20 November 2006


20 November 2006
Spokesman's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


And the spokeswoman for the General Assembly president


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, the Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General

We had arranged for Ibrahima Fall, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Great Lakes Region, to join us today; but due to scheduling difficulties, he had to cancel.

**Secretary-General in Switzerland

The Secretary-General is in Geneva today where he inaugurated the new UNAIDS/WHO building.  He also had an opportunity to meet with the new Director General elect of WHO, Margaret Chan.

Then he delivered a statement at the opening of the Sixth Review Conference of the Biological and Toxic Weapons Convention.

He said that the Convention can no longer be viewed in isolation, as simply a treaty prohibiting States from obtaining biological weapons.  Rather, we must look at it as part of an interlinked array of tools, designed to deal with an interlinked array of problems.  While we must deal with disarmament and non-proliferation in the traditional sense, the Secretary-General told the delegates, we must also address terrorism and crime at the non-State and individual levels.  We have a copy of that statement available upstairs.

Also, before bidding farewell to UN staff in Geneva, the Secretary-General met with His Excellency Mehmet Ali Talat, the leader of the Turkish Cypriots.  He spoke afterwards to journalists and we have a transcript of those comments available to you upstairs.

We expect the Secretary-General back in the office here on Wednesday.  Tomorrow, he will hold a press conference in Geneva, which will be his final press conference at the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva.

Going back over the weekend, on Saturday, the Secretary-General, accompanied by Mrs. Annan, travelled to St. Gallen, Switzerland where he delivered a speech on biotechnology and human security when accepting the Max Schmidheiny Freedom Prize.  He told the audience that he would like to explore potential initiatives which would focus in greater depth on two main questions:

First, how to expand the benefits of biotechnology and life science research to build better lives for people around the world;

Second, how to develop a global framework to mitigate potential risks.  A number of suggestions have been made for dealing with the many dilemmas that confront the life-science community.  How to reach workable consensus on appropriate measures is a subject crying out for a focused global debate.

He has directed the $100,000 prize to be given directly to the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.

After returning to Geneva late Saturday, the Secretary-General also met with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt.

** Lebanon

We issued a statement on Saturday about the Secretary-General’s telephone conversations with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran and President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria about developments in Lebanon and the need for countries in the region, in particular, and the international community as a whole to promote the stability and the unity of Lebanon.  The Secretary-General urged them to counsel the parties concerned to exercise patience and resolve their differences through dialogue.

Meanwhile, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) says that UN peacekeepers on Friday discovered 7 missiles, 3 rocket launchers and a significant quantity of different ammunition in the area of the town of Bourhoz.  UNIFIL says that, since the beginning of September, there have been seven discoveries of unauthorized arms or related material, the most significant of which took place around Rachaiya El-Foukhar when 17 Katyushas and some improvised explosive devices were found.

UNIFIL says that in all instances the Lebanese Army was informed and took prompt action to either confiscate or destroy the arms and the ammunition.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning is holding consultations on Lebanon, with Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Nicolas Michel briefing on the Secretary-General’s recent report on a tribunal dealing with the assassination of that country's former Prime Minister, Rafik Hariri.

The report discusses the structure of a special tribunal, which will include a pre-trial judge, a trial chamber, an appeals chamber, a prosecutor, a registry and a defence office.  Attached to the report is an annex detailing an agreement reached on the establishment of a tribunal between the United Nations and the Lebanese authorities.

It is now up to the Security Council to consider the instruments that have been agreed to with Lebanon.

**Human Rights -- Middle East

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour is in Gaza today, at the start of her five-day visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. 

Arbour went to Beit Hanoun this morning, where she saw sites that had been hit by Israeli artillery earlier this month.

She said, “The call for protection has to be answered.  We cannot continue to see civilians, who are not the authors of their own misfortune, suffer to the extent of what I see here.”  She later added that the full extent of the profound sense of deprivation in Gaza became truly evident when one came to the territory.

Arbour also held talks in Gaza with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, as well as with a range of civil society representatives, including human rights defenders.  Her meetings included briefings by the United Nations team in Gaza.

Tomorrow, among other activities, Arbour will travel to the Israeli town of Sderot, the target of rocket attacks from militants in Gaza, and there will be other site visits as well during her five-day visit.

** Sudan

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland returned to New York yesterday after cutting short his visit to the Sudan in reaction to Government restrictions on his movements.  At a press conference in Khartoum on Saturday, Egeland said that the number of people in need of assistance has surged to four million since his last visit to the region.  He said, “Never would I have thought that the fear, the angst among the civilian population of Darfur would remain the same after three long years.”  We have upstairs a full transcript of his remarks.

Meanwhile, the UN Mission in the Sudan reports several instances of forcible seizure and looting of UN and internal NGO vehicles and equipment.  In North Darfur, the Mission says the town of Birmaza was attacked on 15-16 November by Sudanese soldiers and Janjaweed militia.  The violence caused some 3,000 people to flee the area as the attackers looted the premises of a UN agency and burned the offices of an international NGO.  And on Saturday, rebels retaliated against Government forces near El Fasher in an incident that left some 100 fighters dead.

**Kenya/Somalia -- Floods

Turning now to the floods in Kenya and Somalia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that it has released an emergency cash grant of $52,000 for Kenya and is sending a UN disaster assessment and coordination team to Nairobi.

Meanwhile, the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, has approved an allocation of nearly $12 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund for the flood response in Kenya, as well as an additional $3 million to help flood survivors in Somalia.

For its part, the World Food Programme today launched a regional air operation to transport aid workers and humanitarian assistance to the region.  UNICEF and the UN refugee agency are also providing aid.

**World Health Organization/DESA Seminar

Lastly, the World Health Organization and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs would like to invite you all to a seminar entitled, “Enhancing Global Public Health -- Ensuring a Safer World”, which will take place from 1:15 to 2:45 this afternoon in Conference Room 8.  The seminar will review the status of a number of current health threats and discuss key components of the International Health Regulations aimed at containing these threats.

That is it for me.  I will now take your questions.  Yes, Mark?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I have a couple of questions, one just an update.  Can we get this briefing on the Somali situation, please?  The second was, I wondered if you had any more information about the exact circumstances under which those Lebanese weapons were found.  Was it that there was a tip-off and people went into some bunker?  I just want some more information on what the situation was.  Final one, I’d be very grateful if somebody could actually explain to us exactly what this deal with the Sudan is, because there seems to be total lack of clarity on what seems to have been agreed.  Any briefing on that would be very helpful as well.  Thank you.

Spokesman:  Let me start with the first one, if I remember, which was dealing with Somalia.  That report will be discussed again in front of the Somalia Sanctions Committee tomorrow afternoon.  It is up to the sanctions group and the Sanctions Committee itself to decide whether or not there will be a briefing by the experts.  We’ve put that question to them.  The answer is still pending.  Second, UNIFIL.  That is information we have received from UNIFIL.  The circumstances differ.  I would urge you to contact UNIFIL.  I will give you their phone number and they can give you more precise details on each of these operations.  Third, on the Sudan.  What was agreed to is the four-page communiqué that was issued after the meeting last week.  It was agreed to by all the parties present, including the Sudanese Government.  As part of the agreement, there are a couple of issues pending that the Sudanese Government needs to provide an answer to, and will provide an answer to, to the African Union on the 24th.  We are awaiting that answer.  The communiqué itself is fairly clear.  We do expect the Secretary-General, when he is back on Wednesday, to brief the Security Council on that agreement, and no doubt he will then afterwards be available to take some of your questions.

Question:  Does the United Nations have joint political control over this mission or not?

Spokesman:  I would urge you to go back to the communiqué.  There are a number of answers that still need to be provided by the Sudan, including on the naming of the head of the mission, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and the military chief for the mission.  We are awaiting those responses.  Benny?

Question:  I may have missed a couple of briefings but if memory serves, this is the first time you mentioned in the briefing any finding of weapons in Lebanon by UNIFIL.  Is that correct or am I wrong here?

Spokesman:  You are somewhat right and somewhat wrong.  I have alluded in the last week or so that a number of times they have found weapons.  We got, over the weekend, a more detailed report from our colleagues in UNIFIL and I’m passing it on to you.

Question:  So, how am I right?

Spokesman:  You are right in the sense that we’ve never gone into as much detail as we have today.  So, there you go.

Question:  So, is there a change or shift in UNIFIL’s mission or instructions or mode of operation?

Spokesman:  Not at all.  They are doing exactly what they are mandated to do, which is to assist the Lebanese army.

Question:  (inaudible) weapons in the last week, all of a sudden, there were weapons?

Spokesman:  There have been a number of incidents where they found weapons.  They secured the weapons sites and then informed the Lebanese army, which took the action that they needed to do.  But as I told Mark, if you want more details, I would urge you to talk to UNIFIL.

Question:  Oh, one more question on Louise Arbour.  Is her visit in Gaza and Beit Hanoun today related to the Human Rights Council resolution to send a fact-finding mission?  A third fact-finding mission, in addition to the Human Rights Council and its special emergency session?

Spokesman:  She is not related to either the Human Rights Council resolution, nor is she related to the General Assembly resolution.  This is part of the country tours that the High Commissioner for Human Rights regularly does.  She is doing this, obviously, with the full cooperation of both the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel.

Question:  She is an addition to the two other…

Spokesman:  She is conducting her work as High Commissioner for Human Rights.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Could you elaborate further, please, concerning the phone call with Mr. Assad?

Spokesman:  No, nothing more than I said.  Those phone calls took place over the weekend, and I think the Secretary-General’s message in those phone calls was fairly clear in asking both Presidents to counsel the parties concerned in Lebanon to exercise patience and resolve their differences through dialogue.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  The head of Hizbollah in Lebanon, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, has asked his supporters to be ready for massive demonstrations, orderly and peaceful, as he put it.  There may be counter demonstrations and, therefore, there is a risk of violence.  Is the Secretary-General concerned about the situation?

Spokesman:  The situation in Lebanon is, obviously, extremely volatile.  The Secretary-General would urge all parties, as I said, to resolve their differences through dialogue and exercise patience.  Yes, Linda?

Question:  Steph, you mentioned the Secretary-General is giving his final press conference in Geneva.  Has a date been set for one here?

Spokesman:  Yes, I believe it will likely be on 18 or 19 December.  I will confirm to you as I go back upstairs.  George?

Question:  This UNIFIL report that mentions the seven discovered weapons caches.  Is this a hand-out document of some kind you have upstairs?

Spokesman:  We have something on paper and we can give you the number of UNIFIL and you can speak to them.  Yes, Matthew?  And then Laura.

Question:  In the reports from Somalia between Ethiopian troops and the Union of Islamic Courts, can anyone in the United Nations system confirm, deny or speak to that?

Spokesman:  I’ll see if I can get something from the Somali office.

Question:  Has Lonseny Fall or any…  I know he was supposed to be…(inaudible)

Spokesman:  I did not have an update on his activities today, but we’ll try to get one.

Question:  And also on the monitoring group report on Somalia.  On Friday, I think you said what countries had protested or issued demarches to the United Nations about their being named in the report.  Do you have that list?

Spokesman:  I had that list Friday afternoon and I’ve deleted it from my head.  There were two countries that came to see the Secretariat and I do know a number of other countries have written to the Sanctions Committee.  For that, you would have to talk to the Security Council.

Question:  Do we know what two countries?

Spokesman:  That, I will find out.  [The correspondent was later informed that, as of today, the countries that had filed formal complaints to the UN Secretariat in reaction to the Somalia report were Egypt, Iran and Syria.

Question:  I just wanted to get a reaction from the United Nations.  There’s a report on the wires today that says that the UN might have reduced aid to the Saharawi refugees in Algeria over the past year from 158,000 to 90,000 due to increasing political pressure.  And I wanted to get your reaction on that.

Spokesman:  I will see what I can get for you on that.  [The correspondent was later informed that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had been monitoring this situation for some time and had concluded that the number of people needing assistance was now 90,000.  The World Food Programme (WFP) and UNHCR had agreed to use this number for planning purposes in the absence of a census and actual needs assessment.  UNHCR had asked the Government of Algeria for permission to conduct a registration exercise to get a more accurate number.]

Question:  Steph, I know you’ve referred us back to UNIFIL for further details, but may I just ask, has UNIFIL issued a press release?

Spokesman:  Yes, it’s a press release that was issued on Saturday out of Naqoura, in Lebanon.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Are there any new developments regarding the discussions on the transition from the Annan administration to Ban Ki-moon’s administration?

Spokesman:  Any developments on what?

Question:  On the transition from the Annan administration to Ban Ki-moon’s administration?  And, are the Korean officials here now?

Spokesman:  Mr. Ban Ki-moon is here in New York, along with a team of people he has brought along.  The transition is going ahead.  We know what the target date is, so we are working hard towards that date.  And there will be someone in my office, probably at some point this afternoon onwards, who will be able to speak to you on Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s behalf during the transition period.

Question:  Is that the spokesman?

Spokesman:  It will be someone who will act as his spokeswoman, who will be here and available to talk to you on his behalf during the transition.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  This Ibrahima Fall.  I know it was supposed to be today and then was cancelled.  Is there some way to do it at, like, a stake-out?  Or what’s the status?

Spokesman:  I will find out.  I was told just before coming down here.

Question:  Also, what is the status of Under-Secretary-General Gambari speaking about Myanmar to the Council?

Spokesman:  He is back here in New York.  He will first brief the Secretary-General.  Obviously, if there is a request to brief the Council, he will do that.  He told me this morning, as soon as that’s done, he will be available to speak to you.

Question:  I think the State Department’s Nicholas Burns said that nothing was accomplished.  I don’t know, I don’t want to mischaracterize him, but he sort of said during the trip nothing was accomplished and so the United States will be pushing forward in the Council for action.  What has Gambari said?  Do you disagree with that?

Spokesman:  I will leave Mr. Gambari to speak in detail about the trip, but obviously, he was able to see Aung Sung Suu Kyi.  He was able to meet with Government leaders and push on movement.  This is an ongoing process and he was obviously there on behalf of his mandate, which is given to him by the General Assembly.

Thank you very much.

Briefing by the Spokeswoman of the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

The President of the General Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, this morning addressed the Plenary on the item “Strengthening of the United Nations System”.  The Assembly had before it a note from the Secretary-General and a draft resolution on strengthening of the Economic and Social Council for the Plenary’s consideration, after almost a year of tough negotiations.  In her statement, the President thanked the Ambassadors of Belgium and Mali for their leading role in conducting the consultations, which at times, she said, were difficult.  She also thanked the representative of Mexico, Carlos Ruiz, for his “tireless facilitation” of the process.

The President noted that the draft was an important milestone in realizing the vision of the leaders who participated in the 2005 World Summit.  Its passage, she said, would strengthen the role of ECOSOC as the central body for coordination, policy review, policy guidance and recommendations on issues of economic and social development, as well as for implementation of the international development goals.  She stressed that this resolution would also acknowledge the central importance of development as one of the principal pillars of the United Nations.

Sheikha Haya also highlighted some of the new functions which the passage of the resolution would usher in, namely:  the annual Ministerial Review and Development Cooperation Forum, which would be held in Geneva in 2007 during the ECOSOC high-level segment; and the ability of the Council to respond to humanitarian emergencies as and when they occur by convening “ad hoc meetings”.  She noted that the resolution would also allow sharper focus on the linkages between the work of the Peacebuilding Commission and ECOSOC’s advisory groups on countries emerging from conflict.  Calling for the draft to be adopted by consensus, she said the Council would now have “a demanding responsibility and a tremendous opportunity to perform more effectively”.  The Plenary adopted the resolution by consensus without a vote.

Meanwhile, the Third Committee continues today to consider resolutions on the report of the High Commissioner for Refugees, questions relating to refugees, returnees, displaced persons and humanitarian questions.  They are also expected to take action on draft resolutions related to the advancement of women, human rights questions including human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives.

On Friday, the Committee approved a resolution expressing serious concern at “continuing reports of systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea”.  The Third Committee approved a resolution, which would have the Assembly urge the country’s Government to fully respect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.  It further requested the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea to grant free and unimpeded access to the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in that country.  The draft was one of six resolutions approved by the Committee on Friday and was passed by a vote of 91 in favour, to 21 against with 60 abstentions.

As I mentioned to you on Friday, the Office of the General Assembly President will hold a forum on NGO access to the United Nations, in particular the General Assembly, tomorrow 21 November.  Non-governmental organizations have become significant players in global development assistance.  By the late 1990s, they were annually contributing $11-12 billion from their own resources for development.  Currently, over 4,500 organizations are accredited to the United Nations.  They are experts in diverse fields and provide support to the United Nations both in the implementation of United Nations efforts and in terms of outreach, encouraging global support for United Nations goals and activities among their diverse constituents.  However, there remain sensitivities around the involvement of NGOs in the UN’s intergovernmental process.

The 21 November forum is being held under the auspices of the Office of the General Assembly President and the United Nations Foundation.  It will address the views and concerns of Member States and NGOs on various issues relating to NGO access to the United Nations, in particular the General Assembly.

I have with me Ms. Shamina de Gonzaga, Special Advisor on NGO Relations in the Office of the General Assembly President, to address any questions you may have on tomorrow’s forum.

**Questions and Answers

Spokeswoman:  Matthew, you did ask me a question and, yes, there was a vote in the Third Committee this morning for no action, specifically on the resolution that you mentioned on human rights in Uzbekistan.

Any other questions?  Anything on the Forum tomorrow?

Question:  Is it public, can people observe?  Where is it being held?

Ms. Gonzaga:  The Forum is being held at the Millennium Plaza Ballroom from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.  There is a great level of interest.  We are expecting 200 people and that is the capacity of the room, but we would be very happy to have you observe, if you are interested, and you can connect with me after the briefing.

Question:  Is there a breakdown of the 4,500 NGOs accredited to the UN?  What kind of organizations are they and where are they from?

Ms. Gonzaga:  Actually, as Gail just mentioned, the majority of the non-governmental organizations that are accredited to the UN, are accredited either through ECOSOC -- so they have a consultative relationship -- or they are affiliated with the Department of Public Information (DPI); and with those different kinds of accreditations come different advantages.  But this has all evolved.  Also, the specialized agencies often have their own accreditation systems.

Question:  Actually, what I meant to get at is:  what kind of organizations?  How many are American based?  How is it distributed around the world?

Ms. Gonzaga:  There are NGOs accredited from all corners of the world.  To give you one example:  the annual NGO Conference of the Department of Public Information hosts usually approximately 2,000 NGOs representing over 70 countries.  In terms of the breakdown of interest:  as you have heard from the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General, attacks on NGOs in the field are on par with those on UN staff.  So, they really are on the frontline with the United Nations in a variety of areas.  Increasingly, there are smaller organizations that also have accreditation to the UN.  For any issue you can think of under the umbrella of the UN, you do find NGOs, and we are trying to increase representation of NGOs from the developing world.

Question:  Do you have a procedure for NGOs being registered at this Conference and do you have a list of NGOs so registered?  Is it necessary for accredited press to come there and register in advance or notify you of our attention to attend?

Ms. Gonzaga:  I do have a list of the registered NGOs and, for the purposes of inclusiveness, the invitations to this Forum were sent to the entire General Assembly and to all of the UN accredited NGOs.  So, I do have a list, which I am very happy to share with you.  I would appreciate, if you have an interest, to stop by or to let us know, so that we can also arrange if there are any individuals in particular you wanted to speak with.

Question:  Do I understand you correctly that the Millennium Plaza is the former United Nations Plaza Hotel across the street?

Ms. Gonzaga:  Yes, it is on Forty-Fourth Street between the DC-1 and DC-2 buildings.

Spokeswoman:  Anything else?  Well, we certainly would welcome your presence there.  Thank you.

* *** *

For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.