7 July 2008


7 July 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 to you all.  I am sorry to have kept you waiting.

**Guest Today

My guest today is Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, who will be here to brief you on her recent trip to Afghanistan, right after Janos’ briefing.

**Statement on Afghanistan

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the bombing in Afghanistan.

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest terms the suicide bombing in Kabul today, which took place in the vicinity of the Afghan Ministry of Interior and the Indian Embassy.  A reported 40 people were killed, including numerous civilians and several Indian Embassy guards.

The perpetrators of this attack targeted innocent civilians.  The Secretary-General reiterates that no political agenda or grievance can justify such reprehensible means.  He urges that those responsible be brought to justice.

The Secretary-General sends his deepest sympathy to the Governments of Afghanistan and India, his condolences to the families of those killed and his best wishes for a rapid recovery to those who were injured.

** Afghanistan

We also have a statement from Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, condemning today’s suicide attack in the strongest possible terms.  He said that the total disregard for innocent lives was staggering, and those behind this must be held responsible.

The Secretary-General, in a report out on the racks today, says that the level of insurgent and terrorist activity in Afghanistan has increased, particularly in the south and the east of the country.  He said that it is of great concern that the highest number of security incidents in the country since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 was recorded this past May.  The report also outlines the priorities that the UN Mission in Afghanistan has in fulfilling its mandate.

Also today, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) reports that the farmers of Badakhshan Province have responded well to the Government’s programme to reduce opium poppy cultivation, with the area under cultivation dropping from more than 13,000 hectares in 2006 to 3,642 hectares in 2007.

**Statement on Somalia

We have another statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Somalia.

The Secretary-General condemns the brutal killing of the acting head of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) office in Mogadishu yesterday by unidentified gunmen.  He expresses his heartfelt sympathies to the victim’s family and colleagues, as well as to those injured in the attack.  The killing of Osman Ali Ahmed is a loss not only for the United Nations but also for the Somali people, who are the ultimate victims when humanitarian workers and aid officials are targeted in this way.

The Secretary-General encourages all Somalis to reflect on this latest senseless act of violence and to work together in the search for peace and reconciliation.

The UN Development Programme has also strongly condemned the assassination.  A 14-year veteran of the development agency, Ahmed was shot by unidentified gunmen as he left a Mogadishu mosque with his son and brother, both of whom were wounded in the attack.

Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, has also condemned the murder of Ahmed, pledging that such killings will not deter the United Nations from carrying on its vital work in Somalia.  And Mark Bowden, the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, has denounced this apparent targeted killing of a UN development assistance officer as particularly outrageous and worrying at this critical time when Somalia’s need for assistance is rapidly increasing.  We have more in a number of statements upstairs.

**Statement on Georgia

We have another statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, this time on Georgia.

The Secretary-General condemns the recent bombings in the cities of Gagra, Sukhumi and Gali on Abkhaz-controlled territory, as well as in the immediate vicinity of the ceasefire line on Georgian-controlled territory.  All together, the bombings on Abkhaz-controlled territory have left 4 dead and 16 wounded, mostly civilians.  One of those killed was a national staff member of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG) and another UNOMIG national staff member is among the wounded.  The Secretary-General calls for an immediate and thorough investigation of the incidents and for those responsible to be brought to justice.

The Secretary-General notes that these incidents have taken place against the background of a sharp increase in tension in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict.  He calls on all parties to exercise maximum restraint, to refrain from violence and to work together in search for a peaceful and lasting settlement.

**Statement on Pakistan

We also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Pakistan.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns yesterday’s suicide bombing in front of a police station near the Red Mosque in Islamabad, which has claimed the lives of a large number of people, many of them police, and injured dozens more.  There have also been reports today of a series of explosions in Karachi that have resulted in more casualties.  The Secretary-General urges all political forces to unite against the scourge of terrorism and expresses his heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government and people of Pakistan.

** Sudan

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, strongly condemned the Sudan People’s Liberation Army’s (SPLA) shooting of a UN military observer and a Sudanese Armed Forces national monitor in Agok this morning.  Qazi called upon the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) to identify the SPLA soldier or soldiers responsible for wounding the two officers, and to bring the perpetrators of this egregious act to justice.  Qazi strongly urged the parties not to allow this incident to impede or interfere with implementation of the Abyei road map, which is so vital to maintaining the process of implementing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

**Secretary-General in Asia

The Secretary-General’s gave a joint press conference with World Bank President Robert Zoellick at the end of the first day of the outreach session of the Group of Eight (G-8) Summit in Hokkaido, Japan, today.  He said that the world faces three simultaneous crises: a food crisis, a climate crisis and a development crisis.  The three are deeply interconnected and need to be addressed as such, he stressed.

The Secretary-General warned that, at the midpoint in our efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015, progress in many countries is off track, particularly in Africa.  On climate change, he said that we need to set a long-term goal of at least cutting by half emissions by 2050.  But we also need short- and medium-term targets that will drive today's market forces towards technological change and market transformations that are needed.  He suggested that we must take an investment approach, emphasizing that every dollar, euro or yen invested today, as well as every ounce of effort, is worth 10 tomorrow, and 100 the day after.  We have the transcript of his remarks upstairs.

The Secretary-General travelled yesterday to Japan from the Republic of Korea, where he paid his first visit since taking up his duties at the United Nations.  On Saturday, he paid an emotional visit to Haeng-chi, the village where he was born, to a rapturous welcome by relatives, villagers and admirers.  He paid tribute to his ancestors during that visit, and said: “I am very grateful to the grace of my ancestors, my father.  I wish my father could have seen what I am now.”

We have available on the web the transcript of the press conference he delivered after meeting with Korean President Lee Myung-bak last Friday.  And we have the weekend events on our website, on the News Centre site also, as well as the radio site.

** Sierra Leone

The Acting Executive Representative of the Secretary-General in Sierra Leone has congratulated that country’s people on the successful conduct of local council elections over the weekend.  Michael von der Schulenberg said he was pleased that Saturday’s polls were generally peaceful, orderly and efficient.

**United Nations Children’s Fund

Parallel to the Group of Eight Summit, the “Junior Eight”, or J-8, is also holding its own summit in Japan.  As part of the UNICEF-led initiative, young people from both G-8 and developing countries today presented their recommendations to G-8 leaders.  These include establishing an international organization to evaluate products based on “Green Indexes”, such as energy efficiency, waste management, packaging and product composition; having G-8 leaders sign a declaration prohibiting tied-aid donations that are made for political gain rather than the common good; and supporting educational programmes, such as disease prevention, nutrition, sanitation and sexual education, while preventing Governments from restricting access to contraceptives and health education.  There is more information upstairs on the Junior G-8.

**United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

UNESCO has added four new sites to its World Heritage List.  They are the mountain of Le Morne, a former hideout for runaway slaves in Mauritius; the Nabatean archaeological site of Al-Hijr, the first World Heritage property to be inscribed in Saudi Arabia; the multi-story earthen houses of China’s Fujian Province, some of which can house up to 800 people each; and fortified Armenian monasteries in north-eastern Iran, the oldest of which dates back to the seventh century.  The World Heritage Committee is meeting through Thursday in Quebec City.  There is more information also upstairs.

** Russian Federation

The organizers of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games, to be held in the Russian town of Sochi, have decided to move several facilities away from a protected wilderness area following recommendations from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).  Those facilities include the bobsleigh and luge tracks, as well as the mountain village, which were to be built on the edge of a fragile nature reserve.  UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner, said the decision to relocate is a significant step forward in the greening of the Games.  We have more on that upstairs.

Ms. Coomaraswamy is with us already, and Janos will come afterwards.

I will just take two questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  Is the UN going to do anything about Mohammed Omer, a Palestinian journalist who says that he was beaten and stripped by Israel’s Shin Bet police?

Spokesperson:  Well, that question was asked several times last week, and I already gave an answer.

Question:  But you said that you weren’t aware of the situation last week.

Spokesperson:  No, I am sorry, I said that we didn’t have a reaction on that.  I didn’t say I was not aware.

Question:  So is there going to be a reaction?

Spokesperson:  No, we won’t have one.  I mean, this dates back a few days now.

Question:  Michèle, Saudi Arabia is organizing an inter-faith conference in Madrid, Spain.  Does the Secretary-General have any response to that?  Does the United Nations have any connection with this?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of, but I know the Secretary-General discussed it with the King when he went to Saudi Arabia.

Question:  Has the Secretary-General made any decision on the appointment of the new High Commissioner for Human Rights?

Spokesperson:  Not yet.

Question:  When?

Spokesperson:  We don’t know yet. I’ll let you know as soon as I know.

One more question.

Question:  Is there any plan for the Secretary-General to meet with the President of Zimbabwe?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of, no.

Question:  It is reported that the Indian peacekeepers that the OIOS referred to the Indian Government for discipline have, in fact, not been disciplined and only been given warnings.  Does the UN think that is enough and what is the UN going to do about that?

Spokesperson:  I would address that question to DPKO.  As far as I know, as you know, every time we have a disciplinary action, it’s taken by the country where the peacekeepers come from.

Question:  I think last time that she was here, Jane Holl Lute said we are very encouraged by what the Governments are doing to discipline the people we refer to them.  So this is a kind of a high-profile case involving trading of gold for guns with rebels.  Is there anything the UN can do to make sure the peacekeepers get more than a warning?

Spokesperson:  Except that we keep on talking to Member States about that, the countries contributing troops, there is not much we can do beyond that, beyond putting pressure.

Question:  Except maybe in terms of accepting peacekeepers from the same country in other missions, or something?

Spokesperson:  Well, I can assure you that the same peacekeepers will not be accepted in future missions.  That I can assure you of.

Question:  Also, the Washington Post reported over the weekend that all of the equipment for two new battalions in Darfur is still in Port Sudan and has not been delivered to Darfur.  Is that the case?

Spokesperson:  I will have to check on that.

Question:  Michèle, the revised flash appeal for Burma, do you have any idea yet what the amount will be?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t know, but we’ll follow that closely for you, of course.  I am sure we will have somebody here to talk to you about it.

Briefing by Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

Let me start also with two statements that we have attributable to the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.

**Statement on Killing of UNDP Somalia Staff Member

United Nation General Assembly President, Srgjan Kerim, condemns in the strongest possible terms the targeted killing of Osman Ali Ahmed, the head of the United Nations Development Programme office in Mogadishu.  The President expresses his deepest condolences to the family of the victim.

The President expresses his grave concern that, once again, a United Nations staff member was a deliberate target of a terrorist attack.  The attack clearly demonstrates that terrorism is not only a threat to the values and principles of the United Nations, but also a very concrete threat to its physical existence and actual work on the ground.  The President reiterates that terrorism is unacceptable in all its forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes.

**Statement on Suicide Attack at Indian Embassy in Kabul

United Nation General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim strongly condemns the suicide attack outside the Indian Embassy in Kabul.  The President is deeply saddened and outraged over the loss of life, and expresses his deepest condolences to the families of the victims of this cowardly act.  He reiterates that such acts of terrorism are unacceptable in all their forms and manifestations, committed by whomever, wherever and for whatever purposes.

This brutal, criminal act should further underscore the determination of Member States to advance vigorously on the implementation of the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy that was adopted by the General Assembly in September 2006.

**Assembly President’s Travel

General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim is back in New York this morning after a five-country official travel that took him to Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Italy and the United Arab Emirates.

The main topics of the President’s discussions with Government leaders and Members of Parliament in the countries he visited were issues related to climate change, achieving the Millennium Development Goals, financing for development and how to deal with the current global food crisis.  On this latter issue, the proposal for a special session of the General Assembly was discussed.  Also, United Nations reforms, including the reform of the Security Council, were among the topics regularly discussed during his meetings.

I am not going to give you more details on where things stand with Security Council reform, also as regards some other things he discussed, because he is going to come and brief you on Wednesday, 11 o’clock here, in Room 226.  And then you can ask him about Security Council reform, various discussions he had and also about the outcome of the meeting I am going to flag for you now, which is going to be tomorrow.

**Assembly Meeting on Climate Change

Tomorrow morning at 10 in the Trusteeship Council, the General Assembly will hold a half-day debate on the special needs of the most vulnerable countries in respect to climate change.  This is the second follow-up meeting to the high-level thematic debate on climate change that the Assembly held in mid-February, actually, from 11 to 13 February this year.  The first follow-up meeting was a month ago, and that looked at ways to involve private investors in climate change initiatives.

Tomorrow’s meeting is not only intended to raise awareness of the threats facing the most vulnerable States, but also to provide proposals that feed into the negotiations that are under way to forge a global agreement to address climate change.  There is a background press release that has been issued in the form of a note to correspondents (Note No. 6163), and there is also a more detailed background information note on the website of the President, along with the programme of tomorrow’s half-day debate.  And, as I said, as for the outcome, that is something that the President will discuss with you on Wednesday morning at 11, when he comes here.

Also tomorrow afternoon, the General Assembly is expected to hold a short plenary to take action on two requests from the Secretary-General.  These are to include two items on its agenda: the extension of the terms of the judges of the International Tribunals for former Yugoslavia and Rwanda.  This is in respect to the fact that it is the General Assembly that elects the judges for the two Tribunals.  Two documents have the details out on the rack: A/ 62/236 and A/62/237.

**Draft Convention on Carriage of Goods by Sea

And let me go back to something that happened on Thursday, which has to do with a wrap-up of the session of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law.  At that meeting on Thursday, the Commission approved the draft convention on contracts for the international carriage of goods wholly or partly by sea.  The draft convention will be presented to the General Assembly for conclusion during the sixty-third session through the Sixth Committee (Legal) and then it is expected to be opened for signature in September 2009, and it will need 20 ratifications to enter into force.

This is a draft that has been negotiated by the Commission for the past six years, and the reason I am mentioning this is because the Commission, established by the General Assembly in 1966, is a subsidiary body of the General Assembly with a mandate to harmonize international trade laws.  There is also a press release that is going to be issued or may have already been issued on the details of this draft convention.  That is coming out of Vienna because the secretariat that services the Commission is in Vienna, and it is the Information Service in Vienna that is going to issue the press release.

**Peacekeeping Committee Concludes Session

Also something else from Thursday: the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations concluded its work.  It adopted a report, and that report covers, amongst others, issues related to security sector reform and conduct and discipline.  There is a press release out on that -- it is GA/PK/198.  Again, the reason I am mentioning this is because the Special Committee is also a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly, established in 1965 with the intention to conduct comprehensive reviews of all issues relating to peacekeeping.

The specific report adopted on Thursday is going to come up to the General Assembly plenary, still within the sixty-second session, and the Assembly is expected to endorse the report.

Well, that’s about all I have and, as I mentioned, more details on all of this, and the travels, and what the General Assembly is up to at the moment, what is still left on the agenda, is going to come up when the President comes and briefs you Wednesday morning at 11 here.

Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Looking forward to that briefing.  Just to keep me going until then.  Can you just give me a few details about the United Arab Emirates leg of the visit -- who he met, what they talked about?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, he met the State Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Anwar Gargash, and they had a long discussion about various priority issues, also regional issues, Security Council reform and also the follow-up to the thematic debate on human trafficking, to which Mr. Gargash was one of the keynote speakers.

Question:  On the Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations, it is even in the press release that you cited, it says that NAM, or Morocco on behalf of NAM… were saying that the adoption of the report was delayed once again.  Was this Committee scheduled to finish earlier, at the time of the Fifth and all that, or what is the critique?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, it would be misleading to put it in the context, as you said, that it was somehow in tandem with the Fifth Committee.  As far as I know, yes, the idea was for this Committee to finish earlier, but there were discussions exactly on the adoption of the report and various elements of the report.  So it was just “simple” negotiations that delayed the process, but the expectation originally was for this Committee to finish earlier, yes.

Question:  Since they are in charge or deal with conduct and discipline, do you know if they, in this, discussed -- or have in the past discussed -- how to deal with the failure of the troop-contributing countries to discipline peacekeepers that the UN asked them to take action on?  Do they have the ability to deal with that and to give DPKO either guidance on how to deal with countries that don’t provide discipline, or…?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, this is the issue that has been regularly on the menu, and this time it was discussed probably in more detail.  And you may remember that, during the Fifth Committee, it was also amongst the cross-cutting issues, and it is one of those issues that will be taken up again later.  So it is on the agenda and has been on the agenda, of course, and with various different incidents being reported, it continues to be on the agenda.

Question:  I am sorry, but this report is now available, right?

Spokesperson:  The draft report will go for endorsement, or adoption, by the General Assembly.  And yes, it is supposed to be issued as a document.

Thank you very much.  See you on Wednesday at 11.

* *** *

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