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

23 April 2009

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

23 April 2009
Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


And the spokesperson for the General Assembly president


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and by Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

**Secretary-General in Brussels

The Secretary-General this morning delivered the opening statement at the International Conference in Brussels in support of the Somali Security Institutions and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).  He said that piracy is not a water-borne disease, but rather a symptom of anarchy and insecurity on the ground.  Dealing with it, he said, requires an integrated strategy that addresses the fundamental issue of lawlessness in Somalia.

He said we must ensure that AMISOM has what it needs to fulfil the mandate authorized by the African Union and the UN Security Council.  At the same time, he reminded all Member States of the critical funding shortage for the World Food Programme’s Emergency Programme, which still requires $168 million through the end of 2009.

The strategy for Somalia, he emphasized, is based on a new partnership among the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, donors and the Somalis themselves.

We have his speech upstairs.

He also met today with the of the African Union Commission Chairperson, Jean Ping, the European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, with whom he had a joint press stakeout, and with Kenya’s Foreign Minister, among others.

This evening, the Secretary-General spoke to the press, welcoming the generous contributions made at today’s conference, where more than $200 million were pledged.  He said that he is both hopeful and realistic about Somalia’s prospects:  hopeful at the strong support and political will that has been shown, and realistic about the need for patience and constant commitment.

The Secretary-General’s week-long travel, which started in Trinidad and Tobago and continued through Switzerland, Malta and Belgium, has ended, and he is scheduled to be back at UN Headquarters tomorrow.

**Migrants in Gulf of Aden

And also a report from on developments near the Somali coast:  35 migrants have drowned in the Gulf of Aden when their boat capsized.  That’s according to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), which says that the victims were among 220 people attempting to cross over to the Arabian Peninsula from Somalia’s Puntland region.  The doomed boat was operated by smugglers who take cash to ferry would-be migrants out of the conflict- and poverty-stricken Horn of Africa.  UNHCR has transferred 165 of the survivors to its relief centre near Aden in Yemen where they are being provided with food and other assistance.  This latest tragedy brings to more than 130 the number of people who have died during the crossing since January.  Close to 70 others remain missing.

There is a press release on this upstairs.

**Statement on Abductees

In a statement we issued yesterday evening, the Secretary-General expressed his pleasure at the release of four people who had been abducted in recent months in West Africa, including his Special Envoy for Niger, Robert Fowler, and Mr. Fowler’s aide, Louis Guay, both from Canada.

He is very grateful to the authorities in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger for their efforts to secure the safe release of the abductees.  He particularly appreciates the role that Canada has played in ensuring that Mr. Fowler and Mr. Guay would be released unharmed, and is grateful that those efforts have resulted in success.

The Secretary-General reiterates his belief that UN staff members carry out valuable work around the world, which they should be able to do without fear of harassment or intimidation.

**Security Council

And here at Headquarters, at 3:45 this afternoon, the Security Council will hold consultations to hear about the work of the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS).  The head of that Mission, Ashraf Qazi, will brief the Council; prior to consultations, he will also brief countries that contribute troops to the Mission.  And as you know, yesterday we flagged you the latest report of the Secretary-General on that mission in Sudan.

Mr. Qazi will speak to reporters at the Security Council stakeout once the consultations have finished. So that is after the conclusion of the consultations beginning this afternoon.

** Sudan

Also on Sudan, the UN refugee agency reports that more than 20,000 Sudanese refugees have gone back home from Uganda with the agency’s help since the beginning of this year.

The milestone was reached today and brings the number of people assisted home by UNHCR since the signing of a peace pact for southern Sudan in 2005 to almost 150,000, including some 85,000 from Uganda. Some 160,000 more have returned spontaneously from neighbouring countries.

** Durban Review Conference

The Durban Review Conference concluded its general debate this morning after hearing statements on new forms of racism and the subsequent importance of fully implementing the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action.

Delegates heard from a number of UN agencies, including from an International Labour Organization (ILO) representative, who said that saying no to racism at the workplace is key to promoting respect, tolerance and inclusiveness. For its part, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) highlighted its own role in deconstructing pseudoscientific theories of racial superiority.

The Review Conference is now discussing further racism-related issues.

Meanwhile, there is a press release upstairs on action taken by the High Commissioner for Human Rights as a result of what she terms the “unacceptable disruptive behaviour” by three non-governmental organizations inside UN premises in Geneva during the course of the Review Conference.  And that is available upstairs.


The Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Malaria, Ray Chambers, will host the “One World against Malaria” Summit tomorrow in Washington, D.C., on the eve of World Malaria Day.

The Summit’s goal will be to recognize the important role that faith-based organizations have in combating the disease.  It will also reaffirm and renew commitments to achieving the Secretary-General’s goal of providing universal access to malaria prevention by 2010 ‑‑ in order to end deaths from malaria by 2015.

The Summit will bring together faith leaders from Africa and the United States, as well as government and global health leaders.  The heads of the World Health Organization (WHO) and UNICEF, as well as the US Ambassador to the UN, will address the gathering.

For his part, Ray Chambers is expected to discuss the importance of bringing Christians, Muslims, and people of all faiths together to defeat a common enemy. He will also recognize the tremendous influence that faith leaders have in encouraging their congregations to use mosquito nets and seek treatment.  There is a media advisory on tomorrow’s event upstairs.

Meanwhile, also on malaria, WHO reports that malaria deaths in Zambia have declined by 66 per cent.  That decline was especially steep after more than 3 million long-lasting insecticidal nets were distributed between 2006 and 2008.  And there is more on that as well in the Spokesperson’s Office.

**Food Prices

The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) warns today that food prices remain high in developing countries, despite a sharp decline at the international level.

An analysis of domestic food prices for 58 developing countries shows that in around 80 per cent of the cases, food prices are higher than 12 months ago.  In 40 per cent of the cases, food prices are higher than three months ago and in 17 per cent of the cases, the latest price quotations are the highest on record.  You can read more about that upstairs in a press release from the FAO.

** Gaza – Board of Inquiry

A brief item on the status of the Board of Inquiry report that was asked about yesterday:

The Executive Office of the Secretary-General did receive yesterday, 22 April 2009, the report 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 Secretary-General will review the report carefully on his return to Headquarters.  We will keep you informed of developments.

That is all I have for you.  As I mentioned earlier, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, has kindly agreed to postpone her appearance today.  She will be here tomorrow.

**Questions and Answers

Question: Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about the release of an Israeli report on the same incidents you just mentioned in Gaza, which... you know, anything to say about that?  Has he received any copy of those reports?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General was ensured by former Prime Minister, Olmert that he would receive the full Israeli investigation, which he has not yet seen.

Question:  And the report that was released yesterday in Israel, has it been seen by the UN people on the ground, because you have an office in Jerusalem?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I just mentioned, the Secretary-General has not received that full Israeli investigation.

Question:  On the question that I was asking Catherine Bragg, about the ominous situation that...

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, I just asked Stephanie Bunker, who is the press point for OCHA to look into that for you, and [she] will get back to you with an answer.

Question:  Another question is, yesterday I asked that question also: the Israeli Deputy Prime Minister dubbed Iran as a Nazi-fascist State yesterday.  Does the Secretary-General have any response to that, as he was indignant about what the Iranian President said about the Israelis?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think I was asked a similar question yesterday.  I did not have anything to comment.  I did not see the report and did not have any guidance on that.

Question:  On the Gaza report:  When will the Secretary-General be back to review that report, and does he plan to release it to the Member States and the Security Council?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I just read to you the latest I had on that, that he will review the report and will keep you informed of developments there. He plans to assess the report and determine a future course of action, including how best to share the findings.  That is what he said on the subject and I don’t have anything to add to that.  As for the Secretary-General’s return; he plans to return to Headquarters tomorrow afternoon.

Question:  Yesterday, Mr. Nambiar did brief the Council, but he did not speak to the press.  Is there some reason...  Even Mr. Gambari, when he goes on similar ventures, speaks to the press and answers questions.  First, can you say why he did not?  Also, some parts of his meetings were described as involving this humanitarian team.  But did he have political discussions, and if so, what was the message he carried to the President of Sri Lanka?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The message he carried was the message that the Secretary-General has stated publicly many times over.  We have been reporting to you about that.  The Secretary-General himself has commented now on the situation a short while ago.  Those remarks are available to you.  News stories have already been picked up on what the Secretary-General said, which is why we asked Catherine Bragg to come here today to brief you on the humanitarian situation, which is the most acute problem that we are trying to address at the moment.

Question:  Is it possible to get either a stakeout or a press conference by Mr. Nambiar, because he was the main envoy that went there?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the Security Council heard his briefing, has commented on that, and has issued a press statement by the Security Council President on which the Secretary-General himself already commented and I would like to draw your attention to that.  So the answer:  I don’t think so, okay?

Question:  Did he stop in India on his way back from Sri Lanka, and if so, did he have any meetings?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of any meetings that he had in India.

Question:  A question about Mr. Fowler.  Repeatedly, questions arose while he was detained, and you said that not to jeopardize his safety you would not answer.  Now that he has been released, I want to know several things.  First of all, is it the case, as reported that he that day visited a Canadian-owned goldmine in Niger?  If so, is that a trip he had informed the Government of and was it related to his UN mandate?  Why was there no security along?  Did he have UN issued travel orders?  Was the DSS told of his trip in advance?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Security issues are not something that we discuss in public.  At the moment, the Secretary-General just recently released the statement welcoming his release.  He has just been released.  I am sure that after he receives immediate attention, medical attention, other attention that he needs, he will have a debriefing.  But, at the moment, I have nothing beyond the fact that we are very relieved that he has been released.  The Secretary-General’s statement, I think, reflects that.

Question:  Is the UN going to conduct any kind of inquiry into the seeming irregularities...

Deputy Spokesperson:  Nothing beyond that.

Thank you very much.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.  Good to see you all.

The President of the General Assembly is today in Anchorage, Alaska, participating at the “Indigenous Peoples’ Global Summit on Climate Change”.

This is a meeting where basically the indigenous community will provide the inputs to the General Assembly President for the upcoming Climate Change Conference that, as you know, will take place at the end of the year in Copenhagen in the month of December.

The President of the General Assembly will be delivering the keynote speech in a few hours and he wants to underline that:  “All too often, high-level meetings and reports on climate change make only scarce mention of indigenous peoples, and then only in certain regions and as helpless victims of changes beyond their control.

“This meeting is instrumental in shifting the focus so that indigenous peoples are primary actors within global climate change monitoring, adaptation and innovation.

“With some 370 million people spread throughout some 90 countries around the world, indigenous peoples are interacting with the larger world more than ever.  They are doing so while maintaining their rich cultures and identities as groups, grounded in a common past and aspiring to a common future.

“The General Assembly has been in the forefront of addressing these harsh realities.  The United Nations has the responsibility and the obligation to promote respect for the human rights of indigenous peoples and to advocate strongly and systematically for the full participation of indigenous peoples in development processes at all levels.”

This is all I have for you today, unless you have any questions.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  You didn’t call on me yesterday at the briefing with President Morales.  And I have been trying to get some answers from your Office.  I want you to take note, or put down in official records, that I did attend the meetings that were held yesterday afternoon, which I have to say were excellent, on International Mother Earth Day.  But, there were remarks made by the President of the General Assembly, Mr. Brockmann, saying that the election of President Morales was one of the most important political developments in the last 500 years of Latin American Caribbean history and President Morales was a true world hero of “Mother Earth”, and said that he supported this resolution called “International Mother Earth Day”.

But also, in his remarks, he said that there had been no official Earth Day celebrated at the United Nations and that no occasion had existed until now that specifically honours Earth as a whole and our place in it.

This is absolutely inaccurate.  As you are well aware, the original Earth Day was proposed by the now 94-year old John McConnell and was endorsed by UN Secretary-General U Thant on 21 March 1971, with the ringing of the Peace Bell and bells ringing around the world.  It has been celebrated at the United Nations for 39 consecutive years.  At this precise moment of the equinox, night and day are equal around the world, marking the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and fall in the southern hemisphere.

Spokesperson:  Could you please ask your question?

Correspondent:  I would like to know like who drafted the resolution to begin with.  It is obvious that President Morales is getting the credit for being the initiator, with of course, perhaps, with a little help of his friends, and the story behind it.

Spokesperson:  Well, first, this is not a forum to make political statements, to begin with.  This is a press conference where I expect questions from journalists that I will reply, okay?  You are most welcome to do whatever statements you want to do outside this press conference, in other forums.  One.  Second, let me apologize because I did not give you the floor yesterday, but many other colleagues of yours were asking for the floor and, as you know, we had a one hour press conference.  President Morales took, I think, for each question, to reply, about 10 minutes.  I would have loved to stay here for four hours, but I decided to give the floor to the ones that, at that particular moment, I saw the hands.

Third, as for your question on who is “behind” the resolution that the General Assembly has approved by consensus, that means 192 countries, at the proposal of the Bolivian delegation, co-sponsored by 20 or 30 different countries, and was approved yesterday by consensus at the General Assembly.  So, I don’t know what you mean by the “story behind it”, but, as I said very clearly, there was a general feeling among Member States that, since such an important occasion very often had been celebrated outside the UN premises -– I said “very often”, but not always -– it should get an institutional recognition.  The President of the General Assembly thanked President Morales for taking the lead in making such a proposal.  And that is basically the story.

Question:  I must say I don’t find the answer very satisfactory.  We journalists are allowed, if we want on the record, to make a statement.  I asked you who drafted the resolution?  Can you give me that answer?

Spokesperson:  I just replied to you.  I said that the delegation of Bolivia presented a draft resolution that was co-sponsored, I think, by 20 to 30 countries, and which was approved by consensus.

Question:  Two quick questions, and you may have to get a statement on them.  There was a briefing here yesterday by NGOs [non-governmental organizations] on Sri Lanka.  Several of them said that this implicated the “responsibility to protect”.  Since I know that he now has an adviser on RTP, Ambassador Sen of India, does the President of the General Assembly believe that the responsibility to protect is implicated or raised by what is happening in Sri Lanka?

Spokesperson:  We stand basically by the statement the President of the General Assembly has already made.  Obviously, he is very concerned about the humanitarian situation that is going on right now.  As he said last week, in these situations, military solutions are not solutions.  They are not lasting solutions.  He is following very closely the situation and he is very concerned about the humanitarian situation there. 

As for your question on the responsibility to protect:  this is something that will be discussed by the General Assembly in due time, and the different Member States will be able to express their opinion on that.

Question:  Also, maybe you have a comment on this.  The week began with the President of Iran making a statement at the Durban Review Conference and Ban Ki-moon making a very strong denunciation of it.  I think Iran is now asking the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) to condemn the Secretary-General’s arbitrarily denouncing the President of a country.  Does the President of the General Assembly have any view on either the appropriateness of the Secretary-General singling out the President of a country, or on the request to NAM or on the situation in general?

Spokesperson:  Well, on the situation in general, the President of the General Assembly, of course, believes that the United Nations must provide a forum where all views of Members States can be expressed, even those views that are considered controversial.

That said, he is disappointed that the controversy has become a distraction from the bigger goal of finding justice and sovereignty for the Palestinian people.  It is unfortunate that the attention has focused on the President of Iran rather than on this difficult process of bringing peace and justice to peoples of the region.

Question:  Whose focus is that?  The press’s focus or Ban Ki-moon’s focus?  Can you just unpack that a little bit.  Is he saying it is unfortunate what the President of Iran said, or is it unfortunate the way people responded to it?

Spokesperson:  Look Matthew, the recent incident unfolded like a theatrical production and the President of the General Assembly does not think this is the best use of the world stage.  He is not going to feed any more into this controversy, which, as I said, is keeping us away from the real focus that should be the Conference.

Question:  The draft resolution that was adopted yesterday, was it voted on?  Because it said that it was adopted by consensus.

Spokesperson:  That is right.  You know what the rules of the General Assembly are.  When a resolution is put forward by any Member countries, there are two things that can happen.  One is that, if there is a feeling that there is no need to vote because there is a general consensus, the President of the General Assembly says, “Shall I take it that it is approved?”  If nobody protests, then it is approved.  If only one Member State decides that they want to ask for a vote, then that Member State can ask for a vote and then they vote.  Then only two things can happen.  Either it is approved or it is rejected.

Question:  There was a press statement about the adoption of the resolution saying it was adopted unanimously.

Spokesperson:  That is correct.  I don’t’ know what the controversy is, because that resolution was discussed among the Member countries, like it is done with all the resolutions in the General Assembly.  This particular one certainly raised absolutely no problems and it was adopted unanimously by all Member countries.

Question:  Did I understand that you said that reference was made to the fact that Earth Day had been celebrated, or been named, 30 years ago?  Did I understand you that it was noted in the substance or in the presentation?

Spokesperson:  You are correct, and during the discussions and the deliberations.  That is part of the reason for saying, look, this is something very important, one.  Two, this is something that people are celebrating outside the United Nations and we should give an institutional weight and recognition for such an important day as Mother Earth Day.  That is why the President of the General Assembly welcomed very much this initiative by the Bolivian Government.

Thank you very much.

* *** *

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