17 January 2008


17 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.

**Security Council

The Security Council, in its consultations today, is discussing Myanmar.

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, began those consultations with a briefing.  You will recall Mr. Gambari intends to visit India and China later this month, and has a standing invitation to make a return trip to Myanmar.

Mr. Gambari intends to speak to reporters at the Council stakeout once the consultations have ended.  We will, of course, let you know.


On Kosovo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Kosovo, Joachim Rücker, gave his regular update to the Security Council in a closed session yesterday afternoon.

He said the 17 November elections were a success and that he considered them a sign of political maturity among Kosovo’s leaders and population.  At the same time, however, he expressed concern at the low turnout of Kosovo Serbs and the cases of intimidation against those who wished to vote.

Rücker also noted that, while the overall security situation in Kosovo remains calm, there has been a troubling emergence of radical fringe groups, who could exploit growing frustration among the local population.

We have a press release on this upstairs.

** Sudan

On Sudan, eight members of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), who were arrested by Sudanese Government officials in El Fasher, have been released, according to the United Nations-African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID).

They were officially handed over to the UNAMID Force Commander and Chairman of the Ceasefire Commission, General Martin Luther Agwai, in El Fasher today.

The handover ceremony took place in the presence of the UN-AU Joint Special Representative, Rodolphe Adada, who welcomed the development.  The release comes two days after the Sudanese Government military leadership notified the UNAMID Force Commander of its decision to release the JEM representatives.

A press release is expected soon.

Meanwhile, negotiations for a status-of-forces agreement for UNAMID continued today in Khartoum between senior UN and Government officials.  The negotiations on the agreement, which will regulate the mission’s deployment, have been proceeding smoothly, constructively and in a friendly atmosphere since they began early this week, according to UNAMID.

The UN and AU Special Envoys for Darfur, Jan Eliasson and Salim Ahmed Salim, were expected to visit today the commanders of Abdul Wahid’s faction of the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA).

** Sri Lanka

On Sri Lanka, in a statement we have issued earlier, the Secretary-General strongly condemned the indiscriminate attacks in the south-east of Sri Lanka on Wednesday, which left dozens of dead and injured, including children.  Those deadly attacks coincided with the expiration of the Ceasefire Agreement.

The Secretary-General reiterated his firm belief that the only way to stop further violence in Sri Lanka is through dialogue.  He urges the parties concerned to undertake genuine efforts to achieve a peaceful negotiated solution.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Conference on Peace, Security and Development in the Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo continued yesterday in Goma, with key discussions on nationality, identity and the local economy.

Representatives from the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) report some frustration among South Kivu delegates over payment of per diem.  Mission sources also say that, while President Joseph Kabila remains in the region, he is holding parallel consultations with key Conference participants.  The security situation, meanwhile, is said to be calm, with UN peacekeepers and Congolese law enforcement officers deployed in large numbers in and around Goma.

** Liberia

On Liberia, the Secretary-General’s new Special Representative for Liberia, Ms. Ellen Margrethe Løj, has arrived in Monrovia and assumed her duties.

Speaking after arrival, Ms. Løj said that, while much has been accomplished since the war ended there, the United Nations still has a lot to offer the Liberian people.  She added that she looks forward to working with the UN and its partners to support the Government of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in transforming the lives of all Liberians.

Ms. Løj replaces Alan Doss, who is now the Special Representative for the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

**Deputy Secretary-General

The Deputy Secretary-General today addressed a conference on migration and development here in New York.  In her remarks, which we have upstairs, she said migration has become a truly global phenomenon, which requires deep cooperation to make it a safe, legal, and orderly process.  It would be an act of profound irresponsibility to ignore the enormous interplay between migration and development, she said.

The Deputy Secretary-General leaves for Egypt tonight to attend an Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) symposium on South-South cooperation.  While in Egypt, she will also attend a conference on regional dialogue, and hold meetings with Government officials, the Secretary-General of the Arab League, and UN staff.  She’ll return to New York on 22 January.

**International Criminal Court

This morning in The Hague, the International Criminal Court (ICC) held a ceremony to swear in three new judges.  Daniel David Ntanda Nsereko of Uganda, Fumiko Saiga from Japan and Bruno Cotte from France each made a public solemn undertaking before the President of the Court, Philippe Kirsch, and the other 14 ICC judges.

The three new magistrates were elected by the Court’s Assembly of States Parties in December, during the Assembly’s annual meeting here in New York.

** Alliance of Civilizations

A $100 million investment in a Global Youth Employment Initiative and a multi-million dollar Media Fund were among the key initiatives that were launched at the first Alliance of Civilizations Forum.

You can find on the Alliance website a press release on all the initiatives launched during the two-day Forum that explored ways of building partnerships to promote greater understanding and respect among cultures.  The Secretary-General, as you know, participated in that conference.

**Noon Guests Tomorrow

Our guests at the noon briefing tomorrow will be the Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ Gender Adviser, Comfort Lamptey, and the Gender Advisers for the UN peacekeeping missions in Liberia (UNMIL), the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC), and the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT).

This is all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On the Pakistan’s People’s Party (PPP), I asked you yesterday whether or not the United Nations chief will respond to their letter.  Has he responded?

Spokesperson:  He has not responded.  As I told you, the letter was received from the North American Office of the PPP on 4 January, but he has not responded yet.

Question:  Will he respond to the letter?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.  You had asked about the letter from [former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir] Bhutto’s husband.  Nothing was received.

Question:  And do you believe that this will make a difference?  I know that you had said it probably won’t, but…

Spokesperson:  I cannot tell you at this point.  I don’t know.

Question:  The other question I have is on Algeria.  Have they officially expressed opposition to the independent commission?

Spokesperson:  As I told you, the Secretary-General met with the Prime Minister when he was in Madrid yesterday and they spoke about that.  There has been no official protest, if you want to put it this way, from Algeria to the establishment of the panel, no.

Question:  And the other question is on the Katrina victims.  I know that one UN official had visited Louisiana and Mississippi yesterday.  What conclusions were drawn from this visit?  And what are the recommendations?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any added information.  We talked about it last night.  I don’t have any additional information on that.

Question:  Can I follow up with you later on today?

Spokesperson:  Yes, sure.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  Regarding the establishment of the panel on the Algerian bombing, since this issue directly concerns the staff, has the staff been consulted on the establishment of the panel, and will there be any staff members on the panel itself?

Spokesperson:  No, it will be an intergovernmental panel.  The different Governments will assign experts who will be working in their personal capacity on the panel.  I don’t think there has been any special consultation with the Staff Union, but they have, of course, been expressing their concern throughout.  And, of course, they are concerned.

Question:  Following up on the question about Ms. Bhutto -- the letter that you’ve received is the letter her husband, Mr. Zardari, sent?

Spokesperson:  No, I said we received the letter from the North American office of the PPP, Bhutto’s political party.

Question:  Okay.  They’re also sending a delegation which is probably going to reach here Sunday evening or Monday morning.  Have you received any requests for meeting with the SG or anybody else at the UN?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.

Question:  Will they meet if requests come in?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.  The Secretary-General, as you know, is supposed to be leaving on another trip on Monday evening.

Question:  Could you tell us anything about the contents of the letter that you have received?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have the text of the letter with me, and I cannot tell you exactly what was…

Question:  It’s different from the letter that we were hearing about in the news, that Mr. Zardari was supposed to have sent?

Spokesperson:  That’s what I said.  We have not received that one letter.  Yes, Benny.

Question:  I understand that the Special Representative to the Middle East [Robert] Serry visited Gaza and Sderot today.  Do you have anything on that?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have anything additional.  I gave you the comments that Mr. Serry made.  If we have anything else, we’ll let you know, but I gave you yesterday, extensively, what his comments were.

Question:  [ United States] President [George W.] Bush had some critical words this morning about the UN effort in Sudan, which he apparently considers too slow.  Do you have any reaction to that?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t at this point.

Question:  On the Alliance, I know when they briefed last week you mentioned they may come back to have a briefing post-conference.  Do you know if that’s going to happen at all?

Spokesperson:  We can arrange it for you, of course, but I don’t know exactly when.  They were on their way back -- as you know, the Secretary-General left one day early, so they had one more day of deliberations.  They are not back, the people who are in charge of the organization and briefed you last time.  But as soon as they come back, we’ll ask for one.

Question:  So maybe some time next week?

Spokesperson:  Yes, definitely.  Yes.

Question:  Michèle, there’s a ruling by the European Court of Justice, saying that the UN’s anti-terrorism rules violated the rights of this Saudi businessman, Mr. al-Qadi, and basically calling the UN terror list into question, whether it provides due process to the people put on it.  Does the Secretariat have any response to that?  Any statement on it?

Spokesperson:  I’ll try to find out for you.  We don’t have anything at this point, but I’ll get some answers for you.

Question:  And I want to ask whether the Department of Management is conducting a review to see whether exceptions have been granted to allow, either now or in the recent past, Secretariat officials to get housing subsidies from Governments.  This was something that was said.

Spokesperson:  I will ask whether there is a review under way.  I had said there are rules.  Of course we can ask for you.  It wouldn’t be the Department of Management, but the Office of Human Resources Management.  Well, we’ll ask.  Yes, Khaled.

Question:  Yes, Michèle, I just have a question on the situation in Gaza.  I’ve been informed that the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) group wrote a letter to the SG expresses surprise that he hasn’t been announcing anything on the recent events in Gaza.  Do you have anything on that?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t know whether the letter was received.  I’ll try to check on that.  Until earlier today, there was no such letter, but we’ll try to get the information for you.

Question:  Okay, but is there any reaction from the Secretary-General to this escalation besides what his envoy said in Gaza?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have a specific one, but I know the SG has been in touch with the people on the ground about what is happening there.

Question:  Generally speaking, Michèle, when Israel goes in and kills Hamas activists, does the SG consider this to be legitimate?  And that’s why he doesn’t react to those things?  They killed like 25 in the last three days.

Spokesperson:  In this specific case, there were, from what we gather, also some civilian victims.

Question:  So why is there no reaction from the SG?

Spokesperson:  He’s still trying to get maximum information on what is happening.

Question:  But does he see this escalation as being helpful to the process that started in Annapolis?

Spokesperson:  Definitely not.  No violence can be helpful to a peaceful process and to dialogue.

[The following statement was later issued by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned at the current escalation of violence in Gaza and southern Israel, as well as in the West Bank.  He is troubled by the heavy bloodshed, particularly the killing and injuring of civilians on both sides and the potential for further casualties unless the situation is de-escalated.

The Secretary-General calls for an immediate cessation of Palestinian sniper and rocket attacks into Israel, and for maximum restraint on the part of the Israel Defense Forces.  He reminds all parties of their obligation to comply with international humanitarian law and not to endanger civilians.]

Question:  Michèle, it has been reported that Libya plans to deport 1 million illegal immigrants, and Human Rights Watch said that this would be against human rights law.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to that?

Spokesperson:  Well, he cannot have a reaction to something that has not happened.  It would be a pre-emptive thing.  Of course, we are going to be following the situation.  If it happens, it is a violation.

Question:  I just wanted to double-check the date.  You said 4 January you received the letter?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  No idea what it’s about?

Spokesperson:  Well, we know it’s about an investigation.  I haven’t read the letter myself.  I can try to find out what the details were.  But of course the letter was about the desire to launch an investigation and to have a tribunal set up in the [former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq] Hariri style of tribunal, which is what I had mentioned in earlier briefings.

Question:  Just one more thing on the Gaza situation.  I saw a report somewhere that Serry went to Sderot and expressed some identification with the suffering in Sderot.  Is that something that you read yesterday?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  Yes.

Question:  Generally speaking, if Israel kills or attacks militants of Hamas, does the SG or the UN system consider it a legitimate act of defence?

Spokesperson:  Well, I cannot answer an “if” question, a hypothetical one, but as I said on the Gaza situation, we are following it very closely.

By the way, I’ve just been told that [Special Adviser Ibrahim] Gambari is on his way to the stakeout for those of you who are interested.

On what we could say about the situation in Gaza and southern Israel, we are deeply concern about the situation.  We have said it before.  As I said, Robert Serry visited Gaza and Sderot and underscored our concerns at the heavy bloodshed, particularly the killing and injuring of civilians on both sides, and the potential for further casualties unless the situation is de-escalated.  There should be an immediate cessation of Palestinian sniper and rocket attacks into Israel and maximum restraint on the part of the Israeli Defense Forces.  All parties are obliged to comply with international humanitarian law and not to endanger civilians.  This is what I have.

Correspondent:  It’s not a hypothetical question, Michèle.  It’s not “if”, it’s “when”.  Israel has been killing militants almost on a daily basis and we haven’t been hearing anything by the Secretary-General about this except very general statements.

Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t usually react when it’s a case of warring factions fighting.  That’s the usual policy.

Question:  What about Israel’s incursion in Gaza, the day before yesterday?  They killed 18 people, including…

Spokesperson:  We expressed our concern.  Robert Serry expressed his concern yesterday and I read at length his statement when he went there.  So I think you got from Robert Serry, who is the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, the UN response.

Question:  But is the SG planning to call the Israelis to directly ask them for restraint, or tell them whatever he thinks of these attacks?

Spokesperson:  Well, I can tell you that it is today on the front burner for him and he’s working on it.  Thank you.  Yes.

Question:  Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) non-governmental organizations are meeting next week.  Are we likely to get any briefing from the new President of ECOSOC or anybody from the NGO system?

Spokesperson:  I can ask for you.  From what I gather, the President of ECOSOC should be in Cairo today, but we’ll try for next week to get someone for you.  Sure.

Thank you very much.

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