14 November 2008


14 November 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.  Welcome.

**Secretary-General at Group of 20 Summit

The Secretary-General is in Washington, D.C., today, where, this evening, he will speak to leaders gathered for the Group of 20 (G-20) summit about the impact of the current financial crisis, and his concern that it should not evolve into tomorrow’s human crisis.

He will tell the G-20 leaders about the key messages he has developed from his dialogue with UN Member States, about the need for a truly global stimulus package; access to liquidity for emerging markets and other developing countries; the moral imperative to fulfil the Millennium Development Goals; and the need for financial reform to be inclusive. 

We expect to make embargoed copies of his remarks available later this afternoon.

The Secretary-General will also participate in tomorrow’s G-20 meeting.

**Secretary-General Statement on the Humanitarian and Security Situation in Gaza and Southern Israel

I have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning the humanitarian and security situation in Gaza and southern Israel.

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned at the deterioration of the humanitarian and security situation in Gaza and southern Israel, and at the potential for further suffering and violence.  He calls on all parties to uphold international humanitarian and human rights law.

The Secretary-General reiterates his condemnation of rocket attacks.  He calls for an end to such attacks and urges full respect by all parties of the calm that has been in effect since 19 June 2008.  The Secretary-General is concerned that food and other life saving assistance is being denied to hundreds of thousands of people, and emphasizes that measures which increase the hardship and suffering of the civilian population of the Gaza Strip as a whole are unacceptable and should cease immediately.

In particular, he calls on Israel to allow urgently the steady and sufficient supply of fuel and humanitarian assistance.  He also calls on Israel to resume facilitating the activities of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and all humanitarian agencies, including through unimpeded access for UN officials and humanitarian workers.  And that statement is available upstairs.

** Gaza

Meanwhile, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) reports that all crossings into Gaza are closed today –- including for fuel and aid workers.  It has now been nine days in a row that commercial and humanitarian food deliveries have been kept out of Gaza.

Because the fuel pipelines were blocked today, parts of Gaza are now experiencing power cuts of 8 to 12 hours a day.

Among the items that the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East is trying to get into Gaza is wool for a rehabilitation centre, where blind women knit sweaters.

** Lebanon

Michael Williams, the UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon, met today with Lebanese Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, and said that he had conveyed to the Prime Minister the strong support of the Secretary-General for the establishment of diplomatic relations between Lebanon and Syria.  The Secretary-General, he said, is following this issue with very close interest.

With regard to other issues, Williams added, the Secretary-General is very encouraged by the national dialogue on a defence strategy that Lebanese leaders have engaged in, and by the reconciliation initiatives that have taken place in Lebanon in recent weeks.  And we have his full statement upstairs.

**Security Council

Staffan de Mistura, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, told the Security Council in an open meeting this morning that this summer and fall have witnessed, despite some occasional spikes, a steady reduction in the levels of violence in Iraq.

Iraq, he said, now enters a delicate electoral period where every small security gain likely to give space to political dialogue should be built upon, in order to avoid any electoral-related violence linked to the provincial elections scheduled for next January.  Iraqis should not relent in grasping the momentum to advance on gains attained in 2008, he added.

Staffan de Mistura intends to speak to you as the guest at today’s noon briefing, if he can get out in time.  If the Council meeting, which is still going on right now, continues past this briefing, we’ll try to have him come to this room or possibly at the stakeout a little bit later afterwards, and we’ll squawk what the arrangements will be once he is available.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Congo, there were no major violations of the ceasefire or attacks on civilian lives or property in North Kivu, says the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC).  Though the overall situation is tense and unpredictable, the World Food Programme (WFP) says its convoy of 12 trucks carrying 100 tons of food encountered no problems on its trip from Goma to Rutshuru and Kiwanja.  Some 12,000 people are being helped today, out of 50,000 who have registered for food aid.

The WFP convoy, which was escorted by UN peacekeepers, also brought blankets, plastic buckets, clothes, jerry cans and plastic sheeting.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), meanwhile, says that because of persisting security threats, it has agreed with North Kivu authorities to transfer the more than 60,000 people in the two Kibati camps to a new site west of Goma.  The transfer is due to start next week.

And UNICEF said that recruitment of children by armed militias took place in Kitchanga.  A number of 14-year-old children are also reported to have been forcibly enlisted in Rugare and Rutshuru, bringing to some 3,000 the estimate of children drafted into the ongoing conflict.

** Darfur

On Darfur, the Egyptian infantry battalion has begun deploying in Darfur, as part of the African Union-United Nations peacekeeping mission (UNAMID).

The first batch of 164 personnel arrived in El Fasher yesterday, and further personnel of the same battalion, comprising 326 personnel, are expected to arrive today and tomorrow.

They will be deployed in Umm Kadada, North Darfur, where they will join the 177-member advance party that is already on the ground.

The rest of the battalion, consisting of 184 personnel, is expected to arrive at the end of this year.

Egypt’s contribution to UNAMID includes a Signal Company, Engineering Company, a Heavy Transport Company and another Infantry Battalion that is expected to arrive in the near future.

In addition to the 10 battalions currently on the ground from Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa, UNAMID is expecting an additional eight infantry battalions from Egypt, Ethiopia, Thailand, Senegal, Burkina Faso, and Tanzania.

**Culture of Peace

The two-day General Assembly meeting on the interfaith dialogue wrapped up yesterday afternoon.  I believe Enrique will probably have something more to say about that after I am done.  And the Secretary-General read out a declaration in which, among other things, participating States affirmed their rejection of the use of religion to justify the killing of innocent people and actions of terrorism, violence and coercion, which directly contradict the commitment of all religions to peace, justice and equality.

Speaking in a joint press conference with the Saudi Foreign Minister, the Secretary-General said that the General Assembly had sent a strong message to the world.  “The challenge now is to go beyond the powerful, positive words we have heard these past two days,” he added.  “It may take time to see results, but I am convinced that this meeting is an important step forward.”  And we have the transcript of his remarks upstairs and on the web.

** Haiti

We have a press release in French upstairs on hurricane relief efforts in Haiti.  In Gonaïves, people who had sought refuge in schools when storms destroyed their homes are being encouraged to return home.  As of Tuesday, some 1,700 families have received “return kits”, which contain tents, mattresses, a cash donation and hygiene and sanitation tools.  Other items include building materials, such as shovels, saws, hammers and spatulas, and bags of cement and nail boxes.

** Somalia

On Somalia, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs estimates that newly available Dutch naval and NATO escorts of food convoys will ensure that the World Food Programme (WFP) can bring some 59,000 tons of food into Somalia this month.  The food shipments, to be delivered by eight vessels, will be enough to feed 2.3 million people for six weeks.  Some 3.2 million people, or 43 per cent of Somalia’s population, are currently in dire need of humanitarian assistance.


I have an appointment for you.

The Secretary-General has appointed Theresa A. Hitchens of the United States as the fifth Director of the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research (UNIDIR).  She will take up her duties in Geneva in January 2009.  Ms. Hitchens replaces Ms. Patricia Lewis of the United Kingdom.

Ms. Hitchens currently serves as the Director of the Centre for Defence Information (CDI) in Washington, D.C., in charge of CDI’s Space Security Project.  She brings to the independent institute years of experience in research and writing on a broad array of subjects in the field of international security, defence, disarmament, and non-proliferation.  And we have more information on her in her bio upstairs.

**World Diabetes Day

Today, at 6.30 p.m., UN Headquarters will join 800 monuments throughout the world being lit up in blue to observe World Diabetes Day.

In a message to mark the Day, the Secretary-General notes that people must be more informed about the warning signs of the disease, particularly in the developing world, because diabetes is often diagnosed late, or misdiagnosed as the flu.  Many children in the developing world die from diabetes because they do not have insulin, he adds.

In the message, he also says that according to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 1 million people died from the disease in 2005.  WHO projects that, without urgent action, deaths from diabetes will increase by more than 50 per cent in the next 10 years.  And we have the full message and a press release upstairs.

**United Nations Environment Programme

The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) today launched its first ever North American Youth Network to help combat climate change.  Twenty youth representatives from the U.S. and Canada are meeting in Chicago this weekend, as part of UNEP’s new Kick the Carbon Habit Education Campaign.

The goal is to form a network of North American youth leaders, who will engage their communities through education events, such as resource conservation fairs at elementary schools and distributions of eco-friendly light bulbs to homeowners.  There is more information upstairs.

**Messenger of Peace -- Charlize Theron

The Secretary-General has designated Academy Award-winning actress and activist Charlize Theron, of South Africa and the United States, as a United Nations Messenger of Peace, with a special focus on ending violence against women.  Recognized for her work to focus attention and mobilize support on social issues, particularly in South Africa, Ms. Theron joins nine other United Nations Messengers of Peace who advocate on behalf of the Organization.

Ms. Theron will be officially inducted as a Messenger of Peace on Monday, at a brief ceremony led by the Deputy-Secretary-General, on behalf of the Secretary-General, who will be in Geneva.

Immediately following the ceremony, Ms. Theron will be formally introduced at a press conference at 10 a.m., here in room 226.  And there is more information upstairs.

**Press Conferences on Monday

Also on Monday, at 11 a.m., there will be a press conference by Ambassador Irakli Alasania of Georgia, on the situation in his country.

And at 1 p.m., Evo Morales, the President of Bolivia, and General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann will brief you following Mr. Morales’ address to the General Assembly earlier that morning.

Also, by the way, on Monday and Tuesday of next week, the Secretary-General will be in Geneva for a two-day special meeting of his Special Representatives.  And we have further information in the week ahead upstairs.

Are there any questions before we go to Enrique?  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I didn’t hear part of your statement on the situation in Gaza.  But the question is whether the UN has any other options to maintain supplies to this Israeli-occupied area.

Associate Spokesperson:  It’s crucial for us to be able to go through the checkpoints to get supplies in.  That’s why the statement, which is available upstairs, you can have the full statement, emphasizes the need for Israel to help resume UNRWA’s efforts, to facilitate its activities, as well as the activities of other humanitarian agencies.  And one of the ways is unimpeded access for UN officials and for humanitarian workers.  And so, we’re calling on that to happen.

Question:  Since it is closed, is there any other way to get the supplies in?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, we’re using all of our channels to do what we can; to make sure that Israel will again open the crossings.  It’s essential that the crossing points are open so, that we can get in the needed humanitarian aid.

Question:  There were reports, a few weeks ago, that the tunnels between Egypt and Gaza, which were used for smuggling weapons, they were pulling, pushing livestock through there.  If this is true, somebody in Gaza is eating steak.  But, and then another thing is that the Palestinians need to stop the rocket…

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, a number of you came in after the statement was read.  The statement also reiterates the Secretary-General’s condemnation of rocket attacks and includes his call for an end to such attacks, and full respect by all parties of the calm that was in effect since June 2008.  So, that’s there as well.

Question:  There are these news reports that journalists have been shot in Pakistan.  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on these incidents?

Associate Spokesperson:  We don’t have any specific comment.  We would need to get some more details. Of course, we are opposed to all violence against journalists, and the Secretary-General, as well as Mr. [Koichiro] Matsuura, the Director-General of UNESCO, have repeatedly condemned any such violence. 

Question:  Did the Secretary-General speak with President [Shimon] Peres or Foreign Minister [Tzipi] Livni during their stay here about Gaza, and if so, were there any details?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, he did, and in fact, I believe we provideda readout that, on Wednesday evening, he met with Foreign Minister Livni.  The humanitarian situation and the issues around Gaza were among the topics discussed.  We do have a full readout, if you want that, upstairs.

Question:  The SG was meant to be travelling to California last week; [but he won’t go] this week, to meet Schwarzenegger and Hollywood movers and shakers.  Do you have any details on when the trip is going to take place?

Associate Spokesperson:  It will need to be re-scheduled.  As you know, we said a few days ago that he wouldn’t be able to make the trip this time around, largely because of events that took place over the last several days, and the wide number of world leaders he needed to meet while he was here.  We’ll see whether there will be any further attempt in the coming months, and we’ll let you know when that happens.

Question:  In Geneva, will the Secretary-General participate in the talks on Georgia?

Associate Spokesperson:  No.  He is not there for any other talks.  He’s just meeting with his various Special Representatives around the world who are there for two days of meetings.  And so, that’s the primary purpose of his visit. 

Question:  There have been some reports of the Jordanian Army, police officers stabbing an officer of the Liberian national police.  Can we confirm or deny; do we know what happened?

Associate Spokesperson:  In which country?

Question:  In Liberia.

Associate Spokesperson:  Okay.  We’ll have to check for you on that.  I don’t have a confirmation on that.

Question:  Okay.

Associate Spokesperson:  And if that’s it; Enrique.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you, Farhan.  Good afternoon to everybody.

Let me start with some announcements.

President Miguel d´Escoto is pleased to announce the composition of the Commission of experts of the President of the General Assembly on Reforms of the International Monetary and Financial System.

Under the coordination of Professor Joseph Stiglitz from the United States, the experts of the Commission are the following, I’m going to give you the list:

Ms. Zeti Akhtar Aziz from Malaysia.

Mr. Chukwuma Soludo from Nigeria.

Mr. Yaga Venugopal Reddy from India.

Mr. Yu Yongding from China.

Mr. Jomo Kwame Sundaram from the United Nations.

Mr. José Antonio Ocampo from Colombia.

Mr. Avinash Persaud from Barbados.

Mr. Eisuke Sakakibara from Japan.

Mr. Jean-Paul Fitoussi from France.

The Rapporteur of the Commission, Mr. Jan Kregel, is from the United States and is a former senior United Nations staff member.

And, please note that there will be some working groups, and the list is still open.  We have the complete list, in any case, available for you after the briefing.

On another issue, on Monday, as you have just heard from Farhan, the President of Bolivia, Evo Morales, will address the General Assembly on the occasion of the discussion of the “Follow-up of the outcome of the Millennium Summit”.  And after his address, President Evo Morales and President of the General Assembly, Miguel d´Escoto, will hold a press conference here at 1 p.m.

And finally, some of you had asked me about the way President d´Escoto congratulated President-elect Barack Obama.  I would like to confirm that the President of the General Assembly sent a letter this week, not only congratulating him, but also inviting the President-elect to come and address the General Assembly at his convenience, after assuming his new functions.

And this is all I have for you before the weekend, unless there are any particular questions.  Edith?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Enrique, is there some special reason that the President of Bolivia was invited here?  I don’t quite understand why he is here this coming week, rather than this past week for the inter-faith dialogue, when there were lots of other world leaders here.

Spokesperson:  Well, the President of Bolivia, it is my understanding, wanted to thank the member countries and civil society for the support that his country received during the recent crisis in Bolivia.  Why he was not here this week, and he is coming next week, I think you should address this issue to the Bolivian delegation.  I suppose it’s a question of agenda.  Massood?

Question:  Enrique, I just want to clarify.  This declaration that we received yesterday; what elements in that Philippine-Pakistani resolution inthere, or is it just totally a new resolution?

Spokesperson:  It’s separate, in the sense that it is a declaration.  The General Assembly yesterday, as you know approved, passed, a resolution, which was the Philippine and Pakistan resolution, and that was the conclusion of the meeting, under item 45 of Culture of Peace.  That’s basically it.

Question:  Basically, who framed this declaration?

Spokesperson:  Who framed which declaration?

Question:  The declaration that was issued yesterday.

Spokesperson:  That is the Secretary-General; but I don’t want to speak for the Secretary-General; I think this is a question for the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General to see with which countries he discussed that statement.  But I understand that he met (inaudible) and has a summary of the meeting.  The views of the President of the General Assembly, as you have seen, they were expressed yesterday in his closing remarks during the meeting.  Edith?

Question:  Let’s make this clear then.  The statement, the declaration ready by the Secretary-General, says specifically “participants at the interfaith conference”.  So, isn’t that basically a statement reflecting the views of the participants at the interfaith conference?

Spokesperson:  It is, and the Secretary-General said what it is during the announcement of the statement.  That is what I am saying.  But formally, if you are asking me what happened at the General Assembly, the General Assembly adopted, yesterday, at the end of the speeches and deliberations, the draft resolution that was put forward by Pakistan and the Philippines.  No more questions?  Thank you very much, and have a nice weekend.

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