29 May 2008


29 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.  I understand we have some guests at the noon briefing today.  We have six information officers from the Palestinian Authority.  Welcome to UN Headquarters.

**Peacekeepers Day

Today, as you know, UN Peacekeeping is 60 years old, and the Secretary-General has congratulated our men and women in uniform in a video message to be aired to all UN work stations around the world.  He said that peacekeeping has grown into a flagship enterprise for the Organization.  He thanked our partner organizations, notably the African Union and the European Union, and the more than 115 countries now contributing troops and police to UN peace operations.  He also honoured the memory of the more than 2,400 peacekeepers who died in the line of duty, saying “Each one is a hero.”

Here at Headquarters, the head of UN Peacekeeping, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, led a wreath-laying ceremony to mark the event and later opened a special multimedia exhibition entitled “Looking Back, Moving Forward” that chronicles 60 years of UN peacekeeping.  Jean-Marie Guéhenno and Susana Malcorra, the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, will be the guests at the noon briefing.  They should be here to start at 12:30.  Meanwhile, we also have the General Assembly Spokesperson, who has a short briefing for you.

** Darfur

The UN-African Union mission in Darfur says that a civilian police inspector from Uganda was brutally and shamelessly murdered in North Darfur.

The Deputy Joint Special Representative, Henry Anyidoho, Officer-in-Charge, has expressed his shock and outrage by the killing.  “I learned of this wanton and barbaric act with disbelief and dismay,” he said.  “This was a hideous and callous crime against an unarmed peacekeeper and I condemn it without reservation.”

Inspector John Kennedy Okecha was found dead in a UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] vehicle about two kilometres from Zam Zam in Darfur around six o’clock yesterday evening.  He had been shot three times in the neck, chest and stomach.  UNAMID police component described the killing as an act of cold-blooded murder and appealed to all those with any knowledge of what happened to share it with the appropriate authorities so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice.

And there is a press release on this upstairs.

**Secretary-General in Sweden

The Secretary-General arrived in Stockholm today and addressed the Annual Review Conference of the International Compact with Iraq.  In his remarks, the Secretary-General said that, despite challenges, notable progress has been made in all areas of the Compact.

He noted that the Iraqi people continue to suffer from acts of terrorism, sectarian violence and criminality.  But, at the same time, he said that, if he were asked to use one word to describe the situation in Iraq today, he would choose the word “hope”.

The Secretary-General added that, for the first time in its history, Iraq has a chance to integrate fully into the global economy.  He also noted that the International Compact is not only a road map for achieving the national vision of Iraq.  It also represents a framework for Iraq’s normalization and transition to a full member of the community of nations.  That is in everyone’s collective interest, he said.  We have his full remarks upstairs.

In terms of bilateral meetings, the Secretary-General met today with the European Union’s High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana; Iraqi Prime Minister; U.S. Secretary of State; UK Secretary of State [for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs]; and the Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.

He also met bilaterally with the Foreign Ministers of Sweden, Slovenia, Italy, Turkey and Iran.

Later today, he will speak at the Review Conference’s closing session and hold a joint press conference with Iraq’s Prime Minister and Sweden’s Foreign Minister.  We’ll have those transcripts for you later today.

**Security Council

Here, at UN Headquarters, the Security Council held consultations this morning on Timor-Leste.  UN Police Adviser Andrew Hughes briefed on police reform in that country and the findings of a recent expert mission on that topic.

After breaking momentarily so that the Security Council President could attend a Peacekeepers Day-related event, the Council resumed consultations on other matters.

** Cyprus

Speaking to reporters in Nicosia today, on the occasion of Peacekeepers Day, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Taye-Brook Zerihoun, said he was encouraged by the commitment that the two leaders have shown.  He said their political will has changed what has been the status quo up to now.  “So let’s keep the hope alive,” he added.

** Sahel

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Jan Egeland, will travel to Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger from 2 to 6 June on a mission aimed at drawing attention to an array of challenges facing these and other countries of the Sahel region of Africa -- and the need for international assistance to help States cope with them preventively so they do not lead to conflict in the long run. 

Among the key issues Mr. Egeland will explore in his meetings with officials and visits to rural areas are the social pressures caused by climate change, as well as other risk factors such as the proliferation of small arms and light weapons in the region.

Mr. Egeland will be joined by staff of the UN Department of Political Affairs, United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA), United Nations Environment Programme, United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and a scientist from the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

**Special Court for Sierra Leone

The Appeals Chamber of the Special Court for Sierra Leone has more than doubled the sentences for two former leaders of the Civilian Defence Force (CDF), a pro-Government militia during the civil war in that country.  You can read more about that upstairs.

**International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has denied the application for referral of the case of Yussuf Munyakazi to the Republic of Rwanda.  The Tribunal said that, although Rwanda has abolished the death penalty, it is concerned that life imprisonment in isolation remains on the book in that country.  It fears that such a sentence may not be in full conformity with international human rights standards.  You can read more about that case upstairs as well.

** South Africa

The UN refugee agency has distributed 4,000 blankets and 2,000 sleeping mats through local implementing partners.  Further, it has developed a project proposal to respond to the urgent needs of the most vulnerable migrants and allocated additional funds to its traditional implementing partners.

UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] has delivered emergency supplies to the South African Red Cross and the City of Johannesburg Migration Desk.  WHO, the World Health Organization, has locally procured nearly 1,000 hygiene kits and sent them to the South African Red Cross for distribution.

OCHA, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, is coordinating the UN humanitarian response to support the Government-led efforts there.


Agricultural commodity prices should ease from their recent record peaks, but, over the next 10 years, they are expected to average well above their mean levels of the past decade, according to the latest Agricultural Outlook from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Food prices and their impact on the world economy will be one of the issues that will be addressed at the OECD Ministerial Council Meeting in Paris on 4 to 5 June 2008.  At a separate summit at FAO headquarters in Rome, on 3 to 5 June, world leaders, including many Heads of State and Government, will discuss policies and strategies on how to improve and ensure world food security and relaunch agriculture in rural communities of developing countries.  And there is more on that from FAO upstairs.

Just a couple of other brief announcements before we turn to the General Assembly Spokesperson, because our guests are already here.


The Secretary-General has appointed Under-Secretary-General Kiyotaka Akasaka as Coordinator for Multilingualism.  The appointment is in implementation of General Assembly resolution 54/64 of 6 December 1999, by which the General Assembly requested the Secretary-General to appoint a senior Secretariat official as coordinator of questions relating to multilingualism throughout the Secretariat.

A national of Japan, Mr. Akasaka joined the United Nations in 2007 when he was appointed as Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.  His new functions are in addition to his current responsibilities as head of the Department of Public Information (DPI).

**Secretary-General Travels

Some of you asked me to confirm a couple of destinations for the Secretary-General’s travel.  This is just to let you know that the Secretary-General will attend the International Conference on Afghanistan in France on 12 June, and then pay an official visit to the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia from 13 to 16 June.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

At 12:30 p.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by Ambassador Michel Kafando of Burkina Faso; Ambassador Jean-Maurice Ripert of France; Ambassador Dumisano Kumalo of South Africa; and Ambassador John Sawers of the United Kingdom, on the upcoming Security Council trip to Africa.

Following that, at 1:15 p.m., there will be a background briefing by a senior UN official on the UN budget, as requested by you.

So that’s what I have for you.  I’d like to go to Janos right away, if that is okay.  One question?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  After this terrible incident which happened in Darfur yesterday and, you remember, a couple of weeks ago also, there was this attack against one battalion, and they [inaudible] etcetera.  The question is:  what is Ban Ki-moon going to do in order to accelerate providing UNAMID with the necessary military equipment, because it is not clear?  It is not even able to defend itself.

Deputy Spokesperson:  And that is something that, as you know, the Secretary-General has been flagging in his periodic reports to the Security Council and to the public.  Because Jean-Marie Guéhenno is here and he is the expert on this, I think I will defer any further comment to him today.

Question:  Does the UN intend to send any observers to Zimbabwe [inaudible] half?

Deputy Spokesperson:  On Zimbabwe:  The Secretary-General has spoken clearly on the need for a suitable environment, including robust observation, during the run-off.  We have been in touch with regional organizations and welcome their efforts to ensure sufficient numbers of international observers.  Our electoral experts are exploring how we might be of assistance in this effort.

Question:  So, [inaudible] observers?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is what I have for now.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later confirmed that there were no plans to send UN observers.]

Question:  On elections, there is a letter from the President of the General Assembly, Mr. Kerim, saying that the voting for the Human Rights Council…  He said that the Secretariat -– so I am assuming that is the Secretariat -– informed him of errors.  Instead of 10 abstentions there was one, and instead of 189 votes there were 182.  So there are sort of… big problems with the counting of votes last week.  Can you explain… Is that the Secretariat’s role to count the votes?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is the first I have heard of it.  Let me look into it and get back to you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later announced:

In response to questions about the agreement reached on a treaty on cluster bombs, “yesterday in Dublin, delegations from 111 States agreed on the text of a new Convention on Cluster Munitions, which will be formally adopted tomorrow.  This is an important new chapter in international humanitarian law as the treaty will prevent future suffering and will address the needs of cluster-munition-affected communities.”]

Thank you.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  I’ll be quick, so that we can turn this over to our guests. 

**General Assembly President’s Message on Peacekeepers Day

General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim is paying tribute to United Nations peacekeeping activities in his message issued for the International Day of Peacekeepers.  In the message, he stresses that the job of the General Assembly is to support the peacekeepers in political, financial and logistical aspects, so that they can get their jobs done on the ground.  He adds that, in doing so, we should always remember those who sacrificed their lives for a noble cause.

**President’s Programme

General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim wrapped up a full day of talks in Tirana while on an official visit in Albania.  The programme included meetings with President Bamir Topi, Speaker of Parliament Jozefina Topalli and Prime Minister Sali Berisha, as well as with representatives of the UN country team.

During those meetings the General Assembly President made reference to International Peacekeepers Day and commended Albania for providing troops to support peacekeeping efforts.  The President briefed the Albanian Government on the priorities and upcoming events of the sixty-second session, with specific focus on climate change, financing for development, human security, HIV/AIDS and human trafficking.

The President, in turn, was provided with an update on the Government’s efforts to fight corruption and improve the business climate in the country.

Prime Minister Berisha expressed his highest appreciation for the excellent collaboration with the United Nations in the framework of the “Delivering as One UN” programme.  As you know, Albania is one of the eight pilot countries.  President Kerim commended Albania’s progress and leadership in implementing this pilot project, and said that Albania’s positive experience would be of great benefit to other countries pursuing similar reforms.  In fact, the President and the Prime Minister agreed on organizing a meeting on the experience of Albania in implementing this pilot project.

President Kerim also praised Albania as a valuable contributor to the United Nations efforts and as a constructive partner for the UN programmes in several key areas, including climate change and counter-terrorism.

**General Assembly Meetings

There is one meeting going on at the moment.  Under-Secretary-General John Holmes -- in his capacity as the Coordinator of the Secretary-General’s High-Level Task Force on Global Food Security -- is briefing Member States.  This briefing, as you may remember, is a result of Member States expressing the view that they would like to have the General Assembly involved in the food crisis issue.  This they expressed during the meeting in which the Secretary-General briefed the Assembly, which was on 16 May.

In the afternoon, the General Assembly will continue the informal briefing that it started on 21 May on the implementation of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

**Fifth Committee

The Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) is in its fourth week of the second part of its resumed session focusing on the budgets of the peacekeeping missions.  Member States have agreed to prolong the Committee’s work into next week.  Please check the Committee website for the tentative schedule.

**Upcoming Events

Very quickly on two upcoming events next week.  I’ll have more details on them on Monday, when I brief, but just to flag them:

On Tuesday, 3 June, the Assembly will hold a thematic debate on human trafficking.  The purpose is to focus global attention on the scale of the problem and to promote international partnerships to combat it.  It will be a full-day event -– we will have a detailed note for you, I think later today, with background information, the programme and also the planned time for press briefings.

Then on 4 June, Wednesday, the Assembly will hold a plenary meeting to elect the President for the sixty-third session, which starts on 16 September -- and we will be planning to have the President-elect here for you for a press briefing.

That’s all I have, and with that I’ll turn it over to the guests.  If you have any questions, I’ll be available afterwards, or you can send me an e-mail.

Thank you.

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