1 February 2008


1 February 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon on this rainy, rainy Friday in New York.

We have two statements attributable to the Spokesperson.  The first one is on the deteriorating situation in Chad.

** Chad

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned at the resumption of fighting in Chad.  He reiterates the United Nations condemnation of the use of military means to seize power.  He also deplores any action that could worsen the already grave humanitarian situation, especially in eastern Chad where the international community is actively engaged in activities to provide relief and secure the voluntary, safe and sustainable return of refugees and displaced persons in eastern Chad and north-eastern Central African Republic.

The Secretary-General calls on all parties to abide by their commitments under the different peace accords signed by them and to urgently resort to dialogue to reach a peaceful and negotiated settlement of the latest crisis.

As we mentioned to you yesterday, more than 40 aid workers have been relocated from Guereda, in eastern Chad.  A number of essential staff remain to ensure basic support in two camps, which host 30,000 refugees from Darfur.  The refugees there have reported their worries about the deteriorating security situation. 

In a separate development, an estimated 5,800 refugees from the Central African Republic had arrived in several border villages in southern Chad over the past few weeks, fleeing attacks by bandits in the north of the Central African Republic.  With the new arrivals, there are now some 50,000 refugees from the Central African Republic in southern Chad.

And you can read more about this in the UNHCR briefing notes, which gives you more details about their situation in eastern Chad as well.

** Baghdad Bomb Attacks

The second statement we have is on the bomb attacks in Baghdad:

The Secretary-General is appalled by the bomb attacks in Baghdad today, which reportedly left more than 70 people dead and many more wounded.  These attacks, the deadliest in the city in many months, were particularly callous in targeting innocent civilians gathered at two popular pet markets.

In the face of these provocative attacks, the Secretary-General stands in solidarity with the people of Iraq.  He hopes that Iraqi leaders will work together in a spirit of national reconciliation to prevent further violence and sustain the recent improvements that have been made on the security front.

And also, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, described the double bombings as “a heinous crime that targeted innocent civilians, and deserves universal condemnation”.  Systematic or widespread attacks against a civilian population are tantamount to crimes against humanity, he said.

**Secretary-General in Kenya

And the Secretary-General, he is, as you know, in Nairobi.  He travelled there today, and he met with his predecessor, Kofi Annan, the chair of the Panel of Eminent African Persons, to discuss the crisis in Kenya and emphasized his full support for the Panel’s work.  He followed that by meeting with Raila Odinga, head of the Orange Democratic Movement, one day after he met with Mwai Kibaki in Addis Ababa.

The Secretary-General told reporters afterwards that he had appealed to both leaders to stop the civil strife in the country, which has led to an intolerable level of deaths, destruction, displacement and suffering, which, he said, is unacceptable.

He warned that the people and leaders of Kenya, particularly political leaders, have the responsibility to wake up and reverse this tragic path before it escalates into the horrors of mass killings and devastation that we have witnessed in recent history.  He appealed to all political leaders to look beyond individual or partisan interests.

And we have his remarks upstairs.

Prior to the press conference, the Secretary-General had also met with a Kenyan civil society group, the Citizens for Peace and Justice, as well as with UN staff and the heads of agencies based in Nairobi.  He will return to New York over the weekend.

And the humanitarian situation in Kenya:  teams from the World Health Organization (WHO) are visiting hospitals and camps for internally displaced people in the towns of Eldoret and Nakuru, in order to assess the health situation.  The teams are also coordinating health activities and monitoring disease outbreaks.  WHO reports that, for security reasons in several areas, health workers have been unable to report for duty.

Meanwhile, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says that it has ferried supplies to three displacement sites near Nairobi, following the evictions of nearly 10,000 non-indigenous communities working mainly in tea plantations and flower farms around the town of Tigoni.  The supplies included more than 1,800 family kits, enough for 9,000 people.

For its part, the World Food Programme is still working to distribute food, but violence on the main roads and rising fuel prices are complicating that agency’s work.

There is a more comprehensive note on the humanitarian activities in Kenya upstairs.

**Security Council

And here, at UN Headquarters, with the start of the new month, February, we have a new President of the Security Council.  It is Panama, and Ambassador Ricardo Alberto Arias will brief you, as is customary, at 1 p.m. on Monday, following Council consultations on the programme of work, to discuss what the Council will do over the coming month.

As you know, today there are no Council meetings or consultations, but the Council President is holding bilateral consultations with other Council members on the programme of work.

** Gaza

Regarding the situation in Gaza, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Process (UNSCO) reports that the crossings remain closed today, so no trucks were able to enter Gaza from Israel.

According to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), Gazans are currently dealing with unusually cold weather.  But the power supply remains out for most of the day.  Over the last 10 days, UNRWA has managed to supply 112,500 litres of fuel to the Gazan officials dealing with waste management.  But this has fallen far short of demand, resulting in garbage piling up along the streets.

According to UNICEF, schools are to reopen in Gaza tomorrow, following the winter break.  But the schools will probably have no heating or electricity.  Students at UNRWA schools will have no books, as Israel thus far has not allowed UNRWA to take paper into Gaza.

Last December, when the consolidated appeal for the Occupied Palestinian Territory was launched, UNRWA appealed for $237 million in urgently needed humanitarian aid.  To date, it has only received 1 per cent of that.

** Tajikistan

Turning to Tajikistan -– which is suffering its coldest winter in 25 years -– the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says electricity has been cut to only a few hours a day in most of the country, including the capital, Dushanbe.

UNICEF is distributing power generators and has launched an appeal for more than $700,000 to help meet the needs of children there.  UNHCR is rushing stoves, blankets, jerry cans and other basic supplies to more than 1,000 desperate refugees, most of them from Afghanistan. 

There is more on that upstairs.

**Central Emergency Response Fund

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes today allocated more than $100 million from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) for “forgotten humanitarian crises”.  The money will go to life-saving programmes in 15 countries.

The largest recipients of these grants are the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Côte d'Ivoire, Pakistan and Niger.

In the last two years, CERF has allocated more than $600 million to projects in 60 countries affected by natural disasters and conflicts.

And there is more information on this upstairs.

**The Week Ahead

And we have for you the “Week Ahead” for your planning purposes.  I already mentioned the President of the Security Council briefing.  A couple of other things to flag:

As part of the Secretary-General’s ongoing efforts to increase accountability within the Secretariat, he will on Monday preside over a ceremony during which his senior managers will enter into a compact with him.  These compacts outline each manager’s priorities for the coming year, as well as targets for measuring their performance.

Each of these compacts has already been reviewed by the members of the Management Performance Board, which is chaired by the Deputy Secretary-General.  This group will also review each compact at the end of the year and make recommendations to the Secretary-General.

This important step is only one part of the Secretary-General’s vision of establishing full and effective accountability, not only within the Secretariat, but also between the Secretariat and Member States and, furthermore, between the Organization as a whole and the global public. 

And then, starting 5 February through 8 February, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, will be visiting Mexico.  She is scheduled to sign an agreement with the Mexican authorities on the renewal of her office’s presence in the country.

And then on Wednesday, 6 February through 15 February, the forty-sixth session of the Commission for Social Development will meet on “Promoting Full Employment and Decent Work for All”.

And then on 7 February, at 11 a.m., the World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will hold a news conference to highlight the key findings and recommendations of the WHO Report on the Global Tobacco Epidemic.

And that is what I have for you.  You can pick up the “Week Ahead” upstairs.  Any questions for me?

**Questions and Answers 

Question:  You just mentioned that Israel was not allowing paper into Gaza.  Do you have any specifics on that?  Is it because of the blockade, or…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I assume so.  We can get you more details on that, but you can look at the press release upstairs.

Question:  And another question I have is:  Can the UN verify whether or not the Secretary-General is appointing Lakhdar Brahimi as head of the UN probe into the Algiers bombing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We will make an announcement about the panel when we are ready to do so.  At this point we are not.  We have nothing to announce at the moment.

Question:  Was there any official explanation yesterday why George Clooney was prevented to meet with the committee on peacekeeping troops.  What would be the function of Messengers of Peace if they are not allowed to at least address UN members?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think Farhan, who was giving the briefing after that, was asked that question, and he answered that for you.  I think for procedural reasons this did not happen yesterday, but the Department of Peacekeeping Operations says that they hope to involve him in future activities involving troop and police contributors to vital peacekeeping operations, which is what he has been appointed to work for.

Question:  The reason was that Russia, who prevented the speech?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think those issues you have to probably take up with the Member States.  All I can tell you is that for procedural reasons this could not happen yesterday.

Question:  Given the deteriorating situation in Gaza, and even UNRWA seems to be saying that, is the Secretary-General continuing to be engaged with the Israeli authorities to ask them to allow humanitarian aid to come to them, despite the fact that they still stop it?  Is he still engaged, because he has issued a couple of statements, but so far not followed up very forcefully?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think he has been following up quite forcefully.  He has been in touch with leaders while he has been very immersed in dealing with crises in Africa.  At the moment he is in Nairobi today, where he is lending his support to the efforts to bring an end to the crisis there.  In the meantime, though, even while he has been on the road, working around the clock on these African issues, he has been speaking to leaders.  Yesterday, he had a conference call with the Quartet.  I think he is very much as engaged in trying to bring an end to this humanitarian crisis as he can while he is on the road.  But as I told you, he will be back over the weekend.

Question:  I have one question on Iraq.  Up till now, Iraq was relatively quiet, given the past history.  Did the UN prepare any plans to eventually get back into Iraq?  I know they are now constrained by the new situation in Iraq…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think Staffan de Mistura, when he was here recently, addressed these issues with you.  But as you know, the UN has been given a mandate from the Security Council, so, as security conditions permit, the UN is prepared to do whatever it can to help the people on the ground in Iraq.

Question:  In Chad, I heard what you read.  One, is the UN… does it have any… for its own staff… when you said “aid workers”, does that mean UN workers or NGO workers that were pulled out of the camps in eastern Chad?  And is the UN pulling its own staff out of Chad, and can the UN say what the status is of these rebels marching on the capital of Chad?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think we read you a note.  We had a statement, you were a bit late.  So maybe we can catch up on…

Question:  No, I understand, but you said international aid workers are being pulled out of refugee camps.

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, there was an earlier statement by the Secretary-General, to which I refer you to later.

Question:  The statement about Nepal and India by Matthew Kahane, the Resident Coordinator, where he says that there are links to the Terai region turmoil to India.  Does the UN have any evidence of those links?  What is behind that statement?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know what is behind that statement.  That is something that you would have to take up with him directly.  We issued yesterday a response to a question about that, that the gentleman’s remarks do not represent UN views and were not authorized.  He is expected to clarify his remarks further.

Question:  So you are saying there are no… The UN is saying is not saying there are links?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think this speaks for itself.

Question:  I also… and I wanted… on this issue of financial disclosure, not just the public ones, I spoke with Mr. Benson, and he said, among other things, that 34 UN officials did not file the non-public, internal financial disclosures, and that he turned a list of these over to OHRM.  And he didn’t seem to know whether anything had been done.  So I guess what I am asking you:  can you confirm that 34 UN officials did not file financial disclosures?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll look into that for you.

[The correspondent was later told that what Mr. Benson was referring to was information from the Secretary-General’s Report on the Activities of the Ethics Office, which mentions that 34 individuals (no specific reference to senior officials) failed to file in 2006 (not 2007) and have been referred to OHRM for follow-up disciplinary action.  These numbers relate to 2006 not the 2007 cycle for which we are presently implementing the voluntary disclosure initiative.  This is 34 individuals out of the total population of 1,704 who were required to file a financial disclosure or declaration of interests form.]

On that note, have a good afternoon and a good weekend.

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