7 March 2008


7 March 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.

**Secretary-General Statement on High Commissioner for Human Rights

First we have a statement from the Secretary-General.

It is with great regret that I learned of the decision of Louise Arbour not to seek a second term as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.  She has fulfilled her four-year mandate with immense dedication, and I have been most impressed by her extraordinary courage, energy and integrity in speaking out forcefully on human rights, which is among the UN’s most important mandates.  She has taken on the challenge of this difficult assignment in precisely the way that I would have expected.  She has never hesitated to incur the criticism of States or other entities by highlighting the victims of abuses and the inadequacies of legal systems everywhere.  She has consistently represented the highest ideals of the United Nations, and the many tributes being paid to her today around the world are richly deserved.

Her legacy will be one of a strengthened and more wide-ranging United Nations human rights system, a stronger focus on justice and accountability, reformed protection mechanisms and a more balanced approach to the full range of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

On behalf of the United Nations, and personally too, I thank her for her outstanding service and wish all the best in her future endeavours.

**Human Rights Council -– Louise Arbour

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today presented her annual report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.  She announced that this would be her last annual report, adding that she had informed the Secretary-General that she would not seek a second term after her mandate expired at the end of June.

Referring to specific regions, Arbour said the situation of renewed conflict in West Darfur was extremely worrying and that she has also been concerned by further acts of violence in Sri Lanka.  We have her full remarks upstairs.

** Israel

On Israel, we issued a statement yesterday afternoon on yesterday’s attack in Jerusalem, which I will now read into the record.

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the savage attack on a Jewish seminary in west Jerusalem, and the deliberate killing and injuring of civilians.  He extends his condolences to the families of those killed.

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned at the potential for continued acts of violence and terrorism to undermine the political process, which he believes must be pursued to achieve a secure and lasting peace for Israelis and Palestinians, based on a two-State solution.

In related news, Security Council members, in consultations yesterday evening, were briefed on the attack in Jerusalem by Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe.

** Gaza - United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF)

On Gaza, UNICEF says it is concerned that teaching kits and construction materials needed to repair schools continue to be blocked by Israeli authorities.  Because schools remain closed, UNICEF has distributed enough “School-in-a-Box” kits for 800 students.

In addition, UNICEF has dispatched 20 educators who specialize in psychological trauma to areas hit by recent attacks.  The agency reports that clinics that treat children for psychological problems have had a 60 per cent increase in consultations in the last few days.  We have more on this upstairs.

** Middle East -– Human Rights Council

Also on the Middle East, the Human Rights Council yesterday adopted a resolution on that region.  According to the resolution, which was adopted by 33 votes in favour to 1 against and 13 abstentions, the Human Rights Council called for the immediate cessation of all Israeli military attacks throughout the Occupied Palestinian Territory, as well as the firing of crude rockets that had resulted in the loss of two civilian lives and some injuries in southern Israel.

The Human Rights Council also called for urgent international action to put an immediate end to the grave violations committed by the occupying Power, Israel, in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, the Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Kai Eide of Norway as his Special Representative for Afghanistan and head of the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA).  Mr. Eide replaces Tom Koenigs of Germany, who completed his assignment in December 2007.

Mr. Eide previously served with the United Nations as Special Envoy of the Secretary-General to deliver a comprehensive review of Kosovo in 2005, and as the Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1997-1998.  We await the response from the Security Council.  We have his biographical details upstairs.

** Myanmar

On the second day of his visit to Myanmar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, met with Myanmar’s Government Authoritative Team, including the ministers for foreign affairs, information and culture.  They held candid discussions on present and future cooperation between Myanmar and the United Nations in the context of the Secretary-General’s good offices mandate.

Mr. Gambari also met with members of the Referendum Convening Commission and the Constitution Drafting Committee, and had detailed discussions on the ongoing constitutional process.  Mr. Gambari looks forward to holding further discussions with the leadership and Government on Myanmar and all other relevant interlocutors.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Colombia- Ecuador

We issued yesterday a statement attributable to the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General on Colombia-Ecuador:

The Secretary-General welcomes the leading role being played by the Organization of American States (OAS) in addressing the tensions that have arisen since last weekend between Colombia and Ecuador.  The resolution adopted at the OAS yesterday provides an impartial mechanism to clarify events, and offers both countries a path to resolve their differences peacefully and cooperatively.  The Secretary-General extends his full support to that process.

** Iraq

On Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, arrived in Ankara yesterday, where he met with senior Turkish officials on issues concerning Iraq.  Both sides shared the view that the encouraging changes in the security situation in Iraq and the positive developments in the political process provide an opportunity to make 2008 a year of substantive progress in the country, although some serious challenges still remain.

** Chad

On Chad, UNICEF says that it was asked by the Government of Chad to oversee the reunification with the families of 103 refugee children rescued from an attempted kidnapping by activists from the French group Arc de Zoe.  UNICEF and its partners had been caring for the children since the arrest of the activists in October.

**Viktor Bout

The Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) praises Thailand for arresting the notorious weapons smuggler Viktor Bout in Bangkok.  Antonio Maria Costa also urged Thailand to ratify the UN Convention against Transnational Organized Crime in order to make it easier to bring criminals of his ilk to justice, for example through mutual legal assistance and extradition.

Bout, dubbed the “Merchant of Death”, has been accused of profiting from some of the world’s most violent conflicts.  Costa also urged Member States to ratify the UN Firearms Protocol and implement its measures to stop arms dealers from flooding the world with illicit weapons.

**International Labour Organization

In its latest report on global employment trends for women, the International Labour Organization says more women are working than ever before.  But half of them are in low-paid and vulnerable jobs, with no social protection or basic rights.

The number of employed women in 2007 -- 1.2 billion -- was nearly 20 per cent higher than a decade earlier, but still two thirds the number of employed men.  Over the last decade, the service sector has overtaken agriculture as the prime employer of women.

Overall, the report found that policies to help women participate equally in labour markets are starting to pay off.  But significant disparities remain and many regions still have a long way to go in the full economic integration of women.  We have more information on this upstairs.

**International Women’s Day

As you know, tomorrow is International Women’s Day.  UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour has issued a statement in which she calls on States to end laws that discriminate against women.  Such laws are still on the books in nearly every country, she said, and repeated promises by States to revise or repeal them have not been honoured.

Meanwhile, UNICEF, in its statement, stressed the importance of investing in maternal health care as a way to reduce the estimated half a million pregnancy-related deaths each year.

We have copies of those statements upstairs, as well as one from Ian Martin, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Nepal, on how that country’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement and preparations for the upcoming Constituent Assembly elections present a unique opportunity to invest in women and girls.


On health issues, the first ever Global Forum on Human Resources for Health is wrapping up today in Kampala, Uganda.  According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the world needs over 4 million additional health workers and at least 57 countries around the world are suffering from an acute shortage.  Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly affected.  We have more on this upstairs.

**World Food Programme

Since it began last October, the World Food Programme’s (WFP) Internet word game called FreeRice has generated 21 billion grains of rice for the world’s hungry.  That’s enough to feed more than 1 million people for a day.  The game -– in which players donate 20 grains of rice to WFP every time they get a right answer –- attracts up to 500,000 people a day, says creator John Breen.  We have more information on that upstairs.

**United Nations International School Conference

If you’ve been following what’s going on in the General Assembly Hall for the last two days, you may have noticed that the delegates suddenly seem a lot younger.  That’s because more than 600 students from around the world are taking part in the UN International School’s thirty-second annual conference.  This year’s theme is “The Pursuit of Energy:  A Catalyst for Conflict”.  We have more information upstairs.

**Millennium Development Goals -- Africa

I would like to also draw your attention to the second meeting, on Monday, of the MDG Africa Steering Group, which is, as you know, an initiative of the Secretary-General, who has made the Millennium Development Goals one of his major priorities this year.  The objective of the Steering Group is to bring together the international development community to accelerate progress towards the Goals in sub-Saharan Africa.

At a press conference that will follow the meeting, the Secretary-General will be joined by Donald Kaberuka, President of the African Development Bank; Alpha Oumar Konaré, Chairman of the African Union Commission; Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, representing the President of the European Community; Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund; Mohammed Ennifar, Senior Adviser, representing the President of the Islamic Development Bank; Angel Gurría, Secretary-General of the OECD; and Robert Zoellick, President of the World Bank.

The Secretary-General will summarize the discussions and you will be free to ask questions of all members of the Panel on the issue at hand.  The press conference will be in Conference Room 1 at 12:15 on Monday.  There will be no noon briefing that day in this room.

**Week Ahead

And, we have upstairs “The Week Ahead” for you.  Just to flag, on Monday, the Security Council is scheduled to hold consultations on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the implementation of resolution 1701 (2006) concerning Lebanon.

On Tuesday, the Security Council is scheduled to hold a briefing and consultations on the UN-AU Mission in Darfur and, furthermore, during the week, the Secretary-General is expected, as you know, to leave New York on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the Security Council is scheduled to hold an open debate on Afghanistan, and Thursday and Friday, the Secretary-General is in Dakar, Senegal to attend the eleventh summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.

And on Thursday also, the Security Council is scheduled to hold consultations on its Sudan Sanctions Committee and on the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea.  This is all I have for you.  Thank you.  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, this horrible cycle of violence which has emerged in the Middle East now, and back-and-forth killing between Israelis and the Palestinians, it’s taking such a toll -- is the Secretary-General considering any extraordinary measures to visit with the Palestinians or the Israelis in order to stop… some sort of a process to stop this cycle of violence, because, if the past is any reference, we will see another attack on the Palestinians on Sunday and it will keep on going.  Will the Secretary-General take any measures to stop this?

Spokesperson:  I can tell you this is of the utmost importance to him.  He has been working the phone.  I cannot at the moment tell you who he has been calling and who he has been talking to, but he is definitely extremely concerned about the situation.  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, since you spoke about calling, has the Secretary-General called any of Colombia’s or Ecuador’s or Venezuela’s leaders to calm down the tensions?  And my second question is about a meeting that took place in Ankara about Iraq, did the [inaudible] come out, and do you know any details about the meeting?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have any details about that meeting.  About the phone calls that you mentioned, I can confirm that President Uribe spoke to the Secretary-General during the week.  Yes?

Question:  Considering Mr. Gambari’s visit to Myanmar, is it determined how long he’s going to be there?

Spokesperson:  Not yet.

Question:  Okay.  Is it determined whether he’s going to be able to visit Aung San Suu Kyi?

Spokesperson:  He has asked and it is being worked out.  We don’t have a confirmation yet when they are meeting, if they are meeting, but he has asked and we are waiting on this one.

Question:  So you said [talkover], so they’ve said you can meet with her, it’s just a question of working out the details…?

Spokesperson:  Yes, as far as I know, that is what it is.

Question:  …that he will be able to meet with her?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Okay.  Also, I’m looking at an AFP story out of Myanmar that quotes the Information Minister saying some pretty harsh things about Mr. Gambari, particularly his release of a letter that Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi wrote, and one of the quotes is “The United Nations should stand honestly without any discrimination on anything”, and accusing Mr. Gambari of really being biased against the Government.  What’s the UN’s response to that?

Spokesperson:  We are aware of the story.  We have no comment on it.  As long as Mr. Gambari is there trying to raise a number of issues, we will not comment on what others are saying.  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, on Monday, there will be the consultations on the report on 1701.  Do you know if a PRST will be released on Monday?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.

Question:  And do you know who will be briefing the Council?

Spokesperson:  On 1701?  I’ll find out for you.  We don’t know yet.  Yes?

Question:  What is the Secretary-General’s position on the indictment against Joseph Kony of the LRA in Uganda by the International Criminal Court? Would he support the replacement of the ICC indictments by prosecution by a Ugandan court?

Spokesperson:  This is something to be worked out between the two courts.  Okay?  The Secretary-General will not say anything on this.  He has already expressed his support for the court and we will see.  I know there is a proposal for a national court to be judging the case.  At this point it is being worked out between the two courts.

Question:  And I have a second question also.  On the spread of illegal arms, have there been any reports on the source of the weapons used by rebels in attacks on Chad?

Spokesperson:  That I don’t know at this point.

Question:  Michèle, is there anything further on the Serbian request for a Security Council meeting?  You didn’t mention it in next week’s calendar.

Spokesperson:  We don’t have that yet.  The Security Council has not informed us of anything of that sort.  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, there’s a letter from the Group of 77 and NAM to B. Lynn Pascoe asking for extensive revisions to his proposal to restructure the Department of Political Affairs, to tie it to development, to only open regional offices with the consent of Member States.  What’s the response of the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Well, there is no response right now.  I mean they are working it out; there is no response at this point.

Question:  I have heard from them that they say that the response has been negative, that there will not be a corrigendum -- or however you pronounce it -- their revisions will not be accepted.  Is that your understanding, or…?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I do not know what the conversation was between Mr. Pascoe and the Group of 77.

Question:  Okay.  And also, on the helicopter crash in Nepal, does the UN yet have a stance on what the cause of it was, who’s investigating it, and can you confirm that this company – Vertical T – was the operator of the helicopter?

Spokesperson:  At this point, it is being investigated by the Nepalese authorities, not directly by the UN.  So we are awaiting the results of that investigation to find out exactly what the causes were.

Question:  There’s a local report there that UNMIN staff took video footage that people had filmed of the crash site.  Can you confirm or deny that?

Spokesperson:  No, I can neither confirm nor deny because I am not aware of it.

Question:  Will the new SRSG in Afghanistan be attending or speaking to the open debate on Afghanistan on Wednesday, and also, when would be the first time that we would have a chance to speak to him?

Spokesperson:  Okay, I’ll find out for you when he’s coming here and I’ll find out also whether he’s participating or not.  Yes, Masood?

[The Spokesperson later added that Kai Eide was planning to attend the open debate, but only as an observer.  The primary briefer would be Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno.]

Question:  Michèle, I just want -- Mr. Pascoe’s new Mediation Team -- one thing I did not ask him the other day -- that that Mediation Team, there are not enough people from Arab or any other Muslim countries, which will go as a Team for mediation.  Does he intend to enlist more people, or is it just the Team that he has announced the other day?

Spokesperson:  The Team he has announced the other day -- he introduced the two people who are working with him; he did not introduce the whole Team.

Question:  The other people also, I think, are in that list that he gave.

Spokesperson:  I will ask him whether there will be further people to be hired.  Yes?

Question:  On the reported resignation of the Human Rights Commissioner in Geneva, Mr. Louise Arbour, does the Secretary-General have any candidates to replace her as yet, or is he still waiting for her to step down finally?

Spokesperson:  As you know, Mrs. Arbour is staying until the end of her mandate, which will be this summer, so the Secretary-General will have someone by then.

Question:  Michèle, what does the Secretary-General expect out of the OIC meeting?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is going, as you know, essentially for two reasons -- to attend the OIC meeting; he’s not chairing the meeting, he’s an observer, so he does not have any set expectations.  But, as you know, he is also going to participate in the meeting, the mini-summit, which President Wade is organizing with President Bashir and President Déby on, of course, the issue of the Chad-Sudan border.  So those are the two reasons he is going.  On the second one, what he is expecting of the OIC, he is there as an observer.

Question:  How satisfied was the Secretary-General with Ms. Arbour’s level of criticism and advocacy on human rights in her role?

Spokesperson:  You heard my statement about the Secretary-General talking about Ms. Arbour.  As you can see, he is very satisfied with what she has done.

Question:  That position is often a lightning rod for criticism.  What is the Secretary-General’s view of the role, and what it ought to be and what it ought not to be?

Spokesperson:  As I said, he is very satisfied with the role that Ms. Arbour played.  He is very happy with the way she handled her mandate, and the way she has been handling her mandate.  She is still High Commissioner.  Yes?

Question:  One more thing on Myanmar, is there any indication Mr. Gambari will be able to meet with General Than Shwe while he is in the country?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, this is part of his plans.  We don’t know yet.  We don’t have any confirmation when he’s meeting…  We told you whom he met already.  We don’t know yet who he’s going to be meeting.  And we’ll let you know as soon as something is confirmed.  But as you know, whenever he goes to Myanmar, things are worked out as he is there.

Question:  Nine Nobel Prize winners signed a statement a few weeks ago calling on the Security Council to place sanctions on banks, the Minister of the Arms Trade in Myanmar.  I was wondering if there’s been any response from the Security Council on that?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  Actually, this should be announced by the Security Council, not by us.  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, yesterday, the legislatures of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and portions of Georgia passed resolutions calling on the United Nations to recognize them.  One, has the United Nations received any communications from them, and two, does the UN have any response to these requests?

Spokesperson:  I have to repeat something I have been saying over and over again.  The United Nations does not recognize States; States recognize States.  So, in this specific case, a State which declares its independence has to be recognized by other Member States and the decision to recognize a State is not the purview of the Secretariat.

Question:  I guess, does the Secretary feel that by the Ahtisaari plan sort of acquiescing to the way things have gone here, that this has been helpful or not helpful to…?

Spokesperson:  I have no comment on this.

Question:  Okay.  Another thing, there’s an AP story today about Haiti -- the headline is “Millions Starve as Food Rots in Haiti’s Ports-- – talking about blockages in the ports.  It talks about WFP somehow getting its food in, but that other charities can’t get its food in.  Does MINUSTAH, or the UN system, can it confirm that millions are starving while food rots in Haiti’s ports?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether I can say that or not.  There have been a number of measures against corruption in the ports, which might have created this situation.  I have nothing from MINUSTAH giving me information about people dying of hunger because the food is not getting in.  Okay, thank you very much.

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