21 October 2008


21 October 2008
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


And the spokesperson for the General Assembly president


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 Deputy Spokesperson for Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  Our guest today will be Dr. David Nabarro, the UN System Influenza Coordinator, who will brief on the status of the current avian influenza threat and the quality of the global response.

And before that, we also have the General Assembly Spokesperson, who will give you a briefing about the General Assembly.

**Secretary-General at Harvard

The Secretary-General has left this morning and is heading to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to deliver a speech to students and faculty at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government.

The speech, which he will deliver in a few hours time at the John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum, is called “Securing the common good in a time of global crises”.

It will focus on 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.

The Secretary-General is expected to say that global public goods distinguish themselves from other issues of concern because they endanger all countries, whether rich or poor, big or small, and all their people; they cross borders freely and are highly contagious; and they cannot be resolved without action by us all.

Also, at Harvard today, the Secretary-General will discuss with faculty experts the importance of securing global goods, including global financial stability.

The Secretary-General is expected to return to New York later this evening.


The Secretary-General’s report to the Security Council on the deployment of the African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) is out as a document today.

The Security Council is scheduled to take up the report on the afternoon of 28 October -- that’s next Tuesday -- and the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, who has just completed his travels to Darfur, will brief.

In the UNAMID report out today, the Secretary-General observes that the conditions required for an effective peacekeeping operation remain absent in Darfur.  The Government and the parties continue to pursue a military solution to the conflict, he notes, while little progress has been made in the implementation of the Darfur Peace Agreement.  As violence prevails, the protection of civilians remains a grave concern.

The Secretary-General notes that the Government of the Sudan has the responsibility to put an end to aerial bombardments and military offensives, which could harm civilians, and to take concrete steps towards disarming militia and Government-affiliated forces.

In addition, he urges the Government to comply with its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, in particular with regard to the protection of civilians.

He also urges rebel groups to commit to an immediate cessation of hostilities, begin serious negotiations with the Government, and fully cooperate with UNAMID.

The Secretary-General, once more, called on all those who are in a position to provide critical assets to do so immediately.  It is the responsibility of Member States to equip the Mission and empower it to perform the task entrusted to it by the Security Council, he says.  The report is upstairs on the racks.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning is holding a meeting to discuss the work of the UN’s Peacebuilding Commission.  The Chair of that Commission, Ambassador Yukio Takasu of Japan, briefed Council members on the Commission’s efforts, including those underway in Burundi, the Central African Republic, Guinea-Bissau and Sierra Leone.

**Secretary-General’s Report on Status of Women

And, also out on the racks today is the Secretary-General’s report to the General Assembly on the improvement of the status of women in the UN system, including the latest statistics, progress made and obstacles encountered in achieving gender balance, as well as recommendations for accelerating progress.

In the report, the Secretary-General stressed that the pace of progress towards the goal of gender parity has been slow, even marginal, and added that this regrettable trend must be addressed with urgency.

He did, however, underline that in spite of the marginal progress, the issue of gender balance in the UN system has gained prominence since the last reporting period.  This, together with an increased awareness of the absence of even suboptimal progress since the previous reporting period, has contributed significantly to this renewed interest, which has the potential of instigating concrete advances in a stagnant situation.

The report shows that in the UN system, the representation of women in the professional and higher categories increased negligibly from 36.9 per cent to 38.4 per cent between December 2004 and December 2007 –- an annual average increase of only 0.5 per cent.

In the Secretariat, the percentage of women staff in the professional and higher categories showed a meagre improvement of 0.2 percent during the two-year period from 1 July 2006 to 30 June 2008, increasing from 37.4 to 37.6 per cent.

The report includes information on the representation of women in organizations and agencies of the UN system from 1 January 2005 to the end of last year, and the UN Secretariat from 1 July 2006 to 30 June 2008.

Stressing that efforts must be made to overcome the UN system’s informal organizational cultures which constrain the advancement of women staff, the Secretary-General reiterated his commitment to achieving gender parity in the Secretariat.

** Haiti

And, turning to the Under-Secretary-General of Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, he will be travelling to Haiti this Thursday and Friday to review the response to the humanitarian crisis caused by the storms that recently hit the country.

During his visit, Holmes will visit with Haitian leaders and representatives of the UN system, and non-governmental organizations.  He will also visit the city of Gonaïves, which was devastated by the hurricanes.  And there’s a press release with more details upstairs.

Also, today, the UN Mission in Haiti, MINUSTAH, said that a formed police unit of 140 Indian officers has completed its arrival into the country.  The Indian contingent will be based in Port-au-Prince.

** Kenya

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that there are floods in the north east and north west of Kenya.  Some 6,000 persons in the north east and 7,500 in north west Kenya have been displaced by these floods.

OCHA is concerned about contaminated water sources and disease outbreaks that threatened some 150,000 people.  Urgent needs include food supplies, rapid construction of latrines, water purification tablets, tents, covers, mosquito nets and repairs in the water supply system.

** Iraq

On Iraq, the Iraqi Ministry of Education, in partnership with UNESCO, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, has launched the Iraqi Educational TV Channel.

The channel, dubbed Iraqi Edu, is intended to supply, support the participation and involvement of primary and secondary school students in their studies through learning tools designed according to the Iraqi formal school curricula.  The channel will broadcast educational episodes 24 hours a day.  And there’s a press release on that with more information upstairs.

**International Court of Justice -- Kosovo

The International Court of Justice says that UN Member States have until 17 April 2009 to submit written statements on the question of Kosovo’s unilateral declaration of independence.  This is in relation to the General Assembly’s request to the Court for an advisory opinion on the legality under international law of Kosovo’s declaration of independence.  Kosovo authorities are also invited to make written contributions.  The subsequent procedure was reserved for further decision.

And just a couple more announcements.

**UNESCO Exhibit Opening Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 6 p.m., in the main gallery at the UN Visitors’ Lobby, the Secretary-General is scheduled to open a photo exhibit by the Wildlife Conservation Society and UNESCO.  The photo exhibit, entitled “Gateways to Conservation:  Connecting People to Nature”, features images of wildlife and world conservation sites.  There’s more information on that upstairs.

**Press Conferences on Wednesday

And on Wednesday at 11 a.m., UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) Administrator Kemal Derviş will hold a press conference to launch UNDP’s report entitled Post-Conflict Economic Recovery:  Enabling Local Ingenuity.  This report examines how countries rebuild the foundations and establish the conditions for self-sustaining, inclusive growth after emerging from violent conflict.

Later in the afternoon, or later that day, at 6 p.m., there will be a press briefing by Martin Scheinin, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism.

**UN Day Concert

A message for you, this year’s UN Day Concert will feature the Silk Road Ensemble with founder and UN Messenger of Peace, Yo-Yo Ma.  This is on Friday, at 7 p.m., in the General Assembly Hall.  The event will include statements by the Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly and the Permanent Representative of China.  The concert is sponsored by the Permanent Mission of China.  UN-accredited correspondents can obtain tickets through the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit -– you know where that is -- and that is starting tomorrow, 22 October, at 2 p.m.

The Silk Road Project will hold a breakfast briefing at 9 a.m., on Friday, at UN Headquarters to announce the launch of its tenth anniversary season.  Following the briefing, journalists may watch the start of the rehearsal, and there’s more information on who to contact on all this, upstairs in the Spokesperson’s office.

That’s what I have for you, and I’d like to turn over to the General Assembly Spokesperson, unless you have something for me.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The Israeli Defence Minister yesterday said that Israel is considering reviving the Saudi peace plan.  Is this something the Secretary-General would encourage?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have an immediate comment on that specific proposal, but if there is, I’ll come back to you on that.

Question:  Marie, the Secretary-General sent a letter to Javier Solana, the Security Commissioner of the European Union, yesterday, presumably.  Did he mention anything regarding the EULEX (European Union Rule of Law Mission Kosovo) reconfiguration, and how the Secretary-General is really addressing the objection that is coming in continuity now from Belgrade regarding that proposed reconfiguration?

Deputy Spokesperson:  On the question of your letter, what I can say is that, of course, the Secretary-General and Mr. Solana have exchanged a number of letters, but, as you know, most of these letters are confidential.  But, in terms of your question about EULEX, I recommend that you look at the Secretary-General’s reports, which strongly suggest EULEX’s status neutrality within the mandate of resolution 1244, established by the Security Council.

Question:  Also, can I just ask you, regarding that you mentioned that the ICJ requested the Member States to submit their written statements, if I understood.  Is that the regular procedure, the usual procedure, or something…

Deputy Spokesperson:  You’d have to ask the ICJ about that.  There’s a press release, I believe, upstairs, and I’m sure there’s a press contact on that for you.  Yes?

Question:  Well, first to follow up on Erol’s question, can you confirm that a UN official called Andrew Ladley of the standby team of mediation experts of DPA (Department of Political Affairs) has arrived in Kosovo to negotiate the reconfiguration of UNMIK (United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo)?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm that, no.

Question:  Can you also subsequently look into that and see if that is the case?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I can.

Question:  And, also, who else –- I mean, we heard when they launched that standby team, standby team of mediators, but we really haven’t heard much about their work since.  Is there a way to find out who’s been sent where, and what the results have been?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’ll look into it for you.

Question:  There’s also this refugee camp outside of Pretoria that’s apparently –- several hundred people have been left without food, water, anything else, and they’ve called for international help.  Is the UN system responding in any way to that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  If it’s a refugee camp, we’ll have to check with UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees).

Question:  I think it’s people displaced by xenophobic violence in South Africa so…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Then, perhaps they’re not refugees; as you know, refugees are people who have to flee a country and seek asylum in another country, so if it’s a camp for internally displaced persons, as you know, there is no United Nations organization mandated to look after internally displaced persons, so we can check with OCHA, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, to see which agency is currently looking into that situation.

Question:  And there’s a story in today’s Washington Post about an advance copy of the Procurement Task Force report saying, alleging corruption in DRC ( Democratic Republic of the Congo), Kenya, New York and elsewhere.  First of all, what’s the response of the Secretary-General to the picture this paints of procurement, and also, can we, at what point will we get either Mr. [Robert] Appleton or Ms. Inga-Britt Ahlenius to come in and talk about these findings and what’s being done about them?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Let me start from the beginning.  This is a report; it’s the same report that I saw, this is the OIOS (Office of Internal Oversight Services) report on the activities of the Procurement Task Force for the period of 1 July 2007 to 31 July 2008.  It came out in August of 2008 as a document, it’s been on the racks for many, many weeks, and it will be introduced to the Fifth Committee on Thursday morning, along with the Secretary-General’s comments on the report, which has also been on the racks for several weeks.  So I would draw your attention to both of these reports on the findings of the task force and the Secretary-General’s report on this. 

In addition, the Committee will have the Board of Auditors report on the activities of the Procurement Task Force and the ACABQ’s (Advisory Committee on Administrative and Budgetary Questions) report therein.  I don’t want to get too into the article which you report on because… first, read the report, and then, I think you should come up with the questions, as not all the information contained in the press report is from the report.  Okay?

Question:  Will Mr. Appleton or Ms. Ahlenius…

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, that is, again, you need to contact them to see if that’s something they’re willing to do.  As you know, we have passed on your request, and it’s really up to them if they want to come and brief you or not.

Question:  Marie, on Mauritania, the European Union has given the rulers there, following the military coup, one month to re-establish the constitutional order, or else they will sanction them, and they will come to the Security Council to ask for further sanctions.  The US has prohibited the travel of certain military leaders.  The African Union has aligned itself with the European position.  Does the Secretary-General support these moves?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on the situation in Mauritania now.  I know that the UN and the AU (African Union) are currently meeting in Addis Ababa, and I think Mauritania is one of the topics under discussion, so we can certainly follow-up and get back to you on that.

With that, I’d like to hand over to the General Assembly Spokesperson, and after that, we’ll have David Nabarro.

Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

I do not have much new to say today, but since several of you have requested some information, I’m going to go over some of issues that you’ve raised in the past few days.

First, on the issue of Western Sahara –- I think Matthew, you asked me about it –- it’s in the Fourth Committee.  I was told yesterday by Ambassador Argüello from Argentina, who is the President that a draft resolution has been successfully negotiated by the parties, and it will be discussed this afternoon in Conference Room 2, after 3 o’clock.

Then, the issue of the Great Famine in the Ukraine that –- Ann, you asked me about it –- you were asking the date, and when it was going to be discussed again.  It is now on the agenda of the General Committee session for Thursday 23rd of October.

And I think, James, you asked me about the dates for discussion of the Middle East draft resolution on nuclear proliferation and a nuclear-free-zone, which is in the First Committee, and it will take action on all the resolutions from Tuesday, 28th of October to Tuesday, 4th of November.  It is not clear yet which precise date, but it will be among those dates.

And some of you -- and I think it was you, Matthew -- wanted to know what a UN ballot looks like, and voila, here it is.  Okay, this is basically, you have the six official languages, and delegates are requested to write down the names on them.  And, probably, this is what happened –- you were right, there was one vote for Australia, on last Friday.  And only the delegate who put down the name knows whether this is a mistake or whether it was the right choice.

And on that note, I finished.  Unless you have any particular question.

**Questions and Answers

Spokesperson:  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Enrique, you had announced the composition of the interactive panel on the global financial crisis, and I noticed that there are four experts on the panel -- one from North America, one from Europe, one from Asia, and one from Latin America.  What happened to the African continent?

Spokesperson:  The list is not closed yet, so I will give you more details once the whole list is finished.  But the list –- those are the main names, but it’s not finished yet.  As you know, this was a very urgent meeting, and has been taking a lot of rush to organize it.

Question:  Yesterday, the Assembly passed a resolution to erect a memorial to victims of the slave trade.  Is there any timeline as to when that memorial will be erected and the costs, and who’s funding it?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the details with me, but I will check that for you too and come back to you.  Matthew?

Question:  This morning in the Fifth Committee, the spokesman for the Group of 77 and China made reference to a –- said: “The General Assembly never approved a 2 per cent reduction across the board”, speaking of the UN budget.  I wanted to know, first, whether this is now –- I’ve heard this, but is it confirmed -- that the Secretary-General sought to cut all portions of the UN budget by 2 per cent?  Is it true that the General Assembly never approved it, and if so, what does the President of the General Assembly think of the Secretariat moving unilaterally on the budget?

Spokesperson:  Okay, I don’t have any details on the budget, but I will check for you again too.  Okay.  As you know, there are many things going on and difficult to keep track on all the different committees but I’ll check.

I will.  Thank you.  Any other questions?  

Thank you very much.

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