27 August 2008


27 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 began this morning by unanimously extending the UN Interim Force in Lebanon.  It then moved on to an open debate on the Council’s working methods.

In a speech, the Secretary-General stressed that it is essential for the Council to keep addressing these issues, given the increasingly complex responsibilities it is facing, as well as the surging demand for UN conflict prevention, peacekeeping and peacebuilding activities.

The Secretary-General noted, too, that the Secretariat has taken steps to make the UN more effective, efficient and accountable.  He added that he looked forward to working to strengthen cooperation between the Secretariat and the Council even further.  We have copies of his speech upstairs.

Yesterday, the Council adopted a press statement on Burundi, in which it urged the parties to implement the Comprehensive Ceasefire Agreement in accordance with the agreed timeline.  Council members were also briefed, in closed consultations, on Somalia, Afghanistan and the Kalma camp shooting in Sudan.

** Darfur

UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur], in a press release issued yesterday afternoon, strongly condemned what it called the “excessive, disproportionate use of lethal forces” by Sudanese security forces against civilians during a raid inside a displaced persons’ camp in Darfur, in contravention of the Darfur Peace Agreement and international humanitarian law.

As part of its investigation of the incident, UNAMID has sent an assessment team to Kalma today to further gather information of what happened at the camp.  Composed of officers of the UNAMID Formed Police Unit of Nyala, police and military advisers, and human rights and civil affairs personnel, the team has been tasked with ascertaining the facts and circumstances surrounding the incident.

UNAMID has obtained concrete evidence of the death of 31 displaced persons, among them 7 children, 10 women and 13 men, aged 11 to 60, who were buried in Kalma.

Expressing their concerns, to which the armed presence maintained by Government of Sudan security forces in the camp further contributes, Kalma camp leaders have called for a meeting with the UNAMID leadership.  Responding immediately to their request, Rodolphe Adada, the African Union-United Nations Joint Special Representative and Chief of UNAMID, has directed that a high-level delegation engages today in a series of meetings with the IDPs [internally displaced persons] and other concerned parties.  In order to rebuild confidence among IDPs of Kalma, another UNAMID assessment mission to the camp has been scheduled.  We’re expecting a press release from UNAMID shortly.  And as you know, we have been giving you information daily on that situation.

** Sudan

In a joint effort, the UN Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) have successfully concluded the first 10-day Police Basic Training Course for a total of 168 members of the new Abyei Joint Integrated Police Unit.

In accordance with the Abyei Road Map signed on 8 June, the new Police Unit works for restoring the rule of law and ensuring the safety and security for the return to Abyei of internally displaced persons.  

** Somalia -- Humanitarian

On Somalia, United Nations Special Humanitarian Envoy Abdul Aziz Arrukban is currently on a mission to Kenya and Somalia.  He’s there to highlight the humanitarian crisis in Somalia and advocate for stronger involvement of Gulf countries in tackling the unfolding emergency.

Today, he is visiting the Bakool region in south-central Somalia and Dagahaley camp in north-eastern Kenya.  The camp is part of the Dadaab camp complex, which houses more than 200,000 Somali refugees. 

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, today voiced her grave concern on the high toll of civilian victims, mostly children, caused by an aerial bombardment in Shindand district of the Herat Province in Afghanistan on 21 August.

As you’ll recall, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan issued a statement yesterday saying it had found convincing evidence that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, in that operation.

The Special Representative strongly condemned the large number of deaths of civilians, and especially children, as a consequence of the escalation of the conflict.  During her recent visit to the country, Radhika Coomaraswamy raised the need to limit such incidents with the leadership of the International Security Assistance Forces, ISAF.

**Human Rights/Kashmir

On Kashmir, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says it is concerned about the recent violent protests in Indian-administered Kashmir that have reportedly led to civilian casualties as well as restrictions to the right to freedom of assembly and expression.  OHCHR calls on the Indian authorities and in particular security forces to respect the right to freedom of assembly and expression, and comply with international human rights principles in controlling the demonstrators.  The use of force should be proportionate to the threat posed, and firearms must only be used in dispersing a violent assembly to protect individuals against an imminent threat of death or serious injury.  The Acting High Commissioner calls for thorough and independent investigations into all killings that have occurred so far.

OHCHR also calls on the demonstrators to protest using peaceful means only.  Leaders of the different protesting groups have a responsibility to ensure that demonstrations are peaceful and that the demonstrators are not carrying sticks, guns or other weapons and to refrain from intimidation.  Political actors are urged to take all necessary protection measures to avoid exposing people under 18, including young children, to violence and to manipulation for political ends.

**United Nations Police

Opening today in Stockholm is the fourth International Policing Advisory Council meeting.  The meeting seeks to examine the impact of organized crime on peacekeeping.  It will also develop proactive strategies for UN operations to respond to challenges posed by organized crime.  The UN Secretariat is represented at the meeting by Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions, Dmitry Titov, and UN Police Adviser Andrew Hughes.

Hughes, who will be the guest at noon on 2 September, said that the international community must recognize that organized crime has been one of the central spoilers of UN and other peace efforts.  The Police Division is the fastest growing component of the United Nations.  It employs 16,900 officers as of January 2008, with more than 12,000 police officers from 98 countries deployed in 19 UN peace operations.  There is more in a press release upstairs.


New estimates from the World Bank show that poverty has been more widespread across the developing world over the past 25 years than previously thought.  The numbers also show more robust, if uneven, progress towards reducing overall poverty.

The World Bank notes that one in four people in the developing world, or a total of 1.4 billion people, were living on less than $1.25 a day in 2005.  In comparison, 1.9 billion people, about half of the developing world, were living below the poverty line in 1981 when the world population was estimated at 4.5 billion.

On the basis of the new numbers, the World Bank believes that the developing world is still on track to halve extreme poverty by 2015, and thus meet this key Millennium Development Goal.  You can, of course, get more information on the World Bank website.

**Climate Change

On climate change, the latest round of UN climate change talks are wrapping up at this hour in Accra, Ghana.  Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, says the meeting has been very encouraging.  Progress is speeding up towards the goal of reaching a new global climate change deal in Copenhagen by the end of 2009, Mr. de Boer says.

He noted that good progress was made in the areas of deforestation, expanding the clean development mechanism and other programmes to more sectors of the economy, and on ensuring that Africa gets a larger share of clean technology projects under the Kyoto Protocol.

He added that the debate in Accra made clear that these approaches are not about imposing targets on developing countries, but rather about what Governments may or may not choose to do on a voluntary basis at the national level.  The next round of talks will take place at the ministerial level in Poznan, Poland, in December.

**World Food Programme -- Nepal Floods

The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) in Nepal announced today that it is mobilizing emergency food assistance for 50,000 people displaced by floods in the eastern Terai districts of Nepal.  The emergency operation is in response to the Government’s request after monsoon rains caused an embankment of the Saptakoshi River to collapse, flooding thousands of hectares of land and forcing an estimated 50,000 people to flee their homes.

The WFP Country Representative in Nepal said food supplies were moved quickly to thousands of displaced families affected by the floods, but there are concerns about the continuous rains which could increase the number of people in need.  As an initial response, WFP will provide a 15-day food basket consisting of rice, pulses, salt and vegetable oil to 50,000 flood victims.  It is prepared to provide food for up to 30 days for families who cannot return to their homes because of high water levels.

WFP estimates that it will need an additional $1.5 million to $3 million in contributions to meet longer-term food needs and to provide livelihood support and recovery for flood victims in Nepal.

** Haiti

Still on the weather, on Hurricane Gustav, UNDP Associate Administrator Ad Melkert has extended his trip to Haiti.  Yesterday, he toured Cité Soleil, Haiti’s largest slum, with MINUSTAH [United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] troops.  Today, along with the UN’s Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti, Joel Boutroue, he toured parts of Port-au-Prince, including the harbour and Cité Soleil, that were damaged by hurricane Gustav.  He will also view progress made on UNDP’s Disaster Preparedness Programme with Haiti’s Ministry of Interior.

**World Food Programme -- Pakistan

Back to the World Food Programme, this time in Pakistan.  The World Food Programme says it has joined hands with the Unilever Corporation, to fight against child hunger in rural Pakistan.

Dubbed 'Together for Child Vitality', the three-year partnership is part of the company’s commitment to ending child hunger and achieving the Millennium Development Goals.

More than 600 Unilever staff are taking part in an automated Employee Payroll Programme, which is expected to raise 2.5 million rupees per year.  The money will go to more than 3,000 WFP-assisted Government girls’ primary schools in rural areas.

**Health and Environment Meeting

The first-ever Inter-Ministerial Conference on Health and Environment in Africa is taking place through Friday in Libreville, Gabon.  The World Health Organization and the UN Environment Programme have jointly organized the session, whose theme is “health security through healthy environments”.

The meeting is aimed at securing political commitment for reducing environmental threats to health.  These include unsafe water, pollution, poor sanitation, inadequate waste disposal, insufficient disease control and exposure to chemicals.  Up to a quarter of diseases in Africa may be associated with environmental changes, the agencies say. 

**United Nations Children’s Fund –- Child Trafficking in South Asia

On UNICEF, a report launched today in Katmandu by UNICEF states that all too often child victims of sexual exploitation and trafficking are blamed and punished across South Asia, where weak national legislation can lead to further victimization of children.

The report, South Asia in Action:  Preventing and responding to child trafficking, found that the judicial process itself needs to be reformed and strengthened to protect children who have been victims of trafficking, as well as protecting other children from being exploited.

South Asian children continue to be trafficked for multiple forms of sexual exploitation –- including prostitution, sex tourism, child pornography and paedophilia -– as well as labour exploitation.  Trafficking occurs both within and between countries in the region and also from South Asia to other regions including East Asia, Europe and the Gulf States.

Although South Asian Governments have developed national plans of action and adopted laws that criminalize human trafficking, so far only two countries in the region –- India and Sri Lanka -– have signed the Palermo Protocol, the first legal instrument to provide international definition of trafficking in human beings and specifically addressing children. 

This is all I have for you today.  Yes, Benny?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Can you tell us what the task force on the Lebanon-Syria border found and…?

Spokesperson:  Well, the report has been forwarded to the Security Council, so I cannot disclose right now the report as long as it hasn’t been issued.  But I am sure you can have it.

Question:  And who issued it?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General received the report and forwarded it to the Security Council last night.

Question:  Who was on the team?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  Michèle, [on Kashmir] you just read out the statement by the High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation.  Has the Secretary-General taken note of the situation…?

Spokesperson:  Well, when the Secretary-General has a Special Adviser or a head of department or agencies making such statements, he is of course, in support of it, you know.  And he is concerned by the situation; he has been following it very closely.  I don’t think you should take the fact that the Secretary-General himself does not issue a statement as a sign of him not being aware or not being concerned about the situation.  Yes, Masood?

Question:  On the other thing about the settlements situation in the occupied West Bank which are going at breakneck speed, even Secretary [of State Condoleezza] Rice has said that they should stop it and that it is against the road map offered by the Quartet.  Has the Secretary-General now taken note of that?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has been saying over and over again; and I can refer you to many statements made about the settlements.  And the establishment of settlements has been condemned as something that goes against the peace accords that have been signed or the peace agreements. 

Question:  (inaudible) now what has happened, it has become accelerated…

Spokesperson:  Well, there is nothing new to say about the Secretary-General’s reaction on that.  The reaction stays the same; he has stressed that he is against the building of new settlements because they might be an obstacle to a peaceful solution.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Even in the absence of Mr. Gambari, I wanted to ask, there are these reports that under the restrictions imposed on Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar that had she accepted Mr. Gambari’s invitation to meet, which was apparently delivered by a loudspeaker from outside her house, she would have subjected herself to a longer house arrest.  Did Mr. Gambari check with the Government?  Because it was said from this podium that the Government facilitated; that they could have met, but now the NLD and others are saying that it was all kind of a set up.  How did Mr. Gambari reach out to Aung San Suu Kyi and is it his understanding that he didn’t put her in greater jeopardy?

Spokesperson:  At this point, the Secretary-General is expecting to meet with Mr. Gambari.  He is going to do so in Turin in the next three days and we should know more about what happened when we get the report from Mr. Gambari.

Question:  I mean, I understand that, it’s just that, yesterday, at the stakeout, the Ambassador of the United Kingdom said it was a disappointing trip.  Various people have been reacting to it; I know he is not a fast reactor, but is he happy thus far with the outcome of his trip?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have his reaction at this point.  As I said, he has not spoken to the Secretary-General for a full debriefing of his trip.  And he will be doing so in the next three days.

Question:  I also want to ask; what’s the UN’s understanding of the current status of UNOMIG [United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia] given that Abkhazia has declared independence and since been recognized by Russia?  What’s the kind of their legal understanding?  Have there been any communications to the Secretariat about remaining, not remaining?  What’s the status of UNOMIG?

Spokesperson:  Well, the mandate of the Mission was determined by the Security Council.  Only the Security Council can change the terms of mandate.

Question:  Well, some people say that would put them with UNMIK [United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo] in Kosovo; that it’s being changed, you know, step by step by the Secretariat…

Spokesperson:  Well, that was a decision taken.  It was a decision taken with approval of the Council.  There has been no such decision taken about Georgia.  The Security Council is the one that dictates mandates.

Question:  I’m very sorry; I just want to be clear.  On UNMIK, I think there was no Security Council decision made.  They never passed anything.  1244 is in place, but the Mission is being wound down.  That’s one of the criticisms made.

Spokesperson:  Yes, but there still was widespread consultations and an approval of the plan that was submitted by the Secretary-General.  So, that’s a different situation.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Michèle, on Western Sahara, the media is beginning to talk about the silence of the United Nations on this issue.  Is there a silence of the United Nations?  And for transparency, could you tell us what has been happening?  Is the Personal Envoy holding discussions with the parties?  Has there been any progress?  When is the next meeting expected?

Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t have a date yet.  As you know, consultations have been continuing on the basis of organizing a fifth round of talks.  So far, it hasn’t reached a conclusion yet.  So, I cannot really tell you at such and such date there will be a meeting.  However, consultations are still going on on the issue.  The issue is not dead and it is still continuing.  That’s all I can say at this point. 

Question:  My question is about the huge civilian casualties in Shindand district.  In addition to Kai Eide, is there anything from the Secretary-General about this, the highest civilian casualties after 2001?

Spokesperson:  This is something, as I said, that’s been discussed over and over again in the last two days.  The Secretary-General supports strongly the statement made by his Special Envoy.  Yes, Tarek?

Question:  Just to follow up on Matthew’s question:  yesterday you told us that Mr. Ban Ki-moon is really concerned about the situation in Abkhazia after the Russian decision to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and Ossetia.  Don’t you think Mr. Ban Ki-moon by expressing such views is already against the recognition of these two States?  And previously you mentioned to us saying that it’s not the Secretary-General who decides or who recognizes the independence of States.  It is Member States who recognize the independence of other Member States.

Spokesperson:  Well, I’m sorry that you interpreted that statement that way.  There is no recognition on the part of the Secretariat of the situation.  As it was said, and you mention it yourself, recognition is something by Member States.  I think our position was made quite clear yesterday.  And it was made clear earlier when the Secretary-General spoke about the situation in Georgia.  As you know, he started talking about it on 7 August; that was his first statement on the issue and he kept on talking about it.  As you know, he supported the agreement between President Sarkozy and President Medvedev.  So, there has been a continuous engagement on the part of the Secretary-General, who has been calling different leaders in the area about that issue.  So, I think the statement yesterday was a statement about, you know, responding to a number of questions we had received and it stands for what it is.

Question:  So, does he feel the same regarding Kosovo?  Does he feel concerned about…?

Spokesperson:  I think you shouldn’t compare the two situations.  The two situations are different.  The history of the two situations is different and I think this was underlined also over and over again about discussions on the issues.  Don’t forget those two issues; the issue of Kosovo and the fact that we have a mission in Georgia; in Abkhazia were issues that had a decision by the Security Council. 

Question:  Two questions, if I may.  First, the first question about several people:  Any idea when we might get an introductory briefing from the new Under-Secretary-General and/or from the new High Commissioner for Human Rights?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think we have asked for those different people to come and talk to you.  So far, as you know, they are getting acquainted with their work and with their missions.  And I can tell you that the first two weeks of September we should be able to arrange some of those briefings.

Question:  Second, I heard something from several sources; one of them may have been in some briefing here about an anti-terrorism conference and I believe it’s on 9 September.  I think this is meant to be, you know, the pre-General Assembly or pre-general debate conference much the same manner as the climate change one was last year.  Do you know about this?  What details do you have…?

Spokesperson:  There are two different things.  On 9 September, there is going to be a forum with victims of acts of terrorism.  So, the victims are going to be here and it’s the first time in the history of the UN that we have a forum where the voice of the victims can be heard.  So, this is what is happening on 9 September.  Then you have a special event.  The special event is on MDGs [Millennium Development Goals].  It’s not about terrorism.

Question:  I see. 

Spokesperson:  The special event on 25 September is on the Millennium Development Goals.

Question:  Are the names and nationalities of any of these victims who will be speaking going to be released in advance?

Spokesperson:  We’ll try to get that for you.  We don’t have it yet.  It’s not a set list yet.  We don’t have a full set of names.

Question:  And is there expected to be some kind of briefing here in advance of that terrorism conference?

Spokesperson:  We will have a briefing in advance.

Question:  It is on 9 September?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Okay, thank you.

Question:  On the Aung San Suu Kyi question, was it part of Gambari’s portfolio as far as the Secretary-General has instructed him as his boss…?

Spokesperson:  To meet her, yes.

Question:  …to meet her and to meet other voices within Burma that are not necessarily the Government?

Spokesperson:  Definitely.  And he did meet with her on several occasions before that.  So, on this specific trip he met with members of her party.

Question:  Yes, but members of her party tell me that he met with them the five days that he was there for all of 20 minutes.  Is that…?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the details yet, as I mentioned to Matthew when I was answering his question.  The Secretary-General is expecting a full report from Mr. Gambari.

Question:  So, when should we expect that?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have a date for that.  You know, the Secretary-General is going to meet with Mr. Gambari in Turin.  The Secretary-General won’t be back here until 3 September.

Question:  And the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi was unable to meet him, do we know yet what was the reason, whether it was her choice not to meet him or was she incarcerated, or was she sick or was she incapacitated?

Spokesperson:  I think Marie has answered that question already.

Question:  She hasn’t.  She said that she has to find out a little more but…

Spokesperson:  Well, we don’t know exactly what her reasons were.  At this point, we’re still waiting to see whether Mr. Gambari has more to tell us about her reasons or whether he was aware of the reasons why they could not meet.  He will tell us more about it and, as soon as we find out, of course, we’ll let you know.

Question:  But it was not supposed to take place at her house, is that correct?

Spokesperson:  He was supposed to meet her.  I don’t have the details on where this was supposed to happen. 

Question:  On the terrorism forum, I was wondering, what are the criteria for inviting the victims of terrorism?  I mean, if we don’t know what terrorism is, so how come we’re going to know these are victims?

Spokesperson:  I said acts of terrorism.  That we know.  There is no definition of terrorism in legal terms, according to the United Nations conventions and laws.  However, there is definite evidence of acts of terrorism having victims and those victims are the ones, some of them, of course, we will not be able to invite all the victims in the world.  They’re, of course, going to be representative of different areas and different regions and different types of acts of terrorism.  So, it’s not a question of definition.  The reality is what it is.  We have victims, and those victims are the ones who are going to be here to talk about their own concerns. 

Question:  Michèle, if I can, in reference to this question about terrorism.  Now, since there is no definition, will the victims of State terrorism also be invited to participate, because there are thousands of victims who claim to be victims of State terrorism?  So, are you going to preclude them, include them or…?

Spokesperson:  I did tell you that you’re going to have a background briefing on this before it happens and then you will have more details on what criteria were used or are being used.

Question:  Also, I wanted to find out, have you had any communications with the United Nations mission in India and Pakistan as yet, or have they given you any update on the situation over there?

Spokesperson:  No.  I don’t. 

Question:  Michèle, does the Secretary-General plan to hold a press conference prior to the opening of the new session of the General Assembly?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  In fact, he is going to have two or three of them.  He is definitely going to have one before the special event on the MDGs; and I am hoping to have him talk to you when he comes back from his trip this time around, which means next week.  But we don’t have a specific time yet.  I will let you know, of course. 

Question:  That brings something to my mind.  Will Father d’Escoto be having a press conference of some kind before the start of the General Assembly?

Spokesperson:  Yes, he will.

Question:  On the question of victims, do people, the civilians who are incapacitated in one form or another by an act, such as bombing, but in the context of a war of liberation against foreign occupation, are they victims?

Spokesperson:  The criteria are not defined by me; they are defined by the different instruments that exist about terrorism.  I can refer you to those instruments…

Question:  It is to some degree a stumbling block to the definition…

Spokesperson:  Yes, it is the stumbling block.

Question:  …people, civilians like that, are they…?

Spokesperson:  …the definition is to be hammered out by Members of the General Assembly.

Question:  When is this briefing, Michèle, on terrorism?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have a date yet.  Anyway, the event is on 9 September.  I can only tell you that you will have a briefing beforehand.  So, before the 9th.  I don’t have a date at this point, Tarek. 

Question:  To go back to Pakistan.  So much has happened there in the last couple of years with changes in leadership; potential changes in leadership and all –- the assassination and so on.  I’m just wondering if the Secretary-General might be reluctant to talk about Pakistan probably because of the ambivalence of the role of certain western countries in all this mix, including the United States.  Is it…?

Spokesperson:  No.  The Secretary-General will always speak out whenever there are victims anywhere; wherever there are casualties anywhere in any type of, even in an internal issue.  As for the development in Pakistan, the Secretary-General cannot himself have an opinion on the political situation in Pakistan; of course, not.  Okay, thank you so much.

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