8 September 2008


8 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.

I’m sorry we’re starting so late, but you wanted to have answers to your questions and I hope you got them.  Briefly, I’ll go through the noon briefing and then we’ll have our guest, who’ll be with us right after that.

**Visiting Journalists

First, I’d like to welcome visiting journalists from nine different countries to the briefing today.  They will be at UN Headquarters from today until 17 October as part of the 2008 Reham Al-Farra Memorial Journalist’s Fellowship Programme.  Welcome.

**Guest at Noon Today

Our guest at noon today will be UN Police Adviser Andrew Hughes, who will brief on the outcome of last month’s fourth International Policing Advisory Council meeting. 

** Cyprus

The Secretary-General spoke by phone this morning, separately, with Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat to congratulate them personally on the formal launch last week of full-fledged negotiations aimed at a comprehensive settlement to the Cyprus problem.

The Secretary-General also spoke today with his Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, who is currently in Athens, where he met earlier today with top Government officials, including Prime Minister Karamanlis and Foreign Minister Bakoyannis.  Downer will visit Ankara on Wednesday where he is scheduled to meet President Gul, Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Babacan. 

He is scheduled to then return to Cyprus early Thursday morning to attend the first substantive meeting between Mr. Christofias and Mr. Talat in the context of the negotiations.

**Human Rights

In Geneva, the Human Rights Council opened its ninth regular session today, hearing for the first time an address by the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay.  In her statement to the Council, Pillay highlighted the need to tackle discrimination and inequality, and urged greater efforts to prevent genocide, which she described as “the ultimate form of discrimination”.

Pillay, who was herself the victim of both racial and gender discrimination in apartheid South Africa, said that development, security, peace and justice are all undermined “when discrimination and inequality -– both in blatant and subtle ways -– are allowed to fester and to poison harmonious coexistence”.

The Human Rights Council also heard this morning from its new President, Martin Uhomoibhi, and 29 Member States.

** Darfur

The World Food Programme (WFP) has warned that it will have to suspend food distributions in Darfur if the security situation does not improve.

WFP said that relentless attacks on truck convoys in Darfur are pushing to the brink the agency’s ability to feed more than 3 million people each month.  While WFP managed to recover three hijacked trucks and four staff yesterday, following the latest attack in South Darfur, 69 trucks and 43 drivers remain unaccounted for.

WFP says, since the beginning of the year, more than 100 vehicles delivering WFP food assistance have been hijacked in Darfur, with many more shot at and robbed.  Drivers are refusing to travel along certain routes, significantly slowing food aid deliveries to hungry people.

** Ethiopia

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reports that the food security situation in Ethiopia has deteriorated to alarming levels, in the wake of drought conditions throughout much of the country.  Relief operations are also grappling with considerable shortages of supplies.  The World Food Programme, for instance, needs $136 million worth of food for its operations.

Meanwhile, flooding in Ethiopia’s south-western Gambella region has reportedly displaced nearly 35,000 people.  The World Health Organization has provided emergency drugs and medical supplies for 10,000 people there.

** Caribbean

And still on natural disasters, in response to the recent hurricanes and tropical storms in the Caribbean, the UN is mobilizing assistance across the region.

In Haiti, where as many as 800,000 people may have been affected, UN agencies are making available emergency food assistance, water, purification tablets, blankets and other supplies.  WFP, for its part, has distributed 140,000 litres of water, as well as hygiene kits and plastic sheeting.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Hédi Annabi, visited Gonaives over the weekend and promised that the UN Mission in Haiti will do all it can to get aid to the area.  A Flash Appeal for Haiti is also being organized.

The UN has also offered assistance to Cuba.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is preparing an emergency cash grant, as well as an application to the Central Emergency Response Fund.  OCHA has also given a $30,000 cash grant to Jamaica.

In the meantime, a disaster assessment and coordination team has been dispatched to Turks and Caicos.  The UN is also closely monitoring the situation in the Dominican Republic, but there is no special support needed at present.

** Swaziland

On Swaziland, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) will help cash-strapped farmers in Swaziland purchase seeds in time for the next planting season.  FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf made the announcement today during a trip to a school-based farming project outside the capital of Mbabane.

Starting 29 September, FAO will set up Input Trade Fairs, where farmers will be able to choose seeds and other supplies from local producers.  Farmers will be able to use vouchers to pick and choose the varieties they prefer.

The programme is part of FAO’s Initiative on Soaring Food Prices, which includes emergency projects planned for nearly 80 countries.  There is more information in a press release upstairs.

** Georgia

On Georgia, the International Court of Justice is holding three days of urgent proceedings in connection with Georgia’s recent case against the Russian Federation.  The proceedings, which began today, are taking place as a result of Georgia’s request that the Court, as a matter of urgency, order a number of provisional measures, pending its determination of this case on the merits.

Included in the provisional measures requested by Georgia is a demand that the Russian Federation ensure that no ethnic Georgians are subject to violent or coercive acts of racial discrimination.  A binding decision on these provisional measures is expected within weeks.

**Literacy Day

And today is International Literacy Day, which is dedicated to the concerns of the one in five adults -– some 774 million people -– who are illiterate, and thus live with no access to the vast global store of written communication.

The theme of this year’s observance of International Literacy Day, “Literacy and Health”, is meant to draw more attention to the impact of illiteracy on human health. 

In a message to mark the Day, the Secretary-General says that literacy is indispensable for achieving the Millennium Development Goals targeting maternal health and combating HIV and malaria, and for addressing some of the world’s most important public health challenges.  Literacy for all will benefit us all, he says.

**United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime

And just to flag for you, we have upstairs an embargoed press release from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime on its annual report on the use of synthetic drugs. 

These include amphetamine, methamphetamine and ecstasy.  The report, which is being launched in Bangkok, is embargoed until 3 a.m. tomorrow, New York time.

**“Cool UN”

“Cool UN”, the initiative announced by the Secretary-General on 30 July to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save energy by turning up thermostats at UN Headquarters for the month of August from 72°F to 77°F in the offices and from 70°F to 75°F in the conference rooms, has been successful.

The initiative saved about 30 million pounds of steam, which translates into the equivalent of 2,000 metric tons of CO2.  This is the carbon-footprint equivalent to a passenger making 710 round-trip trans-Atlantic flights.

In view of these concrete results, the Secretary-General has decided to extend the “Cool UN” initiative until 15 September.  A winter programme is under consideration right now.

**Press Conference Today

And just to let you know; to look ahead a little bit, at 3 p.m. today, Jean-Marc Coicaud, Director of the UN University Office in New York, and other speakers will brief you on the UNU-Cornell Africa Series’ third symposium entitled “The Social and Economic Dimensions of HIV/AIDS in Africa”, which will take place on 9 September.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

We’ll have also at 12 p.m. tomorrow, as it was announced earlier, instead of the daily noon briefing, the Secretary-General will be joined by terrorism victim representatives -- Ingrid Betancourt, Laura Dolci, Ashraf Al-Khaled and Chris Cramer -- to hold a press conference on the symposium on “Supporting Victims of Terrorism.”  That will be for tomorrow noon time.  And this is really all I have for you today.

What we’ll do since we have our guest waiting is we’ll have him first and then I’ll answer your questions afterwards, if you don’t mind.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  (inaudible)…I’m wondering if you have…?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have any information on that.  But I can check for you.

Question:  There are reports in Kosovo that the UN (inaudible)…had records destroyed.  Then a response from your office something to the effect that UNMIK is doing its utmost to secure the KTA funds, but I don’t understand; where have the funds gone?

Spokesperson:  I can check further for you on that.  We can check on that a little further.

Question:  And there is also, this I think you will have.  You probably saw, there was on Friday, the coalition of UN unions put out a statement taking some issue with Mr. Ban’s speech in Turin saying this was too managing by fiat; something like this.  You may have seen and, if you haven’t, I’ll give it to you.  They put out a formal statement.  Does he have any response to that?  Was his speech misunderstood by them?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think he has any response at this point.  I think it is a very healthy thing that we have a reaction on the part of the staff.  The Secretary-General certainly intended for his speech to create some reactions and those are very welcome.

Question:  They seem to think that the move to -- the mobility, the idea that…he said something in the speech about he might order DPKO and DPA to trade 20 per cent of their staff.  And so, I guess they are saying that that doesn’t comply with the whole discussion about mobility that’s been going on under Ms. Bárcena and otherwise.  Is there some consideration of just making that kind of a move?

Spokesperson:  Well, of course, this is not going to be a move that is going to be sudden.  Of course this is going to be a prepared move, because I think the Secretary-General has been very clear.  Mobility also means training.  Also means preparing for mobility.  Mobility is not just an order to move people around; this is not going to come this way.  The Secretary-General does not at all intend to do it this way.

Question:  One last one.  Regarding Myanmar, there is a letter that was directed to the Secretary-General by the United Nationalities Alliance about…

Spokesperson:  I am aware of the letter.

Question:  You are aware of the letter?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  So, it has been, but there is, I guess, it’s a long shot, but is there any response?  They claim that the UN’s engagement in the democracy process is broken.  That seems to be the phrase at the end of their letter.

Spokesperson:  Well, I think you should probably wait until…we’re going to try and arrange for Mr. Gambari as soon as he is through talking to the Security Council to come and talk to you about these issues.  And it is coming from there, so he is certainly able to answer you.

Question:  I would like to know, there was a UN aid convoy that was blocked at the Georgian border by Russian soldiers; what is the reaction of the UN on that, and are there any plans to change the situation?

Spokesperson:  What I know is that today we were attempting to undertake a preliminary humanitarian assessment mission in the area north of Gori, while at the same time delivering some basic relieve supplies.  The mission was not allowed to move beyond a Russian check point in Karaleti.  This is the information I got.  What is our reaction?  I don’t have a specific reaction at this point.  But I can confirm that the UN will keep trying to send humanitarian missions to the area in question.  Several agencies were involved.  UNHCR, WFP and UNICEF were all involved under the leadership of OCHA.  That was a joint mission and we’re going to try again.  Thank you so much.

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