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

5 November 2009

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

5 November 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 Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, all.

**Secretary-General in Athens

The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York, after he wrapped up his visit to Greece this morning by becoming the first Secretary-General to address the Hellenic Parliament.

He told the Parliament that his visit earlier this week to Kabul had inspired him as he saw the resolve and commitment of all those risking their lives for a better future for the Afghan people.  He pledged that the United Nations vital work there will continue.

He also spoke about the prospects for a deal on climate change, saying that there is no doubt that the Copenhagen negotiations are complex with many actors and many moving pieces.  The Secretary-General emphasized that we must have a global agreement, which is comprehensive, balanced, equitable and binding.

He reiterated that he is “cautiously optimistic” about prospects for a settlement in Cyprus, and that he was also encouraged by the Greek Government’s clear endorsement of a continuing role for the United Nations in the negotiations with The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia on the name issue.  We have his remarks upstairs.

** Afghanistan

Effective immediately, the United Nations is taking additional steps to reduce risks to its national and international staff serving in Afghanistan.  This is in light of the 28 October attack against UN staff in Kabul, as well as further ongoing threats.

Although many details of the new measures can not be made public, they will involve short-term relocations for some staff while additional security is being put in place.  Some 600 out of the roughly 1,100 international staff we have in Afghanistan will be temporarily relocated, either to safer locations within the country or outside the country.

The United Nations is fully committed to helping all of Afghanistan’s people, as it has been for more than half a century.  We will carry out all our mandated tasks.  Every effort will be made to minimize disruption to our activities while these additional security steps are being taken.

**Misconduct and Sexual Exploitation and Abuse in Peacekeeping

According to the latest information from the Department of Field Support, DFS, from the start of January this year, troop-contributing countries have reported that 33 military personnel implicated in cases of sexual abuse and exploitation during UN peacekeeping have been disciplined and punished.

The punishments included dismissal, forced retirement, withdrawal of officer’s commission, various lengths of imprisonment and outright dismissal.

Last year, two military personnel received similar disciplinary action and there were 15 such cases the year before.  Additionally, over the past three years, disciplinary action was also taken against 20 military personnel for cases involving other forms of misconduct, such negligent loss of firearms, traffic-related violations and fraud or theft.

Some of the cases involved peacekeepers who served in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Lebanon, Côte d’Ivoire, Liberia and Sudan.  When allegations of misconduct are substantiated against any military or police serving in UN peacekeeping, the UN repatriates the individuals concerned and then bans them from participating in future peacekeeping operations.

**Security Council

The Security Council this morning received an update on the situation in Guinea-Bissau in an open meeting, which has been followed by consultations on the same subject.

Joseph Mutaboba, the Secretary-General’s Representative for that country, noted that the Government has focused on managing the consequences of the high-profile assassinations that took place in March and June.  There is a perception that in other critical areas, limited progress has been made.  Mr. Mutaboba stressed the importance of fighting impunity, re-establishing confidence in the justice system and contributing to forward-looking reconciliation.

Antonio Maria Costa, Executive Director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), also briefed the Council, and said that, in the past 18 months, there has been a significant drop in drug seizures in West Africa.  But he warned that West Africa is on the verge of becoming a source of drugs, not just a transit area.

**Deputy Secretary-General in Addis Ababa

Deputy Secretary-General Asha-Rose Migiro is in Addis Ababa, where she addressed the tenth session of the UN Regional Coordination Mechanism.  In her remarks, she said that Africa’s effort to meet the Millennium Development Goals is in peril because of the likely impact the global economic crisis on the continent’s economies, many of which are export-based.  “Despite some notable achievements, progress is off track across the continent.  Our poor progress on improving maternal health is particularly troubling,” she said.

She urged the participants at the meeting to implement the MDG Steering Group’s recommendations.  She also invited them to attend and actively participate in the planned 23 November New York meeting of the MDG Africa Working Group, in order to identify areas where action should be intensified.

**Secretary-General Appointment

The Secretary-General has appointed Kim Bolduc of Canada as his Deputy Special Representative for the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH), where she will also serve as United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator.  Ms. Bolduc succeeds Joel Boutroue of France.  The Secretary-General is grateful to Mr. Boutroue for his dedication and service in Haiti.

Ms. Bolduc brings to the Mission and Haiti broad experience in preparing and managing development and post-conflict recovery programmes in Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

Her prior experience includes working for the Canadian International Development Agency, the United Nations Office for Emergency Operations in Africa, and serving as the delegate for the Office of the United Nations Disaster Relief Coordinator in Mozambique for five years.  We have more information in Ms. Bolduc’s bio upstairs, and I would like to say she is also one of the survivors of the Iraq bombings.

** Viet Nam

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that UNICEF is delivering water-purification materials to typhoon-hit areas of Viet Nam.  It adds that the Disaster Management Working Group, of which UN agencies are a part, today decided to send rapid assessment teams to three hard-hit provinces.  OCHA says the recent typhoon in Viet Nam caused $56 million worth of damage, to houses, as well as schools, hospitals and other public buildings.

** Tajikistan

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the nutritional status of children under the age of five in rural areas of Tajikistan has been deteriorating significantly.  That’s due in part to food scarcity and high food prices.

In response, the World Food Programme (WFP) has been providing daily hot meals to 360,000 children in primary schools.  WFP is also delivering food to some 260,000 people living in Tajikistan’s so-called hardship regions -- as well as to 15,000 tuberculosis patients and their families.

WFP is also providing temporary relief for natural disaster survivors; take-home rations for school girls; and nutritional supplements for malnourished children and their mothers.  In addition, the agency is carrying out food for work projects.  In total, 750,000 people in Tajikistan are receiving food aid, OCHA says.


Ahead of the World Summit on Food Security, which will take place from 16 to 18 November in Rome, the heads of the three UN agencies based in that city have agreed to intensify their cooperation to fight hunger.

The heads of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the World Food Programme (WFP) met today with senior managers to determine how to maximize each agency’s expertise so that their combined efforts better serve the world’s 1 billion hungry people.

Meanwhile, the FAO has released a new report today which says that promoting climate-smart agriculture can at the same time help improve food security and contain climate change.

FAO says that although agriculture is responsible for 14 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it has the potential to be a part of the solution, by mitigating a significant amount of emissions.  There is more on this upstairs.

**Climate Change

More than 400 climate change negotiators, business leaders and environmental activists will travel together on board the “Climate Express” -- a train that will take them from Brussels to Copenhagen on 5 December.

According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), this will be the final leg of the “Train to Copenhagen” project -- an initiative that aims to raise awareness of the transport sector’s influence on climate change.  It provides a key opportunity for the passengers onboard to debate the key climate talks ahead.

There is a press release on this upstairs.

**International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia

After repeatedly warning the accused, a trial chamber of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia today issued a decision instructing the Tribunal’s Registrar to appoint a defence lawyer for Radovan Karadžić.  The trial chamber also instructed the Registrar that the appointed lawyer be given three and a half months to prepare for trial, whose resumption is now set for March next year.  Karadžić’s trial started in October 2009, but has continued in fits and starts as the accused declined to appear in court, claiming that his defence was not ready for trial.

**International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda

The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda has convicted and sentenced Michel Bagaragaza, a former Rwandan business executive.  He will be facing eight years in prison on one count of complicity in the 1994 genocide.  In effect, however, Bagaragaza will spend just over three years in prison as he was given credit for the time already spent in detention since his arrest in 2005.

**International Criminal Court

The International Criminal Court announced just a little while ago that the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba will begin in April next year.  He is alleged to bear responsibility for two counts of crimes against humanity and three counts of war crimes.  These international crimes are alleged to have committed by Bemba’s armed political group, Mouvement de libération du Congo, between October 2002 and March 2003 in the Central African Republic.  Bemba was arrested by Belgian police in July and transferred to the Court soon afterwards.


I was asked yesterday about our views concerning reports that Maternus Bere, who was indicted for crimes against humanity allegedly committed in 1999 in what was then East Timor, has gone to Indonesia.  The UN Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) says that it has no information on the circumstances of Bere’s return to Indonesia.

The United Nations position that there should be no impunity, especially for serious crimes, including crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide, is well known.  In the case of Maternus Bere, it is our position that Mr. Bere should be brought to justice.  We have made this position clear on numerous occasions.

We have seen the media reports indicating that Maternus Bere was transferred to Indonesia late last week.  We were not aware of this transfer and have yet to receive official confirmation that such a transfer took place.  For us, any act that undermines the rule of law, particularly with respect to accountability for serious crimes, is deeply regrettable.

I’d like to recall that the Secretary-General expressed his hope in last month’s report to the Security Council that “the Governments of both Timor-Leste and Indonesia will ensure that Maternus Bere is brought to justice, taking into account the report of the Commission of Experts appointed in 2005”.

**Capital Master Plan

Since I was asked yesterday, I have a brief follow-up about the availability of the temporary North Lawn Building and the move of the SG and the 38th floor.

The construction of the temporary North Lawn Building will be substantially completed by the end of November.  Right after this, we will start what is called commissioning, which is the testing of all the building systems like heating, ventilation, air conditioning, electrical, plumbing etcetera.  By the end of December, the Building will be ready for occupancy.  The moves of the SG and the 38th floor, the President of the GA and the other occupants (altogether there will be 272 people) are scheduled for 26-30 December.

From the end of December through January, the Conference Rooms and Chambers will move into the temporary North Lawn Building, with the exception of the Security Council, which will move into Conference Room 4.  I hope that answers some of your questions, but, as I said yesterday, there will be the opportunity to hear more from the Capital Master Plan.

**UNTV at 60

As part of events marking the celebration of UNTV at 60, the Promotion and Distribution Unit in the Department of Public Information is this afternoon organizing a special screening of award-winning documentaries (including the Oscar-winning programme First Steps).  The screening starts at 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 6.  You are all invited.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Of the 600 staff members that are being moved in Afghanistan, are they going to remain on UN payroll while they are being relocated?  Because clearly they are not going to be able to do the same job that they are doing in Afghanistan.

Spokesperson:  Yes, this is a temporary situation.  Some of them are going to continue working if they are elsewhere, outside of the place.  Not all of them, as I said, will be relocated outside.  Only a minority will be relocated outside of Afghanistan.  Most of them will be relocated to safe areas within Afghanistan.

Question:  In terms of the stepping up of security, why wasn’t the effective security measure put in place initially if we knew this was a conflict zone?  How are the UN and Kai Eide going to step up security?

Spokesperson:  This is why there are budget requests in front of the Fifth Committee (Administrative and Budgetary), essentially on two subjects.  First, increasing security, which is one of the things that is going to be done by the new resources if we get them, and the second thing is helping the families of the victims, which is what we’ve been asking for for a very long time.  And right now it is in the budget with approximate numbers on what we will need.  This is the situation right now, why there are a number of places where we don’t have adequate security for our staff.

Question:  So you are saying the lack of money led to the deaths of the UN staff members?

Spokesperson:  No, I am not saying that.  I am saying the lack of money is behind the fact that we could not really make sure all those guesthouses were up to standard in terms of security.

Question:  That’s what you just answered, yes.

Spokesperson:  It’s one aspect of it.  This doesn’t take the responsibility away from the terrorists.

Question:  Of the 600 staff members, could you break down what agencies or departments they belong to?

Spokesperson:  About 200 of them are from United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), and the rest are from agencies working within Afghanistan.

Question:  The electoral assistance staff is not needed anymore?

Spokesperson:  No, they have left already.

Question:  That is not in the 600 then?

Spokesperson:  No.

Question:  The Minister of Interior in Afghanistan has taken issue with the Secretary-General saying that it took an hour for the Afghan police to arrive.  Yesterday, the Afghan Ambassador told me he has written a letter to the Secretary-General protesting that comment.  What’s the UN’s current position on how long it took the Afghan police to respond?

Spokesperson:  We have the same position.  They are still trying to investigate what happened.  I don’t have the final results of that investigation, our own investigation of what happened.  The most evident thing for us to do was first to ensure the security of those left behind.  But this is a question that is still being [inaudible].

Question:  Can you confirm the receipt of the letter from the Afghan Ambassador?

Spokesperson:  No, I can’t, I will try to find out for you when it was received, but at this point I don’t have any information.

[The Spokesperson later added that the letter has not been received.]

Question:  The report today of Saudi Arabian forces striking [inaudible] targets in northern Yemen, does the Secretary-General have any information?  Has the Secretary-General spoken to the Saudis or the Yemenis?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have any additional information.  Have you read the press reports?  I don’t have anything that the UN can really verify.

Question:  Is the SG monitoring events and concerned?

Spokesperson:  He has been monitoring events there for a while.  I’ve been talking about the situation in Yemen for a while.

Question:  On Afghanistan, when you say it’s a temporary location, do you have any idea how long this is for and is there concern…?

Spokesperson:  Four to five weeks, until they actually reinforce the security measures around some of the guesthouses.  Then they will be relocated back into Afghanistan, those who are left behind.  We have evaluated the 93 guesthouses that existed where we had UN personnel.  The effort first went into evaluating which ones were secure enough to keep open, which ones had to be closed with the people evacuated.  We were able to bring some people from the difficult places into more secure places.  That was done.  However, some of them are going to go to outside countries until they can come back, until the places are secure.

Question:  Are there any precautions to protect local staff?

Spokesperson:  Yes of course.  I cannot go too much into the security measures, but yes.

Question:  Is the UN contemplating similar enhanced security measures for the staff in Pakistan?

Spokesperson:  Yes, definitely.  The head, Gregory Starr, is in Pakistan right now.

Question:  With the 33 peacekeepers found guilty of sexual abuse, can you make their names and nationalities public?

Spokesperson:  Their names, no, and not their nationalities either.  But what I can tell you is that we have a number of cases, a total number of allegations or cases, submitted by DPKO to troop-contributing countries for prosecution.  In 2009, we submitted 112 requests for action concerning all forms of misconduct.  This includes, of course, sexual misconduct as part of it.  This includes sexual exploitation and abuse.  We have received 14 responses by 3 November, of the 112 requests.  In 2008, the UN sent 192 requests.  We received six responses on action taken.  In 2007, the year before, 146 requests were made and nine responses received.  Clearly the UN is trying to get troop contributors to do more, in prosecuting and punishing their nationals, who engage in misconduct.  We have information about the offences you mentioned.  I have some examples: two personnel sentenced to eight months in prison and dismissed from service.  I don’t have their nationality and I cannot tell you which country.  One was imprisoned for 60 days, dismissed from service and tried in front of a military tribunal.  One was repatriated and imprisoned for 40 days.  Three personnel were repatriated and imprisoned for 40 days, and one was presented before the Council of Discipline.  One subject was sentenced to six months imprisonment and separation from service from the military.  I can go on, but we have a number of them.

Question:  Why can’t you release the names?  Is there a secret tribunal?

Spokesperson:  We have to respect whatever rules those tribunals have.

Question:  But they are individual national tribunals.

Spokesperson:  Yes, they are.

Question:  In democracies, the name of convicted criminals are in the newspapers.

Spokesperson:  Yes, they should be.  I agree with you.

Question:  There were two high-profile repatriations.  One was of a Sri Lankan contingent from Haiti, and another was of Moroccans from Côte d’Ivoire.  Is it possible to know from those?  Because the UN made a big announcement that these people were sent home.  What happened in those two cases?  I assume that in each case there were more than 100 people.  Are those considered a separate request for action or is each one a request for action?

Spokesperson:  In cases like this, they were repatriated and there was some follow-up.  I gave you a list of the requests that were made to the troop-contributing countries to act on.  As you know, the UN cannot try those people.  Those people have to be tried within the national courts.  So I cannot go too much into individual cases.  I would suggest you speak to DPKO on specifics.  I don’t know if they would be willing to give more specific information.

Correspondent:  I sent them an email asking, because there was an AP story reporting this.

Spokesperson:  We have some information on the website right now.  You can have the link upstairs.

Question:  It said there were 112 requests and 14 responses this year, until November.  Yet there were 33 convictions.  How could you have 33 convictions on 14 responses?

Spokesperson:  Because some of the convictions were from the year before.

Question:  These 33 were not convicted this year?

Spokesperson:  These are the numbers I got.  I can try to get which ones.  Because some of the actions before the court take longer than that year when they were taken.  I don’t know when the different actions were taken in front of each court.

[The Spokesperson later clarified that the 14 responses received so far in 2009 relate to action taken regarding 33 personnel.  Some responses detailed action taken regarding several personnel involved in the same case.]

Question:  Does the UN get the names to ensure these individuals aren’t recycled as peacekeepers in future operations?

Spokesperson:  Yes.

Question:  You have the names?

Spokesperson:  Yes.  Whether we can release them or not, this is something you should ask DPKO.

[The Spokesperson later said that the United Nations policy is to provide aggregated data regarding sexual exploitation and abuse and other forms of misconduct.  This data can be accessed on the CDU website at http://cdu.unlb.org.]

Question:  One of the people who died in Afghanistan was a volunteer.  Can you say what the status of the volunteer is?  Is it someone who works for the UN elsewhere, but is volunteering in this?  What does it mean to be a volunteer?

Spokesperson:  Two of them were volunteers for the UNDP electoral support staff.  What their status is, they have the status of all volunteers.  I can try to find out whether they were coming from other UN agencies.

Question:  And whether they get paid?  What is the situation of someone who is a volunteer and then gets put in such a dangerous situation?

Spokesperson:  You can address your question to UNDP.  They were both volunteers from UNDP.

Question:  The recent Amnesty International report about the scarcity of water in Gaza.  I’m wondering if the Secretary-General is aware of that report and if there is any activity being done with regard to that situation.

Spokesperson:  We have talked about this here before.  You can have this information from earlier.  The UN is certainly aware of this report and has been speaking out about it.

Question:  The relocations will be four to five weeks?

Spokesperson:  It’s an ongoing process.  They are now putting the security measures around those areas.  They are working on it now.

Question:  I thought you said they needed the money to do that?

Spokesperson:  There are emergency funds which are being used right now.

Question:  The new funds being requested?

Spokesperson:  The new funds are not being requested just for Afghanistan.  They are being requested for a number of risk posts.

Question:  In the [Democratic Republic of the] Congo there is fighting in Equateur province and Dongo and 16,000 people displaced, hundreds killed.  Is the UN, what is the capacity or actual activity of MONUC [United Nations Organization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo] in the protection of civilians?  The Government has been quoted as saying they are going to crush any armed groups that arise there.  So with the big UN peacekeeping mission there, what does the UN think of the Government’s “we are going to crush you” statement and are they going to be present when this crushing takes place?

Spokesperson:  I am not going to comment on this statement made by the Government.  I can tell you that MONUC’s mandate implies the protection of civilians.  How much we can do depends on how many people we have deployed in the area.  Sometimes, as you know, there are no roads.  The difficulty of communications is enormous.  How effective we can be depends on the situation on that specific area you mentioned.  I can try to get the information for you from MONUC, but this is an extremely difficult situation.

Question:  Human Rights Watch, the day after Alain Le Roy said he would stop working with some aspects of the 213th brigade, they came out with a report that some people said was the trigger of the action saying that hundreds of civilians have been killed by the Congolese army and saying the UN shouldn’t work with [inaudible] initiative overall.  Is there any connection between the Human Rights Watch report and the UN’s announcement?  What does the UN make of the Human Rights Watch report?  Is it going to be investigated?

Spokesperson:  The Human Rights Watch report says there are blatant violations, and we have condemned them.  In this room I said that we condemned these killings.

Question:  Some people said it was sort of like the UN heard that Human Rights Watch had this report so they made their own announcement.

Spokesperson:  Why does that matter?  The fact is that Mr. Le Roy announced it before the Human Rights Watch report came out.  I don’t know whether he had read or not read the report.  Whatever it means, some action was taken in this specific case.  Whether it was due to the Human Rights Watch report was irrelevant, I think.

Question:  My question is whether that is the UN’s response to the report.  Out of all the allegations that Human Rights Watch has made, that the UN has decided 60 is true out of 600, and the other 550 or whatever didn’t happen.

Spokesperson:  We have been pretty strong on the targeted attacks on civilians, on rape issues, pillaging, and we have been saying over and over again that they are always unacceptable.  In the case of the [inaudible] operation, we are trying as much as we can to respect our mandate.  Our mandate is to support the Congolese Armed Forces and at the same time, in that, reducing and eventually eliminating human rights violations.  It’s difficult; it’s not an easy task.  There are several ways in which we can better protect civilians and we are trying those ways, improving the command and control over the Congolese army that is just taking shape.  As you know, it is composed of a number of militias that have been integrated in that army, so there are obvious problems that exist, which we are not going to solve overnight.  However, in the case of [inaudible] like in other cases, we are trying to improve the Government capacity to carry out operations directed against troops through training.  And by training, we are saying respecting the rights of civilians and the protection of civilians.

Question:  On the UN’s procurement website, there is an announcement of a $51 million payment to Teacher’s Insurance and Annuity Association for swing space for the CMP.  I’m thinking that’s the building on 3rd Avenue.  In any case, they announced the $51 million procurement.  I’ve never seen the number for the Albano Building or for Madison.  Can those numbers be given, given that another leasing of CMP swing space?

Spokesperson:  CMP is pretty transparent about their numbers.  You can ask them.

Question:  In the past they said Albano and Madison were secret because there were business negotiations with those landlords.  What is the difference between the one on 3rd Avenue and the other ones?

Spokesperson:  I don’t know, but ask.

Question:  About sexual abuse by UN peacekeepers.  What’s your idea of the cause of such a lot of abuses?  And what will the UN do to prevent this?  My second question is about Afghanistan.  The Secretary-General is on his way back to New York.  Now, when will he report on the current situation to the Security Council?

Spokesperson:  It will be tomorrow at 3 o’clock, to the Security Council on Afghanistan.  Now about the sexual abuse question, this is something that has been of great concern for a long time and we have been acting on it.  And what I said today was because I wanted to show you what has been happening, and we can pursue those cases as far as we can.  But they are national legislation in national tribunals in national courts.  So there are limitations on what we can do.  What we can do is keep on requesting that actions be taken once those people have been repatriated.  So it’s an ongoing thing, and there is an improvement in the number of requests we have been sending out.  There is some improvement in the reaction in the countries in trying those people because there is pressure on the part of the UN for those people to be tried.

Question:  Is the Secretary-General seeking legal advice about what he should do once the General Assembly passes its resolution on Goldstone requesting him, sending it to the Security Council, although these are not binding resolutions?  Is he getting advice on how he could respond to all that?

Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General is going to do what the General Assembly is going to ask him to do.

Question:  Is that news or has that been said before?

Spokesperson:  That has been said before.

Question:  If he is to transmit the Goldstone report, is it just a matter of sending the report?  They already have it, because of the debate.  Or is he going to sit in front of the Council and give a briefing?

Spokesperson:  He cannot brief the Council; it is not his report.  It is a report to the Human Rights Council.  If he is asked to transmit it to the Security Council, he will transmit it.

Question:  Is that the extent of his responsibility?

Spokesperson:  As far as I understand, the resolution has not passed yet, and I think Jean Victor will tell you about this better than I can.  The resolution involves the second action, which would be for him to follow up and report on it.  This he will do to the extent of his abilities.

Question:  Have you heard anything on Zimbabwe, the Kimberley process?  Has he decided to not put pressure on the Zimbabwe Government for the production of conflict diamonds?  Does the UN have a statement on this?

Spokesperson:  Not at this point.  I can try to find out what has been done on the UN side and whether we have been following this, and how we are reacting.

[The correspondent was later informed that the Kimberley process is entirely independent, even though it was United Nations-backed at conception and remains so.  The correspondent was told that there would be no particular comments on this matter, as Zimbabwe diamonds are neither under Security Council sanctions nor under United Nations embargo.]

Question:  600 UN personnel are being removed from Afghanistan?

Spokesperson:  Not being removed from Afghanistan, this is incorrect.  They have been relocated in Afghanistan, some of them outside.  The minority outside, the majority inside.

Question:  Is there any record of how many attacks there have been on UN personnel since 2001?

Spokesperson:  You have that upstairs.

Question:  This is the fifth anniversary of the advisory decision of the International Court of Justice, and I wondered if the Secretary-General is guided by what that decision was.  Because there are real differences in the way that Israel and the Israeli judicial system talks about Gaza versus…  I thought that decision talked about Gaza.  Does the Secretary-General take guidance in his activities from that decision and if so in what ways?  Does this have bearing on what the Secretary-General does?

Spokesperson:  We already have a very strong position, and we’ve expressed it yesterday about issues of that sort.  We have talked about it over and over.  The judicial process is something different, something separate from the Secretariat.  The Secretary-General is not going to give his opinion on what the International Court of Justice or the International Criminal Court are saying.  Of course, he is always saying that those decisions have to be respected.  That’s as far as the Secretariat can go.

Question:  They talk about Israel occupying Gaza and I have heard that Israel says it doesn’t occupy Gaza.  But there is a decision that’s made a statement about that, so it’s not that’s it all equal… with regard to the Quartet on his actions on the Quartet.  If he is guided by this, I am interested in how?

Spokesperson:  He’s not.  They are separate issues.  That’s what I’m saying.  But we have our guidelines and we have expressed our position.  In the case of Gaza, it is considered occupied territory.  Whether Israel recognizes it as such, for the UN, it is still part of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

Question:  [inaudible] The Taliban in Afghanistan said they’ll continue to target UN officials, because they said the UN has become a party, a tool in the hands of big Powers, and the UN was there to select, not to conduct elections.

Spokesperson:  I am not going to comment on what the Taliban are saying.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you.  Good afternoon.

After the plenary meeting to consider the results of the high-level segment of the fifty-second session of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs, which was scheduled this morning, the General Assembly will resume later today at 3 p.m. consideration of agenda item 64, the report of the Human Rights Council.  The 39th plenary meeting, therefore, starting at 3, still has about 12 speakers listed.  If you want, I can give you names of Members that will be speaking later today.  As from 3 p.m., it’s Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia, Iceland, Mexico, Mauritania, Malaysia, Pakistan, Maldives, Venezuela, Bolivia, Costa Rica and the League of Arab States.  That’s what I have for you today.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  If those 12 speakers are finished, will there be a vote today?

Spokesperson:  I think there will be a vote today, unless something else happens in the proceedings.  The expectation is that there will be a vote.

Question:  My deadline is 5:30.  Could you speed it up?

Spokesperson:  I don’t think that the journalists’ deadlines, no matter how much I love you, will dictate to the proceedings of the General Assembly.

Question:  Will the General Assembly President be speaking to us this afternoon then, or tomorrow?

Spokesperson:  Absolutely today.  I think once the vote is over, the President of the General Assembly will come to the stakeout just at the entrance to the General Assembly.

Question:  Given the request for additional money for the Afghanistan security, whether money can be allocated without the General Assembly’s approval.  Is this something you’ve been able to ask the President for his view on that?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I did ask, but, as you appreciate, the President has been focusing on some of the very important agenda items over the past few days, you’ll be kind enough to refer this question to the Chair of [the Fifth] Committee.  I hear your question, but I think the Chair of the Committee will be available and willing to answer your query.  We shall see you at the stakeout after the vote.

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