6 October 2008


6 October 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, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

** Sudan

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, is in the Sudan on a familiarization tour, during which he will meet with leadership of the Government of National Unity and the Government of Southern Sudan and other key interlocutors, as well as members of the UN missions in Khartoum (UNMIS) and UNAMID (African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur).

The visit to UNMIS is his first to a peacekeeping mission since being appointed to head the UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations in August 2008.

Le Roy arrived in Khartoum this morning.  During his week-long stay in the Sudan, he will visit Kadugli, Abyei, Juba and El Obeid, as well as El Fasher, Nyala and El Geneina in Darfur.

** Afghanistan

Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, today told a press news conference that there is a need for a robust political “surge” to boost Afghanistan’s peace prospects and to answer urgent humanitarian needs.  He also appealed to the Taliban to ensure access for food distribution.

Eide acknowledged that the security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated, but he warned against pessimism and asserted that there is a strong international commitment to reverse the negative trends in the country.  We have a press release and a transcript of this briefing in Kabul upstairs.

** Georgia

The Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation in Abkhazia, Georgia, is available today.

In it, he says the tragic developments of August 2008, which inflicted human suffering and risked destabilizing the wider region, were not entirely unexpected.  He notes that, over the past few years, he had highlighted the very serious deterioration in relations between the Georgian and Abkhaz sides.

The Secretary-General also notes that a number of external developments, including those related to Kosovo, contributed to a general climate of polarization in which joint international action to contain local conflicts became more and more difficult.

Turning to the UN Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG), he says the context in which the Mission has operated during the past 14 years has changed considerably.  It is too early at this stage to define the role it may play in the future, he adds.  He therefore recommends that the Mission’s mandate be extended on a technical basis for a period of four months, until 15 February 2009.

He also says that, in the coming four months, he intends to intensify consultations with the two sides and with the relevant international actors, including at the upcoming Geneva talks, with a view to exploring whether and how it is possible for the UN to follow up on the support of the two sides for the continuation of UN involvement.


The world’s poor and displaced must not be forgotten, says the head of the UN refugee agency.

High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres warned today in Geneva that the welfare of the world’s poor and uprooted people is increasingly at risk as the international community struggles with a combination of adverse economic, social and political trends that threaten to trigger even more displacement in the years to come.

“Competition for scarce resources has become an increasingly important factor in provoking and perpetuating violence,” Guterres told the agency’s Executive Committee.

Noting that “a hungry man is an angry man”, Guterres warned that, if the international community fails to meet the basic needs of the world’s poor, “then we can only expect more social and political turmoil in the years to come”.

**Human Rights

Today in Geneva, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay called for a more concerted effort by States to act on promises to tackle racism, xenophobia, discrimination and intolerance.  She added that implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action, which was agreed upon by Governments attending the 2001 World Conference against Racism in Durban, South Africa, “still lags sorely”.

Pillay was addressing a preparatory meeting for a review conference, which will take place next April and will examine progress since the 2001 World Conference.

Referring to the lingering controversy and divisions dating back to the original Conference, she called for a more forward-looking approach.  She said that, seven years ago, the virulent anti-Semitic behaviour of a few non-governmental organizations on the sidelines of the Durban Conference overshadowed the critically important work of the Conference as a whole.  But measures had been taken to address this betrayal of the core principles of the Durban Conference, and the NGO [non-governmental organization] document had not been forwarded to the Conference. 

** Kyrgyzstan

An earthquake measuring 6.6 on the Richter scale, 17 miles below the surface, hit the south of Kyrgyzstan yesterday, seriously affecting the high altitude and sparsely populated areas of Chon-Alai and Alai Rayon, some 220 kilometres from the main city of Osh.

Preliminary data shows that 60 people were killed at the epicentre alone and another 60 people need urgent evacuation and medical aid.  One hundred and twenty-eight buildings have been completely destroyed, which constitutes some 70 per cent of the entire infrastructure of the village.

A tented camp for 600 displaced families is being set up as an initial response, while UNHCR is collecting 400 mattresses and 1,500 blankets from its warehouse in Osh for dispatch to the disaster site tomorrow.

The UN Resident Coordinator, Neal Walker, said UN agencies in Kyrgyzstan, along with the Kyrgyz Red Crescent, and the NGO ACTED Kyrgyzstan had sent their teams, in cooperation with the ministry, to the affected area to conduct a needs assessment.  We’ll have more on that for you probably a little later today.

**World Habitat Day

Today is World Habitat Day.  This year’s theme is “harmonious cities”.  In a message to mark the Day, the Secretary-General notes that many of the world’s most pressing challenges -– such as poverty, natural disasters, and escalating prices for food and fuel –- have important links with rapid urbanization. 

He calls on all partners and stakeholders to do their utmost to realize their potential, and to build decent living conditions for all in a way that also preserves natural heritage and promotes greener and smarter growth.

Meanwhile, UN-Habitat this year, for the first time, is giving its highest award to a city rather than to an individual.  The Habitat Scroll of Honour Special Citation honours the Chinese city of Nanjing for its comprehensive redevelopment and revitalization along the Qinhuai River.


We have several items today from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

UNEP is piloting large-scale rehabilitation projects in five countries over the next two years.  The goal is to demonstrate that reinvesting in damaged ecosystems can generate significant economic, environmental and social returns.  Projects include restoring a “lost” seasonal lake in Mali that once covered up to 600 square kilometres but has been almost completely dry since the 1970s.

Meanwhile, UNEP and the International Union for Conservation of Nature have launched a new online database that lets users monitor the world’s national parks and protected areas.  Via Google Earth, users can zoom in and fly over more than 100,000 sites.

And UNEP and the World Tourism Organization, along with the Rainforest Alliance and UN Foundation Chairman Ted Turner, today announced the first-ever criteria for sustainable tourism.  Based on best practices from around the world, these criteria offer guidance to ensure that such tourism actually helps, rather than harms, local communities and the environment.  There’s more information, of course, on all of these items upstairs.


UNESCO presented its midterm review of the United Nations Literacy Decade (2003–2012) today.  The report shows that literacy rates have been rising globally during the last five years –- despite the fact that financial aid remains insufficient.  At the current pace, the world literacy rate will reach a level of nearly 87 per cent in 2015. 

Progress has been slowest in South and West Asia and in sub-Saharan Africa, UNESCO says.  You can learn more about the review at a discussion tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m. in the Delegates Dining Room.  There is more information in a press release upstairs.


The Fourth Global Forum on Children Affected by HIV and AIDS began today in Dublin, Ireland, with a call for a package of social welfare services to tackle child poverty and assist households in developing countries affected by HIV and AIDS.

The Executive Director of UNICEF, Ann Veneman, spoke at the Forum, saying that, for too long, children have been the missing face of the AIDS pandemic.  We have a press release from UNICEF upstairs.

Edith Lederer

We just heard the following good news from the UN Correspondents Association.

The International Women’s Media Foundation will present this week its Lifetime Achievement Award to Edith Lederer, chief correspondent at the United Nations for the Associated Press.

According to the announcement, Edie began her journalism career in 1966.  In her more than four decades with the AP [Associated Press], she has worked on every continent except Antarctica covering wars, famines, nuclear issues and political upheavals.  Edie Lederer was the first female resident correspondent in Viet Nam in 1972; she lived in a jail with a guard for protection because most other reporters were men.  She was the first woman to head an AP foreign bureau in Peru, the first AP reporter to cross the Yalu River after the Korean War and the first journalist to file the bulletin announcing the start of the first Gulf War.

If you are listening to us, congratulations, Edie!

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

And just to look ahead, tomorrow at 11 a.m., the Secretary-General will hold the first of his regularly-scheduled monthly press conferences. 

There will be no noon briefing by the Spokesperson tomorrow.

And at 2 p.m., there will be a press conference by John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, on the International Day for Disaster Reduction, to be observed on 8 October.

And this is all I have for you.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Do you have anything on these reports out of the Sudan that over 100 JEM rebels have surrendered?  Have you heard anything from UNAMID?

Spokesperson:  No we haven’t.  UNAMID informed us that a group of peacekeepers was conducting a route assessment patrol.  They were ambushed this afternoon in South Darfur.  Is that what you are referring to?

Question:  No, this was a separate wire report saying that some 116 JEM rebels had surrendered, but there was no confirmation and they were trying to get confirmation from UNAMID.

Spokesperson:  We’ll try to get something for you.

[The Spokesperson later added that UNAMID received information from the Government of the Sudan that 116 JEM combatants with 13 vehicles had surrendered to the Sudan Armed Forces in three locations:  Kornoi, Girgira and Tine.  UNAMID will continue to monitor the situation and make efforts to contact the JEM faction to confirm these reports.]

Question:  But could you give us more on the peacekeepers?

Spokesperson:  We have no immediate confirmation on casualties.  This happened about an hour ago.

Question:  Where was it exactly?

Spokesperson:  It was about 75 kilometres north of Nyala.

Question:  There are reports from Myanmar of people being forced, conscripted to work on roads for the Government in exchange for UN aid.  From UNICEF water pills and UNFPA hygiene items.  This was reported in the press in Myanmar that UN aid is being conditioned on people doing forced labour on roads.  Does the UN have any information in this regard?

Spokesperson:  I’ll try to get more for you on that.

Question:  You mentioned the Habitat thing.  Amnesty International, in sort of a measured reproach, questioned the UN Habitat’s selection of Luanda as the venue for the conference, given the number of force displacements and evictions carried out by the Government there.  What did UN-Habitat say?

Spokesperson:  What I have is what UN-Habitat Director Anna Tibaijuka said this morning in Luanda.  She commended Angola for its very ambitious national reconstruction programme following many years of war, and she also commended the Angolan Government for its delivery of social housing and basic services for Angolan families.  And she added that the UN is ready to stand by Angola in the joint quest to achieve harmonious cities, towns and villages throughout the country.  So she had some positive things to say about Angola and about Luanda.

Question:  Well, what about the forced evictions?  Did she have any additional comments on…?

Spokesperson:  She didn’t have any comments on that.

Question:  Do you have any specific information about the draft resolution on Somalia, [inaudible] if it’s going to be put on board?

Spokesperson:  That I don’t know yet.  As soon as it’s out, you’ll find out about it.  We’ll let you know.

Question:  There are different reports I guess that are sort of leaking out.  One that says that Mr. Ban will be in Manila on 27 October through the 30th for a conference on migration.  Another one saying he’ll be in Bangladesh in early November and that one also says that the UN is prepared to send poll observers for the December 18th election in Bangladesh.  Can you confirm any of these?  These are all from various officials saying this.

Spokesperson:  Yes, in terms of the Secretary-General’s trip, all that you mentioned, the trip to Manila, his participation in the migration conference, it is of course on the books.  It is being considered.  The rest of the trip, we cannot confirm yet because we do not have exact dates.  But we will confirm that very shortly to you.  Of course on that trip there is also India and Bangladesh.

Question:  Yeah, the Bangladesh one, the Resident Coordinator for the UN system there has said that the UN would probably be providing poll observers even if there is a state of emergency on this 18 December election.  Is that something that this Resident Coordinator checked here with Headquarters?  Or…

Spokesperson:  We can check with the Electoral [Assistance Division] here and find out what they have on that.

Question:  That would be great.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  Sure.  Thank you all very much. 

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

I do not have many issues today.

Only to mention that the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d´Escoto, has been meeting already with all the Chairs of the different main Committees to discuss the work plans and the timetable.  And as from today, all the Committees are already discussing substantive issues.  In other words, they are all at work.

And finally, I would like to point out that President d´Escoto has sent a letter supporting the invitation of the Emir of Qatar to attend the Conference on “Financing for Development” in Doha that, as you know, will take place from 29 November to 2 December 2008.

And this is basically what I have for you, unless you have any other questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Can you please give us any information [inaudible]…

Spokesperson:  I cannot hear you very well.  Can you speak up a little?

Question:  Can you give us some information about the Security Council elections, in the General Council, the General Assembly on the 17th?  Where can I get some information about it, the voting, the candidates?  There used to be some information online before, but I haven’t seen anything yet.

Spokesperson:  I’ll check for you and I will let you know exactly where you can find that information.  Right after this meeting.  We’ll see together.

Question:  Thank you.  I understand there’s a vote coming up in the General Assembly.  It comes up every year.  There was a resolution for… against religious defamation and I was wondering if you knew when the vote was coming up this year.  I understand that it is quite soon.  And is there going to be a debate on it?

Spokesperson:  Which draft resolution are you talking about?

Question:  I understand that it is a resolution that comes up every year because it needs to be renewed and it’s on religious defamation, to prevent religious defamation.

Spokesperson:  Okay, let us check together because we have already the working plan for more than 160, 170 different items and we already have the timetable.  Let’s sit down with you and see which one is the one that you are referring to.  I’m not sure which one.

Question:  There is this debate going on in the Fifth Committee about the countries that haven’t been able to pay their dues, about their contributions, invoking single article 19 where you can waive the bill.  Having been down there, I noticed that some of the countries, Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau, they’re all in the UN peacebuilding agenda.  I wonder, this is a question for you, is it feasible that, as part of that assistance, that the UN could, that part of the UN assistance could go towards UN dues or are these countries going to be barred from voting in the UN since they can’t or they haven’t paid?

Spokesperson:  Let me check that for you because I’m not sure what [inaudible] precisely devotion to that particular issue, but we can have a look to it.  There are too many things going on right now. 

Question:  No, I know.  It’s hard.  I understand.  Fourth Committee.

Spokesperson:  We’ll check that.  [laughing]

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