4 June 2008


4 June 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

I have many words to read, but I will try to zip through them as we have the President-elect of the sixty-third session of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, who will be joining us immediately after the briefing.

**Statement on Colombia-Ecuador

The first statement I have is on efforts on Colombia-Ecuador by the Organization of American States (OAS).  The Secretary-General strongly supports the continuing efforts of the Organization of American States to assist in the restoration of normal bilateral relations between Colombia and Ecuador, which was among the important hemispheric issues discussed in connection with the thirty-eighth OAS General Assembly held from 1 to 3 June in Medellín, Colombia.  The Secretary-General is pleased that a report presented by OAS Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza to the Foreign Ministers of the Americas gathered in Medellín noted progress in efforts to restore normal bilateral relations between the two countries, and that the Foreign Ministers requested that the OAS Secretary-General continue to exercise his good offices in this regard.  And we have copies of this statement upstairs. 

**Statement on UNDP in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

The second statement is on the investigative review into the UNDP [United Nations Development Programme] operations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  The Secretary-General has received the report of the External Independent Investigative Review into the UN Development Programme’s operations in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  The Secretary-General is grateful to Miklos Németh, former Prime Minister of Hungary, for their comprehensive, detailed and highly professional review.  He notes with interest the findings of the panel on the important issues and complex matters addressed.  He is also pleased to see the many constructive proposals and recommendations relating to the work of UNDP and looks forward to UNDP management following up on these recommendations.

**Secretary-General in Rome

The Secretary-General earlier today addressed the press before departing Rome today, saying that he believed the High-Level Conference on World Food Security has been the success that it needed to be.  There is a clear sense of resolve, shared responsibility and political commitment among Member States to making the right policy choices, and to investing in agricultural productivity for years to come, especially for smallholder farmers, he said.  He noted that, just before the press conference, he had received a petition signed by well over 300,000 individuals all over the world asking leaders for rapid action and fundamental reform to end the food crisis.  He urged world leaders to move ahead collectively with a sense of urgency and purpose to fight hunger and promote world food security, and to create a global partnership around a clear plan of action.  “We simply cannot afford to fail,” the Secretary-General said.

He added that substantial new resources will be needed, perhaps as much as $15 to $20 billion a year as our efforts build up.  The Secretary-General said, “We are duty bound to act, to act now, and to act as one.”  We’ll have the full transcript for you later today.  The opening remarks are already upstairs.

And at a working dinner co-hosted last night by the Secretary-General and Prime Minister Berlusconi of Italy, discussions focused on some of the most pressing policy issues related to the current world food security crisis and its underlying causes, namely agricultural productivity, biofuels and trade restrictions, the three themes of the high-level dinner.  We have the final communiqué upstairs.

**Food Summit

As the international summit on world food security continues in Rome, the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) announced today it is rolling out an additional $1.2 billion in food assistance to help tens of millions of people in more than 60 nations hardest hit by the urgent food crisis.  Josette Sheeran, Executive Director of the World Food Programme, said the agency is helping the world to weather the storm by tripling the number of people who receive food in Haiti, doubling those who will receive food in Afghanistan, and delivering more critical food assistance to people in Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya.

On the margins of the High-Level Conference on World Food Security, a “Memorandum of Understanding” was also signed by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme to create opportunities for smallholder farmers.  The Conference is still continuing and there’s more on that upstairs.

**Human Rights in Zimbabwe

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour told world leaders and other high-level delegates attending this Conference that human rights violations by Governments often lie at the roots of food crises as well as hinder efforts to feed affected populations.  Speaking shortly after her address, Arbour also said she was deeply concerned by emerging news that the Zimbabwe Government may have ordered a halt to food distributions by some international aid agencies in Zimbabwe until after the presidential elections.

“If true, this would be an unconscionable act,” Arbour said.  “To deprive people of food because of an election would be an extraordinary perversion of democracy, and a serious breach of international human rights law.”  And that’s in the words of Louise Arbour and we have a press release on her statement upstairs.


Meanwhile, the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) says it is addressing the global food crisis by supporting countries in building capacity for population data collection and analysis.  Population analysis is an important component for Governments in supporting food distribution, anticipating food demand in the medium and longer term, and mapping out the food needs of different population groups, particularly the most vulnerable.  And there is a press release on this upstairs as well.

**Security Council

Here in New York, the Security Council met this morning to discuss the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) and the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).  Addressing the Council were the Presidents and Prosecutors of both bodies.  In his remarks, Serge Brammertz, ICTY Prosecutor, said that, during a recent trip to Bosnia and Herzegovina, he met with a number of victims’ associations, whose demands for justice are unwavering.  They have never given up and neither can we, he said.  Meanwhile, the ICTY President, Judge Fausto Pocar, reminded Council members that the Tribunal’s success is not only crucial for peace and security in the former Yugoslavia, it will also set the stage for all present and future international criminal justice endeavours.

And on Rwanda, the ICTR Prosecutor, Hassan Bubacar Jallow, reminded the Council that Rwanda shares concurrent jurisdiction with ICTR over certain offences.  In that context, he said he hoped that Rwanda would conduct specific prosecutions in a manner that will effectively contribute to reconciliation in that country.  Meanwhile, the ICTR President, Judge Dennis Byron, said the continued assistance of all Member States is necessary for ICTR to bring justice and restore peace and security in Rwanda and the Great Lakes region of Africa.  And there are four statements available upstairs.

**Security Council Mission to Africa

Meanwhile, the Security Council’s mission to Africa just completed its second day of business in the Sudan.  They met earlier today with the Sudan’s Foreign Minister together with the Presidential Adviser and the Second Vice-President.  In those meetings, they discussed the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the north and south of Sudan, and Darfur.  The Security Council urged the Sudan to press ahead with the implementation of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, and said it is encouraged by the fact that the north and south have been talking following the recent violence in Abyei and have agreed that civilians displaced by violence can now return to their homes.  The delegation is also encouraged by the fact that the Sudan will now accept that the UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) can move freely in its area of operation.

On Darfur, the Council mission welcomed signs of improved cooperation between the United Nations and the Sudan.  The Council delegation also said that it emphasized the importance of providing the protection of UN and other humanitarian convoys in Darfur, and the Government agreed to increase its offer towards that goal.  The Council also emphasized the importance of pressing ahead with the Darfur peace process.  And finally, the Council delegation added that it had received an unsatisfactory response from the Sudan on the issue of cooperation with the International Criminal Court, and it stressed the need for the Sudan to respect Security Council resolutions on this issue.

** Lebanon

Turning to Lebanon, Johan Verbeke, the newly appointed United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon, arrived in Beirut today to take up his functions as representative of the Secretary-General in Lebanon.  Mr. Verbeke will begin his round of meetings with Lebanese officials this week.  And there’s a press release from Lebanon upstairs.

**Deputy Secretary-General and General Assembly President

In remarks this morning, the Deputy Secretary-General warmly congratulated Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua on his election as President of the sixty-third session of the General Assembly.  She said Mr. d’Escoto’s long and varied career will serve him well here at the United Nations, where momentum is already building towards the next session of the General Assembly.  We have her full remarks upstairs and, as I mentioned, Miguel d’Escoto Brockman will be here at 12:30 p.m. and will be introduced by the General Assembly Spokesperson.

**Human Rights Council

In Geneva today, the Human Rights Council heard a presentation on recent reports submitted by High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.  The presentation was made on her behalf by one of her senior officers.  Regarding her report on the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Arbour said she was “alarmed by the continuing erosion of the right to a fair trial, which occurs when suspects of terrorist acts are denied the right to obtain a judicial review of their case”.  Concerning a report on the death penalty, she underscored the need to respect the right to a fair trial in judicial procedures leading to the imposition of the death penalty.  In connection with her report on fundamental standards of humanity, Arbour called on States to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. 

** Myanmar

And finally on Myanmar, at a press briefing in Bangkok today, UN humanitarian agencies reported that, one month since Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar, more than 1.3 million people have been reached with some kind of humanitarian assistance, with aid deliveries stepping up in recent days.  It seems that aid has now reached up to about 50 per cent of people in the hardest hit areas of the Delta.  Area UN agencies also report seeing some encouraging signs of improvement in terms of coordination.  And the appeal that was launched earlier in May is now about 40 per cent funded.  And the World Food Programme (WFP) adds that access for its international staff in the Delta area remains a challenge.  At the same time, WFP has increased the dispatch of tons of food in recent days, especially with three separate food hubs now operating.  And there are details in the press briefing transcript from Bangkok that we have.

**Press Conferences

And another press conference to flag for you, at 3 p.m. today, there will be a press conference by representatives from Human Rights Watch, Save Darfur Coalition and the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, on a new NGO [non-governmental organization] initiative to bolster support for the Court in Darfur.  The press conference is being sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Liechtenstein.

And then tomorrow at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference by representatives from the UN University World Institute for Development Economics Research and the University of Western Ontario on the Institute’s new study entitled the Poverty-Growth-Inequality Triangle in China.

And at 1:15 p.m., that’s tomorrow, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, will brief following his meeting with the Security Council in the morning.

And that’s all I have for you.  Anything for me before we welcome the new General Assembly President?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  What’s that construction in the hallway, do you know?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just saw that as I was coming in and I understand it is part of the fire standards being required by the city in the building.

Question:  I read Ban Ki-moon’s statement regarding the Rome food Conference, but can you tell us what are the most important outcomes of this Conference regarding the food crisis?  According to Ban Ki-moon himself, what are the main recommendations that came out of it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General has been there the last two days.  He has outlined the immediate needs that needed to be met, which were access to food to the most vulnerable and to increase agricultural production.  Then, he also outlined a series of medium- and long-term measures that he wants not just the agencies, but the international community to work on.  This was spelled out in greater detail in the joint communiqué that was issued earlier today and, as you know now, the Conference is still continuing today and tomorrow for the Member States attending this important summit to work on the blueprint that was outlined by the Secretary-General.

Question:  Marie, can you tell us what is the timeline on the appointment of the new Human Rights Commissioner?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I mentioned to you the other day about the selection process, and her last day is not until the last of the month, so the target date for a name to be submitted to the General Assembly should be by the end of the month.

Question:  When is the Secretary-General coming back?

Deputy Spokesperson:  In a couple of hours.

Question:  So you won’t be able to give us any shortlist?

Deputy Spokesperson:  There is nothing unusual about not disclosing a shortlist for this post.  They have not been made public in the past.  

Question:  Is there anything concrete that’s come out of the summit that the Secretary-General’s happy with?  For instance, like the Task Force report asks countries to stop export restrictions on rice and wheat and all this other stuff.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let’s wait until the Conference finishes.  As you know, it’s still going on.  As you know, he has galvanized world leaders to be there; he has come up with a blueprint and now they are still tackling all the issues.  And the joint communiqué, as I mentioned to you, does outline some of the measures that they’re agreeing on, so let’s wait until the end of this Conference.

Question:  But while he was there, has he gotten any commitments or responses from Governments saying “yes we’ll go ahead with that” or “we’ll do this” or “we’ll do that”, nothing like that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no specific readouts yet of the outcomes of the Conference, but I think that’s why we will have to wait until the end of the Conference.

Question:  Does he have a list of Governments that said we’ll do this or this or this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He’s on an airplane.  We’ll have to wait until he gets back. 

Question:  Marie, I wonder if you have a follow-up on the use of excessive force against peaceful demonstrators in South Korea?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, I don’t.

Question:  One Congressman in the United States is calling on Secretary of State [Condoleezza] Rice to withdraw funds from FAO because it elevated and gave the stage to people like [President Robert] Mugabe and [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad.  What about the allegation that this is the outcome of this meeting, that Mugabe got into Europe because it was a UN thing and both got an audience with Secretary-General Ban?  Isn’t the UN Secretary-General concerned that that is the real outcome of this Conference?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No, he’s not.  As you know, he himself appealed to world leaders to gather in Rome and address this very pressing issue that affects countries around the world.  And as I mentioned to you before his departure today, he called the meeting a success that it needed to be.  He said there’s a clear sense of resolve, a shared responsibility and political commitment among Member States to make the right policy choices and to invest in agricultural productivity for years to come, especially for smallholder farmers.  And I outlined a number of areas where these issues have been agreed upon.  In terms of your other questions about meetings with the Heads of State, I haven’t tallied up the number, but, during the course of two days, it’s quite common for the Secretary-General to meet with world leaders gathered at summits on the sidelines to discuss not just the issues at the summit, but other pressing issues of either common concern or concern. 

Question:  Even with those he has denounced in his other statements in the past?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, he meets with leaders around the world.  That’s part of his job.

Question:  Regarding Darfur, a new mediator might be appointed, with or without Mr. Eliasson.  How will his mandate be different from Mr. Eliasson’s?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’d like to refer you to the latest report of the Secretary-General on Darfur to the Security Council, because it spells out what is expected of him, but the idea, in my understanding, is that this person will be on the ground full time to try to get the parties to the negotiating table, because this is something that needs to be done.

If there are no other questions for me, we’re ready for the General Assembly President-elect.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon, good to see you all.  Let me give you a short briefing on the activities of the current President and then the General Assembly and then of course, we will have our guest, who is the President-elect for the sixty-third session, Mr. Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua.  But let’s start with the meetings of the Assembly today.

**General Assembly Elects President for Sixty-third Session

The General Assembly held two plenary meetings this morning.  First it elected, by acclamation, the President for the sixty-third session, Mr. Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann of Nicaragua.  Then the six Main Committees of the Assembly held their meetings to elect their Chairpersons for the sixty-third session, and then, following this, the Assembly held another plenary meeting, which has just concluded, to elect the Vice-Presidents for the sixty-third session.  Now, altogether, this means that there are 21 Vice-Presidents and there are six Main Committee Chairs, and with the President, they form the General Committee of the Assembly, which makes the recommendations for the Assembly about the adoption of the agenda, allocation of agenda items and organization of its work.

Let me give you a run-down of the countries.  As regards the six Main Committees, the countries that will be heading them as of 16 September, when the sixty-third session starts, the First Committee (Disarmament and International Security) will be headed by the Permanent Representative of Honduras.  The Special Political and Decolonization Committee, also referred to as the Fourth Committee, will be headed by the Permanent Representative of Argentina.  The Second Committee (Economic and Financial) is going to be headed by the Permanent Representative of Nigeria; the Third (Social, Humanitarian and Cultural) by the Permanent Representative of Netherlands; the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary) by the Permanent Representative of Hungary; and the Sixth Committee (Legal) will be headed by the Permanent Representative of Iraq.

As regards the Vice-Presidents, the 21 that we mentioned, 5 of them are the permanent members of the Security Council.  The others are allocated according to the following when it comes to regional distribution:  African States will have six, and these are Cameroon, Egypt, Namibia, Niger, Rwanda, Togo; Asia has five, these are Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Myanmar and Solomon Islands; Eastern Europe has one, that’s Moldova; Latin American/Caribbean States have two, those being Bolivia and Jamaica; while the Western Europe and Other States Group has Portugal and Spain.  So, all together 28 with the President making up the General Committee of the sixty-third session.

Following the election of the President for the sixty-third session, the Deputy Secretary-General drew lots to determine the Member State which would occupy the first seat in the General Assembly Hall at the sixty-third session, which starts on 16 September.  The Member State drawn was Barbados.  So Barbados will be sitting in the first seat and then all the other Member States would come in alphabetical order.  That’s the same order, by the way, as they would be seated in the Main Committee meetings.

Following the elections, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim congratulated the new President-elect and noted that, in his experience, while it was indeed a privilege to be endorsed by the entire membership of the General Assembly, this carried with it a great responsibility to balance competing interests and forge consensus and, above all, to assist Member States to be the driving force of the Assembly’s work.

**General Assembly Debate on Human Trafficking

Let me now get back to something that happened yesterday.  The Assembly wrapped up a full-day thematic debate in the form of two panel discussions on human trafficking.  The stress was on raising awareness to the problem, sharing views and experiences on prevention, protection of victims, prosecution of perpetrators and promoting international partnerships for practical actions to combat trafficking.

General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim, in his concluding remarks, summed up the message of the discussions by stressing that it was clear from the deliberations that effective policy was needed to be put into practice as a matter of urgency to fight sexual and labour exploitation.  It needed to be comprehensive and include preventive and protective measures, as well as stronger measures to end the traffickers’ impunity.  President Kerim also noted that, most of all, the need for closer partnership was highlighted in the debate by many participants.  This was necessary at the local, national and international levels, and there was a need for more effective partnership among all stakeholders, including Governments, parliamentarians, civil society, the private sector, the media and non-governmental organizations.  He called on Member States to use the momentum generated by the discussions to take the common fight against trafficking in human beings a step further and obliterate it from our world.

**Upcoming Events on Climate Change and HIV/AIDS

A couple of things on upcoming events:

On Friday, the Assembly is expected to meet in plenary to consider a draft resolution on the global forum on migration and development.  The resolution is going to be out on the racks (document A/62/L/25/Rev.1).

On Monday, 9 June, on the initiative of President Kerim, the General Assembly will hold a half-day meeting on investment and climate change, which will focus on the reciprocal links between private investment and public decision-making in the context of curbing carbon emissions.  This debate is one of the follow-up meetings to the 11-13 February high-level meeting on climate change.  You may remember that the other planned follow-up meeting is going to be on vulnerable States.  That’s going to be in a couple weeks’ time.  We’ll announce that for you later.  The programme of the 9 June meeting on private investments and carbon emissions, with participants and a background note, is available for you on the President’s website, which is http://www.un.org/ga/president/62/.  And if you go to the letters column, then you will find it.

A day later, on Tuesday, the General Assembly will begin its high-level meeting on a comprehensive review of the progress achieved in realizing the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS and the Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS.  Leaders from Governments, international organizations and civil society will review the return on the substantial investments made over the past years; outline solutions and policies needed to meet the agreed targets, including universal access to prevention and treatment by 2010; urge political leaders to live up to their promise on the targets; explore bold, innovative ways to meet the special needs of women and girls; and mobilize resources and ensure that money gathered works by investing in evidence-informed programmes.  Background information is available on the President’s website under “focus issues”.

**Counter-Terrorism Strategy

And one other announcement: the President of the Assembly has appointed the Permanent Representative of Guatemala, Ambassador Gert Rosenthal, to serve as the Facilitator for consultations with Member States on the outcome of the General Assembly meeting to review the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which is set for 4 September.

That’s all I have.  If you have any questions, I am ready to answer them.  If not, then we’ll have the President-elect come and brief you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Are you aware of any move by any Member States on Security Council reform, whether there’s a resolution or not?

Spokesperson:  No, I’m not aware of any concrete development on that.  Where the consultative process stands at the moment is that the President, with his Task Force made up of the Ambassadors of Bangladesh, Chile, Djibouti and Portugal, is in the final phase of consultations with Member States to see where the process can be taken further, including the possibility of convening another meeting of the open-ended working group.  But I’ll let you know when we have more on that.

Thank you very much.  Then let me welcome and bring in our noon guest.

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