18 July 2008


18 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Secretary-General Remarks to General Assembly meeting

The Secretary-General this morning addressed the General Assembly’s meeting on the global food and energy crisis, telling the Assembly that the double jeopardy of high food and fuel prices threatens to undermine much of the progress made in achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

He said that a global partnership for food is needed, comprising Governments and all other relevant actors, which should be guided in its actions by the Comprehensive Framework for Action that his High-Level Task Force has developed.

He applauded today’s proposal by the European Commission for a special facility worth more than $1.5 billion for rapid response to the food crisis, with funds to be disbursed in coordination with the UN Task Force and other international organizations.

The Secretary-General urged Assembly Members to immediately and substantially scale up public spending to respond effectively to the pressing needs of the world’s hungry people.  The cost of inaction would be unacceptably high, he said, warning that more than 100 million more people could slide into hunger.  We have his remarks upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council began its work this morning by unanimously extending the terms of 9 permanent judges and 17 ad litem judges serving on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.  Those judges will be extended through 2009, or 2010 for appeals processes, unless the cases to which they are assigned are completed sooner than that.

After that, Ian Martin, the Special Representative for Nepal, briefed the Council in an open meeting on the UN Mission’s work in that country.  He said that the wishes of the Government of Nepal and leading parties on the Mission’s future had now been clarified, and that the Secretary-General recommends that the mandate of the UN Mission should be extended, as requested by Nepal, for six months.

And at 3 this afternoon, the Security Council has scheduled consultations to discuss the work of the UN Office in West Africa.

**Children and Armed conflict

And just for the record, the Security Council wrapped up a day-long debate on children and armed conflict yesterday afternoon by adopting a presidential statement that reaffirmed the need for States to comply with their obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, and for non-State actors to refrain from recruiting or using children in hostilities.

** Sudan

And from Sudan, the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) today held a memorial service in El Fasher for the peacekeeper killed in West Darfur on Wednesday.  The ceremony was attended by UNAMID Force Commander Martin Agwai and other civilian senior officials.

The Mission, meanwhile, reports that the situation in Darfur has been calm.  In the past 24 hours, UNAMID peacekeepers conducted 26 security and confidence-building patrols throughout the region, and humanitarian activities are ongoing.

** Zimbabwe

And as we mentioned to you earlier this week, the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Haile Menkerios, is in Pretoria, South Africa, today to further the Secretary-General’s efforts to help resolve the political crisis in Zimbabwe.

Mr. Menkerios has been in meetings with South African President Thabo Mbeki and with the African Union Chairperson Jean Ping, and was expected to be briefed on the state of the mediation efforts which are being led by South Africa at the request of SADC, the South African Development Community.

We do not have any substantive readout at this time of those discussions, but just wanted to bring you up to date.

** Somalia

And on the racks today is the Secretary-General’s latest report on Somalia.  In it, he says that among the key challenges in Somalia now is the implementation of the recent Djibouti agreement between the Transitional Government and the opposition.  He notes that securing the withdrawal of the Ethiopian forces from Somalia remains an important test for the success of the agreement.  But with just 2,650 peacekeepers deployed, the AU peacekeeping mission known as AMISOM, which is expected to fill the security vacuum in the wake of an Ethiopian pullout, remains well below its authorized troop level of 8,000.

Meanwhile, the humanitarian situation has taken a dramatic turn for the worse due to conflict, increasing food prices, droughts and widespread insecurity that has claimed the lives of many humanitarian workers.  And on piracy off the coast of Somalia, the Secretary-General reports that the UN, the African Union, the European Union and other groups are working together on appropriate measures to address the problem.

**World Food Programme

And on Somalia, the World Food Programme (WFP) flags today that attacks on aid workers and threats to ships delivering food aid are jeopardizing the lives of millions who are in dire need of urgent food assistance.  WFP has appealed to Governments to provide more naval escorts to protect its food ships against piracy.

Right now, WFP faces a shortfall of $210 million for its current operations. And there is a WFP press release on this issue upstairs.

** Iraq

And the World Health Organization (WHO) has resumed the permanent placement of international staff in Iraq after a break of five years.  This move will strengthen WHO's support to the Iraqi Government in responding to humanitarian crises and reforming the country’s health-care system.

WHO’s international staff were withdrawn from Iraq after the attack in August 2003 on the UN headquarters in Baghdad.  And there is more information in a WHO press release upstairs.

** Lebanon

And from Lebanon, the Lebanon Independent Border Assessment Team (LIBAT), dispatched by the Secretary-General, has begun its second mission to the country.  The Team will conduct a broad review of Lebanon’s ongoing efforts to enhance its border-management capacity, following the recommendations made by the Team after its first visit to Lebanon in 2007.

The Team will carry out consultations with Lebanese officials as well as other partners already assisting Lebanon in this area.  The Team is expected to be in the country for two weeks and will issue a report to the Secretary-General following the mission.

** Western Sahara

And in response to questions I had earlier this week on Western Sahara, I just wanted to reassure the questioner, who is not here, that there is nothing new to report at this time.  Following the Secretary-General’s latest report and the last briefing in the Security Council, we are giving the process some additional time and thought before convening a fifth round of talks.

Peter van Walsum’s status has not changed; he continues to be the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy and is part of the process of considering next steps.  When a time and place for a new round of talks has been determined, we will make that public, as we informed you earlier this week.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

And we have the week ahead at the United Nations for your planning purposes available to you for next week’s reporting.

And we have Janos here for the General Assembly.  He is the General Assembly Spokesperson and I’ll turn over to him, if there are no questions for me.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Just a quick question about the alleged attacks at the Ruwa site in Zimbabwe.  The UN spokesperson office did get back to me and it wasn’t anything new than what they had told us, you know, a couple of weeks ago that no humanitarian aid worker has been able to confirm what had happened on the nights of July 7 and 8.  So, if we can get an update on that…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, if they didn’t have access, they don’t have first-hand information, then perhaps that’s the only information we have available.  Of course, if we have anything, we’ll get it to you.

Question:  I also understand that the Government was supposed to assess the situation and would get back to the United Nations on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As soon as we have something more on it, we’ll get back to you.

Correspondent:  All right, thank you.

Question:  On the UNAMID attack on Wednesday, do we know which country the peacekeeper was from, the one that was killed?  Is there an investigation into who did it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, there is an investigation under way.  But I think we had a press release on this yesterday and there is another one coming out, so, I’d refer you to that.

Question:  Can you confirm John Holmes is going to Myanmar on Monday?

Deputy Spokesperson:  He had announced that to you during his press conference earlier this week.

Question:  Marie, on Nepal, the Ambassador of India said that he took issue with the Secretary-General report not extending it for six months but saying only a month until there is clarification by Nepal.  He said Nepal is the one that approached the Security Council for help on its own volition and that the Secretary-General should grant that request for a six-month extension.  Can you explain?  I guess he seemed surprised that the Secretary-General was asking for more information or not granting the request or agreeing with the request.  What’s the reason for that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you came in late, Ian Martin had remarks and that’s available upstairs for you and that explains the reasons why he’s asking for an extension for six months on behalf of the Secretary-General.

Question:  All right, I wanted to ask you another thing.  There is a report that Joseph Kony, the ICC indictee of the Lord’s Resistance Army, has written a letter, including to the UN, setting conditions for continuing talks, I guess that Mr. Chissano was a part of.  It wasn’t clear who in the UN he wrote to.  But has the UN received a letter from ICC indictee Joseph Kony?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not heard, but we can look into that for you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later informed the reporter that no such letter had been received.]

Have a good afternoon.  Have a good weekend.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you, Marie.  Good afternoon.  Good to see you.  I haven’t been here for sometime.  But here I am to give you an update of what’s happening with the Assembly, what the President is up to and to help plan for the next couple of days and weeks, and of course, to answer any questions that you may have.

**Assembly Plenary Meeting on Food Crisis

The General Assembly is holding a plenary meeting today on the global food and energy crises.  The meeting was opened by the President of the General Assembly Srgjan Kerim.  This was followed, as you heard from Marie, by a statement from the Secretary-General, and then the floor was opened for statements from Member States.

Let me recall as background that it was exactly a month ago, on 18 June, that the General Assembly heard a briefing by the Secretary-General on the food crisis after the FAO Summit in Rome.  At that meeting a month ago, Member States expressed support for convening a special plenary meeting of the General Assembly as the highest political deliberative body and the strategic policy-making organ on this issue.

It was based on that support of the membership that the President of the Assembly convened today’s meeting.  Also to assist the membership, the President circulated to Member States the finalized version of the UN system’s Comprehensive plan of action, the draft of which the Secretary-General presented at the 3 June meeting in Rome.  That is available on the President’s website.

In his opening statement, the President underlined the emergency nature of the two crises, noting their extremely grave social consequences.

He stressed that the two crises required an immediate coherent and coordinated response with the UN system playing a central role.  In this regard, he commended the Secretary-General’s Comprehensive Framework for Action noting that it provided a coherent and coordinated strategy.

He pointed out that, as with climate change, during this session of the General Assembly, Member States had to apply full, continuous and high-level commitment to deal with the global food and energy crises.

He specifically called for the General Assembly to provide overall policy direction and the political commitment necessary for the measures before the Assembly to receive widespread international support.  He also called for the Assembly to play an active and crucial role by facilitating global partnerships on food and agriculture, involving all relevant actors.  He stressed that, given the urgency of the situation, the General Assembly should adopt a resolution calling for immediate concerted global action.  He also expressed support for the calls from several Member States for food security and development to be one of the main priorities of the sixty-third session of the General Assembly.

In conclusion he stressed that the opportunity to deal with the dramatic effects of the global food and energy crises had to be used to inject new life -- a new deal -- into the multilateral system, and systematically address longer-term structural issues to create economic security for all.

The plenary meeting is expected to continue in the afternoon, as there are close to 50 speakers on the list of speakers.  Before I came here, it was actually the tenth speaker who was about to finish her statement.  So, I expect the plenary to go on into the afternoon.

**Statement on Meeting with Deputy Prime Minister of Viet Nam

We had a statement issued yesterday late in the afternoon and that had to do with a meeting that the President had with the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Viet Nam.  It is a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, and it reads as follows:

The President of the General Assembly, Srgjan Kerim met yesterday late afternoon with H.E. Pham Gia Khiem, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Viet Nam.  The President congratulated the Deputy Prime Minister for his country taking on the role of the presidency in the Security Council and also expressed his appreciation for Viet Nam’s active involvement in the work of the General Assembly.

The President briefed the Deputy Prime Minister on the General Assembly session on the global food and energy crisis.  The two also reviewed other priority issues on the agenda of the General Assembly, especially climate change, development and UN reforms.  In that regard, the Deputy Prime Minister expressed his support for the efforts of the President to advance on a strong development agenda during the sixty-second session of the Assembly and for promoting climate change as the defining issue of the session.  He also highlighted his country’s economic development policies and noted that Viet Nam was the first “delivering as one” pilot country of the United Nations system-wide coherence efforts to be a non-permanent member of the Security Council.

They also discussed regional issues with a special focus on recent developments related to Myanmar, a topic that both the General Assembly and the Security Council has been focusing on.  In the context of regional issues both stressed the growing importance of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as a regional body taking a more active role in promoting peace and stability in South-East Asia.

**Few Things for Next Week

And now a few things for next week and these concern some of the things listed in the Journal, just to give you a bit of orientation, because there are a number of different informal consultations and meetings that are scheduled for next week.

So, let me start with the revitalization of the General Assembly.  The ad hoc working group set up during this session and co-chaired by the Ambassadors of Paraguay and Poland is going to hold a meeting on Monday afternoon with the intention to introduce and consider the adoption of the draft report of the working group.  This draft also contains proposals for further action in the form of a draft resolution for the General Assembly to adopt.

As you may recall, the co-chairs have been leading a process of revitalization within the format of the working group and what they were doing was to take a focused review of the implementation of resolutions on General Assembly revitalization since the fifty-first session.

The way they were looking at this review was that they put the resolutions into three clusters: working methods, agenda and documentation was one cluster; selection of the Secretary-General another cluster; and the role and authority of the General Assembly was the third cluster.

Also next week, you will see that the facilitator of the preparatory work for the 4 September review of the UN’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, Ambassador Gert Rosenthal of Guatemala, has called for another round of consultations -- starting on Tuesday -- to review the Secretary-General‘s report on the activities of the UN system in implementing the Strategy.  He has circulated an advance copy of the report that should form the basis of the consultations, which then would lead to a process for Member States to start discussing the possible outcome of the review meeting.  This possible outcome, according to the facilitator, would most likely be in the form of a General Assembly resolution, and the drafting of which would be something that Ambassador Rosenthal would facilitate.  So, that’s on preparations for the 4 September review of the UN’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, which was adopted two years ago on 8 September in 2006.

And finally, one more thing, that’s also next week, you may see this in the Journal as well, a series of so called informal “informal” consultations starting on Monday on the preparatory process for the high-level mid-term review meeting on the implementation of the so-called Almaty Programme of Action.  This is a process facilitated by the Permanent Representative of Japan -- and this mid-term review is set for 2-3 October 2008.  Now, for those of you wondering what the Almaty Programme of Action is; well it was something that was adopted at a conference in Almaty in August 2003 and it addresses the special needs of landlocked developing countries as regards their participation in international trade.  And why is this linked to the current session?  It was during this session that a resolution was adopted by the Assembly to hold a two-day high-level meeting on this issue here in October.

So, for those of you who are planning things for the beginning of the next Assembly, then please note that the sixty-third Assembly, as you probably all know, is going to open on 16 September.  Then on 22 September there is already a high-level meeting on Africa’s development needs.  Then on 23 September the general debate begins.  On 25 September there is a leaders’ meeting on the Millennium Development Goals.  And now, as I have mentioned, there is a 2-3 October high-level review meeting on the Almaty Programme of Action.

So, that’s what I have and, of course, I am ready to answer all questions you may have.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  A question on the GA summit.  Do you have a list of confirmed Heads of State that will be speaking for that day?

Spokesperson:  No, no, I don’t, at least not that I can reveal.  I know that the General Assembly Affairs Branch is putting together a provisional list of speakers for the general debate, but I am not at liberty to disclose that.  Matthew.

Question:  Can you state where we stand in terms of the Secretary-General briefing or asking for input from the General Assembly on his forthcoming appointment of a Human Rights Commissioner?

Spokesperson:  Matthew, I cannot speak on behalf of the Secretary-General, of course.  And I know that in previous noon briefings, I have listened to you asking this question from both, I think Marie and Michèle and they’ve both said that the Secretary-General had been consulting Member States in various formats, consulting the regional groups.  What I do know is that the Secretary-General and the President of the General Assembly have consulted on this matter, and the President himself has mentioned this to you.  But we have not received any official communication as to the next step.  That next step, of course, would be for the General Assembly to meet in a plenary session and approve the Secretary-General’s selected person, as is stipulated in resolution 48/141.

Question:  When the President of the General Assembly, Srgjan Kerim, was here nine days ago, he said that he expected the Secretary-General to give a briefing to the GA, and he said within the next 10 days.  So, that’s why I am asking you whether that’s going to take place or not.

Spokesperson:  As I said, we have no further news on this.  No further comment, no further statement to make.  Things stand where they stood nine days ago on this.

Question:  Can you give us an update on Security Council reforms open-ended meeting?  The President is expected to get some report on this.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Maybe, I should have mentioned amongst the upcoming things, of course, that as far as Security Council reform, there is nothing new to report.  That’s why I didn’t mention it because there is nothing new on the process.  What we do have is that the consultation process is ongoing.  The President of the General Assembly is meeting with Member States on this issue in various configurations and, basically, what is happening is that parallel to this consultation process or along with this, you have the task force of the President working on the draft report of the open-ended working group, which should include, and this we have mentioned before, a draft decision which the Assembly will then take action on, and that would include the various steps forward.  This draft report of the open-ended working group would be something that should be discussed by the open-ended working group itself.  So, for that, a meeting of the open-ended working group would be called.  I don’t have a date for that yet.  The moment we know when the open-ended working group is going to meet, I’ll let you know.

Question:  There is an issue of some of the members of the General Assembly raising the question of having an independent entity when they’re listing and de-listing of people onto the sanctions list as individuals or entities.  I see there is a meeting on Monday of 1267 and it’s open to the Members in general.  But, I wonder, is there any effort that that issue be part of the Security Council reform since it’s a reform of the methods of the Security Council and a number of States have legal problems because of that issue?

Spokesperson:  This issue of listing and de-listing has been on the agenda of the Security Council within the Al-Qaida/Taliban Sanctions Committee, which is what you’re referring to when it comes to the list.  The most recent (Security Council) resolution adopted on this issue in fact, is a result of the concerns expressed by various Member States to make this process more transparent and also to make it possible for those on the list to be aware of why they are there, also to review periodically the list and to allow for an easier procedure, or a faster procedure, for an entity on the list to be de-listed.  So, that process is ongoing.  Now, where else could this come up?  Certainly, it could come up in the framework of Security Council working methods, but I don’t think this is something that has been concentrated on.

However, where this issue may also come up is within the broader framework of the UN’s work on counter-terrorism.  I think just before you came in, I did mention that one of the things that the Assembly is very much engaged in, because it is one of the five priority issues and it is very much still on the agenda because the high point of dealing with this priority item is going to come up on 4 September, is the review the UN’s Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.  One of the pillars of this Strategy is the focus on human rights (in the context of countering terrorism).  So, in that sense, this issue could definitely come up.  So, there are several tracks where this is looked at, but more closely, of course, it is within the 1267 Committee of the Security Council.

Question:  But not as an issue of reform, that the reform focuses basically on expansion issues, not on (inaudible) issues at this point, is that right?

Spokesperson:  The reform (of the Security Council) issue focuses on both.  It’s actually very much both, but what I am trying to say here is that in answer to whether this particular issue of listing/de-listing is part of that discussion -- I don’t think so.  It is definitely a very serious part of the discussions within the framework of the Al-Qaida/Taliban Sanctions Committee of the Security Council.  And progress has been made on that, as I mentioned, according to the last resolution that they had on this.

So, with that, thank you very much and have a great weekend.

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