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

7 April 2009

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

7 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.

**Fifteenth Anniversary of Rwanda Genocide

Today is the fifteenth anniversary of the Rwanda genocide.  The Secretary-General will participate today in an event commemorating the fifteenth anniversary of the 1994 Rwanda genocide. 

In his remarks, the Secretary-General will say that, 15 years later, the massacre that left more than 800,000 innocent victims still “haunts our collective conscience”, and he takes the opportunity to reaffirm that “the prevention of genocide is a collective responsibility”.  He will encourage the world community to rise to this challenge in honour of the memory of those who died.

The Secretary-General further will stress that the actions of international courts such as the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda send strong signals that the world will no longer tolerate impunity for violations of human rights and the law.

The commemorative event, which will take place in the Trusteeship Council in a few minutes, has been organized by the Department of Public Information, together with the Permanent Mission of Rwanda.

The Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Francis Deng, and two Rwandan students will also present testimonies of survivors.  Two photographic exhibits will be launched at this event, which can be viewed until 10 May in the Main Gallery of the Visitors’ Lobby.

The text of the Secretary-General’s remarks and further information on the commemorative event is available in a press release upstairs.

**Security Council

Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs B. Lynn Pascoe this morning briefed the Security Council on the situation between Djibouti and Eritrea, in closed consultations.

The Secretary-General, in a recent letter to the Security Council, said the situation between the two countries, although calm, remains tense, with no information indicating that Eritrea has complied with paragraph 5 of Security Council resolution 1862 (2009).  The Secretary-General says he intends to pursue contacts with Djibouti and Eritrea in order to assess how best the Secretariat can assist the two parties.

Pascoe also briefed the Security Council, under “other matters”, on Madagascar.  Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios participated in that discussion and spoke to reporters at the stakeout afterward.  In response to a question, he reiterated that the transfer of power there was neither constitutional nor democratic.

Following its consultations, the Security Council held a formal meeting on the Central African Republic.  It adopted a presidential statement which, among other things, called for all armed groups in the country to cease violence immediately, and it called for a halt to recruitment of children.

** Madagascar

On Madagascar, six United Nations agencies and three non-governmental organizations in Madagascar today launched a Flash Appeal seeking $35.7 million in a bid to prevent a deterioration of the humanitarian situation in the country, which has this year been hit by multiple crises, including drought, cyclones and a period of political unrest.

This combination of crises has increased the numbers of persons needing humanitarian assistance, to the extent that an estimated 2.5 million people living mainly in Madagascar’s main cities and an additional 880,000 living in the drought-affected south now need humanitarian assistance.

The political crisis over the past three months has worsened the already precarious situation of large segments of the Malagasy population through disruptions in basic social services and a climate of fear and uncertainty.  It has caused delays or a cessation of services to a number of aid and development projects across the country.

With the majority of the population living under $1 a day, rising food prices and limited incomes have curtailed the ability of most households to have access to food, water and sanitation services, health and education.

**Security Council Adopts Presidential Statement on Haiti

The Security Council yesterday afternoon wrapped up its open meeting on Haiti by adopting a presidential statement welcoming the progress achieved in critical areas for consolidating stability in that country.

The Council recognized the vital importance of the high-level donor conference on Haiti that will take place on 14 April in Washington, D.C., and urged donors to make available the additional technical support and financial assistance required by the Haitian Government.

The Council also reaffirmed the need for the upcoming elections for the renewal of one third of the Senate to be inclusive, free and fair.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

Renewed fighting between two rival militia groups in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo has driven more than 30,000 Congolese from their homes, according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).  UNHCR says that clashes in the Ituri district have led to the displacement of villagers who are currently located on a road some 50 to 70 kilometres south of Bunia.

Many of the displaced include persons who were uprooted in 2006 and assisted to return to their homes by UNHCR later that same year.  The UN refugee agency says the latest flare-up threatens to reverse the considerable progress made in the repatriation and resettlement of thousands of Congolese affected by previous conflicts in the area.  There is more on this upstairs in UNHCR’s briefing notes.

** Darfur

The United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that a UNAMID vehicle was carjacked by two armed men in El Fasher last night.  The driver of the vehicle, an international staff member, was not injured in the incident.

UNAMID, meanwhile, conducted 22 confidence-building patrols, 19 escort patrols and 5 night patrols covering 35 villages and camps for internally displaced persons.  Similarly, UNAMID police conducted 92 patrols in and around villages and IDP [internally displaced persons] camps. 

UNAMID police, as part of their capacity-building efforts, began in Nyala, South Darfur, a five-day training programme on criminal investigations for Sudanese Government police.


Eight people drowned and another 22 are missing and presumed dead in the Gulf of Aden, as a result of two different smuggling incidents over the weekend off the coast of Yemen.

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) reports that, so far this year, a total of 339 boats and more than 17,000 people have arrived in Yemen after making the perilous voyage across the Gulf of Aden from the Horn of Africa.  To date, 74 people have reportedly died and 51 are missing at sea.  Those who make the crossing are fleeing desperate situations of civil war, political instability, poverty and famine in Somalia and the Horn of Africa.

The refugee agency, meanwhile, says it has joined a virtual charity initiative by the popular social networking site Facebook that will help raise money to provide shelter for uprooted people in Afghanistan, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Sudan.

UNHCR explains that people's purchases would translate into real shelter aid for refugees and internally displaced people.

“For example, if 20 friends buy a virtual tent, they will raise enough funds for a refugee family to live in a real tent -- giving them dignity and security,” UNHCR says.  Of course, you can have more on that upstairs.

**World Health Day

Today is World Health Day and, this year, the theme of the observance is “Save lives.  Make hospitals safe in emergencies.” 

“We cannot prevent all disasters.  But we can work together to ensure that, when they occur, hospitals and other health facilities are ready and able to save lives,” said the Secretary-General in a message to mark the Day.

He called for ways to protect public health by designing and building health-care facilities that are safe from natural disasters, and also ensuring that they are not targeted during conflicts.  His message is upstairs.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is celebrating World Health Day by focusing attention on actions that can be undertaken to make health facilities safe during emergencies.  These include training health workers, designing and building safe hospitals and protecting equipment, medicines and supplies.

There’s more also in a press release upstairs as well as information on the global campaign against drugs launched today by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), and a statement by UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman to mark World Health Day.

**Tomorrow’s Noon Guest

Our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Georg Kell, Executive Director of the United Nations Global Compact.  He will present and discuss the findings of the Compact’s latest annual review, a corporate responsibility survey, conducted with more than 700 businesses in over 90 countries.  That’s going to be tomorrow, after the noon briefing.

That’s all I have for you today.  Any questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, the view of the Secretary-General…I just wanted to find out…the constant drone attacks inside Pakistan which the Pakistan Government is protesting even today and yesterday.  Has the Secretary-General expressed any position on attacks inside Pakistan and Afghanistan by United States drones?

Spokesperson:  No, he has not.  I don’t have anything on that.

Question:  Today being 7 April…the report on Gaza, has the Secretary-General received that?  Is he reviewing it?  

Spokesperson:  No, he has not received it yet.  He is going to receive it tomorrow.  That’s what I just found out for you.  He is receiving it tomorrow from Ian Martin.

Question:  When will we get an update on it?  Will we get it tomorrow?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  I don’t have a date yet.  As I said yesterday in the briefing, the Secretary-General will receive it, he will look at it, and decide on what course of action he should take.  As for releasing the actual report, I’ll find out for you how much of it will be released.

Of course, as I said yesterday, there are legal issues involved and we need the input of the Legal Office here to find out how much of it can be revealed.  As you know, there are questions about further legal actions, protection of witnesses and a number of other issues that need to be cleared by our legal department.

Question:  On that report, is it true to say that the Israelis offered access, either to individuals or information on the basis that such information garnered would be kept confidential?

Spokesperson:  I cannot confirm that information because, as I said, we don’t have the report yet and Mr. Martin has not met with the Secretary-General to submit it yet.

Question:  A couple of questions.  [African Union-United Nations Joint Special Representative for Darfur] Rudolph Adada has been quoted by Voice of America as saying that, following [Sudanese President] Bashir’s indictment, there have been no major consequences in the security in Darfur:  “This is more than a month later.  The situation is fine now.”  I know that he’s part African Union/part United Nations, is that the UN’s position on the situation in Darfur?

Spokesperson:  As you can see, we have been reporting carjackings and things of that sort, so I think that his assessment is right:  There have been no major consequences on the security situation in Darfur.

Question:  Wait, wait, if you’re reporting carjacking and he’s saying everything is fine, what…?

Spokesperson:  I mean carjacking is not a major thing.  What he’s saying is that there have been no major consequences.  Carjackings existed before and continue to exist.

Question:  Right.  Thanks a lot.  I also wanted to know…yesterday, you announced that the Secretary-General is going to make an official visit to Lao People’s Democratic Republic on his way to the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting.  There are a lot of reports right now about Hmong people being pushed out of Thailand into Laos.  Human Rights Watch for example has put out a report saying that this is a violation of human rights.  Is this one of the issues he is going to raise in Laos?

Spokesperson:  Most probably that issue will be discussed.

Question:  Yesterday, at the stakeout, Hédi Annabi [Special Representative of the Secretary-General for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti] said Headquarters had received some information from Sri Lanka about follow-up on peacekeepers that were in Haiti and were repatriated actually being disciplined.  Is that true?  How many of the 111 have been disciplined? 

Spokesperson:  You can get that information from DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations].  DPKO would have received the information and they should be the ones doing the follow-up.  They can give the information.

Question:  Also, yesterday, there was a New York Times story -– this is also on Sri Lanka –- saying that “in his call Sunday for an immediate ceasefire, Ban Ki-moon” blah, blah, blah.  Did I miss something?  Was there a statement Sunday calling for an immediate ceasefire as regards Sri Lanka?

Spokesperson:  No.  Not on Sunday.

Question:  Has he called for a ceasefire?

Spokesperson:  No, he has called for stopping hostilities –- a pause –- which we mentioned before.

Question:  Okay.  I just want to make sure I didn’t miss anything.  One last thing, if you don’t mind, I just wanted to know if the Capital Master Plan or the UN has an asbestos consultant and who it is?

Spokesperson:  I have no idea.  I can ask for you, of course, who the asbestos consultant is.  The major reason for redoing this building is the, essentially the asbestos that we have in the walls, so…

Question:  No.  I know.  I think it’s very responsible to remove the asbestos.  I just want to know who the consultant is.

Spokesperson:  I don’t have that information, but I can ask the Capital Master Plan for you.

Question:  Michèle, do you have any response to this Israeli Foreign Office official saying that the creation of this Commission to which [Richard] Goldstone was appointed is basically demonizing Israel.  That’s basically what this official was…

Spokesperson:  Why do you want me to comment on a statement made by a Government?

Question:  Okay.

Question:  On the Gaza report, besides maintaining the privacy of the sources of the report, do you have any other information on what may be withheld in addition to that?

Spokesperson:  I have no idea, at this point.  The Secretary-General has not received the report, so I cannot give you a hypothetical answer on what is in it.  I have no idea and the Secretary-General has not received it yet.  So, as soon as we receive that report, as I’ve said before, the Secretary-General will look at it and see how much of it can be released. 

And, above all, he is going to decide what action can be taken from that report.  I don’t think we should expect the world of it.  I think we should expect what the mandate of that Commission was, which was to investigate deaths, injuries or damages that occurred within UN premises.  That’s what we will get, but, in terms of the actions to be taken afterwards, I can’t predict.

Question:  Just a refresher, this report will deal with what?  Was this the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA)?  Because I know there’s the Human Rights Council…

Spokesperson:  That’s UNRWA.  UN facilities is the Secretary-General.  He has requested that report.  It has to do with UNRWA.

Question:  And who were the investigators on the ground?  Was that all UNRWA people?

Spokesperson:  No, we already announced Ian Martin as the head of that Commission.  We already gave the three names.  You can have all that information from our previous briefings.

Question:  But it was UN staff…?

Spokesperson:  No.  We have outside people actually involved in it.  But it is a report that has to do with activities in UNRWA premises.  Okay.  Now, there is another report, which you mentioned, and that Masood referred to, which is the human rights report.  Judge Goldstone will be heading that report, which is a report requested by the Human Rights Council.  This is a different report and has to do with the whole situation in Gaza.

Question:  Okay.  So the third report is the possible Israeli investigation that they were going to hand over to the Secretary-General? 

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Is there any update on whether they are going to hand anything over to the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have anything yet.

Question:  Do you have any reaction to the conviction of Alberto Fujimori, the former President of Peru, on a series of human rights violations?

Spokesperson:  No.  No, I don’t.

Question:  Do you expect anything?

Spokesperson:  No, but it was something that we followed very closely, I have to say.

Question:  Has the Italian Government requested any assistance from the UN for the [earthquake] recovery efforts under way?

Spokesperson:  As far as I know, they have not.  But as I said yesterday, we are ready to provide any assistance that they may require.

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction to the lifting by the United States of travel and other restrictions regarding Cuba?

Spokesperson:  No.  This is a bilateral matter.  We have nothing to do with it.

Question:  But the United Nations asked time and again for the lifting of the embargo…

Spokesperson:  Yes.  There have been several General Assembly resolutions on the matter.

Okay.  Enrique?

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

**Arrangements for Summit on Economic and Financial Crisis

I am pleased to inform you that, a few minutes ago, the General Assembly adopted by consensus the arrangements for the organization of the United Nations Conference at the highest level on the world financial crisis and its impact on development, which is now officially scheduled for 1 to 3 June. 

The General Assembly resolution on the modalities of the summit-level Conference notes that it will address the deepening world financial and economic crisis on issues such as employment, trade, investment and development, as well as the reform and strengthening of the international financial and economic system and architecture.

The President has urged all Member States to participate in the Conference at the level of Heads of State and Government and will be travelling to meet with world leaders in preparation for the three-day event in the weeks ahead.

The President will hold a press conference here next Tuesday, 14 April, to share with you the details regarding the preparations for the Conference.  There is also a press release available from my Office, which we have just distributed.  If you are interested, I have some copies here.

On another front, I would like also to add that President d´Escoto will attend -- in around one hour -- the observance of the fifteenth anniversary of the genocide in Rwanda that will take place at the Trusteeship Council, as Michèle just announced a few minutes ago.

That’s all I have for you.  Do you have any questions for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Was the General Assembly resolution adopted by consensus?

Spokesperson:  That’s correct.

Question:  On the broader issue, is this going to be speeches by world leaders or do you envision round tables… something like a more interactive kind of summit?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think it’s going to be a formal meeting of the General Assembly at the highest level at the United Nations.  You already know the format.  There will be Heads of State and Government coming to deliver their speeches, but, ahead of that, obviously, there is going to be a negotiating process.  There are many issues that are going to be discussed and decisions taken in barely two months’ time.

Question:  So there’s going to be some kind of outcome document?

Spokesperson:  That’s correct.  There will be an outcome document, as announced in the resolution just passed by the General Assembly.

Question:  I wanted to ask the same question I asked Michèle a few minutes ago on the lifting by the United States of travel restrictions regarding Cuba.  Does the President have any reaction to that?

Spokesperson:  Well, he doesn’t have any reaction to that particular issue, but the bottom line, as you know, is that he stands by the decisions taken by the majority of the Members of the General Assembly.  There have been several resolutions over the past few years on the blockade against Cuba, including a text from a few months ago, in which the General Assembly overwhelmingly voted in favour of lifting those sanctions.  So that’s the General Assembly President’s position on this issue.

Question:  The President was very active during the Gaza crisis and helped facilitate the meeting afterwards.  Will he be following up?  Is he privy to the reports that are coming in to the UN –- the one that the Secretary-General will be receiving?

Spokesperson:  As previously announced by the President of the General Assembly, the General Assembly will be holding a session on the situation in Gaza.  This has already been scheduled on the Assembly’s agenda, but we don’t have the dates yet.  As you see, we have a lot of things coming up in the next few months, and we are now trying to see what would be the best time to hold such a debate.  But definitely the General Assembly will be focusing on the situation in Gaza.

Question:  Do you know if he will be privy to these reports that are coming in, like the one the Secretary-General will be receiving late this week?

Spokesperson:  Certainly he will be reading whatever reports are available and put at the disposal of the Assembly President.

Question:  I’m sorry to ask this now, but did the President of the General Assembly have any reaction to or comment on the outcome of the G-20 meeting, in terms of the $1.1 trillion that was announced?  Was that a good outcome, given that three quarters of it is going to the International Monetary Fund (IMF)?  What was his response to that?

Spokesperson:  Basically, the General Assembly President’s position is that whatever effort is being undertaken, by any country, to alleviate the financial and economic crisis that is affecting all of us, is welcome.  Now, having said that, since day one, he has also been very clear that these kinds of decisions affect all of us, and that means they should be discussed at the UN -- among 192 countries.  This should be the place these types of issues should be discussed.

It has been his position that, despite the good intentions of the G-20, that Group is still a minority on an international level.  It leaves out 172 other countries.  These things should be discussed by everyone.  He has been very clear that the most democratic way to discuss issues that affect all of us is by doing so at the United Nations.

Question:  To this question yesterday of the G-4 visa, did you get to the bottom of it?  Whether the Special Adviser, particularly the new one…?

Spokesperson:  I understand now that it is up to the [ United States] State Department to decide on this issue, because the Permanent Representative of India is entitled to a G-1 visa and he is now informing the State Department of his new status and he will know what kind of visa he is going to get.

Question:  But it’s the position of the President of the General Assembly that these part-time…this is a part-time position, right?  It’s a part-time Special Senior Adviser?

Spokesperson:  Correct.  I have asked him.  Well, I already did and he said he is waiting for an answer from the State Department, so we don’t know yet.

Question:  But he’s definitely seeking one and it’s based on that position?

Spokesperson:  Yes, that’s correct.  If there are no more questions…yes?  There is one more question?

Question:  Have you any idea at this stage when the high-level meeting will be held?  Is there a month?

Spokesperson:  The high-level meeting on what?

Question:  The global financial crisis.

Spokesperson:  Yes.  I already announced that; 1 to 3 June.

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