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

11 May 2009

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

11 May 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 Paul Hoeffel, Communications Adviser/Speechwriter for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon all.

**Press Conference Today

At 12.30 p.m. today, at least we hope so, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov will be here to brief you on the Security Council open meeting on the Middle East.  Of course, we have seven more speakers to go, I am not quite sure it will be 12.30 p.m., but at least this is what we have on the schedule.

**Security Council Stakeout Today

And at 1 p.m., Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs of the United Kingdom David Miliband, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, and Austria’s Federal Minister of European and International Affairs Michael Spindelegger, will be at the Security Council stakeout to hold a press encounter on Sri Lanka.  So this is looking ahead a bit.

** Middle East

The Secretary-General this morning addressed a ministerial meeting in the Security Council on the Middle East.  In his remarks, he said that, after the inconclusive results of last year’s negotiations, and the bloodshed in Gaza, the last three months witnessed almost no progress on the two key resolutions recently adopted by the Security Council –- 1850 (2008) and 1860 (2009).

The Secretary-General also pointed to a deep crisis of confidence among ordinary people on the ground.  He said Palestinians continue to see unacceptable unilateral actions in East Jerusalem and the remainder of the West Bank, including house demolitions, intensified settlement activity, settler violence, and oppressive restrictions on their movements.  The time has come for Israel to fundamentally change its policies, he stressed.

At the same time, he added, ordinary Israelis continue to seek reassurance that a future Palestinian state will guarantee their right to live in peace and security.  In that regard, indiscriminate rocket attacks are not only deeply unacceptable, but also totally counterproductive, and must cease, he said.

The Secretary-General added that the policy of the continued closure of Gaza does not weaken Israel’s adversaries, but instead does untold damage to the fabric of civilian life.  In that context, he called on Israel to allow glass, cement and building materials into Gaza.  He also voiced support for the convening of an international conference in Moscow.  We have his full remarks upstairs.

Still on the Middle East, meanwhile, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes has written an op-ed on Gaza, which has now appeared in a number of Egyptian and European papers.

Holmes says that humanity has taken a back seat to politics in Gaza, and a measly trickle of items has become the most the world can offer civilians trapped by a political stalemate not of their making.

He adds that protection, food, water, health care and shelter are basic human needs, not bargaining chips, and it is high time that fact is recognized by all the parties responsible for the immense suffering in Gaza today.

** Sri Lanka

[The following statement was issued after the briefing:

The Secretary-General is appalled at the killing of hundreds of civilians in Sri Lanka over the weekend.  Thousands of Sri Lankans have already died in the past several months due to the conflict, and more still remain in grave danger.

The Secretary-General has repeatedly called upon the parties to the conflict to stop using heavy-calibre weaponry, including mortars, in the areas with high civilian concentrations.  The Secretary-General is deeply concerned by the continued use of heavy weapons in this situation.  The reckless disrespect shown by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for the safety of civilians has led to thousands of people remaining trapped in the area.

The Secretary-General once again calls on both sides, in the strongest terms possible, to adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law.  The LTTE must immediately allow the remaining civilians in the conflict zone to leave.  He reminds the parties that the world is watching events in Sri Lanka closely, and will not accept further violations of international law.

The Secretary-General urges the Government of Sri Lanka to explore all possible options to bring the conflict to an end without further bloodshed and to make public the terms under which that can be achieved without further loss of civilian life, and for the LTTE to give sober and positive consideration of those terms.]

Also on Sri Lanka, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs says Government security forces continue operations in the conflict zone.  Intense fighting has been reported over the weekend with a heavy toll on civilians, resulting in the loss of hundreds of lives and more injuries.

Earlier today, a reported 900 civilians escaped from the conflict zone in Mullaitivu and most have reached Omanthai.  So far, a total 196,044 persons have crossed to the Government controlled areas from the conflict zone.

But the United Nations still estimates at least 50,000 —- and probably more -- remain in the conflict zone.

Over the weekend, the International Committee of the Red Cross evacuated 515 patients and caregivers from the conflict zone to Pulmoddai, and transported 25 metric tons of food and some medicine provided by the World Food Programme for the civilians trapped in the conflict zone.

Family reunification is also a priority, and the United Nations stresses that efforts to reunite families without delay must be redoubled.  In addition, every effort must be taken to avoid additional separations during transfers and decongestion efforts in Sri Lanka.

** Pakistan

On Pakistan, UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres today appealed for international solidarity in support of hundreds of thousands of displaced Pakistani civilians and announced a UNHCR airlift to rush tons of additional humanitarian supplies to the north-west of the country.

Guterres, whose agency already has a large operation in Pakistan, said the speed and scale of the latest displacement in the country’s north-west required an immediate international humanitarian response in support of the Pakistani people affected by the conflict.

He recalled that the total number of displaced Pakistanis registered by authorities with UNHCR help since 2 May has now reached more than 360,000 people.  Guterres said much more needs to be done to assist the displaced and announced an airlift on Tuesday that will carry some 120 tons of urgently needed humanitarian supplies from UNHCR central emergency stockpiles in Dubai to Pakistan.

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) says that, in cooperation with the authorities in Pakistan, registration points have been established, and by today, 360,675 newly displaced persons have been registered.  This figure is increasing by the day.

** Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) says that it is encouraging that more women were nominated to stand for the provincial elections this summer than in the last elections.  The country’s Independent Election Commission informed UNAMA that 3,324 candidates, including 342 women, have been put forward for the provincial council elections, with the number of women candidates increasing by 20 from the previous elections.  The UN Mission says that the increase demonstrates the strong desire of Afghan women to help decide the future of their country.

The Mission adds that it will follow the elections closely and monitor the campaign to help ensure that the fundamental political rights of the Afghan people are respected.  We have more in today’s Kabul briefing notes.

** Sudan

On Sudan, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, has concluded his five-day visit to Sudan by urging increased cooperation in responding to urgent humanitarian needs, and a genuinely constructive future operating environment for humanitarian actors.

This was Mr. Holmes’ second visit in six months to Sudan and his fourth since becoming the Emergency Relief Coordinator. 

His visit aimed to review the humanitarian situation in the areas affected by the 4 March Government decision to close three national NGOs (non-governmental organizations) and expel 13 international NGOs, and to promote a better relationship between the Government and the humanitarian community.

He welcomed the positive collaboration with the Government on the Joint Assessment in Darfur, and noted that the most urgent short-term needs in food, health and nutrition, emergency shelter, water, and sanitation were being tackled.  However, he voiced his concern about the longer-term needs in all sectors.

In his discussions with officials in Khartoum and North Darfur, Mr. Holmes also called attention to the increasingly unsafe operating environment in Darfur.

There is a press release with more details on this upstairs.

** Darfur

Still on Darfur, the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID) reports that the security situation during the past 72 hours has been relatively tense in some parts of North Darfur, with shooting reported in the State capital, El Fasher.

Carjacking incidents were reported in both North and South Darfur, and a surge of banditry activities targeting UN personnel in North Darfur were also recorded.

There has been an increase in burglaries targeting UNAMID staff accommodation.

There were also reports of sporadic shooting in El Fasher’s main market as a result of clashes involving the Sudanese military and the Central Reserve Force.  Two men were later arrested by the Sudanese Government, and there were reports of fatalities during the clashes.  A UNAMID investigation patrol was dispatched to the market area and its members spoke with locals about the situation.

UNAMID has also reported fighting over the weekend in the North Darfur town of Umm Baru between the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) and the Sudan Liberation Army/Minni Minawi wing (SLA/MM).  The Mission transported 26 people injured in the fighting to El Fasher for medical treatment at a military hospital.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Alan Doss, has strongly condemned the criminal raid this past weekend by Rwandan rebels on the north-eastern village of Butolonga.  Doss said the attack shows once again that the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwandan (FDLR) rebels are “outlaws”.

According to our Mission in the DRC (MONUC), FDLR rebels raided Butolonga on the night of 8 May, firing guns and burning houses.  One hundred thirty-one houses were burned, and two Congolese soldiers were killed.  UN peacekeepers, dispatched to the scene, found the village empty, as residents had fled into a nearby bush.  They are only now returning to their homes.


On the Influenza A (H1N1) virus, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirms that the number of lab-confirmed cases has increased to 4,694 -- from 2,500 on Friday.  Those cases include 53 deaths.

WHO says that 30 countries are now reporting cases -- as opposed to 25 countries on Friday.  But regarding WHO’s influenza alert level, we are still at phase 5, the agency says.

** Iraq

On Iraq, children in nearly half of the primary schools in Iraq are studying in unsafe and unhealthy environments, according to a United Nations-backed survey that was released today.

The study, which was supported by the World Health Organization and conducted between 2007 and 2008, revealed that 48 per cent of the 150 schools assessed were dirty.

In addition, some 63 per cent of the schools lacked chlorine testing procedures for drinking water, placing children at high risk of waterborne diseases.

** Lake Victoria

And communities in and around Lake Victoria have been chosen as a test-case for calculating how much carbon can be stored in trees and soils when the land is managed in sustainable, climate-friendly ways.

This initiative -- known as the Carbon Benefits Project -- was launched today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the World Agroforestry Centre, along with a range of other key partners.  The project is being funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF).

**International Labour Organization

Senior representatives from Governments, workers’ and employers’ organizations are attending a meeting at the International Labour Office (ILO) from May 11th to the 14th.  They will be discussing the state of industrial relations in the petroleum industry amid a global downturn in employment in the oil and gas sector.

**World Tourism Organization

The World Tourism Organization (WTO) has elected a new Secretary-General.  Taleb Rifai, a former Jordanian tourism minister, is expected to start his four-year mandate in January 2010.

His nomination has to be confirmed by WTO’s general assembly when it meets during the first week of October, in Kazakhstan.

Rifai was WTO’s Secretary-General ad interim since last March and, before that, the Deputy Secretary-General since 2006.

**Human Rights Council Elections

And I was just informed that after this briefing, Paul Hoeffel will brief on behalf of Enrique, who is travelling.  He will be giving you some briefing notes about the Human Rights Council elections tomorrow in the General Assembly.  So, he’ll be coming and you’ll hear from him in a few minutes.  I’ll just very briefly take some questions.  Please, the most important ones first because I have to go and leave the room for Foreign Minister Lavrov.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  On Sri Lanka, over the weekend when all these civilians have been killed, can you give us a sense of who Ban Ki-moon spoke to, what he’s doing and what his plan is to try to stop what...(inaudible) called a bloodbath on the beach?

Spokesperson:  Well we’ve had the figures -- the number of dead and wounded were numbers we got on the ground inside the conflict zone.  In terms of what the Secretary-General has been doing, he has been briefed on a daily basis.  As you know, he spoke to the President [once] last week.  He hasn’t spoken to him this past weekend.  However, as you know, this is one of his top priories right now -- the situation of the civilians in Sri Lanka.

[The Spokesperson later added that the Secretary-General also spoke to Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations this morning.]

Question:  Is there any movement on...  He’s been invited to go to the country and it’s been said that if he thought it could save civilians at all, he would go.  Does he think that it would save civilians?  And is he going to go?

Spokesperson:  At this point, he is still analysing the briefings he is getting.

Question:  And how about...There are reports in the South Korean press that he attended or presided over his son’s marriage on Saturday?  Is that...Can you confirm that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Sure, it’s a family matter.  I have no comments to make.

Question:  Okay.  But it did take place?

Spokesperson: Yes, sure.

Question:  Michèle, do you have any update on the situation of the internally displaced in Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  Pakistan?  Before you came in, I talked about it.  So you can get it from our briefing notes.  In terms of other information about Pakistan, no, I don’t have anything further.  But I think we will be getting a statement a little later today.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General in touch with the Government of Pakistan?  Has he spoken to somebody?

Spokesperson:  Not this weekend, no.  But as you know, last week they spoke about the situation.  And as for the situation in Sri Lanka, the Secretary-General is being briefed daily on what is happening.

Question:  Did you give a readout on the meeting between the Secretary-General and Sergey Lavrov, and if so, was Georgia discussed, and did Mr. Alain Le Roy attend?  Who attended the meeting and what was discussed?

Spokesperson:  Well, I don’t have that yet, but I should get that for you in a few minutes.  And you can ask in my Office, they certainly will have the readout by then.  Okay, thank you all so very much.  And I know you’re all very busy with the Middle East.  I assume that Mr. Lavrov will be here very shortly.  But before that, I will give the floor to Paul Hoeffel.

[The Spokesperson later added that, in his meeting with Foreign Minister Lavrov, the Secretary-General and the Foreign Minister discussed the Middle East, the Secretary-General’s fourteenth report on UNOMIG, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Kosovo.]

Briefing by the Acting Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

The President, as you may know, is travelling this week.  He is en route from Madrid to Geneva where he has meetings tomorrow.  But more importantly for you all, he wants to flag the fact that tomorrow the Human Rights Council is holding elections. 

Eighteen new members of the Council will be elected tomorrow morning at 10.00 a.m.  So, he wanted to be sure that you’re aware of that.  As you know, there are 47 members of the Human Rights Council and they’re elected by secret ballot by the General Assembly.  Membership is for three years and seats become vacant on a rotating basis.

There is a very good backgrounder that the Council has prepared and that will be available very shortly.  So that’s all I have to say; just to flag that for you.  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  In connection with tomorrow’s election, Vaclav Havel, one of the wise elders of Europe, had an op-editorial in the New York Times today attacking the undemocratic, non-progressive, questionable human rights nature of this election.  Does the President have a reaction to Mr. Havel’s statement?

Spokesperson:  No.  I don’t know whether he has seen that yet.

Question:  Could you ask him?

Spokesperson:  I can ask him, certainly.  Yes.

Question:  Could you tell us what percentage of the current 47 members on the Human Rights Council are members of the Organization of Islamic Conference?  And, if you know, what percentage are up for election for those 18 seats tomorrow?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, the Council seats are allocated according to regional representation.  And so that would certainly reflect some of those countries.  Of the 47 members, 13 are from Africa, 13 are from Asia and so that would probably cover most of that group.  And I’m not sure the...(interrupted).

Question:  (Inaudible)

Spokesperson:  This backgrounder may cover that, and I can give you the names of the people to contact and you can call them and ask that specific question.  Yes?

Question:  Do you know who the African members are who are running as candidates for the Council?

Spokesperson:  There is a list, and this note that’s coming out very soon has the list of candidates.  Okay, thank you very much.

Question:  Do you know if the President of the General Assembly had any comment on the matter discussed in the Council this morning, the Middle East?  Some say that the statement is weaker even than the previous statements.  I know it’s a matter of some concern to him.  Has he had any...?

Spokesperson:  No, it is of enormous concern to him, but he is right now travelling, so it’s very difficult to get any comments from him.  But we can ask.  Well, very good, thank you.

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