9 October 2007


9 October 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 Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

**Guests at Noon Today

Our guests at the noon briefing today are John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator; and Markku Niskala, Secretary-General of the International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.  They will brief you on disaster risk reduction.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning received in its consultations a periodic update on the work of the UN Mission in Kosovo by the head of that mission, Special Representative Joachim Rücker.  Most of you heard Mr. Rücker who just spoke at the stakeout.

After that, the Security Council will hear from Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane, under other matters, about Nepal.  You’ll recall that we told you last week that the Secretary-General was disappointed by the decision of the Interim Government of Nepal to postpone the Constituent Assembly Election which had been scheduled for 22 November.

** Sudan

The UN Mission in Sudan, citing initial reports it has received, has reported that clashes took place yesterday in and around the town of Muhajariya in South Darfur between the Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minawi faction and forces suspected to be tribal militia.  The Mission did not have further information on the circumstances of the fighting nor on possible casualties.

Meanwhile, the UN Special Envoy for Darfur, Jan Eliasson, is back in Khartoum to meet with Government officials, members of civil society and other stakeholders in the upcoming peace negotiations on Darfur scheduled to take place in Libya.

** Iraq

Nearly 6 million Iraqi children are going back to the classroom this week, according to UNICEF, which lauded the extraordinary efforts by parents, teachers and local officials to keep Iraq’s schools open and functioning.

However, UNICEF adds, a quality education amidst the ongoing conflict remains an uphill struggle for many Iraqi families, and it notes that just 28 per cent of Iraq’s graduation-age population took their exams at all.  We have a press release upstairs with more details.

**Iraq/Syria – UNHCR

The UN Refugee Agency says it is deeply concerned about the precarious living conditions of Palestinian refugees at the Al Tanf border camp in the “no-man’s land” between Iraq and Syria.

After a devastating fire recently swept through the camp, UNHCR rushed tents, mattresses and kitchen supplies to the area, organized the refilling of fire extinguishers, and explored extra fire-prevention measures.  We have more on that upstairs.

** Afghanistan

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today expressed her dismay at the reported execution of 15 convicted prisoners on Sunday.  “I am deeply troubled by this sudden resort to execution, after three years of refraining from carrying out the death penalty,” Arbour said.  “As reported, the circumstances of the executions may constitute a breach of Afghanistan’s obligations under international law.”

In a statement issued yesterday, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, also expressed concern at the executions.  He said that the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan “has been a staunch supporter of the moratorium on executions observed in Afghanistan in recent years”.

**Human Rights

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour will head to Sri Lanka tomorrow, as part of her mandate to engage with Member States on the promotion and protection of human rights.

Arbour plans to meet with President Mahinda Rajapaksa and other senior Government officials, as well as representatives of political parties, UN agencies and civil society.

** Lebanon

The Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Major General Claudio Graziano, met with senior officials from the Lebanese Armed Forces and the Israel Defense Forces today at the UN position at the border crossing at Ras Al Naqoura.

The main focus points discussed were the implementation of resolution 1701, especially the violations of the Blue Line, with a view to preventing incidents.  They also discussed the marking of the Blue Line and the temporary security arrangements for the northern part of the village of Ghajar.  Graziano said afterwards that he was encouraged with the general approach and the determination of the parties to adhere to the relevant provisions of resolution 1701.

** Africa Floods

The World Food Programme (WFP) is warning that it is running out of food for hundreds of thousands of Ugandans affected by floods.  WFP has been airlifting food and other assistance by helicopter to marooned communities, but says supplies will run out in December if it doesn’t receive any new contributions.

The agency still needs more than $20 million to buy food and to provide trucks, boats, aircraft and perform emergency road and bridge repairs.  To date, WFP has only received one fifth of that amount.

Elsewhere in Africa, WFP is also feeding people affected by floods in Ghana and Togo.  The Central Emergency Response Fund, meanwhile, has allocated almost $4 million for flood survivors in Ghana, Togo and Mali since August.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The UN Refugee Agency has wrapped up a three-year-long phased repatriation programme for Congolese refugees in the Central African Republic that was begun some three years ago.  A final convoy of some 130 Congolese refugees left the host country’s capital, Bangui, this weekend for the region around Kinshasa.

The operation began in 2004 but was repeatedly disrupted due to widespread insecurity.  Since then, a total of 135,000 Congolese refugees have been sent back home from neighbouring countries, 43,000 since the start of this year.  Even so, some 312,000 remain in refugee camps in Tanzania, Zambia and Rwanda.

**International Telecommunication Union

The International Telecommunication Union (ITU) has deployed 30 satellite terminals as a way to help restore vital communication links in remote and underserved areas of Bangladesh, which has recently been ravaged by floods.  We have more on that upstairs.

**Guest Tomorrow

Our guest at noon tomorrow will be Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, who will launch a survey on opium cultivation in South-East Asia, namely in Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar and Thailand.  We have embargoed press releases available in our office and later today, advance copies of the survey will be available as well.

This is all I have for you.  Thank you.  Any questions?  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, yesterday a Palestinian lawmaker in Gaza asked the Secretary-General of the United Nations to quit because he has stopped becoming an independent arbiter in the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, saying that he’s siding with the Palestinians.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about that?

Spokesperson:  No, we have no comments on this.  We will not comment on something that someone else said about the Secretary-General, the Secretary-General’s mandate.  As for the Secretary-General’s position on the Middle East, I think his positions have been quite clear in the last few weeks and months and he has repeatedly taken a position in favour of the population in Gaza, taken a position for the opening of the crossings so the population could receive goods and services.  So I will not comment directly on that, but I will invite you to go and look at what the Secretary-General has been saying in the last few weeks and months about the situation in the area.

Question:  Ambassador Khalilzad of the United States just said that the Secretary-General spoke with the First Lady of the United States earlier today on Myanmar.  Do you have even a short kind of readout?  Beyond that it was about Myanmar, what did they discuss?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General did inform Mrs. Bush of what had been done.  As you know, Mrs. Bush had contacted the Secretary-General before, when he was in Torino, about the situation in Myanmar, and the human rights situation in particular, and the Secretary-General – actually, it was a follow-up to that conversation that they had -- updated her on what has been done in Myanmar by Special Envoy Gambari.

Question:  Thank you.  And do we have any more on that story in the Times of London about the Government of Myanmar either asking for satellite phone licenses or having… or that the UNDP staff had been deleting files so that the Government couldn’t get them, has there been… have you heard… do we have any… is the Times story false, or…?

Spokesperson:  I already said yesterday everything I had to say about that.

Question:  Okay, no, I guess you’d said I can’t confirm that this morning, or today, or whatever…

Spokesperson:  No, I said I cannot confirm that there was such a thing, that there was any deletion of, hurried deletion of files because of that.  I said there was no formal request, I said yesterday, to the UN to give out its computers or turn its computers over to anyone for that matter.

Question:  Michèle, did the United Nations in its investigation on the hijacking of the website about three months ago find out where did it happen, what country, or was it an inside job?  Has the investigation been completed on that?

Spokesperson: I think it has been completed.  I don’t think they have a specific answer on who were the perpetrators.  That they don’t have.

Question:  If you have an answer would you relate it…?

Spokesperson:  What I can tell you is that the damage has been repaired and that there have been some provisions taken to better protect the site, the UN site.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Michèle, two quick questions.  Has the Secretary-General welcomed the return of Singapore to UNESCO?  And secondly, is there any progress to report regarding the proposed strengthening of the Department of Political Affairs?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  This is being discussed right now with the General Assembly.  The Fifth Committee in particular is examining right now the budget that is related to that.  In terms of your first question, there has been no formal statement by the Secretary-General about Singapore returning to UNESCO, but I think that I can say that it is a welcome decision by Singapore.  I would like not to go any further, because I don’t want to have our guests wait any longer.  We’ll have our guests, then we’ll have our Spokesperson for the General Assembly.  Please come up.

[The briefing by the guests at noon followed.]

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you very much, Michèle, and thank you very much to those of you wishing to stay and get a bit of a rundown as to what is happening as far as the General Assembly is concerned.

**General Assembly Plenary

This morning the General Assembly plenary continued with a handful of speakers making statements on the Secretary-General’s report on the work of the Organization which was started yesterday and it spilled over today and then afterwards the Assembly plenary took up the issue of the appointment of members of the Joint Inspection Unit.  There is one vacancy to fill on the 11-member body as a result of a resignation.  The plenary agreed that Peru should nominate a candidate for that vacancy.

Let me flag for you what is going to happen tomorrow that might be interesting for you:

The Assembly plenary will take up the report of the Peacebuilding Commission and the Secretary-General’s report on the Peacebuilding Fund.  This will be the first time that the Assembly is looking at it from the point of view of their annual report, so both are in a way novelties for a plenary discussion. The respective documents, meaning the two reports, are out on the racks.  They have been out since end July, but I’ll flag them for you.  It’s A/62/137.  That’s for the Peacebuilding Commission and A/62/138.  That’s for the Secretary-General’s Report on the Peacebuilding Fund.

**Main Committees

The Main Committees, as you know, have started their substantive work yesterday.  I mentioned that.

Let me also draw your attention to the fact that DPI’s meetings coverage section is actually doing a very good job of covering those meetings.  There are daily press releases on what is going on as regards the Main Committees and I’ll try not to repeat those, but just flag a couple of things from their work.

The First Committee is continuing today with its general debate on disarmament and international security related issues, which it began yesterday.  Speakers most generally focused on disarmament, especially in the context of weapons of mass destruction and also on issues of non-proliferation.

The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) is also continuing its general debate today on all items related to its work.  Topics most often addressed are sustainable development, Millennium Development Goals, climate change.

The Third Committee (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) started its work yesterday.  It’s a committee which does not have a general debate, but after a meeting on organizational issues delves into substantive work.  This is what happened yesterday.  The substantive issue that it took up was social development and that is continuing today.  However, in the part on the organizational aspects of work in the Third Committee there was a lively debate and discussion that ended in a vote.  What that relates to is that, in the course of discussion of the organization of work, for the Committee, there was a question over inclusion of two reports in the Committee’s agenda.  This was questioned by a number of delegations.  Those two reports are the report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Nepal (document A/62/346) and also the Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in Uganda (A/62/347).  Ultimately, following the lively discussion, the Committee took a vote on the issue and by a vote of 76 in favour to 54 against, with 20 abstentions, it voted to delete both reports from its programme of work.

The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) also began its general debate on decolonization issues yesterday.  At that meeting, the Committee granted the request to all those asking for a hearing on decolonization.  Those hearings are going to be held today in the afternoon and tomorrow in the afternoon.

This, to some extent, relates to what Matthew was asking about.  So, basically what you’re looking at is a number of petitioners, over 50, voicing their views.  They have roughly about seven minutes to state their views, ideas in front of the Committee members on issues related to particular aspects of decolonization -- we’re talking about particular territories.  This has been the traditional practice in the Committee, as I mentioned yesterday.  And I have the rundown for you:  for Gibraltar we have one petitioner, for New Caledonia one petitioner, for Guam three and for Western Sahara -- this is what Matthew was asking about -- we have 54.  So, most likely that’ll take up today, tomorrow afternoon and most likely the Committee then will take up the decolonization issues on 15 October and carry it forward.

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) is continuing its meeting on the issues of scale of assessments and also will take up a report of the Joint Inspection Unit.

Related to the work of the Fifth Committee -- again I’ll go back to something Matthew asked about yesterday:  the Wall Street Journal report on the future of the Procurement Task Force.  I did go and talk to Matthew about it, but I mention it because I think Jonathan was also asking about this and asked for this to be reported back in a broader panel.  Basically, where that report comes into view as far as the relevance to the Assembly is concerned is the following: There is, in fact, an OIOS report on the activities of the Procurement Task Force – A/62/272.

In the penultimate paragraph of that report there is a reference to the fact of how the Task Force work may need to continue.  Let me quote directly from that report.  It is paragraph 83 and it says the following:

“The Task Force is funded for the period until 31 December 2007 but it is unlikely that its pending investigations will be completed by the end of this year under the current arrangement.  OIOS is considering proposing for the consideration of the General Assembly that the competence of the Task Force be incorporated into the overall OIOS capacity.  This will be proposed in detail in the revised estimate for the OIOS 2008-2009 proposed regular budget…”

So as far as this issue is concerned and the relevance of the General Assembly:  this is going to come up in the framework of the Assembly in the Fifth Committee.  That is when Member States will look at it.  That’s all we have on this.

And finally the Sixth Committee (Legal).  That started its work yesterday.  Again, it’s a committee that does not go into a general debate, but takes up agenda items.  It took up the item called administration of justice within the United Nations System.  It is continuing the discussion of that item in the format of a working group.  There is a report on that, by the way, along the lines of which that discussion is going and that is A/62/292.  That’s the Secretary-General’s report on this issue.  Please note that the same issue, administration of justice within the UN system is also an item for the Fifth Committee.  The Fifth Committee is looking at it from the administrative budgetary aspect, the Sixth Committee is looking at it purely from the legal aspect.

That’s what I have and if you have any questions I’ll try to the best of my ability to answer them.  Please.  Matthew.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks a lot for the… on the Procurement Task Force, and thanks for flagging that, it has this notation on it, “reissued for technical reasons”?  Do you know why… somebody had said that there was actually a previous version that had named… that either had names or further identifiers in it, and then they reissued it.  Are you aware of that, or do you… do you know why this one was reissued?

Spokesperson:  I do not.  I’m aware of the fact that this is a reissue; it clearly states in the report.  I do not know what was the technical reason behind it.

Question:  I guess, I’m just asking, whatever you can find out on that, or however…

Spokesperson:  I’ll try to follow up on that.

Question:  …and also, this is a little more drier, on the Fifth Committee… Are there coordinators designated for particular, for either UN units or… I’ve heard that there’s a coordinator for the OIOS resolution in the Fifth Committee.  Meaning like the Fifth Committee has to do a resolution, I guess, accepting all the reports and that the coordinator’s already been designated and that it’s Belgium.  Is that public?  Is it public which countries coordinate particular resolutions on stuff?

Spokesperson:  I’ll follow up for you on that.  I’ll check with the Fifth Committee on that, whether in fact that is how it works and whether in fact, as you’re asking, these coordinators, if they actually exist, whether they’re public or not. But I would venture to say that, if they do exist, obviously it is designed to speed up work within the Committee, so it’s probably for the good of the Member States and for a more efficient tackling of the subject.  Because, as we all know, here one of the most complicated, I think, committees for most Member States to follow is, in fact, the Fifth Committee, because somehow, most of the decisions actually land there in one way or another.  So, if this method of coordination is introduced, it is definitely for the good of the work. But I’ll follow up on exactly which issues do have coordinators, whether we can reveal who they are.   Yes, please.

Question:  Two questions…

Spokesperson:  Please.

Question:  First I asked yesterday about Korea and the UN command, and I’ve done a little research…

Spokesperson:  Please.

Question:  …and what I just found was there were Security Council resolutions and I think at the end of the Korean War and these are very old resolutions and I just was interested that these are many years old and they’ve just gotten left and the UN hasn’t, you know, there hasn’t been much attention to the fact that this is still supposedly under a UN situation.  So I wondered, is any…

Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t characterize it as something that the UN does not pay attention to, because, as you see, the whole Korea situation is very much in the focus of attention, whether it’s in the focus of support for the six-party talks that you generally receive through the statements of the Secretary-General or whether it’s in the framework of the IAEA or whether it’s the Security Council. And as you have said, the UN command is there, but I think what you were alluding to yesterday in your question was the fact of an armistice treaty turning into a peace treaty.  I mean, that is basically, as far as I understand it, something that is for the two countries to decide.  They would decide that they basically want to conclude a peace treaty.  Once that is done, or even once the process is taken up by them, whether they seek UN support, in what form, it’s up to them.

I think the UN is pretty flexible in that sense and has a very good track record when it comes to managing, helping, assisting the negotiations processes for various different peace initiatives and to be involved in. So it is really up to those two countries, as far as I can see.  As regards any particular questions on this aspect, I think it is more really for the Security Council and more for the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General to see how this aspect is taken forward, where exactly it is left.

Question:  Thank you.  And then, the second is about the World Summit on the Information Society.  This was a very wonderful event that took place in Geneva, and then in Tunis, and then, I guess, I’ve been trying to find where and how this is being followed up.  And yesterday, in the Second Committee, I did see some brief mention of it and I wondered if, with regard to the committee structure, that’s the main place I might look for that, or if you might have any other suggestions of where to keep my eye on to try to understand what has happened to those developments.

Spokesperson:  I think the Second Committee is probably where you should be looking at it and see what the follow-up is on that.  Yes.  Please.

Question:  The Sixth Committee, legal.  Can you explain the jurisdiction?  Would that be Law of the Sea?  Would it include Secretariat matters?  Peacekeeping problems?

Spokesperson:  I’m not so sure I understand your question.

Question:  Okay, is Law of the Sea included in the Sixth Committee?

Spokesperson:  Yes it is.  It is as far as I know.  It’s one of those legal matters that is on the agenda.

Question:  Could you tell me some other legal matters that would be covered by them?

Spokesperson:  The main issues for the Committee this year.  One of them is the Administration of Justice within the UN system, looking at it from the legal aspect.  Another big chunk for the Committee is the criminal accountability of UN personnel in field missions.  That’s going to be taken up.  And there’s a report on that as well.  I don’t have the symbol of that, but I know it’s out because I picked it up from the racks.  There’s also the issue of international terrorism.  So I think those are the focus issues.  But, apart from that, as you mentioned, Law of the Sea is there also, the report of the International Law Commission, so, a number of issues.  But those three that I’ve mentioned: terrorism, criminal accountability, administration of justice, are probably, I would say, the key issues for now for the Committee.  Please.

Question:  I have a question related to the letter of the President of the ICTY, the Hague Tribunal, Judge Fausto Pocar, that was addressed to the President of the General Assembly.  Do you plan to make it public before the October 15, Monday when the schedule is the discussion of the ICTY?  That’s one question.  And second, do you expect an updated report from Judge Pocar about work of ICTY this year related to the complaints to the Croatian Government of diplomatic pressure?

Spokesperson:  On the second question, I’m not aware of any updated report.  As you quite rightly pointed out, the 15th of October is when this issue is going to be taken up in the form of a plenary meeting by the General Assembly.  That will, I think, give ample opportunity for all those interested in this subject to voice their views.  As regards your first question, yes, the letter, dated 5th of October was received by both the President of the Security Council and the President of the General Assembly.  However, as regards making it public and in what form, this is currently being discussed within the Secretariat.  Because, the letter, as far as I understand, does not make reference to any specific mandate, any specific documentation as far as the President of the Assembly is concerned.

Now, don’t forget that the ICTY is a body that was created by the Security Council.  So as far as what the Security Council does and what kind of mandate relevance there is and what the President of the Security Council can do as far as circulating the letter in a formal or informal way, that’s their prerogative.  As far as the Assembly President is concerned, it is less of a clear issue as just simply accepting a letter and circulating it.  So, that’s what’s being looked at.

If there are no more questions, then thank you very much.

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