12 November 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing

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

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

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

**Press Conference Today

My guest today will be Ross Mountain, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Humanitarian Coordinator for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  I am told he will be down here at 12:15.  And after that, at 2:15, there will be a press conference by Michele Falavigna, the UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for Chad.

**Secretary-General on Copenhagen

We issued a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary‑General earlier today on the UN Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen.  And I will read it into the record now.

The Secretary-General welcomes the invitation issued today by Prime Minister Rasmussen of Denmark for Heads of State and Government to attend the closing days of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen.

He strongly encourages all Heads of State and Government to attend this summit level gathering on 17 and 18 December.  The Secretary-General believes that direct Head of State and Government involvement is essential for Governments to reach agreement on the core issues at the heart of a global climate change deal.

The Secretary-General believes it is essential to maintain political momentum at the highest level and from all sectors of society, and is optimistic that an ambitious, fair and effective climate deal can be reached in Copenhagen. 

** Lebanon

Yesterday, late afternoon, the Secretary-General spoke by phone with Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri and congratulated him on the appointment of a new Cabinet.  That call followed an earlier one that the Secretary-General made to President Sleiman as we reported at the noon briefing yesterday.

In the call, the Prime Minister-designate expressed his full commitment to work with the United Nations to achieve the full implementation of resolution 1701 (2006).  The Secretary-General reiterated the readiness of the United Nations to work with the new Government in tackling the challenges that face Lebanon.


The United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) and Sudan’s Ministry of Social Affairs say they are collaborating through a three-day workshop to tackle sexual and gender-based violence, which remains a serious problem in Darfur.  You can read more about that upstairs.

**South Sudan - UNICEF

UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director, Hilde Johnson, has called for more action to be taken in Southern Sudan to prevent the current severe food shortages in parts of the country from developing into a worse crisis.  And you can read more in a UNICEF press release on that.


The Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Sha Zukang is in Vienna, where he opened today the high-level symposium on “Accountable and Transparent Development Cooperation:  Towards a more inclusive framework”.  We have his remarks upstairs.

**Secretary-General on Conventional Weapons

The Secretary-General has a message to the 2009 Meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons.  In it, the Secretary-General urges States to remain focused on strengthening the protection of civilians from the inhumane and indiscriminate impact of these weapons, and to be guided by standards embodied in the Convention on Cluster Munitions.

The Secretary-General commends the 110 States that have acceded to the Convention to date, and he urges all countries that have not yet done so to accede to the Convention, amended article 1 and its Protocols.

**International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

The Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia today partially upheld the Trial Chamber’s findings in the case of a former Bosnian Serb Army General. 

Dragomir Miloševic was convicted for the crimes committed against civilians of Sarajevo during the second half of the 1992-1995 siege of the capital city of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The Appeals Chamber also granted Miloševic’s appeal in part and reduced his sentence from 33 to 29 years imprisonment.  The Prosecution’s request that Miloševic be sentenced to life imprisonment was dismissed in its entirety.

**United Nations Development Programme

UN Development Programme Administrator Helen Clark is in Rome, ahead of the World Summit on Food Security, which will be held there next week.  She met today with the heads of the Rome-based UN agencies.  Addressing the World Food Programme’s Executive Board, she said that official development assistance needs to be focused on the agricultural sector.

Clark also met with the Italian Foreign Minister and Foreign Affairs Committee and discussed the need for a climate agreement that offers support to developing countries, as well as an increased push on the Millennium Development Goals, so that current progress is not eroded by the global recession.

We are told she will be in Portugal tomorrow.

As for the World Summit on Food Security, we announced to you yesterday that the Secretary-General will be there for that next week.

**United Nations Population Fund

The UN Population Fund is welcoming the progress made to reduce maternal mortality in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, but says that too many women still die giving life.  There is a press release with more details on that upstairs.

**Secretary-General’s statement on Japan

I have a couple of follow-ups for you.  We did issue a correction yesterday afternoon on the statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary‑General on Japan’s assistance for Afghanistan.  The amount in that press release should have read that the Secretary-General was informed of Japan’s intention to increase their assistance for Afghanistan to a total of up to $5 billion over the next five years, and that correction was made last night.

**Department for General Assembly and Conference Management

A couple of other questions, Matthew, in response to a question I was asked yesterday on the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the Monterey Institute of International Studies, I have the following from the Department for General Assembly and Conference Management:

Assistant Secretary-General Franz Baumann is signing the Memorandum of Understanding with the Monterey Institute of International Studies today.

The Department says that, confronted with shortages in language staff, difficulties in recruitment, a large number of upcoming retirements and the need to ensure continued highest quality service, it has been compelled to take a proactive approach.  These activities have been praised and mandated by Member States, most directly in the General Assembly resolution 63/248 of 24 December 2008.

The Department says it has launched its Outreach to Universities Programme in 2006.  As of today, nine Memorandums of Understanding have been signed with educational establishments.

The Department is able to provide further information to those of you who are interested and is willing to organize a briefing on this subject.

**Under Secretary-General OCHA –- Sri Lanka Visit

In another question we had yesterday, this is on Sri Lanka, the UN Under‑Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes is scheduled to go on mission to Sri Lanka from 17 to 19 November.  This will be John Holmes’ fourth mission to the country this year.

And as I said we have Ross Mountain who is here to brief you on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Tomorrow, just to flag for you at the noon briefing, will be Mike Smith who is the Executive Director of the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, and he will be here to brief on the outcome of an initiative to build counter-terrorism cooperation among countries in South Asia.  That’s what I have for you.  Ross Mountain is here, so let’s just take just a couple of questions.  Massood.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, can you tell me, do you, does the United Nations have any comment on this statement by Mr. [Jacques] Diouf of FAO that he is going to go on a 24‑hour hunger strike ahead of this UN summit on food. Is this normal for these people to do this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You know, I actually did hear that before I came here, and I was going to look into it, but I have nothing further than what you…

Question:  He said that he’s going to go on 24-hour hunger strike.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you’d need to talk to him and to his people.

Question:  What?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you need to direct your questions to him and his organization.  I just heard the same thing you did….

Question:  Okay.

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, FAO is a specialized organization.

Question:  Okay. Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said, I just saw this press release before I came up here so we’d have to look into that.

Question:  Also, do you have any updates on Pakistani IDPs who are now still there because the army action continues in Pakistan?  Do you have any update on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Nothing from today.  The humanitarian workers on the ground are doing their best to bring assistance to the people that need it. 

Question:  Have you been able to really find out what the situation in Northern Yemen, especially between the Saudis and the Yemenis, and whether some banned weapons have been used by Saudis against the population there? 

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think from this podium both Michele and Farhan have been telling you that we do not have that kind of presence on the ground that would enable us to make that kind of confirmation.  We do have a humanitarian presence on the ground.  The UN refugee agency is in the lead there and doing their best in terms of trying to bring assistance and protection to the people who need it.

Question:  There has been some video footage showing white phosphorus being used against population areas there.  Are you investigating that, or trying to approach the Saudis about it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said, our primary role right now is in trying to deliver assistance and protection to the people on the ground, and the UN Refugee Agency is in the forefront of it and they have been making very clearly their demands for access to the people in need. 

Question:  Sure Marie.  There’s a big [inaudible] about Peter Galbraith, former Deputy UNAMA representative and his interest in oil contracts in northern Iraq.  I wanted to know when he became a Deputy Special Representative, did he fill out the financial disclosure forms, and I’d also like to know whether this investment was disclosed in those forms. 

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, the financial disclosure forms are something that the Secretary-General has instituted, it’s part of his UN reform, and all staff, once they’ve joined the Organization as senior staff and those in positions that require financial disclosure, are required to fill that form out upon entry into the Organization.  So it’s a requirement.

Question: [inaudible] It seems, this article would make it important to know whether this, they say the investment is worth up to $100 million, whether that was disclosed in the form and if it wasn’t, what were the reasons…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, these forms are vetted by a professional firm and if they see fit that they need to follow up on any questions that they have, that is done.  I think Robert Benson, when he was here last time, gave you a briefing on how that procedure works.  And just because they are not made public, it does not mean that they have not been vetted, and the firm that goes through it does the vetting and if they have any questions, they do get back to the staff member and do the follow-up on that.

Question:  [inaudible] is it possible to just, and I don’t expect you to do it right this moment, but to get a yes or no answer, whether that investment was disclosed in the forms.  Is that going to be possible?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You know, you can ask that to Robert Benson, but that’s his call.

Question:  One follow up on something that I had asked Michele, which is the Afghan Ambassador here has said now for a second time that UNAMA was, a protest was lodged sort of with the UNAMA about the Secretary-General’s statement that it took an hour for Afghan police to respond the day of the attack on the guest house.  I know that she had said the Secretary-General didn’t get any letter, so the Afghan Ambassador clarified this was from the Department of the Interior to UNAMA.  So I just wanted to make sure that UNAMA, you could confirm that they got it and what is, is it still the UN position that it took an hour, and what’s their response to Afghanistan’s…?

Spokesperson:  I have nothing further to report on that, so if there was, I’m sure UNAMA would make it public.  With that, let’s invite Ross Mountain, the Secretary-General’s Deputy Special Representative for the DRC. 

* *** *

For information media • not an official record