4 November 2008


4 November 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.

This feels like a very private affair, since we cannot be watched from the televisions upstairs.  We had nothing to do with this.  The whole Time Warner cable system is down.  Okay, good afternoon, all.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning held its first consultations during the month of November and adopted its programme of work for the month.

Ambassador Jorge Urbina of Costa Rica, the new Security Council President, will brief you in this room about the Council’s work during the coming month, just after my briefing.  It will be at 12:30 p.m., so we’ll try to fit everything in.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

Fighting has resumed in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and continues intermittently between PARECO, an ethnic militia, and rebels led by Laurent Nkunda, according to the UN Mission there (MONUC).  As of now, the violence appears to be limited to the village of Kiwanja, some 2 kilometres outside Rutshuru, in rebel-held territory.  The Mission said that UN peacekeepers at a nearby base appear to be trapped in the crossfire.  The peacekeepers have yet to report any casualties among their ranks, but there is mounting concern that the intensity of the gunfire may have caused some damage.  The Mission says it has temporarily suspended a humanitarian assessment mission in the area and gathered aid workers in a safe house to wait out the gun battle.

The ceasefire, however, appears to be holding in the provincial capital of Goma.  And UN peacekeepers are beefing up their numbers there, with two additional companies arriving today and a formed police unit expected tomorrow.  There are currently 5,000 UN peacekeepers in North Kivu, 1,700 of them in Goma alone.

Meanwhile, the head of UN Peacekeeping, Alain Le Roy, and the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Alan Doss, are continuing their visit to North Kivu.  Earlier today they visited internally displaced persons camps and UN military bases in the region, before meeting with humanitarian workers.  They also met with the Congolese Prime Minister and the international facilitation, including European Union and United States representatives.

Still on the DRC, up to 100,000 people -- around 60 per cent of whom are children -- have fled their homes due to heavy fighting between armed groups in North Kivu last week.

Around 250,000 people are believed to have been displaced in the last two months, bringing the total number of internally displaced to around 1 million, or 20 per cent of the entire North Kivu population.

UNICEF says the condition of newly displaced children and women is desperate.  Thousands of them have had very little to eat since fleeing.  Their access to clean water and health care has been minimal.  Hundreds of children are presumed to have been separated from their families, forced to fend for their survival on their own.

The World Health Organization (WHO) says increasing quantities of medical supplies are being provided by foreign Governments to save lives in eastern DRC, but WHO is calling for more support to meet urgent health needs.

The World Food Programme (WFP) reports that it would start distributing a 10-day ration to more than 135,000 people in six camps around Goma.  The distributions would all happen on the same day to prevent unrest.

WFP says it was moving more food from Uganda and Zambia into the DRC, and there were some contingency stocks available in Bukavu.  Security and access remained the main concern for WFP and all humanitarians in the area.  They needed better guarantees from all sides for safe passage of humanitarian staff and goods.

The UN refugee agency, meanwhile, says as it had feared, three internal displacement sites run by UNHCR near the town of Rutshuru have been destroyed and emptied.  UNHCR and its partners are now trying to determine the whereabouts of tens of thousands of internally displaced people from the camps in the Rutshuru area.

Since the fighting died down last week, this is the first time UNHCR and other agencies have been given access into the territory north of Goma, now controlled by the forces of General Laurent Nkunda.

Still on the DRC, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said a mobile UN human rights team was allowed into the area controlled by the CNDP forces of Laurent Nkunda yesterday.

The Office says this was the first time that they had access to rebel-held areas since the crisis had started.  This was a welcome development, it says.

However, the team was accompanied by an armed member of the CNDP, which compromised severely their ability to conduct interviews with people and to find out what was going on.  The team would try again today.

One of the issues that the team was trying to look into was the report of targeted killings coming out of the rebel-held areas.  They had so far not heard any allegations about large-scale atrocities.  The focus had been more on the kind of precise, targeted killings and the general creation of panic, fear and confusion which had driven people from their homes and camps.

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo today expressed concern about the situation in the Kivus and recalled that his Office is closely monitoring information about attacks against civilian populations, forced displacement of populations, murders, rapes, pillaging and looting reported to be taking place in the recent armed confrontations in the province of North Kivu.  He calls on all parties to the conflict and regional actors to put an end to the crimes.

** Darfur

The United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that UNAMID police undertook yesterday their ninth convoy from the UN logistics base in El Obeid to Darfur, to bring much-needed equipment and vehicles to the Mission area.

The convoy comprised 39 vehicles, including seven trucks of contingent-owned equipment and three trucks of humanitarian relief.

The 900-kilometre journey took place over some of the worst terrain in the region, particularly during the rainy season.

The Mission says these convoys are also an opportunity for UNAMID police to make contact with the local population along the route, as well as develop better working relations with the local police.

** Iraq

We have upstairs a press release from the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) on the important decision by the Iraqi Council of Representatives to allocate specific seats for representatives of Iraq’s minorities on the provincial councils.

Although the amendment does not reflect a larger number of seats for Iraqi minorities, consistent with UNAMI’s original proposal, the UN Mission respects the Council of Representatives’ decision, which was adopted by a majority of 106 votes and is binding for the current elections. 

The adoption of the amendment to the electoral law should be seen, the Mission says, as a contribution towards furthering the respect for human rights and democracy in Iraq, through the commitment of the Iraqi institutions to recognize and guarantee minority representation in their elected governing bodies.

**Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

The UN refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that more refugees and migrants have crossed the Mediterranean and the Gulf of Aden by sea in the first 10 months of 2008 than in all of 2007.  These estimates are based on both official and unofficial sources.

UNHCR is working to improve reception conditions in Yemen.  At the same time, it is trying to improve the living conditions of people with protection needs in the Horn of Africa so they don’t need to risk their lives by making the crossing from Somalia to Yemen.

Meanwhile, UNHCR is reporting another case of smugglers throwing some of their passengers overboard in the Gulf of Aden.  Survivors tell UNHCR that their boat left northern Somalia on Friday.  On Sunday, when they were in sight of the coast of Yemen, smugglers demanded more money.  Passengers who did not, or could not, pay were severely beaten.  Up to 40 people -- mostly Ethiopians -- were thrown overboard despite their pleas for mercy.

Twelve bodies have so far washed up on the beach, 28 people remain missing.  The other 75 people who were on the boat made it to shore and are receiving help at a UNHCR reception centre in Yemen.

** Somalia

On Somalia, UNICEF has condemned the stoning death last week in Kismayo of a 13-year-old Somali girl convicted of adultery by an Islamist court.  The agency says that information available to it suggests instead that Aisha Duhulow was harassed and then raped by three men while she was travelling on foot between her hometown of Kismayo and Mogadishu, where she intended to visit relatives.

UNICEF said the incident highlights the vulnerability of girls and women in Somalia, for whom violence and discrimination are intensified by the effects of chronic conflict and displacement.

**United Nations Conference on Trade and Development

According to a new report by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) international seaborne trade in 2007, driven by emerging and transition economies, surpassed a record 8 billion tons.

But the report also notes that shipping prices have recently been dropping.  That significant decline shows that the unfolding financial crisis has spread to international trade.

According to UNCTAD, the shift in prices might have negative implications for developing countries, especially those dependent on commodities.  We have more on that upstairs.

**Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) has helped launch a new forum to develop gender and poverty-sensitive energy policies in the Asia-Pacific region.

The forum brings together experts and policymakers.  It addresses concerns that progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals may be hampered by a lack of energy supply in many rural areas in the region, as well as by the food, fuel and financial crises.  There is more information in a press release upstairs.

**United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization

The UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) reports that the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity was established today in Istanbul.  The List is designed to give more visibility to the world’s living heritage.  It consists of the 90 cultural elements that have been proclaimed Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO. Examples include a kabuki theatre in Japan, a type of samba from Brazil, barkcloth-making in Uganda and Vanuatu sand drawings.  The full list is available upstairs.

**Press Conference Today

And just to remind you that, at 3 p.m. here, there will be a press conference by Githu Muigai, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.

And of course, you will remember that at 12:30 p.m. we have the President of the Security Council for the month.  Do you have questions?  Yes, George?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Two questions.  Firstly, is Mr. Muigai, by his job description, in any way involved with the forthcoming racism Durban II conference against racial intolerance, etc, etc?

Spokesperson:  No, not particularly.

Question:  Not particularly?

Spokesperson:  He is a Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights [Council].

Question:  Human Rights [Council], but I can ask him something related?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  You know, you can have a lot more information.  There is a lot of information.  If you go on the website, you’ll have a lot of information on that Durban Conference.

Question:  Okay, I’ll get the web address.  You mentioned also -- I want to make sure I’ve got these numbers correct -- 1 million people, which was 20 per cent of the population of, I think you said the single province of North Kivu, is it?  In other words, there must be 5 million people in North Kivu.  Does that 5 million figure include native Congolese residents of North Kivu or all the people in the camps and the refugees etc, etc?

Spokesperson:  I assume it involves everyone living there.

Question:  Including refugees in various camps or settlements?

Spokesperson:  I can only assume so.  But you can get more information, of course, from the agency on what type of what numbers they use.

Question:  Michèle, the Secretary-General said yesterday that he understood that President [Joseph] Kabila had agreed to meet Laurent Nkunda today.  The Congolese Government said it would not hold direct talks with Mr. Nkunda.  Is the Secretary-General disappointed, is he trying to put any pressure on to try and promote these talks?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Secretary-General was not mentioning direct talks.  What he was mentioning was an intention that was expressed earlier on in private conversations that Mr. Kabila would meet with Mr. Nkunda.  As you know, that changed yesterday, Mr. Kabila having made a different statement.  But the Secretary-General is still hopeful that some talks can take place between the two parties.  Yes?

Question:  Michèle, do we know how many peacekeepers are caught in the crossfire and whether or not they’re out?  I mean, are they still staying in that area and not be able to deliver food aid or…?

Spokesperson:  We don’t know.  I don’t know whether the fighting has stopped, you know.  We can get an update for you a little later and give you an exact number of people who are involved in the crossfire. 

[The Spokesperson later added that, despite being under heavy fire, United Nations peacekeepers managed to extract the 12 members of the United Nations humanitarian assessment team from Rutshuru and transport them to United Nations military bases outside the fighting zone.]

Question:  Actually, I just want to understand Mr. Ban’s answer yesterday about, that he found it very helpful that Presidents [Paul] Kagame and Kabila were going to speak.  What’s his view of the degree of control that President Kagame has over Laurent Nkunda?  Because I asked him, like shouldn’t they speak directly and he said well, the Presidents are going to speak.  Does that mean that he acknowledges or accepts that Nkunda is controlled from Rwanda, or what was…?

Spokesperson:  Right now, the essential thing is to stop the fighting.  The essential thing is to have the ceasefire hold.  The essential thing is to protect the populations.  Whatever leader can influence this situation, the Secretary-General will talk to.  And Mr. Kagame certainly is an important player in the region.

Question:  There is also, there is this story…

Spokesperson:  I’m sorry, Matthew, Costa Rica is having the press conference very soon.  Is it really an important question?

Question:  Actually, very important.

Spokesperson: Yes, go ahead, very quickly.

Question:  Okay.  There is actually two.  One has to do with these reports of the UN humanitarian convoy appearing in Kibati and not having any food then these people wind up (inaudible)

Spokesperson:  It was not a humanitarian convoy.  I said it yesterday, it was an assessment mission that was going there to assess the situation.  And as far as I know, they carried only a small amount of water purification tablets and medicine.

Question:  There is this story that they threw out, that they saw plastic jerry cans while the crowd rioted and said, where is the food?

Spokesperson:  Well, because there was not supposed to be any food.  Distribution of the food is starting tomorrow in six camps around Goma.  That’s what we found out from the World Food Programme.  And further distribution around Rutshuru will follow once we have a clearer picture of the needs there.  But the mission you’re talking about was not a humanitarian mission carrying food.  They were there to assess, essentially.  I’m sorry, I have to leave.  Enrique is here with you, and then we will have the President of the Council.  Here is Enrique.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.  As usual, I’ll try to be very quick.

This morning, President d’Escoto welcomed the presentation of the report of the Human Rights Council at the General Assembly, and in his remarks he said, and I quote:

“The contents of the report are relevant and timely because they denounce prophetically human rights violations in different latitudes to different excluded, invisible and denied groups in their humanity, also the document provides propositional paths to take to prevent, stop and compensate these violations of human rights.

“They’re significant themes, such as hunger and extreme poverty eradication, access to water, the protection of indigenous people, the elimination of all forms of modern slavery, including human trafficking and economic exploitation, eradication of all forms of discrimination, the respect of human rights in the fight against terrorism, the human rights violation to the Palestinian people, along with other topics which this Assembly will have to deal with in upcoming years.”

And this is basically all I have for you, unless there is any question.  George?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  You were going to tell me any new names of Heads of State confirmed for the cultural peace conference next Wednesday, Thursday, I think, 12 and 13?

Spokesperson:  Okay.  The list, as it stands right now, is that we have Heads of State confirmed from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Lebanon, Kuwait, Philippines, Pakistan, Finland and the United States.  That’s Heads of State.  We have other Foreign Ministers, but the list is changing very quickly.  So, therefore…

Question:  It’s a work in progress?

Spokesperson:  Precisely.  So, we will have, I suppose, more additional names during the week.  Any more questions?  Well, that was quick, thank you very much.  What is the question?

Question:  Russia is introducing a draft resolution on the inadmissibility of the glorification of Nazism, which is evidently a trend which is becoming serious in some other forums... Do you know whether Father d’Escoto will be making any reference to that?

Spokesperson:  Okay, can you repeat the question?  I didn’t hear the beginning of the question.  I think it’s an important one.

Question:  Yeah, on the issue of racism and xenophobia, the Russians are introducing a draft resolution, I think it’s today, including the phrase on the “inadmissibility of the glorification of Nazism” which evidently is a trend unfortunately throughout a lot of the former Soviet republics.  So, do you know whether Father d’Escoto will be saying anything about that or focusing on that at all?

Spokesperson:   I don’t have any information either about the draft resolution or about any comments, obviously, that the President will be making about that if ever it is going to be approved.  But I can check that for you.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you Enrique.  The (inaudible) is reporting that the (inaudible) and leader and Christian leaders are meeting in Rome in order to establish better dialogue and to defuse tension.  Is President d’Escoto involved in this meeting?

Spokesperson:  He is not involved himself, but he is following it very closely.  Actually, this morning we were talking about it.  Yes, he is following the outcome of the meeting.

Question:  And regarding the meeting on 13 November, does the President expect to see a resolution, a declaration or something of that sort coming out of the meeting?

Spokesperson:  It’s up to the Member States to decide, and I think right now there are different consultations, negotiations among the Member States to see what is the best outcome from the meeting.  Okay, thank you very much.

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