5 September 2008


5 September 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.

**Press Conferences Today

At 12:30 today, General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim and Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General and Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, will brief you on the General Assembly session reviewing the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy.

And following that at 1:30 p.m., Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes will brief on the humanitarian situation in areas in the Caribbean, South Asia and West Africa that have been affected by recent storms and floods.

**Security Council

On the Security Council, it adopted two Presidential Statements yesterday – on Somalia and Cyprus.

On Somalia, the Security Council welcomed the signing in Djibouti of a peace agreement last month between the Transitional Federal Government and the Alliance for the Re-Liberation of Somalia.

The Council took note of the parties’ request that the UN authorize and deploy an international stabilization force in 120 days and reaffirmed its willingness to consider, at an appropriate time, a UN peacekeeping operation in Somalia to take over from the African Union Mission, subject to progress in the political process and improvement in the security situation on the ground.

On Cyprus, the Council warmly welcomed the launch of full-fledged negotiations between the leaders of both the Greek and Turkish communities of Cyprus aimed at the island’s reunification under the good offices mission of the Secretary-General.

There are no meetings or consultations of the Security Council scheduled for today.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the UN Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has said he is extremely alarmed by the increase in piracy carried out against ships both in Somali waters and in international waters near Somalia.

“This piracy is increasingly a threat to international navigation and free trade in an already fragile environment. The millions of dollars in ransom paid to the pirates and their associates inland and overseas has become a multi-million dollar business, which threatens stability in Puntland and in Somalia as a whole,” he said in a statement issued today.

Up to ten ships are reported to be held by pirates at present. Local Somali authorities say that trade to ports, particularly in the north, has been badly affected.

He welcomed the fact that the Security Council passed Resolution 1816 on piracy in June this year, but added that “these criminals are challenging this Security Council resolution and the time has come for a collaborative effort to put the resolution into effect.  We have to work quickly,” he said, “before the level of criminal activity increases and affects ports in neighbouring countries.”

**International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court (ICC) says that its Trial Chamber has rejected an application by the Prosecutor to lift a stay of proceedings in the case of Congolese rebel leader Thomas Lubanga.  The ICC judges say the Prosecutor’s proposals included in the application demonstrably fail to meet the requirements for a stay of proceedings. In addition, they violate the basic aspects of the right of the accused to a fair trial.

Despite the ruling, Lubanga will remain in ICC custody pending a Prosecutor’s appeal to the judge’s earlier order to release him. He is accused of war crimes, including the forcible enlistment of children into the ranks of his armed group in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo. You can read more about this in a press release issued by the ICC yesterday.

**Palestinians – Iceland

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has expressed its appreciation to Iceland, for agreeing to accept 29 Palestinian refugees.

The group has been stranded for the last two years in a makeshift camp in the desert on the Iraq-Syria border, and includes some of the most vulnerable refugee women -- several of whom lost their husbands during the conflict in Iraq -- and their children.

Some 2,300 Palestinians are still living in desperate conditions in two refugee camps along the Iraq-Syria border, according to UNHCR. We have more on that upstairs.

**Human Rights Council

The Human Rights Council’s ninth regular session starts on Monday in Geneva and will last for three weeks.

The body will consider human rights situations that require its attention, including follow-up to its special sessions on Darfur, Beit Hanoun in northern Gaza, and the global food crisis.

At the beginning of the session, the Council will hear its first update from the newly appointed High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay of South Africa, whose four-year term started on 1 September.


On Iraq, the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP) and the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) are supporting a new initiative to list the Tigris and Euphrates River Delta in Iraq as a World Heritage Site.  This area, also known as the Fertile Crescent, is believed by some to have been the location of the Biblical “Garden of Eden”.

During the final decade of his rule, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein drained nearly all of the marshlands as part of his campaign against the Marsh Arabs who lived there. UNEP has been working for the last four years to restore the ecological viability of the site and the livelihoods of the Marsh Arabs.  There is more information on that upstairs.

**African Union-United Nations Cooperation

The United Nations, through its African Union Peacekeeping Support Team within the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, is assisting the African Union Commission to conduct a training program for senior officials of the African Union and its sub-regions to develop their capacity in the planning, deployment and management of AU peace support missions.

Twenty five officials from 14 countries are taking part in the 12-day program underway in Botswana. The course is being run in partnership between the UN, the AU and Southern African Development Community (SADC), with support from the Government of Botswana and funding provided by the Government of Denmark.

**UNICEF - Horn of Africa

Children, already casualties of the complex drought, food price and conflict crisis unfolding in the Horn of Africa, are suffering severe effects of the lack of food, water and medical care.

Three million children in the arid, marginalized region are at risk of death, disease or the long-term consequences of malnutrition. They comprise a large proportion of the more than 14 million people critically affected, and the numbers are on an alarming upward trajectory.

UNICEF, which is reporting this, says some experts are predicting that millions more children and families could be engulfed across the Horn if steps are not taken immediately. Read UNICEF’s press release on that subject for more details.

**Secretary-General Travels

Next Wednesday, in Madison, New Jersey, the Secretary-General will deliver the keynote address at Fairleigh Dickinson University’s Academic Convocation. 

He is also slated to receive an honorary degree from the university.

**Press Conferences on Monday

Looking ahead, at 11.30 a.m. on Monday, Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General and Chair of the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force, will brief you on the Secretary-General’s 9 September symposium on supporting victims of terror. So you’ll have two different press briefings with Robert Orr; one today and one on Monday.  The one on Monday is specifically on the symposium of the 9th, for the victims.

Our guest at noon, on Monday will be U.N. Police Adviser Andrew Hughes.  He will brief on the outcome of last month’s 4th International Policing Advisory Council meeting. 

And at 3:00 p.m. Jean-Marc Coicaud, Director of the U.N. University Office in New York and other speakers will brief you on the UNU-Cornell Africa Series’ 3rd symposium entitled The Social and Economic Dimensions of HIV/AIDS in Africa, which will take place on 9 September.

**The Week Ahead

Still on Monday, from Monday through Wednesday, the International Court of Justice holds public hearings concerning proceedings instituted by Georgia against Russia. 

And still looking ahead, Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. in Room 226, senior UN officials brief on the 25 September High-level event on the Millennium Development Goals and on the Millennium Development Goals Report 2008.

On Thursday at 11:00 a.m. in Room 226, right here, the Secretary-General plans to hold a one hour press conference during he will set out his priorities ion advance of the 63rd session of the General Assembly and he will also launch the Millennium Development Goals Report 2008.

And on Friday, at 11:00 a.m. in Room 226, the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit and the Department of Safety and Security will hold an off-the-record technical briefing on arrangements for the General Assembly’s 63rd session.  This is the usual background briefing which we have before every Assembly.  So this is all I have for you, thank you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  It seems these attacks on civilians in Pakistan are becoming frequent.  What is the position of the Secretary-General regarding them?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think I stressed them yesterday.  I said the Secretary-General has been putting quite a bit of emphasis; on the fact that, on civilian casualties as they are, he feels that it can be avoided and there should not be that high a number of casualties.  He has said it over and over again, and you can consult our statements upstairs about that.

Question:  But I mean, in his statements is he pursuing any further contacts with the countries concerned like the United States who are...?

Spokesperson:  He is.  He is, definitely. Yes, Matthew?

Question:  On Zimbabwe, there are reports that Robert Mugabe had set a deadline of yesterday for the MDC to sign on or not.  They didn’t sign and MDC is quoted as saying they want the UN to become more involved in the process.  What’s Mr. Menkerios’, where is he and is he involved ...(inaudible)?

Spokesperson:  Mr. Menkerios is here in New York.  However, as you know he’s working with the reference group.  He is not working directly with the negotiations, and as you know, Mr. Mbeki is supposed to go again to Zimbabwe next Monday to try to further the peace talks.

Question:  Just one thing; they said that the rift seems to be whether Mugabe will still control the security forces or that will be (inaudible).  Does the UN have any view on that or...(inaudible)?

Spokesperson:  I will not comment on this.  Those matters are being discussed as you know and the UN is very closely following the situation.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  In follow up on this question about Pakistan; maybe you said it yesterday or not about the situation in Kashmir. Did the Secretary-General make any observations, anything about the situation?

Spokesperson: I don’t have anything new to report.  You ask me the question every day, Masood.  I have said what I need to say.  I have expressed the Secretary-General’s awareness about the situation.  There is no direct involvement, as you know, of the UN there.

Question:  But do you have anything; any updates on this...?

Question:  (interrupted):  On these fresh attacks? I mean, usually with attacks on civilians…

Spokesperson:  Which attacks are you talking about?  Are you talking about the same thing?

Question:  ...civilians, Yes, the same thing. I mean, there is no deploring or any condemnation.

Spokesperson:  I was talking about Kashmir; you’re taking about Pakistan.  He’s talking about Kashmir. You’re talking about two different issues.  I think in both cases, I have already commented about that.

Question:  Michele, there is a report today that ten Palestinians detained by the Israelis in the West Bank.  And there were also reports that, maybe you said something about it yesterday, about the sister-in-law of (inaudible) detained in the Gaza.  Do you have any update on that?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t.

Question:  You didn’t say anything...?

Spokesperson:  No, I didn’t say anything about this yesterday.

Question:  What about the ten Palestinians?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything about that either. We can ask for some update from our UNRWA people on the ground, but I don’t have anything new.

Question:  On the terrorism symposium, a few countries, OIC members, yesterday during the GA debate, raised some complaints about how the symposium was organized, saying that it wasn’t transparent or inclusive.  Is the SG aware of their comments and does he have any comments...(Interrupted)?

Spokesperson:  Well, he is certainly aware, but you are going to have a full briefing on it on Monday.  So why don’t you reserve your questions for Robert Orr, who is going to talk about that?

Question:  But isn’t the charge making sense that it’s not transparent that we’re being kept in the dark until one day before the symposium opens?  I’ve been here two years, and we’ve never had anything like this before. That we have a major...

Spokesperson: Well, I have already answered that question. It seems to me that we have discussed this...

Question:  ...symposium of this importance; the first of its kind and you’re keeping us in the dark until the last minute and nothing will happen Friday, Saturday that you cannot tell us; or Saturday, Sunday rather; ...

Spokesperson:  Oh, yes, a lot of things can happen; the people travelling, getting their papers, their visas...A lot of this can happen. (Cross-talk between correspondent and Spokesperson)...

Question:  ...I mean, I don’t know.

Spokesperson:  ...We don’t have a final list yet. I’ll give it to you as soon as I have it.

Question: ...I was just telling you that I am very surprised after two years that we have such an event like this and we don’t have any information on it except one day before it starts.

Spokesperson:  You’re going to have a full briefing on it on Monday. 

Question:  For the General Assembly, hearing what the SG said yesterday as the MDGs are going to be the top priority subject in the autumn, can I understand very basically that the general debate for this GA, the main subject, as it was global warming last year; this year it’s going to be MDGs?

Spokesperson: Well, you’ll have to ask that question in a few minutes to the President... Well, actually, no.  You should be asking those questions very soon to the new GA President in terms of what the emphasis will be and pretty soon you’ll have a new spokesperson.  You already have one actually, who will start working soon.  So you will be able to have those questions cleared. In terms of what the SG was saying; he was putting emphasis on that special event, the High-level event that is going to take place on the 25th, which is going to be focused on, and there are several side events also that same day also focusing on the Millennium Development Goals and the challenges of reaching those goals.

Question:  Michèle, isn’t Mr. Robert Orr supposed to give a briefing today?

Spokesperson:  Yes, on the Counter-terrorism Strategy.  He’s giving another one on the symposium on victims. Those are separate events.  Right now, as you know, the General Assembly is dealing with counter-terrorism. So this is what Robert Orr is going to talk about when he comes with the President of the General Assembly in a few minutes.

Question:  Michèle, there are these reports about UN food convoys now being robbed and food confiscated in the southern Philippines, in Mindanao. Is that something you’re aware of and what’s the UN...is it going to continue to deliver food or is it being suspended?  What’s the story?

Spokesperson: Well, I asked about that today and the answer I got from the Country Director of the World Food Programme; they confirmed that there was an incident involving a WFP truck convoy in Mindanao.  Two armed men seized roughly half of a shipment of 60 sacks of rice, WFP reports.  Local police are investigating what happened.

WFP believes this was an isolated incident, one that should not affect its operations to assist 410,000 internally displaced people which they are assisting right now.

Question:  The President of the Council, when he did his briefing this week, said that he’d be meeting with Mr. Gambari to choose either Wednesday or Thursday to choose the date for Gambari’s briefing. Is the date now known when Gambari would brief the Council?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t know yet.  We know that it has to be set up, but we don’t know when yet, exactly.  I’ll let you know immediately, as soon as I find out.

Question:  And one last, I think this is a Ban Ki-moon question, there is a report from Indonesia that a victim of the Bali bombing, (inaudible) is flying to New York to address the UN invited by Ban Ki-moon.  Can you confirm, has Ban Ki-moon...?

Spokesperson:  Can you say that again?

Question:  I’ll say that again:  There is a person described as a victim of the Bali bombing that it’s reported; that he is coming to the victims of terrorism symposium on Tuesday and the press reports it as “invited by Ban Ki-moon”.

Spokesperson:  All of them are invited by Ban Ki-moon, of course.  All the victims are invited by the Secretary-General.

Question:  So, I guess, just to follow up on Khaled’s question; have all the invitations gone out, you just don’t know who is actually going to...?

Spokesperson:  Yes, all the invitations have gone out.  I have said it the other day, I’ve said it two days ago, all the invitations have gone out.  All the people coming are identified.  As far as we know, most of the answers are in, except for maybe two or three.  So we’re waiting to have a full list to give you as soon as it is available.

Question:  This list does not include victims of state terrorism; they are not defined?

Question:  So, it does not include Palestinians, for example?

Spokesperson:  I think you should wait and find out.

Question:  But in principle...(interrupted)

Spokesperson:  In principle, State terrorism is not including in the existing conventions.

Question: Which means State terrorism is not considered as terrorism?

Spokesperson:  This is something to address to the Member States who are addressing the issue.  The conventions are adopted; they’re a Member State-driven process.

Question:  Since Member States have not been able to define what is terrorism, so they will obviously not be able to define State terrorism. Am I right in assuming that?

Spokesperson:  This is a question to ask to the General Assembly; to the 192 members.  Yes, Betsy?

Question:  I thought I understood it, but now I am confused.  You said that all the invitations to the symposium on Tuesday have gone out?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Can you confirm whether or not any Palestinians have been invited to attend?

Spokesperson:  I am asking you to wait until Monday.  You’ll get that because we’re waiting for confirmations.  Whether Palestinians have been invited, I can say now, yes, but not as victims of State terrorism.

Question:  In what capacity have they been invited?

Spokesperson:  You will ask that question to Mr. Orr.

Correspondent:  As observers (laughter).

Correspondent:  No, as state terrorists (more laughter)

Question:  (Inaudible) …called Hamas, for example?

Spokesperson:  I cannot answer that question.  You should wait until Monday.

Question:  At least we understand that to choose the invitees, there was a working definition of victims.

Spokesperson:  Of acts of terrorism, yes.

Question:  Of acts of terrorism.  So they didn’t define...

Spokesperson:  We cannot define something that the Member States have not defined. But it is a fact that there are victims and it is a fact that those are victims of acts of terrorism; civilians.

Question:  Right, okay.  Civilians that are killed by bombs, basically?

Spokesperson:  Yes. So on the definition itself, as I said, there is no such thing as a definition of terrorism.

Question:  (Inaudible)... the conditions and terms say that the governments of these people should accept their travel to New York to attend this symposium.  Which means if someone is a victim, for example of the Palestinian Authority cannot be considered as a victim; whereas a Palestinian, who has been, for example, came across an explosion in Gaza could be considered as a victim.

Spokesperson:  Well, you will discuss this with the organisers of the symposium.  This is all, really, I can tell you at this point.  The existence of victims is a reality and this is the first time that we’re having such a symposium. We have victims coming from all over the world -- victims of different types of conflicts and this is what you’re having for the first time next week. In terms of who is going to be there, I said, again and again, I am not in a position to give you a full list at this point.

Question:  Is it for security reasons?

Spokesperson:  It is one of the considerations, yes.  And I am glad you understand that.  Thank you so much.  In about two minutes, the President of the Assembly will be here with Bob Orr, who is in charge of the Counter-Terrorism Task Force.

Question:  But we cannot ask him... (Inaudible)

Spokesperson:  But, counter-terrorism, yes.  Mr. Orr will decide what he wants to say.

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