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

6 April 2009

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

6 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, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, all.

**Guests at Noon

We will have with us shortly, as my guests, Jessica Neuwirth, Director of the New York Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Craig Mokhiber, the Deputy Director, to discuss the Durban Review Conference and latest developments in the preparatory process.  And of course, we have a gift today because Enrique is here to brief also.

** Iraq -- Secretary-General’s Statement

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the bomb attacks in Baghdad.

The Secretary-General strongly condemns the string of bombings that struck a marketplace and other locations in Baghdad today, killing a large number of civilians and injuring many others.  The Secretary-General extends his condolences to the families of the deceased.

The Secretary-General is confident that the people of Iraq will reject these reprehensible attempts to provoke sectarian violence in the country.  He urges them to continue undeterred in their efforts to achieve lasting peace and national reconciliation.  The UN remains committed to supporting the Iraqi people towards these ends.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

The Secretary-General is heading back to New York from Istanbul, Turkey, wrapping up a trip that took him to six countries in 12 days.

This morning in Istanbul, he addressed the Second Forum of the Alliance of Civilizations, a joint Spanish-Turkish initiative under UN auspices that seeks to address the polarization between societies and cultures today.  In his statement, the Secretary-General said that the Alliance gives us a chance to consign identity-based divisiveness to the past and to recognize our common humanity before it is too late.  We have his full remarks upstairs.

And today in Istanbul, the Secretary-General met with Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, with whom he discussed forthcoming donors’ conferences for Haiti and Somalia, food security and last week’s Group of 20 Summit.

He also met with the Foreign Minister of Austria and the President of Slovenia and attended a luncheon hosted by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Over the weekend, the Secretary-General chaired a meeting in Paris of the UN system’s Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB), in what he believed was a timely and significant session to devise a follow-up strategy to the G-20 summit across the UN system and the Bretton Woods institutions.

On Saturday evening, the Secretary-General had a meeting with French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, and he told the press afterward that he was counting on France to provide a generous contribution to a forthcoming donors’ conference on Somalia.  His press remarks are available online.

**Secretary-General’s Travels -- Asia

The Secretary-General is headed back to New York, but will be off again before week's end.  This time, he is travelling to Asia -- first to Laos for an official visit, and then to Thailand [to co-chair] the Summit of the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the United Nations.

From Asia, he plans to travel back to the United States to attend the donors’ conference on Haiti in Washington, D.C.  The Secretary-General will be briefing the General Assembly on his trip tomorrow afternoon.

His monthly press conference is expected towards the middle of the month.  We will let you know a date as soon as we have confirmed one.

**Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

On North Korea, we put out a statement on Saturday night expressing the Secretary-General’s regrets that, against strong international appeals, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea went ahead with its planned launch.  Given the volatility in the region, as well as a stalemate in interaction among the concerned parties, such a launch is not conducive to efforts to promote dialogue, regional peace and stability.

The Secretary-General urges the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to comply with relevant Security Council resolutions, and all countries concerned to focus on ways to build confidence and restore dialogue, including the early resumption of the six-party talks.  The Secretary-General will lend his full support to these efforts.

The Security Council held emergency consultations yesterday afternoon for three hours to listen to concerns arising from the launch by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.  The Council President, Ambassador Claude Heller, told reporters afterwards that Council members agreed to continue consultations on the appropriate reaction by the Council, in accordance with its responsibilities, given the urgency of the matter.

** Pakistan

On Saturday, the Secretary-General welcomed the safe release of John Solecki, the head of the UN refugee agency office in Quetta, Pakistan, who is now once more in the care of the United Nations.  The Secretary-General expressed his gratitude to all those who have tried over the past two months to help secure John Solecki's release, and expressed his particular appreciation for the strong message made by Balochi leaders in support of his release, as well as the efforts made by the Government of Pakistan.  He reaffirmed the continuing commitment of the United Nations to help all the people of Pakistan, which has been demonstrated in John Solecki's own work.

In a separate statement, UN High Commissioner for Refugees Antonio Guterres said that UNHCR looks forward to continuing its humanitarian efforts in Pakistan as part of the United Nations team working on behalf of all of the people.

Speaking to reporters in Paris Saturday night, the Secretary-General said he was very happy and expressed his sincere appreciation to President [Asif Ali] Zardari of Pakistan and President [Hamid] Karzai of Afghanistan and the many other people who have been working tirelessly to help get John Solecki released.  He reiterated his call on those holding Robert Fowler and Louis Guay, who were abducted in Niger last December, to release them unconditionally.  All those statements and remarks are available upstairs and online.

**Security Council

Hédi Annabi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, began an open debate on that country in the Security Council today by saying that Haiti is facing a unique moment of opportunity.  It has its best chances in decades, he said, to move away from the cycles of the past towards a better future.

Annabi presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on Haiti to the Council, which emphasized the priorities over the coming months on political dialogue and elections; extension of State authority; strengthening of the security situation; reform of the rule of law; and economic development.

There are 36 speakers inscribed for today’s open meeting.  Once it has concluded, Mr. Annabi intends to speak to reporters at the Council stakeout.  I cannot tell you when that will be since the list is long.

** Haiti Donor’s Conference

Ahead of the major donors’ conference on Haiti, which takes place in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday next week, the Secretary-General has written to donor countries and institutions, as well as other key stakeholders, calling on them to make a special effort to support Haiti through renewed technical and financial engagement.

In his letter, the Secretary-General says that Haiti is at a critical juncture, and the conference is “of fundamental importance for consolidating the fragile stability of Haiti”.

He adds that, during his recent visit to Haiti with former United States President William J. Clinton, he found grounds for hope and optimism that Haiti can break the cycle of poverty.  However, international aid alone will not provide economic security, and what’s required is sustainable social and economic development to enable Haiti to move beyond recurrent crises. 


UNESCO has awarded the World Press Freedom Prize for 2009 to the late Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, who was assassinated on 8 January this year.

The Prize’s jury of 14 professional journalists from all over the world noted Wickrematunge’s commitment to press freedom and said he continued to inspire journalists everywhere.

UNESCO’s Director-General, Koichiro Matsuura, will present the World Press Freedom Prize in a ceremony on 3 May, which marks World Press Freedom Day.  We have a press release with more information upstairs.

**Press Conference this Afternoon

And at 3 p.m., General Assembly President Miguel d'Escoto Brockmann and Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food, will be here to brief you on the General Assembly’s Interactive Thematic Dialogue on the Global Food Crisis and the Right to Food.  And of course, I am sure Enrique will have more information for you on that.  That’s all I have.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Over the weekend in Pakistan, a video emerged of a woman being flogged in Swat by the extremists, which has created a lot of terror in Pakistan and protests in Pakistan.  Has the Secretary-General got anything to say on this, protests happening in Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  Not on this specific incident, but I can tell you that the Secretary-General has taken very strong positions on violence against women and those positions certainly hold in this specific case.

Question:  In this specific case, there has been no observation by the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  No, not on this specific case, no.

Question:  A quick question about that UNESCO function and the presentation of the award to the Sri Lankan journalist.  I know that’s going to happen in Doha.  Are they going to have any function here in New York or should I contact them?

Spokesperson:  You should contact them.

Question:  Michèle, is the letter that the Secretary-General wrote on the Haiti conference, can we get copies of that letter?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  At the CEB meeting, was the procurement report by the Joint Inspection Unit that came out, was that discussed?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have any details on what was discussed; I was not there, so I cannot tell you whether there were specifics.  I think they actually focused a lot more on the G-20 meeting that had taken place.  I don’t know how far they went in specific issues like the one you are mentioning.

Question:  I have a procurement question.  It’s become clear that, number one, the electrical contractor for the UN, Petrocelli Electric, the founder has been indicted in the Southern District of New York for bribery.  At the same time, the operator of UN Television, National Mobile Television Venue Services Group, is basically going bankrupt.  Everything is being sold and they’re trying to move their people into the basement area as a final refuge.  How can it be that these contracts were entered into with companies in one case being indicted, and in the other case going bankrupt?

Spokesperson:  Well, in specific cases, when the contracts were entered, of course, there was no indictment and there were no suspicion that there were any wrongdoings.  In terms of the second contract, of course, we can look into this.  There are several companies going under and we cannot predict in advance which company will go under.  I can try to get more information for you from the Procurement Office, but, at this point, as I said, we cannot predict what will happen when we sign contracts. 

Question:  Yes, Michèle, I would like to ask about the release of the report of the Board of Inquiry.  You told us it’s supposed to take place 7 April.

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  So I was wondering how the procedure will go from there.

Spokesperson:  Well, the Secretary-General is not here yet.  And it’s going to be given to the Secretary-General, and as I said before, right after the report, the Secretary-General will decide what to do about it.

Question:  So, as journalists, we will not be kind of given a brief report or the main [interrupted]?

Spokesperson:  No, not right now.

Question:  When will he convey it to the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  Well, we’ll see then.  The Secretary-General has to see first what is in the report.

Question:  May I follow up?  Why is it not being made public immediately?

Spokesperson:  Because there are a number of issues that are involved here and the Secretary-General has to find out first what’s in it before he decides what can be made public.  There are issues of privacy, legal issues -– there are a lot of issues which are involved.  That’s why he cannot decide right now.  He is not going to release a report that he has not even seen.

Question:  Are we expecting any kind of statement or reaction tomorrow? 

Spokesperson:  I cannot answer your question now.  I will tell you after he has seen it.

Question:  Sorry Michèle, just to follow up, what’s private and what’s legal in the findings of supposedly objective legal experts?  Why not make the report public as soon as it’s finished?

Spokesperson:  As I said, it depends on what’s in the report and they will decide there; the Legal Department will tell us.  And I will let you know. 

Question:  [Inaudible] if the report is sensitive it’s going to be kept secret; if it’s okay you’re going to release it…

Spokesperson:  No, no, no.  It’s not a political, it’s a legal question.  Yes, Matthew, I just got your answer.  It was just brought to me.

The contract with the Petrocelli Electric Company covers overall electrical installations, operations, maintenance, alterations and major projects, and remains in place even though the UN has suspended the vendor from participating in any further procurement activity.  That’s what I have for you.  And we’re also aware of the financial difficulties faced by VSG’s parent company, NMT.  The Organization is dealing with the situation in consultation with the VSG management.  So I got your answer pretty fast for you. 

Question:  Michèle, what assistance is the UN providing the Italian Government dealing with the earthquake?

Spokesperson: …We have communicated to the Government of Italy our readiness to provide any support, but I don’t have any specific request yet that I can convey to you.  And of course, as soon as we have something on this, I will relay that to you.  And I have to say that the Secretary-General wanted to say that he is saddened by the loss of life and destruction of property in central Italy as a result of that earthquake, and he sends his condolences to the families and friends who have lost their lives in the tragedy.  We will try definitely to get you specifics, and it all depends on the request by the Italian Government. 

Question:  I apologize, just a quick question.  Did you say the Secretary-General [will be] back in the building tomorrow?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  He is going to be briefing the General Assembly tomorrow afternoon.

Question:  Second, sort of a housekeeping matter, but you mentioned procurement.  Could we find out what’s the delay in the UN Procurement Department approving a device that the United Nations Television Services can use so that journalists in this building can finally see all of Time Warner Cable, the original feeds they were getting?  It’s an analog-digital issue, but there is a device that UNTV, I think, is in need of, which I think would help all of the people covering the place, especially those going live and monitoring UN proceedings.

Spokesperson:  I’ll direct your question to DPI [Department of Public Information]; they’re the ones in charge.  I’ll find out for you. 

Question:  I am just going to ask this again, that despite the fact that it has been determined that a rocket that was launched was basically a satellite  not a missile -- yet the Secretary-General still believes that it is again a violation of international law.  How is that?

Spokesperson:  I think we stand by the statement that we issued and you have that statement.  That’s all I can say.  I won’t say anything beyond that.

Question:  You don’t want to go beyond that?  Despite the fact that it is not deemed to be as dangerous as it was thought so earlier?

Spokesperson:  My statement stands.  It stands.  Okay, thank you very much, and I will invite Enrique to come and join you. 

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon and good to see you all again after a brief period.

Let me start by saying that today in his opening remarks at the Thematic Dialogue on the Global Food Crisis and the Right to Food, the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d´Escoto, said:  “The ongoing food crisis is a symptom of a broader breakdown of selfish models of governance and production that have failed us and betrayed the trust of people around the world.  These models are unsustainable and we must find alternatives both internationally and locally.”

The first panel of the Thematic Dialogue is taking place right now on “Policy choices and the right to food in the context of the global food crisis”.  The second panel will take place this afternoon at 3 p.m. with the title “Answering to the poor:  Right to food and sustainable models of agriculture”.

You can have more details on this important event, as Michèle was saying, at the press conference that will take place here this afternoon, at 3 p.m., with the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d´Escoto, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Olivier De Schutter, and the Senior Adviser to the President of the General Assembly on Food Policy and Sustainable Development, David Andrews.

And this is all I have for you, unless there are any questions for me.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thanks, Enrique.  I know I’m going to be able to put this question to the President during his press conference this afternoon, but I am kind of interested in the food security issue.  Mr. Brockmann was talking about unsustainable and selfish models, and I am wondering if today’s debate is going to address the issue of agro-investment, sovereign wealth funds from China and the Middle East investing in large tracts of farmland in parts Africa and of Asia, and whether or not this is considered as part of the solution or part of the problem.  Do you know what the President’s position on this is?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think, as you put it, it’s a very good question for the President.  He is going to be addressing this issue this afternoon, I think it is better you ask him directly, and he will elaborate a little more on that.

Question:  Enrique, I just want to find out, the intergovernmental talks on the expansion of the Security Council.  Have they reached any plateau where you see some progress has been made [inaudible] that there is some sort of light at the end of the tunnel?

Spokesperson:  Sorry, I cannot hear you very well, but I understand you’re asking about the reform of the Security Council.

Correspondent:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  Okay, let me update you, but I think you should know where we are on that.  As you know, Ambassador Tanin -- who is conducting the negotiations on behalf of the President of the General Assembly -- and the Member States decided to split all the issues… in five thematic issues for the negotiations.  I think I gave them to you already, but the first three rounds have already taken place on the categories of membership, that took place on 4 March; on the question of the veto, it took place on 16 and 17 March; and on 24 March, the discussion on regional representation took place.  The next one is going to be this week, 9 April, on Thursday.  It will be on the size of an enlarged Council and working methods of the Security Council.  And we still have the last one, which is scheduled right now for 21 April on relationships between the Council and the General Assembly.  

Now let me explain to you how this works.  We will have this first round of negotiations on all the different issues.  At the beginning of May, we will start with another round of each of these issues of the five.  By the end of May, we will have -- according to Ambassador Tanin -- a better idea where all the positions are, and then we will decide how we move from there.  Whether we go on separate issues, we go to another round or we have an open negotiation.  That is basically where we are right now.  Matthew?

Question:  Enrique, I’ve noticed now subsequent to that [inaudible] on the website of the President, a letter appointing Nirupam Sen of India as “Special Senior Adviser” on three topics, including responsibility to protect.  First, is the Ambassador a proponent of the responsibility to protect or a doubter, and does this position involve a G-4 visa; do these positions, these Special Adviser positions?  And what’s the difference between the Special Advisers, the Senior Advisers and Specials?  Is this along the lines of Mr. De Schutter’s or is it something else?

Spokesperson:  No, he is a Special Adviser.  In this particular case -- as you know, Ambassador Sen had ended his work in the Mission here -- he has been so involved in many of the issues that he talked with President d´Escoto and they both agreed that it would be a very good idea to start giving him advice on all these issues that are mentioned in the letter until the end of the presidency of President d´Escoto.  And…

Question:  Is it a paying position, does it involve a G-4 visa?

Spokesperson:  It is not a paid position.  And on the G-4 visa, to be honest, I don’t know, but I can find out for you.

Question:  Is this the exact same phrasing and status as Mr. De Schutter, Noam Chomsky and…?

Spokesperson:  That’s correct.  As you know, none of these Special Advisers are getting any salary or have any contractual arrangement as such.

Question:  [inaudible] Ambassador Sen will come as required or will he be based here?

Spokesperson:  He is based here and he has already been giving advice since 1 April, which is when his assignment started.

Question:  I’m sorry, I forgot to follow up.  On responsibility to protect, can you say something about whether he is thought to be a proponent or a doubter on responsibility to protect?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think this is a question for him to answer than for me.  But obviously, you will have a chance to talk to him.  If there are no more questions, thank you very much.

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