22 August 2008


22 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.

Good Afternoon.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

We’ll start with an announcement of the Secretary-General’s next trip.  Next week, the Secretary-General will begin a week-long visit to Europe that will take him to Turin in Italy, Geneva and the Spanish cities of Zaragoza and Madrid.

He will begin his travels by hosting senior managers of the UN system for a two-day retreat in Turin, which is home to the UN Staff College.  He will share his vision for 2008 and formulate a plan of action for the year ahead.

The meeting is also a chance to introduce the new members of the UN team, many of whom will take their oaths of office next week.  And I’ll have an item on this later.

After that, the Secretary-General will travel to Geneva, where, on 31 August, he will address the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as it opens its twenty-ninth session, during what will also be the Panel’s twentieth anniversary.

The following day in Geneva, on 1 September, the Secretary-General will meet with the families of victims and with survivors of the August 2003 Canal Hotel bombing in Baghdad, attending a memorial ceremony and a wreath laying for the fallen staff.  Before attending the ceremony, the Secretary-General will witness the signing of a memorandum of understanding between UNCTAD and the Iraqi Government covering cooperation in the areas of science and technology.

He will then travel onward to Zaragoza, where he will attend Exposition Zaragoza 2008, whose theme is “Water and Sustainable Development”, and he will speak about the importance of water for social, economic and political security.  While there, he will also meet with the Spanish Foreign Minister.

The Secretary-General will also meet in Madrid with Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Zapatero and will speak to the press afterward, before returning to New York.

**Georgia -- Refugees

Turning to Georgia, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres today concludes a four-day mission to Georgia and the Russian Federation that included visits with people uprooted by the current crisis in the region.

Following discussions with high-ranking Georgian authorities earlier this week, Guterres met in Moscow on Wednesday with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.  They focused on humanitarian cooperation between UNHCR and the Russian Federation in a number of areas, including strengthening joint emergency response mechanisms.  Much of the discussion focused on humanitarian concerns linked to the South Ossetia situation, as well as broader protection-related issues for affected civilian populations.

Today, Guterres visited South Ossetia on a mission aimed at evaluating the humanitarian situation, as well as the possibilities for humanitarian access and seeing first-hand the conditions for the return of those uprooted by the crisis.  He is the first senior international official to travel to South Ossetia since the conflict erupted earlier this month.

Noting that under the current circumstances the only way to enter South Ossetia was from North Ossetia, Guterres expressed his appreciation to Foreign Minister Lavrov and Russian authorities for facilitating his humanitarian mission.

**Security Council

And the Security Council met yesterday afternoon to hold previously unscheduled consultations on Georgia.  Council members heard briefings on the latest developments on the ground from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe and Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet.  They also discussed possible draft resolutions on Georgia.

Afterwards, the Council held a formal meeting to adopt a presidential statement, in which it condemned in the strongest terms the twin suicide terrorist attacks that occurred in Pakistan earlier yesterday.  And today there are no Council meetings or consultations scheduled at present.

** Lebanon

The Secretary-General, in a letter to the President of the Security Council that is out on the racks today, notes that the Prime Minister of Lebanon had written to him to request a one-year extension of the mandate of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL).  The Secretary-General recommends that the Council extend UNIFIL’s mandate by 12 months, until the end of August 2009.

He writes that UNIFIL and the Lebanese Armed Forces continue their efforts to ensure that that the area between the Blue Line and the Litani River is free of any unauthorized personnel, assets and weapons.  He added his hope that the recent formation of a new Government will contribute to an improvement of the overall security environment that would permit, in the near future, the return to southern Lebanon of units of the Armed Forces that have been redeployed to maintain security in other parts of the country.

** Somalia

On Somalia, some 3.2 million Somalis, including internally displaced people and residents of urban areas, will remain at risk of serious food shortage until the end of the year.  That’s according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in its latest food security assessment for Somalia.  Those in need represent 43 per cent of the country’s total population.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that the crisis is caused by the combined effects of drought and decreased cereal production.  Overall insecurity, the rising cost of living, including food prices, and the devaluation of the Somali currency have also contributed to this emergency.  The current situation is unprecedented as nearly the whole country is in crisis.  In southern Somalia, some 70 per cent of the rural population and 50 per cent of urban residents are at risk.

The World Food Programme handed out some 34,000 tons of food to 1.7 million people this past month.  And some 54,000 displaced children under the age of 5 received supplementary rations from UNICEF.

** Colombia -- Refugees

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR), meanwhile, says it is becoming increasingly concerned about the humanitarian situation along southern Colombia’s Pacific coast, where thousands of people have been displaced or caught in fighting.

You can read more about this situation in the briefing notes from UNHCR.  The agency has been present in Colombia for 10 years, supporting national efforts to assist and protect a large population of internally displaced people, and cooperating with other UNHCR offices in neighbouring countries hosting Colombian refugees.

**Climate Change

A new study commissioned by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the humanitarian relief agency CARE International has identified a number of countries as being particularly vulnerable to climate change.  The study looks at the most likely humanitarian consequences of climate change over the next 20 to 30 years.  It also maps specific hazards associated with floods, cyclones and droughts.

India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Indonesia are among those identified as hotspots.  The study notes that countries in the Horn and Sahel regions of Africa and in South-East Asia are already facing enormous political, social, demographic, economic and security challenges brought about by climate change.  And there’s more information on this in a press release upstairs.


Meanwhile, UNICEF is drawing attention to the recent outbreaks of measles in the United States.  And you can read more about that in UNICEF’s press release upstairs.

**Symposium on Victims of Terrorism

And looking ahead, I have a couple of items.  One is on the symposium on victims of terrorism which has generated some interest from you.

On 9 September, the Secretary-General will host a full-day symposium on supporting victims of terrorism, at United Nations Headquarters.  The Symposium’s aim is to provide a forum which will assist Member States in their commitment under the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy to “strive to promote international solidarity in support of victims and foster the involvement of civil society in a global campaign against terrorism and for its condemnation”.

The United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, adopted by the General Assembly, emphasises the importance of victims of terrorism.  Among the measures to address the conditions conducive to the spread of terrorism, Member States called for putting in place national systems of assistance that would promote the needs of victims of terrorism and their families and facilitate the normalization of their lives.  The Strategy also encourages Member States to promote international solidarity in support of victims, as well as to foster the involvement of civil society.

The Secretary-General is organizing the 9 September event to advance all of these goals identified in the Strategy passed two years ago.  This will be the first symposium of its kind in UN history.  The focus here is not on politics -- the Strategy is clear that terrorism is unacceptable.  The focus of this event is solely on the victims and how States, international organizations and civil society can better address their needs.

As Member States themselves point out in the General Assembly resolution, one of the instruments to put an end to terrorism is to highlight and give support to victims.  This is precisely what the Secretary-General is trying to facilitate.  Invitees to the event will include all Member States, victims, representatives of civil society, the media and regional and subregional organizations. 

Participants will come from all regions, cultures and religions, representing a diversity of terror-victim experiences and have a record of constructive engagement with Governments and civil society in support of victims.

Invitations are being made in consultation with victims’ organizations, civil society and Member States.  And there is a fact sheet available upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office, as well as this note.

**Oath of Office

And also in the Week Ahead, as I mentioned earlier, on Monday, at 9 a.m. in the Secretary-General’s Conference Room, five new senior officials in the Secretariat will take their oaths of office, formally starting their work at the United Nations.  This is in advance of the Turin event.

The officials involved in Monday’s swearing-in are Under-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Patricia O’Brien; Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy; Assistant Secretary-General for Central Support Services, Warren Sach; Assistant Secretary-General for Peacebuilding Support, Jane Holl Lute; and Controller, Jun Yamazaki.  There will be a photo-op to mark the event.

**United Nations Development Programme

And just one more item in the Week Ahead, which is available for you upstairs.  The Associate Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP), Ad Melkert, will travel to Haiti next week for an official visit to assess the progress made in UNDP’s projects in the country, especially those meant to increase Haiti’s capacity to respond to natural disasters.

Mr. Melkert is expected to meet with the President and other senior Government officials, as well as the leadership of the UN peacekeeping mission in Haiti.  For further information you can contact UNDP’s press office.

And as I mentioned, we do have the Week Ahead for you.  And that’s it for me.  Any questions?  Let’s start with Masood.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, for the last one week I have been pointing out that the situation in Kashmir, at the border of India and Pakistan, has being going from bad to worse.  Every time the response is: “We’re still gathering information before we make a comment.”  Has the United Nations gathered enough information to offer any comment on that situation as yet?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing further on that today.

Question:  The Secretary-General’s Office has got nothing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that today.

Question:  I just want some more details on the list of invitees for the terrorism conference, if possible, I mean who accepted, whom did you invite?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As of now, what I told you is what I have.  We don’t have the list of invitees yet, but as soon as we get it, we will put that out for you.

Question:  So, when you say different religions, different groups, different NGOs…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Specifically what I said to you was the governing guidance for the selecting of the participants is drawn from the 13 universal anti-terrorism conventions and three protocols that identify acts of terrorism.  invitees are expected to have had a record of constructive engagement with Governments and civil society in support of victims with acknowledged contributions in the area and these invitations will be made following consultations with victims’ organizations, civil society and Member States and efforts are being taken to ensure that participants come from all regions, cultures and religions and represent a diversity of terror victim experiences.  Based on that, as soon as we have the list, we’ll put it out for you.

Question:  I just wondered, like you know, there is this stereotyping linking Islam to terrorism in one way or the other.  How are you going to make sure that this is not going to turn into an anti-Islamic conference rather than just being an anti-terrorism conference?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I think what I just read to you and what the Counter-Terrorism Strategy spells out, that the outgrowth of this symposium is in support of the victims of terrorism and with the note I just read to you, the fact sheet upstairs I think will explain very clearly what the intent of the Secretary-General is in convening the symposium.  Did you have a question?

Question:  Yes. I want to know -- forgive me, I walked in just after you started -- Mr. Gambari in Myanmar is staying beyond his scheduled programme, I believe.  So, my question is how long is he going to stay for, and is this to try to rearrange a meeting that was skipped by Ms. [Aung San] Suu Kyi on Wednesday?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Mr. Gambari’s visit, as you mentioned, is being extended and his programme is being developed accordingly.  Mr. Gambari, as I mentioned to you yesterday, expects to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi, as he did on all his previous visits.  So, his visit continues.

Question:  But, excuse me, he is scheduled to leave for, I think, Thailand on Saturday afternoon local time.  So, that doesn’t give him much time at this point in the day, given it’s noon here.  So, is there a reason given to Mr. Gambari as to why she skipped the meeting?

Deputy Spokesperson:  All I can say at this point is his visit is ongoing; that he will stay for as long as it’s needed and he expects to meet with her as he did on the previous visits.

Question:  So, he might extend it beyond Saturday then if he thinks…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let’s take it day to day.  Today he is there and, as I said, his visit is being extended.

Question:  But no reason reported back as to why it never happened in the first place?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That’s correct.

Question:  I guess a follow-up.  What’s been the role of the Government in choosing who Mr. Gambari meets with?  We see a schedule, but it seems there are some reports saying that he didn’t meet with Aung San Suu Kyi because the Government didn’t allow it.  Other reports say she skipped it because she’s dissatisfied with the UN’s…

Deputy Spokesperson:  As long as his visit is ongoing and the delegation is on the ground, I am not really privy to any further information.  I have to report to you as his programme develops.  And, as of now, he has extended his visit as needed, and we will report to you as soon as we have further updates from him.

Question:  But, in general, do you think it’s fair to ask and if he anticipates staying next week, what the role of the Government is?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let’s ask all of that once Mr. Gambari’s mission is over.

Question:  Can I just ask one follow-up on the terrorism conference?  Just a very specific point, which is that even the thing that was put out today says that the Governments of Spain, the UK and Colombia have provided voluntary contributions for the symposium.  So, were other countries asked and, if so, how?  Who was asked to fund it and how did these three emerge as the three funders?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, all 192 Member States have been repeatedly briefed on the activities of the Counter-terrorism Implementation Task Force and its working groups, including on the voluntary funding needed to support the activities of the Task Force and the working groups.  All activities of the Task Force and its working groups, including the working group on supporting and highlighting victims of terrorism, are posted online.  Contributions to this and other activities are welcome from any Member State.  Three countries have thus far come forward to support the symposium on supporting victims of terrorism.  Any additional contributions from other Member States to support this and other UN efforts in the fight against terrorism would be most welcome.

Question:  So, did these three see a specific request by the Secretariat online saying you can contribute…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  They voluntarily stepped forward, that’s correct.

Question:  (Inaudible) the definition of terrorism of course, is very controversial and if some in Government consider it to be terrorist, some others consider it to be resistance.  How will you go and tackle this very delicate matter?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I have answered that question in the statement I read out today.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Again, like my colleague, I apologize if you read something on Somalia.  Has Mr. Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, does he have any comment on the fighting, 60 days…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I had a humanitarian update that I would like to draw your attention to today.

Question:  Sure.  What I am saying is, politically, he is the envoy.  He has been putting out statements saying how great things are going, the Djibouti talks and various things…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything specific from the Special Representative today, but I do have a note on the humanitarian situation on the ground.  With that, have a good weekend.  See you on Monday.

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