21 August 2008


21 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 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.

**Statement on Pakistan

I’ll start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Pakistan.

The Secretary-General condemns the double suicide bombing in the Pakistani town of Wah today, which reportedly killed a large number of civilians and injured many more.  He reiterates his rejection of such indiscriminate and reprehensible acts of terrorism and extends his condolences to the families of the victims and to the Government of Pakistan.

** Georgia -- Humanitarian Situation

On the humanitarian situation in Georgia, the World Food Programme (WFP) says it has made more deliveries today.  WFP is providing wheat flour, vegetable oil, beans, salt, sugar, high-energy biscuits and baked bread to more than 120,000 beneficiaries.  WFP notes a substantial movement of populations between South and North Ossetia, making it difficult to establish the exact number of displaced persons.  The Russian Ministry for Emergencies (EMERCOM), which has been coordinating Russia’s aid efforts for the displaced from South Ossetia, including the provision of food aid, has said it would welcome a contribution of food assistance from WFP.  The food will be distributed in coordination with the Ministry and local authorities to the displaced population in North Ossetia.

Meanwhile, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres is expected to be in North Ossetia today.  As you know, he is in the region to review UNHCR’s humanitarian operation.  And we’ll let you know when we have more information on his mission there.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says it has completed the training of 37 Congolese police officers from the North Kivu province.  The training focused on improving the work of the role of inspectors and officers of the judicial police in investigating crimes of sexual violence.  This, in turn, should lead to better police protection of victims and witnesses of such crimes.  Among other subjects, the participants were trained on procedures for assisting victims, and national and international legislation on sexual violence.


And a human rights report launched today by the United Nations Integrated Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) notes that Timor-Leste has continued to consolidate progress in key human rights areas, including adherence to the rule of law, strengthening of the judicial system and addressing past human rights violations.

The second of its kind, the report, covering the period between September 2007 and June 2008, focuses on key human rights developments in relation to the security sector and access to justice, and provides a list of recommendations.

The report notes that the 11 February attacks against President José Ramos-Horta and Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão constituted a significant security challenge, but the national authorities’ response showing increasing institutional stability and adherence to the rule of law were positive developments.

The UN Mission stresses that, having emerged from a critical period, Timor-Leste is now at a human rights crossroad and its people and State institutions can continue to build on progress achieved.

** Spain

The Secretary-General will be sending a letter of condolence to Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero, following the plane crash in Madrid yesterday, which reportedly left more than 150 people dead.  He extends his sympathies to the families of those who died in the crash and to the Government and people of Spain.

**Climate Change Talks

The latest round of UN climate change talks got under way today in Accra, Ghana.  More than 1,600 participants from more than 150 countries are attending the weeklong session.  This is the third major UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiating session this year.  Representatives are seeking to strengthen long-term cooperative action on climate change, with a final agreement to be reached in Copenhagen in December 2009.

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer today called for a speeding up of negotiations and the presentation of concrete proposals, if Governments are to meet the 2009 deadline.  He stressed the importance of the talks for African countries, adding that it is clear these countries need international support for climate-resilient development and green growth.  We have more information in a press release upstairs.


UNDP Administrator Kemal Derviş said in a statement today that a balanced, equitable, open and multilateral trading system is desirable, particularly given both the current and foreseeable difficulties in the world economy.  He thus joins World Bank Group President Robert B. Zoellick and World Trade Organization Director-General Pascal Lamy in voicing support for resuming the stalled Doha round of talks.

An agreement at Doha, Derviş said, would have been beneficial to developing countries and the world economy.  He added that remaining obstacles to a final agreement, especially regarding a special safeguard mechanism for agriculture, should be overcome.  There is a full statement upstairs.


And finally, the World Health Organization (WHO) has come out with fact sheets providing information about hepatitis B, which it says is 50 to 100 times more infectious than HIV, but is preventable with a safe and effective vaccine.  Worldwide, WHO says, an estimated 2 billion people have been infected with the hepatitis B virus, and more than 350 million people have chronic -- that is to say long term -- liver infections.  The fact sheets are available upstairs.

And that’s all I have for you.  We have Janos here, who is the General Assembly Spokesperson, to brief you, as well.  That’s all I have for you.

Anything for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Al Arabiya had an exclusive one-on-one interview with the Sudanese President yesterday, in which, it was reported today by AP and other agencies, he said that he would ask the United Nations peacekeepers to leave if an arrest was issued against him.  Now, we understand, things were said by other officials, and we asked General [Martin Luther] Agwai what he was going to do, and he said the Government denied it, but now it is coming from the top of the Government of Sudan, and it is very clear that he would ask the peacekeepers to leave if a warrant, which is expected, is issued.  I am sure that the Secretary-General is aware of this -- is he going to protest such statements, through the African Union maybe?  Are the plans being put to wind up the operations in Sudan, if a warrant is issued at the end of September, or in October?  What’s being done in the face of such statements by the Sudanese President?

Deputy Spokesperson:  First of all, you brought this to our attention many times now since yesterday, and we are aware of this interview.  As you know, we are still awaiting the word from the judges of the International Criminal Court, so, as of now, this is a hypothetical situation that you are talking about.  The Sudanese President’s remarks that you are referring to is referring to something that has not yet happened.  As far as what the UN Mission is doing, General Agwai, I think, was very clear about what the UNAMID mission is on the ground, and I think he is continuing to serve what is asked from him and the Mission, as long as the Security Council mandate continues.  And the Secretary-General’s remarks on this are very clear, as well.  I have nothing further on this.

Question:  I mean, such strong statements threatening to wind down an operation that has been going on for three years now, trying to close UNAMID.  The Secretary-General has invested a year and a half in building this since the Riyadh Summit -- isn’t there any process for such threats by the highest of the high-ranking in Sudan?  This other thing, you must be putting contingency plans to take your people out if the Sudanese give the word?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, security measures are constantly being updated and upgraded around the world, depending on the situation.  This is not something we would be reporting to the public, but security measures is one of the top concerns that the Secretary-General has for his staff and the people carrying out the mandate on the ground.  Again, General Agwai, I think, was very clear about what he was doing in terms of carrying out the mission.  So I think…

Question:  (talkover) but for these threats by the President of Sudan.

Deputy Spokesperson:  You heard General Agwai, who just spoke to you last week, and he talked about… If I recall, in his remarks, he was talking to you about increased cooperation since 9 July, and I think he was hoping that that kind of cooperation would continue.  The UN, as I mentioned, has a mandate on the ground.  It has a peacekeeping mandate, it has a humanitarian mandate, and… (inaudible comment from the floor) I understand, but you are talking about a hypothetical situation that the ICC has not come out with yet. Okay?

Question:  First I want to ask something.  The UNDP says that the documents that came out yesterday about ex-gratia payments -- and it referred to the Algiers bombing -- and said that some rules are going to be changed to allow larger payments than are currently allowed by the rules.  What I want to ask is, system-wide, given how important that bombing and the resulting deaths were, what payments were, in fact, made to the families of the victims?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information with me, so I’ll have to look into that for you.

Question:  Are you aware of this document and does it relate…?  It specifically refers to the Algiers bombing as giving rise to the idea that a larger payment should be allowed.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have no information on this today.  I’ll have to look into it.

Question:  There seems to be increasing concern among the opposition in Myanmar that Professor Gambari will not, in fact, meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, while he is there, given that it’s now day four or five of his five-day trip.  Is he going to meet with her or not, as he said that he would?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I answered that question yesterday.  As far as I know, Mr. Gambari -- his mission still continues, and his mission is not yet over with.

Question:  But NLD [National League for Democracy] said that they had expected this meeting to take place yesterday, Wednesday, and then it didn’t take place.  So they, I guess… I guess, you are saying that it will take place… today, it’s now Thursday, and it’s already Friday…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am saying that Mr. Gambari’s visit is not yet over.

Question:  When does it end?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As of now, he is on the ground, and, as I mentioned to you earlier, he is there to continue his dialogue with all concerned and when he comes out of the country, I am sure you will know.

Question:  So is he going to stay until he meets with her?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond what I am saying right now.

Question:  In the five days that he has spent in Burma so far, he has spent 20 minutes only with NLD representatives, or any democratic representatives.  Is that pretty much the way he apportions to the democratically elected leaders of Burma?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, Mr. Gambari is in Myanmar to build on his previous mission by listening to everyone, to hear their expectations and concerns, encourage them to find ways to move forward the objectives of national reconciliation, democracy and respect for human rights in the interests of all the people of Myanmar, and see how the United Nations can continue to help the Government and people of Myanmar to that end.  And he has met with Aung San Suu Kyi on each of his visits, as well as with Myanmar’s senior leaders on several occasions, and he is looking forward to continuing his dialogue with all concerned.

Question:  20 minutes in five days?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I now can’t go into exact minutes.  He has been meeting with a wide range of actors on the ground, with the focus on the need for a credible and inclusive political process and dialogue.

There are no further questions?  I am going to turn over to Janos, who will give you an update on the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly

Thank you very much, Marie.  Good afternoon.  Good to see you all.  I came to give you a little bit of an update and help you also with some planning for some of the upcoming things as the sixty-second session closes and, of course, the sixty-third will begin.

**Upcoming Travel of General Assembly President

Let me start with the upcoming travel of the General Assembly President.

The President of the General Assembly, Srgjan Kerim, will be travelling tomorrow night to pay an official visit to the Republic of Korea.  During his three-day programme, he is expected to hold talks with President Lee Myung-bak, Prime Minister Han Seung-soo and Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan, as well as meet with members of the UN Association of the Republic of Korea and also deliver a lecture at the Graduate School of International Studies at Korea University.  The topics of discussion will be the priority issues of the current session –- especially climate change, the Millennium Development Goals and financing for development.  Also the food and energy crisis that has been elevated to a key topic recently and UN reforms, as well as cooperation between Korea and the UN, especially in those areas.

Here at Headquarters, the President is consulting Member State representatives and his various facilitators on the issues that need to be wrapped up before the closing of the sixty-second session, which will be on 15 September, and which need to be handed over to Member States and to the President-elect to carry over into the sixty-third session.

And now let me highlight some of those issues.


Let me start with counter-terrorism.  As you know, this is one of the five priority issues of the current session.  The high point for this priority topic will come on 4 September, with a General Assembly plenary meeting where Member States will review the implementation of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy they adopted two years ago, on 8 September 2006.  The consultations to prepare this review were facilitated by Ambassador Gert Rosenthal of Guatemala.  And on the President’s website, among his recent letters, you will find a letter to Member States on this process, with an appreciation for the Ambassador for conducting the preliminary round of negotiations, and you will also find there a draft resolution that is expected to be adopted at the 4 September plenary -– that was the draft that Ambassador Rosenthal negotiated.

The draft, amongst others, reaffirms support for the Global Strategy, reiterates Member States’ strong condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, reaffirms Member States’ primary responsibility to implement the Strategy and also decides to discuss the issue of the implementation of the Strategy in two years time as part of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly.

**High-Level Meeting on Africa

The President yesterday met with the Ambassadors of Angola and the Netherlands, who are the co-facilitators to prepare the high-level meeting on Africa’s development needs.  This will be on 22 September -– so this is already part of the sixty-third session -- and it will be just a day before the start of the general debate, which starts on the 23 September.  The co-facilitators completed the first draft of the political declaration that is to be adopted at this high-level meeting.  The President is circulating this draft to Member States, and informal consultations are scheduled for 28 August and then for 12 September.  The aim is to finish negotiations on this political declaration or finalize the document before the end of this session.

**Financing for Development -– First Draft of Doha Outcome Document

Another “first draft” is also completed.  You may remember that one of the priority issues of the session is financing for development in the format of preparing the conference in Doha, Qatar at the end of November this year on reviewing the Monterrey Consensus on Financing for Development.  This is a process that is led by two Ambassadors -- the Ambassadors of Egypt and Norway.  And the two Ambassadors have completed the first draft of the so-called outcome document.  The President has circulated this draft, and it is available on his website for you to look at.  The draft focuses on the six chapters of the Monterrey Consensus, as well as includes a chapter on new challenges and emerging issues.  The President will officially launch negotiations on the outcome document on 8 September, and informal consultations will follow in the days after.

**Security Council Reform

I do not have anything new to announce.  The President is continuing his consultations with Member States and with his Task force to finalize the draft report of the open-ended working group, including a draft decision on the way forward.  This will be taken up by another meeting of the open-ended working group. Once we have a date on when that would be I’ll let you know.

**Revitalization, System-wide Coherence and Mandate Review

There are also ongoing consultations on three other pending issues: General Assembly revitalization, system-wide coherence and mandate review.  On the latter –- that is, mandate review -– let me draw your attention to what is already available, namely the report of the co-chairs of the process, the Ambassadors of Namibia and New Zealand.  It is a concrete and critical outcome of the process and contains some very interesting thoughts about options for future work.  The report is available on the President’s website amongst his recent letters, as circulated to Member States.

**Theme of Sixty-Third Session

And finally the theme of the sixty-third session.  This relates also to a letter the President, President Kerim, sent to Member States just recently –- available on his website.  In this letter, he actually circulates a letter of the President-elect, Mr. Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, who announces his proposal to have the theme of the general debate for the sixty-third session of the General Assembly to be the following: “The impact of the global food crisis on poverty and hunger in the world, as well as the need to democratize the United Nations”.  So, that’s the theme for the general debate.

That’s what I have for you, and I’m of course, ready to answer whatever questions you may have.  Let me also just add that you probably notice that in the Journal today, previous days, upcoming days, you will see bracketed background information on the upcoming General Assembly debates, the one that I mentioned, the Africa high-level one, also the background on the Millennium Development Goals high-level meeting, which is set for 25 September, and also the so-called Review of the Almaty Programme of Action, which is set for 2 and 3 October, which comes as the general debate ends.  So, you have all the information there available for you.  Matthew?  You saved the day, you have question.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  This follows up actually on Talal’s question to Marie.  There have been press reports that Sudan will be seeking a resolution in this sixty-third General Assembly to get an International Court of Justice opinion about the referral of President Bashir to the International Criminal Court.  Are you aware at all of any such resolution being introduced or discussed as part of the agenda of the sixty-third session?

Spokesperson:  No.  Not at this point.  But, as we have discussed, as far as procedure is concerned, there is of course the possibility for any Member State to make a request for an inclusion of an agenda item or use an existing accepted agenda item to propose any sort of action, including a draft resolution.  So, let’s see how things play out during the sixty-third session.  What we do know at the moment of course is the provisional agenda -- and that is available for you again on the website, because the General Assembly website does have a link to the website of the sixty-third session, which includes the provisional agenda.  According to the rules and procedures, 60 days before the start of the session, you do have a provisional list of agenda items.  Thirty days prior to the session, Member States have the possibility to propose so-called supplementary agenda items.  And even after that, there are possibilities to propose additional agenda items.

The sixty-third session starts on 16 September.  Usually what happens is that the very next day, say the 17th, 18th, you will have the General Committee meet to discuss the agenda items; make proposals for the General Assembly plenary as to what the actual agenda should be, where the allocation of the items should be, then the General Assembly plenary takes this up and makes a decision on what its actual agenda will be.  So, we’ll know more as the sixty-third session starts.  But, as I said, even after that, there are plenty of possibilities for Member States to come forward and propose additional agenda items or, as I said, propose draft resolutions or whatever actions they see fit under existing agenda items.  Benny?

Question:  A technical clarification.  That headline that you read for the sixty-third session includes at least two unrelated items.  Shouldn’t it be “themes” rather than “theme”?

Spokesperson:  Let me be very specific.  Let me find out exactly what the President’s letter says and I’ll quote it from there.  Give me just a second, Benny.  Here it is.

So, this is a quotation from the letter of the President-elect:  “Therefore and after consultations, I propose the issues upon which Member States are invited to comment during the general debate of the sixty-third session of the General Assembly to be as follows…”  So, you are right, “issues”, so, it should be plural.

Question:  Thank you very much.

Question:  There is this upcoming symposium on the victims of terrorism on 9 September.

Spokesperson:  That’s correct, yes.

Question:  Has the General Assembly or the President of the General Assembly been involved in any way in the preparation, and are you aware whether the various members of the General Assembly were asked to participate or to fund the conference?  What’s the involvement of the GA in the conference?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, this is a Secretary-General’s event.  The GA’s involvement stems from the [Global Counter-Terrorism] Strategy, itself, namely that the Strategy, adopted two years ago, does include a point in one of its pillars.  In fact, in the first pillar, which is on addressing the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, there is a part there that talks about the need to address the issue of victims.  So, the symposium stems from this.  That’s where the General Assembly aspect comes in, and of course, Member States are invited to participate in the symposium.  But that’s all I have.

Question:  But how do they choose, I mean the victims here, since you don’t have any definition of terrorism?  And how can you call this person a victim of terrorism when you don’t know what terrorism is?  How can the Secretary-General or anyone...?

Spokesperson:  I do not speak for the Secretary-General.  I am the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.  So, you’d have to address that question to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.  But, as far as what I think needs to be taken into consideration here is that by adopting the Strategy, if you remember, the General Assembly Member States basically put aside their differences as far as the political aspects were concerned, and tried to focus on what practical actions could be taken.  That’s what the Strategy is all about.  That’s why it’s a unique achievement. And part of that, talks about the importance of looking at assistance to victims, looking at the issue of victims.  And it is as part of that process, I believe, that the Secretary-General has taken a bold action and tried to see what can be done.  But, as I said, please address your questions on the issue to the Secretary-General’s Spokesperson.

Correspondent:  Of course, I know that.

Question:  But when you say the victims, it’s a general term.  For example, I understand they’re inviting Israeli victims, while no Palestinian victims of terrorism are invited.  What’s their criteria for inviting so-called “victims”?  That’s the question.  And is there any involvement of Member States in that process of choosing victims?

Spokesperson:  Because the issue of counter-terrorism and the implementation of the Strategy has been a priority issue of the General Assembly for this session, what is important here to know is that Member States have since the adoption of the Strategy -- and definitely this year -- been consistently informed and kept up to date as to what the work of the Secretariat has been on implementing and assisting with the implementation of the Strategy through the various different working groups, including the working group on victims, because there is one working group on victims.  All that is available for you on the website of the UN and also available to Member States.  Member States were consistently briefed, including on the idea of a plan of such a symposium, as far as I know, and also on the idea of how to try and work together to implement the Strategy.  So, this was not done, as far as I know, clandestinely.  But as far as who the Secretary-General is inviting, on what basis, what criteria, how he has consulted with Member States, please, that is a question for the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General.  Benny?

Question:  Just on one aspect of this.  Where are we at on the definition of terrorism, and why don’t we have a definition of terrorism?

Spokesperson:  It rests within the Sixth Committee, the Legal Committee of the General Assembly, where there has been continuing discussions on this issue.  In other words, on drafting a so-called comprehensive convention against terrorism which would include a universal definition of terrorism.  Advance work, as far as I know, has been done on drafting the convention.  Various elements are available, including a suggested text for definition.  Where the current negotiation process is at and where the debates lie is the scope of that suggested definition -- that is, who to include and who to exclude from that definition.  But the way the negotiation process works is that nothing is accepted until everything is accepted.  So, even though, as I said, there is a suggested text for a definition, that is only to be considered as part of the negotiations process.  And this process of the Sixth Committee is, of course, going to continue.

Question:  Is the problem who to include as terrorist or who to include as victim?

Spokesperson:  It’s about terrorism.  What is to be included as terrorism and who is to be considered as a terrorist.

Question:  I understand that State terrorism is excluded totally from this.  State terrorism…

Spokesperson:  Excluded totally from…?

Question:  From this symposium and definition.

Spokesperson:  As I said, the symposium… (inaudible cross-talk)

Question:  …discussing State terrorism or not involving it and also… yeah.

Spokesperson:  On the definition issue, as I said, what I know is what I have told Benny about the negotiation process.  I don’t want to prejudge what is going to be included and what’s not going to be included.  On the symposium, as to on what basis the victims were chosen, please, as I mentioned, do ask the Secretary-General’s spokespeople.  They will know on what basis the Secretary-General has done the selection and in what format he has consulted the Member States.

Question:  I just have one more on this.

Spokesperson:  Okay.

Question:  And it’s not about the definition.  It has to do with a concern raised yesterday at the stakeout by the Ambassador that not all countries were asked to contribute or to become contributors to this conference.  And so, the issue they said that they were going to raise in the letter to the Secretary-General protesting a lack of transparency in how the thing was organized.  So, I am looking at the GA President’s website and there are a number of letters where he writes to Member States and he says “transmitting information about ‘Cool UN’ from Ban Ki-moon”; “transmitting information about a conference about Almaty”.  So, why in this instance, why wasn’t information about (inaudible)?

Spokesperson:  Letters by the President are most often transmitted upon requests.  But as I said, what the President has been trying to do was to work with the Secretariat, including the 38th floor, including the chair of the Counter-Terrorism Task Force, Bob Orr, and organized several briefings for Member States on the work of implementing the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy and on the work of the Counter-terrorism Task Fore, and within that, and also through information shared in those meetings, Member States were made aware of the various different efforts done by the Secretariat to implement the Strategy, including, as I said, the various different working group efforts undertaken by the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, including the one on victims.  So, in that sense information has been put out there.

Now, the other angle of your question, and this is something that I have always mentioned to you, is that the beauty of the UN process here and the General Assembly process is that it allows for Member States at all occasions to voice their concern.  If, in fact, as you said, certain Ambassadors feel they were not party to a process, they don’t have enough information, then certainly there is the possibility to raise that in whatever form they want.  And obviously, this is what we’re looking at.

Question:  Right.  I guess the only thing I’d say is that the three funders were the UK, Spain and Colombia.  So, the ones raising concerns, they feel that it was some sort of on political basis that these three were reached out to for funding.  Isn’t it the President of the General Assembly’s job to make sure that all Member States are made aware of an opportunity to participate in any UN event?  That’s, I guess, the question.  And maybe, somehow, you think the process worked, but others don’t.  So, does he have a response to that?

Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, as far as I know, the President himself has not been approached on this issue in any critical form.  That’s one.  The other is that, here again, it is something that the Secretary-General’s office is to be asked on the basis of what criteria or what approach is the funding done.  Is that done on this particular issue or is it a case whereby Member States in general are asked to contribute to the implementation of the counter-terrorism efforts and therefore they can come forward and do so, and it was based on this sort of overall approach that three countries came forward and made contributions, or was it in a different format.

Thank you very much for your attention.

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