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

26 May 2009

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

26 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 Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Enrique Yeves, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

**Press Conference Today

The guests at the noon briefing today were John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator (via teleconference), and B. Lynn Pascoe, Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs.  They briefed on the Secretary-General’s recent trip to Sri Lanka.

** Sri Lanka – Human Rights Council

Just to add on to what Mr. Pascoe has just alluded to, in Geneva today, the Human Rights Council did start a special session on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

In a video message to the gathering, High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said there are strong reasons to believe that both sides have grossly disregarded the fundamental principle of the inviolability of civilians.  She added that an independent and credible international investigation into recent events should be dispatched to ascertain the occurrence, nature and scale of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.  Her full message is available upstairs.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Council’s special session is expected to continue tomorrow.  Members plan to adopt a text.

**Secretary-General -- Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

Turning to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the Secretary-General today has welcomed the decisive measures being taken by the Security Council, regarding the conduct of an underground nuclear test by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).  He strongly deplores this test and joins world leaders in condemning it as a clear and grave violation of the relevant Security Council resolutions.

The Secretary-General is deeply concerned that this act will negatively affect regional peace and stability, as well as the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.

The Secretary-General has reiterated his conviction that differences should be resolved in a peaceful manner through dialogue.  He has urged the DPRK to refrain from taking any further actions that would increase tensions in the region.  The Secretary-General has also insisted that the DPRK should comply with its obligations in full and restart dialogue with the parties concerned without delay, including the early resumption of the six-party talks.

**Security Council -- Democratic People’s Republic of Korea

And yesterday afternoon, following Security Council consultations on the nuclear test by the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea (DPRK), members are now in the process of working on a Security Council resolution on this matter.

The President of the Council for this month, Ambassador Vitaly Churkin of Russia, read a press statement on behalf of the Council, with members voicing their strong opposition to and condemnation of the nuclear test.  According to the Council, the test constituted a clear violation of resolution 1718 (2006).

The members of the Security Council have demanded that the DPRK comply fully with the Council’s obligations under resolutions 1695 (2006) and 1718 (2006) and other related Security Council resolutions and statements.  The Council called on all Member States to uphold their obligations under these resolutions and statements.

**Secretary-General in Scandinavia

And just turning back to the Secretary-General and his weekend activities.  On Sunday, following his visit to Sri Lanka, the Secretary-General arrived in Copenhagen, Denmark, where he addressed the opening of the World Business Summit on Climate Change.

The Secretary-General told the gathered business leaders that excessive reliance on a fossil fuel-based economy is destroying our planet’s resources.  It is also choking global economic potential.

He added that doing the right thing for our climate is also smart for global competitiveness and long-term prosperity.  Any multinational business that doesn’t have a strategy in place to deal with climate change will end up on the losing side of history, the Secretary-General said.

While in Copenhagen, the Secretary-General held a bilateral with former US Vice-President Al Gore.  The two held further discussions on climate change.

Yesterday, the Secretary-General took a boat to a wind farm close to Copenhagen.  Seeing first-hand how the wind turbines harnessed energy from nature, he called the facility an example for the world.

The Secretary-General is now in Helsinki, Finland, for an official visit.  This morning he met with Finland’s President and Prime Minister.  We expect him back in New York tomorrow afternoon.

**Roh Moo-Hyun

And also over the weekend, the Secretary-General issued a statement on the death of the former President of the Republic of Korea, Roh Moo-hyun.

The Deputy Secretary-General this morning signed a condolence book at the Mission of the Republic of Korea.

** Pakistan -- Humanitarian Update

And on Pakistan, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) says thousands of Pakistanis continue to flee areas of conflict in the North-West Frontier Province, where Government forces have been fighting militants.

The total number of displaced persons registered since early this month, has now reached over 2.38 million.  UNHCR says that, on average, an estimated 126,000 people a day are being registered in the four districts.  Many more people are still reported to be stranded in the conflict zones.

UNHCR has commended the many acts of generosity from ordinary Pakistanis towards their fellow citizens.  Some benefactors continue to contribute food packages of wheat flour, sugar, spices, tea, as well as cash and clothes.

To assist the displaced persons quickly, UNHCR is continuing to buy more supplies locally, from within Pakistan.  The agency is also shipping relief items from stockpiles in warehouses around the world.

UNICEF says that, with more than half of the displaced being children, the agency will need an additional $41.4 million to provide urgent assistance to the displaced.  UNICEF Pakistan has now almost exhausted its contingency stocks of supplies.  Funding and humanitarian efforts have been strained by the very rapid increase in the number of people fleeing the fighting.

And UNICEF warns that more displacement of populations is expected in the days ahead as military operations expand to new areas.

UNICEF is also highlighting the fact that difficulties of access combined with shortages of essential humanitarian supplies and funding are hindering efforts to provide children and women who are internally displaced with life-saving support.  And I think this was in answer to a question we hand about UNICEF’s role.

**Security Council

And here at Headquarters, the Security Council adopted a resolution this morning on Somalia.  By that text, the Council authorized the African Union to maintain its Mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, until 31 January 2010.  The Council also condemned the recent resurgence in fighting in Somalia and called on all Somali parties to support the Djibouti Agreement.

The Council is now meeting to hear briefings by the Chairmen of its subsidiary bodies, including the Counter-Terrorism Committee; the so-called 1267 Committee, which deals with Al-Qaida and the Taliban; and the 1540 Committee, which focuses on weapons of mass destruction.

** Somalia --- UNHCR Update

And on Somalia, UNHCR says that the latest escalation in fighting in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, has now displaced more than 67,000 persons.  Pro-Government forces recently launched an offensive in the capital to drive out Islamist militants opposed to the Transitional Federal Government.

Many of the displaced have travelled to overcrowded makeshift camps.  Those unable to make the journey have sought refuge closer to the city, in areas not affected by the fighting.  And the number of those Somalis fleeing into neighbouring countries also continues to rise.

The worsening security situation has also reduced the delivery of relief supplies to the affected population.  Local agencies that have been assisting the internally displaced persons continue to face growing security problems.

** Darfur

And on Darfur, we issued a statement yesterday, in which the Secretary-General said he was gravely concerned by the recent fighting between Government forces and the rebel Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), in the area of Umm Baru in North Darfur.  Noting that the clash was reportedly initiated by the JEM, the Secretary-General condemned such military action.  He reminded both the parties of the commitment they made in Doha this January to settle the conflict between them through peaceful negotiation.  He called on the parties to suspend military action and apply themselves fully to achieving a negotiated, inclusive and lasting resolution to the conflict.

The Joint AU-UN Special Representative for Darfur, Rodolphe Adada, has also urged all parties to the Darfur conflict to seek a peaceful resolution to their differences.  Adada voiced particular concern at the humanitarian impact of the fighting on civilians.  The African Union-UN Mission there, UNAMID, says that it gave temporary shelter to some 350 civilians and 100 unarmed Sudanese soldiers and others who fled the violence and took refuge near its local military base.  The Mission says calm has returned to the area, but the situation remains unpredictable.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

And on the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Alan Doss, was among the keynote speakers yesterday at a major Congolese civil society gathering in Kinshasa.  In his address, Doss called for the swift implementation of national reforms to fight poverty and corruption among other challenges facing the country.  Doss offered UN support to the gathering, urging participants to come up with a workable strategy for growth and poverty reduction.

Elsewhere in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, UN peacekeepers were responding this past weekend to various reports of violence by illegal armed groups.  On Saturday, the peacekeepers deployed to a village near the north-eastern town of Dungu where an attack by the Lord’s Resistance Army left one person dead.  Twenty others were injured while the rebels burnt down some 20 huts before fleeing.  And on Friday in the Bukavu area, a peacekeeping patrol exchanged fire with a group of Rwandan rebels after the rebels attacked a bus at a roadblock.  And you can read more about that upstairs.

And the Mission also says that it is providing logistical assistance to Congolese judicial authorities in the trial of Mai Mai militiamen facing charges of mass rapes and torture.

Their trial opened two days ago in a regional court in Province Orientale.  The Mission says it provided helicopters to help get judicial personnel to the remote area, some 290 miles from the provincial hub of Kisangani. UN human rights experts will also be monitoring the proceedings.  Thirty-four Mai Mai fighters are on trial for a spree of sexual violence, including the alleged rape of more than 135 women and children in July 2007.

** Nepal

Turning to Nepal, the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator there has welcomed steps taken by authorities to investigate the weekend bombing of a church in the Kathmandu valley.  Two people were killed and eight others seriously injured in the attack.  The Resident Coordinator’s Office has strongly condemned the bombing, noting that the church was known to be filled with people attending Mass at that time.  And there is more on that upstairs.

** Iraq -- World Food Programme

The World Food Programme (WFP) is expanding its food assistance programme to reach the most vulnerable people in Iraq.  It will also start to provide free school lunches to children.  And you can read more about that in a press release upstairs.

**Cyclone Aila

John Holmes has a statement on the Cyclone Aila.  The Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, says he was saddened to learn of the loss of life and damage to property in Bangladesh and India caused by Cyclone Aila.  He extends his deepest condolences to the affected, especially to the families of those who have been killed or who are missing.  And the United Nations stands ready to assist as required, he says.

**United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)

Upstairs we also have an address by the UNDP Administrator, Helen Clark, who delivered her first speech to UNDP’s Executive Board since assuming her leadership role of that organization.

** Africa -- Lands

And finally, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) say that the increase of foreign land acquisitions –- in Africa particularly -- is raising the risk that poor people will be evicted or lose access to land.  The two agencies are calling for securing land rights for rural communities and involving local people in foreign land acquisition.  There is more on this upstairs.

** Member State Payments

And in reference to the press conference by Ms. Angela Kane and Mr. Jun Yamazaki, the Controller, last week, I would like to draw your attention to the update which was provided by Mr. Yamazaki to the Fifth Committee on Friday on the payments received subsequent to the cut-off date of 7 May.

These include regular budget payments of $12 million from Brazil and $136 million from the United States, and peacekeeping payments of $192 million from Japan.  In addition, payments have been initiated by Sweden for the capital Master Plan and South Africa for peacekeeping operations.

Taking into account these payments, as well as other payments received after the cut-off date, the updated lists of Member States fully paid would include Guatemala, Indonesia, Kuwait, Nigeria and Thailand for the regular budget; Australia and South Africa for peacekeeping operations; Indonesia, Norway and Sweden for the Capital Master Plan; and Belarus, Guatemala, Montenegro, Portugal, Nigeria and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic for the International Tribunals.  Australia, South Africa and Sweden paid in full their assessed contributions after the cut-off date of 7 May 2009.

And Mr. Yamazaki’s statement is posted on the Fifth Committee’s website http://www.un.org/ga/fifth/ and is also available the Spokesperson’s Office.

And that’s what I have for you.  You had your guest already.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes, Marie.  Has there been any response to the United Nations flash appeal that was launched last Thursday for $400 million or $500 million for the IDPs?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I will get you an update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  I do not have a spot update.  As you know, usually what happens is that when an appeal is launched, pledges are made and OCHA has to follow up.  So I am sure if they’re listening they will give us an update afterwards.

[The correspondent was later told that the revised appeal requested $543,172,583.  Up to today, $88,364,302 has been pledged -- i.e. 16 per cent of the required amount.]

Question:  I already raised it with you about this official in Islamabad planning to ask for lull in the fighting.  Is that, I mean [inaudible] person?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I’m sorry, can you repeat that?

Question:  I said the second question is about this officer in… UN OCHA officer in Islamabad saying that he is planning to ask for a lull in the fighting, pause in the fighting, so that humanitarian aid could be issued, sent, you see.  But have they actually done it?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The response to that from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs is as follows:

The problem of access all humanitarian agencies have at this time is caused by the general insecurity.  UN agencies have had difficulties accessing some parts of Pakistan since long before the recent events.  In the course of this kind of situation and humanitarian need, it is vital that all options are explored to ensure humanitarian access to those in need.  The officer you refer to in the press report, Mr. Bessler, was referring to one of these options to get information on the situation.  The UN will continue to work on the ground to expand humanitarian programming to all those in need, including people in the affected areas.  In the circumstances, the UN and partners are focusing on providing assistance to those who have left the affected areas.

And we just gave you an update on what those efforts were.  Masood?

Question:  There are reports that the at the United Nations, at the UNDP and at the United Nations, lots of people working as consultants or on ad hoc basis have been asked to resign en masse and then be rehired.  Is that right?

Deputy Spokesperson:  This is the first I have heard, but I will certainly pass on the question to UNDP and we’ll get you an answer.  Yes.

Question:  The question of Matthew about the children made to stand to salute the SG and to greet him brought memories to me, in 2005 [Inaudible].  In July we went with Kofi Annan to Darfur.  I think you were with us on that trip, and we saw IDPs at Zam Zam, two camps for IDPs and refugees on both sides of the Chadian-Sudanese border.  I remember I went a few hours before the SG by car with a reporter from ABC Australia and we saw the children sitting there and the women, tens of thousands of them, in the camp waiting for Kofi Annan for five hours in the sun when he arrived by helicopter in the afternoon.  I was told by an aid worker working for an NGO that they cleaned for the last three days the street from [inaudible] I mean the desert, you know, where he’s going to walk.  And we just, you know, would like to ask the hierarchy here, especially OCHA and John Holmes, to rethink this policy maybe, of asking affected women and children to stand in the sun with flowers and… Because this is supposed to be an inspection trip to see things how they are actually in the camps, not a greeting trip to the SG or to the visiting dignitaries.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, I’m sure that the comment is being noted, but you heard B. Lynn Pascoe’s response.  I don’t really have much to add to that, except that also on that trip you will recall that, or a later trip down into Juba, there was a genuine outpouring of welcome in which…

Question:  I’m not talking about the [inaudible].  I’m talking about [inaudible].

Deputy Spokesperson:  Yes, but I would like to, for the sake of balance, I would like to note that there are many occasions in which people, thousands of people have come out voluntarily, waiting for hours to greet various people.

Question:  [inaudible] Marie, these camps were under the supervision of the United Nations.  Zam Zam, where we went, people come to the city and they come out in the street pouring affection to the… that’s different.  But when things are under the control of the United Nations, they are asked to clean the streets and the roads of [inaudible] and things for the SG to walk through, and…  This is supposed to be an inspection trip to affected people to see how they live.  And remember there was water shortage in that place and people sitting in the sun.  I saw them because I went before you, with other journalists.  Four, five hours, they were sitting in the sun, four, five hours, in the sun, no shade.  In a place where there is no water.  I don’t think it’s necessary.  I raised my objection at the time…

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think your point has been noted and OCHA will respond to it.

Question:  Okay, thank you, thank you.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I forgot to mention one thing about press conferences tomorrow.  At 11 a.m. tomorrow we have Rob Vos, Director of Development Policy and Analysis Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, who will be here to launch the mid-year report on World Economic Situation and Prospects 2009.  And our guest at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Victoria Tauli Corpuz, the Chairperson of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, who will brief on the eighth session of the Forum, which is due to wrap up this Friday.  Matthew?

Question:  Sure.  First, on Somalia, there was a testimony last week to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the UN system has given direct financial support for police salaries in Somalia and to police that were implicated in serious human rights abuses.  I am wondering what, given that, I know that the Council met today, but this is, in terms of the UN’s own humanitarian and development activities, are you aware of that comment and is it true that the UN has funded police in Somalia that are accused of human rights violations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware of that report, but I will look into that for you.

Question:  And I wanted to also ask, yesterday, the Secretary-General issued a statement, or his Spokesperson did, saying that he, quote: “will remain in close contact with all concerned” about the North Korean nuclear test.  Can you give us a sense of who, since the test took place, who he’s spoken to, and to what effect would be a second question, but who has he spoken to?  What does this remaining in close consultation mean?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It means what he says, that he’ll be in contact with those who can make a difference.  I don’t have a call log of his calls for the last 24 hours, and he’s been moving from Sri Lanka to Copenhagen to Helsinki.  So he’ll be back tomorrow afternoon and we will try to get an update on who he’s been talking to.

Question:  And one follow-up to Ms. Kane’s press conference.  She encouraged and said that the head of OIOS, Inga-Britt Ahlenius, would somehow have light to shed on the UN Medical Service situation.  Is there some way that we can get her to either issue a written… You heard what… Angela Kane said that OIOS has cleared the unit and encouraged me to speak to Ms. Ahlenius.  It hasn’t really been possible.  Can we get a briefing from her or some statement by OIOS?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Matthew, I have nothing beyond what Ms. Kane said, and you know you’re free to call Ms. Ahlenius.  I think she has responded to your question though, on that issue, and Ms. Kane also responded to that.  Yes, in the back.

Question:  Also on Somalia, do you have any information on foreign ships entering Somali waters illegally?  Or…

Deputy Spokesperson: I’m sorry, foreign…?

Question:  …illegally dumping waste and illegal fishing for foreign ships entering waters illegally.  There some reports about that, I wondered if you have anything.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not received an update on that, but we’ll certainly look into that for you.  Thank you very much, and have a…

Question:  I just wanted to be clear, has Ms. Ahlenius issued some statement about the Medical Service?

Deputy Spokesperson:  She has sent through our Office e-mails to you regarding OIOS on this subject.

Question:  [inaudible] I wanted to ask one thing.  You once said the Secretary-General went to UNOPS in Copenhagen.  There, not long ago, there was a story in I guess, the Washington Post, talking about this UNOPS Director problem in Afghanistan and missing funds and the dispute between USAID and the UN about the return of funds that were improperly diverted to other uses.  Is this something that either he raised in his speech at UNOPS or in speaking with Mr. Jan Mattsson?  What’s the UN system done since that report came out about missing money?

Deputy Spokesperson:  We’ll check with UNOPS.  Have a good afternoon, see you tomorrow.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

It’s a pleasure to start on time today.

I just wanted to let you know that the General Assembly has officially now confirmed this morning the new dates of the United Nations Conference on the World Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development, which will be held at UN Headquarters here in New York from 24 to 26 June 2009.  As you probably remember, the summit was originally scheduled for 1 to 3 June.

Delegates had expressed concern that they require more time to negotiate the draft outcome document that is to be adopted by world leaders.  And the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, the organizer of the three-day summit, consulted with all major regional groups in recent days on the proposed three-week deferral and achieved consensus on the change.

The President appealed to the Member States to complete the negotiations on the draft outcome document by 15 June, to give enough time to the Heads of State to have a look through the document.  And I am going to quote:  “We believe that success will depend on a positive and forward-looking outcome document and the active engagement of the political leadership of the Member States at the highest possible level,” the President told the plenary session of the Assembly this morning.

President d’Escoto expressed his confidence that, I am going to quote again:  “Member States will demonstrate the necessary political will and good faith regarding the complex negotiations.”  And this is all I have for you, unless you have any questions for me today.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Enrique, have you compiled a list yet of the Heads of State that have confirmed for the event?

Spokesperson:  Well, no, especially now that we have just changed the dates, it’s a little early to know who is going to be coming.  I will try to keep you posted on these figures.  But, I think we now need a few days to know who is going to be coming.

Question:  Will the change ensure more high-level participation in this conference?

Spokesperson:  Say that again?

Question:  Will the change in dates ensure more high-level participation?

Spokesperson:  That’s what the President expects, yes.  Any more questions?  Matthew, good to see you back!  How was the trip?  You can do the briefing afterwards, tell us! [Laughter]

Question:  No, no.  I wanted to ask you about the Fifth Committee.  It was said today at the stakeout that the proposal, I guess by the Secretariat, is to have the UN to assess contributions, fund the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia to the tune of somewhere between $200 million to $300 million.  And they said this is in the Fifth Committee.  It’s not clear.  Do you have any sense of what the procedure there is for it, and does the Fifth Committee have to follow what the Security Council says and when will they decide how much money to provide?

Spokesperson:  Let me check that for you, I am not familiar with that particular issue, but I’ll come back to you on that one.

Question:  I came in late…

Spokesperson:  That’s okay!

Question:  …did you already change… Do we have a new date for the…?

Spokesperson:  I already changed the dates!

Question:  You did? [Laughter]

Spokesperson:  Yes.  No, jokes apart, yes, the General Assembly already approved this morning, officially, the new dates of the financial summit.

Question:  And those dates are?

Spokesperson:  And those dates are 24, 25 and 26 June.

Question:  Do you know, is the IMF, have they been invited to participate in this, in the summit?  Or is it only Heads of State?  Are there any other…?

Spokesperson:  There are the Heads of State invited, but also the UN agencies and the IMF and the World Bank have been invited.

Question:  And has the IMF responded?  Do you have any idea who they’re sending?

Spokesperson:  I am not sure.  I can check that for you.

Question:  Okay.

Spokesperson:  I know that the World Bank did provide the names of the delegations, but I am not sure about the IMF.  I can check that for you.

Question:  Okay.

Question:  Is there participation from France, Britain or United States?  Any indication?

Spokesperson:  We don’t know at this stage yet.  As I said, with the new change of dates, it’s now going to be a little bit more difficult to know until a few days pass.  Also, another element which is very important is going to be the results of the negotiations of the outcome document.  As you know, they only started on Wednesday, and then they were negotiating for a couple of days until they decided that they were going to see whether or not the summit is postponed, just to give them more time.  Most of the delegations and the President of the General Assembly believe that, if we have an outcome document before 15 June, it is going to encourage much more attendance by the Heads of State.

Question:  But, regardless, if I may say, of the outcome of this document, many States, like Britain, argue that the United Nations General Assembly is not the forum to discuss the world financial crisis.

Spokesperson:  Yes, well, it’s not exactly that.  Because, let’s also be clear, all the Member States have unanimously approved first, to hold this conference, and second now, for the change of dates.  So, there might be -- there is -- among the different countries, different perceptions of what level the participation should be, or what precisely is to be discussed, but the financial crisis and its impact on development, certainly that has been approved by all the Member States unanimously.  Also, the postponement of the dates for a few weeks to allow more time for more negotiations.

Question:  Enrique, just a follow-up on a question I asked last week.  With the conference now pushed to the end of June, does the conference or seminar on Palestine look even less likely that it will actually happen this session?

Spokesperson:  No, it will happen this session, but certainly after the summit in June.  So, it will be probably in July or August.  But, certainly it should happen, because it is on the agenda, although we don’t have final dates on that yet.  And with that, I give the floor to the next speaker when they come.  Okay, thank you very much.

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