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

16 November 2009

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

16 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 Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Associate Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon.

**Security Council -- Noon Guest

Our guest at the noon briefing will be Ad Melkert, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, who will come here once he is done briefing the Security Council about the work of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI).

Melkert told the Council in an open meeting this morning that Iraq’s forthcoming January elections will mark the end of the first full term of a freely elected parliament in the country’s history.  Success is far from guaranteed, as inside and outside forces continue their efforts to impose an agenda of division and destruction, he said.

At the same time, he said that, by many, the United Nations is seen and approached as a trusted partner.  It remains of utmost importance to continue to count on the Council to enable UNAMI to live up to expectations.  This will have to be a commitment over a long period of time, Melkert added.  And we have his remarks upstairs.

We also have upstairs a press release from the World Food Programme (WFP), which today launched a pilot programme to provide 172,000 Iraqi primary school children with a free daily snack at school, to help boost school attendance and learning and improve food security in eight of the country’s poorest districts.

**Secretary-General in Rome

The Secretary-General opened the World Food Security Summit in Rome today, telling delegates:  “This day, more than 17,000 children will die of hunger.  One every five seconds.”

The Secretary-General stressed the heavy human costs of the food crisis, the need for a comprehensive approach and the deep interconnection between food security and climate change.  “There can be no food security without climate security,” he said.  He said that we will need to grow 70 per cent more food by 2050, at a time when weather is becoming more extreme and unpredictable.

The Secretary-General added that he had joined FAO Executive Director Jacques Diouf’s call for a day-long fast, by fasting yesterday.  “It was not easy,” he acknowledged.  And he asserted, “Our job is not just to feed the hungry, but to empower the hungry to feed themselves.  To do this, we need a comprehensive approach.”  We have his remarks upstairs.

Later, during a press encounter at the Headquarters of the Food and Agriculture Organization, the Secretary-General said that he remains positive about next month’s climate change conference in Copenhagen.  There is much convergence, he added, on a shared vision and in the areas of adaptation, technology and capacity-building.  He asserted:  “I am fighting for a real deal in Copenhagen.  A deal that paves the way for a binding global climate treaty.”

This evening, the Secretary-General and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini will host an informal meeting for Heads of State and Government and Senior Ministers in the margins of the Summit.  They will have in-depth discussions on the link between food security and climate change and the necessity of forging a meaningful deal in Copenhagen.

Earlier today, the Secretary-General visited World Food Programme headquarters in Rome to pay tribute to the five WFP colleagues recently killed in Pakistan.  He thanked the staff for their “extraordinary dedication to the world’s people.”  He said that the World Food Programme does more than feed people; it gives them hope.

In the margins of the Summit, the Secretary-General held bilateral meetings with a number of leaders.  He met with the Egyptian, Libyan and Tanzanian Presidents yesterday, and today he met with the Presidents of Brazil, Italy and Chile and the Vice Premier of the State Council of China.  The Secretary-General also held separate meetings with the heads of the three United Nations Rome-based agencies (WFP, FAO and IFAD), at their respective headquarters.

** Somalia Piracy

The Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation of piracy and armed robbery in territorial waters and high seas off the coast of Somalia has been released today. 

In the report -- based on Security Council resolution 1846 (2008) -- the Secretary-General notes that an expanding maritime presence by Member States is playing a critical role in stabilizing the situation at sea.  But, he stresses the need for an integrated approach that involves a concerted effort to stabilize the situation on land.

This approach should include the further development of law and security institutions to complement the peace process.  To this end, the capacities of the Transitional Federal Government and the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) must be strengthened on land, the report states.

There must also be the investigation and prosecution of those suspected of acts of piracy and armed robbery at sea, the report states.  In this regard, the Secretary-General welcomes the initiative by INTERPOL and Member States to look into the financial mechanisms that provide funding for piracy activities.

**Security Council -- Other

And also on Somalia, following the conclusion of its consultations on Iraq, the Security Council will also hold consultations to receive an update on the implementation of sanctions concerning Somalia.  Ambassador Claude Heller of Mexico, who chairs the sanctions committee for Somalia, will brief.

Also today, representatives of the five Member States that will join the Security Council next January have begun to sit in on Council consultations, in preparation for their 2010-2011 terms on the Council.

** Middle East

Available today is a report by the Secretary-General to the General Assembly on Israeli practices affecting the human rights of Palestinians in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

In it, the Secretary-General says that Israel should end the blockade of Gaza; facilitate freedom of movement for Palestinians in the West Bank; and ensure that the rights of Palestinian children are respected, including in relation to their arrest and detention.

He adds that all parties to the conflict should abide scrupulously by their obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law.  In that regard, he notes that it is crucial to uphold the right of victims to reparation.

Regarding the wall that Israel is building in the West Bank, the Secretary-General says that construction should be stopped.  He also says that evictions and demolitions of Palestinian homes should cease.

**Under-Secretaries-General -- Travel

Under Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Alain Le Roy, is travelling to China this week to attend a symposium on United Nations peacekeeping operations.  He is accompanied by the Secretary-General’s Military Adviser, General Obiakor, and Assistant Secretary-General for Field Support Anthony Banbury.  While in Beijing, Mr. Le Roy will meet with members from the Chinese Defence Ministry and the Foreign Affairs Ministry to discuss China's contributions to peacekeeping. 

And Susana Malcorra – Under-Secretary-General for Field Support -- is in Sudan this week to attend another round of tripartite discussions with the Government of Sudan and the African Union.  Malcorra will discuss issues of mutual concern, including the deployment of mission personnel and equipment to the United Nations- African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID). 

**Special Court for Sierra Leone

The Special Court for Sierra Leone today handed over its detention facility to the Sierra Leone Prison Service, at a ceremony that marks a significant milestone in the completion of the Court’s mandate in Freetown.  The facility will now be used to house female prisoners.  In August 2003, the Special Court for Sierra Leone transferred indictees into the detention site after the Court took it over from the Prisons Services and refurbished the two existing prison blocks.  And we have more in a press release upstairs.

**Internet Governance Forum

The Internet Governance Forum (IGF) officially opened yesterday in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where it will meet until Wednesday. 

At the opening ceremony, Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs Sha Zukang drew attention to the decision that will need to be made about the future of the Forum as it approaches the end of its 5-year mandate next year.  Several speakers, including high ranking government officials, supported the continuation of the Forum beyond 2010.

Today’s activities featured two main sessions dedicated to the issues of security, openness and privacy, and managing critical internet resources.  Several workshops and other events took place in parallel on issues such as internet access for persons with disabilities, combating cybercrime, the impact of internet governance on sustainable development, and balancing between online freedom of expression and privacy, among many others.

As of today, over 1,800 registrations were recorded for the IGF meeting in Sharm el-Sheikh, out of which some 600 were from Government, 500 from civil society, 200 from the private sector, 120 from international organizations and 120 from the media.  There is more on this upstairs.  And the meeting can also be followed through the United Nations webcast.

**International Day for Tolerance

Today is the International Day for Tolerance.  And in a message marking this occasion, the Secretary-General says that tolerance is a way of life based on the belief that global diversity is to be embraced, not feared.  The Secretary-General also says the United Nations promotes tolerance on many fronts in its work for peace, conflict prevention, democratization and human rights, for example.  And we have the full message upstairs.

**Guests at the Noon Briefing Tomorrow

The guests at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Dmitry Titov, Assistant Secretary-General for Rule of Law and Security Institutions in the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, and Maxwell Kerley, Director of the United Nations Mine Action Service.  They will provide an update and overview of the work of the Mine Action Service.

We do expect in a few minutes from now, once he’s done in the Security Council, that Ad Melkert, the Secretary General’s Special Representative for Iraq, will be the guest at this briefing.  Anything until then?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  My question concerns the status of the investigation of the circumstances surrounding the death of the British nuclear expert Timothy Hampton at the United Nations headquarters building in Vienna, and also whether there is any reaction to reports over the weekend that British intelligence agents are investigating whether, instead of it being a case of suicide, that he might have been murdered by an Iranian hit squad.  Those reports came out over the weekend, so I’d like to know what the United Nations is doing about this.

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, first of all, there have been a number of inaccurate reports about the person who died.  One thing to bear in mind, this is someone who worked for the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty Organization (CTBTO).  He was not involved in the talks that were being held in Vienna at the same time concerning Iran’s nuclear programme.  Those involved the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which is a separate institution.  As for the investigation, that’s being handled by the relevant authorities in Vienna.  We have not heard of anything suggesting foul play regarding that.  But again, the investigation is not in our hands, it’s in the hands of the Viennese police and other authorities.

Question:  But, United Nations officials have been quoted as saying, maybe they were relying on the reports from local police, but that they were accepting the explanation of a suicide, at least from initial investigations.  And I believe that Mr. Hampton, maybe through his work on the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty Organization, still had some dotted line links to the International Atomic Energy Agency and part of his responsibility was monitoring nuclear tests in Iran, as well as North Korea.

Associate Spokesperson:  I’m told that his functions basically involved data input for the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty Organization.  It was not related to Iran.

Question:  I just wanted to follow up on that.  I have something else, but this Mr. Hampton was co-author of articles about North Korea nuclear… I’m just wondering, when you say that he was a data-entry specialist, where did you get that from?  Would that be consistent with writing…?

Associate Spokesperson:  I got that information from our colleagues in the Comprehensive Test-Ban Treaty Organization.

Question:  And would that be inconsistent with him being a co-author of a scientific article about the North Korean nuclear programmes?

Associate Spokesperson:  That’s not necessarily inconsistent.  But, in any case, the point is the work that he was doing for the CTBT Organization did not involved Iran’s nuclear programme.

Question:  There is an article that came out over the weekend, saying that the Secretariat is considering limiting the next mandate of MONUC in [the Democratic Republic of] the Congo to six months and preparing a plan to remove peacekeepers from the country.  Could you have any comment on that?  Is that true?

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, developing an exit strategy for any peacekeeping operation is an established practice, one which the Department of Peacekeeping Operations starts planning for upon the establishment of any new mission.  The exit strategy is adjusted and refined throughout the lifespan of the mission.  In this case, MONUC has consistently been engaging with the Democratic Republic of the Congo Government on a range of issues of mutual concern and on the future direction and configuration of MONUC.  As you know, MONUC’s current mandate expires in December.  The Secretariat intends to discuss with the Security Council the options for an extension of MONUC’s mandate to allow more time to agree on priority tasks in light of the evolving situation in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and of the deployment of additional military capabilities that have already been approved by the Security Council.

Question:  If you don’t mind, I also wanted to ask you a question about the United Nations Dispute Tribunal.  In a recent argument down there, the case of the “North Korea UNDP whistleblower”, Mr. [Robert] Benson of the Ethics Office had recommended that he be paid back pay for due process violations.  The Office for Legal Affairs (OLA)], presumably on behalf of the Secretary-General, opposed Mr. Benson testifying to the United Nations Dispute Tribunal, saying that it wasn’t necessary, that there was no jurisdiction, and essentially saying that his recommendation of back pay shouldn’t be done.  Has something changed?  Because I think in July 2008 from this podium, it was said that the Secretary-General stands behind Benson’s ruling in that case.  What’s changed in the interim and what explains OLA’s position in the United Nations Dispute Tribunal?

Associate Spokesperson:  I’d have to check that up with the Office for Legal Affairs.  As you know, the Secretary-General does stand by the work of Mr. Benson.

Question:  Did you say anything about the Secretary-General keeping this fast on this day, on 16 November?

Associate Spokesperson:  Yes, he did keep the fast and in the remarks we have upstairs he does mention that he kept the fast and said that it wasn’t easy.

Question:  I wanted to know about any updates on Pakistan, the situation in Pakistan, which is an ongoing situation.  Every day, there are a lot of people being killed and you, the United Nations, have suddenly stopped saying anything about it or showing any concern, number one.  Number two, there are no updates on internally displaced persons who are coming out from South Waziristan.

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, we have been providing, in fact last week, I believe, we provided another update on the number of internally displaced people in north-western Pakistan.  We’ll continue doing that, and throughout, even given the insecurity in that area, we’ve done our best working with local actors to provide as much assistance as we can to the people who have been displaced.  And we’ll keep providing updates.  As for the attacks that have been happening on the ground, we have occasionally come out with statements about this.  But you should know, regardless of the number of attacks on any given week, that we continue to be concerned about the level of terrorist attacks in Pakistan and we have repeatedly expressed our sympathies for the people and the Government of Pakistan.

Question:  Farhan, has there been a statement today on the Russian intention to stall the nuclear plant that they were planning on building inside Iran?  There have been some very heavy statements from the Iranians saying that that plant will never be built.

Associate Spokesperson:  No, we don’t have anything to say about this particular bilateral arrangement between those two countries.

Question:  Could you give us a status report on Anne Bayefsky, whether her credentials have been restored, or whether there is a plan to restore them or…?

Associate Spokesperson:  No, no.  Her credentials and the credentials of her organization are not changed at this stage.  She belongs to a non-governmental organization.  It’s possible in the future that there could be a review, but at this stage there has been no removal of credentials from that non-governmental organization or from Ms. Bayefsky.

Question:  There is quite a bit of controversy around this resolution on defamation of religion.  Some people feel that it undermines free speech; others feel that it’s needed, given the rise of intolerance.  Given the importance of the issue, what’s the Secretary-General’s view of the balance between the two and does he favour the defamation of religion resolution?

Associate Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t comment on a resolution that’s being considered by Member States.  So, we’re not going to weigh in on this.  But, as you must already be aware, the Secretary-General has repeatedly talked about the need to balance, on the one hand, respect for all religions, and at the same time keep in mind the need to uphold freedom of expression.  And so we certainly hope and trust that Member States will consider both things as they look at this.

Question:  The General Assembly for quite a number of years has passed annually a resolution seeking to make defamation of religion a violation of international laws, so it’s already in the books.  The United Nations Human Rights Council has taken similar action.  So, not looking ahead to what the General Assembly might do, but looking at least back in terms of resolutions that have been passed, what is the Secretary-General’s position on the resolution and his responsibility to help implement it?

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as that goes, the decisions that have been passed by the General Assembly are ones that we respect and we abide by.  That’s always the case.  But, in his work, certainly the Secretary-General does try to uphold both things.  He’s repeatedly called for respect for all religions, and has fostered initiatives such as the Alliance of Civilizations to that end, and on the other hand, he has continually pushed, as has the High Commissioner for Human Rights and our human rights bodies, to push for acceptance throughout the world of freedom of expression.

Question:  What’s the Secretary-General’s reaction to this demand which is coming out from West Bank and Gaza by certain groups, Palestinian groups, that they will seek United Nations approval for declaring an independent Palestinian State?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General hasn’t received any communication, any formal communication, to this effect.  Beyond that, any consideration of recognition of a State is something that’s dealt with by Member States, not by the Secretary-General.

Question:  What about the settlement activity?  They’re going on, which is prompting this…

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, as far as that goes, you know our position on settlement activity and today -- you missed this part -- we mentioned that the Secretary-General has a report out to the General Assembly today concerning human rights in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and it includes his concerns about settlement activity.

Question:  One more about the freedom of expression question.  At this Internet Governance Forum (IGF), there has been an incident in which a poster about Internet censorship in China, about what they call the “Great Firewall” was taken down by the United Nations after the complaint by an unnamed delegation.  It may seem like a small thing to you, but I’m wondering, given what you just said that the Secretary-General’s focus was on freedom of expression, does he think that that type of removal is consistent with his position?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, in terms of that, I do have the facts of this from our colleagues in Sharm el-Sheikh.  The Internet Governance Forum secretariat approved the request by a group called the Open Net Initiative for a room on the first day of the Forum to promote a book, and a room was allocated for that purpose.  Subsequently, United Nations officials were alerted to a flyer being distributed at the event promoting a film on Tibet, which was not mentioned in the original request for the room.  Officials from the Forum secretariat requested the organizers not to distribute the flyer or show the film, as this was not what the room was requested for, and concerned a political issue not related to the Internet Governance Forum.  The IGF secretariat requested the organizers of the event not to distribute the flyers and they agreed. 

Subsequently, other delegates complained to the Forum secretariat about a large poster displayed outside the room, which again was not pre-approved for posting outside the allocated room.  In response to this complaint, officials from the Forum secretariat went to the room to discuss the issue with the organizers.  Officials found that the poster was already on the floor of the room lying face up.  No United Nations official was involved in throwing the poster on the floor.  Following repeated requests from the IGF secretariat to remove the poster from the floor, United Nations security removed it from the floor and folded it undamaged.  The organizers were told that they could pick it up anytime later that evening.  And so that’s where we stand on that.  But, the point to reiterate on that is that the request was made to the non-governmental organization involved not to distribute the flyers and they did agree to that.

Question:  From the way that you say it, do you acknowledge that the poster had to do with Internet censorship in China and not Tibet, an issue that was related presumably to Internet governance?

Associate Spokesperson:  These are the details that were provided by colleagues in Sharm el-Sheikh.  That’s what I’ve got.

Question:  Can you ask them what the poster… just to confirm that the poster was about Internet censorship?

Associate Spokesperson:  Sure.  And with that, Jean Victor.

Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President

Thank you, Farhan.  Good afternoon.

**General Assembly President in Rome

The President of the General Assembly, Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, delivered a statement at the Non-Aligned Movement First Ladies Summit in Rome on Sunday, 15 November.  On the same day, he joined the United Nations Secretary-General and the Secretary-General of the Arab League in a meeting with the leader of Libya, who is also the current President of the African Union.  They discussed the upcoming meeting in Copenhagen on climate change and the need to reach an agreement there, and the impact on food security, in particular in Africa.

President Treki informed on the meeting that will be held in the General Assembly on 19 November on the issue, in order to provide political momentum needed to ensure that the Copenhagen meeting is a success.  They also discussed political developments in Africa, in particular the situation in Darfur and Somalia, and the cooperation between the United Nations and its General Assembly, the African Union and Arab League in such areas.

**General Assembly Meeting on Climate Change

As I mentioned just a while ago the President of the General Assembly will convene a meeting of the General Assembly in New York on 19 November in the run up to the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen.  The meeting will take stock of the current status of negotiations and urge Member States to redouble efforts in order to ensure a successful outcome in Copenhagen in line with the strong political commitment expressed by world leaders at the high level event on climate change held here in New York on 22 September 2009.  Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Mr. Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, among others, will brief Member States on recent developments.  The meeting is, therefore, scheduled, as I said, on 19 November at 3 p.m. in the Trusteeship Council.  Questions?  Yes, sir.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I am not sure whether you were here during the questions concerning the defamation of religion resolution that’s being considered by this session of the General Assembly and has been passed in prior sessions.  Could you tell us what the status of the current draft resolution is on defamation of religion, and what the expectation of the President of the General Assembly is regarding its passage?

Spokesperson:  I think I have to check that with the chair of that specific committee and I will be able to tell you this afternoon.  It’s more the expectation of the Member States discussing the issue rather than a specific expectation of the President.  Obviously, the President will support and foster the General Assembly thinking on this issue.  But, I’ll check that with the chair of this committee and I may come back to you this afternoon.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  I guess this may be a follow-up on this or you may just shoot it down.  But, while in Rome, the leader of Libya held an event at which women were paid $78 to attend to receive a speech from the leader of Libya on conversion to Islam.  Any views?

Spokesperson:  You may want to check that with the Libyan authorities.  Thank you very much, have a good afternoon.

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