21 November 2007


21 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 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.

**Guest at Noon

Our guest at the noon briefing today will be Fatou Bensouda, Deputy Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, who will provide updates on the Court’s current trials and investigations.

**Secretary-General at General Assembly

The Secretary-General this morning briefed the members of the General Assembly in an informal session on a wide range of issues, from climate change, the budget, the capital master plan to the Middle East, Myanmar and Darfur.

He told them that last week could be called a moment of epiphany on climate change -- for him personally, as he visited South America and Antarctica, and for the international community, with the launch of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

He briefed the Member States on the capital master plan, and reassured them that the process to implement that plan will ensure maximum transparency, visibility and adherence to the existing UN Procurement Rules.

The Secretary-General emphasized that he is continuing with his plans to strengthen the UN Secretariat, including a priority to scale up efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals around the world, in Africa particularly.

He informed the Member States that, next week, he will attend the Middle East conference in Annapolis, and he added his hope that the meeting will provide the impetus for final status negotiations.  He also intends to attend a meeting of the Middle East Quartet, which is to take place in Washington on Monday.

The Secretary-General also briefed the members on UN efforts to deal with the problems in Lebanon, Sudan, Myanmar and Bangladesh.

** Chad

The first officers from the United Nations Standing Police Capacity (SPC) will depart for Chad today to start training recruits for a specialized Chadian police unit.  The force will be responsible for providing security to the 300,000 or so internally displaced persons and Sudanese refugees affected by the conflict in neighbouring Darfur.

This is the first operation for the Standing Police Capacity.  Five officers will leave for Chad today, while 11 others will join them in December.  Initially, they will be based in the capital N'Djamena, but as soon as the security conditions permit they will set up headquarters in the eastern city of Abeche.

There are already three UN Police (UNPOL) officers in the Chadian capital, and on 30 November another 32 will arrive, and all these, together with the SPC (the Standing Police Capacity), will help prepare the way for an eventual deployment of up to 300 UNPOL officers as mandated by the Security Council.

** Myanmar

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, spoke to the press in Singapore following his meetings with leaders of the Asia-Pacific region there.  He said that his visit had been “extremely worthwhile” and had provided a tremendous opportunity to meet so many delegations and leaders.

Today, that included meetings with the Prime Ministers of Singapore, Thailand and New Zealand, the Foreign Ministers of Japan and Australia, and the European Union Commissioner for External Relations.

Gambari told reporters that the good offices of the Secretary-General would need to be “beefed up in terms of its effectiveness”, in case the dialogue in Myanmar intensifies.  He said, “The Myanmar authorities have said that they preferred to work with the UN.  Now we have to test its limits in the high interest of the Myanmar people.”

Gambari announced to the press that, from Singapore, he would fly to Viet Nam, Laos and Cambodia before returning to New York.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning unanimously adopted a resolution, providing a new 12-month mandate for the multinational stabilization force in Bosnia and Herzegovina, known as EUFOR.

The Council also adopted a presidential statement that commended the Governments of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda for their joint communiqué on a common approach to end the threat posed to peace and stability in both countries and the Great Lakes region.  It expressed its appreciation for the efforts undertaken by the Secretary-General through the special mission carried out by Assistant Secretary-General Haile Menkerios.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

The Secretary-General’s new Special Representative for Côte d’Ivoire, Choi Young-Jin, arrived in Abidjan yesterday to take up his duties.  In a press statement on arrival, Mr. Choi pledged to work impartially with all political actors.  He also promised that the UN Mission there will stand by the Ivorian people until peace returns to their country.  We have more information upstairs.


The UN today officially launched the International Year of Sanitation -- to highlight the needs of the nearly 3 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to proper sanitation facilities.

In remarks made at the launch, the Secretary-General said access to sanitation is one of the most overlooked and underserved human needs.  It is a fundamental issue of human dignity and human rights, he added.  Noting that some 42,000 people die every week from diseases related to poor sanitation, the Secretary-General said the current situation is unacceptable.  We have his full remarks upstairs.

**Deputy Secretary-General

Addressing the General Assembly of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies today in Geneva, the Deputy Secretary-General stressed how much the International Federation and the UN have in common.

Both are charged with alleviating human suffering and promoting peace, she noted, adding that the current situation in Bangladesh was a reminder that it was in the field where both organizations could make the biggest difference in people’s lives.

She called for greater collaboration between the two in pursuing the Millennium Development Goals.  She said that the partnership could particularly be strengthened in the areas of health expertise, disaster reduction, and harnessing volunteer action.  We have the text of her remarks upstairs.

** Bangladesh

As various UN agencies on the ground continue their relief efforts in Bangladesh following Cyclone Sidr, the World Bank has announced that it will make available up to $250 million.  The funds will be used to provide food imports, medical supplies, and cash grants, as well as for infrastructure rehabilitation and flood mitigation.  We have more information upstairs.

** India

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Mohamed ElBaradei and the Chairman of the Indian Atomic Energy Commission, Anil Kakodkar, met today in Vienna.  Dr. ElBaradei and Dr. Kakodkar agreed to initiate consultations on an India-specific safeguards agreement.  For this purpose, an Indian team will have meetings this week with the IAEA secretariat in Vienna.

**World Food Programme

The World Food Programme (WFP) is holding a contest to find the best short video about fighting global hunger.  WFP will post the five most compelling clips on YouTube, and the video that gets the most views by World Food Day -- 16 October 2008 -- will win.  The winner will be invited to film one of WFP’s relief operations.  We have more on that in my Office.

Also from the WFP, the agency is urging everyone -- on the eve of Thanksgiving -- to help the hungry by playing “FreeRice,” the web-based vocabulary game, which donates rice to WFP’s global operations.


And speaking of Thanksgiving, this is a reminder that the UN will be closed for that holiday tomorrow.  There will, however, be a duty officer on call in case you have any urgent inquiries.  This Friday, as per usual practice, there will be no noon briefing.  But we will post news highlights from across the UN system on our website at around noontime.

**Press Conferences

And just a heads up.  There are several press conferences scheduled for Monday.

Starting at 10:30 a.m., Joanne Sandler, Acting Executive Director of UNIFEM; Ambassador Joseph Nsengimana of Rwanda; and Eliana Elias, Executive Director of Mingu Peru will hold a press conference to launch an advocacy campaign on ending violence against women and announce the new grantees of the UN Trust Fund to end violence against women.

At 11:15 a.m., His Excellency Idriss Deby, President of Chad, will brief you on the security situation in Chad, domestic and international efforts to permit deployment of a European Union peacekeeping force in the country, and other matters.  [The press conference was subsequently cancelled by the Permanent Mission of Chad to the United Nations.]

Our guest at the noon briefing will be Marijke Velzeboer-Salcedo, Chief of the Latin American and Caribbean Section at UNIFEM, who will brief you on a regional report on violence against women, entitled “Not one more!  The right to live a life free from violence in Latin America and the Caribbean”.

And at 3 p.m., that’s a very crowded day, the Permanent Mission of Sweden to the UN will hold a press conference to launch a report entitled “United Nations Arms Embargoes:  Their impact on arms flows and target behaviour”.

This is all I have for you.  Any questions before I give the floor first to Janos, then to our guest?  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On IAEA-India related activities, what is being discussed?  What are you looking at?  What type of agreement is it?

Spokesperson:  As I said it in the notes, they’re looking for a safety agreement on nuclear issues, on nuclear facilities.

Question:  … this sign …

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the exact information on this because they are meeting today in Vienna, so we won’t know until after they meet.  Okay?  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Michèle, I just wanted to ask you about that incident which happened with the French NGO who were trying to kidnap these children.  Has the United Nations done any investigation, or they will … any results of that announced to anyone soon?

Spokesperson:  This is being carried on, and right now the children are being taken care of, as I said earlier, by UNICEF, and they are still investigating, but this is being investigated by the local authorities in Chad.

Question:  Speaking of investigations, over the past years there have been a number of, I mean, a number of peacekeeping-related accidents where planes have been downed, people have, peacekeepers have been killed.  I mean, in one case I remember, I think it was last year, I think about 14 Pakistani peacekeepers were killed, and the investigations are continuing.  We have never been, any investigation, any results of investigation have never been revealed.

Spokesperson:  On each specific case, whenever results are available, you can get them from whoever leads the investigation.  If it’s being done by DPKO, then you get the information from DPKO.  On a regular basis, you have information on those different situations.  I cannot give you a blank answer, because each case is a different one.

Question:  Yeah, I understand that.  But, the thing is that, sometimes when such a thing happens we don’t … there’s got to be more transparency about it.  Until you go and push for it and they give it, if at all.  That is the case.  I mean, in the sense that they should announce these findings, if any, as to what happened.  And as it is over the past, I said over the past like five or six years there’ve been other accidents in which, accidents …

Spokesperson:  Masood, I would suggest that you take each specific incident you are interested in and we will try to help you through DPKO to get the results of what the investigation was.  On specifics.  Yes, in the back.

Question:  You know, Michèle, yesterday the direct talks between the Serbian leaders and the Kosovo Albanians ended in failure without reaching any breakthrough over the final status of Kosovo.  So my question is, in case of the people of Kosovo to announce their [unintelligible] independence, what would be the position of Mr. Ban Ki-moon on that?

Spokesperson:  I cannot answer a hypothetical question.  Let’s wait for things to happen.  As you know, a number of discussions are under way on this issue and let’s wait on this.  No hypothetical situations.

Question:  But, I mean is there any ideas or plans to be developed, in case of a new situation, by December 10th?

Spokesperson:  Of course, contingency plans are always part of the picture.  Yes, Ronda.

Question:  Yes, Michèle.  I had wanted to ask the Secretary-General during his press conference about his plans for the Annapolis meeting, whether he would raise the issue of access to Gaza and keeping that open, but is that … I didn’t get a chance during his press conference.  Could you ask him if that will be on his agenda?

Spokesperson:  He didn’t have the answer at the time.  As you know, he is one of the guests at the Annapolis meeting.  He’s not inviting; he’s not the person hosting at the meeting.  Whatever his participation is going to be is going to depend on the format and on a number of issues.  He’s just there as an observer.

Question:  This issue has been raised at … by the rapporteurs as a very serious situation, and since he …

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General himself, Ronda, has raised it over and over again, and I’ve said it over and over again, every time he has met a leader that could have an impact on the situation, he has raised the issue of the crossings.  This is a constant issue that has been consistently raised.

Question:  Could you report back if it is raised there and what the result of it … once that meeting happens …  Could you let us know?

Spokesperson:  Of course, we will let you know what the Secretary-General says, in this case, but as I said, the agenda is not the Secretary-General’s agenda.  It’s an agenda of the inviting party, which is the United States.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  I just wanted to ask one quick question about Iran.  There is a …

Spokesperson:  You have asked a lot of questions.  Yes.

Question:  I’m sorry?

Spokesperson:  Please.  Go ahead.

Question:  On Iran, the human rights group, I mean, there’s a group Baha’i group, which is also accredited somehow, where it is accusing Iran of human rights violations, especially targeting its Baha’i sect over there.  And they said they have written a letter to the Secretary-General.  Do you have any response at all that letters has been received by the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  I’m not aware of it.

Question:  Or is it … You’re not aware of it.  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Two, I guess, Russia-related questions.  One is, it’s reported in the Russian press that the Secretary-General spoke with Foreign Minister Lavrov today and is that the case and was … beyond Lebanon, was the issue of Kosovo discussed and can you say what the topic was?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the exact readout of what they said, of what they discussed.  I can get that for you, but, as you know, he has been speaking to a number of Quartet members recently, a number of people involved with the Lebanese situation, so he has been doing an intensive diplomatic effort through the phone.  So, I don’t have specifically what he discussed with Mr. Lavrov, but I’ll try to find out for you.

Question:  And also, yesterday, in the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly, the representative of the Russian Federation, speaking about the UNAMID budget, called for, he said, “a serious investigation”, and also questioned why, when the Security Council voted on UNAMID at the end of July, why they weren’t made aware of the extraordinary measures, meaning the sole source contract with Lockheed Martin and the desire to go sole source and waive all the rules.  So they’ve raised that as a question in the General Assembly.  And I think that …

Spokesperson:  I think that I already answered that question, it seems to me.  You know, we said that they had a contract for six months.  Beyond those six months, there are going to be measures, of course, it would be an open procurement situation …

Question:  But they’re asking very specifically.  Since, now, documents show that the sole source with Lockheed Martin began … the process began in April, why DPKO or the Secretariat didn’t tell the Security Council in July, before they voted, that it was going to be a sole source contract?  That’s a question that he raised specifically.  I’m only raising it now, because it’s something new.  I only became aware of it yesterday afternoon, but it was raised yesterday in the Fifth Committee.  So, I’m wondering … it seems like a fair question.  Is it … maybe you don’t … maybe it’s for DPKO to answer, but whoever briefed the Security Council leading up to the UNAMID resolution, Russia wants to have asked, why weren’t they told that this process began in April?  So that’s a new question.

Spokesperson:  Yes, we can get that question to DPKO.

Question:  Actually, as a follow-up … France has also raised the questions of, you know, they want to know why nobody else was consulted and how we went from 750 millions of dollars to 250 millions of dollars.  So, could we have a briefing…?

Spokesperson:  There was a briefing by Mr. Guéhenno where he addressed that issue of the 750 and the 250.  I think he answered specifically that question, if I remember correctly.  I can go back to the record and find out.  Warren Sach and Alicia Barcena also spoke on this

Question:  …but the only thing is that since Mr. Sach spoke here, documents have emerged showing that Warren Sach himself wrote a memo criticizing the contract … it would be really good to have a briefing on that …

Spokesperson:  Okay, we can try to get someone for you from DPKO

Question:  …would it be possible to have a briefing on that contract, to …

Question:  Yes, absolutely.  We would like to know how …

Question:  …can we make that request to have a briefing on that issue, similar like…?

Spokesperson:  Sure.  We can get someone from DPKO to come and discuss the specificities of the contract.

Question:  Why not from the procurement?  That would be much better.

Spokesperson:  Okay, we can try.

Question:  Or both, yeah.

Spokesperson:  Okay, we’ll try to get that for you.

Question:  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Probably after Thanksgiving.  As you know we don’t have a briefing before that.

Question:  Either way.

Spokesperson:  Yes, Celhia.  You’re right.  Any other questions?  I’m going to invite Janos to come up before I invite our guest to come.  We have the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

I’ll try to be very brief.  Just a couple of things before the long Thanksgiving weekend. 

**General Assembly

I think Michèle mentioned that the Secretary-General addressed the General Assembly informal meeting where he basically gave a run-down of his most recent activities and other developments, concentrating especially on climate change.  Just for your knowledge, there were 17 speakers who then took the floor asking questions, commenting on what the Secretary-General said, but most of them focused, I should say extensively, on the climate change issue, and in a very positive sense.

**Main Committees

As regards the work of the Committees, I did mislead you yesterday.  That was completely unintentional.  I said that the Fourth Committee was going to wrap up work today.  It’s not.  It’s not meeting today; it’s still massaging some of the remaining draft resolutions that it has before itself.  So that’s going to happen on Monday, that is, when the Fourth Committee will wrap up its work.

The Second and Third Committees are expected to finish next week, as well.  Today, you will notice that the Fifth Committee is in action only in informals looking at various aspects of the programme budget for 2008-2009.

And then the Third Committee is continuing with taking action on various different drafts.  The ones that really interested you yesterday concerning specific human rights situations and the work of special rapporteurs, those came actually to the conclusion.  There were four of these situations:  the DPRK, Myanmar and Iran, those were voted on yesterday.  All of the draft resolutions adopted, and this morning the draft resolution on Belarus was carried over, and that was adopted just very recently with 68 in favour to 32 against, with 76 abstentions.  I don’t want to detail the others more because those are all available for you.

**Next Week

Just two things for the plenary to flag.  On 26 November, Monday, the Assembly is meeting in plenary and one of the topics on the agenda is revitalization of the General Assembly.  On 29 November, Thursday, as well as Friday and Monday, there will be a three-day debate on the question of Palestine and the question of the Middle East.

In the Committees -- one thing that ties into what you have been asking about, meaning the UNAMID issue -- the Fifth Committee is, of course, going to continue with a number of informal meetings.  If I remember correctly, the agenda, at the moment, looks as though that the UNAMID budget, including the sole source contract, is going to be further discussed in informals, on Monday, and then later on Tuesday and on Thursday, so that stays on the agenda.

Apart from wishing you a happy Thanksgiving, I don’t have anything else, unless you have questions.  Ronda.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Is it possible to get readout on how the particular countries voted on the Third Committee resolution?  Is that available publicly?

Spokesperson:  The ones on DPRK, Myanmar and Iran, those are available in the DPI press release which is on the web.  As regards Belarus, I have the voting sheet here.  I have only one copy, but if you’re interested I can share that with you, definitely make copies.  Please.

Question:  It was brought up yesterday, in the Fifth Committee, in that discussion of the UNAMID budget, the representative of Singapore asked a series of questions, on the record, and said … at the end of asking the questions, said, we’ve asked these questions in a formal session and we’d like the answers also in a formal session.  So I’m trying to figure out how … who decides whether the answers given by the Secretariat are done in a public session or done in an informals and in a more confidential setting.

Spokesperson:  As you know, and we have always said this so many times, the Committees, the Assembly, is the master of its own procedure, so if they decide that they want to bring this to a formal session, once again, I’m sure that that’s up to them.  But if you remember, and I think it is part of the write-up, as well -- and I know that you were sitting in the meeting -- it was promised that as far as the informals were concerned, all of the questions on UNAMID will be answered.  There will be people coming who will be giving the answers on these various issues.  So, as far as the Member States’ thirst for more information is concerned, that will definitely be satisfied there.  As regards the format, I guess it’s up to them to decide.

Question:  I’m only asking because the Singapore … he said explicitly they raised the questions publicly; they’d like to see the answers be also in a formal setting, which I guess means, public.  Do they take … does the Fifth Committee vote on how … on whether it’s … goes formal or informal, or how … does the Secretariat of the Fifth Committee decide?  How is that…?

Spokesperson:  I’ll get you the answers on the actual procedures.  But if you’ll remember, in general, the Fifth Committee tends to like to want to make its decisions on a consensual basis.  That’s why you get into all of the informals.  That’s why we get into something that you asked at the very beginning of our briefing sessions, which is the role of the coordinators.  That’s why there are so many coordinators in the Fifth Committee, so that they actually coordinate the (drafting of the) resolutions, so that ultimately there is no vote, but it’s done on a consensual basis.  That’s the idea.

Thank you very much.

* *** *

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