29 April 2008


29 April 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.

**Secretary-General’s Press Conference - Bern

The Secretary-General today spoke to reporters in Bern, Switzerland, to describe the discussions that he chaired in that city over the past two days among the heads of UN agencies, funds and programmes concerning the dramatic escalation of food prices worldwide.  He said that the heads of the UN system, the Chief Executives Board (CEB), said the rise in food costs poses an unprecedented challenge of global proportions, and that they had agreed on a series of concrete measures that need to be taken in the short, medium and long terms.

The Secretary-General said:  “The first and immediate priority issue that we all agreed was that we must feed the hungry,” with the Chief Executives Board (CEB) calling on the international community and, in particular, developed countries to urgently and fully fund the emergency requirement of $755 million for the World Food Programme (WFP).

The other main priority, he said, is that we must ensure food for tomorrow by, among other things, providing support to farmers so that in the coming years we do not see even more severe food shortages.

The CEB, in its communiqué wrapping up its discussions in Bern, said that it has decided that a task force on the global food crisis be established immediately under the leadership of the Secretary-General, bringing together the heads of the United Nations specialized agencies, funds and programmes, the Bretton Woods institutions and relevant parts of the UN Secretariat.

The task force will be coordinated by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes in New York and Senior UN System Influenza Coordinator David Nabarro in Geneva.  It expects to meet in the first week of May.

The communiqué, which is available upstairs, also says that the Secretary-General calls on world leaders to make every effort to participate in the High-Level Conference on Food Security in Rome from 3 to 5 June.

After leaving Bern, the Secretary-General travelled to Geneva, where he told a panel that the food crisis threatens to undo all good work.  If not managed properly, it could touch off a cascade of related crises -- affecting trade, economic growth, social progress and even political security around the world.  But, he added, he is confident that we can deal with the global food crisis, saying, “We have the resources.  We have the knowledge.  We know what to do.”  And that speech is also upstairs.


The Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), meanwhile, echoed the Secretary-General’s concern about high food prices.  In addition to the need for emergency measures, Jacques Diouf also highlighted the importance of planning for the future, by giving farmers in the developing world the tools they need to boost productivity.  This includes ensuring that they have access to land and water, as well as essential items like seeds and fertilizer.

Meanwhile, the International Fund for Agricultural Development has announced more than $70 million in loans and grants for precisely this purpose.  The money will fund rural poverty programmes in Africa, Asia and Latin America.  Projects will focus on agricultural practices, water management, and environmentally sustainable indigenous farming systems, among other things.  And there’s more information on this upstairs.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on the Lebanon Tribunal

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson on the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.

Robin Vincent yesterday commenced his duties as Registrar of the Special Tribunal for Lebanon.  He was appointed by the Secretary-General on 10 March 2008 and is the first official of the Special Tribunal to take up his functions.

Mr. Vincent will work in close consultation with the Special Tribunal’s Management Committee and the UN Secretariat to take the steps necessary for the Tribunal to be established in a timely manner, in accordance with Security Council resolution 1757.  He will initially concentrate his activities on preparing the premises of the Tribunal, coordinating the transition between the International Independent Investigative Commission and the Tribunal, recruiting core staff, and finalizing the Tribunal’s budget.  And that statement is available upstairs.

**Security Council

And here in the Security Council today, as I mentioned to you yesterday, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe will be briefing the Council members in closed consultations, under “other matters” on the Council’s request, about the situation in Zimbabwe.  And Mr. Pascoe has informed us that he will speak to reporters at the Council stakeout once those consultations are over.

Earlier, the Security Council adopted a resolution on Somalia, extending the mandate of the Monitoring Group dealing with Somalia sanctions for six months.

The Security Council currently is holding consultations on Côte d’Ivoire, to receive a briefing on the Secretary-General’s recent report from his Special Representative, Choi Young-jin, in that country.  A presidential statement on Côte d'Ivoire was also circulated, which may be adopted today.

** Afghanistan

The UN Mission in Afghanistan strongly condemned a suicide attack that took place this morning in the province of Nangarhar and said it shares the outrage of all Afghans at such indiscriminate targeting of innocent people.

The UN Mission noted that the circumstances of this attack illustrate the unmistakable bonds of partnership between terrorists and drug traffickers.  We have a statement from the mission upstairs.

Yesterday, the Security Council President, South African Ambassador Kumalo, issued a press statement, this was after the noon briefing, condemning the terrorist attack on Sunday that targeted an official ceremony attended by Afghan President Hamid Karzai.  Council members, in that statement, underlined the need to bring those responsible for the attack to justice.


Turning to Timor-Leste, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, today welcomed the peaceful surrender of armed fugitive Gastão Salsinha and his men, who were wanted in connection with the attacks of 11 February, when President José Ramos Horta survived an assassination attempt.

Khare stressed that the surrendered fugitives now must face justice.  He said the people of Timor-Leste and their leaders deserve praise for the calm manner in which the events of these past few months have been handled.

**Secretary-General Appointment

I have another appointment to announce.  The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Miroslav Jenca of Slovakia as his Special Representative and Head of the United Nations Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, which is based in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan.

Mr. Jenca is currently Director of the Office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs for Slovakia.  And we have copies of his bio upstairs.

** Palestine Refugees

Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Angela Kane is in Paris to deliver a message from the Secretary-General to the UN Conference on Palestine Refugees, which is being held under the auspices of the Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People.

The Secretary-General says that a sustainable peace in the entire region will have a factor in the viable and just solution to the Palestine refugee issue.  He adds that the negotiations are the only means of realizing the legitimate aspirations of both parties -- Palestinian Statehood and self-determination, and security for Israel.  And we have the full text upstairs.

**Remembrance Day for Victims of Chemical Warfare

We also have a message today by the Secretary-General on the Remembrance Day for Victims of Chemical Warfare.  In it, the Secretary-General says the Remembrance Day is a solemn occasion for the world to pay tribute to all victims of chemical warfare, and to ensure their suffering will not be forgotten nor repeated.  And we have that upstairs.


I’d like to draw your attention to a press release that flags the needs of female refugees not usually written about.

The UN refugee agency says its sprawling regional warehouse in Dubai recently received an unusual shipment of aid supplies -- 3 million sanitary pads.

Many people would probably not consider sanitation when asked to identify the key needs of female refugees and displaced people around the world:  things like shelter; food; water; and security would be foremost in their minds.

But lack of sanitary materials undermines the protection mandate of the UN refugee agency towards women because it prevents their full participation in education and employment, as well as programmes and community-based activities that are organized to help empower them.  The issue is central to dignity and health, says the UN refugee agency.  And you can read more about that in a press release upstairs.

** Iraq

The UN refugee agency also said that a survey, polling nearly 1,000 Iraqis currently staying in Syria, has shown that 95 per cent fled their homeland because of direct threats or general insecurity.  And only 4 per cent currently have plans to return to Iraq.

The refugee agency says that 61 per cent of those polled stated that they did not want to return because they were under direct threat in Iraq.  There are more details on this from UNHCR’s briefing notes and on their website.

** Iraq Compensation Commission

The UN Compensation Commission today announced payments of some $972.4 million to 26 successful claimants, regarding compensation for damages following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990.  There’s a press release from the Commission with more details on that.

**United Nations-Asia Report

A report jointly launched today by the United Nations and the Asian Development Bank warns that the Asia-Pacific region may miss the Millennium Development Goals if gaps in key areas are not filled immediately.

Titled “A Future Within Reach 2008”, the third regional report on the Millennium Development Goals highlights the need for international organizations in the region to better coordinate their assistance to countries trying to make the Goals a reality by the target date of 2015.

You’ll recall that the Secretary-General has pledged to mobilize national leaders in a drive to reach the MDGs when they come to UN Headquarters for the General Assembly’s annual high-level debate in September.

** Atlanta Trip Announcement

As part of his ongoing tours of major US cities, the Secretary-General plans to visit Atlanta, Georgia, next week.  Global health will be a focus on the trip.  The Secretary-General will be convening a meeting at the Carter Center with the Elders -- a small group of world figures ranging from civil society leaders to past Heads of State -- on critical global health priorities.  The meeting’s participants will include top UN officials, philanthropists and global health leaders from the private sector, non-governmental organizations and academia.  The Secretary-General plans to also tour the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While in Atlanta, the Secretary-General expects to attend a luncheon hosted by Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue.  He will also join Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin in viewing the Martin Luther King, Jr., Papers Collection.  The Secretary-General also plans to visit a not-for-profit organization affiliated with the UN Institute for Training and Research, and attend a luncheon with the Atlanta business community.  We will have more as we get closer to that date, I am sure.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

At 11 a.m. tomorrow, Joel Simon, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, will hold a press conference to launch the Committee’s Impunity Index, which ranks countries that fail to prosecute killers of journalists.

And our guest at the noon briefing will be Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, who will brief you on her recent visit to Iraq.

As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Pascoe will be available at the stakeout following his briefing to the Security Council on the situation in Zimbabwe at the Council members’ request.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  During the Secretary-General’s visit to Austria there were some news reports in Austrian media saying that the Secretary-General answered some questions about Austria’s membership to the UN Security Council.  He expresses some opinion that he personally hopes that Austria gets enough support from the Member States to get a seat.  Do you think it is appropriate for him to express his opinion so strongly in some occasions like this one?  How do you regard this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me look into the press reports for you.  But as you know, the matter of countries becoming members of the Security Council is up to Member States to decide.

Question:  Did you have any details on the food meeting in Rome in June, as far as like what’s planned or anything like that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The angle that I mentioned today was the Secretary-General’s call for world leaders to attend that meeting from 3 to 5 June.  I believe the FAO has a press release out on this.  So maybe you can take a look at that because it does have a few details.  At this point, I don’t know how many world leaders are attending but it is a high-level conference on food security.

Question:  Yesterday, in an op-ed piece President Carter said following his talks with Hamas leaders they have suggested certain measures for peace.  For instance, exchange of one Israeli soldier for a release of Palestinian prisoners and other measures.  Has the Secretary-General taken note of that, and what does he say about these measures that are being suggested?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing, no specific reaction to the measures that you refer to.  The Secretary-General, as you know, is planning to attend the meeting of the Quartet in a couple of days and I’m sure ways to move ahead in the Middle East will be discussed there.

Question:  I wanted follow-up on a question which I had also asked yesterday about following the attack on the Afghan President.  The Afghan President himself had supported the peace process that is being initiated by the new Pakistani Government.  Does the Secretary-General’s special envoy take note of that and is he responding to what is happening now?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I know you asked that yesterday, and I don’t have anything specific on those particular reports that you referred to.  The Secretary-General had a statement over the weekend following the assassination attempt and he stands by his willingness to assist the Government of Afghanistan and I refer you to that statement for now.

Question:  First, on Afghanistan, Kai Eide is in Washington, D.C., meeting President Bush and Secretary Rice.  Do you have any readout on it?  And is he coming to New York to brief us on the situation and the events happening in Afghanistan?

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

[The Deputy Spokesperson later told the correspondent that during Kai Eide’s visit to Washington, which has just concluded, he met with senior United States officials, including President George W. Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Defense Secretary Robert Gates. 

In those meetings, they discussed the importance of the upcoming elections and Mr. Eide’s key coordinating role, and they agreed that this is a crucial moment for Afghanistan.

Mr. Eide also met with officials at the World Bank and delivered an address at the Carnegie Endowment.]

Question:  The second question is involved more.  What specific efforts have been done by the good offices of the Secretary-General with regard to the situation on 10 May, parts have already started in foreign countries.  Can you give us some details on this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure.

Question:  Regarding the Gaza crossings, is there any update on the flow of medical and food aid to fuel?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We had an update yesterday in which the resumption of deliveries of food was announced, I believe, and there is an update upstairs on that for you today.

Question:  Sixty years after the Palestinians lost their land, do you consider that what has happened in these 60 years of the United Nations, whether this is ethnic cleansing or not?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think our views on how the United Nations and the Secretary-General feels about the humanitarian situation in Gaza is well known and our efforts are based on trying to help as many people on the ground who need it as possible.

Question:  Is the killing of civilians a terrorist act?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I’ve answered your question.

Question:  Zimbabwe’s opposition party reportedly said that they will be dispatching a delegation to New York next week to tell the UN that they will not be participating in a presidential run-off.  Can you confirm if that is the case?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know about any messages.  I understand there is a delegation from the opposition here today, so why don’t you ask them yourself?

Question:  On the issue of piracy off Somalia’s coast, there’s a Security Council draft resolution being circulated at the moment and at the same time there’s a recent DPKO report suggesting a naval contingent in the waters.  Has the Secretary-General put forward what he believes to be the best solution, the best way to tackle the problem?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think that in the Secretary-General’s most recent report on Somalia from March … there are a number of contingency plans, some recommendations that he has on the way ahead for Somalia.  In terms of this [draft] resolution that you’re speaking about, that is something that the Security Council Members are currently working on, so we won’t have any comment.

Question:  You mentioned that Mr. Ban Ki-moon is going to attend a Quartet meeting within days.  When and where will it be held and what does he expect to come out of this meeting?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I can’t give you expectations now.  We announced it.  It’s in London and he’ll be travelling there tomorrow … excuse me, he’ll be there Thursday and Friday.

Question:  Where?

Deputy Spokesperson:  In London, primarily on Friday.  But if you go upstairs we can give you that programme.

Question:  Regarding this food task force, do you know where they’ll meet in May?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That has not been decided.

Question:  Do you know the list of all the members involved?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Right now, we…  As I mentioned to you…  I can read again what I mentioned.  The task force will be bringing together the heads of the UN specialized agencies, funds and programmes, the Bretton Woods institutions and relevant parts of the UN Secretariat.  I don’t have a detailed list yet, but the task force will be coordinated by John Holmes and David Nabarro, who will be based in New York and Geneva, respectively.  As you mentioned, they expect to meet.  The task force will be set up to meet in early May.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General taken a stand on biofuels?  I know there’s been discussion with this food crisis.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Again, I would like to refer you to the remarks that he’s made today, first there’s a communiqué that’s issued after the meeting of the Chief Executives Board (CEB) after the 27 senior UN officials met.  There’s a chapeau on that that describes the current global food crisis.  I’d like to refer you to the Secretary-General’s remarks that he made a press conference in Bern and right now he’s given another lecture on the food situation in Geneva.  So I would like you to look at all three, because I think it gives a more global position that there is not one factor that is the cause of the current global crisis.

Question:  Regarding the Lebanese Tribunal -- the disappearance of a key witness from Paris -- is the United Nations doing anything to find out exactly how this happened?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The only item I have on the Tribunal today is what I read.

Question:  Are you doing anything regarding the disappearance of Mohammad Zuheir al-Siddiq, who was in Paris for the last three years and then suddenly … and he was supposed to be under the protection of the French.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing new on that.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later referred the correspondent to comments made a few weeks ago by Commissioner Daniel Bellemare when he gave a press conference at United Nations Headquarters and said that he did not know the whereabouts of Mohammed Zuheir al-Siddiq, who had been jailed in France, banned from leaving that country and also interviewed by the Commission.  “He never replied to the Commission to be entered into the witness protection programme.  He is not in our custody and I don’t know where he is,” Mr. Bellemare said.  He declined to comment on the disappearance’s impact on the investigation, saying that it would have to be assessed.]

Question:  Is there any update on the UN’s investigation of the events in northern Kosovo of 17 March?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Nothing beyond.  No.  I know you asked that to Mr. Guéhenno the other day, so I have nothing beyond that.

Question:  Can you or DPKO confirm that a team of three DPKO and one Ugandan lawyer, Francis Ssekandi, flew into Pristina on Saturday to conduct the investigation?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure, we can ask.

Question:  Also, there’s a report of a petition given to the UN’s Human Rights Office in Kathmandu concerning either protests in Nepal or about Tibet.  Are you aware of that?  And what’s the UN going to do about it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of the petition, but we can look into that for you as well.

Question:  About the CEB meeting, in your readout on it, were any kind of UN reform or issues that have been previously discussed like the availability of audits of funds and programmes to Member States or whistle-blower protection?  Was there any follow-up on the previous CEB meeting on those topics?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Usually the CEB is a gathering that looks at the various issues that are priority issues for the system as a whole, so there should be discussion on a number of subjects.  This time, as you know, there was a large focus on the global food crisis.  So that’s all I can tell you for now.

If there’s nothing else for me, have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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