30 January 2009
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.  Sorry I am late.  I see that John Ging is already with us.  Good afternoon, or good evening to you.  I was waiting for a second statement, but it did not come down.  So I am going to read one statement, and we will turn over to John Ging.  And then I will do the rest of the briefing after John, since he is joining us from Gaza. 

**Secretary-General Statement on Myanmar

The Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, Ibrahim Gambari, will begin on 31 January a four-day visit to Myanmar, at the invitation of the Myanmar Government.  The Secretary-General has asked his Special Adviser to visit Myanmar to continue his consultations with the Government and other relevant parties in the implementation of the good offices mandate entrusted to the Secretary-General by the General Assembly.  He looks forward to meaningful discussions with all concerned on all the points raised during his last visit.  

And that is the statement for you, and we are expecting a Secretary-General statement on Sri Lanka.  So I am going to turn over to John.

[After Mr. Ging’s briefing, the Deputy Spokesperson continued.]

I have received two more statements –- one is on Sri Lanka and the other one is on Zimbabwe.

**Secretary-General Statement on Sri Lanka

The Secretary-General welcomes President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s announcement of safe passage for civilians trapped in the area of intense fighting in the North to a secure environment.  However, he continues to be concerned by the threat to the estimated 250,000 civilians caught in the area, who are in close proximity to the fighting.  He urges the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to do all in their power to make this safe passage a reality, and to ensure the protection of civilians in accordance with international humanitarian law.

The Secretary-General calls upon the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, in particular, to allow civilians in the conflict zone to move to where they feel most secure, including areas controlled by the Government of Sri Lanka.  He also calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure that those civilians arriving from the Vanni and other conflict areas are treated in accordance with international standards.  Such standards include guaranteeing their freedom of movement, providing basic services and allowing full access by humanitarian agencies.  On its part, the United Nations stands ready to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance.

The Secretary-General strongly underlines the need for urgent steps towards a speedy and orderly end to the fighting.

**Secretary-General Statement on Zimbabwe

The Secretary-General welcomes the agreement of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) to join a Government of National Unity in Zimbabwe, in line with the 15 September Global Peace Agreement and the communiqué of the Extraordinary Summit of the Southern African Development Community Heads of State and Government of 27 January 2009.  The United Nations pledges its full support to the implementation of the 15 September Agreement.

The Secretary-General calls on the new Government to take all necessary measures to address the humanitarian and economic crises in the country and respect democratic freedoms.

** Sri Lanka

And just to follow up on Sri Lanka, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that, yesterday, the United Nations, together with the International Committee of the Red Cross, negotiated a four-hour pause in fighting.  That pause allowed for 226 patient evacuations -– including 50 critically injured children.  Some United Nations staff also left.

Also during the four-hour window, 14 Government trucks, carrying nearly 180 tons of food aid from the World Food Programme, were brought into the area controlled by LTTE.

For its part, UNICEF today called the situation in Sri Lanka a “crisis for children”, noting that the increasing number of children injured includes some who are only a few months old.

And there is more information on that upstairs.

** Zimbabwe

And also a follow-up note on Zimbabwe.  The World Health Organization (WHO) says that Zimbabwe's cholera outbreak, one of the world's largest ever recorded, is far from being brought under control.  An enhanced response is needed to urgently reverse an epidemic that has so far infected more than 60,000 people and killed more than 3,100 since August 2008.

“Unless drastic action is taken by all players in this crisis, more Zimbabweans will succumb to the outbreak, and other countries in the southern African region will face the continued threat of spillover epidemics,” says Eric Laroche, Assistant Director-General for WHO's Health Action in Crises Cluster.

WHO lists, in a press release, a number of urgent measures needed in Zimbabwe.  And you can pick that up upstairs.

In an effort to bolster the fight against the spread of the disease, the United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Office says it has allocated some $7.8 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to help the Zimbabwean authorities and United Nations agencies to implement a number of urgently-needed life-saving programmes.

And as I said, there is more information on both these developments upstairs.

**Secretary-General in Davos

Speaking to the press at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier today, the Secretary-General made an appeal this morning for new partnerships to push for development, growth, global health and the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger.  The call to stand in solidarity with the poorest people of the world came during a joint press conference by the Secretary-General and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The Secretary-General told reporters about the potential for a “New Deal”, saying, “Many more people now understand that scaling up a green, low-carbon economy is the best investment we can make.  It can also solve the economic crisis.  It will create jobs and spur growth.  It is a critical step towards a sustainable future, for rich nations as well as poor.”  He added that pushing for employment opportunities in jobs that help to deal with climate change is a way to “catch two birds with one stone”.

The Secretary-General held a bilateral meeting with Prime Minister Brown, where they discussed Gaza and the Middle East peace process, the next Group of 20 gathering in London, climate change, Zimbabwe, Myanmar and the Sudan.

He’s had a number of other bilateral meetings.

Over the weekend, as we mentioned, the Secretary-General will travel onward to Addis Ababa, where he will attend the summit of the African Union.

** Iraq

Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, condemned in the strongest terms the assassination of three of the candidates in this weekend’s elections, in Mosul, Baghdad and Mandali, and he warned that the killings were an attempt to disrupt the democratic process on the eve of the elections.

Both the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) and the United Nations expressed their confidence in the electoral process for tomorrow’s provincial council elections, as well as in the mechanisms available for conducting the elections in a transparent manner.

We have Mr. de Mistura’s statement upstairs and he also intends to speak to you by video conference next Tuesday from Baghdad.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

Tensions are rising in the Congolese province of South Kivu, and civilians are being displaced due to the joint Democratic Republic of the Congo-Rwanda military operation against Rwandan Hutu rebels in the neighbouring North Kivu province.

The United Nations refugee agency reports that some 5,000 people have fled the area after local militia opposed to the military operation blocked the main road in and out of the area.  The crisis will likely delay the return of Congolese refugees from neighbouring Tanzania, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] says, as the region is a hub for those returning from exile in Tanzania.

The security situation in the region has recently caused some 4,500 Congolese to flee to Uganda, meanwhile, bringing to 40,000 the number of Congolese refugees in southern Uganda.

Meanwhile, an increasing number of Rwandan exiles, including relatives of FDLR fighters, are asking for UNHCR assistance for a safe return to Rwanda.  The agency has so far helped more than 200 of them back into the country.  Another 300 are now in transit centre in the Democratic Republic of the Congo waiting for their time to go home.

**Central African Republic/Chad

UNHCR also reports that more than 4,500 refugees from the Central African Republic (CAR) have recently arrived in south-eastern Chad fleeing attacks from CAR-based rebels.

In north-eastern Chad, meanwhile, the United Nations-trained Integrated Security Contingent conducted a weapons search in the Am Nabak refugee camp.  That raid led to the seizure of forbidden equipment.  This is the first such operation by this force.  A Chadian special security force was recently deployed to the region.

And you can read more about these two developments upstairs as well.

**Security Council

Over the weekend, France’s Presidency of the Security Council will end, and Japan will assume the rotating Presidency of the Security Council for the month of February.  Ambassador Yukio Takasu, next month’s Council President, intends to brief you on the Council’s programme of work for February next Tuesday, at 12:30 p.m., in this Room.

**Responsibility to Protect

Out on the racks today is a report by the Secretary-General on implementing the responsibility to protect.  The report underscores that the best way from preventing the misuse of that concept would be to develop fully a United Nations strategy, as well as standards, processes, tools and practices for the responsibility to protect.

To that end, the report outlines a three-pillar strategy for advancing the agenda mandated by the Heads of State and Government at the 2005 World Summit.  The strategy stresses the value of prevention and, when it fails, of early and flexible response, tailored to the specific circumstances of each case.


Nine countries have signed a code of conduct to fight piracy on ships in the Western Indian Ocean and the Gulf of Aden, at a high-level meeting convened by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in Djibouti.

These countries are Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, the Maldives, the Seychelles, Somalia, Tanzania and Yemen.

The Code of Conduct mentions the possibilities of shared operations.  In the future, certain authorized law enforcement officials might be allowed to embark on patrol ships or aircraft of a signatory State to facilitate the arrest and subsequent prosecution of suspected pirates.

You can read more about that in an IMO statement upstairs.

**Additional Secretary-General Statements

For those of you who may have missed:  two statements.  We had one yesterday afternoon on Madagascar, which we had flagged to you.

Earlier this morning, we had a statement on the passing of Lucille Mathurin Mair.  The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of her passing.  A lifelong champion of the rights of women, she served as Secretary-General of the World Conference on the United Nations Decade for Women, held in 1980 in Copenhagen, and also served as Special Adviser to UNICEF on women’s development.

As the first ever woman to be appointed, in 1982, as an Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Dr. Mair had the distinction of serving the United Nations diligently for many years. 

That statement was issued earlier today.

**Week Ahead

And just a couple of things to flag for your planning purposes for next week.

The war crimes trial of former Liberian President, Charles Taylor, is set to move one step closer to completion with the testimony of the final prosecution witness.  The Prosecutor of the Special Court for Sierra Leone, Stephen Rapp, will be here, in this Room, at 11 a.m. on Monday to brief you on that.

And our guest at the noon briefing, Michael Adlerstein, Executive Director of the Capital Master Plan, who will brief you on the status of renovation at United Nations Headquarters.

The Secretary-General, as I mentioned earlier, will be in Addis Ababa, where on Monday he will be addressing the opening ceremony there.

Also on Monday, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, will be officially launching the flash appeal for Gaza, and that is in Geneva.

The Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, plans to visit the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel starting, next Monday.

I think I’ll leave the Week Ahead for you upstairs, so you can look at it later.

And that is all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I wonder about the thinking of the flash appeal when there are these goods that can’t get into Gaza.  And I wonder what the thinking was on launching the flash appeal given the situation, and if there is any process that the Secretariat is thinking of with regard to documenting some of what is waiting at the different crossing points, how long it has been there, and what the situation is of that blockade.

Deputy Spokesperson:  The rationale behind the appeal is obviously because of the enormous needs that the Palestinian people are facing on the ground, as John Ging has just mentioned to you and the Secretary-General and others have been flagging for days and for weeks now.  In terms of what has been documented, I think you probably need to talk to OCHA more closely on that.

Question:  This issue is a matter of life and death.  The blockade is really affecting and jeopardizing the lives of so many people.  Is the Secretary-General going to say something about it or threaten with some action, so that the Israelis abide with the demands of the United Nations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General -– I don’t know where you have been the last few weeks -– but this has been one of the top concerns that he has been working on vigorously and personally to help the Palestinians.  I really don’t think I have to go into [this] any further.

Question:  But they don’t really listen…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond what you have already been hearing from this podium, from John Ging, from the Secretary-General himself.  The issue of the appeal was addressed to him, and I really refer you to his comments yesterday again from Davos.

Question:  It has been now like two weeks since the United Nations schools were bombed in Gaza.  When is the investigation commission going to be established?  Can you tell me what obstacles are standing in the way now?

Deputy Spokesperson:  All I can tell you is, we are close to announcing the details of that investigation and, as soon as we have it, you’ll have it.

Question:  Now that we know that the Secretary-General is going to Pakistan, do you have any information that when he is in Pakistan, he will be able to announce the set up of the investigation commission or the fact-finding commission for Benazir Bhutto?  Do you have any information on that at all?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t.

Question:  You still know for sure that he is going on 4 February, right?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That I can confirm.  Yesterday, we announced his visit to Pakistan.

Question:  But you still don’t know what he is going to do about this fact-finding mission?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have announced his trip, and that he will be meeting with Government officials there.  For now, that is all I have for you.

Question:  Do you have, or does the Secretary-General have any reaction to German Chancellor Merkel’s proposal today that there should be a United Nations economic council parallel to the Security Council to deal with global financial problems?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have an immediate comment, no.

Question:  You read out the confirmation of Mr. Gambari going to Myanmar.  I guess I wanted to ask if there is any indication -– now that there is the decision to have him go –- is there any indication at what level -– last time he went, he did not meet with Aung San Suu Kyi and he did not meet with [inaudible].  Who is he going to meet with this time, and how will the Secretary-General judge whether his trip has been a success?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as I mentioned to you, Mr. Gambari looks forward to meeting with all stakeholders, including Aung San Suu Kyi and top members of the State Peace and Development Council.

Question:  Top members, how high?  Is there any way you can comment on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Not for now.

Question:  Another thing about Myanmar is about the refugees in Thailand.  There is an AFP report saying that UNHCR apparently refused to comment on the conditions of teenagers from Burma, out of courtesy to Thailand’s Government.  Have you seen that?  Is it true that UNHCR holds its tongue on describing the condition of refugees?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I gave you the UNHCR report yesterday that outlined their access to some of those people, and you have a full account of their meetings.

Question:  Does the United Nations disagree with AFP’s report that they refused comment…

Deputy Spokesperson:  You have the complete report of their encounters.

Question:  So what do you make of AFP reporting that they refuse to comment on the conditions out of courtesy?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You have the report, I have nothing beyond that.

Question:  Regarding Mr. Gambari’s planned visit to Myanmar, will he give a briefing to the members of the Security Council after his visit?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As usual, Mr. Gambari will first brief the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly.  It is up to the members of the Security Council to decide whether to invite Mr. Gambari to brief them.

Question:  Regarding the investigation on the Gaza attacks.  Will the report which will be submitted by the committee be an internal thing, or will it be an open thing to the Security Council to discuss or to take action?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You are talking about the Secretary-General’s independent investigation?  As soon as I have something more on that I’ll let you know.  Right now, they are still working on that.

Question:  But about the format, will it be an internal thing, as a report of the Secretary-General, or will it be an open report?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let us first get details of the investigation panel and we’ll let you know more about the terms of reference and the reporting structure.

Question:  How do you compare this investigation to other previous ones?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I cannot.

Question:  Today, the Secretary-General spoke of new partnerships for the future, but I was wondering if he has a comment on an old one that seems to be breaking down.  He was part of the panel yesterday with the Prime Minister of Turkey and the President of Israel.  He was sitting right there.  His official response to that exchange and to the calls for each side?  What is his take on that situation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything beyond the fact that he was in the room.  You have all seen it on video.  The Secretary-General’s views on Gaza and the way forward are very, very clear.

Question:  He didn’t speak to either the Prime Minister or the President?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He was in the panel and his views, as you know, we echoed here and were also voiced at the press conference earlier in the day.

Question:  There is a report that North Korea has broken military and other… has announced that it is scrapping its agreements on the sea border and military with South Korea.  I wonder if the Secretariat has any response to that?  Previously, there was a United Nations envoy to North Korea.  Is there any thought of having a new one?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing on that subject today.

Question:  And on UNDP [United Nations Development Programme], it was reported that the Dutch Government has written to the Secretary-General to nominate or to support Ad Melkert as a candidate for Administrator of UNDP.  Can you confirm that?  Are there any other candidates, and will a shortlist be made public?

Deputy Spokesperson:  On your question about UNDP:  Further to the Secretary-General’s and the Administration’s announcement -– he did write to Member States in the launch of the search process for candidates to identify the next UNDP Administrator.  The first step in this process would be to establish a shortlist of qualified candidates.  Member States have been invited to encourage suitable candidates to apply for the position.  In order to obtain as wide a basis for selection as possible, the vacancy is also being advertised in this week’s Economist.  I am sure you have seen that.

Following a rigorous and orderly selection process, the Secretary-General will consult on his choice with the Executive Board of UNDP before forwarding the name of his nominee to the General Assembly.  This process is a careful and transparent effort to identify the strongest candidates and to allow for a rapid but also deliberate determination of who should take charge of one of the key appointments in the developmental field within the United Nations system.

And that is all I have for you.

Question:  Will it be made public?  Previously, it was made public.  Will this be made public as well?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, it won’t.

Question:  Two days ago, at the Davos Summit meeting, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, Kofi Annan, said that the international institutions, including the Security Council, should be overhauled.  Does the Secretary-General share that opinion?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of the remarks by the previous Secretary-General on this subject.  Sorry about that.

On this note, have a good afternoon.  Have a good weekend.  See you on Monday.

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For information media • not an official record