10 December 2008


10 December 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

**Human Rights Day

Article 1:  All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.  They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2:  Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Article 3:  Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 5:  No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

I just read to you articles from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, whose sixtieth anniversary we’re celebrating today.  And today, of course, is also Human Rights Day.

In a message to mark the occasion, the Secretary-General says the Declaration reflects humanity’s aspirations for a future of prosperity, dignity and peaceful coexistence.  It is and always will be a core part of the UN’s identity.  The international community has drawn enduring inspiration from the Declaration to build a great foundation of laws that now protect countless people around the world, he adds.

We have come a long way, the Secretary-General says.  But the reality is that we have not lived up to the Declaration’s vision -– at least not yet.  In that regard, the Secretary-General says he has been very humbled and saddened at having seen so many people whose human rights are being abused and not properly protected.

We have the full text upstairs, as well as the text of a Human Rights Day video message that will be shown this afternoon to the General Assembly.

In a separate statement today, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay explains the significance of the Declaration.  She says that, when it was signed, for the first time, all human rights were recognized as belonging inherently to all people, rather than being gifts bestowed upon them by ruling regimes.

Also today, nearly 250 chief executive officers from the UN Global Compact issued a statement renewing their commitment to respect and support human rights within their spheres of influence, and calling on Governments to meet their human rights obligations.  The signed statement was published in the Financial Times today.

Meanwhile, the UN Information Centres around the world report that events are being organized to mark Human Rights Day.

In Paris, France, for example, a collection of short films on human rights is being screened at the Palais de Chaillot, where the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted 60 years ago.  In India last Sunday, 2,500 students marked the anniversary by running on New Delhi’s most prominent avenue.

And in South Africa, the UN Information Centre helped launch a 10-day banner campaign in major cities across the country.

Here at Headquarters, at 5 this evening, the recipients of the UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights will hold a press conference in this room.

And this Monday, at 7 p.m. in the General Assembly Hall, there will be a Human Rights Day Concert featuring UN Messenger of Peace Maestro Daniel Barenboim and members of the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra.  The event, which is being sponsored by the Spanish Mission, will include statements by the Secretary-General, the President of the General Assembly and the Vice-President of the Government of Spain.

Maestro Daniel Barenboim will hold a press conference this Friday, at 10:30 a.m. in this room, to discuss the concert, the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration and his work as a UN Messenger of Peace.  And you can obtain concert tickets through the Media Accreditation and Liaison Unit.  And, of course, you will hear a lot more about Human Rights Day with Enrique when he comes to brief you.

**Secretary-General in Poznan

The Secretary-General has arrived in Poznan, Poland, to attend the UN conference on climate change.  He will address the conference tomorrow and will appeal to the gathered leaders to not allow the various crises confronting them to be used as an excuse to defer action on climate change.

Upon arrival in Poznan, he was briefed by Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).  He then proceeded to a working luncheon with his Climate Change envoys -- Ricardo Lagos, Festus Mogae, Gro Harlem Brundtland and Srgjan Kerim.

On the eve of the high-level segment of the conference, the Secretary-General is holding a series of bilateral meetings with officials attending the conference.  He is scheduled to attend an official dinner tonight, hosted by the Government of Poland.


On the economic front, in its newly released Global Economic Prospects report for 2009, the World Bank finds that a significant slowdown is taking place everywhere, including in previously resilient developing countries. 

Global GDP is predicted to fall from 2.5 per cent this year to 0.9 per cent next year, with rich countries likely seeing negative growth.  The report also predicts that world trade will contract by more than 2 per cent next year.

That’s the first such decline in more than a quarter century.

Meanwhile, the World Bank has just announced the creation of a US $2 billion fast-track facility.  It’s designed to speed up grants and long-term, interest-free loans to help the world’s poorest countries cope with the global financial crisis.

In other news, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in its latest report, finds that the percentage of the region’s people living in poverty dropped slightly last year, to just less than one-third of the population.  Extreme poverty, however, rose slightly -- to just shy of 13 per cent.  There continued to be significant inequalities in income distribution.

The report notes that the region’s prospects for next year are bleak.  Employment is expected to stagnate, and the most seriously affected countries will be those that depend on migrant remittances or have direct links with the United States market.  There is more information on all of these items upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council held consultations this morning on the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) in the Golan Heights, following a meeting with the countries contributing troops for that Force.  Its current mandate expires at the end of this month.

After that, the Council discussed the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia, which is based in Turkmenistan.  Then it intends to hold a formal meeting on non-proliferation.

This afternoon, at 3, the Security Council has scheduled consultations on missing Kuwaiti persons and property in Iraq, and on the Sanctions Committee for Sudan.

The Council wrapped up its debate on terrorism yesterday with a Presidential Statement calling on all Member States to redouble efforts to tackle global terrorism.  And I am sure all of you got that statement.

** Middle East

On the Middle East, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) reports that it managed to get 13 trucks into Gaza today -– containing medicine and cooking oil –- but the Agency still maintains that this is not enough.

Meanwhile, Filippo Grandi, UNRWA’s Deputy Commissioner-General, today warned that, unless the Agency’s financial outlook improves significantly in the coming months, UNRWA faces the very real prospect of having to make cuts in basic education and health services.

UNRWA’s cash reserves have plummeted from just over $60 million at the beginning of 2006 to just $1 million this month.  “Effectively we are now running on empty,” Grandi warned.  He was addressing the annual pledging conference for UNRWA here at Headquarters.  We have more on that upstairs.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the facilitators of the Nairobi dialogue between the Congolese Government and the Congrès National pour la Défense du Peuple (CNDP) of Laurent Nkunda have expressed satisfaction at the progress achieved after two days of talks.  Both Olusegun Obasanjo, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region, and Benjamin Mkapa, his African Union counterpart, said they are optimistic that the substantive discussions between the parties will begin before the end of the month.  “We are building the foundation that should take us to substantive talks.  We are satisfied that we are making progress,” Obasanjo said.

** Sudan

The AU-UN Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) has handed over basic utensils and equipment to Sudanese police, to support their deployment at two new posts near UNAMID’s headquarters in Nyala, South Darfur.  The decision to install those posts came in the aftermath of an increase in carjacking of UN and international non-governmental organization (NGO) vehicles.

The new posts will deal with the deteriorating security situation and serve as permanent checkpoints to support the night patrols carried out by Sudanese personnel around the UNAMID compound.  We have more information in a press release from UNAMID.

Meanwhile, the UNAMID Joint Special Representative, Rodolphe Adada, met with the Joint Chief Mediator, Djibril Bassolé, in Khartoum today, to discuss the recent consultations that took place in Doha with different stakeholders.

They also talked about ways to reach a comprehensive ceasefire and to create an environment conducive to the revival of the peace process.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, has welcomed the return to Mogadishu of Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, the Chairman of the Alliance of the Re-liberation of Somalia.  Sheikh Sharif, who was involved in the Alliance’s reconciliation talks with the Transitional Government, is back home after two years abroad.  Ould-Abdallah said that Sheikh Sharif’s return to Mogadishu marks a welcome development for that process.

** Zimbabwe

In response to the widespread cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, the World Health Organization (WHO) is working with partners to establish a cholera control and command centre -- to coordinate efforts to fight the sickness.  In that regard, the agency is seeking donor support for a $6 million cholera response plan proposal.

WHO warns that there are serious regional implications behind the outbreak, with cholera cases crossing into South Africa and Botswana.

WHO has already sent enough medical supplies to treat 50,000 people for common conditions for three months, as well as to treat 3,200 moderate cases of cholera.  WHO has also sent epidemiologists, a water and sanitation expert, and a logistician to Harare to strengthen response efforts on the ground.  We have more upstairs.

** Cambodia

Visiting Cambodia this week, a high-level Secretariat delegation, led by Assistant-Secretary-General for Legal Affairs, Mr. Peter Taksoe-Jensen, met yesterday with Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Royal Government Task Force on the Khmer Rouge Trials, H.E. Sok An.

In the meeting, the parties held constructive discussions on various issues of mutual concern with regard to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.  There, both sides welcomed the significant achievements made by the Extraordinary Chambers, including progress towards the imminent start of the first trial.

** Myanmar

Seven months in the aftermath of the devastating Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar, the United Nations in Yangon organized an international donor meeting yesterday.  The participants at that meeting, including representatives of Governments and NGOs, stressed that health support in the cyclone-affected areas is on top of the agenda.

The UN’s revised appeal of $451 million is currently two-thirds funded.  Agriculture and early recovery continue to be the least funded sectors, followed by health.

** Sri Lanka

The World Food Programme (WFP) is continuing its weekly dispatch of food convoys to the Vanni area in Sri Lanka for the third month, and it reiterates that its mandate is to provide food assistance to those in need.

WFP, in cooperation with the Government of Sri Lanka and other stakeholders, has dispatched a total of 4,120 tons of mixed food commodities to meet the needs of an estimated 200,000 internally displaced persons in the Vanni region.  WFP provides food assistance to 1.1 million people composed of internally displaced persons, the economically affected, school children and other most vulnerable people in Sri Lanka.

** Nepal

And over in Nepal, the Nepalese Army, assisted by the United Nations Mine Action Team, has recommenced demining after a five-month break due to the monsoon season.  Nepalese Army engineers have been redeployed in three districts in the eastern region of Nepal at the beginning of December.

The UN Mine Action Team Programme Manager in Nepal, Stephen Robinson, said the Nepalese Army had the opportunity to make Nepal a mine-impact-free country within the next three years.  Five minefields have been cleared in Nepal during this year.

And this is all I have for you today.  I’ll take your questions before giving the floor to Enrique.  Yes, James?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  We had a press conference earlier with the Catholic Family and Human Rights Institute who put together a petition, and their point is that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights should or does contain the rights of the unborn child that lead to being against abortions; whereas, if you speak to anti, sort of pro-abortion groups, they say that there are provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which support their position.  We’ve been told that they’re presenting their petition to the Secretary-General.   Have you received it, and what is the Secretary-General’s position on the issue in general?

Spokesperson:  We have not received it yet, as far as I know.  And at this point, I will not have any reaction.

Question:  But does the Secretary-General have a position on whether or not the Universal Declaration of Human Rights spells out rights of the mother of the still unborn child?

Spokesperson:  I will let you read the Declaration; I started by doing so today, and I want you to read it yourself and see.  I don’t have a specific Secretary-General reaction to the petition he has not received yet. 

Question:  But does he have a reaction to the issue itself?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have anything at this point.

Question:  He takes no position on the...?

Spokesperson:  No.  Betsy?

Question:  I’ll start by re-posing James’ question.  Does the Secretary-General have a position on abortion?

Spokesperson:  At this point, I don’t have any reaction to the petition, as I said.  There is no specific position in terms of the specific issue of abortion.

Question:  Even independently of whether or not he has received the petition?

Spokesperson:  Even independently of that.

Question:  My other question is on Algiers.  As you know, tomorrow is the one-year anniversary of the bombing that killed at least 22 UN people.  Can you tell us how many people have been apprehended, either in Algeria or anywhere else?

Spokesperson:  We’ll have an update for you tomorrow on where we are in terms of the follow-up to the Zacklin report, and I’ll have that for you tomorrow.

Question:  Okay.  In the meantime, can you tell us what’s happening with the effort to replace David Veness, who is supposed to have resigned?

Spokesperson:  Nothing has been decided yet.

Question:  Okay.  There’s no point in me going on with this, is there?

Spokesperson:  Well, if you want to go on, go on, Betsy.  I’ll keep on answering the way I think best.  Go ahead.

Question:  Okay.  What is the status of claims by victims and their survivors?

Spokesperson:  On the Algiers bombing?

Question:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  That I can follow up with you.  I said tomorrow I will be following up on this.

[The Spokesperson later said that UNDP had reported that a total of €112,000 were paid to the families of UNDP and UNDP-affiliated staff killed or injured in the attack.]

Question:  Have you got someone that is coming to the briefing or will it be you following up?

Spokesperson:  I am hoping to get someone; I don’t know yet at this point.

Question:  One last question.  Tomorrow morning there is a commemoration, I assume that’s open to the press?

Spokesperson:  Yes, it is.

Question:  Gordon Brown has been quoted that he spoke with Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday night and that he said that “this conversation with Ban Ki-moon led us to believe we can have a meeting of the Security Council next week on Monday regarding Zimbabwe”.  What’s your readout on the call with Gordon Brown?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any readout on that specifically, concerning Zimbabwe.  You mean what the position of the Secretary-General is?

Question:  Sure, because it seems like he said publicly, Gordon Brown has said it publicly, that following this call he believes that there can be a meeting about Zimbabwe in the Security Council on Monday.  I am wondering what then...

Spokesperson:  I am sure that on Monday if the Secretary-General is participating in a meeting on Zimbabwe, then you will know his position on the recent developments.

Question:  There is also a recently just filed budget document; first performance report on programme budget, in which it says, it appears at least from the summary of the document that the Secretariat is asking for $217 million more than what was appropriated in December 2007.  I was trying to figure out how this is consistent; I thought he’d put out this call to cut the budget by 2 per cent.  Is in fact more money being requested than had been approved in December?

Spokesperson:  We’ll also get you an update on the budget right after those discussions that are taking place right now in the General Assembly.  We were planning on this all along, to get you a budget with DM, the Department of Management.  Yes, Jonathan?

Question:  What is the Secretary-General’s position on the declaration that the French were trying to get passed, in the General Assembly, decriminalizing any sort of attacks against homosexuality?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, that declaration has not been put to the General Assembly yet.  It’s supposed to, from what I understand, it’s supposed to come out on the 16th or the 17th, and of course, I will get a reaction for you at that time.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi?

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  As you indicated, this is an important Human Rights commemoration day.  And Ms. Pillay said that the economic rights are as important as social and political rights.  And yet, some 33,000 babies die every day of malnutrition, and we don’t hear much about the human rights from Ms. Pillay.  Do you think that she should display the same dynamism in the defence of the human rights all over the world, such as was done by Mary Robinson, her predecessor?

Spokesperson:  You want my opinion on whether Judge Pillay, who just arrived on the job, is doing her job right?  Is that what you’re asking me?

Question:  No, I am asking if she shouldn’t show the same dynamism as her predecessors.

Spokesperson:  I am sure she thinks so also.  She did mention the fact that economic and social rights are important.  She said that yesterday at her own briefing.  And as you know, we have been pushing for these rights.  This is what the Millennium Development Goals are about; the economic and social rights of people.  So, you know, I leave Ms. Pillay’s programme of work to her, for her to tell you about her programme of work.  But I am sure it’s high on her agenda, and I can tell you it is high on the Secretary-General’s agenda.  Yes?

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comments on the crackdown being carried out by the Pakistani civilian government militant organization and the arrest of their leaders suspected of involvement in the Bombay (sic) attacks?

Spokesperson:  No, he has no position on that, at this point.  He’s just concerned and being aware; he’s certainly aware of the situation since the Mumbai attacks, and he has been following what has been happening very closely.  Yes, Matthew?

Question:  Just one follow-up to Ms. Pillay’s press conference yesterday.  She said that her office had been instrumental in getting one or more Nepalese Generals removed from peacekeeping missions based on their involvement in disappearances in Nepal.  I hadn’t heard that before, so is there some way to find, I guess to get more on that, to get DPKO to confirm that they removed individual peacekeepers?

Spokesperson:  Well, we can follow up with her office, of course.  And you can have additional details from her office.  You know she has an office here at Headquarters in New York.  And you can also follow up with them in Geneva; we can give you the right people to contact.

Question:  She mentioned the case of General Karenzi, the Rwandan General in Sudan.  Where does that stand?  What’s his current contractual...?  She seemed to take the position; she said it as a positive achievement of her office that she’s raised the issue of possible human rights abuses by this General.  Still, how long will he remain with UNAMID?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know how long his contract is right now, but his contract is still on.

Question:  Will he be considered for renewal given what Ms. Pillay said yesterday?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point.  Thank you all so very much.  Please, Enrique.

Thank you, Michèle.  And thank you for reminding all of us of some of the fundamentals of our own existence and those of the very same organization that we are working for.

As you have seen, today is a busy day with the celebrations and events commemorating the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

President d´Escoto opened this morning at the General Assembly the two panels and introduced the panellist participating on lessons learned and challenges ahead of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  In his opening remarks, Mr. d´Escoto said:

“The Office of the President of the General Assembly will continue to promote dialogue, discussion and interaction among States, and between States and society, as its contribution to the search for solutions to the major problems confronting the world today.  We do not want these debates, however, to be only forums for discussion.  We want them to result in blueprints for action, resolutions of the General Assembly, the blazing of trails for building a new economic and social order that puts an end to the logic of the concentration of capital, wealth and knowledge, and signals the beginning of a new logic of inclusion, participation and democratization of institutions and incomes, in which all nations and persons can aspire to the highest standards of living.  This is the essence of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:  education, health, employment, housing, culture, food and recreation for all human beings.”

And this afternoon, the programme continues with the winners of the UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights for 2008.  The winners, as you probably already know, this year are Ms. Louise Arbour, Mr. Ramsey Clark, Dr. Carolyn Gomes, Dr. Denis Mukwege and Human Rights Watch.  Ms. Benazir Bhutto and Sister Dorothy Stang were awarded the Prize posthumously.

This prestigious award is given to individuals and organizations in recognition of their outstanding contribution to the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.  Previous recipients have included Nelson Mandela, Amnesty International, Jimmy Carter, Eleanor Roosevelt and Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King.

Also this morning, the President of the General Assembly opened the Committee for Voluntary Contributions to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNWRA) and he said:  

“I wish to make note of the bitter irony that this pledging meeting takes place on the same day as the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  As we celebrate this historic document throughout the building and throughout the world, we cannot escape the fact that our Palestinian brothers and sisters have no reason to celebrate.  Their rights have entered a state of perpetual suspension.

It is tragic that any people should have remained refugees and in need of international humanitarian assistance some 59 years after the international community undertook to find a just and durable solution to their situation.  This was meant to be a stop-gap measure, not a permanent fixture of ongoing misery and deprivation for the whole world to witness year after year.  There is a growing recognition among the international community that a durable peace settlement in the Middle East cannot be obtained without addressing the refugee question in all its dimensions.”

And finally, on the climate change front, the President of the General Assembly would like to appeal to the parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change attending the meeting at Poznan, Poland, to ensure that the rights of indigenous peoples, as contained in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, are respected and implemented.  This includes respecting the right of indigenous peoples to have their free, prior and informed consent obtained before any climate-change-related project is brought into their communities.  He further reiterates that indigenous peoples, who value the importance of maintaining a harmonious relationship with nature and who have the lightest ecological footprints, be included by parties in designing, implementing, monitoring and evaluating climate change policies and programmes at all levels.

And we have with us today Mirian Masaquiza, from the cabinet of the President of the General Assembly, who has been back from Poland, in case you have any further questions on this particular issue.  And this is all I have for you today, unless there are any questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  You just indicated that the President said that no solution can be found to the Middle Eastern problems, conflict, without resolution of the refugee problem.  Does he have any specific ideas on how to resolve the refugee problem?

Spokesperson:  Well, this is a political problem.  As you know, he’s been flagging it every time that he can, as much as possible since he took office as the President of the General Assembly.  He knows that there are several parties, several efforts in that direction.  And he’s always available himself to whatever solution is possible.  But, again, from his perspective, what is important is to flag that this ironytoday, after almost sixty years we still have a refugee problem in Palestine, in what was one of the most important -- one of the first jobs -- for the UN Organization to try to help.

Question:  On this UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights, could you explain a little bit...  I’ve seen these prizes that are awarded every five years by the General Assembly.  What is the procedure for choosing the recipients?  What was the President of the General Assembly’s involvement in it, if any?  And what’s the basis of the Prize to Ramsey Clark?  Is there any written statement or rationale for the award?

Spokesperson:  Yes, there is a full press release on this, available for you.  But let me just give some headlines, some highlights on this issue.  This is a prize that is given, as you said, every five years.  It started in 1968.  There is a Committee who decides who is going to be awarded.  It’s chaired by the President of the General Assembly.  The other members -- I think I have them here -- the Committee is comprised of the President of the General Assembly as a Chairperson, the President of the Economic and Social Council, the President of the Human Rights Council, the Chairperson of the Commission on the Status of Women, and the Chairperson of the Advisory Committee on the Human Rights Council.  They are selected after the countries -- the different countries, the 192 countries -- put forward the possibilities of people to be named.

Question:  How many nominations were there, and who nominated Ramsey Clark?

Spokesperson:  They met on 21 November 2008, and there were 181 nominations.  I’m not sure about Clark precisely.  So, I can try to check that for you.

Question:  Not to belabour it.  But I guess one question -- maybe you can get a comment from the President of the General Assembly on it.  Given that Mr. Clark represented Slobodan Milosević and a variety of international characters thought to violate human rights, how is it consistent…?  What was the rationale…?  Does he support the Prize and how…?  Maybe it’s defence of due process; I have no idea what the rationale is.

Spokesperson:  Well, I think the whole rationale for each of the members is in the official communication that we have issued.  And in the case of Ramsey Clark, it says that he’s a veteran human rights defender and rule of law advocate and former Attorney General of the United States, and has been a leading voice for peace and justice at the international level for decades.  He played a key role in the [cut off] in his home country, and he promoted fairness and justice around the globe.  And again, you have there all the background information, but I have a copy of the press release in case you need more.

Question:  Going back to the abortion issue again, we were told during the press conference of the C-FAM organizers that they want to get their petition and their issue addressed by the General Assembly.  They said that they’ve already approached Mr. d’Escoto and that that approach had been rejected.  Can you confirm that point and, also, set out what the General Assembly President’s position on abortion is, in the light of his background as a Catholic priest?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any information on whether that petition was put forward to the President of the General Assembly.  Let me check that.  Let me check that for you, and then I’ll come back with more information on that particular issue.

Question:  There’s a second part to the question.

Spokesperson:  The second part to the question?

Question:  Which is, more broadly, what is the General Assembly President’s position on the issue, in general?

Spokesperson:  On the issue in general, I will have to come back to him and ask him on this particular issue.  I’ve never discussed it with him before.  I’ll try.

Question:  On the French declaration on homosexuality, what is President d’Escoto’s position on that?  And also, you read out a statement about the Gaza Strip and the crisis there.  But I didn’t hear -- unfortunately I had to go out and maybe you mentioned something -- but I didn’t hear anything about the Hamas rocket attacks and the Islamic Jihad rocket attacks on Israel proper.  Did you mention that?  And if not, why are we hearing statements coming from President d’Escoto’s office that appear to be not balanced?

Spokesperson:  Okay.  On the first one, on the issue of the French draft resolution, President d’Escoto welcomes [it], like any other draft resolution from the Member countries, and he will comment once the resolution has been approved.  But, as the general rule, he’s more than happy to have these issues discussed at the General Assembly and to have as many countries as possible working together to respect the rights of anybody in the world. 

As for your second question, President d’Escoto has made it very clear that he is fully against any sort of violent reaction from any party anywhere in the world.  He himself is an advocate of non-violence.  In the case of the Palestinians, he was talking today about the Palestinian refugees, and this is why he’s flagging the issue of Palestine.  The Palestinian refugees are an issue that has not been resolved.  He’s been very clear about it.  As he put it very bluntly, right after this Organization was born, there was a resolution passed saying that there should be two States in Palestine:  one for Israel and one for the Palestinians.  And 60 years later we have only one State.  This is what he has been saying; that it is a major failure in the work of the international community.  But again, and I underline very clearly on Human Rights Day, he’s against any kind of violence.

Question:  But he has not mentioned a fair statement.  The statement is not a valid statement.  Why is he leaving things out like this?  Why the other day did we hear the, sort of, decades-old arguments that…  You know, right now the Israelis and the Palestinians -- at least not the Hamas Palestinian groups, but certainly Abbas and his team -- are in intense negotiations with the Israelis, trying to resolve this crisis.  Why are we hearing some of the old -- sort of, really old -- statements that really aren’t prescient, sort of, enlightened, it seems?  And why would you make a statement about a crisis that has two parties, where both parties have legitimate grievances?  Why wouldn’t you acknowledge the grievances from both parties?

Spokesperson:  Again, I leave the adjective for you as a journalist.  I think his statement is very balanced.  He has made very clear his position on this issue.  I don’t want to repeat it again.  But he’s against any kind of violence, and he has been flagging an old problem because it’s a current unresolved problem, but it is old…

Question:  I don’t mean to beleaguer this, but I have never heard out of his mouth any condemnation of rocket attacks and violence against the nation.  All I’ve heard from his camp is specifically complaints about the suffering of the people in Gaza, without looking at the broader context of why that’s happening.  It seems to be a very one-sided approach to a long-term conflict, and it seems rather odd.

Spokesperson:  Again, Jonathan, I leave this for you.  I leave the adjective for you.  But he made very clear, and I’m going to repeat it again, that he’s against any sort of violence.

Question:  Tell me something about Ramsey Clark.  Why did it take such a long time for Ramsey Clark to be acknowledged?  Didn’t he go through the process…? Wasn’t Ramsey Clark nominated before and rejected?  Do you have that also?

Spokesperson:  To be honest, I don’t know.  I can look that up for you.  I don’t know what the background on the process is and who was nominated before.  But I can check that for you.

Question:  Also on this, Martin Luther King.  He received the UN Award posthumously in 1968?  Is that right?

Spokesperson:  I’ll have to check that for you, again.  I mean, I don’t have the background right now.

Question:  In the view of the Assembly’s holding of activities on the consideration of human rights issues -- and as you know the Human Rights Commission has the bulk of the responsibility within this area -- how is the work of the two coordinated?  Is there any coordination between the work of the Assembly in the field of human rights with that of the Commission or the office of the Commission on Human Rights?

Spokesperson:  Well, they are coordinated as any other organ and any other Commission under the General Assembly.  This afternoon we’re going to have the report being read at the General Assembly.  I don’t think there is any particular difference with any other Commissions and Committee that is working under the General Assembly.

Question:  A last -- possibly last -- question on the Palestinians.  Does the President of the General Assembly support their eventual return, or does he support citizenship for them where they are now?  Or is there another outcome that he would prefer to see?

Spokesperson:  The President of the General Assembly, as President -- something else, is his personal opinion -- but as President of the General Assembly, the only thing that he is making very clear is that the resolutions of the General Assembly, including the one for the Palestinian State, should be implemented.  That’s his position since day one, and there is nothing new about it.  In a day as important as today, where we are discussing about human rights, he has made it very clear where he believes there are some of the areas where some people have absolutely no ground for celebration.

Question:  You said his personal opinion is different than his professional opinion?

Spokesperson:  No, no, I didn’t say.  I didn’t say that.  I said that I’m not entering into his personal opinion.  He always expresses himself as the President of the General Assembly, and as such, he has made clear that he wants the resolutions to be implemented.  As simple as that.

Question:  A follow-up?

Spokesperson:  It’s an animated discussion today!

Question:  You indicated just now that the President of the General Assembly thinks that the resolutions of the General Assembly should be implemented.  And yet, he knows that some of these resolutions are only recommendations.  How does he reconcile that?

Spokesperson:  You know, he has made it very clear, too, that this is one of the weaknesses of the Organization; the lack of power to implement resolutions supported by the big majority of the Organization.  It’s in that framework that he’s trying to make a big push of the restructuring of the Organization and, especially, what he calls the revitalization of the work of the General Assembly, which is going on with other ongoing reforms, like the Security Council etc., right now.  But certainly, this is an area for improvement.

Question:  I’m sure that you and Miguel d’Escoto are familiar with the work of Dr. Joel Filartiga of Paraguay.  I think he was nominated for the Nobel Prize not too long ago.  There was a major film about his life, and recently, two years ago, a book called Breaking silence:  the case that changed the place of human rights was published by Georgetown Press.  Richard Alan White was the author.  Now I was wondering if Dr. Filartiga has ever been considered for the Human Rights Award, because of his personal sacrifice –- you know that his son was tortured to death, to try and stop him from fighting for the right of the dispossessed in Paraguay -- whether he’s ever been considered, and if not, why not?  He certainly is…  His stature is as selfless and as dedicated as anybody else.

Spokesperson:  Yes, as I said to Masood and to Matthew, I’m not familiar.  I don’t have the list of people who had been already nominated or put forward for consideration.  Let me check that, to see whether this is available, and I’ll come back to you on this particular issue.

Question:  I remember about five or six years ago, the General Assembly established, or was it a Committee, or rather there was a resolution against the wall that Israel has built, which has cost a lot of money.  But the Palestinians opposed.  And a lot of the Palestinians are affected by it.  The Secretary-General was asked to create a directory where all these complaints were to be filed.  Do you have an update on that thing -- on how many complaints were filed, who were the people affected by it?

Spokesperson:  Those were complaints filed for whom?

Question:  A General Assembly resolution on the wall -- the General Assembly decided to establish a directory, or would receive the complaints of the people impacted by it.

Spokesperson:  I’m not sure, to be honest about it.  I’m not that familiar.  Let me check that for you, and I’ll come back.

Question:  On the Prizes.  If we can get a list of the nominees before this press conference at 5, it would really be helpful.  Even if we can’t get the full list, whether any other special advisers of Mr. d’Escoto were either nominated or considered.

Spokesperson:  Okay.

Question:  On this thing that you mentioned, the environment and the rights of the indigenous.  Is that a reference to this REDD Programme [reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation], this commission on deforestation?  And is –- I couldn’t figure out from your statement -– has this been…?  It is said that the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were opposing the language that you read out.  Are they still opposing it, and is that a statement directed at those four countries?

Spokesperson:  That we have our expert here.  Mirian, do you want to answer that question?  Do you want to come here a second?

Ms.Masaquiza:  Thank you very much for the question.  I am happy to answer that.  The indigenous caucus, around 30 people meeting in Poznan, they are trying to lobby these specific countries and other countries too.  We understand that it’s really important that any programme and REDD should be in full cooperation with the indigenous peoples around the world.  As we have to understand, it’s not just forest that we are talking about.  Indigenous peoples have protected these forests for hundreds of years.  If we want to save our planet, we have to be sure that people who are living there all take care of this forest.  That’s all that we are trying to appeal, and we are very happy that the President of the General Assembly supports this statement, because we understand that if nobody is doing these kinds of things, who else is going to talk about these issues?  That’s something that I would like to pass on.  I hope that you can also talk about these issues in your documents and all your statements that I guess you will write about.  Just make sure that people and humanity understands that people who are there should be also taken into account.  It’s not just forests that are the main issue.  Thank you.

Question:  I noticed that...  Maybe you can address this in whatever capacity.  Australia being part of this, with the other three countries, I thought that they were now signing the Declaration, the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples under Kevin Rudd.  Has their policy not changed?  Are they still part of the opponents, in Poznan?

Ms.Masaquiza:  As you know, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples is a declaration.  It doesn’t have to be ratified or signed.  So, in that case, it’s --- how can I say -- their desire that they should implement this Declaration.  We hope that they can understand that the indigenous peoples are a society, also.  And we hope that this can be implemented in all the regions, not just in Australia or any other country.  Thank you.

Spokesperson:  Okay, thank you very much, Mirian.

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