14 August 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, on this quiet Friday briefing at UN Headquarters.  I guess this one is for the record.


I have -- just to let you know, for those who may have missed –- there were two statements yesterday, last night, that went early in the evening.  There was a statement attributable to the Spokesperson on United States-U.N. relations, and last night, we had another that went out with the Secretary-General welcoming the release of a national of the Republic of Korea from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  So those two statements went out yesterday.

** Bonn Talks

In Bonn today, the climate change talks -– the United Nations negotiating session towards a new global response to climate change -– concluded in Germany.  Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), warned that negotiations had to pick up pace if there is to be success at the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, this December.  He stressed that there were only 15 days of negotiating time left before Copenhagen.

De Boer also said that industrialized countries needed to show a greater level of ambition in agreeing to meaningful midterm emission reduction targets.  He added that poorer countries risk being left by the wayside without access to technology and finance.

The next UN negotiating session will begin on 28 September in Bangkok.  Before that, as you know, Heads of State and Government will gather here in New York for the Climate Change Summit, convened by the Secretary-General on 22 September, which will give them the opportunity to provide clear political guidance to negotiators ahead of Copenhagen.

** Afghanistan

And we have upstairs an update from the UN Development Programme (UNDP) on the preparations leading up to the elections in Afghanistan next week.  While the Afghan Independent Election Commission (IEC) is fully in charge of the electoral cycle, the United Nations has been requested to lead and coordinate electoral assistance to the elections.  There was a question about this the other day.  The United Nations, through UNDP and under the general political guidance of the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), is providing substantial technical assistance to the Commission and other Afghan institutions. These activities include operational support, for example, advice to the Commission, production, transport and general management of voting materials, training of Afghan police, assistance to the Election Complaints Commission, assistance to the Media Commission, independent media monitoring, training of national observers.

UNDP, in a press release today, reports that increasing voter turnout is one of the main challenges for the upcoming elections for presidential and provincial council on 20 August.  To raise awareness about voting procedures and to step up the number of voters, the Commission has enrolled sports stars and civic educators to organize mock polling stations throughout the country.  You can read more about this in a press release upstairs.

** Gaza

And on Gaza, available today is a report on the recent Gaza conflict by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay.  You’ll recall that the same Human Rights Council resolution which had set up Justice Richard Goldstone’s Gaza fact-finding mission also requested the High Commissioner to issue a series of progress reports on the situation there.  Today’s report is the first of that series.  Pillay’s report will be presented to the Human Rights Council, along with Justice Goldstone’s report, on 29 September.  The Goldstone report will be made available next month, prior to the Human Rights Council’s next session, which starts on 14 September.

In her report today, Pillay says there is significant evidence which indicates that serious violations of international humanitarian law, as well as gross human rights violations, occurred during the military operations of 27 December 2008 to 18 January 2009.

Pillay also expresses grave concern that Israel has not yet complied with the International Court of Justice’s advisory opinion on the [separation] wall.  She adds that the blockade of Gaza and the restrictions on the movement of people and goods into, and out of, and within the West Bank amount to collective punishment under Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention.  Pillay concludes that there can be no lasting peace without respect for human rights and without accountability for human rights violations.  And we have more on this upstairs.

** Lebanon

Also in the Middle East, the UN’s Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Michael Williams, met with Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri in Beirut yesterday.  Following the meeting, Williams noted that the United Nations stood behind the Prime Minister-designate’s efforts to form a new Government in consultation with all the political parties in Lebanon.  Williams said he hoped this process will be completed soon in order to allow the new Government to address the many socio-economic and political challenges facing the country.

Williams also said he had been reassured by the Lebanese authorities and different Lebanese political parties and groups of their commitment to Security Council resolution 1701 (2006), which deals with Lebanon and Israel.  He expressed hope that the new Government, when formed, will renew that commitment and work actively towards the resolution’s full implementation.

We have his full statement upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.

** Somalia

On Somalia, UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) and the World Health Organization (WHO), in partnership with local authorities launched the second round of Child Health Days for Somaliland, when a package of critical health services will be delivered to needy children and mothers.  About 440,000 children under the age of 5, and 500,000 women of child-bearing age, will be targeted for measles and polio immunization, vitamin A supplementation and de-worming.  Beneficiaries will also receive aqua-tabs for water treatment, hygiene education, tetanus vaccination for women and nutritional screening.

UNICEF has moved from trucking water to the construction, rehabilitation, operation and maintenance of water points in the drought-affected areas of Somaliland.  Meanwhile, in recent days, the World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners have distributed 110 metric tons of assorted food commodities to many beneficiaries.  And, in Mogadishu, five cooked meal sites have just re-opened following a month-long closure caused by insecurity.  Every day, an average of 80,000 people receive cooked meals from those kitchens.

** Chad

And on Chad, the World Food Programme says that it will be able to continue its Humanitarian Air Service operation in Chad, but only for another month, and that’s because it has received $1 million from the United States in response to its recent appeal for donations.  However, if no new donations are made, the Humanitarian Air Service remains at risk of suspending or altogether ending its operations by late September.  Meanwhile, the Humanitarian Air Service’s operation along the West African coast remains in dire financial straits.  WFP says it urgently needs $3.3 million to keep up that operation through the end of the year.

**Week Ahead

And, as you can imagine, next week’s “Week Ahead” is pretty slim, but we do have it available for you. 

On Wednesday the 19th, the Secretary-General will attend a wreath-laying ceremony to commemorate the sixth anniversary of the Baghdad bombing today, at 10:29 a.m., in front of the memorial plaque located outside the meditation room, in the Visitors Lobby of the General Assembly Building.  And, the Secretary-General will inaugurate the first observance of World Humanitarian Day, at 10:35 a.m., in the General Assembly Building public lobby, also here at UN Headquarters.

**Ugly Betty

Just one more thing to lighten up your week -- ABC’s hit series Ugly Betty will be filming their season premiere episode here at Headquarters during the evenings of Wednesday the 19th and Thursday the 20th.

The UN Foundation's Nothing but Nets Campaign, which deals with malaria-fighting bed nets, will be featured in the storyline.  The project falls under the Creative Community Outreach Initiative, which brings together the United Nations and the world of film and TV.

And that’s what I have for you.  Anything for me?  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I just wanted to know whether, on the sidelines of the annual meeting, there will be a meeting of Friends of Pakistan over here on 14 September that will be attended by Secretary of State and United States President.  Do you have any information on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Not anything just yet.  As you know, the Secretary-General will be having a number of bilateral meetings during the sidelines of the debate, and generally, he also has a number of meetings on specific subjects, and that line-up has not yet been completely finalized.  I know that some of the events he has flagged himself, like he said he would convene a high-level Friends of Myanmar meeting the last time he met with them here.  There are other meetings -- obviously the Climate Change Summit is going to be a big meeting -- but the others have not yet been confirmed.  And I guess closer to the date, we will try to get you a briefing on all the side events of the General Assembly. 

Question:  Are you aware of this side event?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just don’t have a confirmation on it, yet.  I’ve seen the press reports, and obviously, if it’s in the press, there’s a possibility.  But at this point, I have no further details to announce.  Matthew?

Question:  Two sets of questions:  mercenaries and nepotism.  On mercenaries, can you confirm that the UN in Iraq is signing an agreement with a private military contractor called Aegis that’s been accused of killing civilians, and also, that Mr. [Gregory B.] Starr, the new head of the DSS [Department of Safety and Security], was the official responsible for extending the contract with Blackwater while he was with the United States State Department?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing on either one of those, so we’d have to look into that for you.

Question:  But, I mean, does the UN in Iraq use private military contractors –- that’s my…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have to look into that for you.

Question:  And the other one, you sent me a message this morning, thank you for it, saying that the Secretary-General, on the Alan Doss matter, has been assured of a thorough independent investigation and expects to see a report on his return to New York.  I wanted to know, the report he expects to get, is that the final UNDP-OIOS report?  And also, I asked for your comment but I’ll ask for it now –- someone said that, with all due respect, because of questions that have arisen about Mr. Ban’s son-in-law and then the daughter being hired in Copenhagen, that this may affect the way he deals, he views or takes action on the Alan Doss matter.  Do you see any connection between the two, and does he, is he going to act on this report when he obtains it upon his return?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Absolutely no connection between the two.  And, on the situation about the report, that you’re going to have to ask UNDP; I do not have a definitive timeline on when the UNDP investigation is going to conclude.

For those of you who were not in Matthew’s e-mail:  The Secretary-General –- [regarding the allegations involving Alan Doss] -– the Secretary-General is aware of the situation.  He has been assured that a thorough and an independent investigation is under way, and he takes this matter very seriously and expects to see a report [of what has been done to date] upon his return to New York.  That’s what I had told Matthew earlier.

Question:  Just to follow up on that, if, in fact, as some within UNDP are saying, Ms. Doss is given a job elsewhere within UNDP, does that, from the point of view of the Secretariat, does that resolve the matter, or does the investigation, in terms of how…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The process dealing with the daughter of Mr. Doss and how she was hired is currently being investigated by UNDP, as they have told you, and we just simply cannot comment until that investigation is complete.  Masood?

Question:  There was a report by Human Rights Watch yesterday on Israel’s attacking the Palestinians holding white flags.  Do you have any response to that [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I didn’t quite understand your question… in Gaza?

Correspondent:  Yes, in Gaza, they were raising white flags and…

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have anything specific on that, but we have a very thorough report out by the High Commissioner for Human Rights today…

Question:  …earlier [talkover]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, yes.

Question:  Marie, I’m just trying to understand this -- what was different or new in Ambassador Susan Rice’s statement to the New York University that the Secretary-General had to issue a long statement welcoming it?  These issues had already been raised by President [Barack] Obama, Secretary [Hillary] Clinton and Ambassador Rice herself that there will be more engagement with the United Nations, henceforth.  So, what was the need for a special statement?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The [Rice] statement that was delivered was quite comprehensive, and obviously the response that the Secretary-General gave touched on a number of things.  But the key point here was the first official United States announcement on its position on paying back the arrears and on paying peacekeeping -- the budget in full.  And that is what triggered this statement.  Last question?

Question:  Hopefully, it’s a simple question.  Bout and boats.  Victor Bout -- the famous, notorious arms trader, the [inaudible] quotes have said that he won’t be, at least at this point, extradited for trial.  Is that something, I know that the UN spoke about when he was engaged in his business and then he was arrested -- who in the UN is tracking it, what does the UN think should happen with this arms trader in Africa?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have anything specific on him, but there have been a number of reports in the past that the UN, UN documents, that point to his activities in the Congo and other places, so that’s where I would draw your attention for now.

Question:  There’s a ship that’s gone missing, not in Somalia, but it took place in Europe and it’s now being looked for off the coast of West Africa.  Does the UN have any involvement in that, or is its interest or involvement in looking at piracy limited to the coast of Somalia?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know what specific report, but if you bring it to our attention, we’ll look into that. 

With that, have a good afternoon and have a good weekend.  See you on Monday.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record