?

Question:  I thought there was going to be some statement about Gaza?

Spokesperson:  I just read it to you.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  I would like to congratulate the whole team and the new President of UNCA.  I wish you all the best for this year ahead.  And the new administration.  Now let’s get back to business.

This morning, in the closing remarks of the South-South meeting, the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto, said, making reference to the several on-going crises, said:

“No country can address these problems on its own.  For these reasons alone, we have no choice but to turn to each other for support and understanding.  But I deeply believe that this period of crisis can become a period of transformation.  This can take place if we transcend our narrow national interests and chose to view these challenges as shared problems that require collaborative solutions.  This requires, above all, a strong and compelling spirit of solidarity among peoples and among nations.”

This is all I have for you today, Friday.  Let’s keep it simple.  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Enrique, I had asked this question yesterday, but you were not here.  There’s some Jewish organization that has asked the President of the General Assembly to step down.  And they keep on quoting that he disallowed the Israeli Ambassador to come and address that particular meeting… although you had clarified -- but they keep on saying that.  So do you have any response to that? Have they written to you?

Spokesperson:  Not that I’m aware of.  Obviously there are people or groups that do not want this issue to die.  But the President of the General Assembly has nothing else to add than what we already said on Monday in a public statement.

Question:  Any update on the investigation on death threats made to the President?

Spokesperson:  Not that we have ben informed by security.  The inquiry is going on, as I understand.  Matthew?

Question:  Do you -- is it currently anticipated that the Fifth Committee and the General Assembly -- and the plenary -- will finish its work on the 22nd?  Or, when will it finish?

Spokesperson:  As I told you a few days ago, it’s always difficult to say what is going to happen.  But it looks like that they should be finishing by 23 December.  But you never know because this is something that is up to the Member countries.

Question:  One other thing.  Sitting where you are now, the head of the UN Global Compact, Georg Kell, when asked about the President’s water adviser Maude Barlow’s comments about the Global Compact, said he’d never heard of her, she’s never spoken to him about the Compact and they are very comfortable with their work and sort of “dissed” her expertise in water.  I guess I’m wondering, not to get you into a back and forth with Mr. Kell, but is there… is the office of President of the General Assembly, does it have any jurisdiction over this UN Global Compact, which invites in corporations, including ones criticized by Ms. Barlow?  What’s the relation between the General Assembly and the PGA and the Global Compact unit?

Spokesperson:  Well the Global Compact is part of the Secretariat and is the work of the Secretariat and of the whole Organization and, as such, it’s part of the Secretariat.  I don’t have any further comment on the comments that Ms. Barlow on her own made about the Compact.

Question:  When will the President have a noon briefing for us?  Will he sum up the year?

Spokesperson:  We have not scheduled any meeting, any press meetings, yet.  But I assume that, soon after the break, when we come back from the holidays, the first week of January, something like that, we will have a press conference with his views for the rest of the year.

Question:  One other thing -- did he have any either involvement or views or comments on these duelling statements on the decriminalization of homosexuality?  Did he have… was he reached out to by either of the two sides?  What is his view on that issue now that it’s been…?

Spokesperson:  No, he has not been talking about this issue with any particular Member States.  His position is very clear, as President of the General Assembly, he follows and supports whatever resolutions are taken by the Member States.  And, in any case, it is clear that he condemns any kind of human rights violation, including those based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  That must be clear.

Have a nice weekend.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record