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

20 July 2009

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

20 July 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

Good afternoon.

**Press Conferences Today

Following the noon briefing today, at approximately 12:20 p.m., there will be a background briefing by senior UN officials on the Secretary-General’s report on the “Responsibility to Protect”.  The Secretary-General will present the report entitled “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect” to the General Assembly at a plenary meeting starting at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

And just before today’s background briefing, Enrique Yeves, the General Assembly’s Spokesperson, will brief you more on tomorrow’s plenary session.  I hope he gets here quickly because his window is going to be rather narrow because the officials are going to have to leave for a prior engagement.  That’s why we have to start pretty close to 12:20 p.m.  And at 2:15 p.m., there will be a press conference by Rajendra Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

**Secretary-General’s Travels

I have an announcement to make on the Secretary-General’s next travels.  He will be travelling this week to China and Mongolia.  During his working visit to China, he will pursue his dialogue with the Chinese leadership on climate change and other global issues.  He is scheduled to meet on Friday with the President [Hu Jintao], the Premier [Wen Jiabao], and the Foreign Minister [Yang Jiechi] and other Chinese officials in Beijing and later, on Saturday, in Xi’an.  He will participate during his stay in China in climate change events, including a “Green Light” event focused on energy efficient technologies and the extensive production and use of energy saving lamps in China.

The Secretary-General is then scheduled to go to Mongolia on Sunday, 26 July, for an official visit.  There, he will address the challenges of climate change and adaptation, with an emphasis on the special needs of landlocked countries.  He will meet the President [Elbegdorj Tsakhia], the Prime Minister [Bayar Sanj] and the Foreign Minister [Sukhbaatar Batbold] there, as well.  In his continuing focus on how climate change affects the lives of populations, the Secretary-General will also spend time in a traditional Mongolian herder community faced with water shortages and desertification.

** Somalia

In Somalia today, two UN compounds were looted today in Baidoa and Wajid.  Al-Shabaab men entered both compounds and took UN equipment and vehicles, according to the UN in Somalia.  In Baidoa, the looting of all emergency communication equipment and the lack of security officers makes it impossible for the United Nations as a whole to continue its operations.  The UN office in Somalia deeply regrets having to relocate staff and temporarily suspend its operations in Baidoa.

In Wajid, where the minimum security conditions are unchanged, operations will continue.  The United Nations is reassessing the situation on the ground and is optimistic that the minimal conditions on the ground will be restored to allow the critical humanitarian work to resume in Baidoa and continue elsewhere in Somalia.

** Sudan

Turning to Sudan, Ashraf Qazi, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Sudan, welcomed the renewed commitment by the National Congress Party (NCP) and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) to respect the ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on Abyei.  However, Mr. Qazi voiced concern over several confirmed or reported violations of the Abyei road map area by armed elements other than joint integrated units and joint integrated police units.  Mr. Qazi is scheduled to be in Abyei on Wednesday, 22 July, when the ruling will be announced.  Mr. Qazi emphasized the need for UNMIS [United Nations Mission in Sudan] to have full freedom of movement in the broader Abyei area.

UNMIS has reinforced its presence in Abyei to protect civilians in case of any incidents.

And the Secretary-General, in his latest report on Sudan to the Security Council, welcomed the public commitments made by the parties to accept and peacefully implement the decision of the Court, and he assured the parties that the United Nations stands ready to assist them and the local communities in these efforts.

**United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad

The Secretary-General’s latest report on the United Nations Mission in the Central African Republic and Chad (MINURCAT) is out as a document.  In it, the Secretary-General says that the brief rebel incursion in eastern Chad in May and the fighting that ensued with Government forces exacerbated the security situation in eastern Chad.  The incursion opened a fresh opportunity for banditry, which undermined the achievements of the European Force (EUFOR) and the UN Mission.

He adds that the further deterioration of relations between the Governments of Chad and Sudan was also a setback for the security of the broader region.  The Secretary-General calls on the two Governments to redouble their efforts to build confidence and address the sources of their tensions in order to bring stability to the region and improve the humanitarian situations in Darfur and eastern Chad.

In addition, the Secretary-General urges the Government of Chad and all stakeholders to create the foundations for an inclusive and comprehensive political process in Chad, which should address the sources of conflict in the eastern part of the country.  Such a process is urgently needed to alleviate the plight of the hundreds of thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons in Chad, and to help the conditions for the Mission to complete its mandate.

**Security Council

And here at UN Headquarters this morning the Security Council held consultations and received a briefing on the work of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN).  Karin Landgren, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Nepal, briefed Council members on the Secretary-General’s new report on Nepal’s request for UN assistance in support of its peace process.

In that report, the Secretary-General says that the two major tasks at the current stage of the peace process are the integration and rehabilitation of the Maoist army personnel and the drafting of a new Constitution.  He says that the Nepalese Government has asked for a further six-month extension of the UN Mission there, and he accordingly recommends that the Council extend its mandate by six months, until 23 January 2010.

** Afghanistan

And a month before the beginning of the elections in Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) says that the huge logistical operation to support Afghanistan’s Independent Election Commission is moving forward.  Over the weekend, millions of ballot papers arrived in Kabul.  Meanwhile, the special free phone helpline concerning the elections is now taking 30,000 to 40,000 calls a week, while more than 1,600 civic educators are briefing voters around the country.  There are more details in the briefing notes from Kabul.

**Economic and Social Council

In Geneva today, the Economic and Social Council opened its humanitarian affairs segment, focusing on the strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian assistance.  Addressing the meeting, John Holmes, the Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that, in 2009, complex emergencies had taken an even heavier toll than in previous years.

He added that, while long-running conflicts such as those in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Occupied Palestinian Territory and Somalia continued to affect millions, also outbreaks of conflict in Pakistan and the end game of the long running conflict in Sri Lanka had disrupted the lives of hundreds of thousands more people.

Holmes also said he was deeply saddened and increasingly horrified by the rising attacks on humanitarian workers.  He urged the Economic and Social Council to join him in strongly condemning these unacceptable and extremely damaging attacks on humanitarian staff.


And a new report has found that funding levels for HIV vaccine research decreased for the first time since investment trends started being tracked.  This may have been influenced by shifts in scientific priorities, the declining economy and competing priorities in the larger global health agenda.

Responding to the report, UNAIDS Executive Director Michel Sidibé said that research to develop new HIV-prevention tools and strategies is essential to prevent new infections.  Such research should be sustained and increased, he added.  He also said that an HIV vaccine still holds the greatest hope to ending the epidemic.  The report was put out by the HIV Vaccines and Microbicides Resource Tracking Working Group, of which UNAIDS is a partner.  And there is more on that upstairs.

**World Food Programme

And I have two more press releases to flag for you.  The World Food Programme (WFP) today named former Ghanaian president John Kufuor as a Global Ambassador against Hunger.  And you can read more about that upstairs.

**United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team

And the UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team (UNDAC) started today its work in Bamako, Mali, on its first induction course targeting mainly West and Central Africa.

** Sri Lanka

I have one other additional item that was just brought to me, and that is that Jordan Ryan, Assistant Secretary-General and Director of the United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Bureau for Crisis Prevention and Recovery, visited Sri Lanka from 12 to 15 July 2009, where he discussed the recovery process with senior Government, NGO and civil society representatives in Colombo, Vavuniya and Jaffna.

He raised and discussed issues and concerns about security, access, freedom of movement, the rapid release and return of internally displaced persons (IDPs), and reunification of families.  The Government is taking the lead on the resettlement and recovery processes, and note was taken of the continued improvement in camp conditions for the IDPs and the gradual handover of camp management to civilian authorities.

And that’s what I have for you.

**Press Conferences

At 1 p.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by the Chairperson of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women on the Committee’s current session which started today.

And I just mentioned to you, we’re going to have two senior officials to talk to you about the Secretary-General’s report on the “Responsibility to Protect”.  And before that, we have Enrique Yeves, the General Assembly Spokesperson, who is going to brief you on tomorrow’s plenary meeting, at which the Secretary-General will present this report.  So, unless you have… I’ll just take a couple of questions before we go to Enrique.  Yes?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Thank you.  My question is about the looting of the UN offices in Somalia.  Al-Shabaab said that “these agencies have been found to be working against the [inaudible] of the Somali Muslim population and against the establishment of an Islamic State in Somalia”.   Do you have a response to those allegations?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, right now what I read to you is the latest that we have from the ground, from our UN Office in Somalia.  I have seen the press reports that you mention, and as of now, our UN Office there, headed by Mr. [Ahmedou] Ould-Abdullah, has not confirmed any official notification of that kind.  But what we do have is the press release on the looting that took place earlier today, which is obviously a very worrisome situation.  Yes.

Question:  Yes, Marie.  Have the members of the Benazir Bhutto Commission returned to Headquarters, and if so, what are their plans for now?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As I mentioned to your colleague on Friday, the last update I had from them was the press conference that they had while they were in Islamabad.  And beyond that, for security reasons, I really cannot go into the exact time and place of their work.  But I did mention to you, and a fact sheet is available, that they will be doing their work within their mandated period and submitting a report at the end of that period.

Question:  All the agencies are reporting on Saturday that they had left for New York.  So I just wanted a confirmation that they have arrived.

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, let me see the latest and what we can say about the mission.  Matthew?

[The Deputy Spokesperson later noted that the Commissioners gave a press conference in Islamabad last Friday to mark the end of their initial working visit to the country.  A team of core staff will remain and be based regularly in Pakistan to carry out the Commission’s activities.]

Question:  Sure, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.  On Myanmar, there were these arrests of these marchers over the weekend, the NLD.  I remember the Secretary-General had said he was not clear on the scope of the amnesty the Government was offering when he gave the… spoke at the stakeout.  Has he learned more about… Who’d been given amnesty, and what’s the response to these arrests?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think the arrests that you’re referring to -- I read about them in the press reports as well -- and from the press reports it was a temporary detention.  I don’t have a direct comment on that.  As for the Secretary-General and his position on the release of prisoners, that remains the same.  And in terms of the amnesty, as you know, the Secretary-General responded to that question following the Permanent Representative’s announcement in the Security Council session, and so the ball remains in their court and it remains to be seen.  Yes.

Question:  On Sri Lanka, the two UN staff members that were detained there have now appeared in court and said that they were tortured and taken to Vavuniya camp to point out LTTE members.  What does the UN say about that?  Is that appropriate?  Has Mr. Ryan raised that while there on behalf of the UN staff?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As you know, this piece of paper about Mr. Ryan’s activities was brought to me while I was sitting in here.  So I think you need to follow up with UNDP for more information on Mr. Ryan.

Question:  [inaudible] what about the Secretary-General?

Deputy Spokesperson:  As for the Secretary-General, I mentioned to you that, while he was at the Non-Aligned Movement meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, he did raise the issue in his conversations with the President there.  So with that, I am going to turn over to Enrique, because I really would like for the background briefing to begin on time so you will all have sufficient time to address your questions to them.  So Enrique first.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon to everybody.

I just wanted to give you some practical information on the events that we’re going to have this week on the “Responsibility to Protect”, that this is going to take place tomorrow, 23 and possibly 24 July, depending on the amount of people who speak at the General Assembly.

Let me give you an overview for tomorrow, Tuesday, 21 July.  The Secretary-General will present his report entitled “Implementing the Responsibility to Protect”, and that will be in a formal session in the General Assembly Hall starting at 10 a.m.  This session will be immediately followed by an informal session envisaged to last for an hour or so, for questions and answers with the Secretary-General.

Then on Thursday, on 23 July, we will have an informal General Assembly panel on the responsibility to protect that will be held in the Trusteeship Council, starting at 10 a.m.  The meeting will consist of 15-20 minutes presentations by each of the four panellists that I am going to give you the names of, followed immediately by an interactive debate.  The panellists are key voices in this area and are Professor Noam Chomsky from the United States, Professor Jean Bricmont from Belgium, Professor Gareth Evans from Australia and Professor Ngugi wa Thiong'o from Kenya.

Then, on the very same day, Thursday, in the afternoon at 3 p.m., the formal debate on the Responsibility to Protect will begin in the General Assembly Hall.

All this information, and a brief concept note on this issue to facilitate the dialogue, as well as the short programme and a note with a biographical details of some of the participants are available in the President of the General Assembly web page online in a letter he has sent to the Member States.  And I am going to leave it here, because I understand you have the background with the experts from the Secretariat, and I’ll come back to you on other issues later.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  May I ask you one question about this?

Spokesperson:  Okay.

Question:  Is there any expectation of some kind of an outcome document?  It seems that’s something that some of the countries were thinking about.  A couple of ambassadors said that their thought was that the setting up of this was less than transparent, and substantively they think it is an attempt to roll back the concept of the Responsibility to Protect.  What do you say to that?

Spokesperson:  Well, it is up to the Member States to decide.  I don’t have information right now on whether there is any draft resolution being discussed, to be honest.  But it’s up to them to decide whether they want to have a resolution on this particular issue.

Question:  The President of the General Assembly has no intention to circulate… himself?

Spokesperson:  No, not right now, no, no, no.  Definitely not himself.

Question:  Enrique, the Responsibility to Protect is a very controversial concept in small developing countries.  What are the President of the General Assembly’s personal views about this concept?

Spokesperson:  Well, I think it would be good, since we’re going to have this conference and the President is going to, himself, make very clear what his ideas are on this topic in the speech that he is going to make in the opening on Thursday.  I will leave it there and then we can discuss it afterwards if you want.  Okay, thank you very much.

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