18 June 2008


18 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, all. 

**Statement on Israel/Gaza

We first have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General welcomes the announced Israel/Gaza cessation of violence.  The Secretary-General hopes that these efforts will both provide security and an easing of the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and end rocket and mortar attacks against Israeli targets.  He also hopes that this cessation of violence will lead to a controlled and sustained opening of the Gaza crossings for humanitarian and commercial purposes.  The Secretary-General looks forward to all sides acting with care and responsibility in ensuring that this cessation of violence endures.  The Secretary-General congratulates Egypt on its persistent efforts to achieve calm through this agreement.

**Secretary-General Briefing to General Assembly

The Secretary-General this morning briefed an informal session of the General Assembly on his recent travels and on the developments over the past few weeks in the world food situation.  He told them that easy access to food is already beyond the reach of most of the world’s poor at an affordable price.  If we fail to act effectively now, he warned, we will see more unrest, the reversal of important development gains and the emergence of new humanitarian crises.  Going forward, we need a global partnership for food.  He added that, during his visit this past weekend to Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah fully shared his concerns about exceptionally high oil prices and their impact on vulnerable countries, and assured the Secretary-General that he was ready to bring together relevant parties to find a solution.

The Secretary-General briefed the informal Assembly session on his recent trip to Myanmar, as well, saying that, on the whole, the relief effort there is continuing to improve and to scale up.  At the same time, the Secretary-General stressed that the humanitarian tragedy in Myanmar should not be politicized, and that he intends to remain personally seized of all aspects, including through the continued engagement of his Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, in the context of the Secretary-General’s good offices mandate.  In addition to discussing his recent travels, the Secretary-General expressed his profound alarm over the situation in Zimbabwe.  The current violence, intimidation and the arrest of opposition leaders are not conducive to credible elections, he asserted.  Should these conditions continue to prevail, the legitimacy of the election outcomes would be in question.

** Zimbabwe

On that subject, Haile Menkerios, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, is continuing his visit to Zimbabwe.  He has held meetings today with the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, with the presidential candidate Morgan Tsvangirai, church leaders and civil society groups, including human rights organizations.  Following his meeting with President Mugabe yesterday, Mr. Menkerios told reporters he is in Zimbabwe to learn what the conditions on the ground are like ahead of the forthcoming elections and to see what the UN can do to support Zimbabwe.  He said the UN will be supporting the Southern African Development Community to boost its capacity to observe the election.  Regarding the security situation, Mr. Menkerios said “the reports have been about violence, people being displaced, houses being burnt.  The Secretary-General is concerned about what measures can be put in place ahead of the elections.”  We will have more on Mr. Menkerios agenda as it develops in the next two or three days.

Meanwhile, a new report finds that up to 5 million Zimbabweans could be facing food insecurity by early next year.  Today’s joint report by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Food Programme (WFP) reflects the findings of an assessment team that visited the country from 29 April to 23 May.  It found that, for a second year in a row, adverse weather, the untimely delivery of seeds, shortages of fertilizer, and severe economic constraints have combined to create food insecurity and other hardships for people in both urban and rural areas.  By the height of the “hunger season” next January, more than 5 million people will need food assistance, the report says.  It recommends a combination of international emergency aid, agriculture development assistance, reforms of the grain marketing system and other measures.  The full 34-page report is on FAO’s website.

Also on Zimbabwe, High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today denounced the expelling of a UN human rights official by Zimbabwe as “regrettable, untimely and uncooperative”.  Speaking to journalists in Geneva, she added that the move appeared to fit with a pattern which the Government has chosen on non-cooperation with various international agencies.  The staff member in question was a Geneva-based desk officer.  He was on a routine mission expecting to work with the UN country team and non-governmental organizations on issues relating to human rights.  He was asked to leave Zimbabwe yesterday by the authorities, on the grounds that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had not given them enough warning that the desk officer was coming.  For its part, OHCHR says it did alert the authorities.  Arbour said she would like to see Zimbabwe reverse its decision and allow her staffer to return.

** Darfur

This just in from the UN-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID), UNAMID says a UN staff member, working with the mission, was abducted, stripped of official and personal belongings, and physically assaulted by members of an armed Arab militia, at approximately 10 metres from the UNAMID military base in El Geneina and within close proximity of El Geneina airport.  The staff member was repeatedly beaten by rifles before he was abducted, while three of his colleagues were held at gun-point, the mission reports.  UNAMID said a member of the Sudan National Security intervened and the perpetrators released the staff member, who is in stable condition.

The militia moved in a convoy, made up of approximately 1,000 men on camel, horseback and in four-wheel-drive vehicles, on their way to the headquarters of the Sudan Armed Forces.  UNAMID and UN security continue to monitor the situation.  A statement from UNAMID is expected shortly.  Meanwhile, the head of the Department of Field Support, Susana Malcorra, has started her visit to Darfur.

** Cyprus

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe today wrapped up his two-day visit to Cyprus and is now on his way back to New York.  Speaking to reporters in Nicosia this morning, he said he had met twice with each of the two leaders, the Greek Cypriot leader, Dimitrios Christofias, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat.  He also held meetings with representatives of civil society and the Security Council’s permanent members.  And he was briefed by the UN facilitators of the working groups and technical committees, which the two leaders decided to set up last March.

Pascoe said he remains optimistic about developments in Cyprus, adding that the two leaders are off to a very good start and that the UN is solidly behind them.  He noted that the two leaders’ advisers are to meet with the Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Cyprus, Taye-Brook Zerihoun, tomorrow, to set a date for the leaders’ next meeting.  Pascoe also said, “There are huge expectations internationally that Cyprus will make it this time…We want to make it work, and the sooner the better.”  We have the full text of his press encounter upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning held a formal meeting to hear from the leaders of its recently-concluded mission to Africa.  The Permanent Representatives of South Africa and the United Kingdom briefed the Council on the delegations’ visits to Djibouti, to deal with Somalia, and to the Sudan; the Permanent Representative of France spoke about their stops in Chad and the Democratic Republic of the Congo; and the Ambassador of Burkina Faso provided a briefing on the Côte d'Ivoire leg of the trip.  Earlier, the Council unanimously approved a resolution requesting the renewal of the mandate of the Panel of Experts dealing with sanctions on Liberia by six months until 20 December.  Council members are currently holding consultations to discuss the format of a meeting they intend to hold on Kosovo this Friday.

** Chad

UN officials in Chad say that the security situation in the north-east is calm after days of gun battles between armed opposition groups and Government forces.  UN humanitarian workers have been instructed to redeploy to provide key assistance to internally displaced Chadians and Sudanese refugees from Darfur living in camps around the town of Goz Beida.  We hope to have a more detailed update for you later today.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The monthly human rights report of the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo is available on the Mission’s website today.  It says that foreign and national armed groups continue to be responsible for a marked deterioration of the security and human rights situation in several parts of the country.  Meanwhile, the Government army and police remain among the main violators of the rights of civilians, including through rape and torture.  The Government, for its part, has responded to the situation by prosecuting some soldiers from its ranks.  Recently, it obtained the imprisonment of five of its soldiers for up to 15 years for raping minors.  However, at a time when the number of jailbreaks is mounting, the Government continues to deny access to prisons in many parts of the country to human rights officials.

**Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council is scheduled to wrap up its eighth regular session in Geneva this afternoon after having adopted 15 resolutions and decisions.  It already decided to extend the mandates by three years of seven of its thematic Special Procedures and is expected to also appoint a number of mandate holders for its Special Procedures.  Regarding Myanmar, the Human Rights Council condemned the ongoing systematic violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the people of Myanmar.  It called on Myanmar’s Government to fully implement the commitments it made to the Secretary-General on granting immediate full and unhindered access by relief workers to all persons in need throughout the country following the recent cyclone.

**Human Rights Protocol

High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour today congratulated the Human Rights Council on its adoption of an important new instrument to strengthen the protection of economic, social and cultural rights.  The Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will provide an important platform to expose abuses that are often linked to poverty, discrimination and neglect, abuses that victims frequently endure in silence and helplessness, she said.  It will provide a way for individuals, who may otherwise be isolated and powerless, to make the international community aware of their situation.  “This is a highly significant achievement,” she added.  We have more on that upstairs.

**Andean Coca Survey

The annual Andean coca survey, released today by the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), shows a marked increase in coca cultivation.  The increase was driven by a 27 per cent rise in Colombia, the world’s principal source of coca, and smaller increases in Bolivia and Peru.  The Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, Antonio Maria Costa, called the increase in Colombia “a surprise and a shock” given the Government’s efforts to eradicate coca.  Mr. Costa also noted that most coca is grown in areas controlled by insurgents.  We have more information in a press release upstairs.


I was asked twice this week about the hearing of a case in the District Court of The Hague against the United Nations and the Kingdom of the Netherlands.  The case was brought by various individuals and the Mothers of Srebrenica Foundation.  The survivors of the Srebrenica massacres are right to expect justice for the most heinous crimes committed on European soil since World War II.  The Secretary-General shares their feelings and expresses his deepest sympathies to them and to the relatives of those brutally executed at Srebrenica almost 12 years ago.  As we have so often said, those indicted for having planned, orchestrated and carried out the attacks must be brought to justice.  Nor should the UN rest until it is fully equipped to efficiently participate in the prevention of such tragedies from occurring in the future within its peacekeepers' midst.

The fact that the United Nations is immune from legal process under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations in no way diminishes the United Nations commitment to assist the people of Srebrenica in the aftermath of their tragedy.  The UN continues to do everything within its ability to bring those responsible for the atrocities to justice, and to assist in the recovery of Srebrenica and the region.

** Darfur Helicopters

In response to another question about the status of the helicopters needed in Darfur, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations says that, in addition to the four out of six required tactical support helicopters, there is a critical shortfall for three Medium Utility Helicopter Units (providing six helicopters each) and reconnaissance aircraft.  We are still in discussions with Member States to fill the aviation shortfalls.

**Public Opinion Survey

And then I was also asked, some of you have asked about the Secretary-General’s reaction to the survey that was published by the WorldPublicOpinion.org, which is a collaborative research project managed by the University of Maryland.  According to the poll taken in 20 nations, of all world leaders, only the Secretary-General received largely positive ratings.  I can only say that we are gratified for the support to the work of the United Nations.  And the Secretary-General will continue to work to earn that trust.  And really, this is all I have to say on this subject.  And this is all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  A follow-up on The Hague and Srebrenica.  When you say the Secretary-General and the United Nations system is doing whatever is necessary to be done to those responsible to be held or apprehended and transferred to The Hague, what does it mean?  And the Secretary-General, since he didn’t use the opportunity to mention that, according to the spokespeople, during the telephone conversation with Serbian President Tadic, didn’t mention, or appeal to him, whether he’s intending to call the Serbian President, because we have Serge Brammertz saying that they are within Serbia, to call him directly, not only to appeal, but to ask him to do what is necessary to be done for those to be transferred to The Hague?

Spokesperson:  I’m sure this issue, which has come up earlier, will come up again in their conversation.  As I said earlier about the phone conversation, it was essentially, as you can guess, about Kosovo and about political issues.  But this issue is certainly on the Secretary-General’s agenda and among his preoccupations.  We’re talking about the efforts, through the work of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, as well as through the united efforts of other United Nations bodies.  We have expressed that support to the victims.  And I can get you more on this a little later if you want.

Question:  Couple of questions.  First, do you expect [Haile] Menkerios to be back in New York before the election at all?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know whether he’ll be back in New York.  I know he’s probably scheduled to leave Zimbabwe on Friday, but, as far as I know, he has other engagements and other things to take care of.

Question:  If the Security Council asks for a briefing, it won’t be by Menkerios?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.

Question:  Okay.  Second question, Ashraf Qazi made the statement in Khartoum, supposedly, reportedly complaining about Williamson’s disappointment in UNMIS, the way it acted in Abyei?  Does he convey the feeling at Headquarters as well?  Is Ban Ki-moon satisfied with the way UNMIS acted in Abyei?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have an opinion by the Secretary-General on this subject right now.  But we have the full statement of Mr. Qazi upstairs if you want to see the details of what he said.

Question:  Is his opinion shared by everybody at Headquarters?

Spokesperson:  He’s the one on the ground and he’s the one who is dealing with the situation.

Question:  A follow-up on that.  Ambassador Khalilzad just said, if you ask Jean-Marie Guéhenno, he also is dissatisfied or unhappy in some way with the peacekeepers’ failure to act in Abyei.  There’s definitely something afoot.  Is that the case?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  At this point, I haven’t spoken to Mr. Guéhenno about this, but, of course, you’re free to address your questions to DPKO.

[The journalist was later informed that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is reviewing the Abyei incident, as it always does after such incidents.  Together with the UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS), DPKO will draw lessons and ensure the Mission continues to implement all aspects of its mandate productively, so as to assist the parties in advancing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.]

Question:  Michèle, you indicate that the Secretary-General reported this morning to the Assembly on important developments that took place during his trips abroad.  Do you think he would like to do likewise with the correspondents by giving a press conference here in this Room?

Spokesperson:  You have been fully aware, during this trip.  Some of you were part of the trip and I think you have had regular briefings about the trip.  In fact, you were informed before the General Assembly was.  So what he’s planning to do is, next week, he will have a press stakeout with you.  But this week, as you know, his schedule is very, very tight.  And he had to first brief the General Assembly.

Question:  Marie told us yesterday that Professor Gambari will go back to Myanmar next month.

Spokesperson:  It was not Marie.  I said that. 

Correspondent:  Oh, it was you?  I’m sorry.

Spokesperson:  I said probably next month.  That’s what I said.

Question:  Okay.  How about the Secretary-General?  Will he go back also?  At some point he said he would go back.

Spokesperson:  Yes, but he doesn’t have a specific date for that at this point.

Question:  In his first meeting with Senior General Shwe, was it agreed that he would come back?

Spokesperson:  It was not agreed, but the Secretary-General had said that he would follow through and he would certainly follow the situation closely.  But there are no dates and there are no specific plans.

Question:  Do you have any idea when the Cyprus problem can be discussed in the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I think you should ask the President of the Security Council and the members of the Security Council, whether that issue will be discussed in the Security Council.

Question:  About the UNHCR report that came out yesterday on refugees, will there be a statement or is the Secretary-General concerned about the report?  Will he say anything about it?

Spokesperson:  This is a regular report that has some alarming trends in it, but it’s a regular report and the Secretary-General does not comment on every report coming out of the different agencies.  No, there won’t be any comments, any specific comments.

Question:  I’d like to follow up on my question that I had asked you yesterday and the day before about the US attack on Pakistan [inaudible].

Spokesperson:  As I said also yesterday, any matter concerning security matters is for the Security Council to consider.  The Secretary-General is not going to intervene on this unless one of the members…

Question:  He does not have a response himself?

Spokesperson:  He doesn’t have a response himself, no, he does not.  I think that response should be coming from the Security Council.

Question:  And the other thing I asked you yesterday, if you remember, about the Israeli human rights violations in the Occupied Territory, especially religious rights, that Louise Arbour referred to in a statement in the Human Rights Council.  Has he spoken about that to the Israeli authorities?

Spokesperson:  You mean the Secretary-General?  No, he has not.  These issues, as I said yesterday, are brought up regularly by Mrs. Arbour and it’s her mandate.

Question:  Back on Srebrenica, is the UN taking part in the proceedings in The Hague?  That’s my first question.  The UN is partly to be blamed in the massacre of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica.  It’s nice to say now that the UN wants to help victims, but is the UN taking part in the legal process to find out who is to blame?

Spokesperson:  There was already a report that was done, if I can get the notes for you.  You had a Secretary-General’s report of 1999 on the fall of Srebrenica and it highlighted in very frank terms, if you remember, the actions that need to be taken by the UN, namely the Security Council members, the Secretariat, military and civilian personnel on the ground, to avoid a repeat of those tragic events.  And this report was taken into consideration in the way peace missions are shaped.  So the UN does understand that it has responsibilities and is ready to, first, help pursue the criminals.  And this is one of the reasons why they have been asking over and over again for the extradition of the two main accused in the case of the Srebrenica massacre. 

Question:  You’re not taking part in the proceedings now?

Spokesperson:  No, we’re not.

Question:  Are you represented by lawyers?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think so.  I can find out whether the UN is present, but I don’t think the UN is.

Question:  It’s been weeks now since Mr. Brahimi submitted his report on the security of international staff.

Spokesperson:  It hasn’t been weeks.  It has been days.

Question:  Days?

Spokesperson:  Not weeks.  Well, it has been about two weeks. 

Question:  Two weeks.  When is it expected to be released?

Spokesperson:  This is something the Secretary-General takes very seriously.  And he has been examining that report.  The legal aspects are being examined right now, about procedures that might follow this and about decisions to be taken by the Secretary-General himself on how to go forward with this report.  And as soon as these first steps are taken, the report will be released.

Question:  Let me follow up on this.  You’ve been saying for some time that there are legal matters involved.  Are you indicating that there will be legal procedures against somebody?

Spokesperson:  There might be.  I’m not sure at this point because it is still being examined.

Question:  Janos told us that the Secretary-General, I guess before he went on this most recent trip, had lunch with the President of the General Assembly and discussed the Human Rights Commissioner process and somehow committed to do something with the General Assembly in regard to the selection of the new Human Rights Commissioner.  What is the plan?  Does he intend to speak with the General Assembly before selecting a person or after?  Did it come up in today’s meeting?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have an answer on that.  It did not come up at today’s meeting.  Other issues came up.  I gave you some of those issues.  The special issue of the High Commissioner did not come up, as far as I know.  Did it come up, Janos?

Assembly Spokesperson:  As long as I was there, it did not.

Spokesperson:  It did not come up.

[Regarding the selection process, a statement was issued on 10 June, which noted that nominations for the post of High Commissioner had been solicited from Member States.]

Question:  Also, Abkhazia has once again accused Georgia of flying drones over its territory, despite, there was a commitment here.  Is that something the UN Mission in Georgia is monitoring, to see if drones are, in fact, flying over Abkhazia?

Spokesperson:  They have been monitoring in the past.  I’m sure they’re monitoring right now.  We can find out for you whether they have drawn any conclusions, but they have been monitoring all along.

Question:  And I’m sorry, one last thing that’s kind of pressing.  There has been this issue of Eritrean asylum seekers in Egypt that were being expelled and then the Government of Egypt said they would allow UNHCR to visit them and now there’s another story saying, despite that, they’re still being expelled.  Is there some way to find out what’s happening with that?

Spokesperson:  Of course, we can get the information for you from UNHCR.

Question:  As a follow-up, Michèle, is there any progress on Pakistan’s request for an inquiry into Benazir Bhutto’s death?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  It is still being studied in terms of legal implications and what it means.  It will be referred eventually to the Security Council, but the Secretary-General is of course examining the request.

Question:  Does it have to be referred to the Security Council or can the Secretary-General himself order an inquiry without the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  No, in a case like this, if there is any decision taken, it must be taken by the Security Council.

Question:  It is because it implies the use of money, right?

Spokesperson:  No, not only because of that.  It’s not because of money issues.  As you know, I’ve taken the example of the Hariri Tribunal; a case like this had to go through the Security Council, of course.

Question:  Mr. Larsen, the United Nations Middle East envoy, said he was unhappy with the Israel-Syria talks.  Does the Secretary-General share the same opinion?

Spokesperson:  I said yesterday that Mr. Larsen said he was misquoted in that article you are mentioning or quoting.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  Good to see you as always.

**Briefing by the Secretary-General

This morning, the Secretary-General briefed Member States on his most recent efforts and undertakings.  The main topic was the food crisis, apart from some of the other issues Michèle already mentioned.  This is the fifth time during the sixty-second session that the Secretary-General was updating the membership on his recent activities and efforts.

In opening the briefing, the President of the General Assembly, Srgjan Kerim, in his brief introductory statement, noted that this was actually the second time that the Secretary-General briefed Member States on the global food crisis.  The first time was on 16 May.  He also noted that there was a need for a unified response to the crisis, otherwise the development gains of the past years could be wiped out.  And in this regard, the President of the General Assembly proposed to convene a meeting of the General Assembly to discuss the global food crisis in July.

**Security Council Reform

Let me go back to something that happened yesterday, to the meeting of the Open-ended Working Group on Security Council Reform.  The Working Group wrapped up its debate yesterday late in the afternoon, after 6 p.m., and around roughly 40 countries took the floor during the day.  The meeting revealed that there are still existing serious differences on the issue of Security Council reform among Member States.  Therefore, the President of the General Assembly, Srgjan Kerim, will continue consultations with Member States.  Also, the President would like to respect the position of the African Group of countries, who asked for time to study the report of the Vice-Chairs of the Task Force and formulate their views later, so that the President would also wait for that and take that into consideration.  At the same time, work will begin on drafting the report of the Open-Ended Working Group.  The aim remains as was to move the process to the level of intergovernmental negotiations.  That remains the intention of the President.  But for that to begin, the membership of the General Assembly has to be in agreement.

**Financing for Development Preparations

Representatives of civil society and the business sector began this morning an interactive hearing in connection with the preparations for the International Conference on Financing for Development to review the implementation of the Monterrey Consensus, which is set for the end of November in Doha, Qatar.  This was opened by the General Assembly President and co-chaired by two facilitators of the process; Egypt and Norway.

Earlier in the week, on Monday, the two facilitators already held a round of informal consultations, but that time, they focused on the content of the so-called draft outcome document for the Doha meeting.  The views that will be expressed during today’s informal hearing with civil society and the business sector will also form part of the input for drafting the outcome document.  A resolution adopted last December on the organizational aspect of the review conference of the Monterrey Consensus requested the President of the General Assembly to present the first draft of this outcome document to the Member States by the end of July.

The President, in his morning statement to the hearing, noted that we reached a critical juncture in the financing for development agenda.  Despite the promises made, progress had been slower than expected.  While there were some successes, many of the development finance objectives set in 2002 were not fully realized.  He pointed out that effective, sustainable economic and human development was fundamentally about deepening our global partnership with all stakeholders.  Therefore, he called on participants to engage in a frank, inclusive and open exchange of views to ensure that their important contributions would be reflected in the preparations for the follow-up conference in Doha.  The President stressed that we would continue to follow the spirit of Monterrey by involving all stakeholders in the preparatory process.  He added that, in this regard, it was vital to understand the human element of our work, that we understood the everyday conditions of people living in poverty, those who stand to benefit most from our efforts and who may suffer most from the consequences of our inaction.

**Assembly Meeting on Budget and Migration

The General Assembly was scheduled to meet in plenary this morning to take up and consider the draft resolution on the Global Forum on Migration and Development.  This meeting has been postponed until Friday afternoon.  So, Friday afternoon, there will be a plenary meeting of the Assembly, which will take up this draft resolution, as well as the reports of the Fifth Committee.

**Other issues

And two other things, very quickly, that are new on the President’s website as regards communications with the membership: one, a letter that he sent out yesterday to the membership of the General Assembly informing Member States that, as a follow up to the high-level climate change thematic debate that the General Assembly held on 11 to 13 February, he’s going to convene a follow-up meeting on the topic of climate change and vulnerable countries.  This will be on 8 July.  This is the second follow-up meeting emanating from that high-level February thematic debate.  The first was held on 9 June, if some of you may remember, that was on private investments and climate change.

So that’s one of the issues on the President’s website.   Another one is, for those of you who are interested in preparations for the 4 September review meeting of the General Assembly on the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, the facilitator of that process, the Guatemalan Permanent Representative, Ambassador Gert Rosenthal, held a meeting with Member States on 13 June, and he sent out a letter with a short summary of the various things discussed in that informal meeting.  So that gives you an idea of where Member States stand as regards the preparations for the review of the Global Strategy.

That’s all I have at the moment and, of course, I’m open to questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The President considered the food crisis important enough to schedule a meeting of the General Assembly.  How long will that meeting be lasting and at what level?  And also, does the President of the General Assembly consider the food issue a human rights issue in the sense that an individual has a right to food?

Spokesperson:  Let’s first discuss the proposal to convene a meeting.  During the 16 May briefing when the Secretary-General briefed the membership on the food crisis, that meeting already revealed a strong desire on the part of the membership of the United Nations, the Member States, to be fully engaged in the process.  That is, of course, also why this second meeting of the Secretary-General is being held.  Here again, Member States expressed their strong desire for the General Assembly to be fully engaged.  And those who spoke supported the proposal of the General Assembly President to have such a meeting in July.  So far, this is at the level of a proposal.  We’ll see what the concrete organizational aspects and participation levels will be.

As regards the importance of the food crisis issue, I have mentioned this several times, that the President of the General Assembly has already flagged this issue and raised his concern and drew attention to the importance of the food crisis, especially as it impacts on a variety of other development issues.  He regards the crisis as interconnected with all the issues that the General Assembly discusses, including the human rights aspects.  He has done that already when he talked about financing for development issues, when he talked about climate change issues.  So, from the beginning of February, this has been very much on the agenda of the President, as I said, more from the perspective of an interconnected issue with the various other global challenges that the General Assembly is dealing with.

Question:  Is it fair to say after this yet another not-that-successful round of the open-ended session on the reform of the Security Council, that this round failed, actually?  And, if you share that view, what was the biggest obstacle in terms of reviewing views and moving forward?

Spokesperson:  I would not share that view, because I sat in that meeting and I didn’t hear any of the Member States or any of the Task Force members or the President himself mentioning the word unsuccessful as a characterization of the debate.  It was another discussion focused primarily on the report of the Vice-Chairs [of the Task Force], which put on the table all existing views of the Member States, and basically it was an occasion for Member States to reflect on this and see how they feel about where the process stands and where the next stage is.  As I mentioned, when the Egyptian Ambassador took the floor, he was talking on behalf of the African Group and that Group is, at the moment, or yesterday, was not in a position to reflect on this report, so they asked for more time.  That’s also one of the reasons why the President will continue consultations, to wait and see what the African Group says as regards this report.  But also, to see how Member States will want to continue on where to take this issue forward.

What was clear from yesterday, and this is reflected in the report of the Vice-Chairs of the Task Force, that there is a genuine desire on the part of the membership to take the process to the level of intergovernmental negotiations.  The discussions yesterday basically revealed that there is still a split among Member States whether to begin that now or have more consultations, because this is an issue where you want all the Members behind you.  The President, while his intention is to take the issue to the level of intergovernmental negotiations, as I think is the intention of all the Member States, feels that there is a need for more consultations in order to have the full membership on board.

Question:  Is the spirit of optimism still prevailing in this group that is discussing this although there is need for intergovernmental solutions and discussions, I mean for the whole membership to discuss the issue?  And can the President still share the optimism, if any, that we are going to have some kind of movement by the end of this session and have a finished business for the next session to move forward?

Spokesperson:  It is certainly the intention to work along those lines, but as I said, the President is fully aware of the fact that this will only work -- and this is very much part of the seven principles, which we have mentioned and is supported by the Member States -- with the full engagement of the full membership.  Now, you talked about less optimism, you didn’t use the word pessimism.  Let me say one thing, and I mentioned this when I briefed on the report of the Vice-Chairs, that it included all options.  It included the “no reform” option.  Yesterday, when the President closed the meeting, he said he was encouraged by the fact that no support was expressed by any of the speakers, any of the Member States present, for the “no reform” option.

Question:  You said we are waiting for the African Group’s position, but we know what the African Group’s position is, namely, asking for two permanent seats with a veto in the Security Council.  Does the President expect anything different from that coming from the African Group?

Spokesperson:  The President is respecting the views of the African Group as expressed by the Egyptian Ambassador, who mentioned that the African Group is still studying the report of the Vice-Chairs of the Task Force.  So it is not about the African Group’s view, as you just characterized it saying that that is known.  This is about the African Group’s view concerning the report of the Vice-Chairs of the Task Force.  This is what the African Group is studying, this is what the Egyptian Ambassador asked for on behalf of the African Group, and this is the request that the President is also honouring.

Question:  How much time did they ask for?

Spokesperson:  There was no time mentioned.

Question:  When discussing Security Council reform, the emphasis is usually placed on expansion.  I don’t hear much about methods and problems of procedure, even though that was an important issue in the reform process of the General Assembly.  It was there, in the meeting on the 13th, about improving the sanctions procedures to ensure clear procedures.  There’s an advisory opinion of the Advocate General of the European Union, saying that the implementation of sanctions against an individual by the EU is a real problem and he’ll maybe advise against it.  It’s a lack of due-process procedures.  So my question is, did this come up yesterday?  Is this part of the methodology and procedures reform?  Can you report to us on that aspect of this process?

Spokesperson:  Two very quick things.  One, look at the report of the Vice-Chairs of the Task Force, which is available on the website.  The report mentions the working methods of the Council.  Yesterday, when this was discussed, when Member States talked about the so-called negotiables, they then very much understood that those negotiables include the issues of category of membership, size of the Council, veto, regional representation and also working methods of the Council and the relation of the Council to the General Assembly.  Those are broadly considered to be among the negotiables.  So discussions on working methods are very much part and parcel of the process.

Question:  This is one aspect being taken up by the Group.  Are there other aspects being discussed by other groups that you can point us to, because it seems expansion gets emphasized, different countries want their position or whatever, but on the issue of working procedures, that seems a different category of issue and I’m wondering who’s taking that up, how serious is it?

Spokesperson:  It is very serious and, as I said, it is part of the Council reform process, but it is probably less contentious than the issue of size, category of membership and veto.

Question:  Is there a way to follow it?

Spokesperson:  Yes, if you look at the various past reports of the Open-Ended Working Group, for example, last year’s, which is document A/61/47, you will see that it has discussions also on that, and it will make reference to previous reports and, through that process, you can follow that definitely.

Question:  Back to yesterday’s meeting, you said there was still a split among Member States, particularly as regards this report.  And you said the President will continue consultations until everyone is on board.  Does that mean that this draft decision that was slated for mid-July, does that get pushed back until everyone agrees to the Task Force report?

Spokesperson:  I talked about this yesterday at lunch time.  In his opening statement, the President mentioned the idea of starting the work on the report of the Open-Ended Working Group.  And that report, as has been the case with past reports of the Open-Ended Working Group, would contain a draft decision that would be approved by the General Assembly, and that is what is supposed to be happening now.  And that is going to happen in the sense that work will begin on putting together the report of the Open-Ended Working Group, which should include a draft decision.  Now, whether that will happen in July or, because of the differences among Member States registered at yesterday’s meeting, will take a little longer time, we’ll see.  This is where I don’t want to get into hypotheticals.  Let’s see where the consultative process goes.

Question:  Was the report of the Working Group adopted unanimously, or are there reservations?

Spokesperson:  If I remember correctly, it was on the last day of the sixty-first session, 17 September, that the report of the Working Group was adopted, and it was adopted by consensus.  And paragraph 21 contained the draft decision.

Question:  There’s a report from Wales in the Welsh Press, saying that Wales may seek permanent observer status in the General Assembly.  How does a territory or geography seek that status, like Holy See and Palestine?

Spokesperson:  I have to look into that as far as the procedures are concerned.  I’ll look into that and contact you and let you know what the procedures are.  Thank you very much.

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