Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

11 March 2009

Daily Press Briefing by the Office of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

11 March 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.

Good afternoon.

**Guests at Noon Today

Our guests after my briefing, Hania Zlotnik and Gerhard Heilig from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, will be here shortly to discuss the latest findings of the 2008 Revision of the World Population Prospects.

**Secretary-General’s Meeting with Obama

The Secretary-General, as you know, had a wide-ranging and very productive meeting with United States President Barack Obama at the White House yesterday afternoon, and we have a full statement upstairs describing that meeting, which covered a broad range of issues confronting the international community.

Among other things, they discussed the international economic crisis and emphasized the need to ensure that the world's poor and most vulnerable people are not left behind.  Both called for redoubling efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals and ensure food security around the world.  They agreed that progress could be made on this front even during difficult economic times.  And they both strongly emphasized the need for an international agreement on climate change, both to save the planet and ensure a sustainable economic recovery.

In comments to the press afterwards, the Secretary-General said that leaders of the Group of 20 “should not lose sight of the challenges and plight of hundreds of millions of the poorest people in the developing countries who have been impacted by this economic crisis”.

The Secretary-General and the President discussed at length the situation in the Sudan, particularly the acute humanitarian situation caused by the Government's decision to expel 13 international non-governmental organizations, and emphasized the need for a peaceful resolution of the situation.  Other topics included the need for strengthening civilian support for Afghanistan, facilitating cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan, actively pursuing peace in the Middle East, supporting reconstruction in Haiti, and working together to support Iraq in a period of transition.  They also discussed disarmament and non-proliferation issues, including the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The Secretary-General welcomed President Obama's statement that the United Nations is an extraordinarily constructive partner for bringing peace and security to the world.  “We look forward,” the Secretary-General said, “to working together to turn this 'make-or-break' year full of crises into a 'make it work' year full of solutions.”

**Secretary-General in Washington

The Secretary-General today is continuing his meetings in Washington, D.C., with key United States officials.  He participated this morning in a working breakfast with the House Foreign Relations Committee after meeting with its Chairman, Representative Howard Berman.

The Secretary-General spoke about United Nations reform, in particular the restructuring of peacekeeping support; developments in Afghanistan, Haiti and the Sudan; and the upcoming G-20 meeting on the economic crisis.  The Secretary-General noted that the United States continues to owe about $1 billion to the United Nations, and he told the Committee that, while the United States generously supports the work of the United Nations, “we cannot do the work you ask us to do without the resources to get the job done”.  They also discussed Gaza and the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), Somalia, Sudan, the Durban Review Conference, Afghanistan, climate change and the Human Rights Council.

The Secretary-General also met with Senator John Kerry, who heads the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and they discussed climate change, Sudan, Gaza and United States arrears to the United Nations.

He will meet later today with other members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and with members of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Commerce before returning to New York.

And following the conclusion of his trips to Haiti and Washington, the Secretary-General will hold his monthly press conference in this Room tomorrow at 11 a.m., and that was in response to questions I had yesterday as well.

** Darfur

Turning to Darfur, the African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that last night a UNAMID vehicle was carjacked by three unknown armed men in front of the staff member’s home about 500 metres from UNAMID headquarters in El Fasher, North Darfur.  No injuries were reported and the incident was reported to Sudanese authorities.

UNAMID also reports that a peaceful demonstration comprising mostly youth and labour movement figures took place today in Nyala, South Darfur, condemning the recent International Criminal Court decision to issue an arrest warrant against the President.

During the past 24 hours, UNAMID forces conducted 30 confidence-building patrols, 11 escort patrols and 10 night patrols covering 43 villages and camps housing internally displaced persons.  UNAMID Police conducted 96 patrols in and around the villages and IDP [internally displaced persons] camps.

Joint Chief Mediator Djibril Bassolé was in Doha yesterday for meetings with the officials from the State of Qatar and representatives of the Government of the Sudan and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM).  During the meetings, both the Government and JEM recommitted themselves to the Doha political process and a peaceful, negotiated settlement to the Darfur conflict. 

Mr. Bassolé intends to meet with other rebel movement representatives and regional countries in the coming days in an effort to broaden inclusivity in the Doha talks.  Mr. Bassolé is scheduled to brief the Security Council on 26 March, and that is according to the programme that is made public to you.


And on the humanitarian front, the United Nations is continuing to compile information on the impact of the orders given to the non-governmental organizations to cease operations in northern Sudan, including Darfur. 

According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, as of 10 March, 183 international staff have already left the country, with others awaiting exit visas to depart.

Another issue of particular concern is for the safety of national and international staff on the ground following repeated incidents of intimidation and harassment.  In addition, reports continue of efforts to confiscate non-governmental organization, United Nations and donor-owned equipment.  The United Nations has requested the Government of the Sudan to return these items. 

Information is reaching us from Abyei, Blue Nile State and Southern Kordofan State -- which were located along the frontlines during the north-south civil war and which have been particularly hard-hit by the country’s decades of warfare -- and also eastern Sudan, which includes three other States.

It should be remembered that many of the agencies asked to leave these areas have been working in the Sudan for decades.  While the information is still incomplete, the departure of these non-governmental organizations will affect hundreds of thousands of people in these non-Darfur areas.

In South Kordofan, for example, the non-governmental organizations affected provided health, nutrition, water, sanitation, education, food security and other assistance.  Up to 800,000 people could be affected by the departure of non-governmental organizations working in health and nutrition, while those benefiting from interventions in water and sanitation number up to 400,000, and from assistance in food security up to 200,000.  In Blue Nile and Kassala, the International Rescue Committee alone served over 100,000 people.

Meanwhile, in Kalma camp, today, a United Nations inter-agency team visited the camp; that was yesterday, excuse me, to assess and respond to the urgent needs in the water, sanitation and health sectors.  They found that water and sanitation conditions are deteriorating. 

In Zam Zam camp, distributions of non-food items have stopped due to the departure of a non-governmental organization amidst a cavalcade of new arrivals in recent months, and there are reportedly health concerns, including increased diarrhoea and eye infections. 

The joint United Nations-Government technical assessment mission to evaluate food, water, health and emergency shelter situations in Darfur commenced today.  And more information from this mission should be available next week.  And there is more information upstairs on the various assessments and what they’re doing in order to look into how critical humanitarian needs will have to be met.

Many of the non-governmental organizations that have been expelled have been integral to this massive logistical effort in previous years.

**Security Council

The Security Council today is beginning a mission to Haiti, which is to last until Saturday.  The mission is led by Ambassador Jorge Urbina of Costa Rica, and it is travelling to reaffirm the Council’s support to the people and Government of Haiti, and to evaluate progress in implementing its resolutions on Haiti, particularly resolution 1840 (2008).

The list of the members of the Council mission to Haiti and its terms of reference are available on the racks today as a letter from the Council President to the Secretary-General.

And yesterday afternoon, the Council heard a briefing by François Lonseny Fall, the outgoing Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Central African Republic.

** Cyprus

On 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 Adviser on Cyprus, Alexander Downer, noted that the leaders began with a tête-à-tête meeting, which lasted 90 minutes.

They then started discussions on matters concerning the European Union.  The leaders decided to refer some of the particularly technical legal issues to their experts, who will be meeting on Friday and Monday.

The leaders themselves will meet again next Tuesday to review the work of the technical experts and further discuss European Union matters.  And there is more on that upstairs.

** Somalia

The Secretary-General’s latest report on Somalia is out today.  And it says there remains uncertainty about whether peacekeeping is the right tool to back the political process in Somalia.  This assessment comes a month before his 15 April final advice and recommendations to the Security Council on a possible United Nations peacekeeping deployment to that country.  In the meantime, the Secretary-General says he will continue to update and refine the contingency plan prepared by United Nations departments after a number of technical-assessment missions to Somalia.  And you can read more about that in the report upstairs.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says it will be helping to fast-track the deployment of the Congolese national police throughout eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo.  The police deployment is part of a 2008 United Nations-backed regional stabilization plan.  The Mission says the plan made notable progress when 332 Congolese police officers began their deployment across the restive North Kivu Province.  There is more information on that upstairs as well. 

**Human Rights Council

And today, in Geneva, the Human Rights Council is taking up the rights of the child.

In remarks this morning, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay noted that the Convention on the Rights of the Child enjoys almost universal acceptance and has transformed the way the world views children.  Children are no longer viewed as the property of parents or the passive recipients of charity or goodwill, but as rights-holders, she said.

Noting that children suffer disproportionately in conflict situations, Pillay urged the Human Rights Council to remain vigilant in order to confront emerging challenges and ensure that the spirit and letter of the Convention shapes the policies of the international community.

**UNEP-Peacekeeping Operations

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is calling on peacekeeping missions to adopt environmental technologies and sustainable-management practices.  At a meeting gathering military and civilian aid experts this week, Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, said that the primary role of international peacekeeping forces and aid agencies is to keep the peace and support vulnerable communities.  But, he added, they also have the responsibility to ensure that their presence and operations have a minimal ecological footprint and do not aggravate environmental degradation -- which may be a dimension of the conflict.

The meeting, hosted by UNEP and co-organized by the Swedish Defence Research Agency, the United Nations Department of Field Support, the United Nations Mission in the Sudan and the Environmental Law Institute, looked at concrete ways to integrate sustainable practices into peacekeeping and relief operations.

And you can read more about this in UNEP’s new report “From Conflict to Peacebuilding:  The Role of Natural Resources and the Environment”.  There is a press release upstairs.


We also have a press release on the International Tourism Fair in Berlin today, in which the World Tourism Organization Secretary-General ad interim, Taleb Rifai, urged world leaders to include tourism as a key part of their economic stimulus programmes.


We also have a press release from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) saying that FAO and the European professional football leagues will join forces in an anti-hunger match weekend.  Over 200 football clubs, 100 stadiums and millions of fans will be involved in the first ever Europe-wide football weekend, from 20-22 March.  The funds raised during this event will help finance anti-hunger micro-projects around the world.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And finally, tomorrow morning at 9:30 a.m. in this Room, there will be a press conference by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the World Water Development Report.  The authors will be here to discuss that Report.

And as I mentioned earlier, the Secretary-General will be here at 11 a.m. to hold his monthly press conference.  And that’s what I have for you.  And our guest should be arriving shortly, but I’ll take a few questions.  Mr. Abbadi.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you, Marie.  Marie, you mentioned that the Secretary-General met with some members of a committee in Washington and discussed, among other things, United Nations reforms.  Did the Secretary-General discuss that subject with President Obama, and were there any comments on the subject?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You saw the rather detailed readout of the Secretary-General’s meeting with President Obama, and that’s all I have for now.  As the travelling delegation, as you know, is still busy today.  We’ll try to get them when they get back.  Yes.

Question:  In your readout on the Secretary-General’s talks with President Obama, you said that the two leaders discussed facilitating cooperation between Afghanistan and Pakistan.  Could you elaborate?  In what field and to do what?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m afraid this is all I have for now for the readout.  But we’ll certainly get some more when the party gets back and the Secretary-General will be here himself.

Question:  (inaudible)…general comments.

Deputy Spokesperson:  They’re very general comments for the time being, yes.

Question:  Well, is it also general in terms of Obama’s response to the 1 billion [dollars] still owed on behalf of the United States?  I mean did he have any comments?  Any kind of response to the…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you heard his comments that were in the transcript and I really don’t have anything beyond that of what he said.  Yes.

Question:  Did the Secretary-General discuss whether the President might come here in the near future?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you know, that’s something that you can ask the Secretary-General tomorrow.  Yes?

Question:  Marie, on Friday, the Sudanese Ambassador said that his Government has a dossier of evidence against the non-governmental organizations that have been expelled.  We’ve yet to see him since then, but has he given this dossier or shown the dossier to the Secretary-General, or expressed some intent to do so in the near future?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, the last we heard of that is what John Holmes told you the other day, in which he said that he had not seen that.  So I have nothing beyond that.  So with that, we have our guests today, who will brief you on the 2008 Revision of the World Population Prospects.

* *** *

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