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

20 November 2009

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

20 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’s Statement on the European Union

We have a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the selection of the President and High Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Union.

The Secretary-General welcomes the appointment of Mr. Herman van Rompuy as first President of the European Union, and Ms. Catherine Ashton as the European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

The Secretary-General looks forward to working closely with both Mr. van Rompuy and Ms. Ashton in strengthening cooperation between the European Union and the United Nations.  With the Lisbon Treaty soon entering into force, the Secretary-General hopes that the process of EU integration, which has already brought peace, security and prosperity to the continent, will further strengthen the European Union’s support for global efforts in the areas of peace, security, human rights and sustainable development.

**Convention on the Rights of the Child

This morning, the Secretary-General opened a special commemorative event to mark the twentieth anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In his remarks, he said that the Convention had recognized -- for the first time -- that children have human rights, and that they need special protection.  He added that, over the past 20 years, it had been the guide in protecting and nurturing the youngest and most vulnerable members of society.  He noted that the Convention was the most widely accepted international human rights treaty -- with 193 ratifications.

The Secretary-General said it had inspired new approaches and advances in child survival and education and had increased awareness of children’s specific problems.  But, he said, realizing the rights in the Convention remains a huge challenge.  That is why children should always have the first claim on our attention and resources, he added.  We have his remarks upstairs.

Earlier this morning, the Secretary-General also met with youth activists, including from Brazil, Kenya and Pakistan.

**Climate Change

And as you know, yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General addressed the General Assembly’s informal meeting on climate change.

Responding to reports that the Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen was destined to be a “disappointment”, he said:  “To the contrary, we can, and I believe we will, reach a deal in Copenhagen that sets the stage for a binding treaty as soon as possible in 2010.”

The Secretary-General added that there were signs of political momentum building almost daily.  He put forward the recent examples of the US-Chinese promise to work together towards Copenhagen, the announcement by Indonesia to reduce its emissions by 26 per cent and Russia’s indication that it was ready to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 25 per cent by 2020, if other countries do the same.  Taken together, we have ample reason to be positive, he said.

The Secretary-General also emphasized that the end goal must remain a legally binding treaty.  The more ambitious the agreement we reach in Copenhagen, the more quickly this can be codified in a treaty as early as possible in 2010, he said.  We have his remarks upstairs.

** Sri Lanka

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator John Holmes yesterday concluded the final day of his three-day mission to Sri Lanka.

Holmes met with President Mahinda Rajapaksa, and other senior Government officials, including the Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights, Secretary of Defence, as well as the head of the 180-day resettlement and reconstruction programme in the north.  He also met with a delegation of Members of Parliament of the Tamil National Alliance to hear their views on the situation of internally displaced persons (IDPs) and the political process.

In a press conference, Holmes welcomed the recent releases and returns of IDPs from camps, and, in particular, the reduction by half of the population in the main camp in Menik Farm.  While underscoring the fundamental need for full freedom of movement for IDPs who remain in camps, he stressed the need for continued progress in allowing people to leave the camps and restore their normal life and dignity.

Holmes reiterated that the UN remains committed to working with the Government to improve the returns process.  The UN will also help to assure satisfactory conditions in areas of return, especially in the fields of shelter, basic services and livelihoods.  He emphasized the need to build confidence between communities with a view to ensuring a just and sustainable peace and long-term political reconciliation.

** Africa Industrialization Day

Today is Africa Industrialization Day, and the Secretary-General spoke at a panel discussion this morning to mark the Day.  He said that last year was the fifth consecutive year in which Africa registered economic growth of more than 5 per cent, but he warned that the industrial sector has not lived up to its potential.

In a separate message to mark Africa Industrialization Day, the Secretary-General says that the past few years of economic growth in Africa have been encouraging.  But if the transformation of African economies is to be sustained, increased industrialization is necessary.

He says that the African economy, like the rest of the world economy, continues to feel the impact of the global economic and financial crisis.  We have that message and his remarks to the panel discussion upstairs.

** South Africa

The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has condemned the latest xenophobic attacks in South Africa, targeted at some 3,000 foreigners in the Western Cape Province.

The attacks, carried out last Tuesday by some local farmers, have driven the foreigners, including refugees and asylum-seekers from Zimbabwe, from their temporary homes in De Doorns.  The local farmers have accused the foreigners of stealing their jobs by accepting cheaper wages in vineyards.

UNHCR has moved quickly to help the displaced, who are now staying in a sports field and a community centre in De Doorns, sleeping under three communal tents.  UNHCR is working with the South African Human Rights Committee and all concerned parties to help bring the situation in the area back to normal and make it safe for foreigners to return there.

**Latin America and the Caribbean

The current global crisis will cause 9 million people in Latin America and the Caribbean to fall into poverty this year, according to a new report by the UN’s Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC).  The study shows that there will be 189 million poor people in the region by the end of 2009, compared to 180 million in 2008.  The report was launched yesterday by ECLAC Executive Secretary Alicia Bárcena, who said the region must urgently develop a new long-term social protection system.

** Europe

According to the UN’s Economic Commission for Europe (ECE), population ageing is one of the biggest challenges of our century.

The Commission adds that, while working-age adults currently make up the largest share of Europe’s population, that situation is changing rapidly.  To help its member States make the appropriate policy responses, the Commission is launching a series of policy briefs on ageing.

Among other things, the brief notes that, in order to realize the overarching goal of a “society for all ages”, countries need to enhance older persons’ participation in social, political and economic life and improve their access to transport, appropriate housing and cultural activities.

**Road Safety

The Director-General of the UN Office at Geneva, Sergei Ordzhonikidze, yesterday delivered a message on behalf of the Secretary-General to the First Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety.

In the message, the Secretary-General notes that each year more than 1 million people are killed in traffic accidents.  That’s more than the number of people who die from malaria or diabetes.  The UN plays a critical role in raising awareness, mobilizing support and fostering cooperation to address what should be regarded as a crisis.

But we must do more to limit the economic and emotional devastation caused by poor road safety, while creating sustainable transport systems that protect the environment from climate change, the Secretary-General adds.  He also calls on Governments, vehicle manufacturers, public and private donors, NGOs and experts to work together towards tangible goals, such as safer roads and vehicles, and greater investment in preventing road traffic injuries.  We have the full message upstairs.

**The Week Ahead at the United Nations

And then the “Week Ahead at the United Nations” is upstairs.

Starting today, the Independent Expert on the human rights situation in Haiti will be in New York and in Haiti, until 1 December.

On Monday at 11 a.m., the Minister for Development Cooperation of Denmark will brief on the work of the Africa Commission in helping African countries reach the Millennium Development Goals.

The guest at the noon briefing, John Holmes, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, will brief on his recent trip to Sri Lanka.

And at 3 p.m. here in room S-226, there will be a press conference on the need for a new climate deal that will tackle energy poverty.  Speakers will include Luiz Augusto Cassanha Galvão from the Pan American Health Organization, Fatih Birol from the International Energy Agency, and Olav Krjoven from the UN Development Programme.

And still ahead, on Tuesday, next Tuesday, the Secretary-General will launch the “Network of Men Leaders” in support of his “UNiTE to End Violence against Women” Campaign, from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m., in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.  Following the launch, at 10:40 a.m., the Secretary-General will hold a press conference in room S-226.

On Wednesday, 25 November, the guest at the noon briefing will be Radhika Coomaraswamy, Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict.  She will brief on her recent trip to the Sudan.

UN Headquarters will be closed on Thursday in observance of US Thanksgiving Day.

Friday, UN Headquarters will be closed.  And the Secretary-General will begin his trip to Trinidad and Tobago to participate in the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

And this is all I have for you today.  Thank you.  Yes, Bill.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  The press conference you mentioned concerning the Secretary-General, that will be limited to just that topic or is that going to also be able to …?

Spokesperson:  As far as I understand it will be limited to that topic.  We’ll try to get you more in the next few days.

Question:  Any word about Mr. Downer [inaudible] solve this problem that his files there hacked … some files stolen from his computer.  He was staying at the Greek Cypriot sector of the island.  Any (inaudible) about it?

Spokesperson:  We have heard about the incident.  We don’t have any additional information from what we had earlier.  They’re trying to find out what happened.  I don’t have anything more.

Question:  [inaudible] being said now that several thousand pages of material in his computer, they’re all gone [inaudible] portion the very minimum a few pages, a few subjects of the files through the Washington sources or something that’s to divert the attention of the [inaudible]?

Spokesperson:  Yes, I think I will check for you and we’ll get something for you.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  The Secretary-General has any, has weighed in on this Iran impasse or the Iran nuclear deal that Mr. ElBaradei today talked about?

Spokesperson:  No, he hasn’t.  You know, as you said, that he has already made clear his position on Iran and the nuclear issue.  He has done it over and over again.  Right now, as you know, the situation is in the hands of the IAEA and members of the Security Council.  So at this point he has nothing more to add to what we have already said.  Matthew.

Question:  I wanted to ask you first about the reports that in Grand-Goâve in Haiti, on 10 November, that UN peacekeepers of the Sri Lankan battalion fired on a crowd that had gathered around helicopters.  There is also a complaint by something called the Bureau des Avocats Internationaux saying that UN’s MINUSTAH’s investigations, prior investigations, are not credible and should be done independently.  So on two fronts, what can you say about that incident?

Spokesperson:  Well, about the incident, all we know is that there was an emergency landing of a helicopter that had to go down.  And while the technicians were repairing the problem, some Haitians gathered around and some of them entered the helicopter.  And from what we gather, someone, one of the people actually in the plane, shot in the air one cartridge that reached someone on the shoulder.  That’s what I have so far.  We’ll try to get more for you.  I know there is an investigation going on about exactly what happened, and whether there was any … but as far as I know, there was no shooting at the crowd.  There was shooting in the air to disperse the crowd, and there was one shot fired from someone in the helicopter that hit, the cartridge hit someone in Grand-Goâve.

Question:  There seem to be some people saying that there [inaudible] firing in the air also firing into the ground.  It’s unclear what the protocol for peacekeepers in terms of crowd control.  Is firing in the air with live ammunition …?

Spokesperson:  Firing in the air, that’s the standard protocol, yes.

Correspondent:  Okay.  Well, if you find more I’d like to … I mean, I think it’s important.

Spokesperson:  There is an investigation going on.  They have already told me what happened as far as they could, after the testimonies they got.  But I won’t have anything more until they assess the situation and they find out exactly what happened.

Question:  I also wanted to ask about … in the mediation of the situation in Guinea, it’s been proposed by Burkina Faso President [Blaise] Compaore that Moussa Dadis Camara remain in power during the process.  The opposition says no, and I think that a number of Member States have said that, given the events in September, it’s not acceptable.  What is the UN’s involvement in the mediation process, and does the UN have any view whether Mr. Camara should remain in power during the mediation?

Spokesperson:  Well, you know there is a negotiation going on.  Of course, we play a role.  Mr. [Djibril] Bassolé plays a role.  I’m not going to say anything about the mediation that is ongoing, certainly not how things should end up being, because this is not really agreed upon yet.  They’re still discussing.  So really I have nothing more to say about the process itself.

Question:  But is it Mr. Bassolé or Said Djinnit?  Who from the UN is actually involved in that?

Spokesperson:  Mr. Bassolé, as far as I know, is leading both.

[The Spokesperson later clarified that Said Djinnit, Head of the United Nations Office for West Africa (UNOWA) and Special Representative of the Secretary-General, was the UN official dealing with Guinea.]

Question:  Michèle, you have been saying from there time and again that the UN officials and the Secretary-General have been speaking with the Israeli authorities to ease the blockade in Gaza.  Specifically, can you tell us specifically as to what conversations have taken place recently, in the last …?

Spokesperson:  No, I cannot give you the details of those conversations.  What I do at times is give you a sense of where we are.  I tell you how much has gone through each crossing, how much has gone.  I know during his meeting with President [Hosni] Mubarak of Egypt, the Secretary-General raised the issue of the crossings and discussed it with Mr. Mubarak.  So it is being discussed right now.  I cannot give you the details, and I will keep on giving you facts about what is happening on the ground.

Question:  Michèle, can I just ask you one more thing?  It’s about the budget.  Well, it’s not about the budget process, it’s about the position of the Secretariat.  I’ve been told that in the budget, in the Fifth Committee, that there is some discussion again of this Office of the Special Adviser on Africa, which many in the Fifth Committee believe that they called on the Secretary-General to appoint a person to get the Office to exist again.  I’m told that the Deputy Chef de Cabinet -- I just want a confirmation of this -- went to the Fifth Committee and said that the Secretary doesn’t understand previous GA resolutions that were … they understand that the Office has to exist, but they don’t understand that they have to actually fill the Office.  So before just taking them at their word, I want to know, is that …?

Spokesperson:  Again, I’m not going to …

Question:  Yes, but I’m not saying what the negotiation is.  I just want to know, is that, did the Deputy Chef de Cabinet appear in the Fifth Committee, and separately, did he take this position that the Office doesn’t have to be filled despite previous GA resolutions?

Spokesperson:  I will check what he had said exactly at the Committee.  I know that he did go to the Committee, yes.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Thank you, Michèle, and good afternoon to all.

Earlier today, 20 November, the President of the General Assembly, His Excellency Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, made a statement to the panel discussion on industrialization strategies and policies, a key to economic transformation of Africa, on the occasion of Africa Industrialization Day, organized by the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).  President Treki stated that “the newly developed African Union action plan for the accelerated industrial development of Africa, which should be implemented at the national, regional and continental levels, outlines a clear prioritized set of programmes, projects and activities necessary to stimulate a competitive and sustainable industrial development process.  It envisages an emerging Africa whose level and patterns of industrialization makes it competitive with the rest of the world”.

However, President Treki added that “for such an initiative to succeed, concerted efforts of all stakeholders are required.  Henceforth, the role of regional integration as one of the pillars of enhancing Africa’s competitiveness and thereby more meaningful integration into the global economy is crucial”, he stated.  The President of the General Assembly also stressed that “regional integration brings numerous benefits such as increased production, competitiveness through economies of scale and scope, increased trade opportunities through larger markets.  Increased opportunities for larger investment and increased bargaining power”.  His statement will be available online later today.

That’s what I have for you.  Any question? Yes, Masood.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yesterday in the General Assembly, when all the speakers were basically -- the majority of the speakers seemed were sceptics about this climate change deal.  What is the position of Mr. Treki?  Does he still believe that can, I mean December there will be a treaty, a binding treaty or any treaty at all?

Spokesperson:  I’m sorry, Masood, that because of the delays you missed the press conference.  This was just because of constraints of time, but also because there were many speakers at the session yesterday.  But I will provide you with what the President actually said here yesterday.  I don’t think I should add anything on that.  He actually summed up his thinking on that.  I think we should not give up and keep on working on a positive outcome in Copenhagen.  The President is clear with the fact that the meeting yesterday will encourage full participation by all Member States at the Copenhagen Conference and will motivate a concerted effort to reach a tangible and agreed outcome.  But I will provide you with the full statement he made yesterday.  Yes, Matthew

Question:  (inaudible)… I just asked Michèle.  Do you know if … I’ve spoken to a lot of people in the General Assembly’s Fifth Committee, they seem to think -- and I am not asking him to take a position on anything that’s pending -- but they seem to say that a passed resolution that was passed in the last session had called on the Secretariat to fill the position of the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa has been ignored by the Secretariat, and my question really has to do with the balance of power, sort of a … is it, generally, does he believe that the Secretariat has to follow directives such as that one from the General Assembly?

Spokesperson:  I don’t have the resolution you’re referring to in front of me.  But I think first we have to go back to that resolution and see what the resolution says.  Resolutions speak for themselves and I think from that moment we will see if the President has a specific reading to the discussion you are referring to.  But first I think we have to go the resolution, and the resolution is normally a stand-alone document.

Question:  No, no, sure.  I guess what I’m saying is they may speak for themselves, but they’re obviously not sort of self-enforcing.  I mean are they supposed to be complied with?  I’ve asked you this before, I guess there is no way to kind of get to the bottom of it, but is the Secretariat required -- forget even that it’s about the Office of the Special Adviser on Africa -- is it the General Assembly President’s position that resolutions that direct either the Secretariat either spend money, or fill a post or not fill a post are mandatory or are just advisory?

Spokesperson:  All entities concerned by General Assembly resolutions, no matter the resolution, but for that specific resolution we have to go back into the text of the resolution, which I don’t have in front of me, unfortunately.  But I think there is a way of getting to the bottom of this one way or another, and let’s go back first to the resolution and let us see if the PGA has a specific comment on that.

Thank you very much, and have a great weekend.

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