25 February 2008


25 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good Afternoon, all.

**Today’s Guest

My guest today will be Assistant Secretary-General Rachel Mayanja, Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, who will brief on the Secretary-General’s campaign to end violence against women.  She will be accompanied by Captain Aimable Mushabe, a Rwandan military officer implementing measures to protect women against violence; Todd Minerson, Executive Director of the White Ribbon Campaign; and a survivor/victim of violence.

**Secretary-General’s Campaign to End Violence against Women

This morning, as part of the opening of the fifty-second session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Secretary-General launched his multi-year campaign to end violence against women.  Hundreds of people blew whistles in unison to signify the start of the campaign.  In his remarks to the Commission, the Secretary-General said that violence against women is an issue that cannot wait.  He noted that statistics show at least one woman in three is likely to be beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime.  While there is no blanket approach to this problem that works in all countries, there is one universal truth, he said, “violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable”.  We have copies of his remarks upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council met this morning to extend the mandate of the UN Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) by one year.  It then heard a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes on his recent mission to Kenya.  In his remarks, Holmes said that, if there is no quick resolution to Kenya’s political crisis, then the risk of a fresh surge in violence, more displacement and further polarization of society will be very high.  The humanitarian consequences of this could dwarf anything we have seen so far, he added.

Holmes also briefed on his visits to camps for displaced persons in the Rift Valley Province.  He said most of the basic humanitarian needs there have been reasonably met so far.  But a good deal more needs to be done to consolidate sites, build new camps and increase security and privacy, particularly for women, children and other vulnerable groups, he added.  In that context, he mentioned “disturbing accounts of continuing abuses in and around camps” and “dreadful stories of murder, of rape and burning”.  Holmes added that it is clear that Kenya’s displacement crisis will not disappear quickly, even if there is a political agreement in the coming days.

Following the open briefing, Council members moved into consultations to continue with Holmes’ briefing and take up other matters.  Also on the Security Council, the Secretary-General is scheduled to attend the monthly Security Council luncheon today.

** Uganda

On Uganda, former President Joaquim Chissano, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the LRA-affected areas, has reported another major step in the peace process for northern Uganda, with the signing on Saturday of an agreement between the Government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) on a permanent ceasefire.  This agreement is set to take effect just after the signing of a final peace agreement.  Among its provisions, the agreement provides for the encampment of all forces of the LRA within the Ri-Kwang-Ba assembly area in Southern Sudan.  It also envisions the establishment of a ceasefire monitoring team composed of senior officers from the SPLA, representatives of both parties, delegates from the African Union countries who are acting as observers to the peace talks and a liaison team from the United Nations.

In statements after signing the agreement on behalf of the United Nations, President Chissano hailed its importance as the formal end of the armed conflict, fundamental for building peace in Uganda.  He also cautioned that the absence of war should not be seen as the ultimate goal and he urged Ugandans to work tirelessly to ensure that peace becomes irreversible in their country.

Meanwhile, the talks continue to move forward in Juba.  We understand that the parties have reached a consensus on a draft text on disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.  The LRA delegation intends to consult its leadership this week, after which the talks are expected to resume.  That would leave only a few more steps to the signing of a final peace agreement, ending the conflict altogether.

** Sudan

On Sudan, the Joint Special Representative for the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Rodolphe Adada, and UN Humanitarian Coordinator Ameerah Haq have drawn attention to the need to protect civilians following recent reports of aerial bombings in western Darfur.  In a joint statement issued yesterday, they expressed their grave concern for the safety of thousands of civilians who are in the Jebel Moon area, and appealed for an immediate halt to the fighting.  They said the eyes of the world are now on Darfur and the concerns of all of us have to be with the innocent children, women and men who are caught up in the fighting.  The Humanitarian Coordinator emphasized the importance of unimpeded access to populations in need of humanitarian assistance and reminded all parties of their responsibilities under international humanitarian law to protect civilians and to differentiate between civilian and military targets.

Meanwhile, the ban on all humanitarian flights to the north of El Geneina in West Darfur remained in place over the last week, leaving tens of thousands of conflict-affected people without humanitarian assistance.  Since 1 January, some 80,000 people have been newly displaced across Darfur, three quarters of them in West Darfur.  In addition to violence between the parties, food insecurity in certain areas due to bad crops in combination with militia harassment is a major cause for population movements to the camps housing displaced persons, and presents a major challenge to aid agencies.

** Eritrea

On Eritrea, the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) says that the regrouping of UN peacekeepers and equipment in Asmara continued without restrictions today.  To date, 7 out of 11 team sites in the Temporary Security Zone have been vacated and 4 of the 21 military observer posts have been closed.  The Mission notes that the pace of this temporary relocation is dependent on fuel reserves, which are running out.  This may cause the Mission to leave container housing and storage facilities, along with some equipment, at observer posts, team sites and sector headquarters inside the Temporary Security Zone in the care of Eritrean authorities.  In some locations, private security contractors are already providing protection for some UN materials.  The Mission expects that, by the end of today, some 547 UN peacekeeping troops and 89 military observers will have relocated to Asmara.  There are a total of 981 peacekeeping troops and 101 military observers in Eritrea.

** Cyprus

On Cyprus, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Michael Møller, has welcomed the President-elect’s intention to move quickly to start talks with a view to reaching a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem.  Møller looks forward to an early meeting of the leaders and stands ready to assist them.

** Myanmar Special Adviser

On Myanmar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Myanmar, Ibrahim Gambari, met today in Singapore with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Foreign Minister George Yeo.  They exchanged views on recent developments in Myanmar and on the way forward in the context of the UN good offices in Myanmar.  Gambari expressed his appreciation for Singapore’s continued support to the efforts of the United Nations in this regard.  From Singapore, Mr. Gambari will travel tomorrow to Tokyo for further consultations.

**Timor-Leste Fugitive Surrender

On Timor-Leste, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Timor-Leste, Atul Khare, today announced the surrender of one of dead fugitive Alfredo Reinado’s men to the UN, and appealed to the remaining fugitive militiamen to submit to justice.  The SRSG, in a press conference, assured the remaining fugitives that the United Nations is working with the Government of Timor-Leste to ensure that their human rights would be upheld if they surrendered.  Khare also said that more than 300 petitioners, men and women, were currently gathered in the capital, Dili, for a Government-led dialogue.  He said he expected more to join the cantonment, with UN and Timorese police providing security and transport from the districts to the capital.

** Nepal Children and Violence

On Nepal, the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) are increasingly concerned at the threat of harm to children, with confirmed reports of children participating in violent protests.  A considerable number of children aged between 7 and 15 years old were seen demonstrating in various districts, armed with sticks, while the crowd that attacked a group of Nepali Congress members in Darchula District on 5 February also reportedly included at least 100 children and students in school uniforms.  UNICEF and OHCHR urge all parties to respect the provisions of Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Nepal is a signatory, and to take all necessary measures to avoid exposing all children under the age of 18 to risk of harm.  We also have a press release on UNICEF’s supply of educational materials to Afghanistan upstairs, if you’re interested.

**UNICEF -- Djibouti

Turning to Djibouti, UNICEF and the charity Dubai Cares today launched several new education programmes to improve access to education for children and promote gender equality in the country.  Tens of thousands of school-age children in Djibouti are not enrolled in primary school; more than half of them are girls.  Under the new partnership, UNICEF will use nearly $2 million in funds donated by Dubai Cares to build new schools and rehabilitate existing ones.  It will also provide teacher training, as well as equipment, water and sanitation services.  There is more information on that upstairs.

**Deputy Secretary-General

And the Deputy Secretary-General is scheduled to address the ECOSOCspecial event on philanthropy this afternoon.  She is expected to talk about the ways in which the United Nations has been making a real effort in recent years to open its doors to more partners and more innovative partnerships.  Copies of her embargoed remarks are available in my Office upstairs.  As you know, there is a special ECOSOC event on how corporate philanthropy can contribute to advancing the Millennium Development Goals, particularly for sustainable development.  It is taking place this afternoon here at Headquarters in the ECOSOC Chamber from 3 to 6, as we announced last week.

**Press Conferences Tuesday

At 11.15 a.m. tomorrow, in this room, Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, will present results of the 2007 Revision of World Urbanization Prospects (the official UN estimates and projections of the urban, rural and city populations in all countries in the world).  And at 4.15 p.m. tomorrow, Foreign Minister Ahmad Allam-Mi of Chad will hold a press conference.

This is all I have for you.  Thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  King Abdullah of Jordan will be visiting the UN on Thursday, with the Secretary-General.  What will the Secretary-General be discussing?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.  I will let you know when we get to that meeting.  I can only confirm that the meeting is taking place.

Question:  You mentioned two, I think you said newly appointed, officials relative to Darfur, and I didn’t catch their exact titles, a Mr. Haq and a Mr. Adada.  Do you have more information?

Spokesperson:  Mr. Adada was appointed, I had that information.  It was said here in this meeting.  You can have more on it upstairs.

Question:  Bios, contact, things like that?

Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  Michèle, what’s the situation in occupied Gaza?  There is this report that Palestinian schoolchildren and the Palestinian people have formed a human chain across the border, protesting the Israeli strangulation of the Gaza Strip and the Gaza population.  Has the Secretary-General any reaction to that?

Spokesperson:  We only say that we are glad it was a peaceful march.

Question:  And Mr. Holmes, who has visited recently, is he going to give a press briefing on that at all?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think, not specifically on that.  He had spoken about Gaza before and, as you know, the UN is working quite hard to improve the very difficult situation in Gaza.  Whether Mr. Holmes could give another status of the situation in Gaza, I will ask whether he would want to brief you again on that.

[The Spokesperson later added that Mr. Holmes would speak to the press tomorrow on the Middle East after he briefed the Security Council in his recent mission to the region.]

Question:  Do you have any update on Iraq, particularly on the border with Kurdistan, where the situation was getting grave last week, in particular?  What is happening now over there?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any additional information on that, no.

Question:  Food prices are escalating everywhere in the world and the World Food Programme (WFP) is considering halting its aid in case donations don’t come soon, and riots and strikes in certain areas might conceivably threaten peace and security in some regions.  Is this an issue that the Secretary-General would want to bring to the attention on the Security Council in the context of preventive diplomacy?

Spokesperson:  Your question is an interesting one.  What I can say is that the WFP is not planning yet to cut rations or to reduce the number of people it feeds.  Quite the opposite; it’s doing everything possible to mobilize world attention and support, through Governments the private sector and individuals, to stave off such a drastic measure.  So, for the time being, the measure is not taken, it’s something that right now they’re trying to mobilize attention on it to avoid taking such a decision.

I have some numbers.  WFP needs to feed 73 million people in 78 countries.  This is what I have.  Food costs alone have gone up by 40 per cent since mid-2007, when as you know, WFP originally had prepared its appeal for this year, 2008.  WFP says now it needs at least a half billion dollars more, $275 million for food plus $125 million for transport to meet the same needs for this year, 2008.  So these are the numbers I have.  But, at this point, I will reiterate the fact that WFP is not planning to cut rations yet, nor to feed less people.

Question:  Was there any other communication between the Secretary-General and the President-elect of Cyprus, Mr. Christofias?  Was there any message to him?  Any phone calls?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think so, there was no phone call, but, on Cyprus, what we have is that the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Michael Møller, who has welcomed the present relaxing tension, to move quickly, as you know, to start talks with a view to reaching a comprehensive agreement on Cyprus.

Question:  The agreement made in Nicosia?

Spokesperson:  Yes it was.  You can have more upstairs on this.

Question:  Do you know when will be announced the new meeting between Matthew Nimetz and Ambassador Vassilakis and Dimitrov on the main issue of FYROM (The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia)?

Spokesperson:  I can ask for you when the next meeting will be, but it’s an issue that will certainly be talked about quite a bit.  We’ll get you a date when they are supposed to be meeting again.

Question:  There are reports that, yesterday, Mr. Roed-Larsen (Special Envoy for the Implementation of Security Council Resolution 1559) delivered letters from Ban Ki-moon to the President of Abu Dhabi and the King of Saudi Arabia.  Can you, one, confirm that?  And two, what the letters concern?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have that information.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that the letters, which concern United Nations efforts on Lebanon, are being transmitted.]

Question:  Upstairs, you have a press release or transcript of comments by Mr. Rücker in Kosovo, about the blocking of this Serb Minister for Kosovo, Samardzic.  I read the transcript, but under what authority does the UN block access or control access to Kosovo?

Spokesperson:  1244.  [Security Council resolution] 1244 is in effect.

Question:  I understand, I’ve heard that.  But I’ve never understood that the UN could choose.  What standards does the UN apply in terms of allowing ministers of other countries to enter Kosovo?

Spokesperson:  In this particular case, Mr. Rücker met with the Minister today and he allowed the Minister into Kosovo on the condition that he made a public statement dispensing himself from violence, which he did.  In their meeting today, Rücker referred to the Minister’s statement that destruction of the UNMIK custom premises in the north was unfortunate, but legitimate.  Rücker asked the Minister to publicly repudiate this statement.  And he made it very clear to the Minister that UNMIK’s executive mandate must be respected.  And that mandate is 1244.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General received a phone call from Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov concerning Kosovo and, if so, what was said?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information.  I will try to find out.  I don’t think that was one of his phone calls this weekend, no, I don’t think so, but I’ll check.

[The Spokesperson later told the correspondent that the Secretary-General has not spoken recently to the Russian Foreign Minister.]

Question:  Michèle, do you have any more information on King Abdullah’s visit to the UN besides his meeting with the Secretary-General?  Will he be doing any other activities and will they be open to the press?

Spokesperson:  I’ll try to get that for you.  I think you can get that from the Mission of Jordan.  They would be the best people to talk to.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General weighed in on the IAEA report on Iran as yet, one way or another?

Spokesperson:  We had what I gave you on Friday, which was just the information.  The Secretary-General has not said anything yet.

Question:  Are there any new developments regarding the Brahimi panel on security and staff?

Spokesperson:  We expect to have some answers for you very soon, this week in fact, and it should be announced at the end of this week.

Question:  This is a follow-up on Iran.  The Iranian Mission wrote the Secretary-General and the Security Council on Friday.  Does the Secretary-General plan on writing them back or responding?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.  I will let you know when a letter goes.

Question:  About the Lavrov call, I just want to make clear that I meant not this weekend but since the declaration was made.  Also, on Uganda, Human Rights Watch had said that the draft agreement, I guess it’s not finalized yet, but it seems that, in it, international standards and adequate penalties for past war crimes are lacking, according to human rights groups.  Does the UN think this agreement complies with the International Criminal Court and the indictments that are agreed on for the LRA?

Spokesperson:  I read the part of the agreement you’re talking about, the establishment of a national court.  So this is going to be established.  That doesn’t change the fact that the UN stands by its position on the fact that it is for the International Criminal Court to decide and to work with the national authorities on the indictments.

Question:  Does the national process replace the ICC or do they work with the ICC?

Spokesperson:  No, it does not [replace the International Criminal Court].

[The Spokesperson later added that the United Nations position is that there should be no impunity and that it is critical to achieve peace with justice in northern Uganda.  The agreements reached by the parties -- by establishing a national judicial process -- can provide for peace with justice as long as they are credibly implemented, as the Secretary-General has stated.  The agreements provide for serious crimes to be adjudicated through a national trial in the Ugandan High Court.   She pointed out that these agreements also provide for reparations to war victims, the establishment of a truth-commission-style body and other measures to promote national reconciliation.]

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