16 December 2008


16 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

Good Afternoon, all.

**Quartet -- Security Council

The Security Council adopted a resolution declaring its support for the negotiations initiated at Annapolis, Maryland, last year and its commitment to the irreversibility of bilateral Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.

Speaking at that meeting, the Secretary-General said that, although we still face many hurdles, a serious process is under way, and we must ensure that what has been started is seen all the way through to its conclusion.  As we enter 2009, he said, we must stabilize the situation on the ground and ensure that all tracks of the peace process are intensified.

The Secretary-General yesterday afternoon read out the latest statement by the Quartet dealing with the negotiations, adding that efforts to advance the negotiations have been tireless and are continuing.

He said that we look forward to working closely from the outset with the administration of President-elect Barack Obama to achieve the goal of a two-State solution and comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace.

The Quartet, in its statement, reaffirmed support for the bilateral, comprehensive, direct, uninterrupted, confidential and ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and commended Israel and the Palestinians for their continuous efforts to conclude a peace treaty resolving all outstanding issues without exception.  The Quartet called on all States to demonstrate their support for the Annapolis process and their commitment to the two-State solution by contributing to an environment conducive to an end to the conflict.  We have the transcript of the Secretary-General’s comments, and a Quartet statement is on the web.

** Gaza

The Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process informs us that the movement of goods into Gaza at the crossing points was limited today, as crossings closed earlier than scheduled because of the firing of rockets from Gaza towards Israel.

A total of 49 truckloads, including 17 for humanitarian aid agencies, were allowed entry into Gaza today.

Limited fuel was supplied from Israel to the Gaza power plant, meaning that some power was able to be supplied to Gaza City, reducing power cuts, UNSCO adds.

**Security Council on Somalia

This afternoon at 3, the Security Council will hold a formal meeting to consider a draft resolution concerning efforts to deal with piracy and armed robbery in the waters off the coast of Somalia.

The Secretary-General expects to address Council members at that meeting.

Meanwhile, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime today put forward several proposals to combat piracy in the Horn of Africa region.  We have a press release upstairs.

** Zimbabwe

Just to recap, the Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told the Security Council yesterday afternoon that “we continue to witness a failure of the leadership in Zimbabwe to address the political, economic, human rights and humanitarian crisis that is confronting the country and to do what is best for the people of Zimbabwe.”

He also deplored the fact that “neither the Harare Government nor the mediator (the Southern African Development Community, or SADC) welcomes a United Nations political role.”

“This clearly limits our ability to effectively help find immediate remedies to this crisis,” he said.

The lack of progress on the political front is accompanied by a “dramatic” deterioration in living conditions and of the humanitarian situation, the Secretary-General noted.

He urged all parties to put the interests of the people of Zimbabwe first and to make all the compromises necessary for a workable political solution to emerge in the coming days.

The people of Zimbabwe cannot afford to wait any longer, he said.

** Zimbabwe Cholera Outbreak

Regarding the cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe, the World Health Organization (WHO) today said it hoped to inaugurate, this week, a Cholera Command Control Centre to properly coordinate the different activities regarding the cholera outbreak, and to better identify where the cases were emerging and to better respond to them.

The briefing notes from Geneva contain an update on efforts by UN agencies and their partners to contain the outbreak.  It is available upstairs.


The African Union-United Nations Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) reports today that it is dispatching an assessment mission following the reported tribal clashes in South Darfur.

The names of the areas where the assessment mission would be visiting this week are contained in today’s briefing note from UNAMID.

Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) reports that a group of 97 Sudanese refugees, mainly from Darfur, who have been stranded in a makeshift camp in the desert in Iraq since 2005, left this morning for Amman, Jordan, from where they are scheduled to fly to Romania.

In Romania, they will be housed in a new Emergency Transit Centre while they wait for their resettlement applications to be processed.

The refugees suffered abuse, blackmail, eviction and assaults by militias in Iraq.  A total of 17 Sudanese were killed between December 2004 and February 2005.

Because of this targeting by the insurgent groups, the refugees tried to flee Iraq but were not successful.  They became stranded in a camp east of the Jordan/Iraq border.  Here, they were subject to severe weather conditions and harassment by militias.  UNHCR has delivered humanitarian aid to the group, which includes women and children, while trying to find a durable solution for them.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is saddened by the shooting death yesterday, in North Kivu, of a Congolese worker for the Italian relief agency, the Voluntary Association for International Service.  UNHCR says armed men ambushed the vehicle carrying a number of the relief agency’s staff and opened fire on it.  The incident took place outside Rutshuru, a town near the provincial capital of Goma.  The Voluntary Association for International Service has been helping Congolese civilians since 2002, and has lately focused on the plight of children in IDP camps.

UNHCR has also voiced concern at reports from Rutshuru that Laurent Nkunda’s rebels are coercing displaced civilians to return to their villages.  The more than 10,000 displaced civilians have been staying in a makeshift camp near a UN peacekeeping base.  They have said that they are seeking UN protection because they fear reprisals if they return to their homes at this time.

Meanwhile, Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has returned from his first trip to Dungu, a town in Orientale Province, where repeated raids by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) have displaced tens of thousands of civilians.  Doss said he was in Dungu in a show of solidarity with the people of the region.  He strongly condemned killings perpetrated by the LRA, which he called an organization that has no reason to exist and must be brought to justice.

** Cyprus

The Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, today spoke to the press, following the meeting of Cyprus leaders in the UN Protected Area of Nicosia.

He said that today’s meeting discussed external relations and the powers of a federal government.  Downer added that the next agenda item is the “hierarchy of norms”, or the relationship between the laws of the constituent states and the federal government.  The next meeting is scheduled for Monday, 22 December.  We have a full transcript of Mr. Downer’s remarks upstairs.

** Papua New Guinea –- UNDAC

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is sending, today, a six-member UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) in support of the UN country team in Papua New Guinea.

On 8 December, a rise in sea levels hit the northern shoreline of Papua New Guinea, affecting eight provinces across the Pacific island.  An estimated 50,000 to 60,000 people have been affected.

**World Food Programme

The head of the World Food Programme (WFP) today urged countries to allocate a small fraction of their proposed financial rescue packages to meeting the world’s urgent hunger needs.

WFP Executive Director Josette Sheeran made the remarks in New Delhi, during her first visit to India.  Sheeran noted that the world is poised to come up with trillions of dollars for financial rescue.  But “what will they produce for the human rescue?” she asked.

WFP hopes to feed nearly 100 million people in 2009 and will begin the new year needing more than $5.2 billion for urgent hunger needs.  Sheeran noted that a mere 1 per cent of what has been proposed for financial rescue and stimulus packages in the US and Europe could not only fully fund WFP’s work, but also help meet other urgent hunger needs.  These include feeding all 59 million hungry school children worldwide and establishing a reserve fund for the fast acquisition of food stocks for emergencies.  There is more information upstairs.

**OHCHR – Occupied Palestinian Territory

High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay today criticized Israel’s refusal to allow UN expert Professor Richard Falk to transit Israel in order to carry out his officially mandated functions in the occupied Palestinian territories.  She called the situation -- along with his detention at, and subsequent expulsion from, the country’s main airport -- “unprecedented and deeply regrettable.”

Falk was travelling in his official capacity as Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.  He was stopped at immigration shortly after arriving Sunday at Ben Gurion Airport.  He remained there for more than 20 hours before being deported to the US, according to OHCHR.  The Office adds that Professor Falk followed standard practice in his travels.

Pillay said she was taking the matter up directly with the Israeli authorities, including possible breaches of UN privileges and immunities.


As part of an annual campaign, UNICEF is benefiting from holiday sales of soft toys at IKEA.  The department store chain is donating €1 for each toy sold through 24 December.  The funds will be used to finance education projects run by UNICEF and Save the Children. 

We understand that UNICEF has some of the soft toys to give out to journalists.  You can get contact information from the press release we have upstairs.

**Event on Real Estate and Financial Crisis Today

This afternoon, from 3 to 6 p.m., in Conference Room 8, there will be a seminar on “The Real Estate and Financial Crisis:  Causes, Effects and Impacts on Development”.  The Deputy Secretary-General will open the seminar, which will be moderated by Wall Street Journal “Money and Investing” Editor Ken Brown.  There is more information on this upstairs.

**UNHCR Event Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning at 10 a.m. in the Dag Hammarskjold Library Auditorium, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is hosting an event to focus attention on the humanitarian emergency in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Actor and director Ben Affleck will launch “Gimme Shelter”, an international campaign to aid those displaced by violence.  Advance RSVPs are required.  And there is more information on that also upstairs.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Tomorrow at 11 a.m., the Secretary-General will hold a year-end press conference.  There will be no noon briefing tomorrow.

At 12:30 p.m., Georg Kell, Executive Director of the UN Global Compact Office, will hold a press conference to discuss current trends and developments in the corporate responsibility arena, particularly in the context of the financial crisis and the subsequent economic downturn.

And at 1:30 p.m., there will be a press conference by Daniel Bellemare, Commissioner of the International Independent Investigation Commission for Lebanon, following Security Council consultations on the Commission.  So you have a lot on your plate in the next two days.  And that’s all I have for you.  Questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  (Inaudible) He was named in July, but there was no announcement.  So, I understand that was exploratory.

Spokesperson:  Well, the Government of Niger was informed at that time in July of his appointment as… (interrupted)

Question:  Was that requested by the Government in Niger?

Spokesperson:  No, he has undertaken a few exploratory visits to the region as a Special Envoy for Niger.  And what the Secretary-General wanted by appointing him was to ensure that the UN remained engaged in supporting efforts of the Government and people of Niger in addressing various challenges to the country’s stability.  He has visited Niger on a number of occasions to consult with Government and all the national actors on issues of conflict prevention.

Question:  (Inaudible)

Spokesperson:  In this specific visit he was there, it was the second visit…

Question:  …since July?

Spokesperson:  …since July.  And he has been there since 11 December.

Question:  But why would it not be announced, you know, normally it’s, you know press releases and all sorts of things when a new envoy is announced?

Spokesperson:  Well, because the assignment was exploratory in nature.  Any public announcement would have, we felt, prejudiced the evolution of the Special Envoy’s mission.  So that’s why it was not announced.  But the Government of Niger was informed in July, and he was sent there as a Special Envoy.

Question:  And the actual presumed abduction wasn’t even in where the car was found any way.  It wasn’t in this uranium area, I understand.  Now, I mean, were they on their way to the uranium area, [because], you know, about uranium, Tuareg and so forth?  It wasn’t even in that particular area.

Spokesperson:  Well, the only thing we know is that he was 45 kilometres north-east of the capital.

Question:  Where was he on his way to, though?

Spokesperson:  We don’t know.  This is information we don’t have yet.

Question:  Usually, there is a log, you know, back at the capital where he was going.

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, he was there travelling with his Canadian aide and with one UNDP driver.

Question:  And, obviously, there would be with no escort?

Spokesperson:  No, no, no.

Question:  Was there any sort of escort from the other side?

Spokesperson:  Well, he had not apparently asked for any.

Question:  So he did not ask for it, as well?  But was there anybody with him from the other side?  He has sometimes (inaudible) we saw him during the Rwanda…

Spokesperson:  No, he was travelling alone, as I said, with his aide… (interrupted)

Question: …nobody this side, that side…

Spokesperson:  No, no.  He was travelling alone with his Canadian aide and with a driver.

Question:  Is that a marked UN vehicle, the UNDP vehicle, is it marked?

Spokesperson:  Yes, it is marked, it is a marked vehicle.

Question:  I would like to confirm, I’ve heard from certain sources that he was a Special Envoy on Tuareg questions.  Was he only envoy to Niger or also for Tuareg…?

Spokesperson:  He was Special Envoy to Niger.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  That’s his position.

Question:  Okay, and now, I am going to ask the same question in French and in English.  I am sorry for the time.

Spokesperson:  Go ahead, Katherine.

Question:  I would like to know, what is the latest update on his whereabouts?  What does the UN know; what can you tell us about what’s happening?

Spokesperson:  Well, I cannot tell you much.  We have heard, through the media, very contradictory claims about where he is; whether he is a hostage, we don’t know.  We don’t have any official information telling us of his whereabouts.  At this point, we’re not going to comment any further because of security matters for him.

Question:  (In French)

Spokesperson:  (In French)

Question:  Just one follow-up on this.  I mean, was his mission part of this Department of Political Affairs mediation unit?  Was he a full-time UN staff member?  Was he… (interrupted)?

Spokesperson:  No, he was paid for the work he was doing specifically when he was sent on a specific mission.

Question:  Was he an ASG?  Was he a P-5, D-1?  What was his rank in the UN system?

Spokesperson:  Well, a Special Envoy, I can get you the rank, but he was a Special Envoy.  [The Spokesperson later added that Ambassador Fowler is at the Under-Secretary-General level.]

Question:  Because I mean, I think to many of us it seems strange because all the SRSGs go through the Security Council, sort of.  Are there other of these kind of stealth, you know, envoys?

Spokesperson:  Yes, when they’re sent for good offices missions, yes, there are others, of course.

Question:  Can we get maybe like the Department of Political Affairs to give us some kind of, just to describe how, you know, what they’re doing… (interrupted)?

Spokesperson:  Well, in very many cases, those are very sensitive cases, that imply political negotiations, and I don’t see the use of making them public before something is actually done.

Question:  But how does the Secretary-General or the Secretariat know, I mean if it’s intergovernmental body who is sort of driving the process in terms of what, I don’t know, positions to take; when to get involved, when not to get involved?

Spokesperson:  Well, in this case, he is the Special Envoy of the Secretary-General.  So of course the Secretary-General… (interrupted)

Question:  And there is no breakdown of who these Special Envoys of the Secretary-General are?  There is no comprehensive list of who the active envoys of the Secretary-General…?

Spokesperson:  Yes, there is a comprehensive list.

Question:  And he was on it?  Fowler was on the list?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  There is a list, but it’s a confidential list?

Spokesperson:  I am not saying it’s a confidential list.  In some cases, we don’t advertise special good offices missions until they actually bear fruit.

Question:  (Inaudible) do you understand the question…?

Spokesperson:  Sure, I understand your question.  And of course, there is a Special Envoy list, and I am sure we can get it for you.  But in some cases, I don’t see why it is needed to advertise the name of someone before he accomplishes his mission.

Question:  On Somalia and the conflict between the President and the Prime Minister that he deposed, apparently Kenya has issued sanctions against the President.  Now the Prime Minister has gone on Al-Jazeera saying that the President is fomenting a civil war in Somalia.  I am just wondering if the UN has any reaction to this.  Is there concern?  Is the UN doing anything to negotiate with the Government to try to calm the situation?  Apparently the Parliament was not in line with the President when he made this move.  Is there a read on it from the UN?

Spokesperson:  Well, there is certainly great concern about it.  I cannot give you a reaction at this point because we’re still following the situation.  But the Secretary-General is very concerned about that split within the Transitional Government.

Question:  Given the instability there, is there a possibility that… what is the concern?  Is the Government… (interrupted)?

Spokesperson:  Right now, we’re still, as I said, observing the situation and seeing what is happening.  As you know, the issue is going to be brought to the Security Council this afternoon, so I am sure you’ll get from Members of the Council a number of reactions on that.  In terms of the Secretary-General, he is also going to have some remarks this afternoon to the Council.  So you’ll be able to get a reaction maybe then.

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  Talking about concern, does the Secretary-General have any concern or reaction regarding the incident surrounding the travel of Professor Richard Falk?

Spokesperson:  We talked about that yesterday.  I expressed the position of the High Commissioner, and I also expressed the Secretary-General’s concern.  That was in yesterday’s briefing.

Question:  Michèle, I just wanted to find out.  There is a report that one of the groups implicated by India in the Mumbai attacks has asked the Secretary-General of the United Nations to conduct an inquiry, in order to determine as to who carried out these attacks.  My question is whether such a request has been received by the United Nations, and if as all it is received, what is the procedure for it to be considered?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, it hasn’t been received.  But I’ll enquire for you.

Question:  The other thing that I wanted to… in India, there was a news report yesterday, it was in The Wall Street Journal, and so forth, that there is a Gandhi-like, silent, I mean civil disobedience movement going on, which is being crushed over there.  Is the Secretary-General taking note of this particular event happening in Indian-occupied territories?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t have anything on that at this point.  Yes?

Question:  If I could continue on that question, the reports say that the Lashkar-e-Taiba has appealed, I think already appealed to the UN, asking for a UN investigation into what happened in Mumbai.  And so, is the UN even thinking about doing something like that?

Spokesperson:  As I’ve said, as far as I know, we have not received anything yet, and such a request has not come our way.  It is very difficult for the UN to investigate incidents of that sort, what happened in Mumbai.  I think it’s being investigated by the local authorities, and that is all we can say really at this point.

Question:  And I just want some background information.  If the Jamaot-ud-Dawa wants to appeal to the UN on the ban of the sanctions, how does one go about that?  Can an organization individually do that, or as a group do they need the support of a country or government?  Do they need to be supported by Pakistan, or can they do it individually?  I just want some clarification, if you can help.

Spokesperson:  Well, of course, it has been done through the Security Council because, as you know, the Security Council is the body that imposed the sanctions.  So it has to be done through the Security Council.  And to go through the Security Council, it is best to be introduced by a Member State.

Question:  The 1267 Committee in their procedures says that they will have press conferences after their meetings unless the individuals on the Security Council say that they shouldn’t.  There haven’t been press conferences.  Can you find out why there were no press conferences, and can we have a press conference with them so we can ask them and understand what’s going on?

Spokesperson:  We have already asked.  We are expecting an answer.  We don’t have an answer yet.

Question:  Fast and furious.  There is a report about Fiji that the Secretary-General has issued a memo that no new Fijian peacekeepers will be sent to missions based on this envoy’s, I guess, trip to restore democracy, checking the restoration of democracy in Fiji.  Is that true or not true?

Spokesperson:  Well, our position on the troops has always been the same.  You have asked the question before; I have answered it.  There have been no new Fijian troops sent since you asked.  There has been no request for further Fijian troops, however, those who are now serving with the United Nations still continue to serve.

Question:  And is it fair to say, as some have done, that this recent trip might have changed the position, but not enough improvements have been found?  Is there any connection between the recent trip to Fiji of the UN to check on restoration of democracy and the continuation of the policy?  Are the two linked in any way?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t think the two are linked.

Question:  Okay.  And also the, the US Government has apparently confirmed that they have now restarted deportations to Haiti, which they’d suspended because of the storms.  I don’t know if MINUSTAH or the UN as a whole; at the time, I know that Hédi Annabi said that; I believe it didn’t seem to him that things were in the condition to take more people back.  What’s the UN’s sense of whether this is the time to be sending more people back to Haiti?  Have things improved now?

Spokesperson:  Well, the UN sense is that the situation is still pretty dire; pretty difficult and that right now, after the four hurricanes the country went through, the country has been practically destroyed.  And I think the position is still the same.  Right now, the conditions, of course, are not met, but it is a decision for Member States.  It is not a decision for the United Nations.

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  The Secretary-General is supposed to be receiving, at this time, the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, Sergey Lavrov.  What is the subject of their discussion? 

Spokesperson:  I can try to tell you afterwards.  But the Quartet is certainly one of them.  There are a number of issues that will be discussed.  But I will definitely let you know when we have a readout of that meeting.

Question:  What are the other countries that Mr. Fowler visited?  A few weeks ago, he was there, there was a long trip of quite some time -- a few weeks.  And you were saying into Niger several times.  I actually thought it was only once before his trip.

Spokesperson:  Once in his official capacity as UN envoy.  Yes?

Question:  Oh, okay.  Presumably, was he visiting other countries?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.  His position is on the Niger issue.

Question:  A number of Burmese political leaders have urged the Secretary-General to visit Burma in the coming months.  Is the Secretary-General reviewing his decision not to visit the country?

Spokesperson:  I think his position was made very clear when he spoke last time.  I think he’s still observing the situation, and he has said that, before he goes there, he has to have some indication that it would be a fruitful meeting, a fruitful visit.  He’s not going to go there just for the sake of going.  He has to have some, at least, indications that his visit will mean something.

Question:  And there has been no change in that position?

Spokesperson:  Not that I know of.

Question:  And what of Mr. Gambari’s visit?  His invitation is pending.  Has any decision been taken when he is going there?

Spokesperson:  At this point, no.  We don’t know when he is going.  At this point, what he is doing is keeping in touch with a number of actors in the region.  He has no plans immediately to go to Myanmar.

Question:  (Several questions in French)

Spokesperson:  (In French)

Question:  Michèle, translation please.

Spokesperson:  I’ve just said the same things I said in English already.  Yes?

Question:  This is regarding Professor Falk.  Was he expelled by Israeli authorities after being cleared or he did not inform the Israeli authorities when going to Israel?

Spokesperson:  I think you should ask the question to the Israeli authorities.  All I know is what the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has said concerning his mandate and the fact that it was a clear mandate.

Question:  But you know that UN standard procedure is they inform in advance about impending visits.  Was that done in this case?

Spokesperson:  According to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, it was done.

Question:  I know there is a list of Special Representatives of the Secretary-General.  Do you have a list of…?

Spokesperson:  Yes, there is a list, of course.

Question:  …then you also have these expenses, how many millions of dollars are spent on these SRSGs.  You have that also, right?

Spokesperson:  Yes, we have the expenses.  Some of them are one-dollar-a-year people.  Some of them are paid for the work they do on, you know, specifically for the missions that they do.  So we have different, depending on the type of mission, different status for different Special Envoys.

Question:  So that list can be obtained?

Spokesperson:  Sure, of course.  Yes?

Question:  How come there have been no meetings scheduled of the Al-Qaida and Taliban Sanctions Committee?  They’re supposed to meet once a month.

Spokesperson:  I think you can ask the question to the Security Council.  This is not a matter for me.

Question:  No, I am just asking if you know.  Would you know?

Spokesperson:  No, it’s not a matter for me to discuss.  Yes?

Question:  How did the Secretary-General inform the Security Council about Mr. Fowler’s appointment?  Was it by letter…?

Spokesperson:  It is usually done by letter.  [The Spokesperson later added that specific appointment was not sent to the Council.]

Question:  And are those letters public documents or not?

Spokesperson:  No, they’re not public documents.  They’re public documents only if the presidency of the Security Council makes them public.  For the same reason that the reports that are sent to the Security Council are made public when the Security Council makes them public.

Question:  Okay.  And just on Fowler, was he what they call “when actually employed…”, i.e., paid…

Spokesperson:  Yes, exactly, “when actually employed”, yes.

Question:  That’s why there’s this idea of whether he was D-2 or ASG, because he would be paid at the rate of whatever it is.  So if we can find out, I guess, whether he was an ASG, D-2, it should…

Spokesperson:  Sure, we can find out.

Question:  And would this be part of the DPA budget?  Masood was asking about the budget line…

Spokesperson:  Yes?

Question:  Could you give us a list of the exact reasons why he was picked?  I mean, you know…?

Spokesperson:  Mr. Fowler is a very respected diplomat with a long experience with the United Nations, and it was felt that he was the best person to do that good offices work with Niger.

Question:  That’s superficial.  Tons of them are like that.  Tons of them are like that.  Why in particular him for Niger?

Spokesperson:  Because of his experience and his knowledge.

Question:  Of Niger?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  And what attracted, in his resume, what attracted the Secretary-General…?

Spokesperson:  That I don’t have those details.  Thank you very much.  Enrique.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.  I hope you’re not exhausted after this long briefing.

**South-South Cooperation

This morning, on the South-South Leaders’ Round Table on the occasion of the United Nations Day for South-South Cooperation, the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d´Escoto, said in his opening remarks, and I’m going to quote:

“As so many times in the past, developing countries are paying a high price for the self-serving trade and development policies that have been dictated by the industrial North.  Let us take the opportunity of our meetings as Members of the General Assembly to explore alternative policies that take the concerns and aspirations of developing countries fully into account.  South-South cooperation holds enormous promise for all of us.

Let us be clear, South-South cooperation is a win-win situation for all nations.  It is not a mere add-on in our development efforts.  It must be seen as a fundamental investment in regional integration in a fragmented world.  It must be seen as a driving force in our national security and independence.  It must be seen as a crucial buffer between our fragile economies and the deeply flawed global trading system.”

**Special Rapporteur on Human Rights

On another issue, the President of the General Assembly dispatched yesterday a delegation headed by his Chief of Cabinet to receive the UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, Professor Richard Falk, and to verify his safety and condition upon his arrival from Tel Aviv into Newark International Airport, after his deportation from Israel.

Mr. Falk, who was held in confinement for approximately 30 hours in Tel Aviv, arrived exhausted and was able to speak briefly with the President by telephone.  He declined an invitation by the President of the General Assembly to attend last night’s human rights concert in the General Assembly Hall, and decided, in view of his delicate health, to continue travelling on to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.

Mr. d’Escoto recognizes that, as President of most democratic and representative body of the United Nations, and with oversight of the Human Rights Council, a subsidiary body of the General Assembly, his Office had a primary responsibility to render support to the UN Special Rapporteur.  He is, nevertheless, dismayed by the low level of concern and action undertaken by other pertinent bodies to respond to an unacceptable obstruction of a special envoy in the fulfilment of his UN mandate.

The President’s Office will follow up on this matter and, moreover, seeks to ensure all special envoys of vigorous UN action and support when needed for the full exercise of their duties and mandates across the globe.

And this is all I have for you today unless you have any questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Is there any follow-up to the (inaudible)?  Any word on who are the people behind this (inaudible)?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have any further information.  I have been advised by the security staff not to provide more details on the notes that are being investigated, that are under investigation.  But I have been reassured that the UN and the host country are taking it very seriously and are following this matter on security.

Question:  So the information, Enrique, in this regard, some of the information is already on the Internet, as you said, right?  I guess, the death threats.

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  That’s how the death threats came about?  From the Internet?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  As I explained yesterday, the President -- the Office of the President of the General Assembly -- found out about the web just, basically, surfing the Internet and looking into the blogs, and passed on this information to the security officers at the UN.

Question:  Yes, but what are they saying?  Are they being traced, these particular threats, to Israel or somebody in Israel doing these threats, or…?

Spokesperson:  No, no.  As I said, I’m not going to make any comment, more comments, on this particular issue.  But there were threats against the life of the President of the General Assembly, as I said yesterday.

Question:  What reasons did Professor Falk give not to respond positively to the invitation of the President of the General Assembly to go to the concert?

Spokesperson:  Basically he was exhausted.  He was exhausted after 30, more than 30 hours of detention and isolation and long trip.  The President of the General Assembly was very concerned, as I said yesterday.  He wanted to see whether he was able to come to…  Yesterday we had a concert here, a very nice concert, on human rights.  But, apart from the music, I think the President of the General Assembly wanted to make a gesture to Mr. Falk if he wanted to attend the concert.  But he was basically exhausted and very tired.  And he decided not to.  He thanked the President of the General Assembly for the gesture, but he decided to rest and continue his trip.

Question:  On Mr. Fowler, the envoy of the Secretary-General, is the President of the General Assembly or any General Assembly body consulted when the Secretariat named the new envoy to a conflict he is not known to be involved in?  Do you know?

Spokesperson:  I’m not sure about it.  Let me find out.  I’m not sure what the administrative procedure is.  But I don’t think so.

Question:  I guess, can you find out whether the President of the General Assembly thinks, given what he thinks about what should be the power of the General Assembly, if he’s, if they should be consulted in this type of case?  The Security Council is.

Spokesperson:  Again, let me check on this particular issue, because I’m not very sure what the detailed procedures are, administrative procedures, on this particular issue.

Question:  Yes, I have a few different questions.  One is, is there a chance that Richard Falk will be invited some other time, perhaps to speak or present something when he’s not so exhausted?  That’s one question.  The second is on the issue of Security Council reform, there have been meetings of the open-ended working group, and I wonder if we can get a report of just the status and what, you know, where things seem to be going at this point.  And then the third is, we’ve just had the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Meanwhile, the Security Council puts people’s names on a list totally ignoring the fact that there’s the possibility of any due process, those people they’re not penalized by having their assets frozen and not being able to travel.  And this has been commented on by the European Court of Justice, saying that this is contrary to due process and the UN Charter.  So I wonder if the President is aware of this situation, and if he has any response about it.

Spokesperson:  On the first, on the possibility of Mr. Falk coming and meeting the press, certainly.  We had hoped for him to be here today, but, as I said, he’s very exhausted.  So I hope that, as soon as we can, we’ll have him meeting the press and giving his opinion on the facts of what happened in Israel.

On the second question, where we stand on the Security Council, well, as you’ve basically said, we are right now on the discussions on the open-ended [working] group.  We are waiting for the open-ended [working] group to make, as soon as possible, to end their work [as soon as possible].  Once they do this -- and they have a deadline.  The deadline is 1 February 2009.  As you know, the President of the General Assembly has made it very clear that he would like that they finish before this, so that we can speed up the process a little bit.  But in any of the cases, this is where we are right now.  Right after they reach the deadline, at that point when they finish the open-ended work, they will have to start intergovernmental negotiations in the General Assembly, as has been foreseen by the President of the General Assembly and by the resolution.

On the third question, let me sit with the President of the General Assembly and I’ll come back to you.

Question:  The President of the General Assembly obviously gives a great deal of importance to the process of South-South cooperation.  Does he have any concrete proposals on how to strengthen that process?

Spokesperson:  He didn’t make any specific proposals, but he’s following very closely the dialogue and the process.  He certainly is, as I have quoted him, very supportive of South-South cooperation.

Question:  What ever happened to the agenda item on the seventy-fifth anniversary or commemoration of the Great Famine in the 1930s in the Ukraine, and to Joseph Stalin?  Is this dead?  I never received any answer on it.  Is there an answer?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, for the time being, it has been postponed.  I need to find out whether the General Committee, which is…  The General Committee is meant to meet very soon, where they are going to discuss it again.  I’ll find out for you.  But the last time they discussed this issue, it was postponed, as you know, and has not been discussed again.

Question:  In view of the President of the General Assembly’s letter yesterday extending the term of this General Assembly to next week, you list these things pending in the Fifth Committee.  It says he urged delegations to come to consensus on them.  He doesn’t list… There’s this item on ICT, a big proposal made by the Secretariat to revamp the information technology of the UN.  It’s not in the letter.  Does that mean it’s not going to be done this December?  What does this indicate?  How did he choose…?  He chose obviously some, and said please, you know, reach consensus on this by the end of the week.  Are there items that he thinks won’t be done?

Spokesperson:  No.  He thinks, and he expects, all the work to be done by the end of December, most likely before 22 December, so that on the 23rd we can close it.  But this is what he expects and he would like.  It’s another matter if…  This is a negotiation by the Member States themselves to discuss.  But again, the indications that we have are that, as usual, there are many differences in the Fifth Committee, but they will most likely be able to reach an agreement.  This is what we are hoping.

Question:  This information about the death threats on the life of the President of the General Assembly, were there any further progress on the investigations and so forth?  Will that be on the Internet or should we contact you?  Because the threats were made on the Internet.  And we don’t know if there are further threats made also.

Spokesperson:  Okay.  The only thing I can tell at this stage is that the investigation is going on.  I assume that, as soon as the investigation is done, is finished, we will get some indications, we will get some information.  What I can promise you is that any information that I receive, and I’m allowed to inform you, I will let you know immediately.

Question:  Yesterday you had said that there was going to be a meeting between the President of the General Assembly and the Mission of Israel.  Did the meeting take place, and if not, why not?

Spokesperson:  The meeting was cancelled by the Permanent Representative of Israel. 

Question:  Did she give a reason?

Spokesperson:  No.  They called half an hour before the meeting and said that the meeting was being cancelled.

Question:  It’s not going to be rescheduled?

Spokesperson:  Not for the time being, but I assume it will be rescheduled.

Question:  Going back to my question on the process of South-South cooperation, was there any concrete proposals advanced this morning, including by the Unit of South-South Cooperation?

Spokesperson:  Let me check that for you, to be more precise, because I was only in one part of the meeting.  I did not attend the full morning meeting.

Thank you very much.  Have a good day.

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