23 October 2008


23 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 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.  And bienvenue, à vous autres étudiants de Québec qui sont avec nous aujourd’hui (and welcome to you students from Quebec who are here with us today).

**Guest at Noon Briefing Today

Our guest at the noon briefing today is the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Executive Director, Achim Steiner.  He will brief on “Paint for the Planet”, an exhibit organized by UNEP involving young artists from around the world, whose work will be auctioned to raise funds for UNICEF.  Two of these artists, Gabrielle Medovoy and Andrew Bartolo, will be joining him in this room in a few minutes.  Following the press conference, Mr. Steiner will head to the UN Visitors’ Lobby to open the exhibit.

**Secretary General -- Panellists

As we announced yesterday, the Secretary-General held an informal meeting this morning on the financial crisis.  He exchanged views with Joseph Stiglitz of Columbia University; Kenneth Rogoff of Harvard University; Dani Rodrik of the Kennedy School of Government; Nancy Birdsall, President of the Center for Global Development; Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and Kemal Dervis, the head of UNDP.  Their discussions lasted an hour and a half.  They discussed prospects for the world economy, and how the present financial crisis will affect the emerging economies, as well as the least developed countries.  They exchanged views on financing for development, the international reserve system, trade, the regulatory role multilateral institutions can play, as well as reforms of the existing institutions.  They also discussed the upcoming November 15 meeting in Washington, which the Secretary General will attend, as well as the upcoming conference in Doha at the end of November.

The issue of the financial crisis will also be raised tomorrow at the regular meeting of the UN Chief Executives Board that will be attended by the heads of the specialized agencies and Bretton Woods institutions.  There will be a stakeout tomorrow after the meeting, at around 6 p.m., with the Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang, and the Administrator of UNDP, Kemal Derviş.

**World Food Day Observance at UNHQ

The observation of World Food Day here at UN Headquarters is taking place at 1 p.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.  The Secretary-General will take part in the event, along with the Presidents of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, and the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization.  Former U.S. President Bill Clinton will give the keynote address.

In his remarks, the Secretary-General is expected to focus on how the turmoil in the global economy is affecting the poorest of the poor, and that resolute action is needed now.  A comprehensive approach to food security is needed, one that confronts high food and energy prices, as well as climate change and sustainable development.  He urged Governments, when they attend next month’s Financing for Development Conference in Doha, to make sure that the financial crisis does not undermine their commitments to provide more aid and other resources for achieving the Millennium Development Goals and confronting new development challenges.  We have the text of his speech upstairs.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on India

We also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.  The Secretary-General warmly congratulates the Government and people of India for the successful launching of the Chandrayaan 1 spacecraft.  This achievement is yet another manifestation of the importance that India attaches to the quest for knowledge and scientific advancement.  The Secretary-General is confident that this mission and its scientific research will make a valuable contribution to India's continued development and to human progress.

** Haiti

On Haiti, the damage from this year’s hurricane season has dealt a severe blow to Haiti’s efforts to combat poverty.  Although the UN and other agencies continue to seek cash for emergency life-saving humanitarian work, only $24.8 million out of the required $106 million has been committed.  That’s the state of affairs today in Haiti as Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes begins an official visit there.  Holmes will review the progress in meeting the humanitarian needs of the hurricane-struck island.  He’ll discuss disaster preparedness with the Government, and appeal for greater and faster assistance to Haiti.  He’ll also visit Gonaïves, the city hardest hit by the storms.

Holmes’s visit comes less than a day after World Bank President Robert Zoellick toured Haiti’s disaster areas.  Two weeks after he announced a $25 million emergency grant to Haiti, Zoellick again stressed the Bank’s strong commitment to help the island out of this humanitarian crisis.

More than a million people were variously affected by the storms; some 790 people died, and several hundred were injured.  And today, the World Food Programme (WFP) said that it has been handing out 5,000 tonnes of food to more than half a million people, about half of these in Gonaïves alone.  WFP also flew some 50,000 two-week food rations to the flooded area of Artibonite.  It is also ensuring that 500,000 schoolchildren are given breakfast and lunchtime meals.  With the help of local volunteers, it is also working to restore storm-hit schools.

** Cuba /Flooding

Talking about the same storms, UN agencies are seeking $30 million to help storm survivors in Cuba.  Four tropical storms and hurricanes devastated the country between mid-August and early September, leaving hundreds of thousands of homes destroyed and significantly damaging the country’s infrastructure.

In other news, a UN disaster assessment and coordination team is being deployed to Honduras.  The country has been especially hard-hit by recent heavy rainfall that has caused flooding and mudslides across Central America and Mexico.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports the displacement from Mogadishu of more than 35,000 people during September.  This brings to more than a million the number of internally displaced persons [IDPs] in Somalia.  OCHA says the new wave of internally displaced persons was caused by bouts of violence between the Government, its allies and various armed opposition groups.

The IDPs live in extremely dire conditions, with diseases such as acute diarrhoea claiming dozens of lives every month.  Water shortages and long spells of drought have seriously weakened coping mechanisms in rural settings.  Widespread insecurity, meanwhile, ensures that much of the assistance does not reach those in need.  UN flights into Mogadishu, for example, have been suspended following a ban by an Islamist insurgency group a month ago.  Even so, the World Food Programme and its partner NGOs have been able to feed some 2 million people in recent weeks.

** Darfur

On Darfur, the first group of the Bangladeshi Multi-role Logistics Unit, comprising 163 personnel, arrived in Nyala, South Darfur, today, giving the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur [UNAMID] a much needed boost in logistical support.

UNAMID reports that the remaining 162 officers are expected to arrive tomorrow.  Today’s deployment brings the total number of UNAMID forces in Darfur to 8,917.

**Security Council

The Security Council held a meeting on peace and security in Africa this morning, to hear from Djibouti’s President, Ismail Omar Guelleh, about the recent tensions between Djibouti and Eritrea.  An Eritrean representative also spoke.

By the way, today’s formal meeting was the 6,000th meeting held by the Security Council.

**Refugee Children

The UN refugee agency's top protection official has called for the creation of asylum and migration practices which take greater account of the specific needs of children.

The call was made at a conference in the United States, organized by the US State Department's Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration, aimed at improving the timeliness and effectiveness of protection for the more than 1.6 million children who –- either as refugees, internally displaced persons or migrants –- have become separated from their parents or guardians.  Many unaccompanied children have survived arduous and dangerous journeys to escape persecution, human rights violations and violence.  An estimated 1.2 million children are the victims of exploitation by human traffickers, while unknown numbers have been sent by caregivers, willingly or otherwise, to countries that offer the promise of a better future.

**United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT)

UN-HABITAT has launched its State of the World’s Cities report.  Half of humanity now lives in cities, and within two decades, nearly 60 per cent of the world’s people will be urban dwellers.  Urban growth is most rapid in the developing world, where cities gain an average of 5 million residents every month.

The report said that income distribution varies considerably among less-developed regions, with the divide most noticeable in African and Latin American cities.  The report warned of unrest should Governments fail to tackle the urban poverty crisis more seriously.  There is more information in a press release upstairs.

I will stop here because, obviously, we have our guest who has some time limits, Mr. Steiner.  And we also have the General Assembly Spokesperson.

**Press Conferences Today

But I will just tell you that, at 1.30 p.m. today, there is a press conference by Tomas Ojea Quintana, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar.

And at 2.30 p.m., Mr. Vitit Muntarbhorn, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, will brief as well.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

At 10.15 a.m. tomorrow, there will be press conference by Manfred Nowak, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Following that, at 11:15 a.m., Sergey Kislyak, Russian Ambassador to the US and an expert on weapons of mass destruction, will brief you on a new initiative to break the logjam on nuclear non-proliferation.

And at 3 p.m., there is a press conference by Raquel Rolnik, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living.

If you don’t mind, I won’t take questions at this time because Mr. Steiner has to be at 12:45 elsewhere, so I will invite first Enrique to brief you.  And I will be, of course, open to answer your questions this afternoon at any time in my office.  Thank you.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you, Michèle, and I’ll try then to be also very quick.  Good afternoon, bon après-midi.

On the occasion of the World Food Day event today, which will take place in a few minutes, as Michèle just said, President d’Escoto would like to underline -- and I quote -- “The need and determination to take on the urgent challenge of a confluence of crisis that requires courageous, simultaneous and mutually reinforcing solutions.  We are dealing with the global crises of food security, climate change, energy and the global economic meltdown.  We see them as interrelated problems that all require complex, and long-term solutions.  This meeting also highlights the fact that world leaders –- not to mention the billions of people around the world who have entrusted the United Nations with their well-being -- are turning to the United Nations for solutions.  People have lost confidence in quick fixes.  In not only base solutions often orchestrated by the very same people and institutions that have created the problems in the first place.”

And finally I would like also to mention that yesterday, the Council of Presidents of the General Assembly, which is a group of former presidents of the General Assembly, held its annual meeting here and the Council congratulated President d’Escoto and pledged its support in working closely with him in strengthening the role of the General Assembly.  They also expressed their appreciation to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for the important initiatives that he has undertaken since he has taken office.

The Council of Presidents was established in 1997 as a mechanism to coordinate the collective diplomatic and international experience of its former presidents with the aim of supporting the work of the United Nations, in particular the General Assembly’s.

And this is all I have for you.  I think we are going to be a little bit quick but I’m going to take a few questions.  Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The conference in Washington, on November 15th -- will the President be attending that, and what is the position of the President on that conference?

Spokesperson:  The President of the General Assembly welcomes certainly the initiative and the declaration of the leading industrial and developed countries that are actively expressing their concerns regarding the current financial situation, with the meeting in Washington on the 15th of November.

But let me put it very bluntly -- because the President wants me to explain this very bluntly –- he believes, President d’Escoto believes, that the solutions and the dialogue should not come only from the G-8.  And it should not come only from the G-20, or the G-40, for that matter.  That it should come from the G-192, which is the General Assembly of the United Nations.  And that is his official position on the meeting in Washington.

Question:  Will he also be making any appeal to that effect, to the world leaders meeting in Washington, saying that the G-8 or G-20, that these people are not offering solutions?

Spokesperson:  He has already made that publicly, several times –- as you know, he has called an urgent meeting, here, at the General Assembly of the United Nations, which will be taking place on 30 October.  And he’s asking some experts from all over the world, from the different regions of the world, to brief the Member States, to discuss with the Member States, to interdialogue with the Member States, and to prepare a document which will be the base for discussion for the next high-level meeting where the restructuring and the reorganization of the financial international organizations structure, or architecture, will be discussed.

Question:  (inaudible) the restructuring of Bretton Woods institution?

Spokesperson:  As President d’Escoto has made very clear, even before this crisis started, when he started his presidency, the democratization of the United Nations was his top priority, and he called, if you remember well, that he was going to have three high-level meetings:  one to review the financial institutions, Bretton Woods among others; the second on the revitalization of the General Assembly; and the third on the reform of the Security Council.  Action has already been taken on these three fronts.

And I don’t have much time but, Matthew, you have…

Question:  Yeah, I know, very fast.  This morning we had a press conference here by the Association of Caribbean States, who said that they’re going to introduce, or are preparing, a resolution to make the Caribbean States an area for sustainable development.  I don’t know if you’re aware of… are you aware of this resolution, what Committee it would go to, and whether the President of the General Assembly has any… thinks it’s a good idea or not?

Spokesperson:  The President of the General Assembly is aware of the resolution, the President of the General Assembly has met with the group and have been discussing with them about it, but certainly this is a decision to be taken by the full 192 Member States.

Question:  There’s also this report in Corriere della Sera in Italy of, quoting Mr. d’Escoto that “the worst unpunished crime in the world today is the war in Iraq, it had no justification”, and he was sure that God wanted him to serve as the President of the GA.  Are these new comments? Where do these comments come from?

Spokesperson:  Well, those comments were made in an interview by the correspondent of Corriere della Sera two days ago in his office.

Question:  And, just one last thing, this idea of his advisers, is there a list of his advisers and experts he’s… and their compensation?

Spokesperson:  Yes, we have a list and we’re going to put forward to you.

No more questions?

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