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

28 January 2009

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

28 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

I’ll start with an item on the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Alan Doss, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has formally accepted an invitation by the Congolese Government to contribute a planning and liaison team to a joint Democratic Republic of the Congo/Rwanda military operation.  The operation targets ethnic Rwandan Hutu militias based in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The decision was made yesterday as Alan Doss toured eastern Congo to assess the impact of the military operation on local civilians. 

The United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says it will soon dispatch a group of staff military officers to the headquarters of the operation in Goma.  Their mandate is strictly confined to planning and liaison.  The goal of their assignment is to help increase the presence and gradual inclusion of United Nations civilian staff in the planning of the military operation.  These civilian staff members will work on issues affecting humanitarian coordination, general civilian affairs and the demobilization, resettlement or repatriation of former Congolese or ethnic Rwandan Hutu fighters.

Noting that there has been a marked increase in the number of Rwandan Hutu fighters willing to be repatriated to Rwanda with the Mission’s support, United Nations officials say that the support for repatriation remains an option.  So far 39 combatants have agreed to be repatriated to Rwanda and another 57 have recently registered for repatriation.

**Security Council Today

And on this matter, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet is briefing the Security Council now on these operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  He is also briefing on the Sudan.  Those briefings are taking place in the Security Council’s closed consultations.

Mr. Mulet has informed us that he intends to speak to you at the stakeout after those consultations are over.  So save those questions on the Democratic Republic of the Congo for him.

**Security Council Yesterday

Yesterday afternoon, the Security Council held a meeting, followed by consultations, on the Middle East.  It heard briefings from Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, and also, for the first time ever, a Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

Addressing Council members, UNRWA chief Karen AbuZayd spoke of shock and sorrow among the people of Gaza.  She noted their rage against the attackers for often failing to distinguish between military targets and civilians.  But she also noted their resentment against the international community for having allowed first the siege and then the war to go on for so long.  AbuZayd said Palestinians and Palestine refugees are assured of UNRWA’s help, but their greater need is to have the demonstrated support of the Security Council.

John Holmes said that the people of Gaza have continued to exist in what is effectively a giant open-air prison, without normality or dignity.  That can only lead to more despair, suffering, death and destruction in the coming years, and perhaps fatally undermine the two-State solution.

In that regard, he stressed that it must be in the long-term interests of all parties, including Israel, to ease conditions for the people of Gaza, by opening the crossings, facilitating the provision of aid, and allowing Gazans to live, work and hope again.  Holmes noted that he will launch a flash appeal for Gaza on 2 February.

** Gaza

The Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process (UNSCO) reports that the Kerem Shalom crossing, the Karni grain conveyor belt and the Nahal Oz fuel pipeline, all of which run between Israel and Gaza, were reopened today.

But John Ging, the Director of Operations in Gaza for UNRWA, stressed that access remains a problem with thousands of tons of generously donated aid sitting in Egypt, Jordan and the ports of Israel.  “That aid should be right here, right now, helping the people who need it,” Ging said.

He also noted that the number of people receiving United Nations food aid in Gaza has now gone up to 900,000.  The growing number of aid-dependent Palestinians is due to the lack of an economy in Gaza, as well as the recent damage and destruction, he said.  Ging added that UNRWA is distributing millions of dollars of cash assistance to those who have had their houses damaged and need temporary shelters.

** Darfur

The security situation in Darfur remains tense, according to the African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID).  And two UNAMID camps in South Darfur continue to face an increase in the number of civilians seeking refuge as a result of recent clashes. 

Joint Special Representative Rodolphe Adada told United Nations staff at mission headquarters in El Fasher, following the recent fighting that took place in both North and South Darfur, that UNAMID will remain in Darfur.  UNAMID will continue its mandated operations of protecting civilians, ensuring that humanitarian assistance is provided to those in need and finding a political solution to the crisis. 

** Sri Lanka

The United Nations in Sri Lanka will attempt for the second time in three days to help evacuate by convoy hundreds of critically wounded civilians from the war-torn north of the country, including at least 50 seriously injured children.

The convoy has been trapped for days in the town which lies just across the lines of confrontation in Tamil Tiger-controlled territory.

If permission is granted by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and, if a lull in fighting permits, the United Nations convoy will cross the frontline at midday Thursday.  The injured will then be transported to Ministry of Health hospitals in Vavuniya to help treat their injuries and wounds.

** Iraq

This Saturday, Iraq will hold Governorate Council elections in 14 of its 18 provinces, with elections for the Kurdistan region and the Kirkuk governorate to take place at a later stage.  Early voting for members of the security forces, among others, began today.

The United Nations Mission in Iraq has provided electoral experts who work within Iraq’s High Electoral Commission, providing their Iraqi counterparts with technical support and advice, as required, on a day-to-day basis.  Ahead of the latest elections, the United Nations Mission has provided the Commission with advice and assistance on a broad range of electoral issues, including its nationwide revamping of the voter registry in order to increase accuracy and reduce the potential for multiple voting.

There is a fact sheet upstairs about the work the United Nations has done to support the elections in Iraq.

**Secretary-General Travels

The Secretary-General wrapped up his visit to Spain today, where he signed an agreement with the Spanish Government on the establishment of a new global telecommunications facility for peacekeeping operations, to be built in Valencia, Spain.  That facility, he said, will complement the existing United Nations communications infrastructure in Brindisi, Italy, and will reduce the very real risks associated with depending on a single hub.

At the signing ceremony, the Secretary-General said that, for a global organization such as the United Nations, the ability to communicate clearly, quickly and around the clock is crucial.  For our peacekeeping operations, communications can be the difference between life and death.  He thanked the Government of Spain for its generosity.  We have his remarks upstairs.

He also had a working luncheon with the Global Compact network for Spain, before heading on to Switzerland, where he will attend this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos.  Tomorrow, he will speak at a number of events at the Davos Forum.  I believe we will have embargoed copies of his remarks available later this afternoon.

** Cyprus

The Greek Cypriot leader, Dimitris Christofias, and the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, met today under United Nations auspices in Nicosia.  Speaking to the press afterwards, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Cyprus, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, noted that the leaders had started negotiations on the issue of property.

The leaders also agreed to implement an agreement on cultural heritage, which had been reached earlier in a technical committee.  That agreement deals with the establishment of an advisory board on the preservation, physical protection and restoration of immovable cultural heritage in Cyprus.  The leaders have agreed to meet again a week from today, on the 4th of February.  We have more information on this upstairs.

** Bolivia

And just to remind you, for those who may have missed it, that yesterday afternoon we did issue a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the recent referendum in Bolivia.  If you haven’t looked at that, that is available upstairs.

** Zimbabwe

In its latest update on the cholera situation in Zimbabwe, the World Health Organization (WHO) says the death toll has now topped 3,000.  As of yesterday, 3,028 deaths had been reported, with the total number of cholera cases at nearly 58,000.  Both the reported number of cases and the death toll have increased by nearly 50 per cent in the past two weeks.

In response, WHO has helped to establish a cholera control and command centre.  It is stepping up efforts to improve case reporting and response, including through improved access to health care, and ensuring safe isolation and infection control.  WHO has also deployed additional experts in public health, water, sanitation, logistics and other areas.

** Myanmar

In Myanmar, despite extensive damage from the May 2008 Cyclone Nargis that destroyed most of the rice harvest in the Ayeyarwady Delta area, overall food production in the country was satisfactory in 2008 due to increases in crop harvests in other regions.  That’s according to a report issued today by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Food Programme.  You can read more about that upstairs.

**International Labour Organization

There is a press release from and a report by the International Labour Organization (ILO) saying that there will be a dramatic increase in the number of unemployed people throughout the world.  Some 200 million workers, mostly in developing countries, could be pushed into extreme poverty in 2009.

**International Maritime Organization 

There is also a press release from the International Maritime Organization (IMO), which is convening a high-level meeting to address the problem of piracy and armed robbery against ships off the coast of Somalia and in the Gulf of Aden.  The meeting is taking place in Djibouti.  A regional agreement to assist the countries involved in this issue is expected at the end of the meeting.

**International Monetary Fund

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) today revised its global growth forecast steeply downward, to its lowest level since the Second World War.  IMF now expects the global economy to come to a virtual standstill in 2009, growing by just one half of 1 per cent.  In November, it had predicted growth of slightly more than 2 per cent.

Advanced economies will experience sharp contractions, with declines of 1.5 per cent in the United States, 2 per cent in the euro area, and 2.5 per cent in Japan.  Emerging and developing economies are expected to fare better, but will still see significant slowdowns in growth.

According to IMF, financial markets remain under stress and are pulling down the rest of the economy.  Only by restructuring the banking sector and unclogging credit markets will a sustained economic recovery be possible, according to IMF.

And that is according to IMF, and you can read more about that upstairs.


I have two appointments:

The Secretary-General has informed the Security Council of his intention to appoint Joseph Mutaboba and Karin Landgren as Representatives in Guinea-Bissau and Nepal, respectively.

Mr. Mutaboba will replace Shola Omoregie who retired on 31 December 2008 after more than 30 years of continuous service with the United Nations.  Mr. Mutaboba has had a long career in diplomacy and foreign affairs, and is currently serving as the Rwandan President’s Special Envoy to the Great Lakes Region.

Ms. Landgren will head the Mission after the departure of Ian Martin and the adoption of Security Council resolution 1864 (2009).  Ms. Landgren has served as Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Nepal since September 2008 and has had many years of political, managerial and international law experience with the United Nations.

We have both their bio-data upstairs in our Office.

**Press Conference

There is a press conference today at 2 o’clock.  The Institute for Global Policy will be holding one in this Room to launch a global civil society coalition for the responsibility to protect.

And don’t forget, Edmond Mulet will be at the Security Council stakeout following consultations on the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Sudan.

**Guest at Noon Tomorrow

The guest tomorrow will be the World Food Programme’s Regional Director for the Middle East, Central Asia and Eastern Europe, who will brief on the humanitarian situation in Gaza. 

I think that is all I have for you.  I could take a few questions, if you have any, before I turn over to Enrique.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On the figure of 900,000 people in Gaza now receiving aid:  Is this food aid?  How would you define that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think you can follow up with UNRWA on that.  I don’t have any further details.

Question:  There were statements by some Sudanese officials that they would not exclude that United Nations offices in the Sudan might be in danger in case the International Criminal Court decides to indict or call for the arrest of President Bashir.  Any reaction?

Deputy Spokesperson:  No.  As you know, security is being looked at and monitored 24 hours a day, around the clock, throughout where the United Nations is operating.  I have nothing further to say on that.

Question:  [Inaudible] plans by United Nations officials in the Sudan, particularly since everybody is expecting…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I did not say that.  I said the United Nations monitors security around the clock for wherever the United Nations is operating around the world.

Question:  There are reports that, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, CNDP is in fact not integrating, or it…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I had a long item on the Democratic Republic of the Congo before you came in.  Can you please look at that?

Question:  Sure.  Can you confirm that United Nations staff members are being shot at in Sri Lanka and, if so, by whom?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I also had a statement on Sri Lanka.  If you came in on time, perhaps…

Question:  Do you have an answer to the question I asked yesterday on Afghanistan, whether the budget of UNAMA [United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan] is being increased?

Deputy Spokesperson:  That would be up to the General Assembly to decide.

Question:  Okay, Kai Eide has said it is being increased, so it is not…

Deputy Spokesperson:  The budget is up to the General Assembly.

Question:  And can I ask you, there is a controversy about where the BBC has declined to show this appeal for the victims in Gaza.  Mohamed El-Baradei of the United Nations system has said, has boycotted now the BBC.  Does the Secretariat believe that appeals for victims in Gaza should be shown impartially, or what is their position?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t think we have a specific comment on what you are saying, but I think the Secretary-General’s position on what needs to be done in Gaza has been very loud and very clear.

Question:  There is a flash appeal on Gaza coming out on 2 February.  Is that flash appeal going to be just donor nations, or is it going to be more broadly to individuals?  And if it is individuals, are you going to have like a podcast about it, or video about it, to try to involve people, and use digital technology to communicate the message?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’d have to ask the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, who put the flash appeal together.  John Holmes said that he would launch the appeal in Geneva on 2 February.  Tomorrow, I believe, the Secretary-General, who is also in Davos, will be talking about the needs in Davos.

Question:  Was there any response by the Secretary-General to the complaint from Serbia about the new police forces in Kosovo?  He received a letter…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything on that, but, if we do, I’ll send it to you.

Question:  Thailand has said that the refugees from Myanmar that it has taken out to sea are not in danger back in Myanmar of any repercussions.  Does the United Nations have anything to say about that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has had some lengthy responses to that, which we can share with you later.

On that, I’ll turn it over to Enrique.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  Good to see you all.  Let me start by making an announcement.

The Queen of Qatar, Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al-Missed, has invited the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d´Escoto Brockmann, to participate in the launch of the international campaign for Alfakhoura School in Gaza, which will be held in Doha on Saturday, 1 February.  This is an initiative to rebuild the schools in Gaza that were destroyed during the Israeli bombardments in recent weeks.

“Today, nowhere is this commitment to provide crucial funding for education more important than in the neighbourhoods of Gaza,” said President d´Escoto, who leaves tomorrow for Qatar and will be back here at Headquarters on Monday.

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

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On yesterday’s non-appearance of the President at the Holocaust Commemoration, I remember I asked you -- when it was said he should not go by some groups -- and you said he was definitely going to go.  What happened?

Spokesperson:  Well, what happened is –- and I explained to you yesterday when you called to my office -- is that President d’Escoto, who wanted to be at the ceremony, had, for personal reasons, to rush outside New York.  He wanted until at the very last moment to return to New York on time on Tuesday, but he could not.  He asked the Ambassador of Rwanda to read his statement.  And he is very glad, in any case, that his words -- his statement -- was read during the ceremony.

Question:  So the various reports saying that he was facing threats by the Israeli Ambassador and other groups to either walk out or boo had absolutely nothing to do with his non-appearance?

Spokesperson:  Absolutely nothing to do with it.  He would have had liked to be there.

Question:  Is it possible to say what the out of town engagement was?

Spokesperson:  Well, it is a personal issue, it is a family issue.  I hope you can respect the privacy of the President of the General Assembly.  Something very intimate from his family, and I don’t want to provide any more details about it.  It is a personal issue.  And he had to rush.  But again, and I want to stress and make it very clear:  he had planned to be there, he wanted to be there, but he could not at the last moment.

Question:  Would it be possible before this trip to put to the President of the General Assembly, to ask him to clarify in the wake of yesterday’s ceremonies and this weekend’s ceremonies his understanding of the difference between war crimes and genocide?

Spokesperson:  Well, I can ask him, certainly.  We are leaving tomorrow.  So, I am not sure whether he would be able to…

Question:  You can ask him on the plane.

Spokesperson:  No, no, certainly, not before tomorrow.  What I mean, I thought you wanted him to be here in the press conference.  Sure, I can ask him that question.

Question:  On Security Council reform, do you have any… You have had this informal panel meeting on Security Council reform [inaudible]  Could you confirm the date that the President of the General Assembly [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Okay.  There is nothing much new on the reform of the Security Council of what I told you a few days ago, which is basically that we are going to have the last session of the Open-Ended Working Group this week, on Friday, and then after that, the President of the General Assembly will call for the intergovernmental negotiations to start immediately.  But, we don’t have a date yet.  I think by next week, when we come back from Qatar, we will be able to give you a more detailed agenda on the schedule for the Security Council reform.  But as I said, the President of the General Assembly is pushing very hard and trying to speed up the process, so that we start immediately the intergovernmental negotiations.

No more questions?  Thank you very much.

* *** *

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