12 September 2008


12 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 Conference Today

At 12:30 p.m. today, there will be a press conference by President of the General Assembly Srgjan Kerim; Ambassador Francis Lorenzo of the Dominican Republic; Ambassador Zina Andrianarivelo-Razafy of Madagascar; and actor Danny Glover, on the UN Millennium Development Goals Awards.  This award is not for me, but it is right here.

**Statement on Bolivia

We have first a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Bolivia.

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the violent clashes and the resulting loss of life in Bolivia, as well as the attempts to disrupt the nation’s economic infrastructure.  He urges all concerned to act with restraint and to prevent any further confrontation.

The Secretary-General rejects the use of violence as a means to advance political ends and joins others, including the Secretary General of the Organization of American States, José Miguel Insulza, and Bolivia’s Conference of Catholic Bishops, in calling for dialogue, urgently, to seek consensus on the pressing issues affecting the Bolivian people.

The United Nations stands ready to provide any assistance Bolivians may require in engaging in such a dialogue.

**Statement on Zimbabwe

We also issued yesterday a statement on Zimbabwe:

The Secretary-General welcomes the agreement reached in Harare between the Government and the opposition on a Government of National Unity.

He hopes that this agreement will pave the way for a durable peace and recovery in the country, and contribute to rapid improvement in the welfare and human rights of the people of Zimbabwe, who have suffered for long.

He congratulates the parties for reaching agreement and commends the mediator, President Thabo Mbeki, for his tireless efforts to help them reach it.

The United Nations has been supporting the mediation process through the role of the Secretary-General's envoy, Haile Menkerios, in the Reference Group.

** Lebanon

Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General and the Security Council both issued statements strongly condemning the terrorist attack in Lebanon on Wednesday that killed Saleh Aridi, a member of the Lebanese Democratic Party.

The Secretary-General, in his statement, hoped that the perpetrators of this crime will be brought to justice promptly and called on all parties to exercise restraint.

In its press statement, the Security Council emphasized the importance of the unity of all the Lebanese people and reiterated their full support for ongoing efforts in Lebanon to combat terrorism, solidify democratic institutions, engage in political dialogue and pursue national reconciliation.

**Climate Change

This morning, the Secretary-General arrived at the Secretariat Building in a “Solartaxi”, a fully solar-powered car that is making its way around the world before concluding its journey at this year’s Climate Change Conference in Poznan, Poland. 

Upon his arrival, the Secretary-General said that he hopes that the Solartaxi can provide a positive message to the people around the world that we need to be creative and practical in addressing climate change issues. He added of his trip, “Personally this is a fantastic experience. I hope I can enjoy another ride.”

Following his arrival at work, the Secretary-General conducted a video conference with the President of Indonesia and the Prime Ministers of Poland and Denmark, the hosts of recent and future climate change conferences.

In that discussion, the leaders took stock of the status of UNFCCC negotiations after [the] Bangkok, Bonn and Accra meetings, recognizing the progress made but also acknowledging the need to pick up the pace of the negotiations.

They affirmed their strong commitment to work together to provide political leadership and actively engage other leaders at the highest political level to increase political momentum in support of the negotiations. To this end, they agreed on modalities for their future activities and exchanged ideas on how to support the negotiations during the next 15 months.

They concluded the meeting with great enthusiasm for the work ahead and were optimistic about the chances of making very good progress in Poznan in December 2008, and reaching a successful agreement in Copenhagen in 2009. The Secretary-General and the leaders will hold a joint press conference on 24 September on the occasion of the sixty-third session of the General Assembly to communicate their efforts more widely.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning received two briefings, by Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet, on the security situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and on the effect on security of the recent hurricanes in Haiti, among other developments.

Afterwards, the Council President, Ambassador Michel Kafando of Burkina Faso, said of the DRC briefing that Council members expressed their serious concern over the recent fighting between the Congolese Armed Forces and the armed elements of the National Congress for the Defence of the People (or CNDP). They stressed that the clashes are a violation of the Actes d’Engagement de Goma, and they regretted the failure by the signatories to respect and implement their commitments effectively and in good faith. Council members urged the CNDP to immediately cease its offensive operations and took note of a letter from that group today that announces the immediate and unilateral withdrawal of its troops.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

As part of their campaign against rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UNICEF and the organization V-Day today convened a historic public event in Goma called “Women Breaking the Silence”.

For the first time, women survivors publicly spoke out on sexual violence and told their stories.  They called on the world to act now to stop the raping of Congolese women and girls.  A similar event is scheduled to take place next week in Bukavu.

** Africa Peacekeeping Panel

We have a statement also on the establishment of the AU-UN Panel pursuant to Security Council resolution 1809 (2008):

The African Union-United Nations Panel to consider how the international community can support African Union peacekeeping operations established under a United Nations mandate was established.  Romano Prodi ( Italy) was appointed to chair the Panel of distinguished persons, which will include James Dobbins ( United States); Jean-Pierre Halbwachs ( Mauritius); Monica Juma ( Kenya); Toshi Niwa ( Japan); and Behrooz Sadry ( Iran).

The Panel will consider lessons from past and current African Union peacekeeping efforts and explore possible options to enhance the predictability, sustainability and flexibility of resources for African Union peacekeeping operations mandated by the Security Council.

Members of the Panel will be in New York from 15-18 September to meet with the Secretary-General and begin their deliberations. The Panel’s report is scheduled to be submitted to the Security Council by the end of the year.

** Sudan

On Sudan, the UN-African Union Joint Chief Mediator for Darfur, Djibril Bassolé, is concerned by reports of ongoing fighting in Darfur.

He calls on all parties to exercise restraint and cease all military activities in order to protect civilians and create conditions for political dialogue.

** Georgia

On Georgia, the Georgian authorities, together with the UN refugee agency, have released revised statistics on the displacement caused by last month’s conflict over South Ossetia. They show that a total of 192,000 people were forced to flee their homes -– within Georgia proper, within South Ossetia, and from the conflict zone to North Ossetia, in the Russian Federation.

Noting that 54,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) still remain in Georgia proper, UNHCR estimates that 23,000 of them will need to be provided with alternative shelter through the winter months.

Meanwhile, UNHCR, together with the Georgian Government, is working to stop the spontaneous relocations of IDPs from Tbilisi to the overcrowded tent camp in Gori.

In related news, the first UN humanitarian convoy was allowed to enter the Russian-controlled area north of Gori yesterday. It delivered four tons of aid to families hit by the recent hostilities. The UN convoy crossed the Karaleti checkpoint after previous attempts to deliver humanitarian assistance had failed.

**Human Rights Council

On the Human Rights Council, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem Pillay today addressed the Human Rights Council’s annual gender discussion. She said no effort should be spared to persuade countries to repeal laws and discourage customs that undermine the achievement of equality between women and men. 

Pillay said that, since the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, remarkable progress in the development and implementation of national laws, policies and programmes directed to women’s equality with men have been seen. But much more needs to be done, she added.

Pillay noted that women throughout the world are among the poorest and most marginalized people, with limited access to rights, resources and opportunities. We have her full remarks upstairs.

**United Nations Children’s Fund

In new figures released today, UNICEF says that the mortality rate for children under five continues to decline. Nine-point-two (9.2) million children under the age of five died last year.  That represents a drop of nearly 27 per cent since 1990.

UNICEF notes especially strong progress in Laos, Bangladesh, Eritrea, Bolivia and Nepal, which saw declines of more than 50 per cent. 

But the highest child-mortality rates still persist in Africa, with Sierra Leone having the worst under-five mortality rate in the world -– more than one out of four children there die before their fifth birthday.  There is more information in a press release upstairs.

**Department of Public Information

And we do have a media announcement from DPI. The News and Media Division of the Department of Public Information is now offering broadcast quality video for easy download from the Internet. 

Three to six stories are offered every day, with sound bites and natural sound, accompanied by short lists and scripts (usually in English) that can be adapted into any language.

It’s a new way for TV broadcasters to access news material from the UN system around the world through a single source. This service is also available to any newspaper or website that uses video on its website. It’s available at www.unmultimedia.org, click on UNIFEED. 

At the same site, you can also have access, of course, to UN photos, radio reports and webcasts.

**Democracy Day

Looking ahead, the International Day of Democracy will be observed for the first time next Monday, 15 September, and we will have a message from the Secretary-General that day to mark the occasion. He will also address an informal meeting convened by the General Assembly President from 9 to 10 on Monday morning to observe Democracy Day, which will also include a keynote address by the former President of Chile, Ricardo Lagos.

The Secretary-General will also deliver the keynote address at an event organized by the UN Democracy Fund (UNDEF) in the Dag Hammarskjöld Library Auditorium on Monday afternoon at 3:00.  The Secretary-General's message and details of the UNDEF programme are available at the Documents Counter, and a website for the Day is now available on www.un.org/events.

**Press Conference on Monday

And looking ahead again, press conferences on Monday at 12:30 p.m., President of the General Assembly Srgjan Kerim will give his wrap-up press briefing on the work of the General Assembly during the sixty-second session.

**Week Ahead at United Nations

And the Week Ahead:  tomorrow, Saturday, in Beirut, the Deputy Secretary-General addresses the twelfth Regional Coordination Mechanism for the Arab Region.

And during the week, you will have a chance on Wednesday to have at the noon briefing Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, and Edmond Mulet, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations.

On Thursday, 18 September at 9:45 a.m. in the Visitors’ Lobby, the Secretary-General takes part in a wreath-laying ceremony commemorating the forty-seventh anniversary of the death of Dag Hammarskjöld.

And on Friday, 19 September at 9:30 a.m. in the Japanese Garden, as part of a ceremony to mark the International Day of Peace (21 September), the Secretary-General will ring the Peace Bell, deliver a message of peace and call for the observation of one minute of silence. 

It’s already 12:27 p.m.  I have to leave this Room very soon, so let’s make it short. I’ll take your questions. Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, for the record, I’d like to make a factual statement regarding yesterday’s press conference of the Secretary-General.  I registered my name on top of the list first on Wednesday and I continued to raise my hand yesterday and I was not given the opportunity to ask the Secretary-General a question. This, as you know, is not a new issue.  I have drawn attention to this for the past year, at least.  I was told that I would be given the opportunity next time, and next time was yesterday.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  I am sorry about this Mr. Abbadi. Yes, George?

Question:  On a related question, I notice Matthew, I think, had mentioned that there was supposed to be monthly press conferences, normally on the first Tuesday. Do I understand therefore that there should be a further press conference some three weeks hence; and I think it’s Tuesday, 7 October?

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General himself announced that; not Matthew.

Correspondent:  No, Matthew referred to it; I understand that.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  The Secretary-General said it.

Question:  I understand that.  So, we can, in the normal course of events, we can expect one on or about 7 October?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Thank you very much.

Spokesperson: You’re most welcome.

Question:  Michèle, is it possible to know what the procedure is towards asking a question, because I have also become very frustrated in...?

Spokesperson:  You do realize that yesterday 12 people had a chance to ask a question?  We had 25 names on that list.  I tried to call at least two people who were not called upon last time.  However, every time we have the same thing:  we have a long list of speakers; of people asking questions.  And I completely agree with Mr. Abbadi; he should have been called upon.  However, you know, time was much shorter; even though we had a 50-minute press conference, we didn’t have the time to cover it, if you want.  With more press conferences coming on a more regular basis, I have more chances of calling upon you. 

Question:  You need to put your name down the day before or...?

Spokesperson:  No, you can do it with Olivia that day.  It’s not because you registered first that you’re going to be called upon first. 

Question:  I have a second question and that has to do with, there has been a decision in the case involving Qadi and Al-Barakat Foundation with regard to the human rights violation that the European Court of Justice basically found, in terms of how they were put on the Security Council listing for their accounts to be frozen. And that this was an issue that Secretary-General Kofi Annan had brought up to the Council.  Since there has been a decision in favour of these people, that they have a right to certain due-process rights and the trial calls for that, is there something that the Secretary-General will do to help enforce human rights activities and the requirements of the Charter are taken into account by the Security Council? 

Spokesperson:  Well, the Security Council first should be informed officially of the decision of the European Court and this should be followed through the Security Council.  Yes, let’s go quickly; one more.

Question:  On the International Day of Democracy on Monday and the debate on Democracy in the Arab World, does the Secretary-General believe that democracy is a preferable form of Government and how do you reconcile that with the issue of sovereignty?

Spokesperson:  The date is out, which is the 15th and you’ll have a statement by the SG on that day, okay?  Yes, Matthew, quickly, please.

Question:  Yes, definitely.  There are continuing reports that the Kosovo Trust Agency run by UNMIK destroyed documents before turning over the remainder to the Kosovo Government.  I know I have asked it a couple of times, the answer has come back…(interrupted). 

Spokesperson:  No, you addressed that question, if I understand, to DPKO and DPKO was supposed to give you an answer, if I understand correctly.  I’ve seen the exchange of e-mails.

Question:  Exactly, because I had asked here.  Can you guarantee that the UN will either confirm it destroyed documents or not because this is...? 

Spokesperson:  Can I guarantee?

Question:  Yeah.

Spokesperson: I’ll ask.  I’ll ask, yes.

Question:  Okay.  The other on is on Sri Lanka.  Has the UN agreed to pull its humanitarian operations out of rebel or rebel-controlled areas in total?

Spokesperson:  As far I know, what I got from the Mission over there, they said that it is a sad fact that the actions of all parties to all conflicts, globally, result in increased suffering, displacement, wounding and deaths of civilians.  Meanwhile, the United Nations remains fully committed to addressing the humanitarian needs of the civilian population in the affected areas of Sri Lanka with the Government of Sri Lanka, and will continuously monitor the situation to assess how this can be done under the circumstances.  I cannot answer specifically on the area you mentioned; that we can certainly follow through for you.  But this is what I got from Sri Lanka about the situation on the humanitarian front.

Question:  ...(inaudible) on this question, because a lot of people, in terms of UNCA members, had asked, maybe we can set up something separately between UNCA and your office to talk about the question issue; to not do it in the briefing.  But I think there were some concerns raised about, that it wasn’t just the number of questioners.  I guess I’m just saying may be if you’re open to it, I think there’re enough concerns among members...

Spokesperson:  Of course, I’m always open to it.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  There were concerns, but there are cases when a journalist seems to think that his media is more important than another media.  And I think that yesterday I got some very unpleasant conversations on that issue.  It’s not because someone is from a big Western media organization that necessarily that person will have the first shot at questions.

Question:  I understand you’re in a tough spot.  I’m just saying that maybe there is a way we can find to…(interrupted)

Spokesperson:  Well, the problem is that we never have enough time for the number of questions.  If I knew in advance that so many people were going to ask about Lebanon, then I would pick three people to ask about Lebanon; three people to talk about Sri Lanka; otherwise, what happened yesterday, you probably were aware of it -- some people asked the same question in three different cases.  I didn’t know what they were going to ask about. So that issue is also important.  If I know what the issue is, it is going to be decided on issues.  If I have five people on Lebanon, I’m going to pick two; not three, not five, because I have other issues involved.  I’m sorry I have to really go because I think that the event coming up is important.

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