16 October 2008


16 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.

Good afternoon, all.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Alan Doss, and the UN Mission there are deeply concerned about the protection of vulnerable populations in North Kivu.  Doss said the fighting in that region has driven civilians out of their homes to seek protection and shelter at a UN peacekeepers’ base.  He said the peacekeepers have, since then, been sharing their food rations with some 400 mothers and their children.

Doss also said that the Mission is reassessing its approach to the protection of civilians in the area, with the aim of reducing operational constraints.  That is necessary because protection work has become more difficult because of the hostility UN peacekeepers face in North Kivu and elsewhere.  UN personnel, he noted, face situations daily in which they must first protect themselves from hostile crowds before they can come to the aid of vulnerable populations.

** Somalia

On Somalia, a third round of direct talks between the Somali Transitional Federal Government and the opposition will take place on 25-26 October in Djibouti.  That’s according to a statement by the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, under whose chairmanship the negotiations have been taking place.  Ould-Abdallah said he was hopeful that significant progress would be achieved at the talks.  He also said that the UN and the World Bank are planning to hold an international donors’ conference early next year to seek funding for a one-year recovery programme for Somalia.  A preparatory meeting for that conference is due to take place on Monday in Stockholm.

There’s more in a press release upstairs.

** Zimbabwe

On Zimbabwe, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has called for urgent action to address Zimbabwe’s education system, which UNICEF describes as once the best such system in Africa.

The current education system is suffering due to a combination of low salaries, poor attendance by both teachers and students, and transport and food problems.

Routine monitoring visits in recent weeks found that, with national exams looming, some 40 per cent of the country’s teachers were attending lessons, a third of pupils were reporting for classes and district education officers were ill-equipped to run national exams.

“The current education crisis has crippled schools across the country leaving most schools operating way below capacity and the sector in an apparent state of emergency,” the agency said in a news release.

** Sri Lanka

In Sri Lanka this morning, a major UN food convoy en route to the north of the island nation was forced to turn back due to fighting.

The United Nations Resident Coordinator in Colombo says they will immediately seek renewed security assurances from the two sides before attempting the route again tomorrow morning.

Meanwhile, the United Nations continues to dispatch major food convoys into the Wanni, in an effort to reach civilians displaced behind the lines of confrontation in these two northern districts.

The 50-truck World Food Programme operation carrying 750 metric tons of food left the northern town of Vavuniya this morning.  It is expected to reach, by this evening the estimated 230,000 civilians forced from their homes by fighting.

The convoy is the second in as many weeks, and is part of an ongoing operation to supply humanitarian aid to the displaced civilians moving to avoid fighting between the Government of Sri Lanka forces and the Tamil Tigers.

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in addition to the urgent food requirements the onset of monsoon rains in northern Sri Lanka has made providing shelter for the recently displaced people an urgent priority.

** Haiti

Turning now to Haiti, the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that it is now providing regular food aid to almost half a million cyclone and tropical storm survivors.  Across the country, a total of 842,000 rations have been distributed to 485,000 people.

In the city of Gonaïves, where thousands of people are still living on the roofs of their destroyed homes or in makeshift shelters, WFP has distributed some 640,000 two-week family rations of rice, beans, cooking oil and corn-soya blend for around 266,000 people.  In order to make sure everyone in need in Gonaïves is receiving food, WFP monitors have been carrying out a door-to-door census to find out how many families are living in each house.

Meanwhile, more than 30 non-governmental organizations and United Nations and government agencies have used WFP’s humanitarian passenger service to enable them to assess their own relief work.  But despite the generosity of many donors, WFP has still raised only a little more than 30 per cent of its funding requirements.

We have more on that upstairs, and you heard yesterday from Joel Boutroue, the Resident Coordinator and Humanitarian Coordinator for Haiti.

**Security Council

The Security Council yesterday afternoon voted unanimously to extend the mandate of the group of experts dealing with Sudan sanctions by one year, until 15 October 2009.

The Council also adopted a presidential statement welcoming Guinea-Bissau’s commitment to hold legislative elections on 16 November and calling on the Government and all actors to ensure an environment conducive to transparent, free and fair elections, and to respect the results of the polls.  The Council added that it remained seriously concerned by the continued growth in drug trafficking and organized crime that threatened peace and security in Guinea-Bissau and the subregion.

And as you know, there are no Council meetings or consultations scheduled for today.


The acidification of the world’s oceans, caused by the absorption of huge volumes of carbon dioxide, is accelerating at an unprecedented rate, threatening marine ecosystems and the livelihoods of tens of millions of people.

That’s the finding of a recently concluded conference in Monaco, which had been organized by a number of partners, including the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Participants agreed that reducing carbon emissions is the only effective way of stabilizing or reversing acidification.  They added that, despite the reticence of many Governments, such reduction is both achievable and affordable.

We have more on that upstairs.

**International Labour Organization

The International Labour Organization (ILO) today published a new report on global income inequalities.

According to ILO, income inequality grew dramatically in most regions of the world and is expected to increase due to the current global financial crisis.  All this is happening despite strong economic growth that produced millions of new jobs since the 1990s.

There’s more information in a press release upstairs.

**World Food Day

Today is World Food Day.  In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says that global financial crises are exacerbating concerns about the rising food and fuel costs that have already driven 75 million people deeper into the abyss of hunger and poverty.  He also adds that widespread lack of food triggers other threats, from social unrest to environmental degradation, while undermining the well-being of an entire generation on whom the world will depend in the future.

Meanwhile, the Executive Director of the World Food Programme (WFP), Josette Sheeran, says that rising food shortages, increases in fuel costs, and profound changes in climate conditions conspired this year to bring new dimensions of suffering to the poor, depriving almost 1 billion people of the food they need to live a healthy life.

World Food Day is observed annually on 16 October, the day on which the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) was founded in 1945.  At a ceremony today at FAO headquarters in Rome, Director-General Jacques Diouf noted that the share of agriculture in public development aid has declined significantly from 1980 to 2006.  He also mentioned that financial institutions drastically reduced their funds for agriculture.  Now the funds need to come back to the previous level of investment.

Among the activities planned in over 150 countries to mark this year’s World Food Day is the popular Run for Food, which will take place in Rome on the 19th of October and involve 4,000 people.

Other events are planned in Albania, Egypt, Morocco, the Republic of Korea and a number of Asian and Latin American countries during this month.  Former President of the United States Bill Clinton will participate in a World Food Day ceremony at UN Headquarters in New York on 23 October.

We have all the messages upstairs for that day.


Tomorrow is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty.  To mark the occasion, UN staff, students and representatives from delegations and non-governmental organizations will “Stand Up against Poverty and for the Millennium Development Goals”.  The ceremony will take place tomorrow from 11 a.m. to noon near the Peace Bell.

Participants will symbolically stand up to pledge their support to the fight against poverty and to call on world leaders to deliver on their commitments to meet the Millennium Development Goals.  Cast members from the Broadway musical A Tale of Two Cities will perform.

Brief remarks will be made by the President of the General Assembly, the Deputy Secretary-General, the UN Development Programme’s Associate Administrator and the Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information.

There will also be a press conference, which starts at 11 a.m. here in this room.  Briefers will include Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, the United Nations Independent Expert on the question of human rights and extreme poverty.

And this is all I have for you.  Thank you.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yesterday, the former Special Representative of the Secretary-General to Western Sahara was here giving testimony, if you will, about some of the grievances in Western Sahara.  Does the Secretary-General have any response to this press conference he gave, and some of the comments he brought up about, he said, the UN has failed in that region?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has expressed clearly at his last press conference where he stands on Western Sahara.  He wants the talks to continue.  And he is going to have another Special Envoy who is going to pursue the talks.  I don’t think the Secretary-General will respond specifically to those comments.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  [Inaudible]...in Liberia, this otherwise [inaudible] civil society protest calling for a war crimes court in Liberia was blocked from bringing its cause before the United Nations and that there is...  UNMIL itself blocked the advocates from conducting a perfectly legal demonstration.  Are you aware of it and is there any response to it?

Spokesperson:  No, I’m not aware of it and I will try to find out what happened.

Question:  And also, there is this “People’s initiative” in Sudan convened by President Al-Bashir in Darfur.  Some people say it doesn’t have ... there are armed rebels involved, therefore, it’s a non-starter.  Does the Secretary-General or UNAMID or Mr. Bassole or anyone in the UN system have any view of whether it’s a positive step forward, this people’s initiative in Sudan?

Spokesperson:  Well, actually, you know, Mr. Bassole is at the meeting right now.  So I’ll let you know what his reaction is once the meeting is over.

Question:  One more thing.  There is a report out yesterday by the Board of Auditors of the UN system.  A section of it concerns the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS) and it says that the rate of auditing has been low in 2006 and 2007, and that OIOS should be required to complete the risk-based framework of the audit division.  It makes critiques of OIOS.  I wanted to know first, I know that OIOS is semi-independent, but partially under the Secretary-General.  If he has any view; who he is it that’s going to make the OIOS do these things, until, if we can have Inga-Britt Ahlenius, now that she has briefed the Fifth Committee on her report, have to appear for the first time in this room.

Spokesperson:  Well, I’ll ask her.  But in terms of this back and forth between the Member States and the different organs or Departments within the UN, this is a normal process that occurs every year where you have discussions on different issues.  You asked me a similar question, I think about DPI, two days ago.  The process is ongoing.  We’re not going to comment on every single criticism that is made, or every response that is made by each department.  You know, it’s...

Question:  [Inaudible]... years in a row it’s gone wrong.  So I think it’s totally fair to say what’s being done to address the...

Spokesperson:  Well, I think we can find out once they have answered the Member States.  Once they have answered the Member States, that will give you also an answer.  This is an intergovernmental process.  Yes, Omar?

Question:  I just want to know, yesterday in Geneva at the talks between Russia and Georgia, [inaudible]...and Ban Ki-moon says; Ban Ki-moon was there.  In what level was he involved in those talks?  Did he try to contact the leaders of the two countries or did he do anything?  And the failure of the talks why he was there, was it to see [inaudible]...undermining his moral authority?

Spokesperson:  Well, I’m sorry you were not here, Omar, yesterday.  I spoke at length about it.  Essentially the Secretary-General was there for consultations prior to the meetings.  He did not participate in the technical meetings.  He did participate at a working dinner with the secretariat of the European Union and the secretariat of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).  So, the discussions went on and we have an extensive [inaudible] upstairs on that and you can have more information.  Of course, the Secretary-General gave a press briefing.  You can have those remarks that he made.  And in terms of the actual technical briefing itself, the technical meetings took place after the initial day, when the Secretary-General had already left.  The Secretary-General was represented by Johan Verbeke, his Special Representative for Georgia.

Question:  Yesterday, the G-8 announced they’re going to hold a global financial summit as early as November and President Sarkozy demanded that it take place in New York and suggested it be similar to the UN and Bretton Woods conference from the 1940s.  Is the Secretary-General aware of any of this or are they any talks?  Would the UN be ... any information on this if the UN is going to get involved?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have anything concrete yet in terms of what the G-8 is planning to do.  The Secretary-General is in constant contact over this issue.  As you know, the whole issue of the financial crisis is the primary concern right now.  He has expressed that concern over the fact, essentially, that he’s afraid that this might hamper the development agenda.  As you know there was a meeting about the Millennium Development Goals and at least $16 billion were pledged.  And for the Secretary-General it is imperative that the commitments made at that conference be carried on and be implemented.  So, to him it is essential that, first in terms of assistance to the developing world, that the pledges become a reality.  So those are his concerns.  As you know, there are a number of ongoing initiatives.  I am sorry that Enrique is not here today, but he mentioned to you already the fact that there is going to be a meeting at the General Assembly level, a meeting of Member States over that issue.  The Secretary-General is having also a meeting next week of all our CEB, what we call the CEB, the Chief Executives Board, which brings together the heads of all the agencies, including the Bretton Woods institutions, and the issue of the financial crisis is going to be at the centre of that meeting.  So what we’re trying to do is arrange some form of briefing for you even though the CEB is a closed meeting among executives.  But we’re going to try to arrange for you some form of information briefing afterwards, or before or after.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  Michèle, the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea has now been withdrawn.  The Secretary-General has submitted his last report and yet the conflict remains open because the pillars have not been planted around the borders.  Is the Secretary-General concerned about possible outbreak of violence?  And are there any efforts made in the context of preventive diplomacy?

Spokesperson:  There are certainly efforts being made.  But as you know, it was not our decision to withdraw the peacekeepers.  And so, we had to fall back because we could no longer operate.  Yes, Lou?

Question:  The Georgia-Russia talks yesterday failed or fell apart for the time being, essentially because of the failure to reach an agreement on whether the representatives of Abkhazia and South Ossetia should be present.  In light of the fact that things have for now fallen apart, does the Secretary-General have a view on whether it might be good in the future to have representatives from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, either formally or informally?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the meeting was organized by the European Union and the Secretary-General was invited to co-host that meeting and his Special Representative co-hosted that meeting; Mr. Verbeke.  What I can try to get for you is more information on what happened during the technical briefing.  All I can tell you at this point is that they have already decided on a date to meet again, which means that the talks are not a complete failure.

Question:  Right.  It’s just that this is a key issue and I am sure that all sides are interested in the Secretary-General’s views as an objective outsider and whether it would be a good idea to have these representatives there or not.  It’s obviously very important for the Russians from their perspective, and the Georgians have a very strong view on it as well.

Spokesperson:  As you know, the Secretary-General agreed to co-host that meeting so he is certainly in favour of dialogue.  The form of that dialogue and the format of that dialogue, of course, has to be discussed between the parties, and this is what was attempted in Geneva.

Question:  On this issue of what they’re calling the news blackout; the idea that the news media could not even cover the entrance and exit of officials to this meeting.  It seems like the meeting took place in United Nations premises.  So what was the UN’s involvement in the decision in implementation of barring the press from covering the meeting?

Spokesperson:  As I said yesterday, it was just a short while in which the press could not cover because of the sensitivity of the issue.  Personally, I do know that afterwards there was a press briefing.  As I said yesterday, Mr. Verbeke spoke at the press briefing and Mr. Bernard Kouchner, the Foreign Minister of France, also spoke at that meeting representing the EU.  So what I am saying is that the news blackout you are referring to was at a certain time during the proceedings.  It was upon the request of the participants.

Question:  Was it so that people couldn’t see whether Abkhazia and South Ossetia went inside?  And to who was the UN...?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have those details.

Question:  ...in headquarters here, apparently, is it the UN’s position that they could say to the press you can’t cover the entry or exit of somebody into the building.  And if so, under what...

Spokesperson:  No, this has nothing to do with the UN.  The Palais des Nations was used as the place, as a venue.  The UN was not the one controlling who was coming in and out or controlling what the press was doing.  I can get for you some information on that so-called press blackout, which lasted a little while and did not cover the whole meeting; of course not.  So I’ll try to get more information for you on how it was done.  But you know, in cases like this, the main participants are the ones deciding on access.

Question:  Right.  Even if it is the UN building that’s why there is, like, the Media and Accreditation Liaison.  Like, there is always, like, the right of the press to cover something in the building.  If they wanted to do it somewhere else, they can do it somewhere else.  But isn’t the UN in control of press freedom and press access if an event is inside the UN?

Spokesperson:  Not necessarily.  If a meeting is closed, you don’t have access to it.

Question:  I know, but this was about standing even outside the closed meeting.

Spokesperson:  I’d have to find out the details.  I don’t know how it happened, and I will find out the details for you.  But I don’t think that we should have a blanket conclusion before we have the facts.

Question:  That’s why I am asking.

Spokesperson:  Okay, sure.

Question:  One last question which is that there was yesterday put on the UN’s i-Seek system a petition concerning the Staff Union.  My question is really not about the petition but about how it was decided and by whom to put online the signatures and ID card numbers of several hundred UN staff members and whether that is consistent with both the privacy and/or sort of identity theft of the staff members and the safety of UN premises given that supposedly these IDs are the safe way to get into the building.  Who decided that this petition, which is opposing the current Staff Union leadership should be put online for thousands of people to see?

Spokesperson:  I assume it was put by the people who put their signatures there.

Question:  No, but I’m saying that many people...if someone else in the UN system said I want to put something in i-Seek, it doesn’t go up.  Somebody decides we’re going to put this one up.  So, who decided...?

Spokesperson: Okay, I can find out for you who decides that, but in cases like this, if the people who signed the petition wanted their names known it is...  I have to add, Matthew, that this is not a public site.  This is an internal site for UN staff.

Question:  Right.  That thousands of people see.  So, I guess not only...

Spokesperson:  Thousands of people?

Question:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  Okay, if you say so.

Question:  No, I mean, how many UN staff have access to it?

Spokesperson:  UN staff, yes.  All UN staff have access to it, yes.

Question:  And just whoever decided to put it up; were the people who signed the petition told, because I have heard complaints from people that signed it that they had no idea that their signature and information was going to be put online.  That’s not part of the petition.  So, I’m just asking; it’s just a question...

Spokesperson:  I will ask for you how it was done.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Michèle, you indicated that the World Food Programme has been contributing to distributing food in Haiti to help in the recovery.  Have organizations such as the World Bank and the Organization of Latin American States [sic] been giving any help to Haiti?

Spokesperson: Well, as you heard from Mr. Boutroue yesterday, the UN is collaborating with a number of regional organizations, private donors, NGOs and, of course, the UN system to get assistance to the people of Haiti.  So it’s really a collegial effort; it’s an effort among different partners.

Thank you very much.

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