6 February 2007


6 February 2007
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


And the spokesperson for the General Assembly president


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Frehiwot Bekele, Special Assistant to the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Security Council

The Secretary-General is meeting with the Security Council in closed consultations, to discuss his recent meetings with African Union leaders at their summit in Addis Ababa last week, and in particular the focus in those meetings on the developments in Darfur.

The Secretary-General noted the urgency of obtaining a cessation of hostilities and reinvigorating the peace process.  To that end, Jan Eliasson, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Darfur, and Salim Ahmed Salim, the Special Envoy for Darfur for the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, will conduct a joint mission to Khartoum and Darfur from 12 to 17 February, as part of the effort to re-energize the peace process.

We have more details about that trip in today’s news bulletin from the UN Mission in the Sudan.

The Secretary-General, in his briefing to the Security Council, said that follow-up on the situation in Darfur, as well as in neighbouring Chad and the Central African Republic, has to be pursued vigorously.

Unacceptable delays are preventing help from reaching millions of victims, and slow progress is not tolerable, the Secretary-General said.  No more time can be lost.  The people of Darfur have waited for far too long.

In his briefing, the Secretary-General also mentioned recent developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire and Somalia.

** Sudan

On the Sudan, a second convoy of Sudanese internally displaced persons, following the one that travelled over the weekend, was to leave Khartoum today to bring home 5,000 displaced persons by the end of the month.  The convoys are being organized by the International Organization for Migration.

Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Sudan reports fighting that took place between two Arab tribes yesterday in North Darfur, west of El Fasher.  Meanwhile, in West Darfur on Sunday, armed men ambushed two UN-contracted trucks carrying UN supplies.  We have details on all these developments in the briefing notes by the UN Mission in Sudan.

** Nepal

On Nepal, the Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Ian Martin of the United Kingdom as his Special Representative for Nepal and Head of the UN Political Mission in Nepal.

Martin has been serving as the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative in Nepal since last August, and was previously the Representative of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal.

We await the Security Council’s response to the Secretary-General’s letter.

** Burundi

On Burundi, the World Food Programme (WFP) warned today that 2 million flood survivors in Burundi need urgent assistance to avoid a food crisis.

A recent assessment of flood-hit areas, by WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization, showed that some people have been cutting down to one meal a day and resorting to so-called ‘famine foods’, such as cassava leaves or bitter banana.

WFP says it needs $12 million to cover food aid requirements in Burundi until July.  We have a press release on that in my Office.

**Child Soldiers

On child soldiers, representatives of 58 countries meeting in Paris today committed themselves to putting an end to the unlawful recruitment and use of children in armed conflicts.

The conference, hosted by UNICEF and the Government of France, unveiled the Paris Principles, a detailed set of guidelines for protecting children from recruitment and for providing effective assistance to those already involved with armed groups or forces.  We have more information on this in my Office.


The High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, is in Kuwait today on the second leg of his weeklong mission to the Middle East.  He started his visit to the region in Saudi Arabia over the weekend.  Later today he is expected to travel to Jordan before heading to Syria.

In his meetings, Guterres has emphasized the suffering faced by hundreds of thousands of displaced people in and around Iraq, as well as the increased pressure on countries like Syria and Jordan, which together host more than one million Iraqis.

In that context, he urged Saudi Arabia to take an active part in his agency’s conference on the Iraqi humanitarian crisis, due to be held in Geneva in mid-April.  He also stressed the plight of some 15,000 Palestinians in Iraq, calling on Saudi leaders to use their influence to help find a solution for that problem.

**Enforced Disappearances

On enforced disappearances, a new international treaty, which outlaws enforced disappearances and upholds the right of victims to know the truth about the circumstances and fate of those disappeared, was officially opened for signature at a ceremony in Paris today.

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour was in Paris today to participate in that ceremony.  We have more on that upstairs.

**Female Genital Mutilation

And from UNFPA, in commemoration of the International Day against Female Genital Mutilation, the United Nations Populations Fund (UNFPA) today called for an end to female genital mutilation and urged intensified efforts to stop the practice in all its forms.

The UNFPA also stresses the need for stronger government commitment to fund and implement programmes to prevent female genital mutilation.


And then the Secretariat of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) has published today the pending export quotas for sturgeon caviar for 2007, in particular the beluga sturgeon.  That move officially lifts a year-old ban on the export of beluga caviar, which is harvested by Caspian Sea countries and is considered the most expensive and most endangered variety of the delicacy.

And, we have a press release from the CITES’ Secretariat upstairs.

**Commission on Social Development

Tomorrow the Commission on Social Development will open its annual session, which will last until 16 February here in New York.

The keynote speaker at tomorrow's opening is Les Kettledas, Deputy Director-General of South Africa's Department of Labour.

During the session, participants from around the world will discuss youth employment, ageing, disability and other social issues.

Tomorrow, at 1:15 p.m., there will be a press briefing on the occasion of the forty-fifth session of the Commission on Social Development.  The Chairman of the Commission and the Governor of the Barbados Central Bank will be here to update you on that subject.  That’s tomorrow, 1:15.

**Angela King

And, then I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the death of Ms. Angela King:

“The Secretary-General was saddened to learn of the death of Ms. Angela E.V. King, the former Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women.  He extends his condolences to Ms. King’s family.

“Angela King led the United Nations’ efforts for the empowerment of women with knowledge, passion and courage as the UN worked to translate into practice the Beijing Platform for Action and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

“A fervent champion of the equality of women and men, and women’s enjoyment of their human rights, she knew that all parts of the UN had a responsibility to uphold those principles -- including in the area of peace and security.  Ms. King’s advocacy and partnership with civil society paved the way for the Security Council’s landmark resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security.”

We have more on this upstairs.

**Press Conference Today/ Colombia’s President

And then, there is a Press Conference this afternoon.  The President of Colombia, His Excellency Alvaro Uribe Velez will be meeting the Secretary-General this afternoon at 3 p.m.  After the meeting, at approximately 3:30, President Uribe will be here to brief you right here in this room 226.  Do you have any questions?  Yes, Mark?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  A couple of questions on Lebanon, please.  First of all, does the UN have any comment on the finding by the Israeli Defence Forces of explosives cached on the border on the Lebanon side as to where they may have come from and how they got there, and so forth?  And, also, I’m a little bit confused about who’s written what when, but there’s been sort of a revival of this issue about the tribunal, and apparently, Fouad Siniora sent signed copies and said go ahead, and then Emile Lahoud said that’s unconstitutional.  I just really would like a catch-up from the UN’s point of view of what is the status now on preparing this tribunal.  Does the UN consider that it has the authority now to go ahead and establish this thing or not?

Spokesperson:  To the first question -- UNIFIL (United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon) carried out an investigation on the ground today, and the findings indicate that a few improvised explosive devices were located on the Lebanese side in the immediate vicinity of the Blue Line and were detonated by fire from the Israeli Defense Forces.  UNIFIL is not in a position to determine whether these devices were laid before or after the cessation of hostilities on 14 August 2006.

On the question of the tribunal, I can confirm that the two letters were received [talkover].  There is a letter from Prime Minister Siniora and there was a letter to the Security Council by President Lahoud.  And [talkover] well, I don’t have the details on that.  We are going to have a statement this afternoon.  Unfortunately, I tried to get it for you beforehand.  I could not; it’s not ready yet.  But, we’ll have a statement this afternoon on the tribunal.

Question:  Can we have like an idea of the content of the letters?  I mean, what are they asking for at least?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that right now.  You know, it’s being worked out by the Legal Department, and you should know more about it this afternoon.  We’re going to try to get the statement released as soon as we can, as possible.

Question:  Can we have a briefing on it when that statement’s released as well because it’s a pretty major issue?

Spokesperson:  Okay.  We’ll try to arrange that.

Question:  Mr. Lahoud is asking for Chapter VII [inaudible] … to be implemented, as it is asked by Siniora.  Siniora has sent apparently a letter to the Security Council and also to Mr. Ban Ki-moon asking him to implement the tribunal.  Could you confirm it or not?

Spokesperson:  Well, I can confirm that the letters were received.  That’s all I can say.  I cannot, I don’t have the details of the letters.  The letters were received.  Mr. Lahoud’s letter was received from what I gather, at the Secretariat was a copy, of course, of the communication sent to the members of the Security Council.  And, I don’t have a readout on that.  But, you know, the Security Council will certainly put it out as a document, as soon as it is decided by the President of the Council.  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, the Secretary-General said yesterday, or indicated, he would now proceed with names of some of his top level people.  I have three or four questions.  One is, can you tell us where that process stands?  How soon he will name people?  Will he name them all as a group, which was the original idea?  Will he be doing it in some sort of sequential way?  Has he accepted any of the resignations that were submitted, or has he told people whom he intends to replace that he is replacing them so they’re able to go off and try to find work elsewhere?

Spokesman:  Well, I think all those – we should know very soon about those decisions.  They will not be announced all at the same time, but most of them will be announced at the same time.  I can tell you, it will be pretty soon.  I don’t have an exact date for it… [talkover] … early next week, I don’t know yet.  But, they are ready to be broadcast, to be told.  Yes, George?

Question:  You say you’re going to have a release sometime this afternoon relative to these two letters from Mr. Siniora which you have received, and you tell us the letters will at some point in the future be released as documents of the Security Council.  Do I take it, therefore, that when your release comes out, it will not include those two letters as attachments, as it were, as related documents?

Spokesperson:  We cannot put out letters that were addressed to the Security Council.  It is not our purview.  There is going to be a statement concerning the international tribunal, I said, later this afternoon.  [inaudible] If I knew, I would have brought the statement to you if I had it.  You know, as soon as I have it, I promise, you’ll have it.  Yes?

Question:  Michele, I wanted to ask you about Guterres, who just came from Saudi Arabia, and he’s focusing on the refugees.  Was he able to secure any pledges when he was in Saudi Arabia, and also, is that part of his trip to secure pledges?

Spokesperson:  I’ll ask about this.  I think you might have more information upstairs in his press release, but I can check for you whether getting more funds is part of the trip.  Yes, Joe?

Question:  Michèle, can you explain something about the rationale of making all the announcements at once, all these appointments?  Could it be that if there’s a controversial one, mixing it in with five or six others, it may get lost in it?

Spokesperson:  Joe, I don’t know.  I don’t have an answer for you.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  Two questions.  First of all is there also a letter from 17 parliamentarians?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know about that one.

Question:  Okay.  And, secondly, about the…

Spokesperson:  You mean, addressed to the Secretary-General?

Question:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.

Question:  Also, on those military detonations.  You said it was on the Lebanese side of the border, there were reports also that there were charges on the Israeli side of the border involved.

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any additional information.  I gave you what I had.

Question:  And also you said it was detonated and you didn’t know whether it was prior or…

Spokesperson:  UNIFIL did not know whether it was prior or after.

Question:  Right.  Did it know whether it was detonated by Israelis or the other side, they don’t know which?

Spokesperson:  They don’t know.  They don’t know.

Question:  Can I follow up, please?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  On what Benny was saying – the Secretary-General, yesterday, he said that he received a letter signed by Lebanese officials and that he is going to proceed with the tribunal project.  Can you clarify to us please because it’s really confusing because what’s published in the media is that the letter of Siniora included the signatures of 17 deputies asking for the trial to go forward?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have a readout of the letter itself.  All I can tell you is that there will be a UN statement this afternoon on it.  A Secretariat statement.

Question:  Okay.

Question:  … the explosives were put on the Lebanese side, why the Israelis were allowed to detonate them on the Lebanese side?  Why didn’t UNIFIL do that?  Wasn’t that a violation of [Security Council resolution] 1701 for the Israelis to come to the Lebanese side and detonate them?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have an answer for you on that.

Question:  UNIFIL should have…

Spokesperson:  Yes, UNIFIL should have an answer for you.  Yes?

Question:  On the briefing the Secretary-General gave the Security Council today, did he transmit also Africa’s concern about climate change and what he said to [inaudible] about the subject?  Is this part of the statement?  Are we going to get that statement?  Is it open to us?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know, but I can check for you.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General somehow concerned that some of the best people could just go in this process and the Organization may lose it?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think he’s going to accept the letters – all the letters he received; I think there are some people who are going to be staying on.  Yes, Evelyn?

Question:  The statement you’re going to put out on Lebanon today on the tribunal – it’s totally confusing just having someone here approve it or sign it is not going to straighten out -- how many times has Siniora written to the Secretary-General on the tribunal?  What approximately, who signed the different letters saying it’s okay?  And, then, we’ll find out… [talkover] not just a statement saying we’re responding to Siniora because this is a huge political issue.  Who is signing the statements going to the SG on behalf of the Government?  Because he’s asked one question yesterday, he answered another, and that’s [talkover] part of the story.

Spokesperson:  What I will try to do once the statement is out is have someone come to talk to you about the whole issue.

Question:  [talkover] at this end is not very interesting.  It’s who, the political part at their end…

Spokesperson:  The political part at their end, we cannot necessarily answer.

Correspondent:  Well, yes because you’ve been getting letters from two sides on it.

Question:  How quick are you going to release to the public this OIOS report on the pension fund?

Spokesperson:  I’ll ask.  I’ll ask when it’s going to be released, on the pension fund.  I’ll be asking for you.

Question:  …[inaudible] briefing for us?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll ask for one.

Question:  … like a rotating, revolving request – can you put another one in?

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Freh?

Question:  Could we have a briefing by OIOS down here please?  And, I’d just like, in advance, so that…

Question:  I’ll second that.

Briefing by the Special Assistant to the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

**General Assembly/Peacebuilding Commission

The General Assembly is discussing today in plenary session progress achieved in the work of the Peacebuilding Commission.

In opening the meeting, Assembly President Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa emphasized, “We all have a collective responsibility to ensure that the United Nations strengthened peacebuilding architecture develops as envisioned by Member States. Our taking stock of progress to date is an important step in this process.”

Pointing out that, to date, donors have contributed and pledged over $140 million to the Peacebuilding Fund, the President urged all Member States to work together to reach the $250 million funding target.

She also announced that she personally would write to a number of potential donors to encourage them to contribute to the Peacebuilding Fund so that the funding target is met.

**General Assembly President Trip

The President will travel to Washington, D.C., this evening to address a meeting on gender issues being held tomorrow and organized by Ambassador Shreen Kheli, Senior Adviser to the US Secretary of State on the Empowerment of Women.

She will be speaking on gender equality in the Arab World. Participants at the meeting will include members of the Women's Empowerment Action Team, a group of women Ambassadors active on gender issues.

And, on Thursday, the President will chair an informal meeting of the Assembly’s Open-Ended Working Group on Security Council reform, which is scheduled for 10 that day.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Does the President believe that women should have equal political and legal rights in the Arab world?

Special Assistant:  I am sure she does, but I can double check for you if you want. 

Question:  If you have a statement specifically from her, call me back.  Thank you.

Question:  On the draft declaration on the rights of the indigenous, at the AU Summit, the African Union passed some type of a resolution saying that the Africa Group was going to maintain a position that, as drafted, the resolution would undermine rights or somehow cause problems in Africa.  I think that the President said she was going to be monitoring and trying to bring the parties together on this.  Where does that stand?

Special Assistant:  The Assembly passed a resolution during the main segment of its session saying Member States revert to it; the resolution also says action should be taken during this session of the Assembly.  So, nothing has moved yet, but I’m sure that’ll be taken up soon.

Question:  I’ve actually got a question for you.  Forgive me for speaking out of turn, but can you tell us why President Uribe is here?  What is he going to be speaking to us about?  Is it a UN mission of some kind that has brought him here?

Spokesperson:  Well, he’s going to be discussing, he’s asked for the meeting with the Secretary-General, and the meeting is probably going to talk about the relationship between the UN and his country, you know, mostly about the country team working there, certainly about drug issues.  And, he will probably tell you more about it this afternoon since he’s meeting you right after meeting the Secretary-General.

Special Assistant:  Yes, Benny?

Question:  Following up on Mark’s question, does the President have a driver’s license?

Special Assistant:  I don’t know.  I’ll have to check.  Thank you.

* *** *

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