28 July 2008


28 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.

Good afternoon, all.

**Guest at Noon Today

Our guest at the noon briefing today, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, will be here at 12:45 p.m. to brief on his recent trip to Myanmar.

**Statement on High Commissioner for Human Rights

We first have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the appointment of the new High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Secretary-General is gratified that his nomination of Navanethem Pillay of South Africa as the new High Commissioner for Human Rights has been endorsed by the General Assembly.

The Secretary-General reiterates his commitment to ensuring that human rights remain high on the agenda of the Organization.  He expects that the new High Commissioner will preserve the independence of her Office, and maintain effective working relations with the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the human rights community in general.  The Secretary-General is determined to give the High Commissioner full support, including with increased financial and human resources, as approved by the General Assembly.

**Statement on Turkey

We also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the bombings in Turkey.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns yesterday’s bombings in Istanbul, which have reportedly killed at least 16 civilians and injured many more.  He deeply regrets the loss of life and conveys his sympathies to the families of the victims and the wounded.

**Statement on India

And we issued yesterday the following statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on India.

The Secretary-General condemns in the strongest of terms the series of bombings in two cities in India that have killed and wounded a large number of civilians.  He reiterates that no cause or grievance can justify terrorist acts of this kind and appeals for restraint in the face of such provocation.

The Secretary-General sends his deepest sympathies to the families of those who lost their lives, the wounded and the people and Government of India.

** Iraq

On Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, strongly condemned the bombings today in Baghdad and Kirkuk, in which dozens of civilians have been killed and hundreds more injured, as well as the shooting of innocent pilgrims in Mada’in yesterday.  He described these attacks as “vicious crimes committed against the defenceless by those who will stop at nothing in their quest to reignite sectarian and ethnic conflict”.  De Mistura called on all Iraqis to remain united and reject the violence that threatens all of them.

Also, the UN Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) yesterday condemned the killing of journalist Soran Hama, who was murdered on 21 July by gunmen in front of his house.  UNAMI is alarmed that journalists in Iraq continue to be targeted, undermining the integrity of the press and freedom of expression in the country.  We have the Mission’s statements upstairs, as well as a UNESCO statement that also condemns the murders of 217 journalists in Iraq since 2003.

** Sudan

On Sudan, the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that 33 confidence-building patrols, 5 night patrols, 13 patrols escorting women who carry firewood and 16 escorts of humanitarian assistance have been conducted over the past 24 hours.

Regarding the reported recent bombings in North Darfur, allegedly conducted by the Government of Sudan against the positions of Minni Minawi’s Sudan Liberation Army (SLA), UNAMID Force Commander General Martin Luther Agwai reiterated the need to verify the reports and suggested that a joint team composed of military, police, human rights and civil affairs officers and other stakeholders should be set up as soon as possible to fly to the areas to investigate as the roads are impassable during the current rainy season.

UNAMID also reports the blockage of an escort convoy operation over the weekend, as well as a robbery of an MSF (Médecins sans Frontières) clinic yesterday in Tawilla in Darfur.  One international staff member was slightly injured and the robbers made away with $9,000.  The incident was being investigated by the Government of Sudan Police.

**Security Council

At 3 p.m. this afternoon, the Security Council will hold consultations on Sudan.  Council members are discussing a draft resolution extending the mandate of the UN-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID).  That Mission’s current mandate expires at the end of this month.

Also, we have available as a document today the report on the Security Council mission that visited five African countries a month ago.

** Georgia

Available today is the Secretary-General’s latest report on Georgia.  In it, he notes that the last four months have witnessed a resurgence of tensions, and calls upon all stakeholders to preserve the integrity of the ceasefire regime.  He appeals to the Abkhaz side to respect the UN Mission’s freedom of movement and asks the Georgian side to do the same with the Commonwealth of Independent States peacekeeping force.

Noting that recent bombings in Abkhazia took place outside the UN Mission’s area of responsibility, the Secretary-General nevertheless says he is deeply concerned by this latest indiscriminate violence.  He calls it an unprecedented development with unpredictable consequences for a fragile peace process.

The Secretary-General also describes the deteriorating relations between Georgia and the Russian Federation, noting its effects on the Georgia-Abkhazia issue.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) strongly condemns the latest attack on a World Food Programme (WFP)convoy.  That attack happened last Thursday, when unidentified armed men attacked a convoy of 49 commercial trucks that were transporting WFP food aid from Kandahar to Herat.  Eight trucks carrying more than 320 metric tons of food were stolen.  They have not been recovered.

The UN Mission said today that, at this time of severe drought and rising food prices, it is even more reprehensible that a humanitarian convoy would be attacked.

We have more in today’s briefing notes from Kabul, which also include details on the UN Office on Drugs and Crime’s counter-narcotics efforts in Afghanistan.

** Sierra Leone

On Sierra Leone, the Sierra Leone Police have adopted policy guidelines on sexual abuse and exploitation that were drafted by the Conduct and Discipline Office of the UN Integrated Office.  The policy guidelines and training programmes on gender mainstreaming and the zero-tolerance policy came in response to a need for training among Sierra Leonean police officers dealing with incidents of sexual assault, domestic violence, physical assault and cruelty to children in the wider community.  We have more in a press release upstairs.

**Olympic Truce

In a message ahead of the Olympic Games in Beijing, the Secretary-General is calling for an Olympic Truce, a worldwide cessation of all hostilities for the duration of the Games.

Such a truce, while limited in duration, can provide a pause in which to reconsider the heavy cost of war, as well as an opening to initiate a dialogue and a window to provide relief for suffering populations, he says.  It can also demonstrate to the world that peace is possible in even the most seemingly intractable situations if we truly work towards it.

The Secretary-General joins the International Olympic Committee and the General Assembly in calling on all those who are at war to observe the Truce.  “Let them lay down their weapons, if only temporarily, so that humanity can lay claim to gold even before the Games begin,” he says.  We have the message upstairs.

**Universal Postal Union

The Universal Postal Union (UPU) today reports that Chile, Spain and Uruguay have launched a new electronic money transfer service.  It will allow people in those three countries to send money quickly and safely through the UPU’s international financial network.

The new service is part of the UPU’s global efforts to modernize the obsolete paper postal money order and respond to the needs of international migrants, including for better access to secure remittance services through formal channels.

**United Nations Population Fund

In Guinea-Bissau, Portuguese actress Catarina Furtado kicked off the construction of a maternity surgical unit in her role as Goodwill Ambassador of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).

The building will soon provide lifesaving services to newborns and their mothers in Guinea-Bissau, where the maternal mortality rate is considered “alarming”, according to UNFPA.

The construction of the surgical unit is the culmination of a project Ms. Furtado began a year and half ago.  In December 2006, she helped raise more than €250,000 for the project during a 12-hour televised dance marathon.  We have a press release with more information upstairs.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., Peter Piot, Executive Director of UNAIDS, will hold a press conference to launch the Programme’s latest report on the global AIDS epidemic.

And Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, will hold his farewell press conference as our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow.

That’s all I have for you, thank you.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Michèle. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas reportedly appealed to Arab countries to form an Arab peacekeeping force to restore law and order to the Gaza Strip.  Does the Secretary-General support such a move?

Spokesperson:  At this point, it’s not a question for the Secretary-General.  An appeal is made by one Member State to a number of other Member States.  It’s not for the Secretary-General to have an opinion on at this point.

[The Spokesperson corrected her use of the term “ Member State” later during the noon briefing.]

Question:  UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman reportedly is a potential vice-presidential running mate for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.  Are you aware of it?

Spokesperson:  No, I am not.

Question:  I mean, is the United Nations aware of it?

Spokesperson:  No.  They’re not aware of it, no.  Yes, Matthew.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that Ms. Veneman has not been contacted by the Obama campaign and is solely focused on her current travels in Africa and the important mission of UNICEF.]

Question:  Michèle, there is this report put out by the Darfur consortium.  It’s calling UNAMID perhaps the world’s most broken promise, and citing, criticizing the United Nations in some sense, for the different interpretations of the mandate.  I know that Mr. Agwai has spoken and said they don’t have the resources, but I guess since the Secretary-General has made Darfur such a major thing on his agenda, what’s his response to this report?

Spokesperson:  Well, he has been calling for the same things that those associations are also asking for.  He has said that he was deeply disappointed in his last report over the lack of progress.  He used the term “deeply disappointed” towards the lack of progress made towards resolving the conflict.  And he said the parties continue to pursue the path of military confrontation instead of dialogue.  “The deployment of UNAMID is far behind schedule,” he said.  “Sexual and gender-based violence continues with impunity; and heightened insecurity and banditry have severely hampered our ability to provide life-sustaining humanitarian assistance to nearly 2.5 million civilians in need.”  I am quoting here what he said.

Question:  Sure.  But, I mean, I guess -- and I am sorry to ask this -- but in light of both the report and the situation, what are the plans?  What plans are afoot to somehow, at least in terms of protecting civilians, to address the issues raised in the report?  I mean, I understand he is disappointed and I know that it is not easy, but is there anything; I mean, does he have anything new to say in terms of what, beyond…?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Mission is slowly getting more soldiers in.  I’ll give you numbers as we go on about the number of people who have been coming in.  I told you about the Egyptian group of engineers that came in.  It’s a very slow process, unfortunately, and that’s one of the things that the Secretary-General is concerned about.

Question:  I have one other question about Iraq.  There is a group called the Iraqi-Turkmen Front.  It’s in Kirkuk and they claim that their officers were attacked and they’ve called for UN support; better security.  Is the United Nations aware of that request and what…?

Spokesperson:  Well, the United Nations is certainly aware; I don’t know about that specific request, but the UN is certainly aware of the situation in Kirkuk.  As you know, our Mission is deployed there and we’re observing the situation.

Question:  Exactly.  I guess they are saying maybe more should be done and they asked specifically for the UN and not other forces to be protecting them there.  I guess…

Spokesperson:  I’ll check for you whether that specific request was sent to the Mission.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that no official request had been received on that matter.]

Question:  To follow up on Rima’s question about the Abbas request, you said that it was a request by one “ Member State”; which State is that?

Spokesperson:  She said it.

Question:  But which State do you mean by one “ Member State”?

Spokesperson:  I am talking about the Palestinian Authority.  I am sorry; it’s not a Member State, it’s an Observer and I stand corrected.

Question:  You mentioned that Mr. Guéhenno will be holding his farewell press conference tomorrow.  Do you know yet when Monsieur Leroy is expected to arrive and in the normal course of events, will he have an introductory press conference…?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t know about an introductory press conference.  Give him time to come first and be acquainted with all the information he needs to be acquainted with during the month of August.  I don’t have a specific date.  Yes?

Question:  Yes, Michèle, last week you told me that the Secretary-General would not interfere with the extradition process of Mr. Karadžić.  There are reports that this process has been slowed down by the various moves in Serbia.  Is the Secretary-General concerned with that, and is he still saying that he is not going to interfere or appeal in…?

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s not a matter for him.  As you know, this is a matter between the Court itself and the State.  They have asked for; they are supposed to have an extradition done within the next few days.  And of course it’s a decision by the State.  The Secretary-General cannot do anything about this process.  Yes, Benny?

Question:  On the opening day of the Beijing Olympics, can you tell us where Secretary-General Ban is going to be on that day?

Spokesperson:  I can check for you.  But I don’t have the information.  Why?

Question:  Because if I remember correctly, the reason given for him not attending the Beijing opening was that he has something else on his schedule and I am trying to figure out what it is.

Spokesperson: Essentially, we have said it before; what he wanted to do was essentially have an official visit to China.  And he had that official visit to China.  The Olympic Games are not a particularly propitious occasion to have one-to-one discussions over a number of issues, which is what he wanted to do.  And he had that when he went to China.  Yes?

Question:  A question on Guido Bertucci.  He’s supposed to retire at the end of this month.  He’d indicated to us that he wanted to; he was going to ask the Secretary-General for an extension so he could clear his name.  Have you any update on that?  Has contact been made?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  As far as I know, his case is still with [the Department of Economic and Social Affairs].

Question:  Can you check to see if there has been any communication?

Spokesperson:  I can check whether he has asked for a further delay.

[The Spokesperson later confirmed that Mr. Bertucci will retire on 31 July 2008.  She added that he will have an opportunity, if he wishes so, to clear his name after that date.]

Question:  I want to ask another Olympic question.  Willi Lemke, the Special Adviser on Sports, he is going, as I understand it, to the Olympics; to the opening.  He had said to us that he had requested, or would like, to visit Tibet; that’s one thing that he had said, to see if they had playgrounds in the schools.  That’s one example that he gave.  Is there any update of whether he is actually going to go?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  I don’t know whether he will be able to do it at the time of the Olympics.  I can ask for you whether he plans to do that.

Question:  (Inaudible) sort of a high-profile thing on his part.  When he first came in he said he wanted to go there and then he modified to playground visits.  But, is he going to go?

Spokesperson:  We will let you know.

Question:  Just on UNAMID; is there an updated estimate of the percentage of deployment for the forces there by the end of the year?  I know that earlier this year the Secretary-General was hoping for the…?

Spokesperson:  Well, there is no really new update except what I added to what we had originally said: the new contingent of Egyptian engineers that got there.  I don’t think we have any sizeable changes to what I gave you last time.  Yes?

Question:  Just back to the question of Bertucci for a minute.  Has the Secretary-General spoken to Sha Zulangabout any possible responses to the various investigations and findings against him?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.

Question:  Would this be something…

Spokesperson:  It’s a matter for DESA.

Question:  I’m sorry?

Spokesperson:  It’s a matter for DESA.

Question:  Because DESA is a division of the Secretariat, it seems that in his quest for accountability, the Secretary-General might weigh in on that?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of. I’ll let you know if anything is done on those two questions.  Your two questions are linked.  Okay.  Thank you all so very much.  And at 12:45 p.m. Mr. John Holmes will be here.

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