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

1 April 2009

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

1 April 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.

Good afternoon, all.

**Secretary-General at G-20 Summit

The Secretary-General is in London today, where tomorrow he will speak to the world leaders gathered for the Group of 20 meeting, to warn them that, unless we can arrest the current economic crisis and build a worldwide recovery, we face a looming catastrophe in human development.  He will press for urgent collective action, to bolster global development and allow people to keep faith in their future.

To that end, as you are aware, he has already informed G-20 leaders that a substantial amount of money will be needed to provide liquidity, longer term resources for productive investment and a safety net for the poorest and the most vulnerable between now and the end of next year.

He is to warn that the recession hurts everyone, especially the poor people with no homes or savings to lose, who in some countries may spend as much as 80 per cent of their income on food and often lack the basics of health care, water and sanitation.

After arriving in London, the Secretary-General held bilateral meetings with Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary, David Miliband.  With both, he discussed the importance of the G-20 Summit and the importance of working together to make it a success.  The Secretary-General and the British Foreign Secretary agreed that, if the Summit failed to produce results, the consequences would be severe.

The Secretary-General is now at a meeting on climate change and forests hosted by the Prince of Wales.  There, he is saying that green growth is precisely what the world needs during the current economic downturn. Green growth can help jumpstart recovery and generate jobs today, he says.

**Statement on Afghanistan

And we have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Afghanistan.

The Secretary-General is appalled and deeply saddened by today’s suicide attacks at the Kandahar Provincial Office near the United Nations Office in Kandahar City in Afghanistan, in which two people were reportedly killed and a large number of civilians were injured, including one UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) staff member.

The Secretary-General reiterates in the strongest possible terms his condemnation of all terrorist attacks against civilians.  He is deeply concerned at the escalation of violence in Afghanistan.  Such attacks indiscriminately targeting the people and the institutions committed to building a better future for the country are morally repugnant and can only set back the efforts to foster peace, reconciliation and stability in Afghanistan.

The Secretary-General extends his condolences and sympathy to the families of those lost in this attack and to the Government of Afghanistan.  He also sends his wishes for a speedy recovery to those injured by this despicable act.

**Statement on Formation on New Government in Israel

We also have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the formation of the new Government of the State of Israel.

The Secretary-General welcomes the formation of a new Government in Israel and looks forward to working with Prime Minister Netanyahu on the full range of peace and security issues in the region.  This includes the resumption of the Middle East peace process, with the aim of achieving an independent and viable Palestinian State living side-by-side in peace with a secure Israel, and a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace as envisaged in Security Council resolutions.

The Secretary-General also wishes to underscore his desire for close cooperation and dialogue with the new Government to advance the work of the United Nations.

** Gaza

The latest field update from the Humanitarian Coordinator in Gaza shows that, in the week that ended on 28 March, 721 truckloads of goods were allowed into Gaza, slightly down from 728 during the previous week.  The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that restrictions on imports and exports continue to seriously affect the living conditions of the population, with the vast majority of Gazans relying on local farming to produce affordable fresh foods.

Meanwhile, no construction materials, industrial or electrical appliances, livestock, petrol or diesel fuel were allowed entry into Gaza during the week.  And some 35,000 people are without any access to water, down from 40,000 last week.  The humanitarian update available upstairs also includes information about the halting of health referrals allowing patients to leave Gaza, which I told you about yesterday.

**Human Rights Council

In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General welcomed the US announcement that it will seek a seat in the Human Rights Council.  The Human Rights Council has a critical role to play in the protection and promotion of all human rights for all people, and the US has an important contribution to make to this end.  Full US engagement on human rights issues is an important step towards realizing the goal of an inclusive and vibrant intergovernmental process to protect human rights around the globe.  The Secretary-General also welcomed the announcement as a concrete embodiment of the US commitment to a “new era of engagement”.

Earlier today, the President of the Human Rights Council also issued a statement saying that he was very encouraged by the news of the decision of the US to run for a seat in the Human Rights Council.  This is further evidence of their commitment to advancing human rights globally, he said.

** Iraq

On Iraq, the United Nations welcomed a survey carried out by the Norwegian aid effectiveness firm Scanteam which shows UN reconstruction projects in Iraq have made a “real and meaningful impact” on the country’s recovery.  The report found that 80 per cent of UN projects surveyed in the field were “acceptable” or “satisfactory” ‑‑ the highest grade ‑‑ with security costs at just 2 per cent of overall project costs.  Surveyors in the field, who visited project sites inside Iraq, also found no evidence of systematic corruption.

David Shearer, UN Resident Coordinator for Iraq, said the results show that the Iraqi people have benefited from UN efforts, and donor funds have been well invested, despite a very difficult operating environment for UN staff.  He said, “The UN was able to deliver despite the poor security situation through our close working relationship with Government, civil society and local partners.”  We have a press release with more details on that upstairs.

** Darfur

On Darfur, the Under-Secretary-General for Field Support, Susana Malcorra, today travelled to the South Darfur capital, Nyala.

Upon her arrival, Ms. Malcorra paid a courtesy visit on the Wali or Governor of South Darfur during which they discussed issues relating to the African Union-United Nations mission in Darfur (UNAMID).  He indicated that his Government had approved land allocation for UNAMID in South Darfur and reaffirmed his Government’s commitment to cooperate with the peacekeeping operation and facilitate its work.

While in Nyala, Ms. Malcorra also met with UNAMID officials and toured the UNAMID facilities, including the Pakistan Level III hospital where she was briefed on the construction work being done, as well as progress made.  UNAMID, meanwhile, reports that banditry activities remain prevalent in West Darfur.

**Democratic Republic of Congo

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) is reporting that 31,000 personnel from, or associated with, the Mission have received briefings and training related to sexual exploitation and abuse.  There were also a number of field trips to assess how UN staff set lessons learned from those briefings into practice.

The Mission adds that it has dismissed 6 international staff members, 4 contractual workers, and repatriated 7 troops and police officers for various violations of rules of conduct and discipline.  We have more details in a press release and fact sheet from the Mission upstairs.

**Security Council

With the start of a new month, Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico has assumed the rotating Presidency of the Security Council for April.  Ambassador Heller will talk to you in this room tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. to discuss the programme of work for the coming month.

** Pakistan

On Pakistan, the Director-General of UNESCO [the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], Koïchiro Matsuura, expressed today his concern about continuing threats to girls’ education in the Swat Valley.

He said that the education situation there was particularly worrying as attacks have struck educational institutions, especially girls’ schools, as well as teaching staff and students.  UNESCO explains that, despite a ceasefire agreement signed by the Pakistani Government and the main Taliban group in the region, many parents continue to be afraid to send their children to school.

Only an agreement clearly reflecting the commitment of the Pakistani Government to the goals of Education for All, including facilitating girls’ access to education, can reassure them, said the UNESCO Director-General.  We have a press release on this upstairs.

**Sea Cucumbers

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is warning that sea cucumbers ‑‑ a staple in people’s diets across Asia ‑‑ are threatened by intense fishing pressure around the world.

The FAO says the species is at risk and stresses that, in light of the growing international demand, management plans should be designed specifically to local circumstances.  These could include such measures as establishing catch quotas and minimum size limits.

Called trepang in Malaysia, namako in Japan and also known by the French nickname bêche-de-mer, sea cucumbers make a substantial contribution to the economies of coastal communities, according to FAO.  We have a press release on this upstairs.

**Press Conferences Today

And the press conference by Alan Doss, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has been postponed to next week.  We will keep you informed as to when it will be.

We do have a press conference at 1:30 p.m. today.  Hania Zlotnik, Director of the Population Division at the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, will join other speakers to brief on the impact of population growth on least developed countries’ efforts to achieve the Millennium Development Goals.

And this is all I have for you today.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, what’s happening to this investigation on Gaza?  The Israelis and UNRWA [United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] investigations.  Did you have any update on that?

Spokesperson:  No.  As I said, I had an update yesterday.  I had said earlier in the briefing that the report on the UNRWA facilities and the loss of life and destruction of property that took place in the different attacks against UNRWA schools were to be given to the Secretary-General on 7 April.

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  You indicated that the Secretary-General welcomed the formation of the new Government, in this case, in Israel.  Are there precedents for this practice or is this a special case?

Spokesperson: Yes, we have had the precedents before.  In this specific case as you know, we wanted to underline the commitments made by Israel.

Question:  So when there is a new Government anywhere the Secretary-General welcomes... [interrupted]?

Spokesperson:  No, this is not necessarily true.  Usually we write a letter to the Government.  In this specific case, we wanted to reassert the parameters of our action in the Middle East.

Question:  I wanted to ask on the same subject that the new Foreign Minister, Mr. [Avigdor] Lieberman has said that he is not obliged by Annapolis process at all, and that probably they will try to find out different arrangements...[interrupted]?

Spokesperson:  I will stand by what I’ve just said.  What I’ve just read underlines our own commitments and the commitments that Israel had, has abided to.

Question:  Michèle, did the Human Rights Council have anything specific to say today on the US’s interest and if there were any specific countries on top of the list that they were speaking about when...[interrupted]?

Spokesperson: Well, I just gave you the reaction of the President of the Human Rights Council.

Question:  Do you have any other information in terms of their joining now?  Is it specifically on an impetus for a specific country like Sudan or is it just...[interrupted]?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have that information.  You should get that information from the US Government to find out why they’re joining now.

Question:  Michèle, the report that the Secretary-General will receive on 7 April; will he make that report public in its entirety?

Spokesperson:  No.  As I said, he is first going to examine the report and decide what to do about it then.  This is a report directed to him.

Question:  Has he made any commitment to make any, maybe an executive summary of it...[interrupted]?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know at this point, I cannot answer that question; as I said, I will be able to answer it once the SG has read it.

Question:  On Afghanistan, I am wondering, does the UN have a reaction on this new law that will make it legal for Afghan men to rape their wife and also that would forbid women from leaving their house without a male relative or their husband?

Spokesperson:  We’re aware of this law and we certainly will have some reaction to it at a later date.  I don’t have anything today.

Question:  [Same question posed in French by the same correspondent.]

Spokesperson:  [Answer given in French].  Yes.

Question:  Actually, just one question.  You said that the UN is aware of it.  There seems to be some dispute of actually getting a copy of the law.  Has the UN, or UNIFEM or anyone in the UN system actually gotten a copy of the proposed law?

Spokesperson:  Our UNAMA office has it.  So I’ll try to see if...I don’t know whether we can get it.  We cannot actually put it out, it’s not our job, our work.  You should ask the Mission, actually.

Question:  Does Ban Ki-moon have any, or does the UN in general, [reaction] to these two journalists that were imprisoned in North Korea and are being, some say held as human shields or whatever, are going to be put on trial.  What’s the UN’s response, statement on that?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have a statement at this point.  I have to say that the case has been raised and is being followed very closely.

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  There are reports, as you know that the Group of 20 intends to [add] developing and emerging countries to its membership.  Is the Secretary-General in favour of that and is he concerned that this might be looked upon as the new Security Council?

Spokesperson:  The meeting is taking place right now, I think it’s a little premature for me to have an opinion on the subject.  The G-20 is to decide whether, how many developing countries they want to include in their ranks.  As you know, already the G-20 is an extension to developing countries and emerging economies.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General in principle in favour of enlarging this group to 26?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any specific reaction on that number from the Secretary-General; I do not.

Question:  Is it possible for the liaison office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights in New York to give us an update as to the progress that this Council has made since it replaced the Commission on Human Rights?

Spokesperson:  Well, you can certainly address your request to them.  They are right here in the building.

Question:  The Secretary-General in his letter to the G-20 participants with the $1 trillion figure in it; has he received any response to it?

Spokesperson:  No, not specifically.  As you know the letter was sent right before he left.  But this certainly will be discussed while they are in London.

Question:  And this is the number that he’s putting at the G-20?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  A question.  Afghanistan is a member party to the Convention on the Elimination on All Forms of Violence against Women [sic]; what is the standard procedure if a State that is a member party to such a convention does not abide by the various rules of these conventions?  What’s the procedure at the UN to try to make sure that they stay on the right track?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll ask the Legal Office to have more information for you on that; what the procedure is in case of a convention signed.  Actually the duties of the member, the participant to any convention is written in the convention itself.

[The Spokesperson later added that the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women examined the implementation of that Convention.]

Question:  I’m sorry, Michèle, I may have missed it.  Have the medical transfers in Gaza resumed or are we still at a stalemate on that?

Spokesperson:  We are still at a stalemate on that.  Okay, thank you all so very much.

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