16 January 2008


16 January 2008
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.

Good afternoon, all.

** Kenya

The post-electoral crisis in Kenya continues today, with the start of three days of opposition rallies.  The United Nations country team reports that the western towns of Kisumu and Eldoret, as well as the capital Nairobi and towns along the Kenyan coast, including Mombasa, are all now theatres of clashes between security forces and youth gangs.

John Holmes, the Emergency Relief Coordinator, will be here shortly to give you more details on our humanitarian efforts in Kenya and to launch a flash appeal for Kenya.

**Security Council

At 3 this afternoon, the Security Council will hold an open meeting to discuss the UN Mission in Kosovo.  That meeting will then be followed by a private meeting, also on Kosovo.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Kosovo, Joachim Rücker, will attend both meetings.

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York from Madrid.

On Wednesday morning, he met with Jorge Sampaio, the High Representative for the Alliance of Civilizations, and then with the First Deputy Prime Minister and the Foreign Minister of Spain before leaving Madrid.  He is expected to be back in New York later today.

In addition to his other bilateral meetings yesterday that I mentioned to you earlier, the Secretary-General also met yesterday evening with the Prime Minister of Algeria.

The Secretary-General is scheduled to leave again next week for Geneva, where he will on Tuesday visit the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights as we are launching this year a series of events worldwide to mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In Geneva, he will address the Conference on Disarmament and launch the consolidated appeal for 2008.  One highlight of his visit to Geneva will be a memorial service for the victims of the Algiers bombing.

He will then leave for Davos to attend the World Economic Forum.  We will have further details on his itinerary later this week.

** Gaza

The UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, made his first visit to Gaza yesterday in his present capacity.

In remarks to the press, he said he had been informed that a major Israeli incursion into Gaza had left at least 14 people dead and over 40 injured, and that among the dead were civilians.  The scale of the bloodshed was deeply alarming, he said.  He added that he particularly deplored the killing and injuring of civilians.

The Israel Defense Forces must ensure that they strictly comply with international humanitarian law and that their operations do not endanger civilians, he stressed.

Serry also said he had been informed that a civilian, apparently an Ecuadorean national, had been killed by Palestinian sniper fire into Israel and that rockets had again been fired at the Israeli town of Sderot.  He deplored both acts and said he failed to see what Gazans were going to win if the present situation continued.

Expressing deep worry about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, Serry said that Gazans were paying a heavy price for the actions of a few.  He also appealed to all parties to end the violence.

We have upstairs a transcript of his full press encounter.

** Sudan

On Sudan, on the second day of their visit in Darfur, the United Nations and African Union Special Envoys for Darfur, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, met with the United Resistance Front (URF) in an undisclosed location in north-west Darfur.  The four-hour meeting was the first with the United Resistance Front, which said it was now ready to present its political and military structure, as promised in Juba last November.

The Special Envoys will continue their tour of the region tomorrow with a visit to the commanders of Abdul Wahid’s faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA).

Meanwhile, Rodolphe Adada, the United Nations-African Union (AU) Joint Special Representative for Darfur, today paid a courtesy call on the new Sudanese Foreign Minister, Deng Alor.  The two agreed to maintain regular contacts to remove any difficulties that stand in the way of the smooth deployment of the UN-AU Hybrid Operation and to help with expediting the ongoing Darfur peace process at all levels.

We have press releases upstairs with more details on both the Envoys’ meeting and Adada’s work.

** Iraq

In his latest report to the Security Council on Iraq, the Secretary-General says that the reduction in the overall number of attacks reported across Iraq is a welcome development.

However, he adds that, in order to sustain recent security improvements, similar improvements in the political arena are needed and, to date, the political process has not shown the degree of progress that many had hoped for.

The Secretary-General says that his Special Representative, Staffan de Mistura, will continue to direct United Nations good offices towards encouraging genuine engagement by the leaders of Iraq on the core political disagreements.  He is also closely reviewing every aspect of the UN Mission in Iraq’s work to see how progress can be made in implementing the expanded role it was given in resolution 1770 (2007).

The report is out on the racks today.


Out on the racks today also is the Secretary-General’s latest report to the General Assembly on best practices in peacekeeping.  The report is an overview of United Nations policy on identifying, among others, how expertise and experience in best practices are being used.

The Secretary-General also evaluates the methodology and tools used to manage best practices in peacekeeping operations since the introduction in 2005 of a new system for these activities.

**Peacekeeping -- Gender Advisers’ Workshop

Gender advisers and focal points from all UN peacekeeping missions are taking part in an annual training and strategic planning workshop here at Headquarters this week.  Topics being discussed include best practices, gender mainstreaming and other global priorities.

Addressing the session yesterday, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno noted the progress made in integrating gender issues more systematically into peacekeeping.  These include increasing the numbers of women elected to office; supporting the adoption of gender-sensitive laws on rape, domestic violence and inheritance rights; and supporting national police in recruiting more women into security services.  There has also been modest progress in appointing women to senior roles in peacekeeping, as well as increased deployment of women by troop- and police-contributing countries, he noted.

Nevertheless, challenges remain in translating the growing body of policies and guidelines into practice, as well as in confronting passive resistance to gender issues among peacekeeping personnel.

** Bangladesh

On Bangladesh, the World Food Programme (WFP) has issued an urgent appeal for an additional $22 million so that it can continue providing emergency assistance to more than 2 million people affected by Cyclone Sidr.

WFP has so far delivered 20,000 tons of emergency food since the November storm.   But it needs at least another 30,000 metric tons of food for the poorest of the survivors, who are trying to rebuild their homes and replant their fields for the next harvest.

We have more information upstairs.

**International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

In a statement issued in The Hague earlier, Serge Brammertz, the new Prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, thanked his predecessors for their leadership.  He also pledged to continue their work by ensuring the successful conduct of all current and pending criminal proceedings.

With 26 suspects on trial, 9 in appeals proceedings and 11 others awaiting trial, Brammertz said that one of his top priorities is to obtain the arrest and transfer of the four remaining fugitives, particularly Ratko Mladić and Radovan Karadžić.  Starting next week, Brammertz said he will be meeting with relevant authorities in the former Yugoslavia and representatives of other States and international bodies to discuss cooperation.

We have copies of his statement upstairs.

**Holocaust Remembrance

Holocaust Remembrance Week will kick off here at UN Headquarters tomorrow with the opening of an art exhibit.  The display, entitled “Memorial Drawings: Remembering the Holocaust Victims and their Liberators”, will open at 6 in the evening near the conference rooms.

The Department of Public Information is preparing a list of all events to be held over the upcoming week.  As soon as we get it, we’ll share it with you.

This is all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Let’s have some brief questions because Mr. Holmes is with us now.  Yes.

Question:  Thank you Michèle.  The co-Chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party, Mr. Zardari, has sent a formal request to the Secretary-General this morning, requesting him to investigate [Former Prime Minister Benazir] Bhutto’s assassination.  I know you’ve answered this several times, saying that only if Pakistan requests it, the United Nations can intervene.  But has the Secretary-General responded to this letter, or will he?

Spokesperson:  No, he hasn’t.  I checked upstairs.  They have not received it yet. Yes, Rhonda.

Question:  With regard to that question, doesn’t the Secretary-General have the right to present something to the Security Council?  That’s part of his Charter obligations, so at times you’ve always said a Government has to present something, but I thought the Secretary-General, under the Charter, has the right to present to the Security Council an issue he feels is a problem for peace and security.

Spokesperson: Yes, this is true in some cases, however in this specific case we’re talking about the creation of an international tribunal.  As you know, the Hariri Tribunal, which this letter is supposed to refer to, is a decision that was taken by the Security Council.

Correspondent:  Asking the Security Council to do something is, I thought, the right of the Secretary-General.  It’s not that he decides it, but he can present to the Security Council something.

Spokesperson:  As I said, he has not received that letter yet.

Question:  But I’m asking…

Spokesperson:  A hypothetical question.  Let’s go into factual ones right now.

Question:  A second question is in regard to the exhibit tomorrow night.  If people want to come, it just said bring an ID.  Is that adequate?

Spokesperson:  Yes, that should be adequate.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you Michèle.  Is the Secretary-General concerned that his speech at his Alliance of Civilizations in Madrid might be read as centred around conflict between the Western world and the Muslim world, while the Alliance of Civilizations is about much broader subjects, including cultural diversity and…?

Spokesperson:  Well, Mr. Abbadi, I suggest you read the text itself and you will see it goes way beyond that.

Correspondent:  I did.

Spokesperson:  Thank you. Yes.

Question:  Michèle, can you confirm a report that Paddy Ashdown is going to be the new UN envoy to Afghanistan?

Spokesperson:  No, I cannot confirm this.  As soon as consultations bring decisions, the Secretary-General will first inform the Security Council.  Then you will know about it.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  We just heard from Kemal Derviş from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that the UN system had asked the Government of Algeria to block the street in Algiers prior to the bombing, and he said that the Government didn’t respond in any way.  I’m asking whether that’s something you can confirm.  He also said that there are six countries where -- I’m not sure if it’s UNDP or UN staff -- have been told to work from home and not to go to the central building, due to danger.

Spokesperson:  I don’t have to comment on what Mr. Derviş said.  He said it and he’s standing by his word.  Of course, it’s his prerogative.

Question:  He also said the external review will be “finished in a few weeks”.  That I definitely want to ask you about, since it hasn’t been named yet.  What’s your timeline for it to be finished?

Spokesperson:  Actually, we don’t have a timetable on that yet.  Let’s not second-guess what was said earlier.  Let’s go on to other questions.  Yes.

Question:  A quick question on the Alliance of Civilizations.  Yesterday, they announced a $100 million film fund.  Has the UN given any money to this fund, or is it all coming from private money?

Spokesperson:  It’s coming from mostly private and Government monies.

Question:  So the UN has given nothing to it?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have special coffers.  Yes, Benny.

Question:  There’s a report from Algiers that the Government of Algeria says that it hasn’t been consulted by the UN about the commission and it does not welcome it.  Can the investigation go on without the cooperation of the Algerian Government?  And what does Secretary-General Ban intend to do to convince them to accept it?

Spokesperson:  Well, as I said, he met with the Prime Minister when he was in Madrid.  We will not comment on what the Prime Minister is reported to have said.  As I said earlier this week, the independent panel is tasked with establishing all the facts concerning the Algiers bombing, but its scope is much wider than that, as it will address strategic issues vital to staff security in UN operations worldwide.  So the panel itself is not just about the Algiers bombing.  I’m sure there will be discussions with the Algerians once the panel is set up.  It will be set up.

Question:  But since the Algeria bombing is at least a part, and probably the trigger, for the setup of this commission, can it operate in Algeria without the cooperation of the Government?

Spokesperson:  We will try to obtain maximum cooperation.  Yes.

Question:  To follow up, yesterday, the Algerian Prime Minister, in a press conference in Madrid, said that his Government objects to the decision of Mr. Ban Ki-moon regarding the investigation of this bombing.

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s the same question that we had earlier; it’s the same answer.  Yes, Edie.

Question:  Is it fair to say that the question of an investigation by an independent commission was discussed by the Secretary-General and the Prime Minister this morning at their meeting, and is there any further readout on what else they discussed?

Spokesperson:  No, nothing further than what I said.  They discussed mainly the establishment of the independent panel.

Question:  With reference to this opening reception, I think it was tomorrow evening at 6 for this Holocaust exhibition, you said it’s near the conference rooms.  Does that mean in the basement hallway outside conference rooms…?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Correspondent:  The reason I’m asking is that I’ve not seen that used as an exhibition space.

Spokesperson: Oh, it has been, extensively.  Yes, Benny.

Question:  Following up on this question, had the Secretary-General, before he announced that he was setting up this commission, consulted with the Government of Algeria?

Spokesperson:  Well, he consulted with several Governments.  It was his decision that it was necessary to appoint a panel because staff security is of the utmost concern.

Question:  You said several Governments, was the Algerian Government…?

Spokesperson:  I cannot at this point say how extensive the consultations were, but it was a decision by the Secretary-General.  Because the security of the staff all over the world is at stake, it was important to name that panel.

Question:  I’m asking a simple question.  Was there a phone call, an e-mail…?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of directly.  There had been contacts since the Algiers bombing with the Algerian Government.  I don’t know whether there was a specific discussion on the panel before the panel was announced.

Question:  I know that you mentioned [UN Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert] Serry’s statement from yesterday, but is there, or will there be any reaction from the Secretary-General on the Israeli incursions?

Spokesperson:  Well, you had the reaction by Mr. Serry and we are deeply concerned by the escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel, as well as in the West Bank.  As you know, Robert Serry visited Gaza and Sderot and talked about it, and we have Mr. Serry’s comments upstairs.  You can have them.

We’ll stop here because I don’t want Mr. Holmes to wait too long, as he will be talking about the flash appeal for Kenya.  Thank you.

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