12 June 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, all.

**Security Council

I know most of you are at the Security Council, but I will start anyway.

The Security Council should, just now, be starting a formal meeting to vote on a resolution on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  Once that meeting has concluded, I expect that we will issue a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning the Council’s action.  If that happens a bit later this afternoon, I will try to come back to this room to read that statement on camera.

Earlier today, Council members met with the troop contributing countries for the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and received a briefing on that Mission by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet.  Once the meeting on the DPRK has concluded, the Security Council has announced that it will go into consultations on Georgia.

**Secretary-General in St. Louis

The Secretary-General is in St. Louis, Missouri, today, and he will speak at St. Louis University this afternoon, to talk about the ways that the United Nations and the United States can work together in pursuit of common goals.  He will talk about his visit to the American heartland and discuss the challenges that are common to all of us, from rising food prices to climate change.

The Secretary-General met this morning with representatives of corporations, growers’ organizations and research institutes.  They explored how to increase agricultural productivity in the developing world and how to create synergies between smallholder and commercial farmers.  They also talked about climate change and technology, including biotechnology.  All agreed to keep the collaboration going and to explore how to bring the power of these players to the table.

**Secretary-General Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Moustapha Soumaré of Mali as his Deputy Special Representative for Recovery and Governance of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).  Moustapha Soumaré will also serve as the United Nations Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator. 

He will replace Jordan Ryan, who now serves as the Assistant Administrator of UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) and Director of the Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery (BCPR). 

The Secretary-General is grateful for Mr. Ryan’s outstanding performance and leadership that greatly contributed to improved coordination and integration of the entire United Nations system in Liberia.

Mr. Soumaré will bring with him a wealth of development and leadership experience.  He is currently the Deputy Assistant Administrator of UNDP and Deputy Regional Director for the Regional Bureau for Africa, New York.  We have more information on Mr. Soumaré in his biography upstairs.

** Sudan -- Clarification Regarding Expelled NGOs

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has issued a clarification to media reports published on 11 and 12 June 2009, reporting that four expelled non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been granted the right to operate again in Sudan by the Sudanese authorities.  OCHA says the four NGOs referred to in the reports should not be characterized as “returning” NGOs.  While from related organizational families, they are not the same, and have been registered in Sudan as new international NGO implementing groups and authorized to open new operations in the Sudan on that basis.

** Côte d’Ivoire

On Côte d'Ivoire, Under Secretary-General for peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, continued his official working visit to Côte d’Ivoire with separate meetings with President Laurent Gbagbo and Prime Minister Guillaume Soro.  They were expected to discuss the UN’s peacekeeping role in the Ivorian peace process ahead of the presidential election planned for late November.

Le Roy had yesterday met with key political actors, including opposition leaders, and with the Special Representative of the Facilitator of the Ivorian peace process.  In addition to Côte d’Ivoire, Mr. Le Roy will travel to Burkina Faso, Liberia, Mali and Nigeria, where he will meet with Government officials and local authorities.

** Gaza

On Gaza, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports continuing restrictions on the flow of goods into and out of Gaza.  During the week that ended on 9 June a total of 512 truckloads of goods entered Gaza, less than one fifth of the weekly truckloads that went in early 2007, before the Hamas takeover.  The entry of essential goods -- including materials for reconstruction, spare parts for water and sanitation projects, and industrial and agricultural materials -- remains either restricted to limited quantities or barred outright.

No petrol or diesel fuel has been imported into Gaza through the Nahal Oz fuel pipeline since 2 November 2008, except for limited quantities for the UN Relief and Works Agency, UNRWA.  Since that date, most petrol and diesel in Gaza available on the open market for public use is transferred through the tunnels under the border with Egypt.

**United Nations Disengagement Observer Force

In a report to the Security Council, the Secretary-General reports that the situation in the Golan Heights has remained generally quiet and that the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) has continued to perform its functions effectively.  He recommends that the Security Council extend the Force’s mandate by six months, until the end of December.

** Pakistan

On Pakistan, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that the process of verifying and registering internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Pakistan is ongoing.  According to the latest figures from the National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA), 1.9 million IDPs have been registered so far, including people who had been displaced last year.

The World Food Programme (WFP) restarted food distribution yesterday, after a five-day break.  The break followed the completion of May food rations and allowed the Government of Pakistan to verify and update the registration list of displaced persons.  Meanwhile, six new humanitarian hubs have been set up in Mardan District as of Wednesday, to provide temporary storage and distribution facilities for food and non-food items to IDPs staying with host communities.

The United Nations held a special ceremony today to pay homage to its staff members and Pakistani co-workers who lost their lives in the devastating terrorist attack in Peshawar on 9 June.  We have a press release upstairs with more details.

** Sri Lanka

On Sri Lanka, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports access to camps housing displaced people in Vavuniya has improved, though some delays are still being experienced.  OCHA also reports that construction work in Menik Farm Zone 5 has commenced and that the Government of Sri Lanka has announced that an additional site (Zone 6) will also be opened shortly.

As of earlier this week, more than 4,000 people were moved to a new site in Vavuniya to help ease congestion, says OCHA.  Land clearing is ongoing in the two other new sites in Vavuniya.

OCHA also reports food distribution operations in Vavuniya and in Jaffna, as well as stepped up activities in medical assistance to displaced centres in welfare centres, and the construction of new facilities and distribution of emergency health equipment and drugs.  As of yesterday, OCHA says the Common Humanitarian Action Plan for Sri Lanka is 44 per cent funded, with some $69 million received out the $155 million required.

**Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees -- Myanmar

And UNHCR gives us the latest on Karen villagers from Myanmar.  The UN refugee agency says its staff have visited five sites in northern Thailand, where Karen villagers are taking shelter after fleeing eastern Myanmar since 3 June.  The agency says it has now verified the presence of 2,000 recent arrivals.  The Karen villagers are taking shelter mostly in temples, in a communal hall and in private Thai homes in four villages.

By and large, the Karen villagers say they fled in fear of conscription by armed forces or of forced labour as porters for armed forces.  According to UNHCR, those who mentioned military action mostly said they fled in anticipation of fighting as the Myanmar army and their allies, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, approached rebel Karen National Union bases and villages.  Only a few said their villages had actually been shelled, but while UNHCR staff interviewed the recent arrivals on the Thai side of the border on Tuesday and Thursday, they heard shelling on the Myanmar side.  There is more on this in the UNHCR briefing notes upstairs.

**World Food Programme -- G-8 Appeal

Governments from the Group of Eight (G-8) industrialized nations are being urged to remember the needs of the hungriest people worldwide and provide urgently needed assistance to deal with global hunger and other humanitarian needs.

The call was made today by the Executive Director of the World Food Programme, Josette Sheeran, to a meeting of G-8 Development Ministers in Rome.  “The world’s most vulnerable are being hit by the combined effects of the global financial downturn and stubbornly high food prices in many developing world markets,” said Ms. Sheeran as she called on the G-8 to support WFP, which depends entirely on voluntary donations.  She warns that hunger can lead to dangerous destabilization, and impact global peace and security.  We have more in a WFP press release upstairs.

**Climate Change

On climate change, in Bonn today, the second of five major negotiating sessions towards a new global response to climate change is wrapping up.  The latest round has advanced the process of reaching an agreement in Copenhagen this December.

Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), said:  “A big achievement of this meeting is that Governments have made it clearer what they want to see in the Copenhagen agreed outcome.”  He added, “In my view, an ambitious and effective agreed outcome in Copenhagen is in sight.”

During the meeting, countries agreed on a set of texts that are serving as the basis of negotiations, and have been offering amendments and suggestions that will shape the Copenhagen outcome.  Further drafting and refinements will be made at the next round of deliberations in August.

**Deputy Secretary-General’s Travel

The Deputy Secretary-General will travel on Monday to Tromsø, in northern Norway, where she has been invited to address the Council of Europe’s Conference for Ministers of Justice.  This year’s Conference theme is “Breaking the Silence of Domestic Violence”.  She will speak on the work of the United Nations to end violence against women and girls, and will, in particular, highlight the Secretary-General’s UNiTE Campaign, which calls on world leaders to spur action through national campaigns and to achieve five key outcomes by 2015.

The Deputy Secretary-General will then proceed to Oslo where she will meet with ministers and officials from the Norwegian Government, with a particular focus on issues related to progress on the MDGs (Millennium Development Goals), the global economic crisis, the climate change summit later this year in Copenhagen and gender equality issues.  She plans also to participate in a round-table event with representatives from civil society and academia.  The Deputy Secretary-General will depart Norway on the evening of Friday, 19 June.

**UNDP Administrator in Democratic Republic of the Congo

UNDP Administrator Helen Clark is travelling today to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where she will meet with Government and local leaders.  She will also visit UNDP programmes in Kinshasa and in the east of the country.

Yesterday, Miss Clark was in Liberia, where she met with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.  For more information on Miss Clark’s trip, please contact UNDP.

**World Day against Child Labour

Today is World Day against Child Labour, a day set aside to promote awareness and action to tackle child labour.

In a message for the Day, the Director-General of the International Labour Organization (ILO), Juan Somavia, says this year’s focus is on girls trapped in child labour, toiling in the fields from sunrise to sunset.  ILO is also highlighting the plight of girls working unseen in domestic labour, or those living and working on the streets around the world.

The ILO estimates that some 100 million girls are in child labour, with 53 million in hazardous work.  Most importantly, the organization says that investing in girls’ education and training is an investment in equality and social progress.  It adds that a girl with education is better equipped to break the cycle of child labour and poverty.

The UN children’s agency, UNICEF, which is also marking the day, has called for action to tackle the underlying poverty that leads to child labour.  UNICEF stresses that improving access to quality education, particularly for girls in poor and rural areas, is a key part of an effective overall approach.  We have more details on this upstairs.

**100-Day Countdown to International Peace Day

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will launch the “WMD-WeMustDisarm” multiplatform campaign, beginning the 100-day countdown to the International Day of Peace.  The General Assembly decided to commemorate the day annually on 21 September as a day of global ceasefire and non-violence.  This year the theme focuses on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation.

Joining the Secretary-General in promoting the campaign are UN Messenger of Peace and Academy Award-winning actor and producer, Michael Douglas, who has championed the cause of disarmament for the UN since 1998; and Rainn Wilson, featured actor in the American television comedy The Office, who has more than 800,000 followers on Twitter.  Over the next 100 days leading up to 21 September, they, along with the Secretary-General, will raise awareness of the costs and dangers of nuclear weapons by issuing a daily message via Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, email and radio, urging the world to disarm.  The Secretary-General is taking the lead by issuing the first 10 “tweets” of the campaign.

We would also like to encourage anyone wishing to get involved to send tweets on nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation, re-tweet the Secretary-General’s messages, sign up to dedicated Facebook or MySpace pages, or all of the above.

In his message to mark the 100-day countdown to the International Day of Peace, which will be available after this briefing, the Secretary-General said:  “As we observe the International Day of Peace with world leaders gathered in New York for the sixty-fourth session of the United Nations General Assembly, I will proclaim one strong, simple message:  We must disarm!”  For more information, I refer you to the Secretary-General’s message, which is on our counter upstairs.

**Global Health Forum on Monday

On Monday, the Secretary-General will host a forum on “Advancing global health in the face of crisis”.  The forum aims to elevate the global health debate and engage leaders from all sectors to build on the momentum and work in intense coordination to maximize the impact of global health interventions on the ground.

The forum will open at 10 a.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber, with statements by the Secretary-General and the Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Dr. Margaret Chan.  Other participants at the forum will include ministers, heads of UN agencies, and leading experts and representatives from civil society, the private sector, philanthropy and academia.  At 10:30 a.m., the Secretary-General and Dr. Chan will hold a press stakeout outside the Trusteeship Council Chamber.  We have more information on this upstairs.

**Secretary-General and Bill Clinton

And still on Monday, the Secretary-General and former United States President, Bill Clinton, will be holding a joint press conference on Monday, 15 June, at 11:15 am in Room 226, to formally announce President Clinton’s appointment as UN Special Envoy for Haiti.   The Secretary-General will speak briefly about the need for a Special Envoy for Haiti and why he appointed President Clinton in this capacity.  President Clinton will then deliver remarks on his vision for his role as Special Envoy.  A short Q&A will follow.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

We have upstairs “The Week Ahead” at the United Nations.  I will just flag one or two items.  I have already flagged what will happen on Monday.  And we’ll have, on Wednesday, the Security Council holding a debate on the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK).

We have also on Wednesday the fact that the Secretary-General will be awarded the Global Humanitarian Award by the Foreign Policy Association.  On Thursday, the Security Council will hold a debate on the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

At any rate, you have the full “Week Ahead” upstairs.

And this is all I have for you, thank you.  Any questions?  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Sure, Michèle.  In the Congo, there are these reports of civilians unprotected in the southern part of North Kivu, apparently because the Pakistani contingent refuses to cross the line from North to South Kivu due to some India-Pakistan issues within the Mission.  Can the UN confirm that, and what’s being done to offer protection to people in this part of the Kivus?

Spokesperson:  Okay, I will check for you what happened there.  I was not aware that there was a conflict.  But I can tell you one thing:  that whatever the conflict, it will be resolved because it is the priority of the Mission to provide protection to the civilian population.

Question:  And another thing I wanted to ask about…

Spokesperson:  Yes, sure.

Question:  There are reports from Sri Lanka that the prison department has said it will use prisoners to re-develop the northern part of the country while people are still… the original population is still in its camps.  What is the UN’s view of the use of prison labour to redevelop, and some say build, sort of change, the ethnic composition of the area in northern Sri Lanka?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have any comments at this point.  Maybe later on we will see how the issue is being discussed.  Yes.

Question:  May I ask one more question?

Spokesperson:  Yes, sure.

Question:  There’s a call by the Polisario Front in Western Sahara, they’re saying that Morocco is holding local elections in the zones, they say it violates the UN Charter, and are somewhat critical of the lack of any statement by the UN.  Is the UN monitoring?  What do they think of Morocco holding elections in that area?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Western Sahara issue, as you know, is a political process that is ongoing.  About the specific elections, I think we have at times we have spoken about this issue.  But I will get new things for you about the specific elections, which I don’t have at this point.

Question:  In keeping with the Capital Master Plan (CMP), I see that the UN Peace Bell, which is traditionally rung twice a year -- once on the International Day of Peace, September 21, and the other on the spring equinox, which is March 20 or 21 -- was removed and was in the other, I guess it is considered the rose garden.  So it was moved from its regular place, except for the base, which was actually a gift from Israel to the UN.  Does that mean that the UN Peace Bell will not ring on 21 September, by the Secretary…?

Spokesperson:  It will ring.

Question:  Oh, it will?

Spokesperson:  It will ring in its new location, it will ring.  And there are a number of monuments or statues that will be moved.  There are some exceptions, of course, there are some that are too heavy to be moved.  But it is because of the need to protect them, that’s the reason why they are being moved.  But that will not change that tradition, which will continue.

Question:  Okay.  And do you think it will ring also in March 2010, when they usually ring the Bell, and that will mark the fortieth anniversary when Secretary-General U Thant rang the bell, that was on March 21?  Next year, I think, it’s March 20.  So the bell is safe?

Spokesperson:  The bell is safe and the tradition will be upheld.

Question:  It will be?

Spokesperson:  Okay, thank you.

Question:  Just one more?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  There is a report that the Secretary-General has lifted the immunity of the UNOPS (United Nations Office for Partnerships) Afghanistan official.  One, can you confirm that, and two, is there some, does the Secretary-General make some announcement when they lift immunity?  I mean, how many times has he … [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  No.  You know, the report concerning this went to OLA (Office of Legal Affairs).  OLA transferred it to the US Mission.  And, you know, it is going to be followed in the judicial system.  There is no… the lifting of immunity is not now, it was done earlier.

Question:  Okay, because the Washington Post article seems to tie it to the contact with a particular Congressman.  The Washington Post ends its article saying that this followed immediately after a Republican from Illinois asked Ban Ki-moon about what would happen.  Was it…?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think there is any link.

Question:  Okay.  On Pakistan, some have raised, and maybe it’s not the case, but there is some difference in treatment between international staff and national staff, both in terms of evacuating people and in terms of, I guess, compensation.  In that bombing, were there national staff members, i.e. Pakistanis, [inaudible] UN?

Spokesperson:  We had some national staff wounded and, I think, UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund) had some contractors, Pakistani contractors, working in their effort in Pakistan were also wounded, we announced that.  And in the case of something of that sort we treat our staff as a whole -- national and international.  In terms of compensation, you know, I don’t know what you mean exactly by that.  There were two people who were killed who were from the international staff.  And I can find out for you exactly what compensation [packages] were given to their families or would be given to their families.  At this time, as you know, it occurred just two days ago, so I don’t have the information at this point.

Question:  It would be, I mean, I guess the one thing to look at would be, for example, the Algiers bombing, what ultimately was done for the [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  A lot was done.  I can get the details of where we are now, but it was handled by UNDP and I know that the national staff was taken care of.  Thank you all so much.

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