26 October 2007


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




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

Good afternoon, all.  Our guest today at the noon briefing is Mr. Ian Martin, the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative in Nepal.

**Chief Executives Board

The Secretary-General is participating in a two-day meeting of the Chief Executives Board for Coordination of the United Nations System.  This is part of his continuing process of harmonizing and rationalizing practices within the system.

The Secretary-General will lead the CEB [Chief Executives Board] discussions on management as well as on programme issues.

The Secretary-General will continue to push for a greater harmonization and realignment of business practices, including in the area of procurement, human resources, audits, accounting and transaction costs.  The aim is to make the UN system more effective and coherent in its business practices and to save money.  This includes the issue of internal audits.  Most of the members of the CEB have their own governing bodies -– made up of Member States -– who ultimately take the decision, so the aim of this meeting is to decide on the best path to follow to try to harmonize practices within the UN system when it comes to the handling of internal audits and deciding what gets released.  This is only the start of a process.  The same goes for issues relating to the Ethics Office, one of the themes to be discussed at the Board meeting.

In this second regular session for 2007, the Board will also discuss Programme issues:

On the subject of climate change, the Board will discuss how the UN system as a whole can best support the broad strategy of combating climate change as the UN system needs to coordinate its efforts in this regard.

On climate change, they will also discuss how to make the UN's own practices more climate-friendly.  For instance, the Secretary-General will push others to follow the Secretariat's efforts to make the UN building climate-neutral through the implementation of the Capital Master Plan.  Agencies, funds and programmes should be as carbon-neutral as possible.

The Deputy Secretary-General will brief the CEB on the Steering Group on Africa recently created by the Secretary-General.  The goal is to get the entire system to contribute and support this initiative.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Bosnia and Herzegovina

Yesterday afternoon we issued a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Bosnia and Herzegovina.  I will now read it into the record.

The Secretary-General is concerned about recent political developments that could hinder the functioning of central institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina, thus undermining the implementation of the Dayton Agreement and affecting stability in the region.  The Secretary-General reiterates his support to efforts undertaken by the High Representative to improve the efficiency of the central institutions in Bosnia and Herzegovina and believes that the High Representative acts in the interest of all entities and constituent nations of Bosnia and Herzegovina.  The Secretary-General looks forward to receiving a comprehensive report by the High Representative in early November.

The Secretary-General encourages political leaders and officials in Bosnia and Herzegovina to exercise maximum restraint, continue to engage in the inter-ethnic dialogue and constructively cooperate with the High Representative.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Central African Republic Round Table

Yesterday afternoon we also issued a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Central African Republic.  I will now read that into the record.

The Secretary-General welcomes the holding in Brussels Friday of the Donors' Round Table on the Central African Republic, to mobilize financial resources for implementation of the country's development programmes.  He thanks the European Commission for hosting this important event.

The Secretary-General commends the Government of the Central African Republic and its partners for the progress made so far in reforming and revitalizing its economy in order to promote sustainable development.  He calls upon the international community to provide generous support to help the country restore lasting peace through inclusive political dialogue, socio-economic development and strengthened national institutions.

He reaffirms the readiness of the United Nations to continue to support efforts to stabilize the Central African Republic.

**Global Health

The Secretary-General yesterday attended a meeting on global health with international leaders and top-level experts from academia, philanthropy, civil society, the private sector and UN entities.  The discussion was centred on existing global health challenges and what role the United Nations can and should play in advancing the global health agenda, particularly the health MDGs [Millennium Development Goals], in light of the growing number of actors and resources invested in this area.

In remarks delivered on behalf of the Secretary-General, the Deputy Secretary-General called global health “one of the greatest challenges of our time, but with an enormous scope for solutions”.  Despite the unprecedented involvement of health agencies and partnerships, the global health sphere is increasingly complex and fragmented, with no systemic approach, she said.

** Sudan

On Sudan, Jan Eliasson, the UN Special Envoy for Darfur, and Salim Ahmed Salim, the Special Envoy of the African Union, have arrived in Sirte, Libya.  As you know, tomorrow, the joint United Nations and African Union peace process will enter the long-awaited negotiations phase.

The two Envoys are holding bilateral meetings today with the parties, including the rebel movements present in Sirte, the regional partners, and the international community ahead of the opening ceremony tomorrow.

** Myanmar

On Myanmar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser for Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, today held meetings in Tokyo with Japan’s Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Vice-Foreign Minister and Deputy Foreign Minister. 

Mr. Gambari delivered a personal message from the Secretary-General to the Prime Minister, thanking Japan for its continuing support to the UN good offices in Myanmar.  Mr. Gambari and his counterparts discussed the need for the Myanmar Government to seize the current window of opportunity generated by the recent crisis to start dialogue with the opposition without delay and pursue an inclusive process of national reconciliation.

They also discussed Japan’s readiness to contribute to international efforts to assist Myanmar in meeting the humanitarian and socio-economic needs of its people as Myanmar takes concrete steps to accelerate its transition to democracy, and to coordinate with other key interested countries in this regard in support of the UN good offices.

**Secretary-General Report on Myanmar

The Secretary-General’s latest report to the General Assembly on the situation of human rights in Myanmar is out as a document.

In his observations, the Secretary-General said the tragic events of recent weeks in Myanmar clearly constituted a serious setback for the country, as the Government’s repressive response to the demonstrations comes at a time when Myanmar is striving to move forward towards national reconciliation and the restoration of democracy.

The Secretary-General believes that the Myanmar Government should seize the opportunity to take bold actions towards democratization and respect for human rights.

He also urged the Myanmar Government to be more responsive to the extremely fragile humanitarian and socio-economic context within which the recent demonstrations and crisis broke out.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning held a meeting with the troop-contributing countries to the UN Mission in Western Sahara.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Western Sahara, Julian Harston, participated in that meeting.

The Council is now holding consultations on Western Sahara.  Both Harston and the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum, are briefing on the Secretary-General’s latest report on Western Sahara.

We might have Mr. Harston at the stakeout.  We don’t know at this point, but I will let you know.

**UNHCR: Colombia

The UN refugee agency is expressing concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Chocó region of north-west Colombia.  A UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] team just returned from investigating last week’s killing, by an irregular armed group, of six displaced men who were working at a gold mine.

UNHCR says this is the latest in a series of abuses against the local population by such groups.  UNHCR is concerned that there may be more forced displacements.  The area, which is a rainforest rich in mineral and other resources, is also home to both Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities.  UNHCR stresses the obligation of the State, under international law, to protect ethnic minorities with a special relation to the land from displacement. 

There is more information in the UNHCR briefing note upstairs.

**OCHA: Latin America Website

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today launched a regional network for humanitarian actors and organizations working in Latin America and the Caribbean.  The project includes a new Spanish-language website, with up-to-date situation reports, maps, and contact information for use during natural disasters and complex emergencies.

The project came about after the realization that, whenever there was a humanitarian disaster in Latin America, information was often available only in English.  The website is at www.redhum.org.

** Burkina Faso : OCHA Appeal

The UN has launched a flash appeal for nearly $6 million to help 93,000 people in Burkina Faso.  This past summer, the West African nation experienced some of its worst flooding in decades.

Immediate relief efforts addressed the most pressing needs, but additional aid is necessary to help people regain their livelihoods and to improve living conditions.  The funds will support food security through agricultural programmes, as well as provide health care and safe drinking water and sanitation.

We have more information upstairs.

** Chad

Regarding the case -- which you may have read about -- of the Chadian children that had been stopped from being sent to France to get adopted, UNICEF, along with the UN refugee agency, is helping to ensure that the children's needs are being met.

So far UNICEF has distributed high-protein biscuits and toys to the children, and investigations are currently under way to find the children's family members.

UNICEF says that what happened in this case was both “illegal and totally irresponsible”.  When children are separated from their parents and their communities through natural catastrophes or armed conflicts, it should not be assumed that they no longer have a close relative living, UNICEF adds.

We have more on this upstairs.


The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) have signed a landmark agreement to support the Ministry of Electricity of the Kurdistan Regional Government in its efforts to rebuild electricity networks in northern Iraq.

With its programme support facility, UNDP will help distribute $150 million in loans from JBIC to Iraq.

UNDP also says it hopes to sign similar agreements with JBIC to support other projects around the world.

**Upcoming Press Conferences

And the press conference today.  Today, at 2 p.m., there will be a press conference by Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions.

Later today, at 5 p.m., Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, will be briefing you as well.

There are several press conferences scheduled for Monday.

At 11 a.m., there will be a press conference by Manfred Novak, Special Rapporteur on Torture. 

Our guest at the noon briefing will be B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, who will brief you on the Secretary-General’s plans for strengthening the Department of Political Affairs.

At 2 p.m., there will be a press conference by Martin Scheinin, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism. 

And you can also find our Week Ahead upstairs.

Any questions?  Yes, Erol?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  First of all, regarding yesterday’s statement on Bosnia and Herzegovina by the Secretary-General, whether the Secretary-General did it self, like a self-initiative by the United Nations, or whether he was asked by somebody, if so, by whom, to make that statement?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General made that statement on his own.

Question:  Even -- thank you -- even before he made his statement after High Representative Lajcák in Bosnia and Herzegovina announced his new package of the measures, the Secretary-General actually, excuse me, let me put again.  We are witnessing the harsh rhetoric from Belgrade and Serbian authority on the, in a way, to oppose the High Representative in Bosnia and even to try and connect the situation, the current situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina, with the ongoing, unsolved status of Kosovo.  Now, when the Secretary-General says that he’s following the situation in Bosnia, what does he think by that and what he’s willing to do to address this issue?

Spokesperson:  Well, first, we will not comment on rhetorical statements by anyone and we will stand by the statement that I just read that you had last night.  We have nothing more to add.  Yes, Edith?

Question:  Michèle, I was wondering whether there was any confirmation on this report in the New York media about two United Nations either security officials or officials having fallen through some glass.

Spokesperson:  Okay, what I got on this was that, shortly after 11 a.m. this morning, a UN security officer was in a three-wheel scooter.  He apparently lost control of the vehicle and he hit a post right at the garage exit at 42nd street on UN premises.  He also hit another security officer who was apparently in the vicinity and they were both injured and taken to the hospital by ambulance.  And we’ll keep you abreast of the developments, but, as far as I know, I don’t think it is life-threatening at this point.  Yes?

[The Spokesperson later added that, as of late Friday afternoon, one officer was conscious, with lacerations to the face and head.  The second officer did suffer a head injury.  He was put into an induced coma and later taken into surgery.  Doctors are optimistic about his prognosis.]

Question:  This is about UNICEF, the case of the UNICEF official being charged of the sexual harassment case in India, the Government has suggested it has credible information and it wants the immunity to be removed.  What is the UN role going to be in this case?  Wait and watch, or do some stronger action?

Spokesperson:  Well, if there has been, has there been a formal request for lifting immunity?  I will try to get some information about what happens in the case of UNICEF because, as you know, each programme and agency has different rules and regulations.  I will get the information for you.  Yes?

[The Spokesperson later said that, under the 1946 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, the authority to waive the immunity of any official of the Organization, including an official of the Funds and Programmes, is vested in the Secretary-General.  She added that, in practice, requests for waiver of immunity are reviewed by the Legal Counsel of the United Nations who makes determinations, on behalf of the Secretary-General, on a case by case basis.]

Question:  On Sudan, you said that Mr. Eliasson and the others were meeting, bilateral meetings today, including with members of the rebel groups.  But we’re hearing that more and more of the groups are not actually going.  So who exactly is he meeting with and what’s the point if hardly anybody is there?

Spokesperson:  Actually, right now they are obviously meeting some people.  Whether, we don’t know yet what the exact attendance will be.  I mean, as you know, the talks are opening officially tomorrow so we should have some more information for you during the weekend.  At this point, we are trying to reach them.  Communications are difficult, so we don’t have an exact count yet of how many people are there at this point.  But we’ll try to get you as much information as we can as communications are possible.  Yes, Erol?

Question:  Again, back to the statement, I’m a little bit puzzled although you gave me your full answer.  But, I really wonder how the Secretary-General decided just now to intervene with his statement because we know, for example, that he didn’t intervene, or react, or comment even, on the letter that was sent before on the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina that somehow predicted what could happen if all measures and all actions are not taken at the time.  So, I’m just wondering how, now, what about timing?

Spokesperson:  Well, the timing is simply that the Secretary-General feels that at this point it’s necessary for him to take a position so that the process of dialogue will continue and that the rhetoric will not be inflamed any further.  Yes?

Question:  There’s a report from Sri Lanka of a complaint being made to the UN about a display of Tamil fighters, you know, dead corpses displayed by the Sri Lankan Government.  So they’ve said that a petition was filed with the UN to say that this violated the Geneva Convention.  Do you have any awareness of this or do you know where in the UN this, where such a petition would have been filed?

Spokesperson:  No, I am not aware of the petition, but I’ll try to find out for you whether it was filed and to whom, who received it.

Question:  Great.  And also, earlier this morning Jean Ziegler was here, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food.  He said that he met with Ban Ki-moon in Geneva and raised to him this idea that he has that biofuel, the conversion of agriculture land for biofuels, is a “crime against humanity”.  That he said it to Mr. Ban, but he has no idea of what Mr. Ban thinks and that we should ask.  So I’m asking.

Spokesperson:  Well, at this time, as you know, the issue of biofuels is going to be the object of discussions among Member States.  The Secretary-General is not having a specific opinion, a personal opinion on it and this is, as I said, going to be discussed.  As you know, it’s a highly controversial subject.  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, at the border of Turkey, the Turkish forces are bombing the new PKK position and also they want to go on in Iraq.  Is the UN, I mean, the Secretary-General, does he have anything to say about how they are bombing in the north?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General had already made a statement on the situation at the border and we have nothing more to add on this.

Okay, thank you very much.  Janos?

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

I don’t have anything earth-shattering, or glass-shattering for that matter, but still some business as usual with the Assembly.  I’ll try to keep it short.

**General Assembly President

The Assembly President did deliver his lecture at Harvard Business School yesterday in the evening.  And as I flagged to you yesterday, the theme of that lecture was “Does globalization mean that national sovereignty is on the decline”.

I flagged most of the elements of the speech.  There’s a News Centre story on that out and there is the full lecture available for you on the website of the President, also upstairs in the Spokesman’s room.

**Main Committees

As regards the work of the Main Committees, the plenary is not meeting, however, all the committees are in action today.  Let me go in chronological order.

The First Committee is continuing this morning its thematic discussions on disarmament machinery and on conventional weapons-related issues.

The Second Committee will conclude this morning its general discussion on international trade and development-related issues.

The Third Committee continues this morning and this afternoon with presentations by Special Rapporteurs and Independent Experts, some of whom you will meet in the form of press conferences later on, as Michèle has flagged. 

The Fourth Committee is the only one that is meeting in an informal session today, with its Working Group on International Cooperation for the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space.

The Fifth Committee is continuing its discussion on the budget for 2008-2009 and, in the afternoon, it will hold informal consultations on the Capital Master Plan.  It is continuing those informal consultations.

The Sixth Committee is continuing this morning its work and discussion as regards the rule of law on the national and international levels.  And in the afternoon, it will hear reports of the Chairs of its three working groups.  These are on:  “Measures to eliminate international terrorism”, “Criminal accountability of United Nations officials and experts on mission” and “Administration of Justice at the United Nations”.

And I want to flag some things from next week for you from the menu of the General Assembly.

As regards the plenary, on Monday, the Assembly will hear the report of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) introduced by the Director-General, Mohammed ElBaradei.

On Tuesday, the Assembly is expected to take action on a draft resolution on “The necessity of ending the economic commercial and financial embargo imposed by the United States of America against Cuba” and, if you’re interested in that draft, it’s A/62/L.1.

That’s Tuesday in the morning.  In the afternoon, the Assembly will look at the report of ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council].

On Wednesday, the Assembly will look at the item “Sports for peace and development” and, in the afternoon, it is expected to take up the item on “Peace, security and reunification of the Korean peninsula” –- and will take action on a related draft resolution.  Again, for those of you who want to know what that is, it’s A/62/L4.

And Thursday, 1 November, the Assembly will look at the reports of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court.

Committees for next week:  the First Committee is going to look at various different actions on draft resolutions related to its work, so on disarmament-related issues.  The Second Committee will look at sustainable development.  The Third Committee continues the discussions on the human rights issues and, in fact, by the end of the week, next week, it is supposed to have all the draft resolutions introduced related to this item.  The Fourth Committee will have a comprehensive review of peacekeeping.  The Fifth Committee will continue with the budget.  And the Sixth Committee will look at the International Law Commission report.

That’s the quick run-down.  Any questions?  Going once… twice… Matthew.  Okay, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On the budget, if you could give some, an idea of how you know, with the Fifth Committee and the GA, when you would expect on past practice for them to actually vote on this new biennium budget and whether the GA or GA President, there was some dispute yesterday whether it’s $4.2 billion or $4.4 billion and whether that’s, I mean what is the size of the budget according to, I guess either the Fifth Committee or the GA President?  And when will they act on it?

GA Spokesperson:  Okay.  Well, I think there was a pretty good press conference yesterday, and you attended that, with Ms. (Alicia) Bárcena and Warren Sach.  And then, also, if you followed the discussions in the Fifth Committee, you will see that one of the issues that Member States are actually questioning, or around which the question is revolving, is exactly on the final figure of the budget, which we don’t have yet.  The outline was close to $4.2 billion and then we had the revised estimates, which go at 4.4 and then with the add-ons that you heard about, which we don’t exactly know -– and by “we”, in this case, let me say the Member States –- how much they would be, there is talk of 4.6, 4.7, 4.8, we’ll see what that will come to.  And then, of course, the question is -- and this is something that you have asked, I know that Benny has asked -- whether all of that would be voted on in kind of like a package deal sometime at the end of the year, or maybe, for example, there’s a chance of let’s say the Capital Master Plan part going through first because that’s something that there’s agreement on.  So all of that, we’ll see how that’s going to evolve.  That’s actually what is happening now in the Fifth Committee.  So I don’t have an answer to you as far as what’s the latest possible date, but, by the end of this year, there’s got to be a budget approved for 2008-2009.

Okay.  Thanks.

* *** *

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