8 August 2008


8 August 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.

**Security Council

The Security Council has scheduled consultations at 3 this afternoon to discuss the situation in Georgia, the second time in the past 24 hours that the Council is meeting on that topic.  Today’s consultations are to be followed by a formal meeting.

In response to a request from the Russian Federation, the Security Council held an emergency meeting on Georgia early this morning, just after 1 a.m.  Speakers debated the situation in South Ossetia, on which the Secretary-General issued a statement expressing his serious concern yesterday.

That meeting was preceded by consultations, in which Council members discussed a draft presidential statement on the situation on South Ossetia.  There was no agreement, however, to adopt that statement afterwards.

** Georgia

Also on South Ossetia, Georgia, a local branch of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says it has been informed by Russian border officials that thousands of people have been arriving to North Ossetia-Alania in the Russian Federation throughout the night.  In addition, UNHCR says that, according to unofficial sources, some 400 people have moved from South Ossetia to other parts of Georgia.

Reports on conditions on the ground are trickling out of South Ossetia.  But in the meantime, a UNHCR staff member in that area has reported that many buildings and houses have been destroyed and that only military personnel are moving in the streets.  Water is in short supply, most transport has stopped, and shops are running out of food.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UNICEF have expressed alarm at the violence, echoing the Secretary-General’s deep concern.

**Security Council

Back to the Security Council, yesterday afternoon, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Iraq by one year.

** Bolivia Statement

We have today a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General regarding the upcoming recall referendum in Bolivia.

The Secretary-General is closely following political developments in Bolivia, in particular regarding the recall referendum to be held on 10 August on the mandates of the President and Vice-President as well as those of eight regional authorities (prefectos). 

In the interest of strengthening democracy and human rights in Bolivia, the Secretary-General calls on all political and social actors to ensure a peaceful climate throughout the electoral process and its aftermath.

The Secretary-General reaffirms the commitment of the United Nations system to work with the Government and society as a whole towards generating an environment of tolerance, respect and dialogue in Bolivia.


On Kosovo, the Secretary-General’s Acting Principal Deputy Special Representative in Kosovo, Nicholas Haysom, met today in Pristina with Kosovo’s President and Deputy Prime Minster.

Haysom, who just recently arrived in Kosovo, shared with both officials the reconfiguration plans for the United Nations Mission there, which will result in the substantial downsizing of staff.  We have more on that upstairs.

** Djibouti

On Djibouti, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that Djibouti is currently facing a humanitarian crisis driven by a combination of factors, including several years of drought, insufficient rain, and the sharp rise in global food and fuel prices.  The situation is also affected by an influx of Somali refugees.  In response, the Government of Djibouti and the United Nations system have launched a joint appeal for nearly $32 million.  The appeal covers a period of six months.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund has allocated an additional $30 million to help alleviate the suffering of millions of people in 12 countries, who are severely affected by the global food crisis.  In addition to Djibouti, other recipients include Eritrea, Kenya, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Lesotho, Madagascar, Niger, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Yemen and Zimbabwe.  We have more on that, of course, upstairs.

** Sri Lanka

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) expressed deep concern over the safety of thousands of families fleeing fierce fighting in the north of Sri Lanka between Government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

Amid intensified fighting in the region, UNHCR calls on both parties to take immediate steps to ensure the protection of those affected; to allow freedom of movement for those seeking safety from the ongoing operations; and to ensure that the internally displaced are neither targeted nor located near military targets.

UNHCR also calls upon authorities to allow immediately unhindered passage for essential supplies, as food, shelter materials, water, and fuel for civilian transportation are running dangerously low.  UNHCR is urging all parties to allow humanitarian access to the affected population so they can be provided with much-needed assistance in a timely manner.

** Mexico -- United States

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has expressed serious concern over the decision by authorities in Texas to proceed with the execution of Mexican national José Ernesto Medellín -- despite an order to the contrary by the International Court of Justice (ICJ).  Medellín was executed by lethal injection three days ago.

The Office stresses that the United States has an international legal obligation to comply with decisions of ICJ, an obligation which cannot be set aside because of domestic constitutional arrangements.  The Office also notes that ICJ orders remain valid for another 50 Mexican nationals on death row in the United States.

The Office adds that the finality of the death penalty makes it essential that it is applied with scrupulous attention to the safeguards set down by international law, including access to consular services by foreign nationals.  We have more on that upstairs.

** Zimbabwe

On Zimbabwe, UNICEF over the past week has been holding its nationwide Child Health Days in Zimbabwe, trying to reach the nation’s 2 million children under the age of 5 with immunization and vitamin A coverage.  During the campaign, children, even in hard-to-reach areas, were immunized against tuberculosis, measles, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, hepatitis B, haemophilus, influenza and polio. 

While continuing its work in Zimbabwe, UNICEF remains seriously concerned about the impact on children of the current ban prohibiting non-governmental organizations from operating in communities.  The ban, imposed on 4 June, has now been in effect for over two months, posing serious problems for the humanitarian community working in Zimbabwe.  We have more details in the Geneva briefing notes.

**Indigenous People

Tomorrow is the International Day of the World’s Indigenous People.  In a message to mark the day, the Secretary-General says that the suffering of indigenous peoples led to some of the darkest episodes in human history.

As this is the first observance of the Day since the General Assembly’s landmark adoption of the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples last fall, the Secretary-General notes that the Declaration provides a momentous opportunity for States and indigenous peoples to strengthen their relationships, promote reconciliation, and ensure that the past is not repeated. 

We have upstairs his full message, which was delivered today by the Deputy Secretary-General, as well as one by Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Kyung-wha Kang.  We also have a UNHCR update on indigenous peoples in Colombia.

**Olympic Truce

The Secretary-General today joined the International Olympic Committee and the United Nations General Assembly in calling on all those who are at war to observe the Olympic Truce, a worldwide cessation of hostilities while the Games are in progress.  He said, “Let them lay down their weapons, if only temporarily, so that humanity can lay claim to gold even before the Games begin.”

In a statement, which we issued yesterday afternoon, he said that the true excellence of the Games rests in their ability to unite humanity around universal aspirations:  equality, fair play, sportsmanship, tolerance and, above all, peace.  Taken together, the Olympic Movement and the United Nations constitute a gold medal team in the race to advance humanity's most cherished ideals, he said.

**Press Conference on Monday

Our guest at the noon briefing on Monday, Cecilia Ugaz, Acting Director of UNDP’s Human Development Report Office, will present a youth version of the Human Development Report 2007/2008 on climate change.

**Week Ahead at United Nations

And the Week Ahead:  On Monday, the Department of Peacekeeping Operation’s Head of Military Components (HOMC) will be there all this week; the Conference 2008 takes place at United Nations Headquarters.

On Tuesday, the guest at the noon briefing will be General Martin Luther Agwai, Force Commander of the AU-UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID). 

On Wednesday, in Bangkok, at 11 a.m. local time, the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, holds a press conference to brief on his recent mission to Myanmar.

Still looking ahead, on Thursday, the final transfer of authority in the Bakassi Peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon, in implementation of the 2002 ruling of the International Court of Justice and the 2006 Greentree Agreement, is scheduled to take place.  And this is all I have for you today.  Yes, Bill.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, can you possibly give us any details of the Secretary-General’s involvement in efforts in regard to the situation in South Ossetia?  Who has he been on the phone with?  What is the level of his involvement in the efforts to mediate the end of this hostility?

Spokesperson:  Well, since this issue was brought, as you know, to the Security Council very early, the Secretary-General has not really been himself (involved).  He has been informed, of course, of the situation; he has expressed his own concern yesterday.  He hasn’t done any special effort today to try to reach people since the Security Council is right now examining the situation.

Question:  On that very topic, [Chef de Cabinet] Vijay Nambiar was at the meeting last night and I am wondering, can you say something, a little bit about his role?  At one point he left and he said, “We’ve done all we can do.”  What was the purpose…?

Spokesperson:  Every time there was an emergency meeting and the Secretariat was, of course, represented by one political officer, Kishore Mandhyan, who was there, and Mr. Nambiar as Chef de Cabinet, which is the normal presence whenever we have an issue of an emergency meeting.

Question:  Just to follow up on those questions, has he, not just Ban Ki-moon himself, but the Secretariat, maybe just to expand the question, what, either calls or…

Spokesperson:  No, we haven’t done anything specific because, as I said, it is a matter right now in the hands of the Security Council and we’ll leave it to the Security Council.  Of course, if the Security Council appeals to the Secretariat to intervene, of course the Secretariat will.

Question:  (Inaudible)…some of the reporters have brought this up, so I was to ask this, I guess, for UNCA.  Some people didn’t get the notice of that meeting last night.  Is there any…?

Spokesperson:  There was quite a breakdown in communications last night.  Apparently the person who was supposed to inform DPI, the media and everybody else was made aware of it too late.  There was really a lapse of communications and I am sorry it happened.  Yes?

Question:  Hi.  Any readout on -- or any information on -- Haile Menkerios on his barring from going to Harare?

Spokesperson:  Well, he is in Pretoria still, and waiting.

Question:  Has there been an official objection of his visit to Harare?  Has there been any official communication to the United Nations or to the Secretariat that he will not be welcome?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  No, none.  Actually, what happened is that, of course, he went there as a member of the Group of Reference.  He was not directly implicated in the discussion.  So he went there and he met with President [Thabo] Mbeki on the issue.  But I am not aware of any official announcement or any official letter from the Government that he was barred from entering Zimbabwe.

Question:  Just to put it another way, obviously the United Nations is part of the… There’s three main elements to this, as you know, to facilitate the African Union and the United Nations.  The United Nations still obviously wants to be part of this, correct?

Spokesperson:  Yes, sure.  And that’s why we have Haile Menkerios there as part of the Reference Group.  But the Reference Group is not involved, as I said, in the actual discussions.

Question:  But would you agree with statements that have come out of Harare, or officials, that perhaps it’s a good time for the United Nations not to be involved directly because of the delicate nature of the facilitation at the moment?

Spokesperson:  We are not involved directly.  We are in the Group of Reference.  Yes?

Question:  The Beijing Olympic opening ceremony was just held.  Does the Secretary-General have any chance to get some part of the programme?  And does he have any words or response to that?  If not, is he going to watch the ceremony or the Games?

Spokesperson:  Well, I am sure he will watch quite a big part of the Games.  As you know, he is going on vacation this week.  This weekend, actually.  So, he will certainly be watching quite a few of the Games.  Yes?

Question:  The Bakassi stuff, on Thursday, the final transfer is taking place.  Two questions:  number one, who is the Secretariat sending?  Your statement said yesterday that somebody will be sent over; a delegation will be coming from here.  And then, secondly, is the United Nations playing dumb to the idea of the restiveness of the Bakassi residents, regarding this transfer, especially considering the fact that the Court last week said that the situation should be suspended until the matter is resolved?  Is the United Nations just playing as if this is not happening and just going on with its own agreement, you know?  What is the attitude of the United Nations?

Spokesperson:  It is an international agreement.  An international Court made a decision; a decision that was accepted by both parties.  They was the Greentree Accord that was signed by both parties.  Whatever internal problem is created within Nigeria over the issue of Bakassi or within the Bakassi Peninsula itself, is another matter altogether. 

Question:  Well, how does the United Nations view the residents of Bakassi who are restive, most of whom have gone to court?  What are you going do about them?  Some of them are talking about their right to self-determination and that they are seeing the United Nations now as becoming an obstacle to their own self-determination.

Spokesperson:  Well, this is a matter for them to take up.  I am sure they can take that up with the parties, not with the United Nations itself.  There was an international court that made a decision.

Question:  Who is representing the Secretariat on Thursday?

Spokesperson:  I’ll find out for you, but we don’t have a name yet.  But it will be a high-level representation.  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, you said the Secretary-General is going on vacation this week.  Do you know where he is going?

Spokesperson:  Sure, I know where he is going, but I won’t tell you.  (Laughter.)

Question:  Ok.  Now, the other thing that I wanted to ask you:  will he be appointing a chairman of the Commission into the inquiry of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination?

Spokesperson:  Not yet, because, as far as I know, there are not at this point yet at the time.  At this time, they are still discussing different issues about the creation of that Commission.

Question:  Why is the process taking such a long time?  Is that because…?

Spokesperson:  It is a very difficult question and OLA [the Office for Legal Affairs] has been with this; the Department of Legal Affairs has been on this for quite a while now.  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, there is something called the Multinational Standby High Readiness Brigade for United Nations operations (SHIRBRIG).  It was set up in Denmark and had these, all the Nordic countries committed troops.  They now say that they are disbanding it because it was never used.  The quote is that the United Nations had not had any demand for it.  Are you aware of this?

Spokesperson:  No. 

Question:  Does the United Nations have a problem with this thing being disbanded?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  You can address the question to DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations].

Question:  Ok, I guess I will.  I wanted to ask you this, though:  yesterday, at the stakeout, the representative of Iraq said two things that I just wanted to ask you for a response.  One was that Iraq has committed now land for the so-called bunker that was proposed; the new United Nations headquarters.  And that has resulted in the halving of the proposed costs.  Is that now as presented to the General Assembly?  Is that your understanding?  That it’s like a $100 million and now it’s 50 or something.

Spokesperson:  Yes, of course, it will be presented to the General Assembly.

Question:  I guess that’s the first I have heard of it.  Is it the cost of the proposal (that’s) been cut in half?

Spokesperson:  I will get more information on that building.  I’ll ask the mission over there what the cost entails.

[The Spokesperson later noted that Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe told the Security Council that he urged Iraq’s Government “to finalize the arrangement for the co-funding of this project”.]

Question:  He also said that Iraq had somehow warned that Al-Qaida-related individuals had gone from Iraq to Algeria, something that he said yesterday at the stakeout. 

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of this.  Yes?

Question:  How long is the Secretary-General going to be on vacation?

Spokesperson:  Two weeks.  But he’s going to be back for one day here on the 19th for the special ceremony for the victims of the Canal Hotel bombing.

Question:  Then go back?

Spokesperson:  Yes, then go back on vacation.  Thank you so much; have a good weekend.

* *** *

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