Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

23 January 2009

Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

23 January 2009
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 Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Our guest at the noon briefing today is, of course, John Ging, Director of Operations in Gaza for the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).  He will update you on the situation in Gaza via videoconference link.  And as you know, Mr. [John] Holmes [Under‑Secretary‑General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator] just left Gaza and John will be able to update us on the assessment mission that went in ‑- with Mr. Holmes and Mr. [Robert] Serry [United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process].

**Democratic Republic of Congo

In a statement released just a short while ago in Kinshasa, Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, said, “We have learned of the arrest of General Nkunda, which, according to the communiqué of the Joint Operational Command, took place in Rwanda.  We have no further details at this point.”  The UN Security Council on several occasions has called on General Nkunda and the CNDP to pursue the path of peace, Doss said.  “We hope that all CNDP forces will now take this opportunity to enter the integration process and in doing so help to ensure the return of lasting peace to the Kivus.”

Meanwhile, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) views with great concern the joint Congolese-Rwandan military operation now under way in the Kivus, in north-eastern DRC.  UNHCR fears that the immediate impact of this operation could be yet another wave of displaced civilians.  Humanitarian conditions in North Kivu are already among the worst in the region.  Widespread insecurity has forced some 850,000 civilians out of their homes.

As this military operation continues, the Refugee Agency calls on all parties to uphold international humanitarian principles, minimize civilian suffering, and ensure safe passage for the civilian population away from the combat zones.  It also calls on them to refrain from forcible repatriation of DRC based Rwandan civilians.  The delivery of humanitarian aid to those in need of assistance must not be hindered by any armies or armed groups, the agency added.

** Gaza

Today is the third day of the visit by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes to the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Israel.  Holmes met today with donors in Jerusalem.  In the discussions, he alerted them about the upcoming flash appeal for Gaza.

Last night, Holmes met with Israel’s Social Affairs Minister and other Israeli officials.  In that meeting, Holmes underscored the need for regular and unimpeded movement of humanitarian aid workers and relief supplies into Gaza.  As you know, Holmes was in Gaza yesterday as part of a humanitarian assessment mission.  He was accompanied by the UN’s Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Robert Serry.  And of course, you’ll have more details from John [Ging] in a few minutes.

Holmes said:  “The level of human suffering and destruction I saw today is, from any angle, heartbreaking.  It is shocking that civilians suffered so disproportionately in this military operation.”  He added:  “We need a swift, full and sustained access of goods and staff into Gaza.  We cannot go back to the unacceptable situation which prevailed before the latest hostilities.”

On Sunday, Holmes is due to make a one-day visit to Egypt to meet with representatives of the Egyptian Government, the League of Arab States, the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and other humanitarian agencies.  We have more information upstairs, and of course we’ll have more from John in a minute.

The Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) reports that a mine action assessment team involving the UN Mine Action Service arrived in Gaza today to look at the scope and scale of the unexploded ordnance problem.  The goal is to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Meanwhile, all schools run by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) in Gaza are scheduled to open tomorrow.  The schools will focus on the children’s psychosocial needs in the first weeks of operation, before resuming the teaching of core subjects.  The current school semester was supposed to have started on 17 January.

In terms of ongoing concerns, UNSCO says the number of trucks allowed into the Gaza Strip needs to be increased.  It is key that the Sufa crossing be opened for basic construction materials to allow for the repair of public infrastructure and private homes.  In addition, chronically ill patients who were receiving care outside of the Gaza Strip prior to the conflict urgently need to resume their treatment.

UNSCO also notes that cash has still not entered the Gaza Strip ‑- except for the staff of a few international organizations.  Cash is urgently needed to reactivate the private sector and prevent increasing dependence on aid, UNSCO says.

For its part, the Executive Board of the World Health Organization (WHO) has adopted a resolution requesting that WHO’s Director-General send a specialized health mission to Gaza.  That mission would identify urgent health and humanitarian needs and assess the destruction of medical facilities.

**“Group of 77”

Here at Headquarters, the Secretary-General this morning attended the handover of the chairmanship of the Group of 77 bloc of developing nations from Antigua and Barbuda to Sudan.

In remarks read out by Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro, he told the G-77 that the crises that erupted last year highlighted the interdependence of economies and countries.  They also showed that the United Nations and its multilateral framework are indispensable.

As we move into 2009, he said, these global challenges remain.  They threaten to undo the progress made towards the development goals of the last decade.  He identified four key challenges that Member States and the United Nations must confront together:  the global financial crisis; climate change; achieving the Millennium Development Goals; and global health.  We have his remarks upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council began its work today by voting unanimously to extend the mandate of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) until 23 July, and it endorsed the Secretary-General’s recommendations for a phased, gradual drawdown of that Mission’s staff.

The Council then began an open debate about UN peacekeeping.  Alain Le Roy, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said that the past decade has been a time of resurgent thinking on UN peacekeeping, which has seen many improvements and clarified thinking on modern UN peace operations.  He said that he believes the coming year is a pivotal one, with major challenges in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Sudan, in particular.  He stressed that 2009 will need to be a year of cooperation and problem-solving, at a time when UN peace operations are overstretched.

Susana Malcorra, Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, discussed the challenges the United Nations faces on the support side, saying that UN peace operations are under great strain.  She said that a support strategy is being developed that will explore such issues as greater delegation of authority to managers in the field, the use of support “hubs”, a smarter approach to technology and providing goods and services from diversified sources.

Mr. Le Roy intends to speak to you at the Security Council stakeout following this morning’s open debate.

** Darfur

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the African Union–United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) have jointly issued a report into the killing of 33 civilians and wounding of 108 others in a camp for displaced people in Darfur last August.

The report concludes that Sudanese Government security forces violated international human rights law by using lethal force in “an unnecessary, disproportionate and, therefore, unlawful manner”.

The report was issued as the result of an investigation into a law enforcement operation that ended disastrously on 25 August 2008 at the Kalma camp for internally displaced persons in South Darfur.  There is a press release on this and the full text of the 12‑page report, including the responses of the Government of Sudan, and a list of recommendations, available on the website of the High Commissioner for Human rights (www.ohchr.org).

Sudanese security forces attempting to execute a search warrant authorizing them to look for arms, drugs and other forms of organized crime in Kalma were confronted by a group of camp residents who had gathered to stop them entering the camp.  The security forces fired shots in the air, before opening fire on the crowd.  We have, of course, more information upstairs.

** Zimbabwe

The cholera outbreak in Zimbabwe has still not yet been brought under control, as the number of cases continued to rise.  The World Health Organization (WHO) says that the number of reported cases of cholera has risen above 50,000, including 2,773 deaths.

In the week of 11 to 17 January, there were more cases and more deaths reported than at any time since the beginning of the epidemic, according to WHO.  Given meteorological forecasts of more rain to come, concerns are mounting over the risks of flooding and the effect this would likely have to exacerbate the current cholera crisis.

Hygiene promotion continues by various partners in cholera-affected districts, but many of the centres have shortages of medication, food and staff.  United Nations agencies and NGOs [non-governmental organizations] report difficulties in providing support, due to logistical difficulties.  The continuing rise in the number of cases and fatalities indicate that public health and hygiene messages are not being broadly taken up by the population.

**Southern Africa

The World Food Programme (WFP) purchased a record amount of food in southern Africa last year.  The agency bought more than 550,000 metric tons, or enough to feed almost 3 million people for an entire year.

WFP made the bulk of its purchases in South Africa, followed by Mozambique, Malawi and Zambia.  Most of the food was distributed within southern Africa, but significant amounts were also used in emergencies elsewhere in Africa.  There is also more information upstairs.

** Côte d’Ivoire

Eight UN agencies and 4 United Nations partner organizations are appealing for some $37 million for humanitarian aid to some 305,000 people in Côte d’Ivoire.  The money is expected to fund 17 projects among the strategic humanitarian priorities identified for 2009.  Those include community reinsertion for the internally displaced and improvement of nutritional status for vulnerable populations in the north of the country.

** Pakistan

UNICEF has condemned continued attacks on schools in north-western Pakistan.  UNICEF is deeply concerned that these attacks are robbing children of their basic right to education and have a devastating impact on their lives.  UNICEF calls the attacks unacceptable and says that they must cease immediately.

In a recent assault, five schools were blown up in Pakistan’s Swat district.  Since 2007, more than 170 Government and private schools, particularly girls’ schools, have been blown up or burned down in the Federally Administered Tribal Area and the North West Frontier Province, reportedly by illegal armed groups.

** Kyrgyzstan

The Office for the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says, despite best efforts of the Government and a relatively mild winter, vulnerable individuals and critical social infrastructure in Kyrgyzstan remain under severe stress from continued power cuts during the cold season and a precarious food security environment.

In December 2008, the United Nations and its partners issued a humanitarian flash appeal for $21 million meet the basic humanitarian needs of the 800,000 most vulnerable people in the country for a six-month period.  Unfortunately, only 11 per cent of the request has been funded.

** Colombia

The Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) is helping more than a 1,000 families who were left homeless by recent flooding in Colombia.  CERF is allocating nearly half a million dollars to the International Organization for Migration (IOM).  IOM will use the funds to build shelters for 5,500 people in the Chocó Department, on the Pacific coast.  The money will also help provide kitchen sets, stoves, hammocks, mattresses, blankets and other items.


I have just received a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General:

The Secretary-General joins the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in welcoming yesterday's executive orders by President Barack Obama of the United States initiating a process for the closure of the Guantánamo Bay detention facility, a review of United States detention policies and the introduction of measures to ensure lawful interrogations.  The Secretary-General also welcomes the United States Administration’s ban on certain methods of interrogation.

The United Nations has previously called for the closure of the Guantánamo detention facility, and is encouraged that President Obama has given the highest priority to ensuring respect for fundamental rights.

He looks forward to working with all Member States of the United Nations in fighting the scourge of terrorism while fully respecting international human rights obligations.

I’ll go briefly through the rest because I don’t want to keep John waiting too long.  Enrique, if you don’t mind, we’ll postpone our questions until afterwards and give the floor to John in a few minutes.

**Holocaust Remembrance

Last night, we issued a note to correspondents announcing that the Secretary-General will address a special Sabbath service at a Manhattan synagogue tomorrow.  The ceremony is taking place in observance of the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust, which is next Tuesday.

Services at the Park East Synagogue, at 163 East 67th Street, will begin at 8:45 a.m.  The Secretary-General will address the memorial portion, which starts at 11 a.m.  Due to Sabbath restrictions, photography, video and audio recording will not be permitted.  There is more information upstairs, including media contacts for the Synagogue.  Also, we will make the text of the Secretary-General’s prepared remarks available this afternoon in my office.

**Week Ahead at the United Nations

Just briefly, the “Week Ahead”:  on Saturday, the Secretary-General will of course be at the Synagogue.  You just heard that.  And Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Alain Le Roy begins a four-day working visit to Haiti.

On Monday…well, you can consult our “Week Ahead”, but on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Secretary-General is in Madrid, Spain, where he will attend a high-level meeting organized by the Spanish Government on “Food Security for All”.  And that Tuesday afternoon, the Security Council is scheduled to hold consultations on the Middle East.  Tuesday is also the International Day of Commemoration in Memory of the Victims of the Holocaust.  Several events are planned for that day.

And from Wednesday, 28 January, through Friday, of course, the Secretary-General attends the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.  Of course, you have the full “Week Ahead at the United Nations” available upstairs as usual.

I will interrupt my briefing right now to give the floor to John.  Thank you Enrique for letting us do this, and I will answer your questions afterwards, if you don’t mind.

[Following the press conference by John Ging, Ms. Montas took correspondents’ questions.]

**Questions and Answers

Before we start, I just want to add to my Congo note.  I have been informed that, taking into consideration the recent developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Co-Mediators have announced the postponement of the next session of the dialogue on the crisis in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The Co-Mediators will consult with regional leaders of the African Union and the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region during the upcoming [African Union] summit in Addis Ababa.  As you know, the Secretary-General will be at that summit.

The next session of the dialogue will be convened after the consultations.  The Co-Mediators do not see the current situation on the ground as a setback to the mediation.  The Co-Mediators call on the parties to take further steps to improve conditions for humanitarian access in order to improve the quality of life of those affected by the crisis.

I’ll take your questions first, and then Enrique will proceed with his briefing.

Question:  Can you tell me if it’s the Secretary-General’s understanding that any determination about the death and destruction in Gaza would be made by the Human Rights Council, which is sending an investigative team, or any other investigative team?  Who will make the determination?  Has it been determined who will pay the reparations for the war?  Now the international community is getting upset that it is being asked to pay again and again and then Israel comes and destroys it and they have to pay it again.  Can you please tell us what is the…

Spokesperson:  I cannot say anything different than I’ve said before.  As you know, the Human Rights Council has announced an investigation.  That investigation might be completed by others, but we have to wait for the first process to take place.  In the meantime, there are assessments being done on the ground.  UNRWA is doing an assessment of the damages sustained, not only in their buildings, but also in terms of schools where a number of refugees had sought refuge.

They are doing an assessment of conditions on the ground on other items -– the food that was burned, medicine that was burned during the attack on the UNRWA building.  So you have all that going on at the same time.  All this, of course, is going to serve as input into whatever the Secretary-General decides to do afterwards.  But those steps have to be taken first.

Question:  I think what Masood was trying to ask is that there is no question that Israel destroyed the UNRWA compound or the UN school.  So why has there been no open request from the United Nations that Israel should pay the price for all these destroyed buildings and other damage?  There doesn’t need to be an investigation.  What are you investigating?

Spokesperson:  There need to be facts.  There needs to be proof of facts.  That’s what needs to be done.  I mean we cannot all assume…

Question:  Is there any (inaudible) whether Israel bombed the main UN compound?  Is this in dispute?

Spokesperson:  It seems to be in dispute by some people, so it has to be established by fact-finding missions.  This is what’s being done.  We cannot decide right now.  Reparation is something that has to be decided later on the basis of facts gathered, of the facts on the ground.  This is quite clear.

Question:  So, who are these people that are disputing these facts?

Spokesperson:  I’m not doing the fact-finding myself.  There are legal ways of proceeding.  A legal, fact-finding mission has to go on the ground and find out what happened, at what time, who did what, who heard what.  This has to be done on the ground.

Question:  Just a technical question:  I know the Secretary-General has indicated that he will collect the answers from Israel and wait for the fact-finding mission in Gaza.  But, technically, did you say he could call for an investigation but could not establish one?  If he decides to call for an investigation in the future, what will the technical steps be and how will it be established?

Spokesperson:  As I mentioned, there was discussion yesterday when he was meeting with the Security Council on the steps to be taken.  There are no conclusions yet on how they will proceed.  As I said, basic fact-gathering is taking place.

Question:  Can you just clarify, it’s been said that Israel has to first do an investigation…

Spokesperson:  Not first; concurrently.

Question:  Concurrently.  Is Israel being asked to go on the ground and interview people in Gaza to hear what they have to say?  Is that part of what they have to do?

Spokesperson:  Well, they have to do an investigation, too.

Question:  Is there protection for the people of Gaza if Israel has to do that?

Spokesperson:  At this point, I can’t pre-judge something that hasn’t happened yet.  At this point, I don’t know how they will proceed with their own investigation.  This is part of a process.  It’s not ‘the’ answer; it’s part of a process.

Question:  On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, two things:  obviously, there’s the report of Nkunda being arrested.  Has the UN received any, I guess, call, that he be turned over to the Congo for trial?  What should happen with him?  There are also reports that Bosco Ntaganda, who has been indicted as a war criminal by the International Criminal Court, has been participating in the offensive against the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).  Does the UN think that’s appropriate?  What should happen with Mr. Ntaganda as an indicted war criminal now participating in…?

Spokesperson:  As you know, the International Criminal Court had unsealed the arrest warrant against Ntaganda in April 2008 and the warrant was originally approved under seal by ICC judges way back in August 2006.  Bosco Ntaganda is accused, as you know, of war crimes, including conscription of children under 15 and a number of other accusations.  UN peacekeepers do not have the authority to arrest him.  The responsibility to detain Mr. Ntaganda for his crimes and deliver him into ICC custody rests solely with either the Congolese authorities or the Rwandan authorities, depending on who’s holding him.  And, as you know, the Democratic Republic of the Congo is a party to the Rome Statute.

Question:  Would MONUC continue to work with the official Congolese army if, for example, Mr. Ntaganda were made an officer of the army?

Spokesperson:  At this point, I cannot pre-judge that.

Question:  And also, I just wanted to ask…there’s a report of a letter by Serbia to Ban Ki-moon about this new security force in Kosovo, calling it illegal and ‘a danger to the Balkans’.  Has he received it?  If so, what’s his response to this plea by Serbia?

Spokesperson:  I can confirm that he has received it.  The letter was also sent to the Secretary-General of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  As far as I know, we don’t have an answer yet.  The letter is being analyzed and discussed.

Question:  Also, in your opening, you read two items that seemed to be sort of related, but you didn’t relate them.  One, Mr. Ban Ki-moon had congratulated Sudan on becoming the head of the G-77 and you also read out this report by UNAMID, among others, that Sudan had violated international law in the Kalma camp.  Has Ban Ki-moon said anything to Sudan on that?  Do you see these as in any way related?  Do you have any comment on these two seemingly incongruous facts?

Spokesperson:  They are not incongruous facts.  Both are true and both are directed towards different aspects of the issue.

Question:  So his congratulation remains the same, even given today’s findings?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  The spokesman for the MONUC forces in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of the Congo says that, basically, the UN peacekeepers there have been in the dark over the operations that resulted in Laurent Nkunda’s arrest.  I’m wondering, given the importance of the issue of trying to change the constellation of forces there, in the negotiations between the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, were any UN mediators involved in encouraging their getting together to cooperate that led to this?

Spokesperson:  Not at all.  It was a bilateral decision taken by those two countries to decide to move on and engage in that military operation.  The UN had nothing to do with it.

Question:  We just heard John say that it was critical to get the borders open, particularly Karni.  Is there any plan by the Secretary-General for what he can do to try to help do this?

Spokesperson:  He has been working on this for almost a year straight.

Briefing by Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon, I thank you for staying.

The President of the General Assembly made a statement today at the Handover Ceremony of the Chairmanship of the Group of 77, which, as you know, has passed from Antigua and Barbuda to the Sudan.  In his remarks, President d´Escoto said:

I firmly believe we are at a special moment when decisions we take will have unusually long-lasting consequences for the United Nations and the entire international community.  If we rise to the many challenges and provide the leadership and guidance that is required, we may defuse some of the crises that threaten the peace and security and development in the current global scenario.  And there is no doubt that we must inject the essential elements of solidarity and unity into our work, so as to ensure a more positive outcome in the years ahead.

As in the past, the statement is available online, in case you are interested.

I also wanted to flag a couple of other things that are going on at the General Assembly right now.

Today, we had the Open-Ended Working Group towards an arms trade treaty:  establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.  The meeting is chaired by Ambassador Roberto García Moritan, from Argentina, who met with the President of the General Assembly this morning prior to the meeting.

Another front where we are working is on the reform of the Security Council.  The Open-Ended Working Group met this week on Monday and is due to meet also next week, on Monday as well.  We expect the working group to start wrapping up with their recommendations before we proceed with the intergovernmental negotiations before the end of February.

And this is basically what I have for you, and if you have any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Is there any reaction from the President of the General Assembly on the fact that the Sudan is now the President of the Group of 77, considering that there might be some sort of action against the President this year, in case the ICC decided to arrest him for his involvement in the Darfur war crimes?

Spokesperson:  No, he has no reaction on that particular issue, but I can tell you that you can read his statement today, and I am going to quote from there, where he is confident that the chairmanship of the Sudan will enhance the Group’s commitments to the right of its member countries to pursue their own social and economic [inaudible].  He said that, as a founding member of G-77, the Sudan now faces with all of us the challenge of contributing to this new generation of leadership to advance the next phase of economic independence within the global economy.  And in serving the Group at this important juncture, the Sudan brings its great economic potential and emergence as an oil-exporting country in the face of difficult situations and challenges.  And as you know, the election of G-77, its chairmanship, is the decision of the members of G-77.

Question:  Do you have anything to report as far as progress is concerned on the expansion of the Security Council?  Does the President believe that progress is being made, so he can move forward, or is just still at the same stage that it was at 10 years ago?

Spokesperson:  The President believes that we are on the road map that he put forward for this presidency to tackle this issue.  He urged the member countries of the Open-Ended Group to try to speed the deliberations and the negotiations, so that we could move even earlier.  The Open-Ended Group has been meeting, and, as I said, they have had several meetings, and we are on the target now of the original road map, which was to start intergovernmental negotiations at the end of next month, of February.  So we are in that process.  You know, this is a process by the member countries and, in this particular case, let me be very frank, we have some countries that want to move very quickly, some others that want to move nowhere.  So it is up now to the different negotiations that are going on to try to reach an agreement and, if they don’t reach an agreement, in any of the cases, we have an agenda that will be going into open negotiations in the General Assembly at the end of February, the beginning of March.

Question:  So, I just wanted to make sure:  is the end of February -– the date is final, or it can be moved to March, let’s say?

Spokesperson:  It’s unmovable, and that is official.

Question:  Do they have to come to some sort of understanding to move forward?

Spokesperson:  That’s correct.  And if there is no agreement, we will move forward in any case, but in the open.

Question:  Two questions.  The first has to do with President Brockmann’s statement to the emergency meeting that was held about Gaza.  And on number two, he quoted from the [inaudible] opinion about Gaza and with regard to the Quartet.  […] I would guess, to the General Assembly, why he feels it is appropriate to be in the Quartet, even though he is not able to do what that requires.  Has there been any response from the Secretary-General about this at this point, or has there been any official presentation of this to the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Not yet, not yet, because, as you know, the Secretary-General has just returned from his trip in Gaza, but the statement was public, as you know very well.  But let me clarify this issue, because it is a very important issue.  The President of the General Assembly was echoing some of the legal experts on this matter.  And what he was basically saying was that now it is probably the right time to review the participation of the United Nations in the Quartet and to see whether the Quartet is the right place for the United Nations to be.  But he is not prescribing in any way what the Secretary-General should do or shouldn’t do, and he is not saying that the Secretary-General or the United Nations should withdraw from the Quartet.  He is simply saying that probably now is a good time to review and to assess whether it is the right diplomatic mechanism to help in the Middle East process.

Question:  And there is the second question, and that was with regard to the meeting you just had on the reform of the Security Council -– is any of that material open or available in terms of what went on at that meeting?  If not, when will it be available?

Spokesperson:  No, there is no material, because these are negotiations among the member countries and, as you know, it is a closed meeting.  So they are trying now to put together the different positions and make them closer, so they can move and reach consensus or a wide agreement on what are the different possibilities.  As you know, it’s a very complex issue and they are now trying to identify what are the elements where they are in agreement, what are the elements where they are not in agreement and try to put together some of those positions.  But again, this is a normal process of any negotiation, and we will go on the open to make sure that every country, each of the countries, make official and open their position on this issue.

Question:  Is there a particular date?  Is it, like, the last day of February, when this will go on?

Spokesperson:  The official deadline is the 28th of February and, as you know, the President of the General Assembly will try to move very quickly after that date to the intergovernmental negotiations on the Security Council reform.

Question:  I have been wanting to ask you about the procedure last Friday in the General Assembly session on the Gaza resolution.  There was some, a number of Permanent Representatives have criticized the President’s procedural moves, not just… Basically, I wanted to ask you:  before he withdrew his statement and turned the floor over to Ecuador to make his proposal, had he spoken, for example, with Egypt, or the Palestinian Permanent Observer?  What comment does he have on the fact that the proposal that he seemed to favour got 10 votes?  The position that he favoured, having the vote on the Ecuadorian proposal first, got only 10 votes?  What can you say about that?

Spokesperson:  Let me also be very blunt:  you have here some criticism.  The President of the General Assembly has received absolutely no criticism of this either officially or non-officially from any of the Members.  On the contrary, most of the Ambassadors he has been talking to have emphasized the leadership that he has shown.  And it was at their request that the President of the General Assembly put forward that draft resolution.

Now, let me tell you what happened on Friday.  What happened on Friday and on the days before is that several Ambassadors, including the Palestinian Ambassador, the Egyptian Ambassador and some others from the Non-Aligned Movement, thought that there was enough ground for a general agreement and consensus on a simple draft that could be put forward by the President of the General Assembly.  And they asked him, and that includes the Palestinian Ambassador, the Egyptian Ambassador and some others from the Non-Aligned Movement, they asked him whether he could take the leadership and put forward that draft resolution.  Which is what he did.

It looked like there was a general agreement on that, but at the very last moment, some countries started to want some changes.  Then other countries wanted to add some changes, so that text was no longer a consensus and an agreed one.  That is why the President of the General Assembly called different groups, including the Palestinian Ambassador and the Egyptian Ambassador, and told them, look, if there is no agreement with this, what I am going to do is withdraw this draft resolution, and it is up to you to decide now which resolution you want to pass on, or discuss, or negotiate.  And that is what happened.

And then we had, as you know –- you were there –- basically, two different resolutions, one put forward by Ecuador and other countries (I think there was 10 or 15 countries) and the Europeans with Palestine and Egypt.  And then what happened is there was a resolution approved afterwards.  And having said that, the President of the General Assembly is relieved and confident that, and happy that, a resolution was passed, because what he wanted -- and he made it very clear that very same day -- he wanted on Friday a quick and a prompt response from the international community –- that is by the General Assembly in this particular case –- to make it clear to the parties in Palestine that there was a strong desire of peace and was calling for a ceasefire and supporting the resolution of the Security Council.  And this is what we had, and I think it reinforced the strong message by the United Nations, including the Secretary-General, and the messages from the Security Council, asking for an immediate ceasefire, which happened the next day.  That was the framework where we moved from Friday.  I understand there was a lot of movement, and it could have looked a bit confusing for some people from the outside, but that is basically what happened.

Question:  [inaudible] specifically, in an open meeting, Egypt criticized, said, how could you call on Ecuador first, why don’t you respect this compromise?  So, I just wanted to know one thing:  did the President speak with Ecuador to say, as soon as I withdraw, you raise your hand and we’ll get your proposal to get voted on first?  And is he aware of the critique from within the Non-Aligned Movement that, by having a resolution passed that did very little, except to call for compliance with the Security Council resolution -– this again put the General Assembly sort of in the back seat and not taking the lead?  I mean, there is a critique sort of from within NAM that I have heard.  Maybe it was not conveyed to him, but I wonder if you have heard it.

Spokesperson:  First, let met tell you that the President of the General Assembly spoke with the Egyptian Ambassador, and they have a fluid communication and a good understanding of what happened, and there is absolutely no problem among themselves.  In the heat of the discussion in the General Assembly, the Egyptian Ambassador made some remarks and the President of the General Assembly made some other remarks, as all the other delegates.  The bottom line here is that the President of the General Assembly knows, and he has made it very clear, that politics is the art of the possible.  So when you negotiate, you have people more happy than others about the final outcome.  What we have is a final resolution that was voted against only by a few countries.  So out of 192 countries having about… on a resolution by the General Assembly calling for a ceasefire and some other elements by the full majority of the General Assembly -– for the President of the General Assembly it’s a good decision and good outcome, and he is positive about it.  And I think after the following day, we had the ceasefire, so I think it’s now a little bit past, but I just wanted to make this really clear:  in any negotiating process, there are parts who would like more elements to be included, more sentences, more elements, but that’s what the game is all about in this negotiating process.

Question:  One more question for the President:  there was a press release today -– I just wanted to have his or your comment on it -– by the Anti-Defamation League, saying that d'Escoto Brockmann should not participate in the United Nations 27 January observation of the Holocaust, given various things he has done.  Has he seen that and what is his comment or response to it?

Spokesperson:  No, I have not seen that, but the President of the General Assembly –- this is the event of the General Assembly –- will be participating on Tuesday in the ceremony, as it was scheduled.

Question:  Do you think he will have some kind of response to this call that he does not participate, or he will just…?

Spokesperson:  No, I don’t think so, because everybody can express their own opinions, and that’s part of the society where we live.  So you can express whatever opinion you want, but, in this particular case, it is very clear it is an event of the General Assembly, as it has been in the past, and always the President of the General Assembly has attended, and he will attend it.

Question:  Just one more question with regard to Gaza:  is there anything planned on the General Assembly with regard to the crossings not being opened and also with the issue on what is going to happen in terms of the investigation?  And I realize that the Human Rights Commission or Council is carrying out a process -– I wondered how that relates to the General Assembly and whether the Assembly has some agenda or piece of thought on that?

Spokesperson:  The General Assembly is as strong as its Members are.  And Palestine is one of items on the ordinary agenda for this Presidency, I think it’s item 16, if I recall well.  And the President is now discussing with different groups what, if and how they want to proceed on this particular crisis, and certainly I assume that we will have this issue being dealt in the coming future.

Question:  And then with regard to the connection to the Council, to the Human Rights Council investigation –- is that the same answer that with regard to what they do, the General Assembly nations will discuss it and make some decision on how they want to relate to it?  Or is there a process by which they will automatically relate to it?

Spokesperson:  Now, we’ll have to see, we’ll have to wait to see what is the outcome of the investigation.  Certainly, for the President of the General Assembly, this is the issue that is very important, and he is following it very closely.

Thank you very much.

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