27 July 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Thank you, and good afternoon.

**Secretary-General in Mongolia

Speaking in Ulaanbaatar, on the second day of his trip to Mongolia, the Secretary-General said:  “We must get very serious about adaptation and we must do so now.  There is no time to lose.”  During a key speech in the presence of the Mongolian President, the Foreign Minister and the Vice Speaker of Parliament, the Secretary-General stressed the urgency of climate adaptation measures for the most vulnerable.  He urged developed countries to contribute to transitional funding arrangements and to other mechanisms for providing urgent support to the people who are bearing the brunt of the effects of climate change.  He added, and I quote:  “Ultimately, we will all benefit from adaptation.  Climate change carries no passport.  And no country is immune.”

The issue of climate change and its impact on development was also at the centre of the meetings the Secretary-General had today with Mongolian President Elbegdorj Tsakhia, with Prime Minister Bayar Sanjaa and with Foreign Minister Batbold Sukhbaatar.

The Secretary-General stayed overnight last night in a traditional ger, the one room dwelling of the semi-nomadic herders at Hustay National Park.  He listened to the concerns of the herders’ community, who face problems of desertification and scarce water resources.  When he was invited to name a newborn takhi, one of the wild horses of Mongolia, he called him Peace, “Enkhtaivan”, in Mongolian.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding an open debate today on the Middle East.  Briefing the Council for his first time as Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco expressed regret that illegal settlement activity is continuing across the West Bank.  The situation in East Jerusalem is of particular concern, he said, pointing to indications of new settlement construction and house demolitions.

On the other hand, he added, Israel has implemented a number of measures to ease movement between the West Bank towns of Nablus, Qalqilya, Ramallah and Jericho.  Also, Israel has said it will promote the development of three key industrial zones in Bethlehem, Jenin and Jericho.  These welcome steps, if sustained and expanded, would have a significant impact on Palestinian freedom of movement and economic development, he said.

Fernandez-Taranco noted that the fiscal situation of the Palestinian Authority remains dire.  In that context, he said donor countries must fulfil all pledges recently made.

On Gaza, he said the situation is unsustainable and not in the interests of any of those concerned.  He noted that no significant amounts of reconstruction materials have been allowed into Gaza, leading to a “completely unacceptable” situation.  He also noted that no exports were allowed out of Gaza during the reporting period.

Fernandez-Taranco told Council members that the tunnel economy continues in Gaza, with smuggling providing an increasingly broad range of consumer goods -- of black market petrol in particular.  But although the alternative tunnel network has eased some of the shortages, it cannot substitute for a healthy and functioning economy, he stressed.

Regarding South Lebanon, the Assistant Secretary-General said recent incidents have been a stark reminder of how quickly and dangerously the situation can deteriorate.  But despite the seriousness of these incidents, he said, we remain hopeful we can move towards the full implementation of resolution 1701 (2006) and towards greater security and stability in the Middle East.

Before concluding, Fernandez-Taranco noted that the Quartet will meet in the margins of the General Assembly in New York this September.  He also expressed continuing support for the convening of an international conference in Moscow in 2009.

And we have his full statement upstairs.

** Middle East

Also on the Middle East, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, today expressed concern over developments in East Jerusalem.  His statement was in response to yesterday’s takeover of a Palestinian home in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood by Israeli settlers ‑‑ following an eviction order issued by the Israeli High Court.

The recent upsurge in orders for house demolitions and evictions in East Jerusalem is contrary to the Road Map, Serry said.  And any settlement activity in East Jerusalem is contrary to international law and cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations, he added.

Serry appealed for restraint by all sides and urged Israel to refrain from unilateral actions in East Jerusalem that risk inflaming an already tense situation and undermine confidence in a two-State solution.

And we have his full statement upstairs.

** Iraq

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) congratulates the people of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq for having turned out in large numbers, especially women, on 23 and 25 July to exercise their right to elect new representatives, in an orderly environment, notably free of violence.

UNAMI also praises the efforts of the Independent High Electoral Commission for having organized and carried out these elections as planned, and for the commitment of the staff involved at each step of the process.

The UN Mission is confident that the people and political entities of the Kurdistan region will show patience until the publication of the final results.  It also encourages all observers to continue to follow the special vote count, tabulation and complaint process to ensure full transparency and to increase confidence in the acceptance of the final results.

Also today, Iraq’s Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation and the UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-Habitat) jointly launched the Habitat Iraq Country Programme for 2009-2011.

And we have the press release upstairs with further details.

** Central African Republic

Catherine Bragg, the Deputy Emergency Relief Coordinator and Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, today visited Birao in the north-eastern Central African Republic at the start of a five-day mission to the country.  During her visit, Ms. Bragg plans to assess the humanitarian situation in the country and ensure that continued humanitarian assistance is being provided to people in need.

Bragg is visiting the Central African Republic just a month after interethnic violence in Birao led to the looting and burning of more than 600 homes and to the displacement of some 3,700 civilians.

And there is more in a press release upstairs.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has said that Saturday’s meeting in Mogadishu of Somalia’s Joint Security Committee marks an important step towards reforming and improving security in that country.  That meeting brought together Somali, African Union, European Union, Arab League and UN representatives.  It is a follow-up specialized forum to the Djibouti Agreement.  It seeks to integrate the Government’s security work with options presented by the international community in stabilizing and improving the Somali police and army.  The Joint Security Committee will meet on a regular basis and its area of responsibility will expand in time to include security sector reform and the rule of law.

** Darfur

On Darfur, 36 children formerly associated with armed groups were demobilized yesterday in Darfur, says the African Union-UN mission there (UNAMID).  UNICEF and local partners are running this initiative in the town of Tora in North Darfur, with backing from the peacekeeping mission.  A total of 53 children are expected to be released and demobilized when the programme concludes later this week.


On Timor-Leste, the Timorese National Police have assumed more primary law enforcement responsibilities from the United Nations Mission in their country (UNMIT).  The latest handover of responsibilities took place Saturday in the northern district of Manatuto in the presence of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Atul Khare, and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão.

Manatuto is the third district where Timorese police have resumed full policing work since the handover process began in May.

**Sexual Violence

The Secretary-General has submitted a progress report to the Security Council on the implementation of resolution 1820 (2008), concerning sexual violence.  In the report, the Secretary-General details how he has been using his own good offices to advocate for an end to sexual violence, including through the global campaign “UNiTE to end violence against women”.  He has also strengthened coordination throughout the UN system in efforts to prevent and respond to sexual violence.

The Secretary-General also stresses the importance of having the United Nations lead by example and increase the participation of women in peacekeeping.  To that end, he urges Member States to ensure a sizeable representation of female military and police personnel in deployments to peacekeeping missions.

And he says that he is committed to ensuring that the Deputy Secretary-General and senior UN officials take on a greater global advocacy role on the issue of sexual violence in conflict and post-conflict situations.  The full report is out on the racks.

** Afghanistan

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) says that the distribution of voting materials to thousands of polling locations prior to the country’s 20 August elections is on track, with preparations in place to distribute some 17 million ballot papers and 100,000 ballot boxes.

At the same time, the Mission said it was encouraging that candidates are campaigning across Afghanistan, and it reiterated that the international community will defend the right of the Afghan people to choose their leadership freely, without fear or intimidation.

And we have more details in today’s briefing notes from Kabul.

**Economic and Social Council

This morning in Geneva, the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) adopted a number of texts on the status of various non-governmental organizations.

Specifically, ECOSOC granted consultative status to 64 non-governmental organizations, and reclassified the consultative status of three non-governmental organizations from the roster to special consultative status.

Speaking in the general debate before the decisions and resolutions were adopted, speakers said that, as a democratic institution, the UN’s effectiveness depended on receiving a wide spectrum of views, including from representatives of civil society.

And that is all I have for you.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  At the top of the briefing, did you give any update on Pakistan IDPs [internally displaced persons]?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have any fresh numbers to give from a few days ago.

Question:  Okay.  There has been no update on the repatriation or anything?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, the repatriation efforts continue, and we gave detailed information about this last Thursday.  The numbers haven’t changed significantly since then.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to recent statements by the US Afghan-Pakistan envoy [Richard] Holbrook that the Taliban should be included in the political reconciliation now and eventually that is a process that should be followed?  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to that?

Associate Spokesperson:  There is no comment from the Secretary-General on this.  I would like to point out, however, that his Special Representative in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, has repeatedly said that you have to deal with moderate elements of the insurgency and try to bring, as much as possible, those moderate elements into the process so that you could resolve the matter.  And he has called, to that end, for a peace surge in Afghanistan, and we can just refer you to Mr. Eide’s detailed comments on his.

Question:  So in other words, can that also be true in Pakistan?  In Pakistan also it’s a Taliban insurgency.  So would you ask the Pakistani Government to help…?

Associate Spokesperson:  We haven’t really involved ourselves in that effort.  As you know, we’re very involved in the efforts in Afghanistan through the UN Mission there.  So, I’d refer you to our comments on that side of the border.

Question:  Last week there was a hunger strike in regards to Iran, and also on Saturday there were protests in over 80 cities, and the organizer in New York said the goal was to see the UN send a delegation to investigate violations of human rights.  So, is the Secretary-General considering such a move?  And what is his belief about the best approach?

Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of that, there is nothing to say about sending any delegation.  There has been no decision taken on that.  However, I can say that the Secretary-General, on a number of occasions, has made his position clear on the situation in Iran, including in his last statement of 22 June.  And the issue of several hundred detainees is being address by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and by special rapporteurs with a specific focus on the need for due process.

Question:  Over the weekend Mr. [Manuel] Zelaya has twice approached the border of Honduras.  The US has characterized it as reckless, or the US Secretary of State did.  Given the statement the Secretary-General made before, what is the UN’s view of developments since he last spoke on Honduras, on the border?

Associate Spokesperson:  On Honduras, the only basic point to say is that even at this stage, we continue to support the efforts to bring the parties together through dialogue.  As you know, we have been supporting the efforts by the President of Costa Rica, Oscar Arias, and we’ll try to support any other initiatives as these efforts proceed.  We don’t have any comments about the movements of President Zelaya.

Question:  First of all, thank for your interactive style of conducting the briefing, and secondly, would it be unseemly, since I was a couple minutes late, I am sorry, to ask what you said on Mongolia, because I am interested in it?

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s not a problem.  I’m not going to read through the whole thing again right now, but what I’ll do is, when we go upstairs, I can give you a printout of the note.

Question:  I wanted to ask you if you can either provide information on or comment on an incident that took place last week in which a UN security officer was apparently bitten by a staff member who had a contract terminated in DC-1.  What was the cause of that?

Associate Spokesperson:  That wasn’t last week.  That was actually several weeks ago, unless there’s a more recent biting incident.  But I assume what you’re referring to took place about a month ago, roughly.  The basic point is, yes, I can confirm that that did happen.  It had to do with a frustrated jobseeker.  The only thing I can say is the information I got from UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] on this is that the hiring process regarding that particular vacancy at UNDP was filled in accordance with their rules.  And beyond that, I’d refer you to UNDP.

Question:  Just to make sure we’re talking about the same biting, was the biter maced and taken to the Seventeenth Precinct?

Associate Spokesperson:  I know that UN security, and then outside security, handled the situation.  I am not aware of any sort of use of mace.  I can’t imagine that we’re talking about more than one biting incident.  This doesn’t happen all the time!

Question:  When you say outside security, you mean like the New York City Police Department?  What do you mean?

Associate Spokesperson:  I think outside security was brought in eventually after the initial response by UN security.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  On the Secretary-General’s visit to China, in addition to his meeting with the President, Hu Jintao, and the Foreign Minister, what other officials is he meeting with, and is he visiting any other cities besides Beijing?

Associate Spokesperson:  The visit happened, we mentioned it on Friday, and I can refer you back to our briefing notes from Friday ‑‑ but he visited two cities, Beijing and Xi’an.  And while he was in Beijing, he met with the President, the Premier and the Foreign Minister of China.

Question:  Mr. [Robert] Serry is going to give an appearance at the stakeout…?

Associate Spokesperson:  Mr. Serry did not give the briefing; it was the Assistant Secretary-General, Oscar Fernandez-Taranco.

Question:  Is there any update on Gaza crossings and so forth that you were giving… part of his statement to the press on the settlements and so forth?

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s a five- or six-page briefing notes that he has, so I’d refer you to those.  Those are available upstairs.

Question:  On the settlements, does that include Gaza, also?

Associate Spokesperson:  It was a briefing on all the Occupied Territories, including Gaza, yes.

Question:  If I am correct, Xinjiang is Uighur territory, did he meet with the Uighurs?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, no, this is a different…  It’s spelt X-I with an apostrophe, A-N.  It’s not Xinjiang, which is what you’re thinking of.

Question:  The head of UNDP, Helen Clark, gave a speech in Washington at the Women’s Foreign Policy Group, and they charged $250 admission.  Is there any kind of rule applicable to UN officials speaking in a for-pay environment and who reviews, obviously it was a fund-raiser, but what comment do you have on that?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t.  I would suggest that you talk to UNDP for any comment on this.  It’s their event and I don’t have any of the details of it.

Question:  Is there any UN system rule, to your knowledge?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, UN officials do not receive payment for the speeches that they give.  But I don’t know about what kind of event this is.  Whether this was an outside group that was charging or whether UNDP was.  For that you really have to get the details from UNDP.

Question:  Thank you.  On Western Sahara, the so-called technical meetings will reportedly be held in Vienna at the end of this month.  Can you confirm?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, not so far.  There is nothing to announce.  But when there is, we’ll try and get back to you on that.

Question:  One more question.  Xinhua has reported that the Secretary-General, maybe you said it here, I just missed, will be on vacation in South Korea from 9 August.  Is that the case, and for how long?

Associate Spokesperson:  I am not going to make any announcement about this at this stage.  What I would like to remind you of is that the Secretary-General is going to give a press conference in this room at 11 a.m. on Wednesday, and he can probably talk to you about his travels at that point.

Thank you very much.

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For information media • not an official record