17 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.

** Somalia

We have a statement from Somalia, the Office of the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator there.

On Sunday, that’s last night, at around midnight, the UN-World Food Programme (WFP) compound in Wajid, southern Somalia, was attacked by armed militia.  This is the fourth UN compound deliberately targeted in Somalia within two months.

The United Nations strongly condemns the attack.  “This direct, deliberate and sustained attack on aid organizations and aid workers is intolerable,” says [acting] UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia Graham Farmer.

Mr. Farmer urged all parties to allow unhindered humanitarian access wherever assistance is required by populations in need as such actions put at higher risk people who are already vulnerable.  Nearly 3.2 million people in Somalia need humanitarian assistance.

**Secretary-General Statement on Afghanistan

And over the weekend, we did have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Afghanistan, in which the Secretary-General condemned in the strongest possible terms a suicide car bomb attack in a central area of Kabul, in which seven people were reportedly killed and a large number of civilians were injured including one UN staff member.

And he said he was deeply concerned at this indiscriminate violence days before the Presidential and Provincial Elections scheduled for 20 August.  Of course, you probably saw that over the weekend.

**Secretary-General in Republic of Korea

Today, at Korea University in Seoul, the Secretary-General addressed the University Presidents’ Forum on Climate Change and Sustainable Development in Asia and Africa.

He told the gathered college officials that the best young minds need to be put to work -- to come up with solutions to climate change.  He added that scientific and intellectual leadership is the key to creating the new green economy of the twenty-first century.  We have his full remarks upstairs, as prepared for delivery.

And also today in the Republic of Korea, the Secretary-General visited his hometown, Chungju.  In a meeting with the Mayor there, he continued to stress the importance of addressing climate change.

Meanwhile, yesterday, in Seoul, the Secretary-General met with the Republic of Korea’s Unification Minister.  They discussed inter-Korean relations.  They also touched on the UN’s humanitarian work in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

**Climate Change

Meanwhile, the largest ever youth gathering on climate change has kicked off today in the Republic of Korea.  More than 800 young people from over 100 countries have gathered in the city of Daejeon for a week-long meeting, hosted by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP).

According to UNEP, the 2009 Tunza International Children and Youth Conference is a key opportunity for young people to demand that their Governments reach a scientifically credible and far-reaching new climate agreement in Copenhagen, in December.  A global town hall meeting will allow hundreds of other youth to link to the Daejeon meeting to agree on a message to send to world leaders, while a social networking platform for youth on climate change will also be launched.

The Children and Youth Conference is part of the global UN-wide “Seal the Deal!” campaign being spearheaded by the Secretary-General to galvanize political will and public support for reaching a comprehensive global climate agreement.

** Gaza

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today released a new report on Gaza.  It’s called “Locked In:  The Humanitarian Impact of Two Years of Blockade on the Gaza Strip”.  The report says that the ongoing blockade on one of the most densely population areas on earth has triggered a protracted human dignity crisis with negative humanitarian consequences.

It adds that, as a result of the blockade, 120,000 private sector jobs have been lost.  Also, 80 million litres of raw or partially treated sewage are discharged daily into the environment.  In addition, there has been a gradual shift in the diet of Gazans from high-cost and protein-rich foods to low-cost foods that are high in carbohydrates.  The entire report is available online.

Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) today launched an appeal for $181 million to maintain its support to refugees in Gaza.  The appeal coincides with the eve of Ramadan.  And there is more information on that in the Spokesperson’s Office.

** Liberia

Out on the racks today is the latest report of the Secretary-General on the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).

In it, the Secretary-General notes that despite significant progress in consolidating peace and stability, the situation in Liberia remains fragile.  In particular, building institutions of security and rule of law and creating employment opportunities, remain key challenges.

The report notes the recent release of the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which should provide an important opportunity for Liberians to move the reconciliation agenda forward.  But the Secretary-General is concerned by recent threats made against some of the members of the Commission.

He further warns that weak institutional capacity remains a serious constraint at both local and national levels in achieving the targets set in the government’s Poverty Reduction Strategy.  The Secretary-General recommends a one year extension of the mandate of UNMIL till September 2010, especially in view of elections scheduled for the year 2011.

**Secretary-General letter to Security Council

And while we’re talking about documents, there is also a letter from the Secretary-General to the President of the Security Council in which he names a group of seven experts to carry out tasks as specified in paragraph 26 of resolution 1874 (2009); and that’s the latest sanctions resolution on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

** Darfur

And on Darfur, 79 police officers from South Africa and 95 Egyptian troops have joined the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) this past weekend.  The mission says the South African additions bring its police personnel to half the required strength, while its military strength is already well above the 70 per cent mark.  The mission also says it expects additional Egyptian troops to join their 2,200 compatriots already serving under the mission’s flag.

** Pakistan

The Office for the Coordination of humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that last week’s heavy rainfall has caused flash floods in Pakistan’s North-West Frontier Province.  The floods have caused the reported deaths of 27 people, with up to 9 people reported missing.  Up to 450 homes were also destroyed, along with a massive loss of crops and livestock. 

OCHA says local officials are reporting that some 80,000 people have been affected by the floods in the Swabi District, with officials declaring a state of emergency for a number of towns there.  The United Nations is currently conducting an assessment of the damage and UN experts are warning of a possibility of food shortage.  Current humanitarian needs include medicine, tents, drinking water and aqua tabs.

** Nepal

And today in Kathmandu, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) launched the 2009 Nepal Human Development Report.

According to the report, deepening democracy and strengthening the rule of law in Nepal are critical in order to give peace a chance of success.  The report also notes that the underlying causes and consequences of Nepal’s conflict -- including ethnic and caste-based poverty and discrimination -- have not yet been tackled.  We have more on this upstairs.

**Secretary-General Appointment

And finally, I have an appointment by the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General has appointed Ms. Judy Cheng-Hopkins of Malaysia as Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support.  Ms. Cheng-Hopkins will replace Ms. Jane Holl Lute of the United States.  The Secretary-General is grateful for Ms. Holl Lute’s exemplary service with the Organization since 2003.

With over 30 years experience in key UN organizations, working on humanitarian, post-conflict, peacebuilding and development issues, Ms. Cheng-Hopkins is particularly well positioned to move the Secretary-General’s peacebuilding agenda forward.  She also brings the necessary blend of managerial acumen and energetic leadership required.

Ms. Cheng-Hopkins most recently served as the Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees, in charge of operations in over 118 countries around the world.  And there is more information contained in her bio upstairs.

That’s what I have for you.  Anything for me?  Let’s start with Xinhua.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  This weekend [United States] Senator [Jim] Webb went to Myanmar and was able to secure the release of [John] Yettaw, and was able to visit with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  What does Ban make of this?  And why does he think a Senator was granted access to her but he was not?  And also, can you confirm whether two gifts Myanmar had sent to the UN were taken back?

Deputy Spokesperson:  On the last question, I am not familiar, but I can certainly look into that for you.  On the Senator’s trip, of course, you know, his trip was noted, but I don’t really have anything, any direct comment on the Senator’s visit there.  The Secretary-General’s comments on his views on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi have been very well noted.  He issued a statement immediately after the verdict and that still stands.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later said that the Secretary-General notes the visit of United States Senator Webb to Myanmar over the weekend and welcomes his engagement with Myanmar leaders as well as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi towards a peaceful, united, democratic Myanmar with full respect for the human rights of all its people.  The Secretary-General also welcomes the release of [United States national] Mr. Yettaw on humanitarian grounds.]

Question:  Can I follow up on that same issue?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  Even prior to the release, did he not think that seven years of hard labour for this swimmer… I mean did he, I think, going back over it, did he never express any view on the sentencing of the swimmer?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, he has not.

Question:  On the subject of Ban Ki-moon’s statements about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the Global Justice Centre issued a statement today denouncing his comments for being too weak and calling them outrageous that he used the words “deplore” and “disappointed”, and furthermore called on the matter to be referred to the ICC (International Criminal Court) and saying that that Member States shouldn’t acknowledge their elections.  I was wondering what the UN’s comment was on that.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think my comment is the same as I just gave your colleague over there.  Evelyn.

Question:  Marie, could you later today check on any UN reaction to a report from Human Rights Watch that President [Hamid] Kazai in Afghanistan has signed a revision of a horrendous legislation to please the Shiites, against women?  Everybody protested, including the UN, when the first version came out, and apparently the second version, which was slipped in under the radar, is not much better.

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll look into it for you, certainly.  Gender equality is obviously a top priority for the United Nations and, as you said, Ms. Pillay, [the High Commissioner for Human Rights] and we did issue a very strong statement urging the Government to rescind that law the first time around, as you said, in April.  Masood.

Question:  On the Pakistan IDPs (internally displaced persons), children in particular, there was a report from Pakistan [inaudible] rights commission that fears that a lot of children are becoming orphans as a consequence of the conflict, could fall prey to the, I mean, to unscrupulous elements and they may be sold or something.  Has UNICEF (United Nations Children's Fund) looked into these reports which…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, but I see there’s a UNICEF spokesperson in the back, so may be you can follow up with her later.

Question:  Oh, there she is!

Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay, George.

Question:  This report on “Locked In”, I think it was called, on the Gaza, I didn’t catch that, was that from UNRWA or from OCHA?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I believe it was from OCHA.  Let me double check for you; yes, it’s from OCHA, and it’s upstairs for you.

Question:  Thank you.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Masood, you had a follow-up?

Question:  No, I have a follow-up in the sense… Do you have, I mean in the update on these IDPs in Pakistan since the last one was given about 10 days ago in which IDPs were returning, but since then there has been some sort of reports of conflict.  Have there been more IDPs?  Are they still going back?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As far as I know there was a trend towards a return, and I have not received any updates from either the refugee agency or OCHA, and I do keep following up every day, so if there is anything I am sure that by now they should be getting in touch directly with you, but we can follow up again.  Yes?

Question:  Marie, do you have anything to say about this fighting in Yemen?  There has been a few days of heavy fighting using airplanes, attacking civilian [inaudible] other areas.  Does the United Nations do anything to stop…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Where is this?

Question:  In Yemen.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not seen anything on that, but we can check for you.

Question:  Another thing regarding this Israeli removal of their war front positions near Sheba'a Farms.  Is there any follow up on that and are they [inaudible] to do something regarding north…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no new news on that front either.

Question:  How about the investigation on UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) and the explosion which took place last month?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You know, if I had any of these, I think I would have read them to you seeing you are there.  So, I don’t have anything for you, but we’ll follow up on all your questions.

Question:  One last thing about Gaza.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Is there any follow-up regarding lifting of the blockade on Gaza, and what are the numbers of trucks entering Gaza every day?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, that update I’m sure is available in the latest report, because this is quite an extensive report that was issued by OCHA on the humanitarian situation there.  On top of that, we have the appeal from UNRWA itself, so I am sure that there are details contained on that as well.

Question:  Other than the reports, what’s the United Nations doing to try to influence the decisions of the Israelis to make any breakthrough in this matter?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, this is a matter the Secretary-General and his envoys and the humanitarian agencies are constantly working on, and which is why we have this report and this appeal.  It is an urgent matter that is being followed up wherever it can.  Last question, Matthew.

Question:  Well, I have a few of them.  First is on Sri Lanka.  Over the weekend there was this flooding of the UN-funded camps, quite bad, and the Government has actually blamed the UN for it, has said the UN was responsible for building the camps and for sewage and which is now backed up and has now filled up the tents.  Does the UN have any response either to what it’s going to do to solve this problem and also to being blamed by the Government for the problem?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll try to get you something from OCHA.  I don’t have anything from them this morning.

Question:  In Afghanistan, there is some controversy about the return of General Dostum, widely viewed as a “warlord” or “war criminal”, to campaign for Hamid Kazai.  It’s reported that the UN has some concern, but has the UN expressed any concern about this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We have not seen anything on that.

Question:  Okay.  And then I wanted to, I think it’s what you referred to, this panel on North Korea sanctions, the South Korean Foreign Ministry announced that Song Young-wan is on the panel, and that’s in the Korea Times, and that the other members are all the permanent five plus Japan.  If that’s true, was there any consideration of other non-Security Council members being put on?  What was the basis of putting on Mr. Song Young-wan on the panel?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Oh, I don’t know the answer to that.  I am sure that this was done in consultation.  But, the list is out and, if there is anything more, I think you need to follow up with the panellists or with the committee.

Question:  But I mean, he named them, right?  That’s why I am asking you.  Who would you suggest that I speak to of the panel?

Deputy Spokesperson:  If there is anything for us to add, I’ll get back to you on that.  All right… Oh, Masood.

Question:  I just want to find out, this Benazir Bhutto’s commission which was investigating, has come back to New York since.  What is it doing now?  Does it intend to go back again to Pakistan?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s continuing its work until, we told you, that they will produce their final report.  In the meantime, their comings and goings, again, I think I mentioned to you, we can’t make public for security reasons, but their work is ongoing.  If there is anything to get back to you on that, we will.

Question:  When you say comings and going, what do you mean?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I mean going back and if they’re going back and forth from the region.

Question:  Oh, I see, yes.  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesperson:  Obviously they do plan to do so, but I just can’t tell you when in detail in advance.  With that, have a good afternoon. 

It’s very warm in here, so keep cool!

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For information media • not an official record