8 November 2007


8 November 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  I’d like to welcome the six journalists who are visiting us today from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Morocco and Tunisia.  They’re guests of the U.S. State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program.  Welcome to the United Nations.

**Guests at Noon Today

The guests today, following a briefing by the General Assembly Spokesperson, will be Mark Richmond, Director of the Division for the Coordination of UN Priorities in Education at UNESCO; and Brendan O’Malley, author of UNESCO’s recently launched global study entitled “Education under Attack”.  We have more information on the study available upstairs and in this room.

** Myanmar

I’ll start with Myanmar.  The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, completed his latest mission to Myanmar today and flew to Singapore.  There, at the request of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Mr. Gambari read out a public statement on her behalf, which she delivered to him during their meeting earlier in the day in Yangon.

In the statement, the full text of which we have available upstairs, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi began by saying, and I quote:  “I wish to thank all those who have stood by my side all this time, both inside and outside my country.  I am also grateful to the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Mr. Ban Ki-moon, for his unwavering support for the cause of national reconciliation, democracy and human rights in my country.  I welcome the appointment on 8 October of Minister Aung Kyi as Minister for Relations.  Our first meeting on 25 October was constructive, and I look forward to further regular discussions.  I expect that this phase of preliminary consultations will conclude soon so that a meaningful and timebound dialogue with the SPDC leadership can start as early as possible.”

She goes on to say, “In the interest of the nation, I stand ready to cooperate with the Government in order to make this process of dialogue a success and welcome the necessary good offices role of the United Nations to help facilitate our efforts in this regard.”

In his own statement issued in Yangon earlier today as he concluded the visit, Mr. Gambari said:  “We now have a process going which would lead to substantive dialogue between the Government and Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as a key instrument in promoting national reconciliation in an all-inclusive manner.  The sooner such a dialogue can start, the better for Myanmar.”

In another welcome development, the Government of Myanmar announced today its decision to allow Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to meet tomorrow with the leaders of her party, the National League for Democracy.

Mr. Gambari will now return to New York and have the opportunity to fully brief the Secretary-General on his mission.  He has been invited by the Government to return to Myanmar and expects to do so in the next few weeks.

We have her statement, as well as the update from Yangon, available upstairs.

** Georgia -– Arbour Statement

Turning to Georgia, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, says she is following the latest developments in Georgia with concern, following the imposition of a state of emergency there.

She says she is particularly worried over reports of disproportionate use of force, the detention of opposition leaders and the beating of demonstrators.  She recalled that, as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, Georgia could not suspend fundamental rights, such as the right to life and the prohibition of arbitrary detention and torture, even in times of emergency.  Any restriction of rights must be proportionate and may only be applied to the extent and for the time strictly required by the situation, she stressed.  We have copies of her statement upstairs, and we are expecting a statement from the Secretary-General later today.

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary-General, meanwhile, is on his way to Santiago, Chile, where this afternoon he will attend a high-level panel on the Global Partnership for Development, along with the Chilean President and Spanish Prime Minister.  He will take the occasion to warn that, just past the midpoint in the race to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, the world’s scorecard is mixed, with a need to take concerted action now.

In the evening, he will meet with Chilean President Michele Bachelet, and then he will address the Ibero-American Summit, which this year has as its theme “Social cohesion and social policy to create more inclusive societies in Latin America”.  He will discuss the ways in which that theme cuts across all the challenges of our globalizing age and is intimately linked with the work of the United Nations around the world.  We’ll have embargoed copies of that speech.

The Secretary-General today left Argentina, where he yesterday held a working luncheon with the Foreign Minister, among other Government officials, with whom he discussed Argentina's participation in peacekeeping missions, particularly in Haiti; the Millennium Development Goals; climate change; and the Malvinas/Falklands issue.  He met later in the afternoon with the Presidents of the Senate and Chamber of Deputies, and he commended Argentina’s participation in peacekeeping, particularly in Haiti.  He added that the whole international community must cooperate fully in addressing climate change issues, and he underscored the need for political will at the leaders’ level.

**Security Council

Earlier today, the President of the Security Council, in a press statement read out, said that Council members condemned in the strongest terms the suicide attack that caused numerous deaths in the town of Baghlan in northern Afghanistan on 6 November.  They noted that this terrorist attack was one of the deadliest in Afghanistan in recent years and urged the Afghan authorities to make every effort to bring the perpetrators and organizers to justice.  The members of the Security Council reiterated that no terrorist act could reverse the path towards peace, democracy and reconstruction in Afghanistan, which is supported by the people and Government of Afghanistan and the international community.

There are no meetings or consultations of the Security Council scheduled for today.

**UNMIT -– Human Rights Report

Meanwhile, the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) today released a human rights report stating that the Timorese people enjoy a range of human rights, including freedom of speech, freedom to criticize the Government, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion.  The UNMIT report, however, points out that challenges remain to guaranteeing the fulfilment of human rights in a number of areas.  We have a press release with more information upstairs.

** Latin America Flood Relief

On flood relief efforts in southern Mexico, a World Food Programme truck convoy is on its way to the state of Tabasco from WFP’s emergency hub in El Salvador.  The convoy is bringing enough ready-to-eat-meals to feed 70,000 people for five days.  It is expected to arrive by late tomorrow or early Saturday.

Meanwhile, in the Dominican Republic, WFP is also distributing high protein biscuits by helicopter to some of the communities cut off by Tropical Storm Noel.  The agency’s emergency teams have also assisted nearly 20,000 people in Haiti.

And the World Bank is making available immediate emergency funds of up to $60 million for the Dominican Republic and Haiti, by redirecting funds from existing projects.  It is also preparing an emergency loan of up to $100 million for the Dominican Republic.  There’s more information on this upstairs.

**Secretary-General Statement on Chad

Before I get to the last item, I have another statement attributable to the Spokesperson, on the attempted abduction of children from Chad.  The Secretary-General supports ongoing efforts by the Government of Chad to find a solution to the attempted abduction of 103 children from Chad by addressing their immediate needs, attempting to quickly identify and reunite them with their families, and ensuring that proper legal processes are followed.  Senior United Nations officials in the region have already expressed their strong reaction at the actions of the relevant non-governmental organization.  The Secretary-General believes that this incident underscores the urgent need for all concerned individuals, organizations and institutions to fully respect international legal instruments on the protection of children.

The Secretary-General offers his assurances that United Nations humanitarian assistance will continue to be provided to vulnerable civilians in Chad, including for the hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people, refugees and host communities.  He is confident that the Government of Chad will continue to work closely with the United Nations and its partners to address humanitarian and development needs in the country promptly.  That statement is available upstairs.


We were asked questions at briefings over the past two days about reports that Palestinian militants last week launched rockets at Israel from a school run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, or UNRWA.  The UNRWA Commissioner-General spoke about this yesterday, as you know, and I have the following to add to our response:

The Secretary-General has asked that UNRWA fully investigate this incident.  According to their inquiry, the school had been evacuated at the time of the incident to ensure the safety of the staff and children during an Israeli military incursion.  While the school was empty, militants entered the compound and fired rockets at Israel.

The Secretary-General condemns this abuse of United Nations facilities, which is a serious violation of the UN’s privileges and immunities.  He calls on all involved in this conflict to avoid actions that endanger the lives of civilians, especially children, and that put at risk UNRWA’s ability to carry out its humanitarian mission.

That’s what I have for you today.  We have Janos here, for the General Assembly, and our guests.  Before we turn to him, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The Chief Justice of the Pakistan Supreme Court who had been sacked by the President has written to the Secretary-General asking him to intervene in this matter in Pakistan where the judges and lawyers are being arrested and incarcerated.  Do you know if a letter, or written communication…?

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm at this point whether a letter has been received.  I can check that out for you, but in the meantime I refer you to the Secretary-General’s statement and what he said at the stakeout before his departure earlier this week.  Benny.

[The Spokesperson later told the reporter that no such letter had been received.]

Question:  On Gambari, did he end up meeting with Shwe… General Shwe?

Spokesperson:  No, he did not.

Question:  He did not.  Is that seen as… is he happy that he hasn’t met with Shwe, or is that seen as… would you support that?  Would you have rather that he had met with…

Spokesperson:  I think you may have missed the initial part of the briefing where the Secretary-General…

Question:  I did not miss…  I heard what he said about Aung San Suu Kyi and, you know, I’d love to hear from her her, but that’s beside the point, but about him not meeting Shwe, is that something that…

Spokesperson:  I think you need to look at the totality of Mr. Gambari’s mission there.  I think the statement by Aung San Suu Kyi, apparently her first to the public in four years…  I think you need to look at what she said and the way forward and the fact that Mr. Gambari himself, when he left, has a statement out talking about the progress and process now under way, which is what he went for.  Yes, Edie.

Question:  Marie, as a follow-up on that, he’s not coming back here until Monday.  Where’s he going and what’s he going to be doing in the next few days?

Spokesperson:  He’ll be on his way back.  He will be back, I believe, in the office on Monday.  He will report to the Secretary-General next.

Question:  But the SG’s not going to be here.

Spokesperson:  There are other ways to report to him, other than in person.

Question:  Is he also going to be reporting to the Security Council.

Spokesperson:  That will be up to the Security Council’s request.

Question:  What about the General Assembly?

Spokesperson:  That, again, we’ll have to see what they request, but first he will report to the Secretary-General.  Yes?

Question:  The Spanish News Centre of the UN say that the United Nations denied accusations that UNICEF and the Refugee Agency were covering up the kidnapping of children in Chad.  Do you know something about that?  It’s on the website of Spanish News Centre of the UN.

Spokesperson:  I…

Question:  A Sudanese official in Al-Jazeera accused that UNICEF and Refugee Agency were covering up the kidnapping, the kidnapping of children.

Spokesperson:  Yes.  I’m aware of news reports of that and UNICEF and UNHCR have responded to this.  There is a UNICEF statement upstairs.  If you look at yesterday’s briefing notes, I did follow up on a question that was asked by Matthew Lee.  The bottom line is that UNICEF and UNHCR, on the ground, did provide a small amount of food.  In the case of UNICEF, I think it was some food supplements for babies valued at $130.  For UNHCR I believe it was a matter of helping setting up the tents to the NGO in question, unknowingly, and both agencies basically said that this organization had fooled everybody.

Question:  Do you know which Sudanese official was actually making this accusation?

Spokesperson:  It was in a wire report.  I don’t know.

Question:  Do you deny… they were not complicit in this whole episode?  The UN agencies are denying that.

Spokesperson:  No, absolutely not.  From the beginning, and the statement we just read by the Secretary-General, the taking out of children from their homeland is unacceptable.  That has been the UN and the agencies’ position throughout.  There was a question, basically saying that… whether some of the agencies had assisted these children once they were in this NGO’s care.  Yes, with the purpose of assisting the children, they had been involved, but it was not knowing that they were going to be taken out of the country.  Yes?

Question:  Did the word “trafficking” come up at all in connection with kidnapping?  Because Benny just saw this disturbing film here last night about trafficking children and this seems like it could be in that order.  Has anybody raised that point at all?

Spokesperson:  I think there is an investigation now going on by the authorities in Chad. 

Question:  Yes.  Two days ago there were reports of the deaths of more than 40 people from sub-Saharan Africa trying to cross illegally to the Canary Islands.  I’m wondering if there was any reaction from the Secretary-General and since he’s going to meet this afternoon, as you said, with the Prime Minister of Spain, if this issue will come up?

Spokesperson:  I can certainly ask for a readout of that meeting with the traveling party.

[The Spokesperson later informed the reporter that the Secretary-General did not hold bilateral discussions with the Spanish Prime Minister; they did co-chair a panel together.]

Question:  But there will be no reaction from you, today?

Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check with the Refugee Agency if it’s an asylum-seeking matter.  Yes?

Question:  One follow-up on Chad and then something else.  There’s now the Chadian senior judicial official has said that they’re investigating claims that 74 children were taken out of Chad a month and a half ago and actually are… you know, have left the country.  Is the UN aware of that and is there any… are the UN agencies also looking into that report?

Spokesperson:  I think I saw the same news report as you did.  I refer you to today’s statement by the Secretary-General.

Question:  Is that meant to cover that as well?

Spokesperson:  No, but today’s statement is the Secretary-General’s response to the current allegations.

Question:  Oh, all right.  In Kosovo, yesterday there was a press conference by Mr. Rücker, Mr. Ban’s Special Representative, where he was asked if he’s under investigation.  This has to do with Steven Schook, his number two, who said he’s under investigation.  Now, Mr. Rucker was asked if he was under investigation and had, I guess, the hard drive of his computer, it’s been reported that it was seized by the investigators.  And he said, quote, “You have to address this question to New York.”  So being in New York, I’m now asking you, is Mr. Rucker, the UN Special Representative in Kosovo, under investigation for…

Spokesperson:  I’ll look into that for you.  It’s the first I hear of that.

[The Spokesperson later informed the correspondent that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations was not aware of any such investigation.]

If there are no other questions for me, I’m going to turn to Janos before our guests.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  A couple of quick things on the Assembly.

**General Assembly

Let’s start with the plenary.  The Assembly is meeting in plenary this morning.  It had two items before it.

First, it took action on a draft resolution on “Support by the United Nations system of the efforts of Governments to promote and consolidate new or restored democracies”.  This was, as you know, deferred from Monday.  The draft was adopted without a vote.

What is interesting to note is that, among other things, the resolution decides to designate 15 September of each year as the International Day of Democracy.  The item, meaning this whole item of support of the UN system of the efforts of Governments to promote and consolidate democracy, is something that is on the agenda of the General Assembly every second year, so the next time this will come up it will be during the sixty-fourth session of the Assembly.

The second issue that was on the agenda of the plenary session this morning was the matter of elections to the 54-member Economic and Social Council.  Eighteen members are elected, replacing 18 retiring members.  We do have upstairs a fact sheet with all the retiring members, also the present members and the various candidates.  As you know, the elections are held by secret ballot, which means that there are no formal nominations, but there are declared candidates and endorsed candidates.  In fact, there are 18 candidates for the 18 slots, endorsed by the respective regional groups.  Counting is probably just going on now in the Assembly, so we’ll have the final figures, but nobody’s expecting real surprises. 

Also, a by-election took place, which was the result of the fact that Germany is relinquishing its seat in accordance with a rotation agreement it has within the Western European and Other States Group.  It actually has asked that this seat be taken over by Liechtenstein for the remainder of the term that Germany had, which is just one year.  A vote had to be taken on that and Liechtenstein in fact did get the two-thirds majority necessary.

**Main Committees

As regards the committees, as you know, the First Committee ended its work.

The Second Committee is continuing its work with the introduction of a number of drafts, and is also expected to wrap up discussions on eradication of poverty and other development issues and will take up the topic of “global partnership” –- which will focus on enhanced cooperation between the UN and all relevant partners, especially the private sector.  There’s an SG report on that which is in front of the Committee.  Just so that you know, the Second Committee is expected to wrap up its work towards the end of November.

The Third Committee is meeting to hear the introduction of a number of draft resolutions and take action on some others, and to conclude its discussion on the elimination of racism and racial discrimination and on the implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.  Amongst the drafts introduced was one that was calling for a moratorium on the death penalty -– that’s L.29 –- that is something that you have all been interested in; that’s why I’m singling that out.  It was Gabon that introduced the draft and, at the moment, what I heard is that there are 81 co-sponsors.  The Third Committee is expected to end its work towards the end of November, but most of the action is expected to be taken ideally next week on the various, different draft resolutions.  In the afternoon, the Committee will begin the discussions on the Report of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

The Fourth Committee is continuing its discussion on the work of UNRWA.  That Committee is supposed to wrap up its work by 15 November.

The Fifth Committee is only meeting in informals today on administration of justice and on the programme budget for 2008-2009 -- various elements of that budget.  It is supposed to end its work -– by the way it’s the one that goes on for the longest -- 14 December is what I have down as a date when it is ideally supposed to wrap up.

And finally, the Sixth Committee, which is also meeting in informal consultations today on various, different draft resolutions, including on three issues that are probably the highlight of the current agenda.  These are the measures to eliminate international terrorism; criminal accountability of UN officials and experts on mission; and administration of justice at the UN.  The Sixth is a committee that is supposed to wrap up work by 15 November.

One other thing.  I know that you have all been interested in the Third Committee and the Human Rights Council Report.  I mentioned yesterday that programme budget implications are expected on that.  If you look at the website of the Third Committee, it indicates that there’s an L.60 document that is supposed to contain that.  It will be out, available very soon.  So that’s all I have.

Any questions before we go to our guest?  Matthew.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I just have, only on the Fifth Committee that was on Monday supposed to take up this UNAMID…

Spokesperson:  Yes, that’s correct.

Question:  Darfur budget and including the no-bid contract?  Is there some reason that that hasn’t happened?  When is… what’s up with ACABQ actually issuing its report on that?  Can you characterize why it’s been delayed?

Spokesperson:  Well, you basically captured the essence of it, in the sense that it all depends on making sure that the ACABQ report is out in all the necessary six languages and that has not happened yet.  So, when that happens it can all go to the Fifth.  That’s simply what is holding things up.

Question:  Do you know if ACABQ’s work is finished and is being translated or is it ongoing?

Spokesperson:  I seem to be under the impression that that is done, that ACABQ has looked at it, and I think that it’s just a question of getting the document out.  That’s my understanding, but I’ll double check on that, not to mislead.  Benny.

Question:  Where are we on the Capital Master Plan?

Spokesperson:  The Capital Master Plan.  Yesterday, the Fifth Committee had an informal on that again.  I think it was its third, fourth informal.  It is actually… what it is doing is having several, I think it was probably the third reading of the draft resolution.  If you remember, when Mr. Adlerstein was briefing, he was saying that there was a generally good mood about the draft resolution.  He said… he used I think the words, “cooperative” and “expeditious”.  Let’s see where that will lead us.

Question:  It’s too late for expeditious.

Spokesperson:  Okay, well then let’s stress “cooperative”.  But, it is still before the Fifth and it’s being looked at, the resolution on that, that is.

Thank you very much.

* *** *

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