22 January 2008


22 January 2008
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


And the spokesperson for the General Assembly president


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.  Our guest today is Stephen Rapp, Prosecutor for the Special Court for Sierra Leone.  We will have him in a few minutes, after this briefing.

** Middle East

The Security Council is holding a meeting today on the Middle East.  Briefing this morning, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe expressed continued UN concern about what he termed the “extremely fragile” humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip while strongly urging Israel to allow “regular and unimpeded” delivery of fuel and basic necessities to the area.

Mr. Pascoe emphasized the UN’s support for the humanitarian needs of the population there.  He also said, “ Israel must reconsider and cease its policy of pressuring the civilian population of Gaza for the unacceptable actions of militants.  Collective penalties … are prohibited under international law.”

Mr. Pascoe acknowledged Israel’s security concerns and condemned without reserve the “unacceptable” escalation of rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza.  At the same time, he also reminded Israel of its obligations under international humanitarian law to avoid endangering civilians in its military actions.  Mr. Pascoe also voiced concerns about the effect of the current upsurge in violence on the peace process at the outset of what he said should be a year of hope and opportunity for Israelis and Palestinians.

“The events of the past week have also underlined the ever present potential for the Annapolis process to be undermined by the deterioration of the situation on the ground, and in particular the continuing crisis in Gaza,” Pascoe said.  In describing the UN’s continuing actions to help alleviate suffering by civilians on the ground, Pascoe said:  “The work being performed by UN agencies, as well as NGOs, in Gaza is one of the few things that stand between the current crisis conditions and an even more dramatic deterioration of the situation.”

We have his full remarks upstairs.

In related news, the Secretary-General, before leaving for Geneva yesterday, called on both Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit to share his concerns over developments in Gaza and southern Israel.

Also on Gaza, the World Health Organization (WHO) today expressed concern over the health situation there.  WHO says it is particularly worried by frequent electricity cuts and limited power, which affect hospital generators, impede the functioning of emergency rooms and disrupt the refrigeration of perishable vaccines.

The agency also notes that its shipments of essential medicines into Gaza have recently been delayed at the border.  WHO also calls for patients to be given access to health care outside Gaza.

We have more on this upstairs.

**Secretary-General in Geneva

The Secretary-General is in Switzerland today, where he paid his first visit to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in Lausanne and met with its President, Jacques Rogge.  In that meeting, the Secretary-General and Rogge agreed on an expanded framework for cooperation between the United Nations and the Olympic Committee.

The Secretary-General also welcomed the Committee’s commitment to the Millennium Development Goals, especially concerning the environment, as he noted in comments he made to the press following the meeting.  They also discussed the positive social and economic effects of hosting the Olympics in the run-up to the Beijing Games.

Tomorrow, the Secretary-General will address a memorial service in honour of the staff killed in the 11 December attack on our offices in Algiers.  After that, he will give a press conference in Geneva.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Conference on Peace, Security and Development in the Kivu provinces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo has reportedly ended in Goma.  Delegates are said to be negotiating the substance of a final agreement between the Government and various armed groups.  UN officials at the Conference are monitoring the situation for us and we will update you as soon as we have more on that.

** Kenya

Post-electoral ethnic violence and large-scale displacement of civilians fleeing for their lives continue in towns across Kenya.  According to UNDP (United Nations Development Programme), the ongoing instability has increased the number of cases of sexual violence against displaced women.

The UNDP Administrator, Kemal Derviş, said in a statement today that it is time for the global community to recognize sexual violence against women in times of conflict as an affront to basic human rights and human dignity.  UNDP notes that there has been a spike in the number of rape cases reported by Kenyan health facilities since the start of the crisis.  It says that it is working to ensure that women receive the best protection possible.

Meanwhile, UN humanitarian agencies on the ground say that Kenyan civilians are now fleeing in greater numbers toward Tanzania, with some 500 people crossing over in recent days.  And the agencies now put the number of those receiving emergency assistance in the north Rift Valley at well over 130,000.

** Gulf of Aden

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is drawing attention to the deadly traffic in the Gulf of Aden that it says continues unabated, with 132 people dying last weekend and a total of 157 people dead or missing during the first 19 days of 2008.  Nearly 2,500 boat people were recorded arriving in Yemen during the same period, it says.  Most of them were from Somalia.

UNHCR has been calling for increased action to save lives in the Gulf of Aden and other waters.  It is also expanding its presence along the remote, 300-kilometre coastline and working with partners which have mobile clinics that can work at arrival points along the coast.  On the Somali side, UNHCR and other partners have set up information projects to warn people of the dangers.

** Mozambique

The World Food Programme (WFP) has started operating flights in central Mozambique, where flooding in the Zambezi valley has affected tens of thousands of people.

During its first mission yesterday, a WFP helicopter transported more than two tons of mosquito nets, tents and plastic sheeting to Mutarara.  The first consignments of food will be delivered today to the town of Goligoli.  WFP expects to deliver 74 metric tons of food to the town over the next five days.  The deliveries add to what WFP is already bringing in by road and by boat.

We have more information on this upstairs.

**Greece/The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia

The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Matthew Nimetz, met yesterday with the parties in Ohrid, in the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia.  The Foreign Minister of the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia participated.

According to Mr. Nimetz, the meeting was notable for being the first in which a foreign minister participated, as well as the first to take place in the region.  The negotiations were characterized by a full and open discussion and a willingness by the parties to seriously listen to their counterparts’ positions, Mr. Nimetz added.

There was agreement to maintain momentum by having the next meeting in a few weeks in Greece.

**Secretary-General Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Cheikh Sidi Diarra of Mali as his Special Adviser on Africa and High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States.

The realignment of the two functions under the same leadership is aimed at strengthening the Organization’s ability to perform and deliver its services more efficiently, while at the same time respecting the distinctive character of each programme.

Mr. Diarra has served as High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States since July 2007.  He has over 25 years of professional experience in international relations and has been actively involved in furthering African integration efforts and the African development agenda.

We have more information on Mr. Diarra and his bio upstairs.

**United Nations Children’s Fund

UNICEF today launched its flagship report on the State of the World’s Children 2008:  Child Survival, in Geneva.

The report highlights ways to continue reducing the number of children who die before their fifth birthday.  It stresses the importance of disease-specific initiatives combined with investment in strong national health systems.  Such community-level integration of essential services could save the lives of many of the more than 26,000 children under 5 who die each day, said UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman at today’s launch.

The report cites such innovative programmes as the Accelerated Child Survival and Development Initiative, which provides integrated primary care to impoverished households in sub-Saharan Africa, and the Measles Initiative, which has reduced worldwide deaths from the disease by more than two thirds.

**Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The UN refugee agency signed today a partnership agreement with FC Barcelona, one of the world’s most renowned sport associations.

The agreement, signed in Geneva today by UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and Joan Laporta, President of FC Barcelona, will help provide refugee children with necessary life skills through sport.

UNHCR says the partnership will gain from the UN refugee agency’s mandate, expertise and field presence and from FC Barcelona’s experience in assisting children in need in several countries through educational, cultural and solidarity activities.  This partnership will also assist UNHCR’s goal of providing education, sport and technology to 9 million refugee children by 2010.

**Guest Tomorrow

And finally, our guest at noon tomorrow will be Ian Martin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Political Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).

This is all I have for you.  Your questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  You said that the Secretary-General spoke about the situation in Gaza with the Israelis and the Egyptians.  Why not with representatives of the Palestinians -- the people most affected?

Spokesperson:  Well, he has been constantly in touch with them.  I don’t think that’s new.  What was happening yesterday was that he was making those phone calls to try to end the blockade of the Palestinians in Gaza.  So, he was talking to the two countries that control the crossings into Gaza, that’s why.

Question:  Just a follow-up:  can you confirm whether the Arab Group yesterday requested a meeting with Mr. Ban Ki-moon, and also whether they requested him to present a report to the Security Council today on the situation in the Gaza Strip?

Spokesperson:  No.  A report?  Not that I know of.  They did ask for a meeting with the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General was leaving yesterday afternoon, as you know, for Geneva, and he was making the phone calls I just mentioned.  There was a scheduling problem, that’s all.  So that’s the only reason.

Question:  Did he get a request from them…?

Spokesperson:  To report to the Security Council?  No, not that I’m aware of.

Question:  First, on the Congo:  it’s been reported that a peace deal or some type of ceasefire has been arranged between the Government and General [Laurent] Nkunda and that MONUC will be policing some type of a buffer-zone.  Can you confirm that?

Spokesperson:  I just said earlier that I am waiting for information from the Conference that just ended to find out exactly what the agreement was.

Question:  Okay.  The other question is about the Special Adviser on Africa post.  What’s going to happen with that other USG (Under-Secretary-General) post?

Spokesperson:  It is a USG post.

Question:  Right, but you’ve taken USGs and combined it.  Is there a vacancy or has that position been eliminated?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know exactly what is going to be done at that level … at the administrative level…

Correspondent:  Well, I know there’s been some controversy behind this raised by…

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t think there has … the decision to actually combine the two was linked to a decision to make the operation more efficient.  That’s why the Secretary-General wanted the two operations to be under one head, who happens to be the USG.

Question:  I guess I just wanted to address this other post -- maybe you don’t think this is controversial either -- some countries in the “G-77” had raised … when this Jan Beagle went from OHRM [Office of Human Resources Management] to Geneva, that post was taken from UNCTAD and assigned to her.  So they have raised that, even as part of the budget process.  Is there some attempt, one, to resolve that conflict, and, number two, where do we stand on having a new head of the Office of Human Resources Management here?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know about any new appointment at the position.  Ms. Beagle, as you know, has started her new post.  In terms of what is going to be done with the vacant post, at this point, I don’t know yet.

Question:  Is it an UNCTAD post at the USG…?

Spokesperson:  I don’t really know.  We can inquire.  I don’t know what difference it makes, but if it is an UNCTAD post, sure we can find out.

Correspondent:  The G-77 thinks it makes a difference…

Spokesperson:  We can find out.

Question:  I just want to go back to the Gaza issue.  Did Mr. Ban Ki-moon get any assurances from the Prime Minister of Israel that he will cease this kind of collective punishment and will…?

Spokesperson:  I cannot say.  I think what the Secretary-General pleaded for was to stop the isolation and actions against the population of Gaza, in particular cutting off supplies and closing the crossings.  So that is essentially what his intervention was about.  What Mr. Olmert told him is not for me to say.

Question:  Is he concerned again today by all this violence going on in Rafah, at the border with Egypt…?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, several people have intervened with those different actors to try to get a solution.  I don’t know who obtained the temporary solution, which we have now.  I don’t know how much influence was exercised by each side or how different players were acting yesterday to get the closing of the crossings to be lifted.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you very much.  Good afternoon, good to see you.  As promised, when I had my first briefing of the year, I said I would try to come back and give you occasional updates on the President’s activities and what is happening as far as the General Assembly is concerned.  So, it is in that context that I am here with you.

**Update on Activities of Assembly President Srgjan Kerim

First, let me start with the President.  President Kerim is back in his office and has begun a series of consultations and meetings.  These meetings aim to further his agenda to advance on the priority issues of the sixty-second session, which, as I’ve said so many times, are the following five:  climate change, financing for development, Millennium Development Goals, management reform and implementing the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

The meetings that President Kerim has on his agenda for the next couple of days include discussions with the President of the Security Council -- as you know, he has been meeting regularly with the given presidents of the Council -- and the newly elected President of the ECOSOC (Economic and Social Council), as well as the new Chair of the Group of 77 and also with the Deputy Secretary-General.

**Work of General Assembly

As regards the work of the Assembly -- as far as the next couple of days, or weeks, might be concerned -- this week, on Thursday, 24 January, the General Committee of the Assembly will have an informal briefing from the President on where exactly the Assembly stands, at least from the viewpoint of the President, as far as those five priority areas, and what are the next steps.  Please note that this is an informal session of the Committee, which means that it will be a closed meeting.

Then next week, on 29 January, the Assembly will meet -- again in an informal setting -- to hear an informal briefing, on the request of President Kerim, from the Chair of the Peacebuilding Commission (the Permanent Representative of Japan).  You may recall that this idea of informal briefings has been something that the President has been introducing and favouring.

In the past year there was an informal briefing by the Secretary-General, following his trip to Antarctica, to the membership in November.  Then in December, there was an informal briefing from special envoy Ibrahim Gambari.  The President did tell you that he wanted to continue with these informal briefings.  So the very first one is going to be, as I said, next week, on Tuesday, by the Chairman of the Peacebuilding Commission.  And, if you remember, the President also mentioned, when he had his closing press conference, that he would like to have Jan Eliasson, Special Envoy for Darfur, to do something similar.

As far as background information that has recently been posted on the President’s website, to give you some details about upcoming meetings, one of them -- and this ties into the priority areas -- is the two-day thematic debate, on 11-12 February, on climate change.  The President has issued a letter with the detailed programme and a four-page backgrounder on this event.  This is on his website.

Another recent addition to the website is a letter to Member States informing them that he has appointed the Permanent Representatives of Ireland and Tanzania as co-chairs for the consultative process on System-wide Coherence.  The two co-chairs are expected to launch a series of consultations on this issue and are expected to report to the President at the beginning of June.  The consultative process will be launched in an informal meeting on 8 February.

And finally, there is also another letter to Member States, which gives the detailed proposed programme of work for the preparatory process leading up to the Doha Review Conference on the Monterrey Consensus.  You may recall that this is set for 29 November-2 December 2008, in Doha, Qatar, and was set by a resolution adopted at the end of last year on 19 December (document Res 62/187).  That resolution called for the President to come up with a detailed programme of work to guide the membership’s preparations for the Doha meeting with a series of preparatory conferences.  The very first preparatory meeting is going to be in mid-February and will focus on the so-called first “chapter” of the Monterrey Consensus, which, just as a reminder, is on mobilizing domestic financial resources for development.

These are the details I wanted to flag for you and, of course, I’ll be coming back.  I won’t say on a daily basis, but most likely on a weekly basis.  You can also find me and we can also talk individually.  I’m open for any questions you may have at the moment before we turn it over to our noon guest.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  While you were away…

Spokesperson:  While I was away!

Question:  Yes, supposedly there was a request for the President of the General Assembly to start some type of hearings on suicide terrorism or suicide bombings.  The Simon Wiesenthal Centre said they gave a letter to Mr. Ban Ki-moon and Mr. Kerim asking to start some GA process.  Has that come across your radar?

Spokesperson:  I’m not so sure…  Are you referring to the full-page ad that was in the New York Times and also in the…?

Question:  Yes.  They also said that there had been a letter to Mr. Kerim.  Has that letter come in?  Has there been any action on it?

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of the letter being received and definitely not aware of any kind of process being started, at least as far as the request is concerned, which I know of from the perspective of the one-page ad that appeared from the Simon Wiesenthal people.  I think they were the ones who sponsored this.  If I remember correctly, I think the idea was to call for a special session of the General Assembly concentrating specifically on suicide terrorism.  I don’t know of any step being taken in this regard.

But, Matthew, let me remind you -- as you probably know, and as I have mentioned before -- one of the priority areas of the session is implementing the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.  That does deal with the issue of terrorism broadly and, of course, within that, suicide terrorism.

One of the main elements of implementing the Global Counter-terrorism Strategy, or one of the milestones on that path, will be the General Assembly meeting set for the beginning of September, which will be a two-year review of the implementation of this major Strategy, which was adopted on 8 September 2006.  So there is definitely a connection there, but I will follow up and see if anything has been formally received by the President’s Office.

Question:  One other thing, yesterday we had a briefing by Mr. De Mistura on what some people call “The Bunker” and which he called “bunker-ized” headquarters in…

Spokesperson:  Yes, that’s correct, which he doesn’t like to use.  It’s the new headquarters in Baghdad.  Yes.

Question:  Right.  He said that they are going to come up with a revised plan now for the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) in March.  Do you know, if the plan is revised, does it go to the ACABQ (Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions) again, or does it just go to the Fifth Committee?  How much does it have to change for it to have to go through the whole process again?

Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check the exact rules as far as having another discussion in the ACABQ and then going back to the Fifth.  I’ll have to check.  I’ll follow up and get back to you.

Question:  It’s been quite a while since we’ve heard about the Security Council reform process.  Is there any update on that?  Wasn’t the Assembly supposed to…?

Spokesperson:  Well, let me quickly get my cheat sheet just so I can get the dates right on the Security Council reform process.  Yes.  The Assembly held a debate on the issue of Security Council reform between 12 and 14 November.  Then you may remember that the so-called Open-ended Working Group chaired by President Kerim held its meeting on 14 December.  At that meeting, the President set up a task force that he himself leads.  The task force includes the Permanent Representatives of Bangladesh, Chile and Portugal.  And he also mentioned a timetable, saying that there will be focused debates within the framework of the Working Group in February, April and June.  So basically, that was the projected timetable.  So what we’re looking at now is consultations among the Member States and then, hopefully, the next meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group is then to be expected sometime in February, or at the latest, sometime in early March.  So there is movement on that, yes.

Question:  You had mentioned that there would be meetings of the Commission on the Status of Women sometime in January.  Has that not been decided yet?

Spokesperson:  I mentioned that in the context of your asking about upcoming meetings in January and that is more under, as far as I know, ECOSOC.  It has to do with the CEDAW [Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women] meeting.  What I mentioned to you at the time you asked was that, to the best of my recollection, CEDAW tends to be one of the first big meetings of the year.  I might be wrong on that, but let’s check.  We can certainly follow up on that.  I can check for you on exactly when they are meeting.

Thank you very much for your attention, and now I’ll turn it over to our guest.

* *** *

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