27 February 2008


27 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.

**Visiting Journalists

We have a group of students from the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism attending the briefing today.  Welcome.

**Press Conferences Today

Following the noon briefing, there will be a press conference by Kaarina Immonen, UN Resident Coordinator in Moldova, who will speak about the UN’s recovery response to a disastrous drought in Moldova.

** Kenya

We have, first, a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Kenya.

The Secretary-General strongly urges the parties to the National Dialogue and Reconciliation to take the necessary steps without delay to reach a solution to the ongoing crisis.  It is critical that the two sides maintain the positive momentum.  It is also critical that the two leaders exercise their responsibility to the people of Kenya who continue to suffer amid this volatile situation.  The Secretary-General is grateful for the continuing and tireless facilitation efforts of the Panel led by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan, which have his full support.

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary-General will travel to Geneva on Monday to address the high-level segment of the seventh session of the Human Rights Council.  As you know, the Secretary-General is putting particular emphasis this year on human rights issues as we mark the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights.  He looks to the Human Rights Council to make every effort to meet the expectations of the international community and to strengthen and make effective the universal periodic review to the fullest extent possible.  The Secretary-General is also expected to address the executive session of the Trade and Development Board in Geneva.  He should be back in New York on Tuesday afternoon.

Before leaving for Geneva, the Secretary-General will visit this Friday afternoon the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station, Texas, where he has been invited by former President George Herbert Walker Bush to give a lecture on US-UN relations.

** Iraq

On Iraq, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, strongly condemned the targeted criminal suicide attacks on pilgrims heading to the holy city of Karbala this past Sunday and Monday.  Mr. de Mistura said that the horrific attacks, which left dozens of civilians dead and wounded, deserve universal condemnation.  He expressed his solidarity with the people of Iraq and extended his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims.

** Western Sahara

On the Western Sahara talks, we can now confirm that the fourth round of talks on Western Sahara will take place next month in Manhasset from March 16 to 18.  That’s a change from the originally planned dates of March 11 through 13.  As before, the talks will be facilitated by the Personal Envoy of the Secretary-General, Mr. Peter van Walsum.  The meeting is in implementation of Security Council resolutions 1754 of 30 April 2007 and 1783 of 31 October 2007.

** Darfur

On Darfur, UNAMID’s [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] Formed Police Unit (FPU) from Bangladesh has conducted its first long distance patrol aimed at testing their operational capacity and enhancing the visibility of the UN Police in Darfur.  The patrol, which covered approximately 200 kilometres, went from their base in Nyala in South Darfur to El-Fasher, the capital in North Darfur.  Police Commissioner Michael Fryer of UNAMID, the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur, said that the patrol was also an opportunity to assess public response to UN Police presence in the area.

Commenting on the operations of UNAMID Police in Darfur since January 2008, Commissioner Fryer said “we have a long way to go, but the officers are prepared to do their work and to make a difference.”  The Formed Police Units (FPU) are police officers who have received specialized training in high-risk operations.  The Bangladeshi unit is the only FPU contingent currently in Darfur out of the recommended 19 contingents for UNAMID.


On UNMEE, there have been no reported restrictions on relocation movements in Eritrea today of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea, known as UNMEE.  The eight UNMEE vehicles that were stopped by soldiers of the Eritrean Defence Force at a checkpoint yesterday were unable to load supplies as they had planned and returned to Asmara empty.  The majority of peacekeepers from the Jordanian, Indian and Kenyan battalions, and most of UNMEE’s military observers, have now relocated to Asmara.  The remaining troops in the Temporary Security Zone are actively engaged in the packing and transportation of equipment and supplies destined for Asmara.  You will recall that UNMEE has been instructed to regroup into Asmara all personnel and equipment in Eritrea due to the lack of cooperation by Eritrean Authorities in the Mission's efforts to temporarily relocate into Ethiopia.

**Female Genital Mutilation

If we can come together for a sustained push, female genital mutilation can vanish within a generation.  That is what the Deputy Secretary-General plans to say at the launch this afternoon of a new initiative by 10 UN agencies to support governments, communities, and women and girls to abandon the practice within a generation.  The agencies say female genital mutilation violates the rights of women and girls to health, protection and even life, as the procedure sometimes results in death.

Although decades of work by local communities, government, and national and international organizations have contributed to reducing the prevalence of female genital mutilation in many areas, the practice remains widespread.  Between 100 and 140 million women and girls in the world are estimated to have undergone female genital mutilation, and three million girls are estimated to be at risk of undergoing the procedures every year.  We have copies of the Deputy Secretary-General’s speech upstairs, and there is a joint press release issued by the 10 agencies with more information, in this room and upstairs in my office.


Turning to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), former Bosnian Serb soldier Dragan Zelenovic was transferred today to Belgium to begin serving a 15-year sentence.  He pleaded guilty last year to raping and torturing women and girls in the town of Foca in Bosnia and Herzegovina after it was taken over by Serb forces in 1992.  We have more information also upstairs.

** Madagascar

Turning to Madagascar now, the World Food Programme has begun providing emergency food assistance to tens of thousands of people affected by last week’s cyclone Ivan.  In the capital, Antananarivo, WFP has already distributed three-day rations of High Energy Biscuits to 2,000 people now living in tents after their homes were destroyed.  WFP has also distributed 500 kilograms of rations along the country’s devastated east coast and on the island of St. Marie.  We have more information upstairs on this.

**Bird Flu

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) today commended India’s success in controlling a recent bird flu outbreak, but warned that the possibility of new outbreaks remains high.  Intensive surveillance should therefore continue, FAO stressed.  Given the recent bird flu outbreak in India and the ongoing spread of the disease in Bangladesh, FAO has invited India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and Myanmar to participate in a regional meeting to better coordinate bird flu control campaigns.  We have more on that upstairs.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

There are several press conferences scheduled for tomorrow.  Starting at 10.30 a.m., there will be a press conference in this room by Lakhdar Brahimi, Chairman of the Independent Panel on Safety and Security of UN personnel and premises.  Following that at 11.15 Toby Lanzer, UN Humanitarian Coordinator for the Central African Republic, will brief you on the humanitarian situation in that country.  And at 1 p.m., the Foreign Minister of Cuba, Felipe Perez Roque, will brief on becoming a signatory to the International Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and Civil and Political Rights.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Does the Secretary-General plan to urge the elder Bush to get involved in UN work?  He did it a couple of years ago, an assignment in Pakistan.

Spokesperson:  I don’t know what the content of their conversation will be at this point.  We’ll be sure to give you a readout whenever this trip is done.

Question:  Michèle, there are indications, or press reports, that Louise Arbour, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, will not be seeking a renewal when her mandate expires in June.  Is there any substance to that?

Spokesperson:  As far as we know, the High Commissioner hasn’t made her intentions public.  Her mandate, as you know, is up in June, so we can probably expect her to announce her intentions, whatever they may be, in the next few weeks.

Question:  The Secretary-General today said the tribunal for Lebanon was short of $90 million.  Does that mean there’ll be a delay in establishing this tribunal?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General said in an interview that he gave two days ago that we don’t expect anything will be postponed in terms of the tribunal, but we can have regular updates for you.  You can have regular updates on the tribunal work, as you know, from Mr. Michel’s office.

Question:  Okay.  Another thing, today in Germany the Minister of Interior Affairs encouraged the publishing of the cartoons of the prophet Mohammed.  Is there any reaction from the United Nations on that?

Spokesperson:  Not at this point, no.  We have already expressed our own position on the cartoons.

Question:  How concerned is the Secretary-General about the difficulties that Kofi Annan is facing in Kenya right now?  Is he doing anything behind the scenes to help prop up those efforts?  And lastly, does he have a plan B if those efforts were to fail?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General doesn’t have a plan B.  As you know, he’s following the lead of Mr. Annan on this and he’s supporting Mr. Annan’s efforts on this.  As I said yesterday, they were in communication yesterday about the impasse and Mr. Annan informed the Secretary-General about what he was planning to do.  At this point we have no further comments on this.  And the Secretary-General will do whatever is asked of him to support that effort.

Question:  I was wondering if Mr. Secretary-General considers the Turkish operations in Iraq as a violation of its sovereignty.  Also, what is his position on the demand by the Government of Iraq for the immediate withdrawal of the Turkish troops?

Spokesperson:  We have already expressed our position on the incursion of Turkish troops into Iraqi territory.  That was clear.  We have nothing further to add on this.

Question:  Michèle, yesterday, a delegation from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre met with the Secretary-General and among the things proposed were the possibility of a General Assembly session on suicide bombings and obviously this is something the President of the GA would have to take action on, but does the Secretary-General have a view, if this is something he could support if they were to move ahead with it?

Spokesperson:  He did speak with the representative of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder of the Centre.  He did say that he was going to discuss with the President of the General Assembly, the idea of a session on the issue.  I don’t think he has done that yet but certainly we’ll have some follow-up on this issue for you.

Question:  Do you expect Brahimi to announce the composition of the team when he does…?  Is that part of the reason why we’re here?  Is the composition of the team complete?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know if it’s complete or not.  I think it will at least partially be announced tomorrow.

Question:  There’s a report out that China has asked UNHCR to not accept asylum seekers from North Korea from now until the Olympics.  Can the UN system either confirm or deny that?  And what would be the Secretariat’s position on such a request?

Spokesperson:  We’ve already asked the question and we’re waiting for an answer on that.

Question:  Also, in Myanmar, the Government published the rules for voting on the Constitutional referendum and it says that anyone who passes out leaflets or gives speeches against it faces three years in jail.  And that monks can’t vote.  Does the Secretariat or Mr. Gambari have any comment on this? 

Spokesperson:  At this point, as you know, Mr. Gambari is preparing to go to Myanmar and all these issues will be discussed by him when he’s in Myanmar.  We expect to announce the dates of his visit pretty soon.

[The Spokesperson later added that the United Nations continues to maintain that, for the political process in Myanmar to be credible, it needs to be inclusive, participatory and transparent.]

Question:  And then one last thing.  Mr. Han Seung-soo, who was the climate change envoy.  There’s now reports again on UNEP saying that he may not be confirmed as Prime Minister.  Obviously we don’t if he will be or not but could the questions on financial disclosures have grown to such an extent?  Does he still have the UN position?  That’s what I was trying to nail down.

Spokesperson:  I think we’re mixing two things here.  There are things that are strictly on the Korean level, on the level of his own country.  It’s a national issue.  Whether he’s confirmed or not is a national issue and has nothing to do with the UN.  In terms of the financial disclosure, he filed here at the UN.  It was considered satisfactory in terms of what the UN was asking.  So we have nothing more to add on that one.

Question:  But is he still the climate change envoy?  Currently.  That’s what I wanted to know.  Did he give up that post to go through the confirmation process in South Korea or does he still have the post and will return to that post?

Spokesperson:  I will check on that for you.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that Han Seung-soo continues to serve as one of the Secretary-General’s three Climate Change Envoys.]

Question:  On the Western Sahara issue, how far does Mr. Ban Ki-moon believe that this new round of negotiations will be different from the other three ones?  There was his report issued recently saying that there were no real negotiations that happened so what does he expect from this fourth round of negotiations?

Spokesperson:  First, these are negotiations between the parties.  As you know, our facilitator is the personal envoy of the Secretary-General, Mr. Walsum, who will do everything for the talks to move forward.  It does not depend on the Secretariat or the Secretary-General.  It depends on the parties.  I think one important thing is that they are meeting again and I think we should take the progress as it comes in.  We cannot speculate on what might happen or not happen.

* *** *

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