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

18 November 2009

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

18 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, everyone.

**Secretary-General’s Statement on Guinea

I have first for you a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General concerning Guinea and the International Commission of Inquiry there.

The Secretary-General met today with Mr. Mohamed Bedjaoui, Ms. Françoise Ngendahyo Kayiramirwa and Ms. Pramila Patten, the three commissioners he has appointed to lead the international investigation into human rights violations that occurred on 28 September 2009 in Conakry, Guinea.  During the meeting, the Secretary-General recalled that the Commission should work independently in assessing the facts, and make recommendations on accountability measures.

The commissioners will be in Guinea from 25 November to 4 December.  The Secretariat of the International Commission of Inquiry, supported by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, arrived in Conakry on 15 November and started the work on the ground.  The Secretary-General has received commitments in writing by President Dadis Camara and Prime Minister Komara that the authorities of Guinea will cooperate with the International Commission of Inquiry and facilitate its work. 

And we have that statement available in English and French upstairs.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory

In a statement we issued yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General deplored the Government of Israel's decision to expand Gilo settlement, built on Palestinian territory occupied by Israel in the 1967 war.

The Secretary-General reiterates his position that settlements are illegal, and calls on Israel to respect its commitments under the Road Map to cease all settlement activity, including natural growth.  He believes that such actions undermine efforts for peace and cast doubt on the viability of the two-State solution.

**Occupied Palestinian Territory – Humanitarian Update

Meanwhile, in related news, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today released its monthly humanitarian monitor report for the Occupied Palestinian Territory.

In it, OCHA highlights growing violence by Israeli settlers against Palestinians.  It notes that, in 2009, on average, 13 Palestinians have been injured per month in settler-related incidents.  In particular, OCHA recorded numerous attacks by Israeli settlers on Palestinians harvesting their olives and on olive groves.

On occupied East Jerusalem, OCHA says that, while Israel has expropriated around 35 per cent of that zone for Israeli settlements, only around 13 per cent is available for Palestinian construction.  And much of that land is built-up already.  In those areas where construction is possible, Israeli bureaucratic restrictions make it extremely difficult for Palestinian residents to get building permits.

OCHA also says that access restrictions, particularly at Israeli barrier checkpoints, continue to hinder UN operations in the West Bank.  And that full report is available online.

** Pakistan

The Commission of Inquiry into the facts and circumstances of the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has confirmed that it met with former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.  The Commission of Inquiry says that it had a frank, open and cordial conversation with former President Musharraf, having been able to pose to him many queries on issues central to its mandate.  The Commission has met with dozens of individuals in the course of fulfilling its mandate.

**Security Council -- Bosnia and Herzegovina

The Security Council this morning adopted a resolution on Bosnia and Herzegovina.  With that resolution, the Council authorized the Member States acting through or in cooperation with the European Union to renew for another year the mandate of the multinational stabilization force, known as EUFOR.

**Security Council -- Somalia Piracy

The Security Council is now holding an open meeting on the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation of piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia.

The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, opened his briefing to the Council by stating that piracy has become a highly profitable business.  He therefore called for the problem to be tackled as a criminal activity with many tentacles in the region and around the world.

Ould-Abdallah noted that, despite the deployment of naval ships and military aircraft to address the problem, threats of pirate attacks remain, with the pirates using more entrenched and more sophisticated methods.  Piracy is a symptom of wider problems ashore in Somalia, he added.

He therefore called for a comprehensive and integrated sustainable solution that includes effective governance, the creation of jobs and regional capacity-building.  And we have his full remarks upstairs.

** Darfur

The Darfur peace talks, organized under the auspices of the African Union-United Nations (AU-UN) Joint Mediator, Djibril Bassolé, resumed today, in Doha, Qatar, with the participation of Darfur’s civil society organizations.

In his remarks to the participants today, the acting Joint Special Representative of the UN-AU mission in Darfur, (UNAMID), Henry Anyidoho, congratulated the participating civil society groups for the resilience and determination they have shown to see peace in their country.

Anyidoho urged the participants to reach a strong consensus that could positively affect talks between the Government of Sudan and the Darfuri armed movements that are opposed to the Government.  He said all the Darfur belligerents need to lay down their arms and achieve a lasting peace agreement.

Anyidoho also expressed the hope that the outcome of the Doha talks could generate increased momentum for ongoing reconciliation efforts among Darfur’s communities and tribes.

** Democratic Republic of the Congo

The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) has welcomed the arrest, yesterday in Germany, of two leaders of the FDLR (Forces démocratiques de libération du Rwanda), Ignace Murwanashyaka and Straton Musoni.

MONUC says that these arrests support the multidimensional effort -- which has diplomatic, political and military aspects -- to convince FDLR members to disarm and end their illegal presence in the country.

** El Salvador

UN agencies, non-governmental organizations and the Government of El Salvador today jointly issued a $13 million flash appeal to provide immediate aid for six months to 75,000 people hit by Hurricane Ida.

The UN’s Resident Coordinator in El Salvador notes that the hurricane hit El Salvador at a particularly critical moment, as the country is one of the Latin American countries most affected by the global economic crisis.

The Flash Appeal seeks to generate funds for food aid, shelter, water and sanitation, education, protection, coordination, agriculture and early recovery. And we have a press release upstairs.

** Angola and Democratic Republic of the Congo

The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the estimated number of Angolan nationals expelled from the Democratic Republic of Congo now stands at over 51,000.  According to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) and the Government, two thirds of these returnees are refugees.

OCHA says that more than 30,000 returnees have been transported to their areas of origin.  But it adds that a UNHCR team deployed to Zaire Province since 5 November has not been given regular access to the various returnee sites -- and therefore cannot assist with registration procedures as planned.

UNHCR has already airlifted tents, sleeping mats and blankets to assist the Angolan returnees, while UNICEF has provided the first stocks of therapeutic biscuits administered to malnourished children.  And the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is helping authorities develop a programme to assist returnees in their areas of origin with seeds and agricultural tools.

OCHA also reports that the Angolan Government has requested the reactivation of the tripartite mechanism between the Governments of the Democratic Republc of the Congo and Angola and UNHCR to organize the repatriation of the remaining estimated 60,000 Angolan refugees still in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

** Tajikistan

The United Nations International Strategy for Disaster Reduction (ISDR) launched in Tajikistan today a guide book on How to Construct a Safe House Using Clay.

The 44-page manual teaches rural dwellers to construct a seismic-resistant house while using local materials such as mud bricks, stone and wood.  The easy and affordable homebuilding techniques will ensure that the house is resistant to earthquakes of moderate intensity.

ISDR is looking for partners for the promotion and the dissemination of the manuals, available in both Russian and Tajik.

And we have, after I speak, Jean Victor Nkolo, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

**Guests at Noon Tomorrow

And our guests at the noon briefing tomorrow will be Janos Pasztor, the Director of the Secretary-General's Climate Change Support Team and Yvo de Boer, the Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.  They will discuss the climate change negotiations leading up to Copenhagen.

Is there anything before we get to Jean Victor?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  As far as climate change is concerned, Farhan, in view of the fact that in Singapore, United States President Obama’s deputy national security adviser had said, and several other people from the White House have said, that it is not possible to reach an agreement at this summit in Copenhagen and it’s quite possible that the negotiations will linger on into Mexico next year.  Does the Secretary-General or anybody in the office have anything to say about that?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, there have been a number of different signals about this, and you will certainly hear more from Mr. Pasztor and from Mr. Yvo de Boer tomorrow when they’re the guests at the noon briefing.  I would like to point out that while he was at the food summit in Rome, the Secretary-General spoke extensively to the press also about climate change, reacting to some of the developments that you’ve mentioned.  And among other things -- and I’m just quoting from his press remarks there -- he said:  “I remain positive about Copenhagen.  There is no cause for alarm.  We’ve known for a while that we will not have a treaty in Copenhagen.  This is not news.  We can still reach a significant agreement in Copenhagen that will provide the foundation for a treaty next year.”  And I’d refer you onwards to his full press comments.  But, certainly, the point he’s getting at is there is no reason not to be optimistic about the progress that we can make at the Copenhagen talks.

Question:  Farhan, on that question, “significant agreement”, meaning, as has been reported, a general political framework?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General in the same press remarks listed what he thinks of as the three main criteria for a successful deal in Copenhagen.  First, he said, every nation must do its part.  Second, Governments must agree on sizable financing and technology support to ensure that developing countries can and will limit their emissions and cope with the consequences of climate change.  And third, Governments must agree on an equitable, transparent governance structure to manage their support.  So those are the main things we’re pushing for.

Question:  Since yesterday, has the Secretary-General spoken to anybody in the Israeli Government about this settlement activity?  He has issued a statement finally, but has there been any conversation with anybody in the Israeli Government?

Associate Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General did not himself have a conversation with any Israeli official yesterday.  However, we would draw your attention once more to the text of the statement, and I think that speaks for itself.

Before we go further, I do have an additional note to get to you.

On Sri Lanka, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, John Holmes, concluded the second day of his three-day mission to Sri Lanka today with a visit to Vavuniya in the north, and Mannar in the north-west.  In Menik Farms, zones two and three, Holmes was able to visit a clinic in the camps, a rehabilitation centre for handicapped people, including those with conflict-related injuries, a school, a UNICEF-run centre for supplementary feeding for malnourished children, and a vocational training and education programme for women.  In Mannar, he met with displaced people at transit sites and with patients in a district hospital. 

Upon returning to Colombo, Holmes met the Sri Lankan Minister of Foreign Affairs and other Government officials.  Tomorrow, he is scheduled to meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Minister of Defence, Management and Human Rights, and the Secretary of Defence, among other officials.

Question:  Just following up on the one you’ve just read, there is an article in the Sri Lankan press, the headline of which is “UN top officials satisfied with resettlement process in Sri Lanka’s north”.  Is that Mr. Holmes’ position?  That’s how it’s being reported there.

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t think I’d characterize that at this stage.  Certainly his discussions with officials are ongoing, and we’ll keep providing you with updates as his trip enters its final day tomorrow.  And he may have something more to say once his trip is done. 

Question:  I wanted to ask, there are reports from India of them sending 243 air force personnel to Goma in eastern Congo.  I’m wondering, do you know if this is part of the 3,000 additional troops, peacekeepers that were voted on by the Security Council, or if it’s just a rotation out of existing Indian peacekeepers?

Associate Spokesperson:  I don’t know.  We’d have to check with Department of Peacekeeping Operations whether it’s part of a rotation.  But certainly we have been trying to provide the additional troops that have been approved by the Security Council.  So we’ll check which group they belong to.

Question:  Farhan, anything from the Secretary-General or the United Nations -- anything on the possible postponement of the Iraqi elections?

Associate Spokesperson:  In terms of that, the Secretary-General takes note of the Presidency Council’s decision to veto the Iraqi electoral law.  He hopes the Council of Representatives will move swiftly to ensure that the law is adopted and the elections can go forward.  The Secretary-General also reaffirms the United Nations commitment to support and assist the Independent High Electoral Commission in preparation for the forthcoming national elections.

Question:  Farhan, when will the Secretary-General give his monthly press conference?

Associate Spokesperson:  Given his travels, it may be difficult.  And also given the Thanksgiving holiday that’s coming up next week, it may be difficult to schedule it by the end of this month.  But we’re trying to have something fairly early, and it may wind up being sometime in the earlier part of December rather than towards the end of November.  Tomorrow we may have some more travels to announce to you.

Question:  I wanted to follow up on two things.  One was that I had asked you about the position of the Secretariat with regard to the Ethics Office ruling in the whistleblower case in which OLA [Office for Legal Affairs] has said…  I have a document from the Dispute Tribunal in which OLA has argued that Mr. [Robert] Benson should not testify; that his recommendation is irrelevant.  You also said that the Secretary-General stands behind Benson’s work and that you checked with OLA.  I’m waiting to hear how to square these two positions.

Associate Spokesperson:  I’ll still need to get some response from our legal colleagues on any additional issues.  So, certainly we support the work of Mr. Benson and the Ethics Office.  Beyond that, in terms of what the legal reasoning is, I have to check though.

Question:  And also you’d said, regarding this non-governmental organization that had the pass stripped after speaking in front of the General Assembly the day of the Goldstone Report vote.  I think you said on Monday, there has been no change in the status, but I spoke to the person and they can’t get into the building.  So can you explain how what you say is consistent with the person actually not having their pass, and who made the decision to remove it and what the process is to follow up on that?

Associate Spokesperson:  Well, the accreditation of the NGO has not changed.  That non-governmental organization is still accredited with ECOSOC [Economic and Social Council].  In terms of pass cards, I believe their passes had been taken at the time of the incident that occurred when they spoke without authorization.  I believe that those were being kept so the NGO could then pick them up.  So I believe the NGO can pick up those passes once more.  That’s what I was informed.

Question:  Okay.  Because the person says they were asked to fill out a statement and if they didn’t turn it in exchange for getting the pass, then the pass was never returned.  I just wanted to clear that up, since you’d said that there had been no change, that was your understanding.

Associate Spokesperson:  As far as I am aware, the NGO is an accredited NGO, so it’s still entitled to have passes.  Until that changes, they have accreditation through ECOSOC.

Question:  If you don’t mind, there is a report in the [United Arab] Emirates news agency of an event at the UN in Geneva -- “ United Arab Emirates take part in UN charitable bazaar”.  The bazaar final sentence is that the United Arab Emirates ambassador “presented a traditional gift to the Director-General of the UN Office in Geneva”.  The way it comes off is like it’s a gift to the Director-General.  Is there some way to know what the gift was?

Associate Spokesperson:  I wouldn’t have any idea of that.  If you could talk to our counterparts at the UN Office at Geneva, they have a number of spokespeople who can help you out with that.  It’s nothing that we’re aware of.

And with that, Jean Victor.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you, Farhan.  Good afternoon.

**General Assembly President in Italy

Yesterday, 17 November, the President of the General Assembly, Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, held bilateral talks with Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini at the Farnesina Palace in Rome.  The talks focused on the important issues on the agenda of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly, including climate change, the world summit on food security and issues concerning the African continent.

They discussed the preparatory process for the high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals scheduled for September 2010.  They also addressed the challenge of climate change in the upcoming Copenhagen conference, where both parties stressed the need to ensure a successful outcome for the meeting. 

The Italian Foreign Minister expressed his country’s appreciation to President Treki’s initiative to hold a General Assembly meeting on 19 November on this issue, indicating that it is another important opportunity to provide political impetus before Copenhagen. 

They expressed concern over the situation of food security in many regions of the world, in particular in Africa.  Mr. Frattini and Dr. Treki discussed the situation in Somalia and called for quick action by the international community and regional organizations. 

They also exchanged views on the situation in Darfur and the political process of reconciliation and the role of the UN in the region.  Finally, they discussed United Nations reform.  The Italian Foreign Minister commended President Treki for his efforts in revitalizing the General Assembly as well as reforming the Security Council. 

**General Assembly Meeting on Climate Change

About the meeting tomorrow, we will provide further details today.  It’s a meeting of the General Assembly.  It should be on climate change and the President has invited Trudie Styler, who is an actress, film producer, director, human rights activist, environmentalist, organic farmer and UNICEF ambassador.  Ms. Styler will be addressing the meeting tomorrow along with other guests.  The Secretary-General and the General Assembly President will make statements at this meeting.

I recall that in 1988, along with her husband Sting, Trudie Styler started the Rainforest Foundation, an organization devoted to protecting rain forests and the indigenous peoples.  Trudie Styler’s biography will be made available tomorrow.  I would also like to add that UN Television will be covering these events, the meeting and the press briefing live, and making the feed available to webcast.  There will be a press conference immediately after the meeting ends tomorrow.  Questions?

**Questions and Answers

Question:  [in French]

Spokesperson:  [in French]

Question:  [in French]

Spokesperson:  [in French] Yes, Masood.

Question:  [inaudible] recently there was a debate in plenary on Security Council reform.  Can you ask the Ambassador of Afghanistan, who was the point man on the reforms, to come and brief us as to where the negotiations stand?  Are they moving ahead at all?  Are they still stalled in talking back and forth?

Spokesperson:  We shall bring to you very soon the response of Ambassador Tanin with regard to the need to brief you.  Ambassador Tanin recently met with President Treki and once we have an opening I’m sure this briefing will take place.  I will certainly come back to you before the end of this week.  Thank you, and have a good afternoon.

* *** *

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