29 September 2008


29 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Press Conference Today

Our guests today will be Robert Orr, Assistant Secretary-General for Policy Coordination and Strategic Planning, and Nicholas Haysom, Director for Political Affairs, both in the Executive Office of the Secretary-General.  They’ll be here to provide an analysis of the general debate, special events and the Secretary-General's meetings during the past week or so.

We also have the General Assembly Spokesperson to brief immediately after mine so I’ll try to zip through my briefing so we can get to the others.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the UN Mission in Liberia by one year, until the end of September 2009.  It also voted to extend the terms of the judges on the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia until the end of 2009.

On Saturday, the Security Council, in a unanimous vote, called on Iran to comply fully and immediately with all of its previous resolutions regarding non-proliferation and Iran.  It also called on Iran once more to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and reaffirmed its commitment to an early negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear issue.

Today is the last working day for the month under Burkina Faso’s Security Council presidency.  On Wednesday, China will assume the rotating presidency of the Security Council for the month of October.

**Secretary-General’s Statements on Syria and India

And over the weekend, the Secretary-General issued statements strongly condemning the recent bombings in India and Syria.  And you can pick those up upstairs.

** Afghanistan

And today, in a report to the General Assembly and Security Council which is out on the racks, the Secretary-General says that the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated markedly in recent months, with a sharp rise in insurgent attacks and civilian casualties.  The number of security incidents in August rose to 983, the highest since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.

The Secretary-General says that there has been a greater focus by insurgent groups on areas that had been stable until now, and an increase in asymmetric attacks.  The deterioration of the security situation has hampered the UN Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in implementing its mandate, with 90 of the country’s 400 districts identified as areas of extreme risk.

He says that a change of pace and direction is required in which, among other things, every party to the Paris Conference that took place earlier this year must do its utmost to implement the commitments made there as early as possible.  He adds that the Paris Conference must be seen as more than just an event, and must be used to reverse negative trends and inspire the Afghan public.

In addition to the report, we have available today’s briefing notes from the UN Mission in Kabul, which notes that, regrettably, 190,000 children could not be reached during last week’s polio immunization campaign because of obstruction or fighting.  And UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] says that some 20,000 people have fled fighting in north-western Pakistan in recent months and sought refuge in eastern Afghanistan.

** Myanmar

Also to recap, the Secretary-General on Saturday convened the first high-level meeting of the Group of Friends on Myanmar, where he welcomed the participation of the various Ministers, as well as the Secretary-General of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the High Representative of the European Union.

The Secretary-General highlighted that such high-level participation is a clear signal of the importance that the international community attaches to the situation in Myanmar.

Members of the Group unanimously expressed their support for the Secretary-General’s good offices and for its implementation through his Special Adviser, Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, and noted Myanmar’s recent actions to release several prisoners.

Members further encouraged the Government of Myanmar to work more closely with and respond more positively to the UN good offices in addressing key issues of concern, especially the release of political prisoners, including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, and the initiation of an all-inclusive dialogue between the Government and the opposition.

The Secretary-General encouraged all parties in Myanmar to seize the opportunity of his good offices, and stressed the Government’s responsibility to demonstrate its stated commitment to cooperation through further tangible results.

**International Atomic Energy Agency

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) began a General Conference of its 145 Member States in Vienna today, and Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei warned the delegates at the meeting’s start that “all is not well with the IAEA”.  He said that there is a disconnect between what the Member States are asking the agency to do, and the legal authority and resources available to it.

On Iran, he said he regrets that the IAEA is still not in a position to make progress regarding the absence of undeclared nuclear material and activities there.  He once more urged Iran to implement all the transparency measures required to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear programme at the earliest possible date.

Mr. ElBaradei also noted the removal of IAEA seals and surveillance equipment last week from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s facility at Yongbyon, but added that he still hopes that conditions can be created for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to return to the Non-Proliferation Treaty at the earliest possible date, and for the resumption by the agency of comprehensive safeguards.

In his message to the five-day conference, the Secretary-General called upon all States that have not done so to observe and abide by the agency’s nuclear safety standards as soon as possible.

** Somalia -- Yemen

The UN refugee agency, meanwhile, has confirmed that at least 52 Somalis died last week after they were abandoned by smugglers in the Gulf of Aden.  The would-be refugees were adrift for more than two weeks, an ordeal that only 71 of them survived.  They were rescued after their severely damaged boat washed up ashore in Yemen.  Survivors said their bodies were thrown overboard.  Another four died in a Yemeni hospital despite a UNHCR intervention soon after they were rescued.

So far this year, at least 21,000 Somalis and some 10,000 Ethiopians have risked their lives for the relative safety of Yemen.

** Colombia

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia has issued a statement calling on the Colombian Government to fully investigate a series of alleged extrajudicial executions.

Recently, 23 bodies, mostly of young people, were discovered in northern Santander Province.  This follows previous similar reports of the disappearance and death of young men in other parts of the country.

Reportedly, some of the victims were offered work that involved leaving home and travelling to another city.  One or two days later, they were reported by the army to have died in combat.  You can read more about this upstairs.

** Haiti

World Food Programme (WFP) Executive Director Josette Sheeran continues her mission to Haiti.  After a visit today to the flooded city of Gonaives, she appealed to donor nations to fund assistance to Haiti’s hungry and help rebuild the island nation’s infrastructure.   Haiti’s misery index, she said, is rising daily, and a massive effort to stave off hunger and save lives is urgently required.  Since early September, WFP has distributed food to some 285,000 people in more than 55 shelters across Gonaives.  The agency, meanwhile, is asking for $54 million for food, logistics and emergency telecommunications to help the hungry in Haiti.

**Treaty Event

And the Office of Legal Affairs reports that the Deputy Prime Minister of Laos and the Prime Minister of Tanzania will be signing the Convention on Enforced Disappearances for their respective countries.   Tanzania will also sign the Optional Protocol to the Disabilities Convention, while Laos is expected to ratify the Convention on the Harmonization of Frontier Controls of Goods.   Laos will also become the 166th country to ratify the Convention for the Suppression of Financing of Terrorism.  And there’s more on this from the Office of Legal Affairs on the treaty event, which is still ongoing.

**Climate Change

Later this afternoon, the Secretary-General will address a ministerial meeting on reducing disaster risks in a changing climate.

He is expected to say that better disaster risk reduction will also help us adapt to climate change.

The Secretary-General plans to say that, without concerted action, we could see natural catastrophes on an unprecedented scale, which could even become threats to international security and inter-State relations.  We have copies of the embargoed remarks upstairs in the Spokesperson’s office.

**Press Conference on Wednesday

Just to flag for you, tomorrow is a UN holiday, but Wednesday, our guests at the noon briefing are Haile Menkerios, Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Eloho Otobo, Deputy Head of the Peacebuilding Support Office, and Moustapha Soumaré, Director of UNDP’s [United Nations Development Programme] Regional Bureau for Africa.  They will brief on the UN Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone, whose mandate begins on 1 October.  [It was announced that this briefing was cancelled.]

And that’s what I have for you.  Before we turn over to our guests from the Executive Office, I’d like to turn over to the General Assembly Spokesperson.

**Questions and Answers

Deputy Spokesperson:  Do you have a question for me?  Yes?

Question: Do you have anything on the helicopter being shot in Darfur?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The only report I have so far is that a helicopter belonging to a UNAMID [African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur] contractor crashed after take-off from Nyala Airport; the crash site is near the Kalma camp for internally displaced persons in South Darfur.  This was this morning, local time.  There were no passengers on board, and from the preliminary reports I see from the field, the UNAMID military say they discovered the bodies of two crew members.  They later confirmed two other crew members are dead, so their preliminary reports indicate that four crew members are dead and that their aircraft had been completely destroyed and there will be further information following an investigation.

Question:  Do you have the name of the contractor?  Was it shot, has it been reported?

Deputy Spokesperson:  All I have is that it crashed.  I have no further information than that.  When we get it, we’ll pass it onto you.  Yes?

Question:  In Afghanistan, the UN has a plan to expand to other provinces, in view of the recent deaths (inaudible), or has it put it on hold?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General’s report on the UN Mission in Afghanistan is just out.  Why don’t we take a look at that –- it just came on the racks -- and see if that question is answered?  If not, I’ll get back to you on that.

Question:  On Somalia, the piracy in the waters off the coast, do we know what’s going to happen to WFP vessels when the Canadian navy stops (inaudible)?

Deputy Spokesperson:  There was a press release late last week from WFP, I believe, that talked about the further extension of the Canadian escorts for the time being.  So for right now if you could look at that press release, that was the latest I’d seen on that subject.  Benny?

Question:  On Friday, Secretary Rice highlighted Ahmadinejad’s call to eliminate Israel off the map.  Does the Secretary-General see this as a violation of the General Assembly -- of the UN Charter?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m sorry, you’re talking about a press report?

Question:  No no, Secretary Rice, at the Security Council, was talking about Ahmadinejad’s call to wipe Israel off the map.  Does the Secretary-General see this as a violation of (inaudible)?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General’s remarks on this have been already transcribed and reported to you in this briefing a number of times.

Question:  Lavrov, in a press conference, among other things, said of a programme, in which the United Nations Development Programme funnelled salary to President Mikheil Saakashvili of Georgia on behalf of the Open Society Institute –- that it was a wrong United Nations programme, and the UN should not be privatized in this fashion.  Either now or before the end of the day, is there some response by the UN to this critique by Russia’s Foreign Minister, of how the UN system is being privatized?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll look into it for you.  If it’s a UNDP programme, we’ll check with UNDP.

Question:  I have a follow-up question to that -- whether there was anything incorrect or hidden at UNDP at the time, renting premises allegedly from the head of the Open Society Institute…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let’s ask UNDP if they have any follow-up on that.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that, in 2004, UNDP launched a “Governance Reform Programme” in Georgia.  This was done as a two-pronged approach to enable the Government to recruit the staff it needed and also to help remove incentives for corruption.  UNDP created a salary supplement fund, funded initially by $1 million from the Open Society Institute and $500,000 from UNDP, and later supplemented by another $1 million from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.  This fund was designed to provide leading public servants with a wage that, though modest by international standards, was sufficient for Georgia.  At the same time, the Government was required to make a credible commitment to increase tax revenues in order to cover this rise in expenditure.  The Government was so successful in improving tax collection that the salary supplement programme for top officials was fully taken over by the State budget after just a single year (rather than the planned three).]

Now I’d like to switch on over to the General Assembly Spokesperson, because I’d really like our guests to come, but yes?

Question:  Do we have a list of participants meeting on Myanmar?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes we do.  I don’t have it with me, but it’s available upstairs.

Okay.  Thank you.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly

Good afternoon to everybody.

The general debate is on its final day, as you know, and it’s due to be closed later this afternoon.

In total, the latest figures we have is that, we have 75 Heads of State and 36 Heads of Government.  Also, for your information, it is expected that the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto, will be closing this afternoon, will be delivering some remarks, after the close, at the closing.

And for those of you who were asking, the programme of work is already out and the issue of Kosovo, which many of you were also asking, it’s scheduled to be discussed on Wednesday 8 October.

And that is basically it, unless you have any questions for me.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On Myanmar, the last couple of years this Prime Minister hadn’t had a presence in the General Assembly.  When was the last time the Prime Minister was present at the GA?

Spokesperson:  I have to check that for you, and I come back to you.  Matthew?

Question:  Just wanted to get an idea, by now, how many Heads of State and Heads of Government we still have in town.

Spokesperson:  Say that again -- I cannot hear you.

Question:  I’m trying to figure out how many of the Heads of State and Heads of Government are still left in town as of today.

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the exact figure, but I can check for you.  But, not many, to be honest, because basically, most of them were attending the general debate last week.  But I can check that for you.

Question:  At the end of Saturday’s general debate session, there was this “right of reply” back and forth between North Korea and Japan, and with the UAE and Iran.  I wasn’t clear… I guess at the end of each day, there’s this back and forth.  How long can that go -- at a certain point should we just go to a hand-gavelled close?

Spokesperson:  The discussion was where?

Question:  In the general debate, in the General Assembly Hall, at the end of the thing, they had the right of reply.  So Japan responded to North Korea, talking about the Second World War, sexual slavery, comfort women, DPRK spoke again, then Japan spoke again -- they tried to cut Japan off a little bit, they kept going, then North Korea went, and then he finally closed it.  But was that by rule or can they go back and forth an infinite number of times?

Spokesperson:  To be honest, I have to check on that.  I’m not sure about the rules on that particular issue.

Question:  And the thing on Kosovo -- is there any particular committee?  Maybe I missed what you said…

Spokesperson:  At the General Assembly, in the Plenary.

Okay, thank you very much.

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