6 February 2008


6 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

**Secretary-General at General Assembly

The Secretary-General this morning spoke at an informal meeting of the General Assembly, where he briefed the membership, as he did with the Security Council yesterday, on the situations in Kenya, Darfur and Chad, as well as on his recent meetings in Europe and Africa.

He also discussed his participation in last month’s annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, where he spoke on the related challenges of water scarcity and the Millennium Development Goals.  He noted that many of today’s conflicts are being fuelled or exacerbated by struggles over scarce resources, and climate change seems set to make a bad situation worse.

On the crisis in Kenya, he noted that Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes is heading to Nairobi to take stock of evolving needs.

The Secretary-General added that he is in the process of establishing an independent panel to address strategic issues vital to the delivery and enhancement of staff security for the United Nations in its operations around the world.  The panel, he said, will be chaired by Lakhdar Brahimi, who possesses vast experience and knowledge of UN operations.


We put a statement issued late yesterday, which expressed the Secretary-General’s deep concern about the critical crisis facing the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) as a result of the stoppage of diesel fuel supplies to the Mission by the Government of Eritrea since 1 December 2007.

UNMEE’s fuel stocks will be exhausted in the coming few days.  The Mission will be immobilized and rendered unable to carry out its critical functions.  The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council that if the fuel supplies are not reinstated by today, he will be compelled to instruct UNMEE to begin relocating the Mission’s personnel and equipment from Eritrea on a temporary basis.

The Secretary-General emphasizes that the temporary relocation of the Mission’s personnel is a contingency measure forced by the restrictions imposed on UNMEE by the Eritrean authorities, which are endangering the safety and security of the Mission’s personnel, and is without prejudice to any provisions of the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities of 18 June 2000, including on the Temporary Security Zone.

We have his full statement upstairs and on the web.

** Kenya

As the Secretary-General just mentioned to the General Assembly, he is sending Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes to Kenya.  Holmes is scheduled to arrive in Nairobi this Friday for a three-day mission to assess the humanitarian situation in that country.

While in Kenya, he will meet with Government officials and opposition leaders, as well as with representatives of the UN country team, aid agencies, and the donor and diplomatic community.  He will also travel to the Rift Valley to survey the areas where most of the recent fighting took place and to speak with people who have been displaced or otherwise affected by the violence.  Holmes will also visit a camp for internally displaced persons near Nairobi.

Meanwhile, a fact-finding mission deployed by High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour arrived in Kenya today.  The team will conduct research for an initial period of three weeks, as it works to assess allegations of recent grave human rights violations in the country.

The mission will gather first-hand information from a variety of sources, including victims and witnesses, Government officials, representatives of the opposition, civil society organizations, and the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights.  Its findings, which will include recommendations on accountability mechanisms, will be made public.

In related news, the World Food Programme (WFP) has provided enough food in the town of Turbo to last nearly a month for 4,500 displaced Kenyans.  Food aid has also been dispatched to four hospitals in Kenya’s Central Province.

** Chad and Central African Republic

John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, says he is gravely concerned about the situation of some 50,000 people from the Central African Republic who are staying in refugee camps in southern Chad.  Holmes fears that the Central African refugees risk being uprooted again by the violence in Chad.

Meanwhile, UNICEF says that an inter-agency team has begun an urgent operation to assess the needs of some 30,000 refugees from Chad who crossed into northern Cameroon from the capital, N’Djamena.  The team is tasked with determining how much food, water, medicine and shelter will allow decent basic living conditions for the refugees.  The team will also give out food, vitamins and re-hydration salts, and immunize the refugees against measles and meningitis.  UNICEF is also readying blankets and school supplies for some 10,000 children.  We have more on this upstairs.

** Sierra Leone

The Secretary-General has sent a letter to the Security Council detailing his proposed completion strategy for the UN Integrated Office in Sierra Leone.  And that letter is out as a document today.

In it, the Secretary-General says that the UN Office could be downsized by 62 posts, or 20 per cent of the current staff, by late March this year.  That will leave 247 civilian personnel to perform the Mission’s tasks until the Mission’s mandate expires in September.

** Afghanistan

According to a report issued today by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), opium cultivation in Afghanistan in 2008 will be broadly similar to last year’s record harvest of 192,000 hectares, or may be slightly lower.

UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa, who presented the Afghanistan Opium Winter Survey in Tokyo today warned, “Opium cultivation in Afghanistan may have peaked, but the 2008 amount will still be shockingly high.”  He said that Europe, Russia and the countries along the Afghan heroin routes should brace themselves again for major health and security consequences.  We have more on this in a press release upstairs.

**Economic and Social Council - Commission for Social Development

The Deputy Secretary-General addressed this morning’s opening of the forty-sixth session of the Commission for Social Development.  The current session, which runs through 15 February, focuses on employment, ageing and disability.

In her remarks, the Deputy Secretary-General stressed that decent work is not just an end in itself but is also crucial for poverty eradication and social integration, and she added that appropriately remunerated employment must be reinforced by workplace security and social protection for workers and their families.

She called on the Commission, in its current session, to produce concrete policy recommendations to advance decent work in national policies and development strategies.  She said that special priority should be given to designing policies aimed at resolving the problem of long-term unemployment and underemployment of youth, women, persons with disabilities and other disadvantaged groups.  We have copies of her remarks upstairs.

** Yemen

The World Food Programme (WFP) today announced that it was expanding its operation in Yemen to feed thousands more Somali refugees fleeing the conflict in their country.

WFP has appealed for more than $4 million to fund the operation, which is to run until January 2010 and will provide food to 43,500 of the most vulnerable refugees.  This is up from the 33,000 people WFP was helping before.


The World Health Organization (WHO) will tomorrow release a new report that presents the first comprehensive analysis of global tobacco use and control efforts.

A press conference on the report will be held tomorrow morning at 11 at the New York Marriott East Side, at Lexington Ave and 49th Street.  WHO head Margaret Chan and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg will be there.

Then, at 3 in the afternoon, here in this room, there will be another briefing on the report by the Director of WHO’s Free Tobacco Initiative, Douglas Bettcher, and other officials.  We have more information on this upstairs.

**UNFPA – Genital Mutilation

Marking the International Day against Female Genital Mutilation, the United Nations Population Fund today called for stronger commitment to end the harmful practice and protect the rights of women and girls around the world.

UNFPA Executive Director Thoraya Obaid, in a message, urged all leaders and decision makers to take action against ending female genital mutilation in line with the UN resolution adopted last year.

It also called on Governments to develop effective policies for the elimination of such practices and to support the development of prevention and education programmes.

Obaid also reiterated UNFPA’s commitment to women’s empowerment and gender equality and the right to sexual and reproductive health.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

Our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow, Jane Holl Lute, Assistant Secretary-General and Officer-in-Charge of the Department of Field Support, will brief you on her recent trip, as well as support issues in UN Peacekeeping.

**Questions and Answers

Any questions?  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, did you hear about this skirmish today between the Israelis and the Spanish United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) forces in South Lebanon near Ghajar?  The Israelis have apparently threatened the Spaniards?

Associate Spokesperson:  I have not heard anything about that.  I’ll check with our colleagues in UNIFIL, but no, they haven’t provided any information on that.  Yes?

Question:  Any reaction to the arrest today in Algiers of two suspects in the bombings of the UN offices, just one day after the announcement of Lakhdar Brahimi as the head of this panel?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, those are two unrelated developments.  Obviously what Mr. Brahimi will do is focus on issues involving security basically for the UN around the world, which will, of course, include the security following the recent attack.  This doesn’t have to do with any criminal investigation or research into who was behind that attack.  That’s being carried out by the local authorities, and certainly we would appreciate any progress they make in that effort.  Yes?

Question:  I know that the UN Envoy to Darfur will be briefing the [Security] Council on Friday, right?  And he will be discussing a number of rebel groups.  Aside from that, what else will he be discussing?

Associate Spokesperson:  Mr. [Jan] Eliasson, you’re right, he’s tentatively expected to brief the Security Council in consultations on Friday.  If that happens as scheduled, we do intend for him to come talk to reporters at the stakeout afterwards.  So we hope he can explain more about his work.

But certainly the work that Mr. Eliasson has been doing, along with his African Union counterpart, Salim Ahmed Salim, has been to try and see whether the various groups in Darfur, including those who are non-signatory to the Darfur Peace Agreement, can become part of the peace process.

Question:  And one other question.  Will UN correspondents have access to the WHO conference tomorrow -- the press conference with Mayor Bloomberg?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, I believe you’re invited.  That’s off campus.  Like I said, the address, to repeat, the address is at the Marriott East Side, which is at Lexington Avenue and 49th St.  I believe the organizers at that press event will handle press arrangements, so you can talk to them there.  But certainly you can go there.  And we will have at 3 p.m., I believe, a briefing about that same report here in this room as well.

Question:  The president of the Council on Monday said that the Secretary-General’s assessment team to Somalia somehow had been delayed and would not be able to report to the Council by its meeting on 15 February.  Can you state whether the assessment mission to Somalia has been completed and when they would brief the Council?

Associate Spokesperson:  It hasn’t been completed yet.  Ultimately, once it’s done, we can schedule when the assessment mission will brief the Council.  But you’d have to be in touch with the Council President about the scheduling for that.

Question:  Who’s running the mission?  Is it DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations], DPA [Department of Political Affairs]?  Who is on this assessment mission?

Associate Spokesperson:  There’s a number of departments involved in this.  It does include people from DPKO, as well as from DPA.  Yes?

Question:  The deadline for Eritrea to end this fuel blockade of UN personnel there, does that run out at midnight tonight?  When can we expect that there would some sort of definitive statement that they have or haven’t complied with the SG’s request?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have a definitive statement just yet obviously.  We’re waiting to see.  You’re right that the deadline is today and we’re monitoring to see if there’s been any change.  As far as I know, there’s been no change in the fuel situation.  But, we have nothing further to say on this at present and we will make any further announcements as needed.  Yeah, Edie?

Question:  A follow-up on that -- which doesn’t really answer Lou’s question -- does the deadline run out at local -- midnight local time in Eritrea/Ethiopia?  Which means that obviously we might get an answer here?

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s not something that we’re going to announce at the minute one way or the other.  So it’s not really a question of whether there’s a difference between time in Ethiopia or time here at Headquarters.  You know, they have until the 6th, which is today, and we’ll evaluate over the course of the day, over the course of tomorrow.  Yes?

Question:  The Secretary-General is, I’m sure, also watching closely the developments in Gaza, recent developments of the crossings, of cutting off supplies.  Is there any new development?  Any new United Nations initiatives, please?

Associate Spokesperson:  There’s nothing, there’s nothing new to say about this.  I would just refer you to the Secretary-General’s own comments about the situation in Gaza, which he repeated in his comments that he made to the press at the Security Council stakeout yesterday afternoon.

Question:  The Secretary-General, will he attend tonight’s benefit concert on the lawn?

Associate Spokesperson:  Actually the Secretary-General is travelling.  We’ll have more to tell you about his travels tomorrow.  But he is -- I think we mentioned earlier this week -- he’s going to Chicago.

Question:  Just a follow-up.  He met yesterday with the Arab Group.  What did he discuss with them?  What was the --

Associate Spokesperson:  That meeting with the Arab Group was at their request.  So they brought up a number of issues that they had wanted to discuss, including the concerns in Gaza.  And the Secretary-General listened to what they had to say.  Yes?

Question:  Any reaction that the Security Council failed to react -- failed to have any statement on this Gaza situation?  Did he react to that?  Did he comment on that during that meeting?

Associate Spokesperson:  There’s really nothing further to say about Gaza.  Like I said, he did comment on Gaza at the stakeout yesterday afternoon.  And he reiterated his own concerns on this matter.  In terms of the Security Council, its decisions are its business.

Question:  I want to follow up on the event and then something else.  Had he been intending…  One, had Mr. Ban been intending to attend?  And also was there a letter from the Office of Legal Affairs here to Gucci concerning its statement that the event was in celebration of its store opening on Fifth Avenue?  Can we get a sense -- a yes or no -- whether that letter went out and can that letter be released?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’ll check whether such a letter exists.  In terms of the Secretary-General, his schedule actually has him out of town.  It’s not a question of whether he wanted to attend.  He wouldn’t be able to attend.  Yes?

Question:  Farhan, I understand the Secretary-General told the Arab League representatives that Gaza is considered as occupied.  Still occupied.  Is this correct?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, the UN defines Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem as Occupied Palestinian Territory.  No, that definition hasn’t changed.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  Interesting, because he didn’t say that when he was asked yesterday.  But another question on Gaza.  Has the UN thought at all of transferring some of the duties of humanitarian goods into Gaza to the Egyptian border?

Associate Spokesperson:  You know, Benny, you’ve asked this several times in the last week --

Question:  As of yet I haven’t gotten an answer --

Associate Spokesperson:  Yeah, and we have nothing new to say about that.  It’s the same as before --

Question:  Nothing to say about that?

Associate Spokesperson:  Nothing new to say about that.  Our efforts continue to be focused on having commercial goods able to move at regular crossing points.  Yes?

Question:  In establishing the panel on security of the staff, has the Secretary-General given any thought of associating in some fashion the staff with the work of this panel?

Associate Spokesperson:  Associating the staff?  How do you mean?

Question:  Having a representative of the staff or having some advice from the staff?

Associate Spokesperson:  Certainly the panel is designed to deal with security of all staff and to address concerns by staff.  In terms of the specific terms of reference of the panel and its specific membership, we should have that announcement, not in the next few days, but hopefully fairly soon.

Question:  No, my question is not the composition of the panel.  My question is specifically related to, is there going to be representation of the staff on this panel, or is the --

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything to announce about the composition of the panel just yet.  We’ve announced the head of that panel, of course.

Question:  And who would write the mandate of the panel?

Associate Spokesperson:  We’ll be able to provide some information of the terms of reference of the panel once we announce the full panel.  And that should be, hopefully, some time in the near future.  Yes?

Question:  Is there any chance of getting to talk to Mr. Brahimi?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, Mr. Brahimi has made it clear that he does intend to talk to you either once the panel is formed, or possibly a little bit sooner, if the demand is such.  But we are in touch with them.  So probably not this week, but maybe as early as next week, we might be able to arrange a briefing by him.  Yes?

Question:  On the report, given that after the bombing in Baghdad, there was the Ahtisaari report that was made public, is it the Secretary-General’s intention that this Brahimi report will be made public when it’s completed?

Associate Spokesperson:  That’s the intention.  We’ll be able to provide more details down the line.  Yes?

Question:  On the Brahimi panel, do you expect the panel to be completed -- the personnel of the panel to be completed by next week?  Is it --

Associate Spokesperson:  That’s the hope.  We’re still trying to talk to different members.

Question:  Is he composing it?  Or is it the Secretary-General who appoints?

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s the Secretary-General who appoints it.  He did discuss issues involving the panel, including its membership, with Mr. Brahimi when they met earlier this week.  So they have discussed this.

Question: Roughly how many members will it have?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’m not going to get ahead of it.  It’s a small panel, but we’ll have the precise number for you fairly shortly.  Yes?

Question:  Regarding the choice of Mr. Brahimi, did the Secretary-General discuss this with Algeria and, if so, what was their response?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General actually did talk about this issue at the stakeout yesterday at his press conference.  At that point -- and he did mention -- I could just read out what he said on this.  He said that he has closely consulted with the Algerian Government and he mentioned at that point the thought that Mr. Brahimi would be a very appropriate person to lead this independent panel.  And, by the way, in terms of your question on the numbers, he also said at that point that the panel would be composed of several experts coming from different countries.

Question: I just want to make that clear.  That means that he did get an endorsement from the Algerian Government?  That wasn’t clear.

Associate Spokesperson:  He’s had consultations with the Algerians, including, by the way, a meeting in Addis Ababa last week with the Foreign Minister of Algeria.

Question:  So they’re okay with Brahimi?  That was just --

Associate Spokesperson:  They’ve been in consultations.  They’re okay with the arrangements, yes.

Question:  What method is the Secretary-General using in the selection of the members -- the expert members of the panel?  When selecting the presumably independent expert, does he require the consent of the Government of the country from which the expert will be coming?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t go into the details of how people are selected.  They go through the normal selection process as with every other UN position, which entails a process of consultations with individuals and with Governments.  At the same time, the basic point with how these people will be selected is to get a wide range of expertise, including expertise on the various technical and security issues that are involved and also to have a certain geographic range.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General expect the panel to visit Algeria?

Associate Spokesperson:  At this stage, we’ll provide more details once the panel is announced.  Yes?

Question:  I’m maybe not up to date enough.  I don’t really understand why the panel is being scrutinized in such fashion and why Mr. Brahimi is being investigated one way or another.  I mean, he is, from what I know, one of the most successful negotiators the United Nations has had in the past.  My question is now, has the staff organization, the Staff Council been involved in this process?

And, above all, if I may say, and again you may have referred to it before, what makes this so urgent at this point?  Is it recent incidents?  Because there was a panel years back that was more or less the same.  And would you also like to please comment on the establishment of an internal court of justice, as I understand, in the Secretariat to deal with staff complaints, vis-à-vis the administration?

Associate Spokesperson:  That’s a separate issue on which I don’t have any information.  In terms of your question on Algeria, and also on this independent panel, you’re right, there was a recent incident and, following that, we did realize the need to look more broadly at UN security around the world.  So the panel will explore the most recent incident.  But it will also look at other areas where UN staff may face particular risk.  And so that is what it will move towards.  Your colleague had mentioned about the staff and you had also mentioned this.  Certainly the Staff Council has presented their own views about security issues, and we’ve engaged in dialogue with them repeatedly over the past.  And we’re certainly hopeful that this panel will help address their concerns about staff security.

Question:  Will the panel have an independent secretariat?  And how is it going to be financed?

Associate Spokesperson:  Again the details about the panel -- we haven’t announced the panel and its composition yet, and we’ll have to wait for that.  So sometime next week we should have something more for you.

And with that, have a good afternoon.

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