17 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon, everyone.

**Guest at Noon Briefing

Our guests at the noon briefing today, who will be coming shortly, will be Dmitry Titov, Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and Maxwell Kerley, Director of the UN Mine Action Service.  They will be here shortly to provide an update and overview of the work of the Mine Action Service.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York, having wrapped up his trip to attend the World Food Summit in Rome.  Before departing, he continued discussions with a number of leaders on climate change and next month’s conference in Copenhagen.

Speaking to the press in Rome yesterday, the Secretary-General said that he remains positive about Copenhagen.  He said:  “We have known for a while that we will not have a treaty in Copenhagen.  This is not news.”  But, he added:  “We can still reach a significant agreement in Copenhagen that will provide the foundation for a treaty next year.”  Those remarks are upstairs and on our website.

**Food Summit

And on the second day of the World Summit on Food Security in Rome, Josette Sheeran, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP) said that all world citizens -- not just global leaders -- must mobilize to feed the more than 1 billion hungry people around the world.

Sheeran said that food security was not only a matter of humanitarian assistance and agricultural development, but also a matter of national security, peace and stability.  This is the emergency issue of our generation, she added. At this moment in time, we must galvanize all nations, all people and all resources to defeat hunger.  And we have her statement upstairs.

** Sri Lanka

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes today visited camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sri Lanka, to see the evidence of recent progress in releases from camps, as well as some of the remaining problems.

He visited displaced people in one of the remaining camps in Jaffna; the residents there continue to suffer from lack of freedom of movement and are hoping for early return to their homes or release from the camp.

Holmes also spoke to some of the 60,000 recent returnees to Jaffna, who were happy to be out of the camps, but continue to face problems, including separation from family members, and lack of means of livelihood.  He also met with the local Government in Jaffna and was updated on the progress in the demining exercise to facilitate the return of IDPs to their areas of origin.  They also discussed early recovery issues.

On Wednesday, the Humanitarian Coordinator will travel to Vavuniya.  He will then return to Colombo for meetings with Government officials and representatives from non-governmental organizations working in the country.

** Afghanistan

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, is in Brussels today, where he is attending a meeting of the General Affairs and External Relations Council of the European Union and speaking to Development and Foreign Affairs Ministers.  He will talk to them about elections in Afghanistan, the security situation and the role of the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA).

Yesterday, Eide had a bilateral meeting with European Union High Representative Javier Solana.  He will return to Afghanistan tomorrow, so that he can attend the inauguration ceremony of President Hamid Karzai on Thursday.

**Security Council

The Security Council is holding consultations this morning on the Great Lakes region and the Lord’s Resistance Army.  Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe briefed the Council.  The Security Council is expected to adopt a press statement on that topic.  The Council will also take up other matters, and during that time, UN envoy Tiébilé Dramé will brief on Madagascar.

** Cyprus

On Cyprus, Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat met today under UN auspices in Nicosia.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, spoke to the press afterwards.  He noted that the leaders held “good and friendly discussions” and that talks on the issue of property are still ongoing.  The Cypriot leaders will meet again this Friday to take up organizational matters, and then again next Tuesday, to discuss citizenship, immigration and asylum.  And we have more on that upstairs.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, urged the Government to guarantee the protection of lawyers and human rights defenders, including journalists, to allow them to perform freely their duty, without risk of interference, discrimination, threat or reprisal.

She made that statement as a new UN report produced by her Office and the UN peacekeeping mission in the country, MONUC, was released today.  The report focuses on the judicial process, following the assassination of Serge Maheshe, a Congolese journalist and UN national staff member, in 2007.

One of the conclusions of the report is that the judicial process was “interspersed with several irregularities, suggesting that the judiciary authorities lack the will to establish the truth” regarding this assassination.

And that report is available online.

** Rwanda

A trial chamber for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda today acquitted a Rwandan priest, Hormisdas Nsengimana, of genocide and crimes against humanity.  It ordered his immediate release from the UN Detention Facility in Arusha, United Republic of Tanzania.

Yesterday, the Tribunal’s Appeals Chamber acquitted Protais Zigiranyirazo, brother-in-law of the former Rwandan President, who had earlier been convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity. His immediate release from the UN Detention Facility was also ordered.

The Appeals Chamber reversed Zigiranyirazo’s convictions after finding several serious factual and legal errors in the Trial Chamber’s assessment of his alibi, regarding both events on which his convictions were based.  And we have press releases upstairs with more details about today’s and yesterday’s decisions.

** Philippines Typhoon

International humanitarian organizations have requested more than $143.7 million in a revised flash appeal to support the Government of the Philippines in responding to the effects of a series of typhoons that have ravaged the country since September, affecting 10 million people.

This revised appeal is planned to run from November 2009 to March 2010.  The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’ Financial Tracking Service (FTS) says that only $26 million was received, following the initial flash appeal in early October requesting $74 million.

New detailed assessments by UN agencies show that the overall number of people in need of humanitarian assistance stands at 4.2 million, out of the 10 million people affected in all areas.  Those in need include more than 520,000 children under the age of five.

Of particular concern for humanitarian agencies are the estimated 1.7 million people still displaced or living in areas that remain flooded. These areas are likely to remain flooded for another three or four months, putting those affected at serious risk of disease outbreaks.

**Yellow Fever

The World Health Organization and UNICEF report that they are supporting the largest-ever yellow fever mass vaccination campaign.  The week-long event, which will kick off next week, will target nearly 12 million people across Benin, Liberia and Sierra Leone.  All three of those countries are at high risk of yellow fever outbreaks.

The campaign is the first in which yellow fever vaccination drives will be simultaneously launched across several countries.

And we have more on that upstairs.

**United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

UNICEF is launching a special edition of the State of the World’s Children to mark the twentieth anniversary of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  This year UNICEF’s flagship report will focus on the impact the Convention has had on the lives of millions of children and challenges moving forward.

The Convention is the first legally binding international convention to affirm human rights for all children.  Since 1989, the Convention has achieved near-universal acceptance, having now been ratified by 193 parties.

UNICEF’s Executive Director, Ann Veneman, will launch the report here at its Headquarters in New York, one day before the anniversary, on Thursday at 9:30 a.m. UNICEF Ambassador and actress Lucy Liu and Grace Akallo, a former child soldier, will also be present.

And on Friday, 20 November, a commemoration of the twentieth anniversary of the Convention will be held in the Trusteeship Council from 10 a.m. to noon.  And there is more on that upstairs.

**UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in Near East

Also to mark the twentieth anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is teaming up with a non-governmental organization to launch a project, in which young Palestine refugee graduates across the Middle East will create the region’s first-ever online video yearbook.  The project will bring together online a community divided and scattered by decades of statelessness and exile, UNRWA says.

Hundreds of flip cams have already been distributed to tens of thousands of students in UNRWA schools in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.  On Thursday, the students will be recording 30-second messages for the yearbook.  And we have more on that upstairs.

**Secretary-General Appointment

And finally, a message that you’ve been waiting for some time.  The Secretary-General today has named Martin Nesirky of the United Kingdom as the new Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Mr. Nesirky succeeds Michèle Montas of Haiti, who is retiring from the Organization on 30 November 2009.  The Secretary-General is grateful to Ms. Montas for her dedication and service as his Spokesperson since the beginning of his term on 1 January 2007.

Mr. Nesirky brings to this position more than 20 years of experience in journalism, media relations and international affairs.  He comes to the United Nations from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) in Vienna, where he has served for more than three years as Spokesperson and Head of Press and Public Information. 

Mr. Nesirky has also served for more than two decades as an international correspondent and editor for Reuters. He was Reuters Bureau Chief in Moscow, and was also posted in Berlin, The Hague, and Seoul, as well as working as a senior editor in London handling global political news stories.

And we have more information upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

At 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference on the launch of UN Population Fund’s latest State of World Population report.  And the report will focus on women, population and the climate.

And like I said earlier, we will have as guests shortly, Dmitry Titov, the Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions in DPKO, and Maxwell Kerley, the Director of the UN Mine Action Service. Is there anything for me before we get to our guests?

**Questions and Answers

QuestionFarhan, since the Secretary-General issued a statement, and yesterday in his report also asked the Israelis to ease the blockade and to stop the settlement activities, has Israel ever responded positively to any of the requests that the Secretary-General has made for the last one year?  For instance, easing the blockade on Gaza, releasing some 10,000 Palestinian prisoners or stopping the settlement activities?

Associate Spokesperson:  As a matter of fact the Secretary-General has raised this issue with a number of Israeli leaders including the Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister.  From time to time, as you know, they have eased the situation at various checkpoints.  Of course, we continue to ask for more cooperation from them on a number of issues, and so we’ll continue to press them.  But yes, we have sometimes gotten responses from them.

Question:  What about the releasing of prisoners, the Palestinian prisoners.  They have around 10,000 to 12,000 prisoners, and have they ever responded to that at all?

Associate Spokesperson:  Certainly there are more than 10,000 estimated prisoners.  They have, as you know, from time to time released prisoners, and we have continued to take that issue up. 

QuestionFarhan, you are already aware that there was another ship hijacked by the Somali pirates yesterday?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  And did you have something to say about that?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have a statement, but you’re well aware of the Secretary-General’s repeatedly expressed concern about the situation [on] the high seas off the coast of Somalia.  And certainly he has asked for Member States to help assist in making sure that shipping across that area is secure.  And as you know, our Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs has also tried to provide advice about the legal regime pertaining to people who are arrested on the high seas off Somalia.

Question:  Morocco has expelled a Western Sahara activist, who has won numerous human rights awards, Aminatou Haidar.  I’m wondering whether the secretariat or MINURSO, or if there is any response by the UN.  What do you think of that?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’ll check with MINURSO whether they have anything to say about that.

Question:  And I guess, I also wanted to know, I know that the Polisario representative here said that about a month ago, they wrote a letter to the Security Council, as well as to the Secretary-General, about seven Polisario officials they say were arrested by Morocco.  I don’t know if you got the letter or anything is being done by the Secretariat about that.

Associate Spokesperson:  We’ll check whether we’ve received any letter about that as well.

Question:  As you know today, a fishing vessel was hijacked by pirates, Spanish…

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, your colleague just mentioned that.

Question:  Right, right. But I mean the Spanish fishing vessel, and it was liberated today, supposedly after paying a ransom, $2 million.  And also, apparently part of the deal is that two pirates that were captured by Spain may be released.  You just mentioned that the UN has asked for pirates that have been captured to be prosecuted.  Do you have a position on having pirates that have been captured and are going to be on trial being released as part of deals to get the liberation of ships?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have a specific reaction to this incident.  However, the UN as its own policy has never recognized the payment of ransom or concessions in order to release hostages.  And certainly we would not advise other nations to do that.

QuestionFarhan, earlier this year in this dispute between Eritrea and Djibouti -- Lynn Pascoe, the Council considered it and then sort of deferred to DPA, sort of some kind of mediation that was being attempted.  They set a deadline that’s now long expired. What is the status of DPA’s or Mr. Pascoe’s work on that issue? When is the last time he spoke to the two, and where does it stand?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Pascoe has repeatedly briefed the Security Council about the situation between Djibouti and Eritrea, so he has brought this up in their consultations. Ultimately, any further response is up to the Council, so you might want to check with them.

Question:  Can I ask about the Spokesman thing?  You announced the new Spokesman, so I wanted to, first of all, do you have any sort of description of the process, how many people were interviewed?  Does Mr. Nesirky speak Korean?  Was that one of the qualifications?  Is there a position called strategic communications that is also going to be filled, and if so, on what timeline?

Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of strategic communications, any further announcements we have will be made further down the line.  We don’t give the details about job searches, for any position, as you are aware.  Our guests are here, so if we can just take a couple more.

QuestionFarhan, I just want to know again if, in your opinion, is the United Nations satisfied with the IDP situation in Pakistan? Is it absolutely satisfied, because you have nothing to say for the last whole one week; the United Nations has not said one thing or another until or somebody else asked a question about it.

Associate Spokesperson:  No, no, we’re not satisfied about the situation of displaced persons.  Most of the displaced people, as we’ve mentioned in the past, have been staying with host communities. At the same time, what we need to do is make sure that host communities can provide for the displaced, and we’re trying to provide them with assistance.  Even with the security problems that have been present in north-western Pakistan, the UN is still doing its best to provide as much humanitarian assistance as possible to displaced persons, and we’ll continue to do that, and we’ll keep giving you updated figures as we get them.

Question:  Thank you, Farhan.  The small Pacific developing island States have called on the Security Council to take up the issue of climate change as a matter of security because they say that their islands, their countries could potentially disappear together for the first time in history.  And they’re looking for the Council to develop enforceable emission targets.  What does the Secretary-General think of this call to the Security Council to take up the climate change issue?

Associate Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General has been encouraging all of the relevant bodies to deal with climate change and its effects across a variety of fields.  At this stage, however, what the Secretary-General is concerned with is making sure that Member States and leaders at the highest level will come to Copenhagen to deal precisely with all of the challenges of climate change and seal a deal that can help resolve all the various problems that Member States face.

Question:  There is nothing about the Council taking up this matter?

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s always up to the Security Council which matters it chooses to take up under the rubric of peace and security issues.

And with that, let’s bring our guests here.

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For information media • not an official record