14 October 2008


14 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 all.

**Secretary-General in Geneva

The Secretary-General arrived in Geneva this morning and this evening he will attend a working dinner on Georgia, a day in advance of technical-level meetings that will be held on Georgia.  After the working dinner, the Secretary-General will take part in a press briefing, organized by the EU presidency.

Of course, we will relay the text to you as soon as we have it.

The Secretary-General this morning met with his Special Representative for Georgia, Johan Verbeke, who will represent him at tomorrow’s meeting.

The Secretary-General then had a working lunch with the Secretary-General of UNCTAD [United Nations Conference on Trade and Development], Supachai Panitchpakdi.  In the afternoon, he also met with Ambassador Pierre Morel, the Special Representative of the EU for Georgia, and Marc Perrin de Brichambaut, the Secretary-General of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

He also visited the headquarters of the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), where he underlined the “critical importance to the UN as a whole” of UNHCR leadership in hot spots.  He underscored priority commitment for the UN and UNHCR, including the impacts of climate change, the food crisis and the financial crisis on the situation of the world’s refugees and displaced persons.

Later today, the Secretary-General plans to meet with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and with Javier Solana, the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

In the midst of this busy schedule, Ban Ki-moon also met with Djibril Bassolé, joint African Union-UN Chief Mediator for Darfur.

**Secretary-General on Financial Crisis

In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General said that recent concerted action aimed at restoring confidence in financial markets is laudable but more coordinated approaches, including direct intervention by Governments of the major economies, are necessary.

He expressed his concern about the impact of the global financial crisis on the developing world, particularly on the poorest of the poor, and the serious setback this is likely to have on efforts to meet major goals.

In this context, the Secretary-General feels strongly that the Financing for Development Conference next month in Doha provides an important opportunity to review developments and to ensure that the current financial difficulties do not undermine commitments already undertaken to provide more aid and other financial resources for the achievement of the internationally agreed development goals.  We have the full statement upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning heard a briefing on the work of the UN Mission in Afghanistan from the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, Kai Eide.

Eide said that the last few months have witnessed a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, with the number of security incidents in July and August being the highest such number since 2002.  The influence of the insurgency has extended beyond the south and the east, he said, and civilian casualties have increased.

Yet Eide cautioned against “gloom and doom”, noting such positive developments as the improving relationship between Pakistan and Afghanistan and the strengthening of the Interior Ministry and Afghan police.

Mr. Eide will speak to you at the Council stakeout once the open debate on Afghanistan ends.

Earlier today, the Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the UN Mission in Haiti by 12 months, until 15 October 2009.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

Fighting resumed yesterday morning in north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, according to the UN Mission there (MONUC).  The fighting is between Government troops and rebels loyal to General Laurent Nkunda, who attacked Government positions near the town of Rushege.  No casualties were reported.

Meanwhile, the Mission says that despite reassurances given by the Government, the regular army has still not redeployed around the town of Tongo, as agreed in a disengagement plan between the warring parties.

UN peacekeepers, meanwhile, continue to support Government troops in a military campaign against some 250 fighters from the rebel Popular Front for Justice in the Congo, in the Ituri region.

The fighting in that region continues to displace large numbers of civilians, according to the UN refugee agency.  Its latest assessment places at more than 50,000 the number of people who were forced to flee both the fighting and recurrent raids by Uganda’s rebel Lord’s Resistance Army.

** Middle East

The UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry, returned today to Jerusalem after an official visit to Jordan.

While meeting with the Jordanian King, Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Serry conveyed the Secretary-General’s appreciation for Jordan’s role in supporting efforts to negotiate a two-State solution and build the institutions of a Palestinian State.  He also stressed the importance of further action on the ground to enable Palestinian institutional and economic development, and to freeze all settlement activity, including in East Jerusalem.

Serry welcomed Jordan's support of efforts underway in Cairo aimed at reunifying Gaza and the West Bank within the framework of the legitimate Palestinian Authority.  He also expressed the UN’s continued support for the Arab Peace Initiative and a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace based on Security Council resolutions and international law.  We have more on that upstairs.


Still on the Palestinians, the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees has issued an urgent appeal for the resettlement of the Palestinian refugees who used to live in Iraq.  Many of them have been stranded for over two years at two camps near the Iraq-Syria border.

UNHCR says that living conditions at the border camps are very difficult, with the refugees facing extreme temperatures, regular sandstorms, minimal security, and open sewage pits near tents and cooking facilities.  In addition, there are no medical facilities nearby and no ambulance services.  We have more on that upstairs.

**Deputy Secretary-General

The Deputy Secretary-General today presented to the Fifth Committee of the General Assembly the Secretary-General’s proposal for strengthening the development pillar of the UN Secretariat.

Dedicated attention will have to be given to climate change, innovative financing, international migration and development, violence against women, and indigenous issues, she said, adding that we must continue to support national development strategies to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development goals.

Saying there is a serious mismatch between mandated responsibilities and available resources, she said the Secretariat needs to have adequate capacity to carry out these important new functions effectively.

In short, the development challenges are daunting.  This has become even more so as the world faces a global financial crisis of profound magnitude.  Copies of her statement are available upstairs.


The World Health Organization (WHO) today launched its World Health Report 2008 in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

The report documents a number of health-care failures and shortcomings that have created dangerous imbalances in the health situations of different populations.

According to the report, differences in life expectancy between the richest and poorest countries now exceed 40 years.  And vast differences can even occur within individual cities.  In Nairobi, for example, the under-five mortality rate is below 15 per 1,000 in the high-income area.  In a slum in the same city, the rate is 254 per 1,000.

The report shows that many health systems have lost their focus on fair access to care, their ability to invest resources wisely, and their capacity to meet the needs and expectations of people, especially the impoverished and marginalized.  And unequal access, impoverishing costs, and erosion of trust in health care are threats to social stability, the report says.

To steer health systems towards better performance, the report calls for a return to primary health care, a holistic approach formally launched 30 years ago.  We have more on that upstairs.

** Central African Republic

Violence and banditry have led hundreds of thousands of people to flee the northern region of the Central African Republic in the past two years.  That’s according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).  OCHA says that more than 100,000 of these civilians fled to Cameroon, Chad and Sudan.

Another 108,000 are internally displaced and live in precarious conditions.  The overall situation has compelled humanitarian agencies to strengthen their presence in the country, from seven offices in 2006 to 46 this month.  OCHA also notes that victims of conflict in the CAR and elsewhere have so far benefited from the joint UN-NGOs humanitarian aid programme.  That programme is now short of some $25 million.  OCHA appeals to donors to show their generosity in order to reach the $116 million required for the programme’s 2008 operations in the CAR.

**Central Emergency Response Fund

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) has now allocated more than $1 billion for humanitarian aid around the world since its launch in March 2006.

An allocation this week of more than $200,000 for nutrition and supplementary feeding for women and children in Tajikistan took the total allocations beyond the $1 billion level.

Underlining that humanitarian agencies faced with a sudden-onset crisis, such as an earthquake or cyclones, struggled to find resources to start immediate operations, Humanitarian Affairs chief and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes said CERF can now allocate funds within days of an emergency to kick-start relief efforts saving thousands of lives.

So far, 65 countries have benefited from the Response Fund.  This year alone, nearly $265 million was allocated to such emergencies, including $94 million to countries particularly affected by the global food crisis.  We have a press release on the CERF in my office upstairs.

**United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports that 20 States have now ratified the Convention on the Protection of the Underwater Cultural Heritage.  The treaty will now enter into force on the 2nd of January 2009.

UNESCO’s General Conference adopted the Convention in 2001 to protect varied and rich cultural heritage, including shipwrecks, landscapes, rock art caves and ruins which are at the bottom of the sea.

The treaty represents the international community’s response to the increased looting and destruction of underwater cultural heritage.  There’s more information in a press release upstairs.

**Guest Tomorrow

And then tomorrow my guest will be Joel Boutroue, UN Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator in Haiti, to update you on the current situation there.  And of course, you will be updated in a few minutes by Enrique on the General Assembly.

I’ll take your questions, if there are any.  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, the Secretary-General was taking an assessment on (inaudible) the world financial crisis.  He said that -- I’m just paraphrasing you -- he was probably reflecting the assessment of the impact of the global crisis on the developing countries will take place in Doha.  Am I right?

Spokesperson:  No.  What he is saying is that Doha will be an important step in ensuring financing for development for these countries.

Question:  It will not take into account how it has impacted the developing countries?  Because they are now marginalized at this point in time because this is all being handled by the world’s developed countries.

Spokesperson: Yes, that is definitely part of the agenda in Doha.

Question:  The other thing that I want to find out, Michèle, why is it taking such a long time for the Secretary-General to appoint an inquiry commission -- not investigation -- an inquiry commission into the death of Benazir Bhutto? It has been a very long time, and…

Spokesperson:  Essentially because all the discussions are ongoing with the Pakistani authorities.  It is not the Secretary-General’s decision.  There have to be joint discussions on the modalities.

Question:  I know.  But the thing is, according to my enquiries, Pakistani authorities want that thing to happen as soon as possible.

Spokesperson:  Yes, but the modalities were not agreed upon and this is what they are discussing.

Question:  They have not come to an agreement on who should be sitting on the commission; is that what this is…?

Spokesperson: No, there are a number of issues concerning how it should operate; what its specific mandate should be; and about its funding.  All these are issues that are being discussed.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  Michèle, the President of Haiti, René Préval had written to the Security Council President requesting that reference to Chapter VII in resolution 1542 of 2004 be withdrawn because elections took place and security has been stabilized.  Has the Council done that?

Spokesperson:  The Council renewed the mandate under Chapter VII, the way they had done it before.  So, nothing has changed, really, in the mandate of the Mission in Haiti.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  About North Korea, did the Secretary-General send his congratulations to Kim Jong Il or other North Korean officials for the sixtieth anniversary, and did he receive a reply, a telegram from Kim Jong Il?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.

Question:  Okay.  Because the North Korean media has said that Kim Jong Il sent replies to Hu Jintao and to Ban Ki-moon, thanking each of them for congratulating the sixtieth anniversary.  So, if there is some way to find out, there is some controversy on that.

Spokesperson:  I’ll check, sure, I’ll check.

[The Spokesperson later added that a letter had been sent to the Government of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea in the Secretary-General’s name, as was routinely done for all Member States on their national days.  No reply had been received from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.]

Question:  Also, yesterday I had asked you about Ramos-Horta and whether he’d asked for the UN to not investigate the events of 1999.  Now he’s being quoted in a pretty reputable paper as saying “as Head of State, I did not authorize the UN to investigate the crime from 1999”.  Does that mean the UN is going to stop…?

Spokesperson:  As I said yesterday, there is no official request to stop the investigation.  We have not received one, we have not received any communications on the subject from the President.  Those are just media reports and statements reported by the media.  And at any rate, as you know, we do not comment on statements attributed to leaders unless we receive an official statement or letter on that subject.

Question:  If you were to receive, if this call was put in writing to the UN, would that end all UN investigations of the violence in 1999?

Spokesperson:  Well, you know, there are two specific processes going on at the same time.  There is no linkage between the Commission for Truth and Friendship, which is a bilateral mechanism between Timor-Leste and Indonesia.  The UN has nothing to do with that one.  It was set up in 2005 to look into the events of 1999.  There is a second process, [a United Nations process], which is what they call the SCIT – which is a continuation of the serious crimes panels that were set up and working during 2002-2005.  Those serious crimes panels were closed in 2005.  All the case files were handed to the prosecutor in Timor-Leste.  So, that process was brought back when UNMIT was established and it was agreed to set up that serious crime panel again simply to continue to assist the Office of the Prosecutor-General.  So, this is our role, this is what we’re doing, and as I said, I will not comment on what was said.  I am just giving you background.

Question:  I know and I appreciate that.  One last thing.  Do you know who -- and I don’t know if the Secretary-General, in his meetings in Geneva this has been established -- who is in charge of providing protection to the UNOMIG UN observers in Abkhazia? (Inaudible).

Spokesperson:  We’ll get more on that for you after the meeting.

[The Spokesperson later added that all sides have supported the continued operation of the United Nations Observer Mission in Georgia (UNOMIG).  Thus far, the Mission has not experienced any serious security threats.  In order to ensure the continued security of UNOMIG operations beyond 15 October, when the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) Peacekeeping Force will officially be disbanded, the United Nations is in contact with authorities on both sides of the ceasefire line.  We expect to receive the necessary assurances, she said.]

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Yes, Pat.

Question:  I guess it’s probably in the press release, but these underwater sites that are being protected by the new UNESCO Convention, could you mention (inaudible) if there are particular regions, particular countries... could you mention a few or are they in the press release?

Spokesperson:  I think you can find quite a bit in the press release, Pat.  I’d suggest that you go and consult it.  Thank you so very much and I give the floor to Enrique.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

Let me start by providing to you the date of the interactive dialogue on the global financial crisis that I announced last Friday.  The meeting is scheduled to take place on Thursday, 30 October.

As I mentioned, President d´Escoto believes that the UN must be much more proactive to help Member countries with this crisis, and he is asking worldwide economic and financial experts to attend this urgent meeting here in the General Assembly.  The idea is to analyse the global consequences of the current crisis and its impact especially on developing countries.

And talking about dates and meetings, let me also clarify, because there were some last minute changes and there has been a little bit of confusion about the dates for the Security Council reform efforts that are taking place.

As I mentioned on Friday, President d´Escoto sent a letter to Member countries informing them that the meeting of the Open-Ended Working Group on the question of Membership of the Security Council will take place on 11 November; and that the General Assembly will commence intergovernmental negotiations at the plenary on 21 November 2008.  These negotiations, as I already announced on Friday, will be chaired on his behalf, by the Permanent Representative of Afghanistan, Zahir Tanin.

And this is basically what I have for you today, unless there are any particular questions.  Mr. Abbadi?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The President of the General Assembly is going to hold this meeting on the global financial crisis soon.  Does he think that this subject should be confined within the group of seven, or eight, or 20, rather than the general framework?

Spokesperson:  Well, as he has very clearly stated, he believes that it is such an important crisis, it is the most important financial crisis that we have seen in the last decade.  He believes that the UN, the General Assembly, should be the place to discuss this crisis and that’s why he has made this call for a very urgent meeting asking some of the most renowned experts in the field to come here and to meet with all the Members at the General Assembly.  That’s why he certainly believes this is the place for this kind of advice to take place.

Question:  And does he have any concrete plan to submit to the experts or is it going to be an open-ended discussion like the ad hoc commission?

Spokesperson:  It’s going to be an open dialogue with the Member countries with basically two main issues.  One is to analyse and evaluate the current crisis and the second is give them advice on how the UN should be looking forward in this financial crisis, especially how this is going to affect the MDGs and reaching the Goals, and what the international communality can try collectively to tackle this crisis.

Question:  And has he received any recommendations from the Secretary-General on this question?

Spokesperson:  Well, the President of the General Assembly and the Secretary-General have been having a very open and fluent dialogue on this issue.  The Secretary-General himself from this podium already announced that he was very pleased with the meeting convened by the President of the General Assembly and both of them have a constant dialogue and both (inaudible) of the cabinet are discussing these issues.  But certainly this is an initiative of the President of the General Assembly to urgently convey these experts here and to provide advice to the Member countries.  And as Michèle was saying before, this takes place at a very important moment on the road to Doha.  And what President d’Escoto has made very clear is that he wouldn’t like this crisis to be used as an excuse for some of the Member countries not to fulfil the commitments already made.  And it is very important that this crisis not be used as an excuse.  Masood?

Question:  I just wanted to clarify about this 11 November meeting.  What is the objective basically?  Just a discussion or are we moving towards any resolution?

Spokesperson:  We have to, as I explained on Friday, on the last day of the sixty-second General Assembly, at the very last minute, the issue of the reform of the Security Council was passed to this presidency, to the plenary of the General Assembly and it was requested there that the intergovernmental negotiations start at the General Assembly no later than 28 February 2009.  And President d’Escoto believes that those negotiations should start immediately, because otherwise we’re not going to have enough time.  And as you know, the process is a two-track process.  We have the open-ended group, which is trying to dialogue and to reach some negotiations prior to the intergovernmental negotiations.  President d’Escoto, using his power as President of the General Assembly, has requested the open-ended group to start on 11 November and, right after that, one week after that, will start the intergovernmental negotiations openly in the General Assembly to face the issue of the reform of the Security Council.

Question:  (Inaudible)

Spokesperson:  No, they can continue.  But, certainly, the negotiations are going to take place in the plenary.  In other words… I’ll try to translate this to you.  President d’Escoto’s intentions are, very clearly, and he has said that openly, that we don’t have endless negotiations in the open-ended group, as we have been having for several years, and that it is not being used as a delay in the process.  If a (inaudible) negotiation is taking place and this is a mandate coming from the sixty-second General Assembly at the plenary, among the different countries, let us start this as soon as possible.  Put together all the different positions on the table.  And this is why he is asking one of his Vice-Presidents, the Permanent Representative of Afghanistan, to help him in this important task and face the reform of the Security Council, which is one of the most important issues right now on the agenda of the President.

Question:  On these Security Council elections (inaudible), is there clarity now on who is standing, who has withdrawn and what are the candidates?  Do you have a list?

Spokesperson:  I have a list, which you saw probably.  I’ll give it to you in any case.  As you know there are five seats to be elected right now. Two for Africa and Asia, and there are three countries: Japan, Iran and Uganda.  It should be one from Africa and one from Asia.  Therefore, Uganda has already been endorsed.  Therefore, a decision needs to be taken between Japan and Iran.  And then we have, for Latin America and the Caribbean, one seat and one country, Mexico, which has already been endorsed. And for the Western European and other States we have two seats and we have three candidates, we have Austria, Iceland and Turkey.  So, in other words, what you have there is one seat to be decided between Iran and Japan and one seat between Austria, Iceland and Turkey.

Question:  Japan and Iran are in the same region now, regional grouping?

Spokesperson:  For the Security Council, yes.  Matthew?

Question:  In this jockeying for positions for Security Council seats, there are a lot of people saying that various countries are making financial commitments to smaller States in exchange for their vote and that’s widely shared.  What’s your response to that?  Is that how the process works?

Spokesperson:  Certainly this is not how the process works.  I mean, you know very well how the process works.  We have an election coming on and we have countries which have to select, as any other body in the organization, some other Member country for representation.  Certainly, I assume there will be negotiations or discussions or dialogue, like in any election, and whoever is presenting themselves to the election to try to convince other Member countries to vote for them.  It’s as simple as that.  But, I don’t have from the President of the General Assembly any comment on this.

Question:  Okay.  In the Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) yesterday, on decolonization, there seemed to be a lot of complaints by Member States about their votes not being properly recorded, about not having been in the Room.  I don’t know if you’re aware of this.

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  What was behind that and what’s being done that it doesn’t happen again?  What happened there?

Spokesperson:  You’re referring to what happened during the…?

Question:  Voting on resolutions in the Fourth Committee.  There were a number of countries that said their votes were improperly recorded or that they had voted but they weren’t even on the list.  Things like this.

Spokesperson:  You’re not talking about what happened in the General Assembly?

Question:  No.

Spokesperson:  Then, I’ll have to get more details on that for you.

Question:  Well, let me ask you what happened in the General Assembly?

Spokesperson:  Well, because in the General Assembly we all saw there was a little bit of confusion and this is already more than 10 days ago.  And basically what happened is that… let me try to remember what the situation was.  There was a vote going on and then Liberia asked why they couldn’t vote.  But, as you know, some of these countries, there were six or seven countries that had no right to vote because they have not fulfilled their arrears.  And that same morning a meeting had taken place making a proposal waiving the situation.  However, that waiver can only take effect once the General Assembly votes for it and that vote took place yesterday.  So, they were not aware of it and that’s basically why they couldn’t vote.

Question:  One last thing.  I don’t know if you’ll comment on this or not, but there are many reports today that, in the country of Nicaragua, including the NGO Oxfam has had its offices raided and many people are saying there is sort of a crackdown.  The Government of Nicaragua is saying that it’s a Trojan horse, right-wing conspiracy NGOs.  So, I understand that Mr. d’Escoto is the President of the General Assembly, since in that role he has a lot to say about the UN, and NGOs and civil society.  What is his view?  Can you get his view on recent events with particular regard to the NGO Oxfam in Nicaragua?

Spokesperson:  Well, you understand well.  He is the President of the General Assembly and he is not going to make any comments on any particular country, especially on his own country.

Question:  Does he believe that the participation of NGOs, including Oxfam specifically, in the UN processes is helpful, to the work of the General Assembly?

Spokesperson:  As I said, President d’Escoto wants to make it a very clear distinction between the internal politics of his own country right now and his term as the President.  And he doesn’t have any particular comment to make on this particular issue right now.

Question:  On the conference on culture and religion that President d’Escoto is organizing with Saudi Arabia, do you have any more details on the format the debate will take?  And also, there have been comments or criticism from NGOs that the President of the General Assembly, part of whose job it is to uphold the convention on Human Rights, part of which is freedom of religion, is organizing an event within the General Assembly with a country that doesn’t grant religious freedom to its citizens.

Spokesperson:  In terms of the details of the meeting itself, the details are being worked out right now.  What I know at this stage is that there is going to be an interactive dialogue and we’ll have several speakers who will be inter-dialoguing with the Member countries on the issue of the dialogue of religions.  On the second part of your question, the President of the General Assembly is very happy that we’re going to have a meeting on dialogue of religions here in New York at the General Assembly, because he believes that we should go beyond the dialogue itself.  That now the different religions should join forces and work together to try to resolve the most important issues that humanity is now facing, especially the MDGs.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Enrique, what measures has the President of the Assembly taken to ensure that the group of experts coming to discuss the global financial crisis is widely geographically represented?

Spokesperson:  He is very sensitive to that and he has been discussing with some of the different Missions and some of the different leaders and he is going to make very, very clear that he will be bringing people from the different regions.  Right now, we have already confirmation of some of them.  I can give you some of the names.  We’re going to have the American economist Joseph Stiglitz, and Prabhat Patraik from India, and also we have Francois Houtart from Belgium. And he is now trying to see who else, especially from Latin America and Africa and other regions, will be coming.  But certainly he has made as one of the priorities to have a very geographically well-balanced team of experts coming here.

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