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

9 September 2009

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

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

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

and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


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

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Hello and good afternoon.

**Statement Attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on Settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory

The Secretary-General has noted with deep concern the recent decision of the Government of Israel to approve further construction in settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.  Such actions and all settlement activity are contrary to international law and the Road Map.  The Secretary-General urges Israel to respond positively to the important efforts under way to create the conditions for effective Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and reiterates his call on Israel to stop all settlement activity, including natural growth, and dismantle all outposts erected since March 2001 in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

**Secretary-General in Mexico

The Secretary-General just recently opened the sixty-second Department of Public Information-Nongovernmental Organization Conference, dedicated to the theme of disarmament, in Mexico City.  He warned, “The world is over-armed and peace is under-funded.”  He said that military spending continues to rise, and it is now well above $1 trillion a year.

Yet he added that, thanks in large measure to the unrelenting advocacy of NGOs (non-governmental organizations), we are facing a new moment of opportunity.  Disarmament is back on the global agenda.  He discussed how disarmament can be carried out effectively, in what he called his “plan to stop the bomb”.  And we will have his full statement upstairs shortly.

During his visit to Mexico, the Secretary-General made an unplanned stop last night to Mexico City’s northern suburbs, which have been hit by severe flash floods.  The Secretary-General saw first-hand the recent devastation, which included destroyed homes and damaged public works.

The Secretary-General expressed sympathy and solidarity with the survivors.  Personally consoling victims and interacting with the newly displaced, the Secretary-General offered the UN’s support and assistance at this time of need.  He said afterward, as he was presented the keys to Mexico City, that he had met “so many people that have been affected by these sudden floods”, adding, “I was so sad.”  He added that he had deep trust and confidence in President Felipe Calderon and his Government’s capacity to make the affected area much better than it was even before it was affected by this flood.

Prior to the visit to the flood zone, the Secretary-General and President Calderon had a constructive meeting yesterday afternoon on issues of mutual interest.  The topics they spoke about included the upcoming UN climate change summit, the forthcoming Security Council summit on disarmament, the Mexican response to H1N1 influenza, and the idea of providing support to the United Nations so that it can ensure that all who need vaccines are able to get them.

And the Secretary-General will be returning to New York later today.

**Deputy Secretary-General

The scourge of violence against women has worsened as a result of the global financial downturn over the past year.

That’s according to the Deputy Secretary-General, Asha-Rose Migiro, who also urged some of the world’s richest countries to lead the way in turning the many international pledges to support women and girls into concrete results.

In a keynote address in Rome to a ministerial-level conference on violence against women, being held under the auspices of the Italian presidency of the Group of Eight (G8), the Deputy Secretary-General said women and girls are exposed to a greater risk of violence during times of hardship.

“In a recent survey of more than 630 domestic violence shelters in the United States, 75 per cent reported an increase in women seeking help for abuse since September 2008, coinciding with a major downturn in the US economy,” she said. “We must remain especially vigilant through these tough times.”

Ms. Migiro detailed to the conference some of the steps taken by the UN to end violence against women and girls, including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s UNiTE campaign, which calls on world leaders to launch national campaigns aimed at preventing and eliminating violence against women and girls in all parts of the world.

And we have more on that upstairs.

**Security Council

The Security Council began its work this morning with a briefing on the work of the UN Mission in Liberia by the head of that Mission, Special Representative Ellen Margrethe Løj.

Council members will also receive an update about the implementation of sanctions on Iran from the head of the Sanctions Committee dealing with that issue, Ambassador Yukio Takasu of Japan.

Then, starting at 4 this afternoon, the Security Council will discuss Haiti in a formal meeting, with more than thirty speakers inscribed already.  Former United States President Bill Clinton, the UN Special Envoy to Haiti, will open that meeting, after which the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, Hédi Annabi, will brief the Council.  Mr. Annabi said that he will speak to reporters at the Council stakeout after the formal meeting concludes.

** Afghanistan

Kai Eide, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, said that he was greatly saddened by today’s news of the death of Sultan Munadi, who was killed during a rescue operation to free him and New York Times journalist Stephen Farrell from Taliban captivity.  He said that the death was a tragic reminder of the dangers faced by media personnel working in Afghanistan, often in circumstances of considerable personal risk.

Eide appealed to local authorities and insurgent groups alike to respect the rights of journalists to go about their work.  And we have his full statement upstairs.

** Iraq

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) congratulated Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC) for the successful management of the ongoing voter registration update process in preparations for the upcoming national parliamentary elections.

Ad Melkert, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, recently witnessed first-hand the registration update activities in the centre.  He noted that, during the first two weeks of the country-wide registration update exercise, more than 250,000 Iraqi voters had visited the 1,082 centres in the country and that security incidents had been minimal.  And we have more details in a press release upstairs.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

Earlier today, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay and the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) released two joint reports on human rights abuses, including likely war crimes and crimes against humanity.  The abuses are said to have occurred in October and November 2008 in the north-eastern Kivu provinces during intense fighting between Government forces and the National Congress for the Defence of the People, known by its French acronym, CNDP.

One report deals with crimes attributed solely to the CNDP, while another focuses on the actions of Government forces, including at least 12 summary killings and some 70 rapes by troops fleeing a CNDP advance toward Goma.

Pillay said that the reports’ findings and observations underscored the urgent need for the Congolese Government and the international community to start “fundamental reforms” to security and law and order in the country.  She also expressed deep concern at the fact that CNDP commanders such as Jean Bosco Ntaganda have been absorbed into the army or have remained at large.  And there is more in a press release upstairs.

** Guinea-Bissau

Yesterday afternoon, we issued a statement in which the Secretary-General sent his best wishes to the newly inaugurated President of Guinea-Bissau, Malam Bacai Sanha, and to the people of Guinea-Bissau as they turn a new page in their history.  The Secretary-General reiterates the support of the United Nations for the consolidation of peace and the promotion of socio-economic development in the country.  And that full statement is upstairs and online.

** Kenya

On Kenya, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is calling for urgent action to restore the Mau Forest Complex in Kenya.  It is pledging continued support for the multimillion dollar appeal.

UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner, says, “The Mau Complex is of critical importance for sustaining current and future ecological, social and economic development in Kenya.  UNEP is privileged to work in partnership with the Government of Kenya towards the implementation of this vital project.”  And there is a press release on this upstairs.

**Economic and Social Affairs

The Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Sha Zukang, is in Seoul, Republic of Korea, where he is participating in the Green Korea 2009 Conference.  The Conference, which is co-organized by the United Nations, the Presidential Committee on Green Growth and the National Research Council for Economics, Humanities and Social Sciences, will explore how cooperation between Government and industry can help translate low-carbon growth into reality. 

In his statement, Mr. Sha notes the importance of supporting developing countries' active participation in what is likely to be a new "green industrial revolution".  And we have that statement upstairs.

**Industrial Development

And today in Manila, a three-day conference begins to discuss ways for Asian economies to transition to a resource-efficient and low-carbon pattern of industrial development.  It is hosted by the Philippines Government in cooperation with the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP).  And there is a press release on this upstairs.

And after I’m done, we will also have with the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, Enrique Yeves.  And before we get to him, is there anything for me?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  It’s reported that workers of UNRWA [the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East] went on a strike and also they are saying that the health and education to 1.9 [sic] UNRWA beneficiaries in Jordan have been cut.  Can you either confirm the strike or describe these cuts in services?

Associate Spokesperson:  I can’t, I’ll have to check with UNRWA on that.  But I’ll follow up with them.

Question:  I have a question on Muammar Gaddafi.  Is there anything that would stop him from pitching his tent here in the UN compound?

Associate Spokesperson:  There has been no request for him to do so; so as far as we know, that’s not happening.

Question:  Maybe you discussed this yesterday, but Robert Fowler, the former Canadian ambassador, who was held hostage for several weeks, has seemingly, indirectly may be blaming the UN or wondering what happened to him and why it happened, in an accusatory type of comment in an interview on CBC, Canadian television, but I don’t know as much about it as I should.  Does the UN have any comment?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, we did talk about this yesterday.  Mr. Fowler was speculating whether someone, whether in Niger or the UN or elsewhere, had made available his name to Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which seized him.  And as I said yesterday, we have no information to indicate that there was any leak from the UN side.  If we were to receive any information, we would try to follow up on that; but we don’t have any.  And I would also like to point out that, because of our concerns for Ambassador Fowler’s safety, we had not, in fact, prior to his abduction, even mentioned his travel to Niger.  And that was done intentionally to protect him and to prevent any wide dissemination of his travels.  In addition to that, by the way, we ourselves at the United Nations were not always fully apprised of his travels; and in fact the day he was abducted we had to try and to reconstruct what had happened on the day that he was kidnapped.  So, it was not the case that we had any precise knowledge of his movements in the day of his abduction.

Question:  One other brief question, and it may be a question I do understand for the host country, but under rules regarding the UN and the host country, are there any restrictions -- we’re aware of the 25-mile radius they might place on certain world leaders -- is there anything about a world leader or somebody not being able to travel past Third Avenue in New York, or any local restrictions as to where someone can go on the Island of Manhattan?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’m not aware of any such restrictions.  As you know, the agreement with the host country does allow for a radius of movement as you just pointed out, for visiting dignitaries who are attending UN events.  Beyond that, you might want to take that up with the host country itself.

Question:  I wanted to ask a follow-up on Mr. Fowler.  In what you just said, you just said that the UN, I just want to be clear -- you’re saying that the UN didn’t know where he was going or what he was doing that day?  I mean, I wanted to know, is it the protocol…[interrupted]?

Associate Spokesperson:  We did not know at the time; we had to reconstruct that afterwards ‑‑ after the abduction.

Question:  But what’s the protocol if an Under-Secretary-General is in the country of known ‑‑ I’m not sure what the security threat was -– isn’t he supposed to tell security, at lease DSS [the Department of Safety and Security] where he is going?  Did he have security with him that day? I guess not.

Associate Spokesperson:  As you’re well aware, he did not have security with him.  There were Mr. Fowler, Mr. [Louis] Guay and their driver, Soumana Mounkaila, were travelling ‑‑ just the three of them.

Question:  And does that violate UN procedures?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t want to get into that particular question.  As you know, Mr. Fowler kept people apprised sporadically.  But, at the very moment that he was abducted, we did not know about his travels over those previous several hours.

Question:  And just when you reconstructed it, can you now say where was he going?  Because many people, many newspapers have reported that he was headed to a gold mine that’s owned by a Canadian firm.  Is that true or not true?

Associate Spokesperson:  He was headed back from a trip to that mine.  He’d visited the mine, which was part of a private visit, but he was actually going back to the capital, to Niamey.

Question:  You’d said yesterday that he was performing his official duties at the time it took place.  Is it official duties to visit a mine?

Associate Spokesperson:  He’d done a number of official duties that day and in fact he was going to a working meeting back in Niamey at the time that he was abducted.

Question:  I’m just wondering; is he still a USG or not, or has his term expired?

Associate Spokesperson:  He’s no longer working for the United Nations.

Question:  A quick follow-up on that:  we talked yesterday about the special training for extreme situations like hostage taking.  You mentioned that he did not receive that training, because he was in a zone that was considered safe.  However, only 8 per cent, if I understand correctly, of the country is considered safe.  Why didn’t he receive the training, considering the fact that he was the Special Envoy to a country that overall is not that safe?

Associate Spokesperson:  Like I said, the area in which he was travelling was deemed to be a safe zone.  Of course, since his abduction we’ve been trying to change our assessments because certain areas are considerably less safe.

Question:  Will the UN change the whole assessment, maybe including a training like that to …?

Associate Spokesperson:  Following the information received by Mr. Fowler and Mr. Guay, we’re also reconsidering some of our assessments throughout that particular region.

Question:  Are there any other USGs that have been named, say, this year, that have not been announced in this room?

Associate Spokesperson:  If they have not been announced, I am not aware of them.  Yes, Enrique.  Oh, wait, before Enrique comes, we have just in the nick of time; this is the statement on Israel.  [Associate Spokesperson reads the statement on Israel and the settlements.  See top of briefing.]

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you, Farhan.

Good afternoon.  Good to see you all.

The General Assembly is holding this morning a plenary meeting discussing several issues pending for this sixty-third session that is living its last week.

Among those issues are the implementation of the declaration of commitment of HIV/AIDS and the political declaration on HIV/AIDS; multilingualism; and the international criminal tribunal for prosecution of persons responsible for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in the territory of Rwanda.

The meeting was going on when I just came here, and immediately after that meeting following the adjournment of the plenary meeting; the first meeting of the ad hoc open-ended working group of the General Assembly will start to follow up on the issues contained in the Outcome of the Conference on the World and Financial and Economic Crisis and Its Impact on Development.  As I mentioned to you yesterday, this is basically the follow-up that was contained in the outcome document of the conference on the economic crisis that we had a few months ago.

And then this afternoon there is going to be a meeting of the open-ended working group on the reform of the Security Council.

And finally, let me remind you, as I mentioned also to you yesterday, that tomorrow, Thursday, there will be here a joint press conference with the President of the General Assembly, Miguel d’Escoto, and Professor [Joseph] Stiglitz on the release of the full report of the presidential commission of experts.  That will be here in this Room 226 at 4 p.m.

And this is all I have for you, unless you have any questions for me today.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  [inaudible]

Spokesperson:  I beg you pardon?

Question:  is the final report available?

Spokesperson:  It’s going to be available as from tomorrow.  It will be released tomorrow by the presidential commission, as you know, chaired by Professor Stiglitz, and they will be here to give you the results of the full report.  Betsy.

Question:  Thanks.  What is it that…  What will…  When…  Sorry, I’ll start again.  When does the General Assembly President leave New York?  Will he be staying here through any part of the General Assembly debates?

Spokesperson:  Yes, as you know the very last day of the President of the General Assembly and myself, by the way, will be on Monday 14.  On that day he will be giving his last speech; his final speech.  And then we will have the press conference to attend all your questions right after the plenary.  Then the following day, that is on Tuesday, starts the next session.

The President of the General Assembly is going to stay here in New York until the end of this month.  And then he will be going back to Nicaragua at the beginning of October.  Matthew.

Question:  One of the things that some, particularly NGOs, had thought would be accomplished in this General Assembly was this idea of a consolidated UN agency for women’s issues.  And so there are some people now that are starting to complain that it’s going to just be kicked to the next session.  Can you give a status?  Where does that thing that had been much discussed this year?  Is it going to be voted on before Mr. d’Escoto goes out of office or is just going to be kicked in the next one?

Spokesperson:  It is not clear yet.  As you say, it is up to the Member States to decide what to do and I understand that they’re still undergoing negotiations this week to see whether they’re going to put forward this idea and a draft resolution or whether this will be taken up by the next presidency.

Question:  Does the President of the General Assembly have a view on that?

Spokesperson:  Well, the President of the General Assembly has a view that it will be very good and very helpful for everybody that we have an agreement as soon as possible; especially this week.

Question:  Okay.  And I also wanted to ask you about this thing of the Cuba five; this case in Florida in the United States.  I saw, I guess while he was in Cuba, he was quoted as saying he was going to raise it at the UN when he comes back and he’s going to raised it to [United States] President [Barack] Obama.  Has he raised the issue to President Obama yet?  Or when will he?

Spokesperson:  Not that I am aware of.  But he did say that he’s going to raise this issue with President Obama, and he also said that he is going to mention this case in his final speech, which we will be listening to on Monday.  In any case, as you know, he has been referring to this case already in the past during his year of his presidency.

Question:  But do you think he’s going to raise it during the General Assembly when President Obama is up here, or does he have some plane to do it before then?  What’s the plan?

Spokesperson:  The current President of the General Assembly is not going to be as President in the next session, in the sixty-fourth session.  So the idea is that, as he has announced, that he will raise it with the Obama Administration.  How is it going to be done, it has not been decided yet.  We still have almost one week, but yes, he did announce that he is going to raise the issue on humanitarian grounds.

No more questions? Thank you very much.  Have a good day.

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