9 November 2007


9 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Hello. I see that we have a group of journalism students from New York University attending the briefing today.  Welcome to you.  And, you see, I’m turning off my cell phone.  Great.

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary-General travelled today to Punta Arenas in Chile, and from there began a trip to Antarctica, to see the effects of climate change on melting glaciers.  Yesterday afternoon, he had told a high-level panel meeting in Santiago that this trip is intended “to raise alarm bells to the world’s leaders” on the need to address global warming with a concerted effort.

The Secretary-General is currently receiving a briefing from scientists at a Chilean Air Force base, “Presidente Eduardo Frei”, in Antarctica, before visiting the Collins Glacier and then the Sejong Research Centre.  He and his team will return to Punta Arenas this evening.

Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General met with Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, and they discussed Chile’s contribution to peacekeeping operations, notably to help stabilize the security situation in Haiti.  The Secretary-General praised Chile’s success in meeting the Millennium Development Goals and appreciated the President’s efforts to promote South-South cooperation and to help developing countries.

He then addressed the Ibero-American Summit.  We flagged some of the points from that speech yesterday.  Copies are available upstairs.

On Sunday, the Secretary-General will travel to Brazil, where he will meet with President Luis Inácio Lula da Silva next Monday.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

We are expecting an update later today on reports, confirmed by UN peacekeepers in the North Kivu Province of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, that fighting has resumed between Government forces and rebel troops in and around the town of Karuba, north-east of Goma.

Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency is stepping up efforts to curb the spread of cholera, which has spread in five camps for internally displaced persons near Goma since October.  The camps provide shelter to 45,000 Congolese civilians from violence-affected North Kivu.  Health workers say there are now some 440 suspected cases of cholera among the internally displaced persons.  They are encouraged by the assessment that few cases have been reported in recent weeks. 

UNHCR says that violence in North Kivu has caused some 375,000 civilians to flee their homes since December 2006.

** Somalia

Accompanied by a large delegation, the President of Somalia, Abdullahi Yusuf, arrived in Nairobi yesterday to meet with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, and other UN officials.  The UN Political Office for Somalia says that Ould-Abdallah and President Yusuf will discuss the ongoing selection process for Somalia’s next prime minister.  Earlier today, Ould-Abdallah held talks with Ali Mahdi Mohammed, the Chairman of Somalia’s National Reconciliation Congress.

Meanwhile, our humanitarian colleagues report that some 50 civilians were killed and another 30 were wounded in the last 24 hours in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, because of fighting between insurgents and Ethiopian troops.  And this situation has caused a further deterioration of humanitarian conditions, with as many as 114,000 Mogadishu residents forced to flee their homes.  This brings to an estimated 850,000 the number of civilians displaced by the intermittent violence this year alone.

** Sierra Leone

In a show of solidarity with Sierra Leone’s amputee sportsmen, the Executive Representative of the Secretary-General, Victor Angelo, yesterday hosted them at a reception ahead of their departure for Turkey, where they’ll take part in the World Amputee Football Championship, which will kick off next week.  Angelo hailed Sierra Leone’s amputees for their recent contribution to the sensitization campaign during the recent elections.

UNDP has agreed to finance part of the amputee football team’s trip to Turkey, as the cash-strapped Sierra Leone sport authorities appeared unable to support the travel fees for that team.

** Lebanon

The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) today held a ceremony to mark the handover of responsibility for security at UNIFIL’s headquarters in Naqoura, from French peacekeepers, who had been doing the job for the past 29 years, to Italian troops.

UNIFIL’s Deputy Force Commander, Brigadier General Jai Prakash Nehra, praised the efforts of the French soldiers, commending their professionalism, which helped to keep the Force’s headquarters secure.

French peacekeepers will continue to serve with UNIFIL in other existing capacities, ranging from its Quick Reaction Force to the French contingent currently operating in UNIFIL’s western sector of operations.  We have a press release upstairs with more details.

**Palestinian Refugees

The UN refugee agency says that the situation in the Palestinian camps at the Iraq-Syria border remains very precarious for nearly 2,000 Palestinians trapped there.  In recent weeks, the camps have been blasted by sandstorms, making life even harder.

UNHCR continues to seek better solutions, including resettlement options, for the refugees -- both within and outside the region.  It has been working closely with its partners to improve the living conditions of the refugees in the camps.  The Agency estimates that some 13,000 Palestinians are still living in Baghdad, and facing ongoing threats.  We have more details in today’s briefing notes from UNHCR.

**UNEP -- Sustainable Development

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today launched a new global think tank on resource efficiency.  The International Panel for Sustainable Resource Management will provide scientific assessments and advice on the worldwide use of selected products and services, as well as their environmental impacts. 

The panel will focus on breaking the links between economic growth and environmental degradation, according to UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.  Among the issues it is expected to address are the environmental risks of biofuel production and metal recycling.  We have more information upstairs.

**World Food Programme

An online game that benefits the World Food Programme (WFP) has reached a milestone.  Yesterday marked the 1 billionth grain of rice donated to WFP through FreeRice, which is available on the web at www.freerice.com.  That’s enough to feed more than 50,000 people for one day. 

The site, which was launched a little more than a month ago, donates 10 grains of rice to the World Food Programme for every correct answer to its online vocabulary game.  We have a press release on that upstairs.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

We also have upstairs for you The Week Ahead, which includes details for you on the Secretary-General’s travels, where he will continue his trip to Latin America.  It also mentions other travels, including that of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, to Central Asia, and the visit by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, to that country, starting on Sunday, 11 November.

Before we go to Janos, are there any questions?  Yes, Masood.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On the situation in Pakistan on which the Secretary-General had issued a statement earlier.  Since then he has not.  But now, today in Pakistan, another almost 6,000 to 8,000 people were arrested.  Benazir Bhutto has been put under house arrest.  Will the Secretary-General have any comment on that, or anything that he’d like to tell the Pakistan Government?

Associate Spokesperson:  You’re right.  Earlier this week we expressed our concern at these developments and the Secretary-General, in particular, expressed a strong dismay at the detention of human rights activists and members of the opposition.  As you just pointed out, there have been hundreds more arrests reported over the course of today, and so the same concerns that we expressed earlier in the week apply to this.  As we said before, the Secretary-General continues to urge the Pakistan authorities to immediately release those detained, to lift restrictions on the media and to take early steps for return to democratic rule.  Yes, Jonathan?

Question:  I just have a question on procurement.  Apparently there’s been some news on the cases of two of the procurement officers who have been suspended.  Do you have anything that you know that you can share about them?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t.  As far as I’m aware, you’re right; some of the cases were still going through an internal process.  I don’t have anything to report just yet, but I’ll see whether there are any further details to share.  Yes.

Question:  On Somalia, where the situation has again been going from bad to worse, I just wanted to find out…there was once talk about some sort of a hybrid force being considered for Somalia, like the one that has been drafted for Darfur.  Is there anything going, happening with that, or was that just talk?

Associate Spokesperson:  I would just refer you to the [upcoming] report of the Secretary-General on this, which indicated that any possibility for a UN force… the conditions do not exist, necessarily, at this time for that.  There were other concepts, such as the concept of a coalition of the willing that might come into play.  But the information is in the report.

Question:  Actually I wanted to ask you about that.  I saw in his report where he says it’s not the right time for a UN force to go in.  First of all, who does the Secretary think would be part of a coalition of the willing, given that the AU, the AMISOM is not fully… are there some European or…?

Associate Spokesperson:  As you’re aware, the very phrase “coalition of the willing” means countries who themselves are willing to participate.  So it would be up to those countries to determine how willing they are to be part of this coalition.

Question:  I guess to put that in a report, I guess my question would be, the UN has put out, has asked for expressions of interest for infrastructure for some kind of a peacekeeping force in Somalia.  Is this based on speaking with any countries or is it just a phrase in a report?

Associate Spokesperson:  Our people dealing with Somalia, including the UN Political Office in Somalia, have been exploring and trying to determine what level of support there is for a variety of options.  That was reflected in the input that went into this report.  But, as for specific countries, it would be up to the countries themselves to determine and to announce what their intentions are.

Question:  I also wanted to ask…  There’s a Reuters story on this whole matter that quotes a clan elder in Mogadishu as saying we accuse human rights organizations and the United Nations of keeping silent about the massacres the Ethiopians are committing.  We are unhappy at their decision not to send troops.  Is the UN’s response that it’s unrealistic to send troops?

Associate Spokesperson:  Look at the Secretary-General’s language itself.  We’ve been evaluating the situation carefully.  As for not speaking out, as we just mentioned seconds ago, I read out a note about the number of people killed in the recent fighting in Mogadishu.  We continue to monitor this and we continue to implore all sides to avoid the fighting that has characterized the situation in Mogadishu and around it.  Yes.

Question:  How is the UN affected by what’s happening in Pakistan?  The UN has some pretty substantial operations there and a lot is run in and out of Afghanistan through there.  Can you…

Associate Spokesperson:  The UN operations continue as normal.  As you know, we have a peacekeeping force, UNMOGIP, that maintains a presence in the area between India and Pakistan and they’ve been carrying that activity out without any undue effect.  And, similarly, our civilian staff that works in a number of different [areas], whether they’re humanitarian tasks or support for the work in Afghanistan, continues with that as well.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  I just wanted to point out, about these 13,000 Palestinians in Iraq, who’s funding for them?  Is it UNHCR or is it coming from the Iraqi Government while they’re refugees in Baghdad?

Associate Spokesperson:  UNHCR has been maintaining facilities for them and they’ve had funding for that activity.  There are some more details in the extensive briefing notes for UNHCR today.

Question:  On the Secretary-General’s travels, is his travel to Antarctica, is there… this idea of carbon offsetting, has any arrangement been made to try to offset the carbon emissions caused by this travel to Antarctica?

Associate Spokesperson:  The issue of carbon offsetting is a complex and long-term challenge that would require creative thinking and a firm commitment to be addressed.  For the Secretary-General’s part, he wants the UN to lead by example, which is why, during the last meeting of the Chief Executive’s Board, just a few weeks ago, he obtained a commitment of all the heads of agencies, programmes and specialized agencies to move their own organizations forward to what we call climate neutrality in their daily operations.  But as for the specific trip to Antarctica that’s taking place today, that’s being organized by the Chilean Government, so we’ll be checking with them whether any carbon offsetting arrangements have been made by them, after this.  Yes.

Question:  Can you update us on Charles Petrie’s situation in Myanmar?

Associate Spokesperson:  Mr. Petrie continues to be there on the ground in Myanmar for right now.  Mr. [Ibrahim] Gambari, as you know, was in Myanmar in recent days and he did raise up the issue and express his support for the work of the UN country team and for its resident coordinator.  That’s about as much as I have to say on this for now.

Question:  Perhaps I missed it, but has the SG or anyone here said anything about Benazir returning and what’s going on in Pakistan?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’ve made our concerns about the situation in Pakistan known, and in response to a question from Masood I’d mentioned our continuing concerns about the arrests, which, as you may know, included the reported house arrest of Benazir Bhutto, and  we’re still trying to get some information on that.

Okay, and with that, I wish you all a happy weekend, and Janos, please come up.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  I’ll try to be short, leave you time for lunch, grab a sandwich, before I think most of you will run to listen to Mr. Bolton.  Very quickly.

**General Assembly President

The President this morning briefed representatives of NGOs on the work of the sixty-second session.

In this regard, I just want to flag something for next week: he’s going to brief the press on 15 November at 11 a.m.  That’s his second press conference for you, and he’ll give an update on where things stand as far as the Assembly is concerned, the Main Committees and especially as regards the priorities of the sixty-second session.

**Economic and Social Council Elections

As we were having our press briefing yesterday at noon, that’s exactly when the ECOSOC elections in the plenary wrapped up.  I did mention that no surprises were expected and that is, in fact, the case.  I’m not going to give you all the 18 names of the countries that are starting on 1 January for a 3-year term, but just note that all the 18 candidates that were endorsed by the respective regional groups actually got the two-thirds majority that was required for them to be on ECOSOC, as I said, as of 1 January.

No plenary meetings today -- but let me flag something for Monday that might be interesting for you.  Two things will come up on Monday, both of them in regard to the work of the Security Council.

The Assembly will be discussing the report of the Security Council to the General Assembly, that’s [document] A/62/2, which covers the period of 1 August 2006 to 31 July 2007.

Also, Member States will discuss the question of equitable representation on, and increase in the membership of, the Security Council and related matters.  For this, the Assembly will have before it the report of the open-ended working group of the sixty-first session of the Assembly.  That is [document] A/61/47.

This is usually a topic that attracts considerable attention from the membership, so most likely this discussion will overspill into Tuesday as well.

**Main Committees

As regards the Committees; for today, only the Third Committee is meeting in an open session.  It is concluding, this morning, its debate on the High Commissioner for Refugees’ report.

In the afternoon it will hear introductions of a number of draft resolutions, including ones that some of you have been more particularly interested in and that’s why I’ll single them out, not because they’re necessarily more important than others.  For example, the human rights situation in Myanmar and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will come up for introduction this afternoon.

The Committee is also expected to take action on a number of draft resolutions, and one of them, again, is something that has been in the news and you have been interested in, and that is “Eliminating rape and other forms of sexual violence in all their manifestations, including as instruments to achieve political or military objectives”.  This has a number of amendments, so all of that together will come up for action sometime in the afternoon, more like in the later afternoon following the introductions of those various, different drafts that I mentioned, so if you’re interested to sit in and listen, probably I’d say, around 4, 4:30, check in on the Third Committee.

As regards the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Committees, those are meeting in informal consultations.

That’s about all I have for you.  Any questions?  Please.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Forgive me.  You started this so quickly I’m not sure…

Spokesperson:  I apologize.

Question:  I’m not quite sure I got this right.  There’s a press conference Thursday, the 15th at 11 a.m.?  Is that the President or the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  That’s the President of the Assembly.  The Secretary-General, I think, as you heard, is still travelling.  This will be the second press conference of the President of the General Assembly.  Yes, at 11 on the 15th.  Yes, Jonathan.

Question:  What are some of these amendments you were referring to with the rape text?

Spokesperson:  It has to do with various paragraphs within the text -- some of them are pretty detailed.  The original text itself is about five pages and there are various amendments to it.  One already is for the title and there are ones on the various, different paragraphs.  The amendments tabled are coming from -- and I’ll give you who they’re coming from -- they’re basically coming from Angola on behalf of the African Group.  So we’ll see where that leads.

Question:  What exactly is their contention, or what is at issue here?  Do you know?  I’m sorry to put you on the spot; maybe you don’t know, but I’m just wondering what…

Spokesperson:  This is something I think it would be better to ask the representatives of the African Group, especially the Angolans, what their contention is, but one of the issues that apparently seems to be a contentious issue is the title itself.  While the title here, of the original text, as I’ve read to you, is “Eliminating rape and other forms of sexual violence in all their manifestations, including as instruments to achieve political or military objectives”.  I think one of the main amendments refers to the title, which would cut out the part as regards “including as instruments to achieve political or military objectives”.

Question:  And that’s to be inferred, something that has to do with what’s happening in Darfur?  Or what, what exactly?

Spokesperson:  That I don’t know.  You would have to ask the representatives of the African Group why they’re handing in these amendments.  And, of course, if you follow what is going to happen in the Third Committee, let’s see how the amendments will be taken, because the way the whole thing will play out is that the amendments will be voted on.  Let’s see whether the amendments will be accepted or not.  Depending on how that plays out, then the text will come up for vote, with or without the amendments, rather, with the amendments that have been accepted and without the amendments, of course, that have been rejected. So let’s see how that works out.  This was something that was already up for action yesterday, as most of you know, and then it got deferred to action to be taken today.  My understanding is that that action will be taken.  Matthew.

Question:  I wanted to ask you two questions about the report of the Host Country Committee that came out.

Spokesperson:  I’ve seen that, yes, but I have not picked it up.  I have not read it, but go ahead.

Question:  I think you’ll know; you’ll take a stab at these.  A Member State complained that they were not allowed to travel to Princeton, New Jersey, to attend a conference about the International Criminal Court, and the host country said they only have to give permission to go more than 25 miles from Columbus Circle for official UN meetings.  I guess, it left me wondering, aren’t meetings about a UN court…  What is an official UN meeting for purposes of this host country’s duties?

Spokesperson:  This is a detailed question.  I just don’t have an answer for that.  I’m not even going to try to improvise, so I’ll look into it and I’ll follow up with you and I’ll try to get the details for you.  That’s all I can promise.

Question:  And also, is it true that the ACABQ is in… is out of town and in Haiti?  Is that true?

Spokesperson:  Yes, that is true.

Question:  What are they doing there?

Spokesperson:  I’ll have to find that out and let you know.

Okay.  Thank you very much.  If that’s it, then all the best and have a solid two thumbs up weekend.

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