9 March 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.

I guess the clocks have not been turned to the right time in New York yet.

**Guest at Noon

Our guest at the noon briefing today is John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, and he will be here shortly to update you on the humanitarian situation in Sudan.

**Secretary-General in Haiti

The Secretary-General is due to arrive this afternoon in Port-au-Prince, the Haitian capital, accompanied by former US President Bill Clinton and a group of potential investors, as well as humanitarian actors.  The trip is designed to focus international attention on Haiti’s recovery and reconstruction needs.

The first part of the afternoon will be devoted to visiting education projects, including a feeding programme at a school in Cité Soleil and meeting with honour students from severely disadvantaged backgrounds at a leadership programme.  Later this evening, the Secretary-General and President Clinton are expected to meet with President René Préval and Prime Minister Michelle Pierre-Louis, along with members of the Haitian private sector and civil society.

Included in the delegation are representatives of non-governmental organizations active in Haiti, like Dr. Paul Farmer, who has established a hospital in the village of Canges, and musician Wyclef Jean, whose foundation Yele Ayiti has worked extensively on community projects in the country.

**Secretary-General in Washington, D.C.

For those of you who might have missed this on Friday afternoon, the Secretary-General had a statement attributable to the Spokesperson, in which he said he was pleased to have received an invitation from US President Obama and looks forward to meeting him in Washington tomorrow.  The Secretary-General and the President expect to discuss a wide range of issues, including managing the consequences of the global economic crisis, climate change, challenges in Sudan, Afghanistan and the Middle East, non-proliferation and disarmament, human rights, United Nations reform and United States-United Nations relations.   While in Washington, D.C., from 10 to 11 March, the Secretary-General will also meet with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, as well as members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee.

** Darfur

Turning to Darfur, as I mentioned, John Holmes will be here shortly to brief you on humanitarian situation on the ground.  Meanwhile, the African Union-United Nations peacekeeping operation in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that the security situation there is relatively calm.

During the past 24 hours, UNAMID conducted 32 confidence-building patrols, 11 escort patrols and 8 night patrols covering 65 villages and camps for displaced persons.

The AU-UN Joint Special Representative, Rodolphe Adada, today met with the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Jean Ping, in Khartoum to discuss the current situation in Sudan, especially in the aftermath of the International Criminal Court’s announcement.

Jean Ping urged UNAMID to continue discharging its responsibilities to help the people of Darfur.  Adada, the Special Representative, stressed that UNAMID has a specific mandate to implement, including providing protection for civilians and facilitating humanitarian assistance to those in need.

** Lebanon

Here at UN Headquarters, the Secretary-General’s latest report to the Security Council on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006), concerning Lebanon, is out as a document.  In it, he says that the attacks and return fire along the Blue Line during the hostilities in Gaza was the most serious challenge since the resolution was adopted more than two years ago.

He said that the firing of rockets from southern Lebanon towards Israel constitute serious violations of resolution 1701.  He also said that it was a cause of serious concern that the Israel Defense Forces on two occasions returned fire without providing prior warning to the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).

In the report, the Secretary-General says he is pleased that the parties have made progress, in cooperation with UNIFIL, to visibly mark the Blue Line.  He reiterates his call upon Israel to cease immediately all overflights of Lebanese territory. And he calls upon all Lebanese leaders to exercise restraint ahead of the 7 June parliamentary elections.

The Security Council is expected to discuss the report tomorrow in its closed consultations here in New York.  And Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, will be on hand to brief Council members on the report.  And yes, we will ask him to see if he can speak to you afterwards.


According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), all crossings from Israel into Gaza, with the exception of the Sufa crossing, have been open today.  OCHA also reports that nine truckloads of medical supplies from Libya entered Gaza yesterday through the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

Meanwhile, over the weekend, UNICEF’s Executive Director, Ann Veneman, wrapped up a week-long mission to the region that included stops in Jordan, the West Bank, southern Israel and Gaza.

In Gaza, Veneman visited a damaged school, a paediatric hospital and a psycho-social counselling centre.  She also saw a school in Sderot in southern Israel.  During these visits, she spoke with Palestinian and Israeli children affected by the recent hostilities.

Veneman also met with senior officials, including Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, as well as Israel’s Minister of Social Welfare and the Head of the Israeli Supreme Court.  And there is more on this upstairs.

** Afghanistan

Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, visited Tehran yesterday to further explore areas of cooperation between [ Afghanistan and Iran].  The visit is part of a series that Eide has made to improve regional cooperation. Today, he is scheduled to address a Council of Ministers meeting of the Economic Cooperation Organization, a 10-nation group whose summit this week is being hosted by Iran.  And there is a press release with more information upstairs.

** Liberia

In Liberia, the second joint UN office was inaugurated today in Zwedru, the provincial capital of south-eastern Grand Gedeh County.

The office brings together five agencies -- the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Food Programme (WFP), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and UNHCR -- together with the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).  The Mission says this joint office is an opportunity for the UN to bring together all of its extensive expertise to maximize the benefits for the people of Liberia.

** Zimbabwe -- Cholera

And on Zimbabwe, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the World Health Organization report that the total number of deaths from cholera during the outbreak in Zimbabwe has now exceeded 4,000.  The cumulative number of cholera cases in Zimbabwe has risen above 89,000.

At the same time, OCHA and WHO report that the fatality rate in treatment centres has declined significantly, to 1.8 per cent, down from a rate which had exceeded 4 per cent.  The decline results from improved monitoring and response mechanisms instituted by the Ministry of Health in conjunction with international partners.  Over 60 per cent of deaths occur in rural areas where limited or no treatment is reaching people.  There is more information on this upstairs.

**Human Rights Council

In Geneva this morning, the Human Rights Council took up the right to food.

In her remarks, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that, clearly, the global food crisis is not over yet.  And efforts to tackle it will only bear fruit if they are grounded in the very basic human right to adequate food.

In that regard, Pillay said, the Human Rights Council’s efforts should be directed towards protecting the most marginalized segments of society.  She said she was especially concerned by the situation of the rural and urban poor, landless and small-scale farmers, and households headed by women.

Pillay noted that any successful strategy to defeat hunger should involve stronger institutions with better accountability; sustainable investments in agricultural production and research; and targeted support to and empowerment of smallholders and the poor.

**World Bank

The World Bank, meanwhile, has a new study out.  Developing countries face a financing shortfall of $270 billion to $700 billion this year.  The Bank adds that only one quarter of the most vulnerable countries have the resources to prevent a rise in poverty.

In a report released ahead of next Saturday’s meeting of the Group of 20 finance ministers and central bank governors, the World Bank also says that many of the world’s poorest countries are becoming more dependent on development assistance.  It also voices concerns over the increasing volatility of aid flows, as some countries cut their aid budgets.  There is more on this upstairs, as well.

**Department of Economic and Social Affairs

The Committee for Development Policy -- an expert body of the Economic and Social Council -- opened its eleventh session today at UN Headquarters.

One of the main topics of the Committee’s deliberations will be global public health.  The Committee will also conduct the 2009 triennial review of the list of least developed countries, and address the current financial turmoil and its implications for developing countries.

In his opening remarks, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang underlined the “enormous challenges” facing the world right now.  He said these also presented a unique opportunity for the United Nations to provide leadership in addressing the crisis and forging a new partnership for governance of the world economy.

The eleventh session of the Committee for Development Policy runs through 13 March.

**Filming at United Nations -- Law and Order

And finally, for those of you who may have asked about this, a bit of news from the weekend.

The cast and crew of the hit television series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit were at United Nations Headquarters on Saturday, 7 March, to film part of an episode that brings to the fore themes of children and armed conflict as well as refugees.  This collaboration marks the first occasion a network television show has been granted access to film at the United Nations.

It also represents the first official project under the Secretary-General’s newly established Creative Community Outreach Initiative (CCOI), within the Outreach Division of the Department of Public Information, which aims to partner with the international film and television industries to raise the profile of critical global issues.

Emmy-nominated actor Christopher Meloni (Detective Elliot Stabler) and Stephanie March (Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Cabot) were at United Nations Headquarters on Saturday, along with nearly 200 cast and crew.

Scenes filmed include the traffic circle outside of the Secretariat building, the Visitors’ Entrance Plaza and the Public Lobby.  The episode is currently scheduled to air on Tuesday, 24 March at 10 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on NBC Universal.

That’s what I have for you.  John Holmes is here, so I would like to turn the floor over to him first.  Okay, Matthew, I will take one question from you before we turn over.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure, two.  In Sri Lanka, the International Crisis Group has put out a report saying that the UN itself has counted 2,300 casualties since the end of January and has called on Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to disclose the UN’s count of casualties.  Are you aware of the report and has the UN actually assembled these number as ICG says?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of it, but perhaps John Holmes can answer that one.  The Secretary-General has issued a very strong statement last week that was shadowed by other developments, in which he does talk about his concerns about the mounting civilian casualties and the need to bring the fighting to an end and for the civilians to be protected there.

Question:  And I want to ask you also, on Thursday of last week there was a report, according to the Staff Union and others, there was a death that took place in the building in the third subbasement and they have expressed concern that the ambulance wasn’t allowed in for an hour.  I am wondering if you’re aware of that and what is the protocol for that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that, but I will look into that and we will get you something.

Question:  Did Mr. Ban Ki-moon take note of the remarks by President [Omer al-] Bashir during his visit to Darfur, in which he threatened of kicking out the diplomatic missions and the other NGOs, and what’s his reaction or what are his comments to these remarks?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Secretary-General is on an airplane now on his way to Haiti.  We mentioned to you at the end of last week that he was placing a number of calls regarding the situation on the ground in Sudan and in Darfur.  He continued the phones calls over the weekend and obviously his top priority right now is to avert any kind of a humanitarian catastrophe on the ground, which is why we have John Holmes here for you.

One thing I did want to read to you before I turn over the podium is in response to some questions we’ve gotten on press reports on Indian troops in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  According to the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, the United Nations has not requested that India cancel a new deployment to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Indian Air Force contingent to MONUC, that’s the United Nations operation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is currently at full strength and remains in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The United Nations both greatly appreciates and counts on India’s continued participation in peacekeeping.  And that’s what I have for you.  Yes?

Question:  Did the Secretary-General talk to the Sudanese President over the weekend?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He has not.

Question:  So he is not aware yet of these remarks made by the Sudanese President yesterday?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m sure he’s aware of them through the press reports that we all have been seeing.  Okay, with that, John?

* *** *

For information media • not an official record