21 October 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Guest at Noon Today

The guest at the noon briefing today will be Angela Kane, the Under-Secretary-General for Management.  And she will be here shortly to brief you on the financial situation at the United Nations.

**Security Council on Guinea

The Security Council this morning, as you know, held consultations on West Africa, and the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Haile Menkerios, briefed the Council members on his visit to Guinea and the subregion, to prepare the ground for a commission of inquiry to investigate the violence that took place in Guinea on 28 September.  And since he just spoke to you at the stakeout, I think we’ll leave that at that, and you can listen to it on the webcast.  The rest of the note will be included in the highlights of the noon briefing.

** Iraq

Turning to Iraq, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) expressed its concern today that the delay in passing the amendments to the 2005 election law could considerably disrupt the electoral calendar and preparations for the holding of parliamentary elections there.

Ad Melkert, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, emphasized that the date of 16 January is crucial, as it is still within the limits set by the Constitution.  And he warned:  “Time is critical.”   Further delays, he said, could affect both the current electoral timeline and the credibility of the electoral process.

And he stressed that it is the collective responsibility of members of Parliament to rise to the occasion and be ready to account to the Iraqi people, who expect to exercise their right to express their preference in the upcoming elections.

And there are more details in a press release from the Mission upstairs.

** Iran

Mohamed ElBaradei, the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), today said that two and a half days of meetings in Vienna had concluded regarding fuel for medical research reactors in Iran.  He said that he had circulated a draft agreement that reflects a “balanced approach” on the issue, and had given a deadline, of this Friday, to the parties to accept that proposal.  ElBaradei said that he was optimistic about the talks, adding that they were held in a “constructive and forward-looking” spirit.

** Darfur

The Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Susana Malcorra, has been visiting the West Darfur headquarters of the African Union-United Nations [Hybrid Operation] in Darfur (UNAMID) at El-Geneina.

Ms. Malcorra, in her address to UNAMID forces, encouraged them to do their best to defend the mission’s staff and civilians in Darfur according to the mission’s mandate.

She also told civilian staff that her visit was to demonstrate the UN top leadership’s solidarity with UNAMID and its staff, especially during these difficult times, when many continue to hope for the release of the two colleagues held hostage.

**South Sudan

We have been asked about a report on South Sudan regarding the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) flying some guards to Juba.  And we did get the following details:

As a follow-up to the fighting in South Sudan on 2 October between the guards of General Matiep and the Unity State Governor, UNMIS has assisted the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (SPLA) to relocate General Nyang and 307 soldiers to Juba.  This is to help de-escalate tensions in the area.

The relocation started on 17 October following an agreement among the parties concerned.  As of Monday, 19 October, a total of 129 SPLA soldiers, including Colonel Nyang, have left Bentiu with UNMIS assistance, that’s the UN Mission in South Sudan.

The United Nations is concerned about the situation in Southern Sudan and UNMIS is monitoring the events very closely.

**Holmes in Uganda

Turning to John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency relief Coordinator in the United Nations, he is in Uganda for a four-day mission.  During his visit, he will take part at the African Union Special Summit of Heads of State and Government on refugees, returnees and internally displaced people in Africa.

Today, Mr. Holmes travelled to the northern Acholi region, where he visited displaced and host communities, as well as local and regional government officials, and UN and non-governmental organization staff, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  In his meetings with the displaced, he remarked on the progress that has been made in northern Uganda since his last visit two and a half years ago, but he also said that more needs to be done to help extremely vulnerable people return to their homes.

Mr. Holmes spoke with some returnees and noted the need for better access to basic services to make their return sustainable.

And we will get Mr. Holmes back when he eventually comes back from his trip around the world, it seems.

** Cyprus

On Cyprus, Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat met today under United Nations auspices in Nicosia.  The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, spoke to the press afterwards.  He noted that the leaders met for three hours.  They mainly discussed the issue of external relations.  They will meet again tomorrow morning to discuss the question of property.  And there is more on this upstairs as well.

**Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

According to a new report released today by the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), asylum applications in industrialized nations rose by 10 per cent in the first half of 2009 compared to the previous year.  And Iraqis, Afghans and Somalis top the list of asylum-seekers.

The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, said these statistics show that ongoing violence and instability in some parts of the world force increasing numbers of people to flee and seek protection in safe countries.  “There is an acute need for countries to keep their asylum doors wide open to those who are in genuine need of international protection,” he added.

UNHCR says that a total of 185,000 asylum claims were filed in the six months of this year across 38 European countries, the United States, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the Republic of Korea.

You can read more about this in a press release just out from the refugee agency.


And more infants are being immunized today than ever before, and vaccine development worldwide is booming, according to a new report by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and the World Bank.

Immunization rates are now at their highest ever ‑‑ with a record 106 million children vaccinated in 2008.  However, a minimum of $1 billion is still needed every year to reach children in the 72 poorest countries, according to the report.  Lifesaving vaccines, now common in wealthy countries, still do not reach an estimated 24 million children who are most at risk.

WHO’s Director-General, Margaret Chan, says that the divide that separates those who get lifesaving vaccines and those who don’t must be overcome.

And there is a press release on that upstairs.

**United Nations Development Programme

And earlier today in Norway, UN Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Helen Clark met with the Norwegian Foreign Minister to discuss ways in which Norway and UNDP could work together to reduce armed violence.  Clark is in Oslo as part of a four-day visit to Finland, Norway and Sweden.

Clark said that the challenge is to analyse how armed violence evolves in a given country and support the local authorities in addressing the root causes of the problem.

According to UNDP, armed violence kills more than 2,000 people every day and is the fourth leading cause of death among people between the ages of 15 and 44 worldwide.

** Central America

Just a few more announcements, since our guest has arrived.  The UN Development Programme (UNDP) has issued its latest Human Development Report for Central America.  And you can read more about that upstairs.

**Lao People’s Democratic Republic

You can also read about humanitarian agencies in partnership with the Government of Lao People’s Democratic Republic issuing a flash appeal for $10 million to provide humanitarian assistance to people affected by Typhoon Ketsana.

** Philippines

And we also have a press release on a visit to the Philippines by World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Josette Sheeran who reiterated her agency’s commitment to support the Government’s efforts in helping the people of the Philippines overcome the series of violent storms that devastated parts of that country.

** Tajikistan

And UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) have a press release on a two-week measles and rubella immunization campaign, which just wrapped up in Tajikistan.

**Stand Up Campaign

And more than 173 million people took part in the global Stand Up against Poverty Campaign last weekend ‑‑ setting a new world record for the largest mobilization of human beings in history.

The number is an increase of about 57 million people over last year.  Citizens gathered at over 3,000 events in more than 120 countries, demanding that their Governments eradicate extreme poverty and achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

You’ll recall that the Secretary-General led over 1,500 schoolchildren in standing up on Friday at the UN International School in New York, telling them that “if we take a stand ‑‑ and we act ‑‑ we can end poverty in our lifetimes”.

And there is more in a press release on that, as well.

**United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

And there is also another one.  Under embargo is a report by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) entitled “Addiction, Crime and Insurgency:  The transitional threat of Afghan opium”, which is going to be launched later today.  The report is embargoed until 3 p.m. New York time and there is more information on that upstairs.

**Press Conferences Today

And also today at 2:45 p.m., after our guest this afternoon, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, anti-trafficking activist Ruchira Gupta and the UN Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons will be here to brief in connection with a special event entitled “Giving Voice to Victims and Survivors of Human Trafficking”.  The Secretary-General will deliver opening remarks at the special event, which will take place at the Economic and Social Council Chamber from 1:15 to 2:45 p.m. tomorrow.  So the event is tomorrow, but the briefing is today.

And following that, at 3:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by Danny Jordan, Chief Executive Officer for the Local Organizing Committee of the 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa.  He will be here to brief on the preparations for the upcoming World Cup.  [The 3:30 p.m. press conference was later cancelled.]

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And for tomorrow’s press conferences, bear with us, because we’re trying to see if we can get you a direct link from our Afghan senior officials.  And depending on that, we may have to re-jigger the schedule around.  So, we’ll keep you posted on that.

I’d like to switch to Angela Kane, because she is here, unless there is somebody with a pressing question.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Just a little bit about the Afghan elections.  What can we expect in terms of the briefing that…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, that’s what I’m trying… we’re trying to arrange a senior official, either from Kabul or somebody who has been in the mission area.  We’re trying to locate exactly who can be video linked into this room from the field.

Question:  [inaudible]

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, that’s why I can’t announce anything.  But we’ll let you know as soon as that can be arranged.  I think, given that the Secretary-General spoke to you yesterday already on this issue, the next port of call would be to try to get people closer to the ground.  Yes.

Question:  Just one thing, if you do it, it would be good to have one soon.  But it also would be very good to have one just before the actual election, just a suggestion.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay.  All right, Masood.

Question:  I just want to [inaudible] Mr. ElBaradei said in Vienna today that there is an agreement between Iran and the international community on enrichment.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about it or he will be waiting?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, he obviously has been briefed on this and right now he’s being briefed on this and obviously looking forward to what Mr. ElBaradei said earlier today.

Question:  And do you also or [inaudible] any situation in Pakistan [inaudible]?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Not since the update yesterday, no.  Matthew.  Yes, then we go over to Matthew.

Question:  On the 18 October attacks in Iran, has the Secretary-General responded in anyway to Ahmadinejad’s accusations of the US, Britain and Pakistan being involved?  Anything in that regard?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You mean, you’re talking about Iran right, earlier this week?

Question:  Yes.

Deputy Spokesperson:  We had a statement on Monday on that.

Question:  [inaudible] He didn’t say anything in response to Ahmadinejad’s accusations, anything other than the statement?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Nothing other than the statement.  Nothing.  Matthew.

Question:  Two things.  Human Rights Watch has put out a report saying in western China that 43, at minimum, Uighurs had disappeared, not taken in trial, just simply gone.  I’m wondering whether the Secretariat or anyone in the UN system, specifically, not just the comments made some months ago, but looking at that report.  And also there is a report of a person jumping or falling to their death from the UN building in Vienna.  Have you seen this report?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, not the report you just mentioned on Vienna.  I have nothing, but I am sure my Office is looking into it now if that has been the case.  As for your other question, yes, I have actually specifically been told that Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay will be addressing this issue this afternoon.  I now see that we have the General Assembly Spokesperson as well.  So before we hand over to Angela, I’m going to ask him to come up and quickly do his briefing.  All right.

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For information media • not an official record