10 October 2008


10 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy 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.

**Guest Today

Our guest today is Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, who will brief you on the latest developments in negotiations on a new climate change agreement that needs to be finalized by December 2009 in Copenhagen.  We also have the General Assembly Spokesperson here today to brief you immediately after my briefing.

**Statement on Nobel Peace Prize

I have two statements attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.  The first was issued earlier today on the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Martti Ahtisaari.

The Secretary-General is delighted that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2008 has been awarded to Mr. Martti Ahtisaari, a long-standing United Nations colleague and ally in the cause of peace, development and human rights.  He pays tribute to Mr. Ahtisaari’s exceptional career in the service of the global community, with missions ranging from the former Yugoslavia to Namibia, the Horn of Africa and elsewhere, including his successful mediation to help achieve a peaceful settlement in Aceh between the Government of Indonesia and the Free Aceh Movement.  The Secretary-General notes that, whether working inside or outside the United Nations, as President of Finland or on the international stage, Mr. Ahtisaari has never ceased to champion the principles and ideals of the Organization.

**Statement on Democratic Republic of the Congo/Rwanda

The second statement I have is on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda.  The Secretary-General is following developments in the border areas of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda with increasing concern.  The continued fighting between units of the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the CNDP [Congrès National pour la Défence du Peuple] of Laurent Nkunda add to the suffering of the civilian population and risks provoking wider conflict in the region.  The Secretary-General appeals to the CNDP and the Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo to immediately observe an effective ceasefire and to cooperate with MONUC, the U.N. Mission in the DRC, to achieve a separation of forces.  He further urges all parties to proceed without any further delay with the implementation of the disengagement plan elaborated by MONUC, to respect their commitments under the Actes d’engagement and to make full use of the mechanisms of the Amani Programme to this end.

The Secretary-General reiterates that MONUC will act within its mandate to protect civilians threatened by armed groups and to prevent any encroachment on the main population centres and major arterial roads.

The Secretary-General calls on all States in the region to prevent their territories and nationals from being used to aid armed groups in the eastern DRC.  He urges the Governments of the DRC and Rwanda to bridge their differences using diplomatic and other means available to them, including the DRC-Rwanda Joint Verification Mechanism, and to redouble their efforts to implement the Nairobi Communiqué.  The Secretary-General stands ready to assist in this regard.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

Meanwhile, the Mission, MONUC, has confirmed that relative calm prevails in the North Kivu Province after UN peacekeepers successfully mediated the return of some rebel-held areas to Government forces.

Both sides have also assured the United Nations of their desire to proceed with the establishment of buffer zones included in the Goma disengagement plan. As stated by the Secretary-general’s Special Representative, Alan Doss, at his briefing to the Security Council last week, Mission officials have reiterated the need for additional troops and air assets in order to respond to increased insurgent activity.

** Darfur

The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, left El Fasher this morning for El Geneina, West Darfur, on the second leg of his trip in Darfur.

He is expected to proceed to Nyala, South Darfur, later this afternoon, and is scheduled to meet with local authorities, visit a number of internally displaced persons camps and meet with UNAMID staff.

Yesterday in El Fasher, he met with IDP representatives from three camps in North Darfur to listen to their concerns.  They requested an increase in UNAMID presence in and around the camps to ensure security and protection of civilians.

Mr. Le Roy reassured them that UNAMID is taking their concerns very seriously and has adopted a number of measures to address the current situation, including plans to deploy at least 4,500 troops by the end of this year -- bringing the total deployment level to about 65 per cent of the mandated troop levels.

The Department of Peacekeeping Operations, in consultation with UNAMID, is also reviewing plans to increase police and Formed Police Units in the camps.

During his meetings with local civil society representatives from the different parts of North Darfur, whom he referred to as "natural allies" in the peace process in the region, civil society representatives pointed out that the only way to achieve peace in Darfur is to "pressurize" all stakeholders in the Darfur process to come to the negotiating table.  There’s a press release with more information on Mr. Le Roy’s visit to Sudan upstairs.

** Cyprus

Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat met this morning in the UN Protected Area of Nicosia.

Speaking after the encounter, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, said that the leaders’ meeting today had been productive and that they had agreed to meet on a weekly basis.

The discussions focused on the powers of the Federal Government and the structure of the Federal Executive, with both sides putting forth proposals. The talks will continue next Monday, and there’s a full transcript of Mr. Downer’s remarks upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.

** Ethiopia

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that food insecurity in Ethiopia continues to worsen.  According to a recent assessment by the Ethiopian Government and its humanitarian partners, roughly 6.4 million people now require emergency food assistance just to stay alive.  That is an increase of about 40 per cent since June.  As a result, more people are migrating from rural to urban areas in search of food.

Three logistics hubs are being set up to enhance food-aid delivery to nearly 2 million people in the region.  The World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF have also been helping to control disease outbreaks.

** Central African Republic

The UN Peacebuilding Support Office in the Central African Republic has issued a report on the human rights situation in that country in the early months of this year, which it says deteriorated considerably in the north while remaining relatively stable in other parts.

The Office also notes a situation in which impunity prevails and the presumed perpetrators of human rights violations are rarely pursued.  The report also cites cases of torture and cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment faced by people in the country’s detention centres.

**UNHCR/Gulf of Aden

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is helping search for about 100 people reported missing after smugglers forced them overboard in the Gulf of Aden.  Survivors tell the UN refugee agency the boat departed from Somalia on Monday with 150 people on board.  Three days later, when it was five kilometres off the coast of Yemen, they say most of the passengers were forced overboard. 

Forty-seven of them made it to shore; they’ve been transferred to a UNHCR centre.

**UN-ASEAN – Disaster Reduction

In Bangkok, the United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (UNISDR) and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have raised awareness of the need for safer communities in the Asia-Pacific region by jointly observing the International Day for Disaster Reduction and the ASEAN Day for Disaster Management.

Messages from the Secretary-General of the United Nations, among others, drew attention to the increasing number and scale of natural disasters in recent years, involving the loss of thousands of lives and the destruction of hundreds of thousands livelihoods.

**CERF Report

The Secretary-General’s latest report to the General Assembly on the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) is out as a document.  Examining an 18-month period ending on 30 June of this year, the Secretary-General says the Fund has largely achieved its objectives.  In a short time, it has become a valuable and impartial tool for humanitarian action, accelerating response, increasing coverage of needs, and serving as a catalyst for improved field-level coordination and prioritization.  Of course you can read more about that in the report.

**World Mental Health Day

Today is World Mental Health Day.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says that health systems around the world face enormous challenges in delivering mental health care and protecting the human rights of people with severe disorders.

We have also a message from Thoraya Obaid, Executive Director of the UN Population Fund (UNFPA).  She says that the mental health of mothers has an impact on a child’s health and survival.

UNFPA and the World Health Organization are working together to integrate mental health aspects into existing maternal and child health policies and programmes.

Both messages are upstairs.

**Week Ahead/Secretary-General’s Travels

I have a couple of, actually three quick announcements of the Secretary-General’s travels and just a couple of highlights for the week ahead which will be available to you shortly.  As the Secretary-General announced to you on Tuesday, he will be flying to Geneva for talks with the European Union and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) concerning the situation in Georgia and the future role of the United Nations there.

He is expected to be in Geneva on Tuesday, on the eve of those talks, which will be held at the expert level.

The Secretary-General will be represented at the talks by his Special Representative, Johan Verbeke.

And after that, the Secretary-General plans to travel to Québec [City], Canada, at the end of next week, to attend the Francophonie Summit that will be held there.  He expects to address the opening ceremony of the Summit next Friday, and he will highlight the strong ties between the United Nations and Francophone countries.  He will also hold a number of bilateral meetings while he is there.  The Secretary-General will return to New York later that weekend.

And one more announcement.  The Secretary-General will visit Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government later this month to deliver a speech, entitled “Securing the Common Good in a Time of Global Crises”.

The speech will be delivered to the JFK [John F. Kennedy Jr.] Forum, which regularly hosts Heads of State; leaders in politics, government, business, labour and the media; academics; community organizers; and artists.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General plans to discuss the importance of securing global goods such as disarmament, climate change solutions, global health and action against terrorism.  He will speak to the particular challenge of addressing these at a time when they are put at risk by concurrent global crises – including those related to finance, food, energy, and development.

And that’s what I have for you.  There are a couple of other items in the week ahead but why don’t you pick it up and you can read all about that for your planning purposes.  I have Enrique here, but I’ll take a few questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  What does the UN think of the current deadlock in Zimbabwe, and is there anything that the Secretary-General can do to break that deadlock?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is concerned about this impasse.  He urges the parties to focus hard on reaching a workable agreement as soon as possible.

It is critically important to get a Government in place and to take steps to restore the economy and get Zimbabwe on a path to recovery and a better life for its people.

For its part, the UN is making every preparation it can to work with the new Government to help solve the problems facing Zimbabwe.

The humanitarian situation in Zimbabwe, as you know, is deteriorating and will continue to worsen through 2008 and into 2009.

And as we reported to you yesterday, with more than 5 million Zimbabweans facing severe food shortages, WFP appealed for $140 million to provide vital relief rations over the next six months.  Without additional contributions, WFP warned it will run out of stocks in January.

Question:  In the economic crisis gripping the world at this point and time, the concentration is mainly on the 20 developed countries, and how they are tumbling as the stocks go down.  Has the Secretary-General in any way decided to assess any impact this is going to have on the developing countries eventually, and how the poor of the world will suffer as a consequence of this crisis?  Will there be any sort of Bretton Woods institutions meeting that he will call to overcome this impending crisis?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That is precisely what the Secretary-General has been talking about -- his concerns about how the crisis will impact the poorest and the most vulnerable on the planet.  And as he has pointed out throughout the general debate, he said that he had raised this issue with virtually every leader he met with.  In terms of his meetings, I think he has welcomed the General Assembly meeting that is upcoming, that Enrique can tell you more about in terms of trying to address this serious crisis we are facing now.

Question:  [inaudible] a meeting with Bretton Woods institutions?  I know that is the United Nations…

Deputy Spokesperson: Let’s hear from Enrique about the line-up of the meetings that the General Assembly has called.  I believe that they are obviously invited to such an event.  [She later added that the Secretary-General would be convening the Chief Executives Board for a special coordination session on 24 October and the following day, involving all the heads of the UN agencies, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, to deal with the financial crisis issue.]

Question:  A question about Palestine.  The settlers’ attacks on the Palestinians are growing every day.  Has the Secretary-General taken notice of that?  And has he talked to the Israeli Government about it?  The construction work keeps going on.  It’s not stopping no matter how many appeals that they make to the Israelis.  And the settlers keep on attacking the Palestinians.  The situation is becoming untenable.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the Secretary-General’s position on the issue of settlements has been clear and his position on the situation there was articulated by himself at his press conference earlier this week.  I have nothing further on this.  [She later reminded the correspondent that the UN Secretariat had previously expressed its concern at the rising level of settler violence in the occupied Palestinian territory.  In fact, Special Coordinator Robert Serry did that in his last briefing to the Security Council.  Also, she added, the Quartet, in its most recent meeting on 26 September, “condemned the recent rise in settler violence against Palestinian civilians, urging the enforcement of the rule of law without discrimination or exception.”]

Question:  There have been in the Fifth, Budget, Committee, there’s been this discussion of mismanagement and lack of accountability and loss of funds in the UN’s construction in its complex in Nairobi, saying that the fault lies not only with the UN in Nairobi, but with the officials here at Headquarters.  Presumably you have been aware of this finding by ACABQ for some time.  What is the Secretariat doing in response?  Are the same people in charge?  How much money has been lost?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I wish you had asked that question yesterday, when Angela Kane was here.  I have the material upstairs for you.  I’ll give it to you.

Question:  There have been newspaper reports in the Pakistani media that Permanent Representative [Abdullah] Hussain Haroon of Pakistan is there in Pakistan and held a press conference and he reportedly said that the United Nations set some conditions to meet the probe standards into the killing of Benazir Bhutto.  And he also said that the UN has also raised security concerns in Pakistan before sending its commissioners to probe Benazir Bhutto’s assassination.  Do you have any…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing further on this matter beyond what the Secretary-General himself told you at the press conference on Tuesday and what his spokesperson yesterday clarified here in Room 226. 

With that, I will turn over to Enrique.  We will have Yvo de Boer immediately after that.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

I would like to make some announcements which I think would be important for you to know its state.

As you all know, President [Miguel] d´Escoto has a very ambitious and busy agenda for his Presidency.  He is already working on several fronts and I wanted to provide you with an overview of where we are on some of them.

**Security Council/United Nations Reform

First, on his main priority, the democratization of the United Nations, and to be more precise reform of the Security Council, President d´Escoto would like to move in this direction as quickly as possible.

He has requested today one of his Vice-Presidents to lead the consultations with Member States. He has named the Permanent Representative of Afghanistan, Mr. Zahir Tanin, as his personal representative in this important task.

To be more precise, the President has just sent a letter a few minutes ago informing Member States that:

The 17 November will take a meeting of the “Open-ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council” and then the General Assembly will commence intergovernmental negotiations, also at the Plenary, on 21st November 2008.  These negotiations, as I have just announced, will be chaired on his behalf, by the Permanent Representative of Afghanistan, Mr. Zahir Tanin.

**Global Financial Crisis

On another front, which is also on the headlines everywhere, and that is coming to the question that you asked before, the financial crisis, President d´Escoto believes that the UN must be much more proactive to help Member States in this delicate situation.  He is asking worldwide economic and financial experts to attend an urgent meeting here in the General Assembly to discuss the crisis and to provide top quality advice.  The meeting will take place here in a few days, before the end of this month of October.  He is now inviting the participants.  We will know the precise date in a few days, I think, by Monday or Tuesday.  I have a precise date and the names of the participants which are being contacted right now.

**Culture of Peace

Another important meeting that President d´Escoto is asking Member States to attend at the highest level is the meeting on “Culture of Peace” and dialogue between religions and cultures, which will take place also here in New York on 12 and 13 November.  He is convinced, as he has already said before, that “all of us in our respective religious, cultural and ethical-philosophical traditions find strong grounds for and summons to embrace the logic of love and solidarity (…) and we must all jointly endeavour to turn this summons to solidarity into the main propelling force for humanity and for the United Nations.”  The President has just sent a letter a few minutes ago supporting this initiative with the patronage of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

And this is all I have for today, unless you have any particular questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  [Enrique] how did he come to selecting the Iranian Ambassador?  Afghanistan…

Spokesperson:  Let me tell you how we are from the procedure point of view in the Security Council.  On the very last day and on the very last minute of the sixty-second General Assembly session, the hot potato was put into the sixty-third General Assembly Plenary.  They put a deadline, if I remember well by heart, which is that the intergovernmental negotiations should start not later than 28 February or the end of February, 2009.  And the President, President d’Escoto, as mentioned before, wants to move very quickly on this issue.  He is the President, he is attending so many initiatives that are going on right now and he has such a busy agenda that he believes that having one focal point, one person responsible for starting immediately the process of negotiations and consultations will allow the whole membership to start discussions much earlier.  And he would like those to start, as I said before, in November, already next month.

Question:  Have you established a [inaudible], a goal or a [inaudible] cut-off point where negotiations will… Is there a cut-off point, how these negotiations can go on?

Spokesperson:  Well, you know that during the last years attempts were made to reconcile positions before starting negotiations and every one of those failed.  Every facilitator’s report was rejected because no group was willing to compromise before starting the negotiations.  That’s why President d’Escoto would like that we don’t let the opening group last for months and months and weeks and weeks and years and years.  He’s now decided that we move very quickly on that and whatever the outcome, not whatever, that if we have a positive outcome it will be very helpful for the intergovernmental negotiations to start.  And that is going to start in November.  That is obviously a decision by the Member States on how to move.  Yes?

Question:  Thank you, Enrique.  On the third conference that you mentioned, the dialogues on religions and culture, could you just give us a few more details on it?  What format is it going to be?  A typical GA debate?  Is there a resolution attached to it?  And you can spell out what the link with Saudi’s King Abdullah is and is it, for example, a continuation of the project that the Saudi King started with the Madrid Interfaith Conference?  Does it follow from the negotiations that it’s been having with Ban Ki-moon about it?

Spokesperson:  As you have just pointed out, it is part of the World Conference on Dialogue which just took place in Madrid on the 16, 17, and 18 of July 2008 which was under the patronage of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and King Juan Carlos of Spain.  The participants agreed at that meeting to reconvene periodically to promote dialogue and cooperation among religions and cultures, and this is precisely what is going to happen in November.  And President d’Escoto, in the letter that he just sent a few minutes ago to the Member States, he’s attaching the letter of representation of Saudi Arabia explaining all the background on all the different information.

Question:  Do we have a copy of that here?

Spokesperson:  Sure, it’s already online.  But I’ll give you a copy.  We just put it online a few minutes ago before I started the press conference a few minutes ago.

Question: I’m sorry, what’s the format of the debate?  A typical GA debate?  Is there a resolution at the end of it?

Spokesperson:  I’ll find out more for you.  I don’t have the right detailed agenda in front of me.

Question:  But scholars will be speaking, rather than Member States? (Inaudible)

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  That covered a lot of my questions. But going back to negotiations on reform of the Security Council, was there any strategic reason why the Permanent Representative from Afghanistan was chosen?

Spokesperson:  Well, President D’Escoto believes that, as I said, he needs to give a push and he needs somebody who is respected, who is capable, and who is not linked to any of the different positions that you know are in front of the Security Council reform.  And he thinks that the Permanent Representative of Afghanistan is the right person, and of course he accepted this mission.

Question:  Maria was saying that you would have something to elaborate on this world economic crisis and what the President of the General Assembly [plans] to do about the meeting, special meeting of (inaudible)?

Spokesperson:  President d’Escoto believes -- and he has been hearing from all the leaders that he has been meeting with -- how important this crisis is and how important it is that the UN and the Member States get the right advice from the top experts of the world on this issue, from economists and financial experts.  So he is now talking to what he believes are the top people in the area.  People, experts from Asia, experts from Latin America, experts from Africa, experts from Europe, from the United States, and convene them to a high-level meeting where they will be able to interact with Member States.  Basically to explain the causes of the crisis, but most important of all, how this crisis is going to affect in the future the weakest in the world -- as we were saying before -- and how this is going to affect [efforts] to reach the Millennium Development Goals.  And it will be not in the tradition that we have the meetings here –- very formal.  Somebody makes a speech, the other speaker come and makes another speech, etc.  It’s going to be very interactive so that Member States can really inter-dialogue and try to get appropriate assessment on where we are going and what can be done to help the weakest and the poorest in the world. 

Question:  Are there any new developments concerning the agenda item on the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Great Famine of the 1930s in the Ukraine, which was postponed by the General Committee.

Spokesperson:  Not that I am aware of.  I think they have not started the discussions on this particular issue, but I will make sure that I have more details, more precise for you.  If there are no more questions, have a good weekend.

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