|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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. It feels like I just left you.
**Secretary-General Statement on Nepal
We first have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Nepal.
The Secretary-General welcomes the beginning of the second stage of registration by the United Nations Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) of the Maoist army personnel who were registered earlier this year. This is a crucial stage of the implementation of the Agreement on Monitoring of the Management of Arms and Armies.
The Secretary-General reiterates to all parties the need to cooperate in the creation of a conducive environment to holding the Constituent Assembly election later this year in Nepal.
On the Middle East, the Secretary-General spoke early this morning with Prime Minister Salam Fayyad of the Palestinian National Authority. He also spoke to Foreign Minister Daoud Khattab of Jordan and a few minutes ago to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Secretary-General expressed his concerns about the humanitarian situation in Gaza, where a large segment of the population depends on international assistance.
He also spoke about security and political issues, reiterating his support for President Abbas and the need for a two-State solution, with Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.
** Middle East
Still on the Middle East, the World Food Programme (WFP) this afternoon sent its first shipment of food aid to Gaza after the latest wave of unrest. Two trucks carrying 51 metric tons of food have crossed the southern border with Israel and more are expected to follow later today.
WFP says that there is a serious humanitarian crisis developing in Gaza as a result of the closure of goods crossings to Gaza. Commercial food stocks in Gaza are quickly depleting and are expected to run extremely low within two weeks, with the panic buying of staple goods. Commercial food stocks have already run out in some areas.
Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will travel to Washington, D.C., for the day. This brief visit will allow him to further broaden his contacts with members of Congress.
In his discussions, the Secretary-General will raise issues of mutual interest, including the UN-US relationship, the Middle East, Sudan, climate change, peacekeeping and UN reform.
The Secretary-General will be back in New York on Wednesday night.
The Security Council yesterday received a briefing in closed consultations from Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi on the rocket attack launched on Sunday from southern Lebanon into Israel.
The Council’s President, Ambassador Johan Verbeke, read out a press statement afterwards, saying that Council members strongly condemned the rocket attack and commended the determination and commitment of the Lebanese Government to bring its perpetrators to justice.
Tomorrow, the Security Council has scheduled an open meeting, followed by consultations, on the Middle East, on which Council members are to hear a briefing from the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Michael Williams.
**Security Council Mission to Africa
The Security Council’s mission to Africa is wrapping up its visit to Côte d’Ivoire, and the leader of the Council delegation to that country, Ambassador Jorge Voto-Bernales of Peru, just gave a press conference in Abidjan about the results of that visit.
He said that the Council mission had met with President Laurent Gbagbo and with Prime Minister Guillaume Soro, both of whom stressed that the United Nations should remain involved in the country to certify the identification process, elections and other measures to implement the Ouagadougou Peace Agreement. The mission also met with the representative of the facilitator of that Agreement, Foreign Minister Michel Bassolet of Burkina Faso.
In their discussions, Ambassador Voto-Bernales said, the Council delegation and Ivorian officials discussed the modalities of how the United Nations can assist the process leading up to elections, as well as the elections themselves.
The United Nations and Ivorian officials will begin discussions on how to maintain the functions of High Representative for Elections Gerard Stoudmann’s Office, and whether it would be included in the Office of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative.
The Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, is in Washington today and tomorrow for consultations on Myanmar in the context of the Secretary-General’s good offices mandate. He has meetings scheduled at the White House, State Department and on the Hill.
**Human Rights Council
Turning to Geneva, the Human Rights Council today concluded its fifth session, following the adoption just before midnight of a package of measures put forward by the President to members of the Council.
The package includes a framework for the Universal Periodic Review mechanism, which will examine the fulfilment of the human rights obligations of all Member States. The framework allows for 48 Member States (a mix of Council members and observer States) to be reviewed each year, with members of the Council elected for one or two year terms to be reviewed first.
The Council’s agenda was also part of the package adopted. In addition to the Universal Periodic Review and among other items, the Council’s agenda will include an item on “Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention”. The Special Rapporteurs will be reviewed and will continue to report to the Council.
** Afghanistan – Children
The Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, expressed her concern about the impact on children of the worsening security situation in Afghanistan. She noted that schools had been targeted and that anti-Government forces were suspected of using children as human shields.
The Special Representative urges all sides to take all necessary steps to protect children in Afghanistan.
We have the full press release upstairs.
**Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
The UN refugee agency reports that the number of refugees in the world has increased to almost 10 million -– the highest level since 2002. According to the UNHCR’s 2006 Global Trends report, released today, the number of refugees under the agency’s mandate rose by 14 per cent last year –- largely as a result of the crisis in Iraq.
However, the main group of refugees assisted by UNHCR in 2006 continued to be Afghans, with 2.1 million, followed by Iraqis with 1.5 million -– then Sudanese and Somalis.
The report also states that the number of internally displaced persons has reached a record high of almost 13 million –- twice as much as the figure for the previous year.
We have more information on that report upstairs.
** Western Sahara
On Western Sahara, talks carried out under UN auspices on Western Sahara are continuing for a second day near New York City.
As you know, there is a news blackout on the talks. Representatives of the parties and the neighbouring countries met all day yesterday.
The talks are being facilitated by the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum.
The discussions are scheduled to wrap up today.
We received also some additional information on Serge Brammertz from the International Criminal Court in The Hague, and would like to rectify information given yesterday.
On 14 June 2007, Mr. Serge Brammertz, Deputy Prosecutor for Investigations, submitted his resignation from the International Criminal Court. It was made public last night. At the request of the United Nations Secretary-General, as you know, Mr. Brammertz will continue to serve as the Commissioner of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission in Lebanon.
This is all I have for you today. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Michael Williams, the Coordinator of the Middle East Peace Process. That’s the gentleman who was just appointed, who’s the successor to… I forget the Latin American gentleman who was there until…
Spokesperson: Alvaro de Soto.
Question: Yes, Alvaro de Soto. Will he possibly come to speak to us at the stakeout after his presentation to the Council?
Spokesperson: We have asked. We’re waiting for an answer.
Question: Since it was a creation of the General Assembly, and since it’s part of the UN system, does the Secretary-General have anything to say about the agreement that the Human Rights Council came to today? Is he happy with the way the Human Rights Council is functioning?
Spokesperson: Well, right now we’re waiting first for… there’s going to be a press conference in Geneva from the President of the Council, Mr. de Alba, and we’re waiting to have a final input from them. And then there will be, certainly, a Secretary-General reaction. For the time being, he’s waiting for the other side to finish their process. They are supposed to start again meeting this afternoon at 3. So it’s not finished.
Question: Is he happy with the tendency to narrow the mandate of Rapporteurs?
Spokesperson: He is waiting to know exactly what the Council is adopting.
Question: Just to follow up on Benny’s question, I’m sorry, but concretely what about the decision to not watch closely what’s going on in Belarus and Cuba, two countries that, certainly, if you take the United Nations Declaration Of Human Rights, they don’t particularly stand up too well to that. What about those two nations? Does the Secretary-General… because that decision has been taken… does the Secretary-General have a view that you can share with us on that please?
Spokesperson: Not yet, not yet. What I’ll tell you is that those mandates were more than six years old, and that’s why they were taken off the book, from what I gather… the information I got from Geneva. As far as the Secretary-General’s reaction, he’s waiting, as I said, for the final… there is a meeting this afternoon, there’s going to be a press conference this afternoon in Geneva. So we are waiting for this input to come in, and then we’ll have something for you.
Question: One follow-up on that, what about the permanent seat of the mandate of Israel and the resolution that was already passed [inaudible] on the condemnation of Israel [inaudible]. Is that something that he can already talk about?
Spokesperson: Well, as I said, we are waiting. We’re waiting for the process to be completed by them before the Secretary-General will give his opinion about it.
Correspondent: One more…
Spokesperson: We have one more question here first.
Question: It’s about the Secretary-General’s visit to the White House. There’s concern that the UN-AU hybrid force for Sudan may be delayed or affected by the fact that the US hasn’t paid up their dues. Is the Secretary-General going to be raising this issue with the President of the United States or is he going to be talking about this in the Congress?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General is not meeting President Bush. He’s meeting with congressional leaders tomorrow.
Question: Is he going to be raising the issue of their dues?
Spokesperson: Yes, it is definitely on the agenda.
Question: Can you say which congressional leaders he’s going to meet with?
Spokesperson: I don’t have the list yet. I will inform you tomorrow about who he’s meeting.
Question: I guess this goes along the lines of the human rights one. There was a quote yesterday from North Korea saying that, although the Rapporteur continues, they are on record saying they will never allow the UN Rapporteur on human rights into North Korea. So I’m wondering if Ban Ki-moon has, that’s an ongoing, they’ve never allowed them in [inaudible] -- whether Ban Ki-moon would have any guidance or anything to say about that.
Spokesperson: All reactions will come after the meeting is over. Yes?
Question: Also on Darfur…
Question: Are you writing all of these down by the way?
Spokesperson: It’s all recorded -- in my head.
Question: There’s an article in Xinhua that quotes a Sudanese newspaper, Alwan, saying that President Bashir denies that the agreement involves UN command of the hybrid force. I’m wondering -- obviously, different people say different things -- but is the UN’s position that it would, essentially, have command of this hybrid force?
Spokesperson: Yes it is.
Question: So this is viewed as either an inaccurate report or just for local consumption by President Bashir?
Spokesperson: I don’t know what the reason is. This is what the local media is reporting, this is not what has been agreed.
Question: In view of the fact that the Secretary-General is supposed to report to the Security Council on Western Sahara, the discussions or negotiations, is there a possibility that the meeting might be extended by one more or two days, or is that excluded at this stage?
Spokesperson: Well, at this stage, I think we are at the beginning of a very long process. As you can imagine, it’s not going to be an easy process. We are not going to, at this point, I don’t know what part of the process will be reflected in the Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council. Right now, we are talking about very difficult negotiations and, as I said, the beginning of a process.
Question: Is the Secretary-General satisfied with the apparent progress being achieved regarding the nuclear research or reactors in North Korea in view of the fact that they have received the money, the funds, that they needed and that they plan to shut off these nuclear installations? What is the Secretary-General’s reaction?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General will wait for this to become reality before he gives his opinion on it.
Question: A little more local question, down by the Vienna Café, there’s an exhibit, these duelling exhibits. One’s for Sochi, in Russia, and the other one is for Pyeongchang in South Korea. It seems pretty clear that both are candidates to run for the Winter Olympics. But, yesterday, it’s reported that somebody taped over the reference to Winter Olympics in at least one of the two exhibits. I’m wondering why that was. Who’s in charge? I know we have a more serious exhibit gate in the lobby, but who’s watching that and…?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, the exhibits downstairs are sponsored by Member States, so I don’t have an explanation for that.
Question: It’s only the change…?
Spokesperson: I can check for you, but this is not our purview.
Question: I’ve got a question on that. Why are those two exhibits in that bizarre location? It’s a corridor that’s not particularly visible. People just think of getting through that turnstile and getting to that café, rather than stopping there. Why that -- I saw it too, so obviously it worked a little bit --but why that venue? It seems so strange.
Spokesperson: I’m assuming the venue that’s given to Member States or to sometimes independent NGOs, that’s the space that is usually reserved for their exhibits. So that’s all I can say. Why was that specific spot chosen, I…
Question: Why not, for instance, on the way from the Vienna Café to the elevators, which seems to be more visible and, certainly, if I was going to advertise something myself, placement would be there rather than in that corridor.
Spokesperson: Well, we can ask the people in charge of exhibits, but I don’t have an answer for you.
[The Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that such exhibits are supposed to be non-commercial in nature. For that reason, Facilities Management asked the Mission of the Republic of Korea to omit the reference to its bid for the Olympics, which was done by taping over the relevant wording.]
Question: In that vein, I’d like to ask about the exhibit that’s downstairs in the Main Lobby over here, by the Brazilian Mission. This is part of a campaign to ensure that this Christo is recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Will other countries be allowed to exhibit their wonders, like India for Taj Mahal or Rome for Coliseum?
Spokesperson: I’m sure if they request it, yes.
Question: You said that the talks on Western Sahara was really difficult. And I understood from other sources that both sides are not [inaudible] from these negotiations. What’s the Secretary-General’s first evaluation for these two days of negotiations so far?
Spokesperson: Well, this is the second day. This is way too early -– way, way too early –- for any assessment at this point. I think we have to wait for the talks to be over before we know whether there is going to be anything -- any conclusion that the Secretary-General can say anything about. At this point, it’s a little too early.
Question: Just to follow up on the Human Rights Council questions. Some of us have deadlines, including our organizations. When do you expect to have the Secretary-General’s reaction to what has transpired in Geneva?
Spokesperson: I don’t think we’ll have that this afternoon, because we have to wait for Geneva to finish first. And they were still on.
Question: Can we put in a personal plea then -- perhaps Benny agrees or Matthew on this or others -- to get at least a partial impression from him, at least to touch on the decisions that actually have already been made that we’ve raised?
Spokesperson: Well, we can ask, but you know, I think it’s a little premature, since they’re still working.
Thank you very much.
Question: De Alba’s mandate ended last night at midnight, right?
Spokesperson: Well, the meeting is not over. He’s still the President of the Human Rights Council.
Question: There’s a deadline on that?
Spokesperson: Well, I’ll find out for you whether there is going to be a change. Thank you very much.
[The Spokesperson later added that Ambassador Doru Romulus Costea of Romania was elected President of the Human Rights Council second year.]
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