26 August 2008


26 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, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon all. 

** Georgia

I am first responding to questions asked this morning on Georgia.  The question of recognition of States is a matter for sovereign States to decide.

The Secretary-General has expressed his position on the situation in Georgia in statements made since the beginning of the month of August.  In particular, the Secretary-General has welcomed the agreement between Presidents Sarkozy and Medvedev and reiterates the need to fully implement the six-point plan.

Today’s developments may have wider implications for security and stability in the Caucasus.  The Secretary-General regrets that ongoing efforts to find a common solution on the way forward in the crisis in Georgia within the Security Council may be complicated.

The Secretary-General strongly emphasizes the urgent need to protect all civilians living in the conflict zones.

**Georgia -- Refugees

Still on Georgia, the UN refugee agency has called on all parties to the conflict over South Ossetia to make their best efforts to contain further outbreaks of lawlessness which could contribute to additional displacement.  In this context, UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] today expressed concern over reports of new forcible displacement caused by marauding militias north of the Georgian town of Gori, near the boundary line with South Ossetia.  There is a UNHCR press release with more details.

**Georgia -- Humanitarian

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), spontaneous organized returns have been taking place across Georgia for the last two days.  Approximately 10,000 people have returned to Gori, where the UN refugee agency and the World Food Programme (WFP) have both just opened offices.

A WFP assessment mission to villages north of Gori found near-deserted villages, burnt-out houses and looted shops.  People told the agency that they were afraid to go into their fields and orchards because of possible mines and other unexploded ordnance. 

OCHA reports that, as of yesterday, 104 airlifts, truck convoys or ships had delivered supplies to Georgia and North Ossetia; more airlifts were in the pipeline.  Access to South Ossetia from Georgia is still not possible, OCHA says.  Meanwhile, its appeal for nearly $60 million for Georgia has only received roughly $10 million in committed funds.  We have more information upstairs, of course, from UNHCR, from WFP and from OCHA as well as the Geneva briefing note.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said in a statement issued today in Kabul that, following reports of large numbers of civilian casualties caused during military operations in Shindand District of Herat Province, UNAMA’s [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] human rights team has now returned from a mission to the affected area to investigate these reports.

Investigations by UNAMA found convincing evidence, based on the testimony of eyewitnesses and others, that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men.  Fifteen other villagers were wounded or otherwise injured.

The Special Representative says this is a matter of grave concern to the United Nations, and that he has repeatedly made clear that the safety and welfare of civilians must be considered above all else during the planning and conduct of all military operations.

It is vital that the international and Afghan military forces thoroughly review the conduct of this operation in order to prevent a repeat of this tragic incident.

** Sudan

On Sudan, in an update on the shooting incident in the Kalma camp for displaced persons in Darfur, the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports today that the UNAMID military and civilian police, together with MSF/Holland, evacuated 47 wounded people -- mostly women, children and some men -- and brought them to Nyala hospital last night. 

UNAMID says information received indicates that other wounded -- mostly young men -- have refused to be evacuated so far for fear of being arrested, an indication they might have participated in the fighting.

UNAMID has urged the Government of Sudan to respect international humanitarian law and try to find a lasting solution to the Kalma camp situation.  UNAMID has coordinated and organized a patrol to the camp to verify the incident, gather information and provide assistance.

Also today, the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General and the Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Ameerah Haq, travelled to Nyala in South Darfur. 

She visited some of the wounded from Kalma camp at the hospital in Nyala.  This incident comes at a time when the situation in Darfur remains as grim as ever or worse, characterized by insecurity, lawlessness and impunity.

**Security Council

The Security Council held an open meeting on Burundi this morning.  Ulla Ström, the Deputy Permanent Representative of Sweden, spoke on behalf of Ambassador Anders Lidén of Sweden, who is the Chairperson of the Peacebuilding Commission Group on Burundi.  The Permanent Representative of Burundi also took the floor.

The Council then moved into consultations on Burundi, with a briefing by Youssef Mahmoud, Executive Representative of the Secretary-General for Burundi.  The Council is also scheduled to take up, in consultations, the activities of its Committee dealing with sanctions on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and other matters.

This afternoon, consultations are scheduled on Somalia and other matters.

** Côte d’Ivoire

On Côte d’Ivoire, the heads of UN peacekeeping operations in West Africa issued a joint statement today welcoming progress in solving the political and military crisis in Côte d’Ivoire.  The UN officials, gathering for a two-day meeting in Bissau, commended the Ivorian political class on their determination to press ahead with plans to hold the presidential election in November and with the implementation of other key aspects of the Ouagadougou Peace Agreement.  You’ll find copies of the joint statement upstairs.

**Gambari –- South- East Asia

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, today arrived in Jakarta, Indonesia, as part of his consultations with the regional leaders regarding the Myanmar process.

There, he met with the Foreign Minister and held extensive and constructive exchanges of views on the current situation in Myanmar, as well as the way forward in support to the Secretary-General's good offices.

Tomorrow, Gambari is scheduled to meet the Indonesian President, among others, before heading to Turin to meet the Secretary-General and brief him on the situation.

** Iraq

On Iraq, since Marie was asked yesterday about calls for Special Representative of the Secretary-General [Staffan] de Mistura‘s resignation, in Kirkuk, I would like to say that Special Representative of the Secretary-General de Mistura continues to meet with all parties, as circumstances permit, to promote political dialogue and national reconciliation in Iraq.  On the issue of Kirkuk, he is committed to helping all sides find a mutually acceptable solution.  I will also add that the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary-General for Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, and his team have the full confidence of the Secretary-General in implementing UNAMI's [United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq] mandate under Security Council resolution 1830 (2008).

**Afghanistan –- Opium Cultivation

In its summary of the Afghanistan Opium Survey 2008, issued today, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) says that opium cultivation in Afghanistan decreased by 19 per cent, but the situation is still “vulnerable to a relapse”.

According to the report, opium production so far this year was reduced to some 157,000 hectares, down from a record harvest of 193,000 in 2007.  It also shows that, since last year, the number of opium-free provinces has increased by almost 50 per cent:  from 13 to 18, indicating that opium is not grown in more than half of the country’s 34 provinces.

Executive Director of UNODC Antonio Maria Costa called on the international community to reward the opium-free provinces and urged the Afghan authorities, assisted by NATO, to shift focus and resources from eradication to closing opium markets, destroying heroin labs and going after the drug convoys.

** Rwanda

On Rwanda, the trial of former Rwandan army officer Ephrem Setako is beginning today in Arusha before the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.  Setako is facing six counts of genocide, complicity in genocide, crimes against humanity and a host of violations of the Geneva Conventions.  He pleaded not guilty to all counts in November 2004.  There is more in a press release from the Tribunal upstairs.

**United Nations Environment Programme -– Fossil Fuels

In a new report, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is challenging the widely held view that subsidies for fossil fuels help the poor.  UNEP says many such subsidies actually benefit the wealthy.  Scrapping these subsidies could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 6 per cent a year and offer a slight boost to economic growth, the report says.

In other news, UNEP has found that Clean Development Mechanism projects are taking off in sub-Saharan Africa.  New initiatives have emerged in the past 18 months in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Mali and Senegal, UNEP notes.

**General Assembly Press Kits

The Department of Public Information has asked us to alert you that the press kit for the upcoming session of the General Assembly is now available at the third floor documents counter.

The kit, which contains a range of materials, including the provisional agenda of the session and the biography and photo of the General Assembly President-elect, has been produced in three languages -- English, French and Spanish.  Electronic versions of the press kit will be soon made available online in all six official languages.

**Press Conferences Today

Today at 12:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of the Russian Federation.

And at 3 p.m., Ambassador Irakli Alasania of Georgia will brief you on the situation in that country, which means I have very little time for questions.  I’ll take one question.  Yes, go ahead.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On Afghanistan, on the air strike, Kai Eide’s statement said he saw convincing evidence, but those are just interviews or their bodies or graves?  Because the Pentagon says there is no evidence.

Spokesperson:  You have more.  If you go upstairs and get the press release itself, you have much more details there.

Question:  Is there another one from this morning?  This is the one I have.

Spokesperson:  The one you have this morning?

Question:  Yeah.

Spokesperson:  Well, you can get information from them over there.  Yes, Masood, just one more, okay?

Question:  On the situation on the border between India and Pakistan -- which is getting bad to worse, and I have been getting these things again and again that you’re still gathering information.  How long will it take for you to gather information for the Secretary-General to issue a statement, because the situation is getting out of hand?  Journalists have been beaten up over there.  So when are you going to react?  When is the Secretary-General going to react?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’m sorry, Masood I have to interrupt this right now because we have a 12:30 p.m. press conference here.

Question:  You have no response?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything new right now.  Thank you so much.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  Good to see you today.

I have something to announce that most of you have been asking about and I finally have some solid dates to give you; and that’s on Security Council reform.

**Security Council Reform

The President of the General Assembly, Srgjan Kerim, completed his round of consultations with Member States and also with his Task Force on Security Council Reform, and he is convening a meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group on Security Council Reform for next week, Tuesday, 2 September, in the morning at 10.

The Working Group is expected to take action on the draft report on its work submitted by its Chairperson; as you know, the Chairman is the President of the General Assembly.  The draft report also contains a draft decision on the next steps forward.

This draft text is currently being circulated to Member States as I speak to you.  The General Assembly then will also need to take action in a plenary meeting on the recommendation of the Open-Ended Working Group.  That has to come before or, at the latest, on 15 September, when the [sixty-second session of the] Assembly wraps up its work.

To quickly recap the sixty-second session in this regard:  Member States decided on the last day of the previous, the sixty-first, session, on 17 September 2007, to have the Open-Ended Working Group continue its work during the sixty-second session and report back to the Assembly before the end of the session on any recommendations they might agree on.

During the sixty-second session, the General Assembly considered Security Council reform in a plenary debate between 12 and 14 November -– and it was here that the President proposed his seven principles that were accepted as the basis for the advancement of the process.

The Working Group itself met for the first time on 14 December.  At that time, the President, as the Chair of the Working Group, appointed the Ambassadors of Bangladesh, Chile and Portugal to serve as his Task Force and, as you may remember, later on this Group was widened to include the Ambassador of Djibouti.

Following this meeting, a round of consultations took place in various configurations.  Member States were asked to identify negotiables that could form the basis for intergovernmental negotiations.

Then the Working Group met again on 10 April and discussed various contributions made by Member States.  This was then followed by an extensive period of consultations by the Task Force and Member States to identify options on the way forward.  Based on those consultations, the Task Force compiled a report which was then discussed at the 17 June meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group.

At the conclusion of that meeting, the President, as the Chair of the Working Group, announced that he would begin work with his Task Force and consult Member States to draft the report of the Open-Ended Working Group with the intention to contain a draft decision on the way forward.  He called on Member States to cooperate closely in order to agree to adopt a decision to move the process to the stage of commencing intergovernmental negotiations.  So, that’s where we are.  That’s what preceded the meeting that was called for 2 September. 

**General Assembly President’s Travels

The General Assembly President concluded his three-day visit today to the Republic of Korea.  He held meetings today with President Lee Myung-bak and also with Foreign Minister Yu Myung-hwan.  [Yesterday, the President had talks with Prime Minister Han Seung-soo.]  The topics of their discussions were the priority issues of the sixty-second session, including also, of course, Security Council reform as well as Seoul’s increasing contribution to the work of the United Nations.

**Supplementary Agenda Items for Sixty-Third Session

And finally, a document that I want to flag for you, which is out on the racks, that has to do with the request for a supplementary item for the sixty-third session.  I am mentioning this not because I want to do any kind of a ranking order as regards requests for supplementary items, but simply because you were asking about this.  So out on the racks you will see that there is document A/63/195, which is a request for a supplementary item to be included on the agenda of the sixty-third session -– and it is the “Request for an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice on whether the unilateral declaration of independence of Kosovo is in accordance with international law”.  You will see that the document contains what is called an explanatory memorandum, which is something that is required with requests for supplementary items, according to General Assembly rules.

That’s what I have for you, and I am, of course, ready to take questions.  Mr. Abbadi, please?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  This new Working Group is only new in name since it’s the child of the Ad Hoc Committee that has at least met for over 10 years discussing the reforms of the Security Council.  What is expected of this Working Group to do that a mother Committee hasn’t done?

Spokesperson:  I didn’t quite hear…

Question:  This Committee, the new Committee…

Spokesperson:  Which new Committee?

Question:  On the reforms of the Council.

Spokesperson:  It’s the Open-Ended Working Group.

Question:  Right.  It’s only new in name because it is the brain-child of the Ad Hoc Committee which met for 10 years and discussed reforms of the Security Council.

Spokesperson:  It’s actually the same.  I know we have discussed this before.  It’s actually the same format.  The difference is -- I know you have been asking about this -- how come the “ad hoc” part has been dropped from the name.  I have been trying to get answers for you on that.  I am still working on it, I didn’t get any answers yet.  But it is the Open-Ended Working Group that has been discussing this issue for some time.  And, as I just read to you, basically what happened is that, at the end of the last session, Member States decided that the Working Group should continue.  So, let’s see what they decide when they meet on 2 September.

Question:  (inaudible) really that reform of the Security Council has been discussed for over 10 years and there are no concrete results.  And there are political observers very close to these reforms who believe that any reforms of the Security Council must come from the Council itself and nowhere else.  What would the President think of such arguments?

Spokesperson:  I think the President’s statements on these issues -- and I don’t necessarily want to go into repetition because he has been quite open about his views when he addressed all of those meetings, including the plenary debate that I mentioned, which was in the middle of November, and in all of the series of other meetings which I mentioned for you as regards the Working Group -- the President has been pretty straightforward about his views on Security Council reform and the way he is pushing forward on this issue.  But let’s not prejudge what’s going to happen on 2 September and where this issue is going to be taken by the Working Group.  And of course, as you know, since you mentioned the Security Council members, and obviously you were referring to the permanent members, I assume, they are also members of the Working Group and thus very much part of the process.

Question:  Does the President of the General Assembly have any views or recommendations for this upcoming Security Council debate about its working methods, and what could be done to allow non-permanent members or members of the General Assembly to have more input into the matters on the Council’s agenda?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any concrete statements, views or recommendations made by him on this particular upcoming meeting, but I have mentioned this here before when this was asked; Security Council reform is very much viewed by the President as one that includes the working methods of the Council.  It is also very much viewed by him as not an end in itself, but very much part and parcel of a larger reform of the United Nations.  In other words, what he’s looking for is a reform of the Security Council that results in a Council that is more effective, more efficient, more able to take actions on various different issues. 

Question:  This question may have been asked.  I was late.  But tell us, how many Heads of State and Government are going to be participating in the high-level debate from 23 September.

Spokesperson:  I don’t have a head count.  But this question actually refers to the sixty-third session and, as you know, I am the Spokesperson for the sixty-second session.  So I would rather not talk about what’s going to happen for the sixty-third session.  What I do promise is that the moment that my successor is revealed -- that is, who is going to be the Spokesperson for the [President of the] sixty-third session, I will introduce the person and he or she will hopefully get you all the information as regards the expected participation of various Heads of State, Heads of Government, ministers, etc.

If there are no more questions, then I thank you very much for your attention.

Question:  Has the Office of the President of the General Assembly heard anything from Mr. Gambari in terms of providing a briefing about his good offices mission to Myanmar?

Spokesperson:  Not at this particular point, but as you know -- and you can check on the website of the President because we have issued statements every time the President met Mr. Gambari -- the practice so far has been that Mr. Gambari, on occasions when he comes back from his good offices mission, briefs the President of the General Assembly.  So I am sure that is going to happen. 

Thank you.

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