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

8 April 2009

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

8 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.

**Guest at Noon Briefing Today

Our guest at the noon briefing today is Georg Kell, Executive Director of the UN 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.  We have more information upstairs and of course in this room, and then of course Georg Kell will brief you on that in a few minutes.

** Gaza

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the Gaza Board of Inquiry.

The Secretary-General received today the members of the Board of Inquiry reviewing and investigating several incidents that occurred in the Gaza Strip between 27 December 2008 and 19 January 2009, and in which death or injuries occurred at, and/or damage was done to, United Nations premises.

The members of the Board of Inquiry, led by Ian Martin, shared their conclusions and recommendations with the Secretary-General and informed him that they were still in the process of finalizing their report.  They indicated their expectation to be able to present their final report in approximately two weeks.  No further comments will be made on this issue until the report is received.

** Sri Lanka

A bloodbath on the beaches of northern Sri Lanka seems an increasingly real possibility.  That’s according to an op-ed by Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes, which was published today in The Guardian.

Holmes says that a full-scale, long-term ceasefire is unlikely to be agreed now.  Therefore, the only way to get civilians out of harm’s way is a temporary humanitarian lull, during which aid workers and relief supplies are allowed into the conflict zone, and those who want to leave are given the chance to do so.  Both sides have a duty to bring this about, he stresses.

Holmes says that, if the Tamil Tigers truly have the best interests of the Tamil people at heart, they should contribute to ending the unnecessary civilian suffering.

For its part, he adds, the Government of Sri Lanka must stick to its promise of not using heavy weapons while the fighting lasts, and hold off from any final attack in the conflict zone while the pause is negotiated.

With thousands of lives in the balance and the clock ticking, the time for decisive action by the Government, the Tamil Tigers and the international community is now, before it is too late, Holmes concludes.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning received an open briefing on the volatile situation in Guinea-Bissau from Joseph Mutaboba, the Secretary-General’s Representative to that country.  He said that, following the assassinations of the country’s President and [Army] Chief of General Staff on 1 March, there has been a broad consensus to hold elections on 28 June.

Mutaboba said that a commission of inquiry is essential to end the cycles of violence and impunity in the country.  He told the Security Council that it is important to send a signal to the security forces and Government of Guinea-Bissau that they are responsible for protecting and upholding the human rights of the country’s people.

The Council then went into consultations to discuss the matter further, and to consider a draft presidential statement on Guinea-Bissau.

** Darfur

The Joint Special Representative of the United Nations-African Union Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), Rodolphe Adada, met today with the Special Assistant to the President and the Chairman of the Transitional Darfur Regional Authority, Minni Minawi.

They discussed a series of issues, including the enhancement of security and the humanitarian situation in Darfur, as well as development issues.

Minawi requested more frequent contacts between UNAMID and the Transitional Darfur Regional Authority, and Adada stressed the importance of keeping close contact with the Transitional Darfur Regional Authority.  In this context, it was agreed that a liaison mechanism between the Transitional Darfur Regional Authority and UNAMID should be further strengthened.

**Secretary-General Briefing to General Assembly

The Secretary-General spoke yesterday afternoon at an informal session of the General Assembly, briefing them on his just concluded travels, including to the Group of 20 (G-20) Summit in London.  He said of the Summit that it was immensely encouraging that world leaders came together to send a strong message: that we are committed to effective action on the global economic crisis, and that we will safeguard the well-being of all the world’s people.  Our job, now, is to ensure that the commitments made in London are translated into action, he added.

The Secretary-General spoke to reporters afterwards, saying that the G-20 Summit was the most encouraging, most well organized, most well coordinated of the meetings he has attended, and praising the G-20 leaders’ strong sense of solidarity to make an early recovery from this economic crisis.  We have his press remarks upstairs, and we also have of course his text in the General Assembly.

** Cambodia

Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs Peter Taksoe-Jensen is in Cambodia, where he has had several meetings over the past three days with the country’s Deputy Prime Minister, Sok An, to discuss developments at the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia.

Taksoe-Jensen, in a statement to the press, said that he has submitted to Sok An for his consideration a draft exchange of letters setting out an ethics monitoring mechanism acceptable to the United Nations.  The United Nations continues to believe that, for an ethics monitoring system at the Chambers to be credible, the staff should have the freedom to approach the ethics monitor of their own choice and put forward complaints without fear of retaliation.

It remains critical to the United Nations that allegations of corruption and other misconduct are effectively addressed.

The United Nations will further strengthen its own anti-corruption mechanism within the Court, Taksoe-Jensen said.  We have additional details on his statement upstairs.

** Pakistan

John Solecki returned to his family home in New Jersey yesterday following his safe release from captivity in Pakistan on Saturday.

John Solecki and his family would like to thank very much all those who have worked so hard over the past couple of months to secure his release.  The media have also played an important role in highlighting John’s plight throughout this period.

After two difficult and stressful months separated from his loved ones, John’s first priority is obviously to spend time in private with his family.  John understands the media interest in his return home and, once he has recovered his strength, he may entertain individual media enquiries.  These should be channelled through the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in New York.  And we have a note upstairs with the details.

** Pakistan -- Bhutto Commission

I’d been asked about a technical assessment mission that was going to Pakistan to do preparatory work for the fact-finding commission we are forming that will look into the 2007 assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto.

I can inform you that the technical assessment mission has arrived in Pakistan, and will return back to New York after a few days to report to the Secretary-General.

** Sierra Leone

The Special Court for Sierra Leone sentenced three leaders of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) today.  Issa Sesay was sentenced to 52 years in prison, Morris Kallon to 40 years and Augustine Gbao to 25 years.

Welcoming the sentencing judgements, the Prosecutor of the Special Court, Stephen Rapp, said these sentences recognize the gravity of the terrible atrocities for which these men have been held responsible.

The sentences follow the verdicts on last 25 February, in which all three defendants were convicted of war crimes, crimes against humanity and other serious violations of international humanitarian law.  There is more in a press release upstairs.

And this is all I have for you today.  And of course we’ll have a briefing pretty soon with the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, and we’ll have our guest coming right after that.  Yes, Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Michèle, I just to ask you, (inaudible) in Pakistan the protests are continuing over the attacks, drone attacks inside Pakistan.  Does the Secretary-General have any position on the drone attacks as yet?

Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have anything.  If I had anything -- you have asked me before -- I would have given that to you.  I don’t have it.

Question:  This mission, do you have any idea how long they’re…?

Spokesperson:  The technical mission?

Question:  The Benazir Bhutto’s commission mission.

Spokesperson:  I don’t know yet.  I know they’re coming back next week.  I don’t have an exact date yet when they’re coming back.

Question:  So they’re still there?

Spokesperson:  They’re still there, yes.

Question:  And they’re supposed to come back next week…?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  …to report to the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  Do you have any idea exactly as to what they are doing over there?

Spokesperson:  We can give you the details afterwards.

Question:  Good afternoon, Michèle.  There was an American cargo ship that was hijacked off the coast of Somalia, an AP report just said that the US crew has regained control of this ship.  Does the Secretary-General have any reaction, any intend to revisit, I believe the Security Council resolution is 1816?  Is this on the docket any time soon?

Spokesperson:  It’s a matter for the Security Council.  As you know, the Security Council has been seized of the matter and has been discussing it.  The Secretary-General of course deplores the successive… I mean, this is not the first case and we have had endless cases of pirate action in the area.  I don’t have anything specific to reply today.  Yes, James?

Question:  The delay on the Board of Inquiry report, what’s the reason for the delay?

Spokesperson:  They’re just not finished with their work.  Since they were supposed to meet with the Secretary-General today, they met with him and gave him a verbal report.  But he doesn’t have the report yet.

Question:  Why did we think it was going to be today and what changed…?

Spokesperson:  Because, theoretically, they were supposed to be ready and apparently they’re not.  So they’re still writing the report, the report is not finalized yet.  But they still came and briefed the Secretary-General orally.

Question:  Just to follow up on the same question actually.  Can you give us again a time frame when the final report will be handed in and what’s the timeline for this?

Spokesperson:  Well, it’s an independent commission, they have asked for a little more time to finalize their report.  The Secretary-General agreed to that, and that’s all I can say really at this point.  I don’t have an exact day.  I can tell you it is going to be next week.  I don’t know which day next week.

Question:  Some time next week?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  I am just… You can’t even share whatever information that they shared with the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  No.  First, I wasn’t there.  It was a private meeting between them and the Secretary-General, and I don’t have the information to give you.

Question:  Michèle, on this, the piece by John Holmes in The Guardian, I mean, that’s the UN’s call or is it John Holmes’ personal call?  I’m just trying to judge whether it was…

Spokesperson:  John Holmes speaks not just in his capacity as the humanitarian coordinator, he speaks for the UN.

Question:  I mean, we were both there when the Secretary-General yesterday… he seemed to be calling just for the Government to comply with international humanitarian law as it conducts its… whereas John Holmes is saying there should be a cease… you know, a suspension of hostilities.  Which is the UN calling for?

Spokesperson:  I can tell you that we will have something more precise on this tomorrow.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  Or the next day.

Question:  Also with the Secretary-General attending the [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] ASEAN trip in Thailand, does he have any comment on the unrest that’s taking place there?  Does he have any kind of, I guess either guidance, I mean I know on Moldova he said things should be done peacefully.  Why in Moldova and not Thailand?  Is there some, is the Thailand street violence less serious or what’s the distinction?

Spokesperson:  Well, in the case of Moldova, we had people who were killed, so he’s not going to say anything about what is happening right now in Thailand.  As far as we know, everything is set for him for the ASEAN summit and the ASEAN-UN summit.  So he is going to go there.

Question:  Is there any chance that… There have been some discussions, including by some UN officials that he might go to Myanmar either before or after the ASEAN summit.  Is that now…?

Spokesperson:  He is not.

Question:  Can you characterize or is the Secretary-General aware of any Governments interacting with this independent commission for the Board of Inquiry, specifically the American and Israeli Governments, in terms of interacting with Ian Martin and his team on this?

Spokesperson:  Well, they have already done so.  Right now they’re no longer interacting, right now they’re writing the report, they’re finalizing the report.  And that report will take into account the people they were in contact with.

Question:  But can you characterize their interactions, was it just a one-way street or is it a two-way street between the Government…?

Spokesperson:  I cannot characterize anything at this point.  No comments until we actually have the report.  Yes, Dennis?

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  Is there a date set for the Secretary-General’s press conference this month?

Spokesperson:  We are still working on it.  As you know, he’s practically travelling the whole month.  It might be a month where we might just have short stakeouts, if it’s possible.  Whenever it’s possible, believe me, I will try to get him to you.  However, the full-fledged press conference, we haven’t actually found a slot for it yet.

Question:  What about Alan Doss?  Is he coming to speak with us?

Spokesperson:  Yes, he probably will be coming.  He is going to brief the Security Council tomorrow and hopefully he will speak to you at the stakeout, and we might try to get him for more interaction in case it is needed, of course.  Yes, Ronda?

Question:  I want to follow up on Michael’s question.  There has been the statement in the past by some people that when the Secretary-General does something or says something about Israel that it’s first approved or at least gone over by the Israeli Mission people and the US Mission people, and I wondered if there is any…?

Spokesperson:  This is totally untrue.

Question:  Not even consultations?

Spokesperson:  Totally untrue.

Question:  Yesterday, the number two of the North Korean Mission said they have joined this thing called the Convention on the Registration of Objects Launched into Outer Space.  And under this Convention, they joined it on 10 March, and under this Convention they’re supposed to… they challenged (inaudible) Secretary-General of the establishment of the registry and register items that it launches.  Since the (inaudible) before, has North Korea, or [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], registered anything with the Secretary-General?

Spokesperson:  I’d have to see with the Treaty people and the Outer Space people whether it was done.

Question:  Can I follow up on that?

Spokesperson:  Yes, Ronda?

Question:  Yes, I just wondered, is anybody else informed of this, the registries?  Is that a common practice that people…?

Spokesperson:  The only thing I know is that Democratic People’s Republic of Korea acceded to the Outer Space Treaty and the Registration Convention on 5 March and 10 March 2009, respectively.  That’s all I can give you in terms of information.

Question: (Inaudible) common practice that in fact other nations do fulfil that obligation or not.  So I just (inaudible).

Spokesperson:  Again, I will have to see with the Outer Space people what has been done.

Question:  (Inaudible)

Spokesperson:  It’s a treaty.  Yes, Mike?

Question:  On the specific Board of Inquiry, the Secretary-General had no consultations with Israeli Government on either establishing it or how to it proceeded or…?

Spokesperson:  Not at all, not at all!

Question:  …no consultations whatsoever?

Spokesperson:  No, not at all.  It is an independent investigation group that was set up by the Secretary-General, and he did not ask for permission to do so.

Question:  What’s the latest on the [Democratic Republic of the] Congo?  Do you have any update on that?

Spokesperson:  On the [Democratic Republic of the] Congo, you’re going to have Alan Doss, who is better qualified than I am to give you the latest news tomorrow.  Thank you so much.  Enrique, please come.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

I’ll try to be very brief, I don’t want to keep Mr. Kell waiting for long.

I just wanted to mention today that the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Miguel d´Escoto Brockmann, met today with Permanent Representatives from five regions, including the Member States of Bahrain, Belarus, Egypt, Nicaragua and the Philippines.  And the Permanent Representatives requested the President to convene an informal session of the General Assembly, a thematic dialogue, on ending human trafficking.

They requested that the forum be action-oriented and focused on key elements for a global action plan against trafficking in persons.  The President of the General Assembly agreed to hold the interactive dialogue on 13 May 2009.

And this is all I have, unless you have quick questions.  Rhonda?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, I have a question about Security Council reform.  Can we get a report about what’s actually going on?  Because it’s been quite a while, and the details are not available.  I know that sessions have been happening, but we would appreciate some general overview of what’s being discussed and maybe some of the ideas that different nations have about it.

Spokesperson:  Okay, I will ask Ambassador Tanin, as you know, he is the Vice-President that Mr. d´Escoto has asked to be the person in charge of the negotiations.  But, I will give you very brief overview right now.  As you know, the Member countries, with Ambassador Tanin, decided to split negotiations in five issues, and for those five issues today it was the fourth session.  And they decided today -- actually they’re still meeting -- on the size of an enlarged Council and working methods of the Security Council.  And the next session is going to be on 21 April, on the relations between the Council and the General Assembly.  So, that would complete the first round of the themes of negotiations.  And then, at that point, I’ll ask Ambassador Tanin if he can give you an overview on where we are.  But, the plan will be that we will have in May a second round of sessions, and then at the end of May they will decide how they are going to move in the negotiation process. Any other questions?  Yes?

Question:  Can you just give us a brief on the progress of the group of experts…?

Spokesperson:  On the…?

Question:  The group of experts on the global economic crisis that the President of the General Assembly had set up.  What’s the progress on their work?

Spokesperson:  Do you mean on the commission of experts?

Question:  Yes.

Spokesperson:  Well, the commission of experts, as you know, they were scheduled to have four meetings before the summit in June.  They had the third meeting 10 days ago, where they presented the first preliminary report, which was shared with you and it is public, and we had an interactive session with the Member countries.  And with all that feedback on all that information, they are now preparing the first report.  That should be ready by the beginning of May for the President of the General Assembly, who will use it as one of the elements for a document that will be circulated as the basis for negotiations for the summit.  That summit will take place, as you know now, on 1, 2 and 3 June, as it was decided yesterday by the General Assembly.

Okay, I don’t want to keep Mr. Kell waiting anymore.  Please go ahead.

* *** *

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