12 November 2008


12 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

**Press Conferences Today

I need to start on time because at 12:45 p.m., there will be a press conference, by the President of Israel, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Israel and the Ambassador, who will discuss the General Assembly’s meeting on the culture of peace, and they need us out of the room by 12:30 p.m., in advance of that press conference, and I understand the General Assembly Spokesperson, Enrique Yves, will also be here to brief you, so I will keep my briefing short.

And at 2 p.m. today, we have another briefing, Aminata Touré, Chief of the Culture, Gender and Human Rights Branch of the UN Population Fund, will be here to launch the State of the World’s Population 2008 report.  And there are copies of that upstairs.

**Culture of Peace

The Secretary-General spoke this morning at the start of the General Assembly’s high-level meeting on interfaith dialogue, warning that, even as societies around the world are brought closer together, communal strife is intensifying, extremist ideologies are on the rise, and societies are more polarized.  Sometimes, he said, it seems as if none of history’s awful lessons have been learned.

One of the great challenges of our time, the Secretary-General said, must now surely be to ensure that our rich cultural diversity makes us more secure -- not less.  For peace to endure, individuals, groups and nations must come to respect and understand each other.

He recalled the words of diplomat and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Ralph Bunche, who said:  “I have a deep-seated bias against hatred and intolerance.  I have a bias against racial and religious bigotry.  I have a bias against war and a bias for peace.”  That, the Secretary-General said, is the only bias we can tolerate.

Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General met with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, whom he praised for his dynamic role in making today’s meeting possible, and he expects to meet with other leaders gathered for the meeting in the coming days.

Then, tomorrow at 5 p.m., the Secretary-General and Prince Saud al-Faisal, the Saudi Foreign Minister, are expected to hold a press conference in Conference Room 4, on the results of the high-level meeting.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

As of this morning, fighting appears to have abated in North Kivu, although the situation remains tense, says the Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).  Here in New York, the Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, briefed the Security Council yesterday afternoon in consultations on the situation in the eastern part of that country.  He described his impressions from a recent visit to the region.

He later said he had pressed Council members for an additional 3,000 troops to “beef up” the protection of civilians in North Kivu.  Many Council members, he noted, now appeared inclined to support authorizing an increase in the number of peacekeepers.  And in North Kivu itself, the United Nations Force Commander, General Gaye, yesterday confirmed reports of a looting spree by fleeing Congolese Government soldiers.  General Gaye was in the area with the Congolese Army’s regional commander to assess the damage caused by the looters and to assist his counterpart in ensuring stronger command and control.

The Mission also reports that several parts of North Kivu are being hit by cholera, whooping cough and measles epidemics.  The Mission cites Congolese Government data saying that eight deaths have now occurred out of the more than 150 reported cases in camps for the internally displaced near Goma.  Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) reports seven new cases of measles in the region.  And the overall humanitarian situation remains extremely precarious.  The number of displaced people continues to increase, as people continue to flee their locations.  At last estimate, the number remains at about 250,000.  Aid workers on the ground are particularly concerned about the safety of the internally displaced in Kibati camp, because of the proximity to the front lines.  The relief supplies continue to reach Goma, including 36 tons of goods delivered on Monday.

** Gaza

According to the Office of the Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO), the Nahal Oz fuel crossing between Gaza and Israel was opened today.  But the Israel Defence Forces closed it after fewer than 230,000 litres of fuel were delivered, citing ongoing clashes on the Gaza side.  UNSCO says that, if no industrial fuel deliveries are allowed in tomorrow, Gaza’s power plant will have to be switched off this weekend.

Apart from the fuel crossing, all Gaza commercial crossings remained closed today for the seventh day in a row.  Over this time period, no humanitarian or commercial commodities have been allowed in.  According to UNSCO, there are concerns in Gaza over the growing shortage of cooking gas, and a number of bakeries have been forced to shut down, leading to worries about the availability of bread.

Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA, says the current blockade of Gaza is affecting its operations “as never before”.  Materials being prevented from entering the strip include linens for a centre for blind children, textbooks for young students and fire extinguishers.

** Darfur

And on Darfur, the United Nations-African Union Mission there (UNAMID) reports that an Egyptian heavy transport company has arrived in Nyala, South Darfur, today to join the operation.  The company, with a total strength of 155 personnel, consists of 16 officers and 139 soldiers.  An additional seven personnel were already on the ground as part of the advance party to facilitate the deployment of the main body.

The Egyptian company will primarily support the distribution of cargo between sector logistics bases and the movement of bulk cargo, including water and fuel tankers, and provide transport and engineering capabilities.

Security Council resolution 1769 (2007) authorizes UNAMID to have a strength of up to 19,555 military personnel, including 360 military observers and liaison officers.  Today’s deployment brings the total number of UNAMID troops in Darfur to 9,122.

** Chad-Central African Republic

The UN Military Adviser, General Obiakor, is in N’Djamena, Chad, today for consultations with Government officials and the UN Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad, MINURCAT.  The Military Adviser’s meetings with Chadian officials will focus on the next concept of operations for the UN Mission after the withdrawal next March of EUFOR, the European force tasked with the protection of civilians and refugees in north-eastern Chad.

General Obiakor is also expected to travel to Abeche and Farchana in the north-east to visit the UN Mission and EUFOR operations there.

**Security Council

And here at UN Headquarters, the Security Council is holding a formal meeting to receive updates from the Chairmen of its main subsidiary bodies.  Council members received briefings on the work of the 1267 Committee, which deals with Al-Qaida, the Taliban and associated individuals and entities; of the Counter-Terrorism Committee; and of the 1540 Committee, which deals with the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.

** Iraq

The number of people without adequate access to food in Iraq has fallen dramatically, according to the findings of a joint assessment carried out by the Iraqi Government and the World Food Programme (WFP).  WFP says that the assessment found some 930,000 people were without adequate access to food last year, down from around 4 million in 2005.

** Honduras and Guatemala

There’s also an update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on flood relief efforts in Honduras.  The World Food Programme has so far delivered more than 370 tons of food to families in isolated shelters.  The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), for its part, has provided more than $700,000 in emergency assistance.

Meanwhile, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs have deployed a joint team of geologists to identify areas at risk from land- and mudslides.  OCHA’s flash appeal for $17 million for Honduras -- launched two weeks ago -- is still only 10 per cent funded.

** Cyprus

And the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, spoke to the press in Nicosia yesterday following the meeting of the Cypriot leaders.  He said yesterday’s meeting had consisted of a tête-à-tête, which lasted around half an hour, and a discussion lasting several hours on the issue of the legislature.  The leaders’ representatives will have a further discussion on Friday on points of divergence concerning the legislature.

In response to questions, Downer said steady progress was being made, but that sudden solutions were unrealistic.  He noted that there had been discussions on the competencies of the federal Government, the role of the executive and how the executive would be elected.  The leaders’ next meeting is scheduled for tomorrow morning.

**World Bank

Ahead of this weekend’s G-20 summit in Washington, D.C., the World Bank has announced up to $100 billion in new commitments for developing countries over the next three years.  In addition, the World Bank also plans to speed up grants and long-term, interest-free loans to the world’s 78 poorest countries.  It is also ramping up support to the private sector, including by establishing a global equity fund to recapitalize distressed banks.  And there’s more on this upstairs.

**World Health Organization

Margaret Chan, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), today issued a statement on the current global financial crisis.  She noted that fiscal pressures in rich countries may prompt cuts to official development assistance.  Worse still, she said, is the prospect of cuts in health spending that many poorer countries may be forced to undertake.  Both of these responses have occurred in the past.  And both could be equally devastating for global health, she said.

And that’s all I have for you.  I’m going to hand over to Enrique, because we, as I mentioned, do have a hard deadline of 12:30 p.m. to get out of this room.  Unless you have something pressing for me.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Given the announcements of these 65-year prison sentences and crackdown on people in Myanmar that organized the demonstrations … given that Ban Ki-moon has said this issue is so important -- what does the UN have to say or is going to do about that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have an official statement on the reports that you are mentioning, but, as you know, the Secretary-General has repeatedly called for the Myanmar authorities to release all political prisoners and allow all citizens of Myanmar to participate freely in their country’s political process, as part of a process of national reconciliation.

Question:  Does this mean that Mr. Gambari is still going to go there?  What’s the … Has anyone in the UN communicated to the junta that this is a step backwards?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I said, I don’t have an official reaction to the press reports that you mentioned.  The Secretary-General’s position on the issue of Myanmar remains the same, as you know.  The UN’s role is to facilitate the efforts of all parties to talk to each other and address any concerns or differences that they may have through mutual understanding and dialogue, including with regard to any constitutional election.  We have always said that the future of Myanmar ultimately is in the hands of the people and Government of Myanmar.  That is why Special Adviser Gambari and the Secretary-General have consistently called for a credible, inclusive and transparent political process in which all the people of Myanmar can contribute to a peaceful, democratic and prosperous future for the country.  And the Secretary General will continue to make every effort to that end.

Question:  I’ve asked this question before -- who is accompanying the Secretary-General to Washington for the summit on the financial crisis?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Who meaning, from our office?  From our office?  Is that what you’re asking?

Question:  No, senior officers.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know, I’ll get back to you.

Question:  Al-Bashir announced a ceasefire and a willingness to pay compensation to people who’ve lost their homes.  Does the UN believe him?  Do you have any comment about it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m expecting a statement.  I was hoping to have this statement by noon, but it’s not here, so if anybody’s listening to me upstairs, please bring it down so we can read it to you.  If not, you’ll have it immediately after the briefing, I’m sure.

[The Spokesperson’s Office later issued the following statement:

“The Secretary-General welcomes President Omar al-Bashir’s declaration of an immediate ceasefire between the Government of Sudan and the armed movements in Darfur, as well as the intention by the Government of Sudan to disarm all the militias.

“The Secretary-General stresses that the effectiveness of any ceasefire depends upon all parties demonstrating their commitment to a cessation of hostilities, particularly since past efforts to uphold a ceasefire in Darfur were not successful.

“He further emphasizes that the international community continues to have high expectations that the Government of Sudan and the rebel movements will make concrete progress towards a peaceful solution to the conflict.”]

Question:  This may or may not have to do with today’s event.  But in the Secretary-General’s public financial disclosure of senior UN officials, there’s an Under-Secretary-General, Terje Roed-Larsen, that’s -- not only is he not disclosed but he’s not on the list anywhere.  Is there some exclusion for some under-secretaries-general, but not others?  And if so, why is he not on the list and what role …?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know anything about this, so I have to look into it for you.  As we are against a deadline today …

Question:  I also wanted to know, what role if any has Ban’s Envoy, Terje Roed-Larsen, played in the setting up of today’s event?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As far as I know, he helped as an envoy, he helped facilitate the process leading up to it, but other than that, I don’t have any other details.

Question:  Is he the Envoy to Lebanon or to Saudi Arabia?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You know his official title.

Question:  So what’s his role -- if you can find out, if we can get a description, given that he’s the Envoy, maybe get something from him on his role?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Okay.

[The correspondent was later informed that, on behalf of the Secretary-General, Special Envoy Terje Roed-Larsen met in Riyadh on 2 November with the King of Saudi Arabia and a series of other senior Government officials.  The trip took place as part of the Secretary-General’s preparations for the current high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the Saudi King's interfaith initiative.  From Riyadh, Roed-Larsen proceeded to the Holy See in Rome for a round of meetings for the same purpose.]

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

The President of the General Assembly, Miguel d´Escoto, opened this morning’s debate on the culture of peace.  And in his address to Heads of States and chiefs of delegations, he made very clear, and I’m going to quote part of his speech:

“What is obviously lacking is the political will to move from a rhetorical acknowledgment of this reality to concrete, sustained and coordinated action at the local and global levels.

“Great spiritual and moral strength is necessary for the kinds of actions that are required.  And that is precisely why we have gathered here today:  to join forces, as people of faith and/or of deep ethical convictions, to tap into our vast reserves of moral strength and awaken from our indifference to the fate of others.  The United Nations has very appropriately elaborated a complex agenda for making the world a better place.  But progress is too slow.  We are running out of time, and do not seem to have the energy and conviction required to move any faster.  We must not hesitate to draw on the moral force of our values of faith and ethical convictions to today’s challenges.”

And, as I assumed, you are also interested in knowing the official attendance figures for today’s meeting, let me go over for you -- we have, as for right now, 80 delegations, eight, zero -- and out of those 80 delegations, the breakdown is the following:

We have 10 Heads of State, we have 10 Heads of Government, we have 10 at the ministerial level, one deputy minister and 49 permanent representatives, that’s ambassadors.  That is the figures we have, up to now.  As I said, they are preliminary figures, because we still have till tomorrow.

**Questions and Answers

Say that again, Masood?

Question:  Does that include President [George W.] Bush?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  And that’s basically what I have for you today, unless you have any particular questions.  Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Enrique.  As you just indicated, there are 80 delegations total -- less than half of the membership of the United Nations.  Is the President of the General Assembly satisfied with the number of delegations?

Spokesperson:  He is more than satisfied.  I think the turnout is very high.  For the kind of meeting that we have -- this is a meeting that was convened one month after the general debate, where you know, normally, the Heads of State come here in big numbers, in big attendance.  And for the kind of meeting that we have, we have more than 40 Heads of State and Government, and we have very relevant figures worldwide, from President Bush to the King of Saudi Arabia, and many other Heads of State.  I think he’s more than satisfied with the attendance to this event.

Question:  Another question -- have you seen the final declaration, draft declaration?  How long is it?

Spokesperson:  How long is it?  Well, it is still a draft -- it’s going to be around one page, that’s what I believe.  Is that asking for the floor?

Question:  I just wanted to ask you one question -- it’s a declaration or resolution?  I believe it’s a resolution, right?

Spokesperson:  Let me clarify this.  We have, as from now, under item 45, two resolutions and I think they’re in the Journal, but I can give you heads-up -- one is the “promotion of interreligious and intercultural dialogue, understanding and cooperation for peace”, and the other one is on “International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-violence for the Children of the World 2001-2010”.  Those are the two resolutions that most likely …

Question:  Who are the co-sponsors of the resolution?

Spokesperson:  It is in the Journal.  Again, for the first one I have something like 30 countries, and for the other one, 50 countries.  I can go through them, but it’s in the Journal -- we have Angola, (inaudible), Bangladesh, Philippines, Qatar, etc.  It’s a long list.  Those two resolutions.  Apart from that, the President of the General Assembly will read a statement at the closing of the event, which will be tomorrow afternoon.  And I think that’s the document you were referring to, correct, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Resolutions basically are in place of…  These two resolutions are in place of any communiqué or declaration, right?

Spokesperson:  No.  These two resolutions are part of agenda item 45.  And similar resolutions have been approved in the past.  Now, for this particular meeting, what is expected is that the President of the General Assembly will make tomorrow a closing remark, reading a statement.

Question:  The statement will be the only thing to come out of the …?

Spokesperson:  (nods)

Question:  When the President makes his statement, will he be expressing his own views or would that statement be made on behalf of the Member States, the participants?

Spokesperson:  In that statement, he’s going to express the general opinion, as President of the General Assembly, of the participants of the meeting.  Matthew?

Question:  Just to follow up on that, how is he going to, what are the mechanisms for him to know what the general consensus of the Members are, before he writes his statement?

Spokesperson:  He talks to the delegations, he talks to the regional groups, he talks to the different leaders, and the different delegations have their own views, and they, as I said, this is a very dynamic process, and they’ve been talking, and there’s some draft going around, and based on that, as President of the General Assembly, he will summarize the general opinion of the meeting.

Question:  I wanted to ask after yesterday’s briefing by (inaudible) whether this resolution people had asked him about, defamation of religion, has he had the chance to look at it, has any views on it?  Yesterday, he seemed to say he supports a ban on defamation of religion.  Was that his position?

Spokesperson:  No, he hasn’t had a chance yet to have a look to it.  He’s going to have a look to it this weekend, and you can ask him afterwards, or I will make a statement.

Question:  But for now, what he said yesterday about supporting it, does that stand?

Spokesperson:  It stands, because he said it yesterday, so that hasn’t changed, but again, he has to be very cautious about his words already because, as he said, he was not familiar with the resolution, and he was going to read it more carefully and then provide you views on that.

If there are no more questions, have a good meeting.  Thank you very much.

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