17 November 2008


17 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.

Good afternoon.

**Press Conference

At 1 p.m. today, here in Room 226, there will be a press conference by Evo Morales, President of Bolivia, and General Assembly President Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has strongly condemned the latest violation of the ceasefire by the rebel group CNDP, led by Laurent Nkunda.  Nkunda’s fighters yesterday seized control of a number of North Kivu localities following some of the worst fighting in more than a week.  The Mission says that the UN attack helicopters undertook reconnaissance flights over the area and are poised to respond to any and all eventualities.  It calls on the warring parties to uphold the ceasefire and to give the ongoing political process a chance to succeed.

On the political front:  Over the weekend, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy Olusegun Obasanjo met with Presidents Dos Santos of Angola and Kabila of the DRC, and later on with rebel leader Laurent Nkunda in North Kivu.  Nkunda reportedly raised some demands, including integration of rebels in the national army at the appropriate rank.  He also agreed to open a corridor for humanitarian assistance and to continue to observe the ceasefire.

Special Envoy Obasanjo and African Union Co-Facilitator Benjamin Mkapa are in Nairobi, Kenya, today to brief President Mwai Kibaki, in his capacity as the Chair of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, on their consultations with Luanda and Kinshasa.  Obasanjo, who earlier today called on both government and rebel forces to respect the ceasefire, is expected at UN Headquarters later this week to brief the Secretary-General.

And back in the field, the UN Mission says that it is providing support to humanitarian agencies working to relocate some 60,000 displaced people from a UN camp at Kibati.  The Kibati camp is located some 10 kilometers north of Goma, just below rebel lines, and it would be firmly in the line of fire should the rebels advance on Goma.  The IDPs will be moved to another UN camp far from the frontline.

We are finalizing arrangements for the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Alan Doss, to brief you tomorrow by video link from Kinshasa.  And we’ll alert you to the precise time, once we have it confirmed.  We’re aiming for noon, at the noon briefing. 

**Group of 20 Meeting

On Friday and Saturday, the Secretary-General was in Washington, D.C. to take part in the Summit on the world economy.  In a statement welcoming the Summit’s Final Declaration, which committed leaders to joint action, the Secretary-General highlighted the agreement on the international coordination of stimulus packages, as well as new market regulation, more inclusive economic governance and the need to avoid trade and investment protectionism.

In particular, the Secretary-General expressed appreciation for the Declaration’s commitment to:  continued cooperation and multilateralism; the Millennium Development Goals and development assistance commitments previously made; the development principles agreed at the conference on Financing for Development in Monterrey in 2002; and addressing other critical challenges, such as energy security and climate change, food security, the rule of law, and the fight against terrorism, poverty and disease.

In his own remarks, the Secretary-General emphasized the importance of inclusive multilateralism, so that countries not represented at the Summit can participate in shaping future international economic governance.  He also cited the opportunity to promote green economic development as part of the fiscal stimulus, and stressed the importance of strong participation at the Doha Review Conference on Financing for Development later this month.  And we have copies of that statement upstairs.

**Secretary-General Today

The Secretary-General, meanwhile, arrived this morning in Geneva, where he met at the Palais des Nations with High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and the regional heads of the field presences of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.  In the afternoon, he travelled to Montreux to participate in an annual seminar with his Special and Personal Representatives and Envoys.

** Gaza

Turning to Gaza, the Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) reports that the Kerem Shalom crossing point between Israel and Gaza was opened today.  As a result, the World Food Programme was able to get nine trucks into Gaza.  But the fuel pipelines remained closed –- meaning that Gaza is still experiencing power problems.

Meanwhile, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) managed to get eight trucks into Gaza, containing luncheon meat and powdered milk for babies.  But many of the powdered milk containers were opened with knives by the authorities, resulting in thousands of dollars worth of damage, according to UNRWA.

UNRWA says its food distribution program will be able to resume as of tomorrow –- but for “days not weeks.”  In that context, UNWRA stresses its need for consistent and large-scale influxes of supplies.

** Iraq

And on Iraq, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Staffan de Mistura, has welcomed the Council of Representatives’ adoption of a law concerning the Independent High Commission for Human Rights.

De Mistura said the High Commission is a milestone in the protection and promotion of human rights in Iraq.

He called on the Government of Iraq and the Council of Representatives to make all necessary arrangements for the prompt establishment of a strong, credible and independent Commission, which, from the outset, becomes an institution responsive to the needs of all Iraqi citizens.

** Darfur

On Darfur, the United Nations, African Union and Government of Sudan officials convened yesterday in Khartoum a tripartite meeting on the deployment of the UN-AU mission in Darfur.

The meeting was attended on the UN side by Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Susana Malcorra.

The meeting reviewed the outcome of the last meeting, which was held in October in Khartoum and also focused on logistical challenges affecting UNAMID deployment.

** Pakistan -- International Monetary Fund

The International Monetary Fund has announced an agreement in principle on a stand-by arrangement for Pakistan.  The plan, which is subject to approval by the IMF’s board, would involve a loan of roughly $7.6 billion over 23 months.

According to the IMF, the key objective of the arrangement is to support Pakistan’s plan to tighten fiscal and monetary policies, while ensuring a well-targeted and adequately funded social safety net.  And there is more on that upstairs as well.

**UNFCCC –- Emissions Report

The UN Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) Secretariat issued its report on greenhouse gas emissions in industrialized countries today.  The report finds that emissions in these countries continue to rise.

Between 2000 and 2006, emissions of the 40 nations with reporting obligations under the Convention rose by 2.3 per cent.  But the biggest increases came from economies in transition, which rose more than three times as much.

Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, says that the figures clearly underscore the need for political action at the climate change conference that opens in Poznań, Poland, in just two weeks.  We have a press release on this upstairs.

**Weather Insurance

The World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) are teaming up with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to provide poor rural farmers with weather insurance.

The Foundation is providing nearly $1 million to support research and planning for this type of insurance.  The aim is to bridge the gap between emergency relief and rural development by shielding small farmers from the impact of natural disasters and climate change.  And there is more in a press release upstairs.

**UNEP –- Paperless Conferences

And parties to the Montreal Protocol on protecting the ozone layer are meeting all this week in Doha.  In an effort to reduce greenhouse gases associated with this and other international conferences, a pilot programme is under way to make the meeting as paper-free as possible. 

As part of the initiative, which is sponsored by the UN Environment Programme and the Government of Qatar, delegates have been issued laptops with special software that allows them to share and amend papers during the meeting.  Participants have also been given lessons on how to minimize the use of printed documents. 

In an effort to reduce emissions linked to the publication and shipment of conference documents to and from meetings, UNEP’s exhibition in Doha is handing out memory sticks and guides on downloading publications, rather than the reports themselves.  There is more on this upstairs.

**Environment Awards

Three leading environmental and humanitarian agencies have launched a new type of award, aimed at honouring leaders in the response to large-scale environmental emergencies. 

The Green Star Awards will honour individuals, organizations, Governments and corporations for their special efforts to respond to such emergencies. 

The non-monetary awards are an initiative of the UN Environment Programme, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and Green Cross International.  The first Green Star Awards will be given out next May in Brussels.  And we have more information on that.

**International Criminal Court

Two more announcements:  The seventh session of the Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court opened this past weekend in The Hague and will last until November 22.

The Court says two new States have joined it, the Cook Islands and Suriname, raising the number of the member States to 108.

The Court also announced this morning that its Trial Chamber will hold a status conference tomorrow in the case of accused Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga.

**Secretary-General Appointment

And I have one announcement.

The Secretary-General has appointed Margareta Wahlström of Sweden as Assistant Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, and Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the implementation of the Hyogo Framework for Action in the Secretariat for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.  This new voluntary-funded post, based in Geneva, has been created to step up action and international cooperation on disaster risk reduction, as climate change steadily increases the number and intensity of natural disasters across the globe.

Ms. Wahlström has 25 years of extensive national and international experience in disaster management and institution building for strengthening capacity for disaster preparedness and risk reduction.  We have more information and her bio upstairs.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

Finally, as I mentioned, for tomorrow, we plan to have Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, via video link from Kinshasa.  And we will confirm the time of the press conference later today, but we’re aiming for noon.

And that’s all I have for you.  There is a 1 p.m. press conference here, anything for me?  Yes, George.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Marie, I am intrigued by this story about the opening of the powdered milk at the border crossing.  You say that it was cut open with knives by the authorities.  What authorities are we talking about?  This is a border.  It could be the Israelis, it could be the Palesti…the Hamas Government in Gaza.  And should that not be routinely specified?  And you said there were thousands of dollars of losses.  Are you saying therefore that they not only knifed, cut open the containers, but they dumped a lot of it on the floor?  What happened there, as far as you know?

Deputy Spokesperson:  George, I think I read to you everything that I know on the subject and I think the main concern expressed by the humanitarian agency was simply that powdered milk that was desperately needed by the infants, and the babies who needed it were no longer being able to be delivered to them.  For any other details you will have to get in touch with the agency later.  Masood?

Question:  Did you have any update on this Somalia, this pirating of ships by the Somalian …the Saudi ship?  The other thing on that…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing on specific incidents of… on pirating of ships today.

Question:  I just wanted to have, to ask whether any decision has been made by the Secretary-General to visit Pakistan while he is going to be in Doha for this summit later this month.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing further on his plans of travel other than what we have already announced to you. 

Question:  I was wondering, has the Secretary-General’s Office received any complaints from any Mission regarding the Culture of Peace Meetings?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Not that I am aware of.

Question:  Nothing?

Deputy Spokesperson:  But I will look into that for you.  But you could also probably ask the General Assembly Spokesperson on that issue. 

Question:  In the report on UNAMI that was discussed by the Security Council on Friday, the SG expressed concern about this Camp Ashraf and the Iraqi Representative told reporters afterwards, you know, that their position is that they should leave the country but they’re not going to force them to go back to Iran.  Obviously, there is probably not going to be any other possibility for them.  And I notice that the sit-in outside is now suddenly gone.  Is the Secretary-General going to be following up with this issue in the future?  Where does it stand in terms of the UN, I mean we have got this pact that’s been agreed by the US and the Iraqi Government.  How are they going to be following up on this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  On this specific issue, I don’t have anything for you right now, but I can look into it for you.  But if it involves refugees, you can also talk to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

Question:  But I’m more interested in, not the UNHCR side, but the SG side because the UNHCR has obviously been in contact with the Iraqi Government.  But it was in the SG report, so I am wondering how he is going to follow up because it’s on a much higher level than UNHCR.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have nothing beyond the report as of now.  So, I will look into it for you. 

Question:  It’s been reported that some Roma children died in Kosovo in camps that the United Nations built there, from lead poisoning.  Do we know anything about that or to confirm, deny what happened?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any reports from the UN Mission on this subject, but we’ll certainly check with them for you.

Question:  Okay, one more question.   There was a second school collapse in Haiti.  So, I was wondering if we know if the UN Mission there is going to do something in order to ensure better construction practices.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know if the construction of buildings is in the mandate of the UN Mission.  But I do know that the UN Mission there has been assisting with the rescue and recovery efforts with these collapses.  In terms of what they’re doing in future construction projects specifically, I would have to look into that for you.  But as I said, I don’t think there is a specific mandate for it to assist in construction, but of course, the UN is involved in a variety of areas in Haiti, including development.  So, I am sure that there is some angle of it that we can follow up for you, or you can also ask UNDP about it as well.  Yes.

Question:  This plan to teach diplomats how to use laptops sounds rather ambitious.  Is the goal to get everybody, all the ambassadors here to use their own laptops and it seems to me they’re not used to that. I may be judging them too harshly, but it seems to me that UN diplomats are used to having stuff handed to them.  Printed paper or something like this, rather than having to get it themselves.  Do you know anything about the hopes for the success of this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, obviously since it’s a pilot programme, they’re there to see how it will work.  So, let’s find out how it works in Doha and take it from there.

Question:  Do you have an idea how many delegates this involves in Doha?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It’s a conference for the Montreal Protocol in Doha, so if you contacted the conference organizers I’m sure they can tell you. 

Question:  I have some questions on the Congo that I’d like to ask, I mean, I may ask Doss tomorrow, but I’ll ask you.  One is that the military head of MONUC for North Kivu Bipin Rawat has been quoted that the UN having to use white vehicles with “UN” painted on it has led to -- is one of the reasons that they have been unable to effectively combat with the forces of Nkunda.  He said the camouflage and concealment are needed.  Since he is a MONUC commander, what is the UNs response to one of its military commanders saying that he has the wrong equipment and it makes it impossible…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not seen anything on MONUC on this.  I’d have to look into it for you.

Question:  Okay.  The other one is Mr. Obasanjo, the envoy was on the BBC saying that he believes Mr. Nkunda’s statement that he is doing all this for minorities throughout the DRC.  He was asked, “Do you believe him?” He said, “Of course I believe him.”  Is he speaking in any way on the UNs behalf?  And has Obasanjo, given that he met with Nkunda right before these attacks, has he had any response to it?  What’s the coordination between the UN condemning the attacks and Obasanjo praising Nkunda?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the UN Mission, as you know, is on the ground, and it condemned the attacks as part of its reaction to what it is mandated to do on the ground.  Mr. Obasanjo is the Secretary-General’s envoy, as you know. He was presented most recently in Nairobi as the Secretary-General’s Envoy to the Great Lakes Region.  This weekend, as I just mentioned to you, he met with the Angolan President, the President of the DRC. He also met with Nkunda and his message to Nkunda was clear -- that the international community expects a durable ceasefire to address the issue of humanitarian crisis and tragedy, and then to move forward to find durable peace and stability that we need for the sustainable development in the DRC.  His message is clear; it’s the same message that the Secretary-General had and has repeatedly, echoed on this issue.  And as I just mentioned to you, Mr. Obasanjo is on an exploratory mission right now.  This is his first mission as a Special Envoy.  He will continue his efforts and then he will come back and report to the Secretary-General.

Question:  There is this thing…

Deputy Spokesperson:  You’ve had two questions. 

Question:  In view of last week’s developments in Burma, wherein pro-democracy activists were sentenced to prison for two years to 65 years, what’s going to be the Secretary-General’s role now, approach now, for his good offices role in Burma?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General’s good offices role remains the same, and we did issue a strong statement regarding the latest in Myanmar last week. 

Question:  And do you have any information on Mr. Gambari’s visit to Burma next month or this month?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything specific to announce at this time.  One for you and the one for Matthew.  Yes?

Question:  Just a question about Turkmenistan.  They send a request if the UN can monitor the parliamentary elections there in December.  Do you have an answer whether the UN is going to do this?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll check for you.

[The Deputy Spokesperson later added that the United Nations had received an invitation to send representatives to visit Turkmenistan on the occasion of the parliamentary elections scheduled to take place on 14 December.  The United Nations was reviewing the request, she said.]

Question:  I believe that the Secretary-General is going to attend the opening of this new $25 million ceiling in Geneva -- the Human Rights chamber that there has been a lot of controversy that although it’s funded by Spain, that Spain has used its development aid budget to build the UN a Stalactite-draped ceiling.  Does Ban Ki-moon believe that this is an appropriate use of development aid, given the global financial crisis and the reduction in development aid by many countries?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, I don’t know anything about where funding of donation is coming from. As far as the UN is concerned, the Spanish contribution is coming from a Foundation; and that’s where the donation is coming from.  And I’ll give you more information upstairs.

Question:  (inaudible) admitted that it comes from development aid and they’re quoted as saying it’s an appropriate use of development aid.  So, since the UN is kind of the arbiter of development and he speaks about it a lot, when you find out, will you also say whether he thinks it’s an appropriate use of development aid?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just gave you my answer and I’ll give you more details on the foundation that is giving the money.

[The correspondent was later informed that the cost of the renovations to the new Human Rights Council and Alliance of Civilizations (Room XX) at the Palais des Nations in Geneva were entirely funded by ONUART, a Spanish foundation that was set up to collect public and private money from Spanish society.]

Question:  And, Ms. Wahlström’s post, you said it’s voluntarily funded.  Who is paying for it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll have to look into that for you.  If you can ask OCHA, I’m sure they’ll let you know.  It’s, as you know, it’s disaster reduction.

Question:  On this Saudi tanker, will you have any update later on for us?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t know if we have any specific updates on the pirating of tankers, but as you know the Secretary-General is very involved in trying to make sure that desperately needed humanitarian assistance does get through the waters to the people in Somalia.  And as you know, there has recently been a number of countries and efforts to try to prevent the pirating of the coast.  But I am not sure we’re going to have any specific update on that incident.

If there is nothing else for me, have a good afternoon.  And you’ll have a press conference here at 1 p.m. with Evo Morales.  Thank you very much.

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