21 May 2008


21 May 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, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  Sorry I’m late.  I was waiting for a couple of statements.  Following me, there will be the General Assembly Spokesperson, Janos Tisovszky.  He will be here to update you on a number of things, including the election of the Human Rights Council, which is currently going on now.

**Statement on Lebanon

I’ll start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Lebanon.

The Secretary-General welcomes the important agreement reached in Doha today among Lebanon’s political leaders.  He hopes this agreement will be the prelude to a lasting period of national reconciliation, political stability, peace and progress for all of Lebanon’s people and for the future of their country, as well as a stepping stone towards the full implementation of the provisions of the Taif Agreement and the relevant Security Council resolutions.  He looks forward to the early election of the new Lebanese President and to the formation of a National Unity Government.  The Secretary-General expresses his great appreciation for the crucial efforts of the Government of Qatar and the League of Arab States in facilitating this agreement.

**Statement on Syria and Israel

A second statement attributable to the Spokesperson is on the indirect talks between Syria and Israel.

The Secretary-General welcomes today’s announcement confirming that Syria and Israel have started indirect peace talks under the auspices of Turkey aimed at a comprehensive peace in accordance with the Madrid Conference terms of reference for peace.  He commends President Assad and Prime Minister Olmert for taking this important step and thanks Prime Minister Erdoğan for his efforts.

Both of these statements are upstairs.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General arrived in Bangkok a few hours ago.  From there, he heads to Myanmar early tomorrow morning to see for himself the areas and people affected by Cyclone Nargis.  He will also meet with senior Government officials.  Addressing the press soon after landing in Bangkok, the Secretary-General said that this is a critical moment for Myanmar, with the relief programme currently able to reach only about a quarter of the people in need.  He also spoke of the specific objectives of his visit to Myanmar.  Those include facilitating the free movement of international relief aid and workers; exploring ways the UN can provide medium and longer-term assistance; and reinforcing a partnership between Myanmar and the international community, including Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and key neighbouring countries.  And we have a copy of his arrival remarks upstairs.

The Secretary-General also spoke by phone with the Prime Minister of Thailand and met with the Foreign Minister.  He thanked them for Thailand’s logistical support and broader diplomatic efforts to help the Myanmar Government and the international community to work more closely together on the crisis.  The Secretary-General plans to return to Bangkok late Friday for a series of bilateral meetings on Saturday; and on Sunday, he’s planning to go back to Yangon, where he’ll take part in the international pledging conference for Myanmar, as we announced to you earlier.

** Myanmar -- Humanitarian

Meanwhile, the Office of the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that, of the 2.4 million victims of the Cyclone, an estimated 1.4 million people are located in the most severely affected townships of the delta region.  OCHA adds that it’s clear that we are still in the emergency phase of this crisis, and relief efforts will need to continue for some time, given the large numbers of people who have yet to receive adequate emergency assistance.

According to the World Food Programme, the Myanmar authorities have now granted access for the agency to bring in 10 helicopters.  Since the Secretary-General announced the clearance of nine yesterday, one more has been cleared.  The helicopters will be able to carry as much as three tons of food and other critically needed humanitarian supplies to cyclone victims deep in the delta.  The first helicopter is expected to arrive in Myanmar tomorrow from Malaysia.  Other helicopters will take several days to arrive in Myanmar, as they need to be transported to Bangkok on cargo aircraft and reassembled before flying to Yangon.

The United Nations first priority in the ASEAN-UN International Pledging Conference in Yangon on Sunday is to ensure that the humanitarian response is working properly, and that we have done whatever is possible to meet urgent humanitarian needs.  The United Nations will continue to support the Government of Myanmar’s response, while urging it to open up full and unfettered access to the delta for critically needed expert and experienced staff who can help assess, deliver, and monitor the impartial provision of aid to those most in need.

** China Earthquake

And turning to the earthquake in China, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is responding to the Government’s urgent request for tents by offering enough of them to provide shelter for 55,000 people.  The 11,000 tents, which are manufactured for UNHCR in China, will be dispatched to the quake zone as soon as possible.  Meanwhile, the World Food Programme is purchasing a second batch of relief food, enough rice, wheat flour and cooking oil to feed 100,000 people for three weeks.  The shipment is expected to arrive in Sichuan Province before the weekend.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is helping organize a relief flight from the UN Humanitarian Response Depot in Brindisi, Italy, consisting of 30 tons of tents, blankets and stretchers.  And UNICEF is taking part in a mission organized by the Chinese Government to provide immediate psycho-social assistance for children suffering emotional trauma after the quake.  These include several hundred children who have been separated from their parents.  And there is more information on all of these items upstairs.

** South Africa

And we also have a statement from the UN country team in South Africa regarding the outbreak of xenophobic violence in South Africa.  The UN organizations in South Africa are deeply concerned about the continuing xenophobia-related violent attacks against foreign nationals and some South Africans living in the province of Gauteng over the past several days.  Several people have been killed and many, including children, injured and left homeless.  Equally of concern are the violence and xenophobia that have been ongoing in other parts of South Africa in past months.

The heads of agencies of UN organizations in South Africa say they would like to lend their voice to the condemnation of the violence and implore the appropriate law enforcement agencies, together with community leaders, to bring these attacks to an immediate cessation and to offer full protection for all persons affected.  The United Nations organizations in South Africa stand ready to provide assistance and support for immediate humanitarian needs faced by the victims of attacks, as well as to find medium and long-term solutions to the unfolding developments.  The full copy of that statement is available upstairs.

** Cyprus

And turning to Cyprus, the Greek Cypriot leader, Mr. Demetris Christofias, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mr. Mehmet Ali Talat, will meet at the official residence of the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Taye-Brook Zerihoun, in the UN Protected Area in Nicosia, this Friday, 23 May.  The meeting will allow the leaders to review progress in the process they launched with their 21 March meeting.  This will be their second formal meeting since Mr. Christofias’ election in February.

**Security Council

And today there are no meetings or consultations in the Security Council.  Yesterday evening, the Security Council adopted a presidential statement on post-conflict peacebuilding after a day of meetings.  According to that statement, the Council invited the Secretary-General to provide advice within 12 months to the relevant UN organs on how best to support national efforts to secure lasting peace more rapidly and effectively, including by scaling up coordination, civilian deployment and financing.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

And turning to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Mission there has sent a report on the February 2008 violence in the Bas-Congo province to the Congolese authorities.  The report deals with human rights abuses committed by Government forces and by members of the armed movement during the February standoff between the two sides.  The Mission expects the report to be released to the public after the Congolese Government has confirmed receipt of it.

Meanwhile, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Humanitarian Coordinator, Ross Mountain, was in Goma, the main town in North Kivu province.  Mr. Mountain was there to follow up on the UN’s assistance and advisory role in the implementation of recent agreements between the Government and various armed groups on peace, security and development in the region.  The Mission also notes an overall decrease in the number of violations of said agreements.  It also calls on armed groups in the Kivus and other parts of the country to release children combatants in their ranks.

** Rwanda Tribunal

And the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda says that Michel Bagaragaza, a former Rwandan Government official and indicted genocidaire, was yesterday transferred back to Arusha from The Hague.  This follows a revocation of an application by the Prosecutor for referral of the case to the Netherlands.

The revocation was made after the Dutch Prosecutor informed the Tribunal that their courts did not have any jurisdiction in trying such a case.  The former Government official faces four counts of crimes against humanity, including complicity in genocide and violations of the Geneva Conventions.

** Pakistan

And the International Labour Organization (ILO) is teaming up with the European Commission to help the Government of Pakistan combat abusive child labour.  The five-year, €5 million project, which will support national efforts in this area, will be put into place by the ILO.  It is expected to result in 10,000 children being withdrawn from hazardous workplaces where children work under intolerable conditions, such as exposure to chemicals.  And there is more information upstairs on that.

** Iraq

And today in Baghdad, the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) has organized a special concert of the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra to commemorate the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development.  The concert will be performed for an audience of some 400 people and be broadcast live on Iraqi television.  In its first significant performance in years, the Orchestra will perform a mixed repertoire of classical concertos and traditional Arab and Kurdish tunes, a reflection of the rich cultural heritage of Iraq, and an innovative approach to fostering unity, dialogue and cultural diversity.  The programme will be conducted in part by the eminent international conductor Oliver Gilmour and in part by the Orchestra’s Director, cellist Karim Wasfi.  The UNAMI Chief, Staffan de Mistura and the Iraqi Speaker of Parliament will speak at the event, which will be held under both the UNAMI emblem and the Iraqi flag.

And that’s what I have for you.  Before Janos joins us we have just an announcement of press conferences tomorrow.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

At 11 a.m. there will be a press conference by Ambassador Jorge Argüello of Argentina; Ngonlardje Mbaidjol, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; Estela de Carlotto, the Academy Award-winning composer and human rights advocate; and Gustavo A. Santaolalla, on the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.

And our guest at the noon briefing will be Ian Martin, Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of the United Nations Political Mission in Nepal.  He’s briefing the Council.  The plan is to bring him here between 12:30 and 1, if possible.  If not, he’ll go to the stakeout.

Because at 1 p.m., there is another press conference scheduled here by the President of the General Assembly and Prince El-Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, on the General Assembly’s first ever thematic debate on the notion of human security, which you just heard about just a short while ago, and I’m sure Janos will have more to say on.  So that’s what I have for you.  Janos is here with a lot of stuff today from the General Assembly.  Anything for me?  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  According to the latest report, Marie, from Washington, the United States’ debt to the United Nations has ballooned to $2.7 billion.  Do you have any idea as to how it’s going to affect the United Nations?  $2.7 billion is much more than the $1.2 billion debt during the previous administration, which used to ring alarm bells in here.  So do you have a list of other debtor nations that have not paid also?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not seen that report that you mention yet, but as you know, there was a request for a briefing by Warren Sach on the budget, so let me follow up on that to try and get him down here.

Question:  Marie, would there be any steps after the agreement of Lebanon to expedite the implementation of 1701 with regard to Al-Ghajar and Shebaa Farms?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Today, all I have is the Secretary-General’s statement.

Question:  Has there been a response to Iran’s letter to the Secretary-General calling for more negotiations and improved IAEA supervision?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That letter is being studied by his advisers at present.

Question:  Do you know when we’ll have a response?

Deputy Spokesperson:  When we have one, we’ll get it to you.

Question:  There’s a report of Italian humanitarian workers being kidnapped in Somalia.  Is that something the UN either can confirm or have an update on?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says it is outraged by the kidnapping of these aid workers in Somalia today and calls for them to be released immediately, unharmed.  The presence of humanitarian workers in Somalia is more important than ever.  This incident comes at a time when the humanitarian situation in Somalia is deteriorating faster than expected.  The number of people in need of humanitarian assistance has risen to 2.6 million, while the current number of internally displaced persons has also risen to about 800,000.

Question:  Thanks.  The Head of that Office used to be Eric Laroche.  Do you know if he’s still coordinating humanitarian affairs for the UN in Somalia?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know who the current Humanitarian Coordinator is, though we can certainly get you that name from OCHA.

[She later added that the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia is Mark Bowden.]

Question:  I’m sorry to bother you with this, but has the UN had any comment on President Al-Bashir of Sudan declaring a formal end to the ceasefire in Darfur?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not seen that report.

Question:  He was quoted Tuesday, saying it’s over and to fight JEM and the JEM leader should be arrested anywhere in the country.

Deputy Spokesperson:  We have not seen anything official on that, so the statements that we’ve had on Sudan and Darfur currently stand.

Question:  Regarding Western Sahara, what is happening right now?  When will the next round of negotiations take place, and does the Personal Envoy have any plans to visit the region again?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing new to announce on that.  If there is, I’ll certainly get it to you.

Question:  Marie, did you say you’re going to have an update on the dues owed to the United Nations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  On the budget.  I wanted to get you a briefing on the budget, the entire budget landscape for you, from Warren Sach, the Controller.  He would be the best person to give you that update, so we’ll try to get him to come down, which we’ve already requested.

Question:  When the Secretary-General goes back to Bangkok on Saturday, who are the officials he’ll be meeting with?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have a list yet.  As you know, this trip was put together rather immediately, so today, right now, they’re working on the programme for Myanmar.

Question:  You don’t have a list of the officials he’ll be meeting with?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have a list as of yet.  I mean, the plan as of now, which still has not been confirmed is that, as you know, it’s already late at night there, on Wednesday.  Early Thursday morning, very early, they will enter Myanmar, fly into Yangon.  The plan is for the Secretary-General to go to the delta region, the hardest-hit areas on arrival.  If it’s not raining, they will go by helicopter and get to the region, and then the idea will be, during his stay, which will be through Friday, he will also meet with the senior leaders in Myanmar.

Question:  Which of the cities in the delta region is he going to visit?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That is still being worked out right now.

Question:  How many countries are participating in the Sunday meeting?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We don’t have a list yet.  As you know, it is a UN and Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN)-sponsored, co-chaired pledging conference.  It is at ministerial level and the list of participants is being put together now.  We hope to have a clear sense of how many countries will be there, but from the UN side, my understanding is that we’re asking them to keep the delegations as small as possible, given the logistical constraints on the ground.  Okay, who hasn’t asked anything yet?  Everyone has.  Okay, second round.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General concerned about a report from the International Institute for Strategic Studies about increased nuclear activity in the Middle East and the possible nuclear weapons race?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m not sure he’s seen that report, so I don’t have anything on that today.

Question:  Regarding the negotiations in Turkey between Syria and Israel, how involved is the United Nations in that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The statement I just read speaks for itself.  We are not directly involved, but the statement obviously welcomes the announcement.

Question:  Just welcoming.  You’re not trying to play any role?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General is very involved in the quest for peace in the Middle East and I’m sure he will play whatever role he feels that he can to make it happen.

Question:  How involved is he in this particular case?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I told you.

Question:  Marie, you expressed the Secretary-General’s satisfaction with respect to the positive results on Lebanon in Doha and also of the mediation by Turkey between Israel and Syria.  Has the Secretary-General received any call or any written message from those two areas?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’d have to check for you.

[She later added that the Secretary-General had not received any official communication from the parties on these two topics.]

Question:  There are reports in the Australian press that the Foreign Minister of Australia has told Alexander Downer that he will be given a UN post as Special Envoy for Cyprus.  Can you confirm or deny that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing on appointments today for you.

Question:  The Pakistan Government has signed a peace deal with militants but the US and Afghanistan Governments oppose this because they feel that what is going on in Afghanistan will be affected by this deal.  Does the UN or the Secretary-General have any position on dealing with militants and tribal leaders?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not seen anything on that, but I can look into that for you.  Okay, if there’s nothing else for me, we have Janos here.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon, good to see you.  Let me start with the news of the day, the General Assembly plenary meeting held to elect the 15 members of the Human Rights Council.  And let me give you the results on that.  One round of voting was enough, and 15 members were elected.  These will start on 20 June, a three-year term on the Human Rights Council.

Now if you’re interested, as to why 15 members were elected to the 47 member body, the reason is that, according to a decision of the Assembly, in the first year, last year there were 14 members voted on, this year it’s 15, next year it’ll be 18 members rotating.  So the 15 members, according to the regional groupings are -- and let me note that all 192 Member States cast their ballots in all of the rounds:

As regards the African States, there were four seats up for election, and the following were the results:  Zambia received 182; Ghana, 181; Burkina Faso, 180; and Gabon, 178.  Votes were also received by Kenya, 2; Mali, 2; Gambia, 1; and Benin, 1.

As regards the Asian States, four seats were up for vote.  The following countries were the ones receiving at least the necessary 97 absolute majority votes required to get in:  Japan, 155; Bahrain, 142; Republic of Korea, 139; Pakistan, 114.  Votes were received also by Sri Lanka, 101; and Timor-Leste, 92.  So the first four made it from this regional group.

As regards the Eastern European States, two seats were available.  Slovakia received 135 votes and Ukraine 125 to make it into the Council as of 20 June.  Serbia received 93 and Czech Republic received 9.

Latin American and Caribbean States, three seats were up for vote:  Chile, 176; Brazil, 175; Argentina, 172.  Votes were also received by Venezuela, 3 and Ecuador, 1.

And finally, probably the most interesting as far as the close results are concerned, the Western European and other States, where two seats were available:  France received 123 votes; United Kingdom, 120; and Spain, 119.  So it’s France and the UK.  And if you’re wondering about the ballots on this one just because it was close, all 192 countries voted.  There were two invalid ballots, so the number of valid ballots were 190, and there were 10 abstentions.

That is on the Human Rights Council.  Let me also mention a couple of other things related to the activities of the Assembly.  And let me start with an informal meeting on the counter-terrorism strategy.

Informal Meeting on Counter-Terrorism Strategy

The General Assembly is holding this morning, or actually it’s probably wrapping up in about 20 minutes, an informal briefing to Member States on the work of the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force on activities of its nine working groups.  The Task Force, as some of you may remember, was established three years ago by the Secretary-General to ensure overall coordination and coherence in the United Nations system’s counter-terrorism efforts.  It brings together 24 different entities with a view to advance the implementation of the Strategy.  The Strategy, as you may remember, was adopted two years ago in 2006 in September.

Now, this is the fourth time that Member States have heard an informal briefing on the efforts on the part of the UN system to implement the Strategy.  The first one was in February 2007, then there was one in May 2007, that was in Vienna, and most recently, in the beginning of December 2007.  This briefing is to facilitate the formal two-year review of the Strategy by Member States.  The formal review is set for 4 September 2008.  This was announced this morning by the President in his speech opening the informal briefing.

In his speech to Member States, the President reiterated that there could be no justification for senseless and indiscriminate use of violence, adding that it was our duty to counter it in a unified and concerted manner.  He noted that he regarded the adoption of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy as an important achievement of the General Assembly and had made the implementation of it as one of the priorities of the sixty-second session.  He called on Member States to use the occasion of the review of the Strategy to elaborate and expand on initiatives taken either nationally, through regional partners or internationally, to put the commitments of the Strategy into action.

He also expressed the belief that the outcome of the meeting should send a strong and unified political message of the Assembly against terrorism.  He also stressed that it was essential to maintain the integrity of the Strategy, as all parts were indispensable to our counter-terrorism efforts.  “We must stay true to our commitments,” he said, “and build on the results achieved so far.”  He also informed Member States of his intention to appoint a facilitator in the coming weeks to consult with Member States on the possible outcome of the September review meeting.

Assistant Secretary-General Robert Orr, as the Chair of the Task Force, in his short introductory statement reminded Member States that as regarded the implementation of the Global Strategy, the activities of the Task Force and of its Working Groups were but one part, as the key to success was what Member States did, because the vast majority of the Strategy had been directed to Member States.  He noted that the Task Force was established by the Secretary General to ensure coherent action across UN system entities in counter-terrorism.  This was done with regard to the Strategy in two ways.  First, by sharing information among Task Force entities on what the various pieces of the UN system are doing within their own mandates on items related to Strategy implementation and where there may be opportunities for collaboration.  And second, by creating working groups on key parts of the Strategy that enjoyed broad Member State interest and where cooperation among UN system entities could add value.

Following the statements, the Task Force’s current nine working groups held brief presentations on their activities to the Member States.  If you’re wondering what the nine groups are, here’s a quick list:  preventing and resolving conflicts; addressing radicalization and extremism that lead to terrorism; supporting victims of terrorism; preventing and responding to WMD attacks; tackling the financing of terrorism; countering the use of the internet for terrorist purposes; facilitating integrated implementation of the Strategy; strengthening the protection of vulnerable targets; and protecting human rights while countering terrorism.

Let me get back to something that happened yesterday.

Food Security

The President of the General Assembly yesterday afternoon also addressed the special meeting of the ECOSOC on food security.  His full statement is on the website, but let me flag a few points from that statement.

He stressed that there was a need to develop a global framework that takes into account the interconnected nature of the food crisis with other global challenges and problems.  He commended the Secretary-General for the swift action to set up a Task Force.  He noted that he had been coordinating closely with the Secretary-General on how the UN system should tackle the problem.  And at the recent briefing of the Secretary-General on 16 May, Member States reacted positively to the proposed measures and initiatives elaborated in the Secretary-General’s remarks.  They also asked for the General Assembly to play its part.  And indeed, the General Assembly must have a leading role to drive forward concrete action and results, as the President stressed.  He also informed the ECOSOC meeting that he invited Under-Secretary-General John Holmes, the Chair of the Task Force, to brief the General Assembly on the status of the Comprehensive Action Plan on 29 May.  This would provide a very useful preparation for the many delegations and world leaders that would attend the subsequent Rome meeting.

And then following this, and resonating the recent calls by Member States, the President noted that he supported the idea of convening a special session of the General Assembly to discuss and agree on further steps which should contribute to a unified strategy, as well as to immediate actions, as regards the food crisis.

Debate on Human Security

And finally something that Marie also mentioned to you coming up tomorrow, and that’s the first ever thematic debate of the General Assembly on the concept of human security.  The aim is to have Member States reflect on the multidimensional scope of human security and to further explore ways to follow up on the reference made in the World Summit Outcome Document in 2005.  The debate was convened by General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim, who noted that “human security is a fitting response to a world of interconnected threats and challenges, which include natural and manmade disasters, hunger, disease and socio-economic inequalities, all of which call for a more holistic approach focused on people, their protection and empowerment”.

And as Marie mentioned, a press briefing will be held here by the General Assembly President with the event’s keynote speaker, Prince El-Hassan Bin Talal of Jordan, and that’s going to be here at 1 p.m. tomorrow.

I don’t have anything more apart from the fact, and of course some of you are following this, and know that the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) is continuing its work as regards discussing the various peacekeeping budgets of the United Nations.  And something on that, Masood, because I overheard that you asked about the financial situation of the UN.  At the very beginning of that second resumed session of the Budgetary Committee, I think it was probably the first week towards the end, so that’s probably 9 May, the Controller briefed the Committee and there’s a press release on that.

Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Regarding the Task Force on terrorism.  Is there any coordination between that Task Force and the Security Council, and who provides the coordination?

Spokesperson:  Members of the Task Force also include the experts who are serving the Security Council counter-terrorism-related bodies, so we’re talking about the Al Qaida-Taliban sanctions committee, the Counter-Terrorism Committee (CTC) with its experts in CTED, and also the 1540 Committee.  So they are very much part and parcel of the Task Force.

Question:  Do you know anything about this Security Council reform thing, I think two countries, India and Germany, are going to bring in a resolution once again in the General Assembly on reform of the Security Council?  Is there such a move afoot at this time?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that particular case.  What I do know and what has been stressed -- and tomorrow might be an opportunity for you to ask the President where things stand as far as the Security Council reform -- as the last stage, as far as we are aware of, of course, is that the President’s Task Force, made up of himself and the four Ambassadors of Bangladesh, Djibouti, Chile and Portugal, is actively holding informal consultations with a variety of Member States in a variety of groupings, regional groupings, individually, etc., on how to make some headway into some kind of common position.  So if you’re able to get information from a variety of different members, as you mentioned, Germany, India, and they’re willing to talk to you, that’s another thing, but from our side, this is where things stand.  But as I said, tomorrow the President is going to be here.  I’m sure you’re probably free to ask this as well.  I’m sure you can find a crafty way to tie it in with human security.

Question:  So he has not received any proposal as yet?

Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of either the Task Force or definitely not the President, or the President’s Office receiving anything new on this.

Question:  These two invalid ballots on the voting, how were they invalid?  Did they vote for a country they couldn’t vote for?  I’m asking because the gap is only one vote.

Spokesperson:  That’s why I gave you the numbers.  I don’t know how they were invalid, but I do know there was a count and a recount to confirm the results.  Obviously there are various rules and regulations.

Question:  Seems we should be able to find out the grounds on which they were invalid.

Spokesperson:  I’ll try to follow up on that. I understand you want to know what makes a vote invalid, particularly in this case.  I’ll look into it and if I find out I’ll of course pass it on to you.

[It was later clarified by the Spokesperson that the voting was done through secret ballot, therefore, there is no voting sheet on how individual countries have voted, nor is there specific information on why ballots may have been invalid.  In general terms, a ballot is regarded as invalid if it contains more names from the region than actual seats available, or if all the names on the ballot paper belong to another Regional Group.]

Question:  In the President’s understanding, how does he define security?

Spokesperson:  I would suggest, let’s wait for his speech tomorrow, and then when he comes here to give you a press briefing at 1 p.m., he will be personally able to give you his views on that.  But the quote that I gave gives you an indication of a broad approach that he has to this.

Question:  Is it not one of the rules of the General Assembly that if a nation State has an arrear of its dues for some stipulated period of time that it loses its right to vote?

Spokesperson:  That’s correct.

Question:  And that could render a vote invalid.

Spokesperson:  That could be the case, yes.

[It was also noted later by the Spokesperson that all 192 countries voted -- all of them were eligible to vote.  In the case of secret balloting, countries that would have been regarded as not eligible because of accumulating two years of arrears would not have been given a ballot paper and thus would not have had a chance to cast a vote.]

Question:  Janos, in the Fifth Committee yesterday, there was testimony that over 90 per cent of the arrears to the Capital Master Plan are by the host country.  The press release doesn’t say if anyone rebutted that, or if that’s true or not.  We get these accounts of what was said, but did anyone say anything back to that, or is that in fact the case?  Seems like a pretty high number.

Spokesperson:  I don’t have an answer.  I wasn’t sitting in on the meeting.  I don’t know.

Question:  Since Marie’s getting a briefing together on the budget from Warren Sach, the Controller.

Spokesperson:  Yes, I know this has been asked.

Question:  Since he represents the Secretariat, ideal at the same time, could somebody come, representing the Fifth Committee or the General Assembly, so we don’t just get the Secretariat’s position on the budget?

Spokesperson:  I will convey this message to the Ambassador of Malaysia, who is the Chair of the Fifth Committee, and see whether he would be willing to come and brief you on that.

Question:  The President, as you indicated, has called for a global framework for the food crisis.  Does he mean something else, other than the Task Force created by the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  If we understand what he said, based also on the urging of what he heard from Member States in that briefing with the Secretary-General (on 16 May), and also previously, prior to that, when he was visiting a couple of countries just recently -- United Kingdom, Turkey, Egypt, Israel, also met the President of the Palestinian Authority -- he noted that there was considerable interest on the part of Member States to have the General Assembly involved as the strategic policy-level setting organ of the United Nations.  So I think this is what is meant here.  That is why he’s urging the Task Force findings to be communicated to the General Assembly through Mr. Holmes, so that Member States can better prepare for the Rome meeting and also look at possible follow-ups as to what the General Assembly can do after Rome and in what format, including the idea of a special session.

Question:  So when he says the global framework, he means the General Assembly taking part?

Spokesperson:  He means the General Assembly setting as a possibility, yes, the General Assembly setting some sort of frame with a variety of stakeholders involved, yes.

Question:  So he’s not calling for any new institution?

Spokesperson:  Not necessarily, not that I’m aware of, unless of course Member States so decide, that’s a different thing.  But what we’re talking about here is to give Member States at the highest representative level for strategic policy setting, which is the General Assembly, the possibility to convene and to discuss this issue.  Where they take it from there, that is up to them.

Question:  What I’m trying to understand is what prevents him from suggesting to the Assembly that it take this issue.

Spokesperson:  I don’t think anything prevents the President from suggesting things, it is more about the President talking to Member States and in his discussions with Member States, understanding the desires, needs and intentions, ideas of Member States, and based on that, to work with them and make suggestions.  But again, tomorrow, as we discussed, is the debate on human security.  The President is going to be here.  Based on what I read as his approach to human security, food security is very much a part of that, so it is again an occasion for you to ask him what he means by next steps.  Thank you very much.

* *** *

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