18 May 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.

**Press Conferences Today

Our guest will be John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator.  He is scheduled to come at 12:20 p.m. So when he comes, I will ask him to take the floor first, because apparently he has another engagement immediately after this briefing.

Then at 1:30 p.m., members of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues will be here to brief on the today’s opening of the eighth session of the Forum.

**Secretary-General Travels - Switzerland

The Secretary-General arrives in Geneva shortly.

And his schedule tomorrow includes a meeting with representatives of flu vaccine companies, a visit to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Centre for Strategic Health Operations, and a press conference.  He will also address the World Health Assembly.

**World Health Assembly

The World Health Assembly is the supreme decision-making body for the World Health Organization (WHO), and it started its sixty-second session today in Geneva.

The Assembly plans to discuss a number of public health issues, such as pandemic influenza preparedness.  In that regard, participants expect to discuss the sharing of influenza viruses and access to vaccines.

Also on the Assembly’s agenda are implementation of the International Health Regulations; primary health care, including health system strengthening; social determinants of health; and monitoring the achievement of the health-related Millennium Development Goals.  The Assembly will also discuss WHO’s programme budget, administration and management matters.


And while on the topic of health, today in Geneva, Dr. Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), addressed a high-level consultation on pandemic Influenza A (H1N1).  She told participants: “We are all under pressure to make urgent and far-reaching decisions in an atmosphere of considerable scientific uncertainty.”

She also said the following to those gathered: “The job of managing public perceptions and behaviours also falls on our shoulders.  We need to warn the public when necessary, but reassure them whenever possible.  This is a difficult balancing act.”

In additional remarks to the opening of the World Health Assembly today, Dr. Chan said: “Influenza viruses have the great advantage of surprise on their side.  But viruses are not smart.  We are.”

Meanwhile, according to WHO’s latest tally, 40 countries have now officially reported 8,829 cases of influenza A (H1N1) infection.  That figure includes 74 deaths.  There is more on this upstairs.

**Secretary-General Travels -- Bahrain

This morning, before heading to Geneva, the Secretary-General wrapped up a two-day visit to Bahrain, where he had gone to attend the launch of the Global Assessment Report on Disaster Risk Reduction.

In his remarks at the launch on Sunday, the Secretary-General urged world leaders to invest more in disaster risk reduction.  We cannot prevent events such as earthquakes or cyclones, he said.  But we can limit their potential for disaster.  While in Bahrain, the Secretary-General met on Sunday with the Foreign Minister of Sudan.  The two discussed Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement, Darfur, and Sudan-Chad-related issues.

The Secretary-General also met with Bahrain’s King and Prime Minister, as well as the Secretary-General of the Gulf Cooperation Council.  Those discussions focused on disaster risk reduction, climate change and the Middle East, including Gaza.  Also in Bahrain, the Secretary-General visited the country’s Supreme Council for Women.

**Disaster Risk Report

And concerning the report on disaster risk reduction launched yesterday by the Secretary-General in Bahrain -- the document stresses that hundreds of millions of people face an increasing disaster risk worldwide.  It adds that this is due to unsafe cities and the combined impact of environmental destruction and climate change.

According to the report, recurrent disasters are destroying livelihoods, driven by a lack of Government attention, unplanned urbanization and deplorable economic conditions.

The report brings together data from a cross-section of UN, governmental, scientific and academic sources over a 32 year period -- from 1975 to 2007.  It reviews and analyses disaster frequency, geography and impact, and recommends priorities for reducing risks.

The document will be considered during the second session of the Global Platform on Disaster Risk Reduction, to be held in Geneva from 16 to 19 June.

**Security Council in Africa

Also travelling now is the Security Council.  The Security Council delegation that is visiting Africa arrived early today in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).  The members should, at this moment, be in the Kiwanja camp for internally displaced persons, near Goma in North Kivu province in the eastern part of that country.  The delegation is meeting with representatives of some 13,000 internally displaced persons to assess ways to improve the protection of civilians in the region.

The delegation is assessing latest efforts by the Government of the DRC and the United Nations to consolidate peace and security in North Kivu.  The Council members will also examine the promotion of economic recovery and development in the DRC.

Upon arrival in Goma from the Rwandan capital, Kigali, the delegation was briefed by the military leadership of the UN Mission in the DRC (MONUC) about the current UN-backed operations that are being conducted by the Congolese Army to address the problems of foreign and local illegal armed groups.  They also met with the governor of North Kivu, the humanitarian community and with senior Congolese military and police commanders.  The delegation then visited the HEAL AFRICA clinic, which has been taking care of victims of sexual violence.

Tomorrow, members of the Security Council delegation will be in Kinshasa for senior-level meetings with government officials, including President Joseph Kabila.

We have more details upstairs on the Security Council delegation’s activities over the weekend in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as well as in Kigali.

**International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court, meeting in The Hague today, held an initial appearance hearing for the Darfur rebel leader, who is suspected of having committed war crimes in Darfur, Sudan.

Abu Garda, who commands a splinter group of the Justice and Equality Movement, JEM, is charged with three war crimes allegedly committed during an attack on 29 September 2007 against the Haskanita military site of the African Union Peacekeeping Mission, AMIS, in North Darfur.  During this attack twelve AMIS soldiers were allegedly killed and eight others were severely wounded.

In the first of its kind before the ICC, the suspect presented himself voluntarily to the court, following a summons issued by The Prosecutor.  At the suspect’s initial appearance, Judge Cuno Tarfusser of Italy, acting as single judge, informed him of the crimes which he is alleged to have committed and of his rights.

After today’s initial hearing, Abu Garda is free to leave the country but will be required to return to the Netherlands to attend a confirmation of charges hearing before trial.  This will be held within a reasonable time to determine whether or not there are substantial grounds to believe that he committed the crimes charged.  There is a press release with more details on this upstairs.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that humanitarian needs continue to increase in the country due to the continuing violence in Somalia, as well as drought conditions.  However, it says that the funding received for the Consolidated Appeal Process so far covers only 35 per cent of the $984 million requested.

According to OCHA, at least 3.2 million people ‑‑ or 40 per cent of the country’s population ‑‑ will continue to require humanitarian assistance and livelihood support through September 2009.

**Central and Eastern Africa

OCHA also reports that the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees in 16 countries in Central and East Africa has risen to 11 million ‑‑ up from 10.9 million in December 2008.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Somalia and Sudan continue to be the countries with the largest IDP populations. Sudan has over 4 million IDPs, the DRC and Somalia have over 1.3 million IDPs each.  OCHA also says that Chad, Kenya, Sudan and Tanzania continue to host the largest number of refugees in the region.  Each country hosted more than 250,000 refugees at the end of March 2009.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission there has joined the International Organisation for Migration, IOM, to call for safe humanitarian access for a convoy of IOM trucks that has been trying to reach the area of Farah province in the southwest, where a number of civilians were killed and others displaced two weeks ago as a result of air strikes.

IOM trucks loaded with food, shelter and clothing supplies meant for about 500 families have been stopped en route because of security concerns.

UNAMA has stressed that safe passage is needed for these supplies to reach people in desperate need.  The Mission calls on all parties to respect the neutrality and impartiality of this critical humanitarian effort.  And you can read more about this in the briefing notes from Kabul, which are available upstairs.

**Deputy Secretary-General

And this morning at UN Headquarters, the Deputy Secretary-General addressed the opening of the eighth session of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.

She said the meeting came at a crucial time when the world was coping with a swarm of crises.  These crises, she added, are especially devastating to indigenous communities.  The Deputy Secretary-General also said that indigenous peoples continued to suffer from prejudice and marginalization.  She called for living up to the words of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples ‑‑ adopted in 2007.

We have to do more than just raise living standards for indigenous peoples, she stressed; we must listen to their voices, heed their warnings and seek their contributions to achieving our shared objectives.  She also said that indigenous communities and their wealth of wisdom must be protected, not only to enhance their lives but to serve the interests of all concerned about a healthy future for our planet.


On the International Day against Homophobia that was observed worldwide yesterday, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé released a statement to mark that occasion.

Sidibé urged all Governments to take steps to eliminate stigma and discrimination faced by men who have sex with men, lesbians and transgender populations.  He added that Governments must also create social and legal environments that ensure respect for human rights and enable universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support.

Also in observance of the occasion, UNAIDS and the UN Development Programme (UNDP) are launching a plan to encourage new and better approaches to HIV, specifically focusing on men who have sex with men and on transgender populations.  We have more on that in my office.


And then today and tomorrow, in Geneva, The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) is holding a public symposium entitled “The global economic crisis and development ‑‑ the way forward.”

Addressing the event will be the Under-Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang and his remarks are available upstairs.


We also have one more item about a ceremony in Geneva today.  The International Telecommunications Union (ITU) presented the 2009 World Telecommunication and Information Society Award to three recipients, including President Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva of Brazil.  The theme for 2009 was “Protecting Children in Cyberspace”.  There is more information on this upstairs.

**Secretary-General Trip

As I mentioned, we will have John Holmes today on the subject of Sri Lanka, and also on humanitarian efforts in Pakistan, I understand.

I have one more announcement of the Secretary-General’s upcoming visit to Denmark and to Finland.  The Secretary-General is set to travel to Denmark to attend the opening of the World Business Summit on Climate Change.  While in the Nordic region, he will also make his first official visit to Finland.

Arriving on Sunday for a two-day visit in Copenhagen, the Secretary-General will deliver his opening statement at the business summit, meet with Mr. Al Gore, former Vice-President of the United States and Chairman of the Generation Investment Management, and will hold a joint press conference with the Danish Minister for Climate and Energy.

On the occasion of his visit to Copenhagen, the Secretary-General will meet with the Queen, the Prime Minister, and the Ministers for Foreign Affairs, for Development Cooperation, and for Defence.  He will also attend a lunch meeting on “Global Compact and Climate”.

His visit in Denmark will be capped off with a Public Dialogue meeting on “Relaying the World ‑‑ Global Crisis/Global Answers:  The Role of the United Nations” together with Foreign Minister.  And while in Copenhagen, the Secretary-General will also officially open the UNOPS Headquarters based in this city.

The Secretary-General will then head on to Helsinki, Finland, on Monday for a two-day visit, where he is expected to meet with the President, as well as the Prime Minister, and Minister for Foreign Trade and Development.  While in Helsinki, he will address the Finnish Parliament and have a bilateral.  And he will meet with the former President and Nobel laureate, Mr. Martti Athisaari and pay a visit to the UN University ‑‑ World Institute for Development Economics Research (UNU-WIDER).

You can have more details on this.  This is for next weekend, obviously.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And then finally, tomorrow at 10 a.m., there will be a press conference by the UN Global Alliance for ICT and Development, and the University of the People on an online initiative aimed at bridging the gap between unprecedented access to the Internet, dropping technology costs and rising tuitions worldwide.

That’s what I have for you.  Yes, let’s start in the back.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister said that Ban Ki-moon is expected to visit the country on Friday for 24 hours; I was wondering if you could confirm this, and if so what he expects to accomplish now that the fighting is over.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, let me answer the last question first.  The Government of Sri Lanka has declared that its military operation against the LTTE in the north-east of the country has come to a conclusion and that all the civilians in the last pocket of active conflict had come out of the area.  It is too early for the United Nations to give an assessment of the situation in the area.

The UN is watching the situation very closely.  The Secretary-General’s Chef de Cabinet, Vijay Nambiar, remains in Sri Lanka and is engaged in close consultation with government officials and others on how best to respond to the humanitarian situation of the large number of internally displaced persons and initiate a process for early recovery and longer-term reconciliation, rehabilitation and reconstruction.

The situation calls for maximum care and restraint in dealing with the large number of civilians and their humanitarian and security needs, as well as with surrendering LTTE cadres.

Now, in terms of the Secretary-General, at this point I do not have anything official to tell you.  But I can tell you that the Secretary-General is considering a visit there, and as he has repeatedly said, his primary focus is on the conditions of the civilians and the IDP camps and reception centres under the Government’s control, and in the medium term their reintegration and, above all, on deliberate and appropriate measures to put in place a process and a solution for a long-term resolution of the conflict.

Question:  A follow-up on Mr. Nambiar.  Can you say whether while he is there the issue...there are some saying that there are many people that are now injured in the (inaudible) care in what had been called the no fire zone; and that the ICRC has no access.  Is this something that...is this in the case there some doctors who used to report on the casualty figures who have gone missing as reported in the Guardian and the Independent.  Are these issues, I mean you mentioned he’s talking about the IDPs instead of post-conflict; what about people that are actually at this moment sort of dying without medical care...(interrupted)?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, that’s the subject that I think John Holmes is going to come and talk to you about right now.

Question:  Burt can you say whether Mr. Nambiar, I guess I am just wondering... ‑‑ John Holmes is not there, Mr. Nambiar is ‑‑ is this an issue that the UN is urgently raising with the Government or not?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Chef de Cabinet’s visit, as we mentioned to you, focuses exactly on the same issues that I just mentioned; which are the United Nations’ and the Secretary-General’s concern.  Now, obviously the immediate humanitarian needs on the ground are the utmost priority for all of us.

Question:  On those doctors, is the UN involved in any way in checking on their status or fighting for their release?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, I would like to refer the humanitarian questions to John Holmes.  Why don’t we wait?  He will be here in a few minutes.  Yes, James?

Question:  The statement you just read about Ban Ki-moon’s trip; you said something about putting in place a process for a long-term solution.  What does that mean, exactly?  Does that mean that he’s going to have some kind of UN mediator for Sri Lanka?  What does it mean, actually?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think right now we can’t go beyond this.  This is just to draw for you the purpose under which the Secretary-General is considering a trip.  We’ve been asked a lot of questions about this, so I am telling you this just in broad strokes.  As of today, the statement here mentions that Vijay Nambiar, the Chef de Cabinet, is still on the ground and I think his talks...(interrupted)

Question:  Could you just repeat what you said about a long term, putting in place a process for a long term...; can you repeat what that was exactly?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s that we’re looking at the short term, and we’re looking at the medium term.  The short term is, obviously the conditions of the civilians; it’s the immediate humanitarian crisis on the ground, the need for the protection of these civilians in these camps and reception centres.  And the medium term is the reintegration, and then the long term obviously is the resolution of the conflict.  And that’s in a very broad stroke.  But, in the meantime, we have Vijay Nambiar on the ground looking at these issues for the longer term, which is reconciliation, rehabilitation, reconstruction ‑‑ all of these issues included, and you know...(interrupted)

Question:  What is it you said exactly about putting in place for the longer term?

Deputy Spokesperson:  All I said was measures to put in place a solution for a long term resolution to the conflict.

Question:  (inaudible)...of Human Resources Management decided to delay this year’s National Competitive Recruitment Examinations.  So could you give us the reason why?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe that that would be a Member States’ decision, but let me find out more about it.  I don’t have any guidance on that.

Question:  Just a follow up on that.  They posted on i-Seek this decision that it would happen later in 2010.  Previously, it was said that that it was going to be cancelled for the year.  So I don’t think it was the Member States.  I think that probably management ...(interrupted).

Deputy Spokesperson:  I said that I don’t have any guidance on this, so I’ll look into that for you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later informed the reporter that the Department of Management’s Office of Human Resources Management (DM/OHRM) informed staff that the National Competitive Recruitment Examination (NCRE) and the Competitive Examination for Recruitment to the Professional Category of Staff Members from Other Categories (G to P Examination) in 2010 will be delayed until the summer of 2010, due to the review of the current processes of these examinations and the management of the roster requested by the General Assembly in its resolution 63/250.]

Question:  Since Mr. Vijay Nambiar is in Sri Lanka and there is such a shortage of authenticated information, might it not be a good idea to consider having him come in via video conference with people here, so that the questions don’t go through you; they could go directly to him?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think John Holmes is here today precisely to take your questions and he will be here shortly... and there he is.  Right on cue.

Question:  Well, let me put that as a request then.  Will it be possible to facilitate that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  (To John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator) I think there are no more questions for me.  I think they’re all waiting for you.  Thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record