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

30 November 2009

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

30 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.

Secretary-General:  I have a brief statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the departure of Spokesperson Michèle Montas.

I quote:  “The Secretary-General notes with appreciation the great contribution that Ms. Montas, Spokesperson of the United Nations, and expresses his sincere gratitude... "

[The Secretary-General looks up from paper and says:

I don’t know who has written this one.

[The Secretary-General crumples paper and tosses it aside.]

I’d better handle this one myself!

Ladies and gentlemen,

For the past three years, I have had the pleasure to work day in and day out with a great professional and such a dedicated and wonderful person like Michèle Montas, as Spokesperson of the United Nations.

Michèle Montas was my first appointment, as you may recall.  I wanted someone I could trust, and someone who believed in the United Nations as much as I do.  Someone who embodied the highest standards of personal integrity and journalistic credibility.

I found that Michèle Montas has all the qualities one could hope for in a Spokesperson.  She is tough, but kind.  Calm and collected, as you will agree.  Warm and funny -- I don’t know if you’ll agree there.  Beloved wherever she goes.  Michèle Montas was all that and more.  Morning, noon and night, wherever we were, here in the United Nations Headquarters or across thousands of miles away, I could not have been in better hands.

Michèle Montas, you are a tough act to follow.  I will miss your grace under fire, your willingness to shoulder large burdens, your way with people -- friends and critics alike.

We wish you all the best as you set off on the next stage of your life.  We will think of you always, but especially as our clocks strike noon every day.  I’m sure you will have an even more meaningful life after retirement.  And, please, remember all the good things, [while] whenever you may not have been happy, you can just forget as soon as you step out of this Office.

Now, ladies and gentlemen,

I know I speak for everyone here in saying that we admire how you have handled this very tough job.

Thank you for your hard work, dedication and commitment.  You have been really the real face of the United Nations.  You have been telling to the world the real story of the United Nations.  Of course, there were some gains and setbacks, but you have handled [them] very nicely.  And thank you for your friendship.  I will miss you.

Let us all give Michèle Montas a round of applause.  And now, since she is still the Spokesperson until midnight tonight, I hope you take your last best shots at her.

Thank you.


Spokesperson:  Thank you, thank you.  Secretary-General, I won’t let you go until I thank you.  No, I won’t let you go until I thank you for your kind words.  I have to say that we live in a glass house, but I could not get your text earlier.  One big reason is that you improvised on it and then the second reason being that, upstairs, they were adamant in keeping the secret.

So, thank you so very much for your kind words, and I was honoured to serve you, Secretary-General.  And as you know, this is my last briefing, and the last 35 months have been an incredibly rewarding season for me as a Spokesperson.  I will always cherish these moments in my Office or in yours, with so many of you:  finding the right sources of information when none seems readily available; sharing also insights, particularly during trips with the Secretary-General, whether it was to Africa or to the Middle East, or discussing on background the underlying issues of a crisis, or sharing common experiences.  I knew so many of you before I crossed the line from being a reporter into being Spokesperson.

I am really truly grateful for the trust so many of you have expressed in me and in our team in the last 35 months.  I know many lasting friendships will remain.

I know you all have been frustrated at times for not finding enough information in this room, 226, while having constantly to justify to reluctant editors the need for continued UN coverage.  So many of our traditional print media, those often with the highest professional and ethical standards, are now fighting for survival as our media environment has imploded into thousands of competing electronic and blogging voices.

As a journalist myself for almost 30 years in my former life, I too have been frustrated in 226 for not being able to always provide you with more information.  Frustrated also that, instead of genuine requests for information, we’re too often faced with posturing for the camera; frustrated also that so many incredible stories are left untold because it is assumed that no one is interested, or simply because they’re not news in the narrowest sense, at least, not the headline-grabbing ones.

My successor, Martin Nesirky, will be here to brief you on the 7th [December], as he had to go back to Vienna for his final week as the OSCE [Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe] spokesperson.  This week, Marie will be in charge, and our team -- they’re all here -- they’ll be here to help.  I will, unfortunately, not be the only spokesperson leaving.  My collaborator Brenden Varma, who has been in the Office for more than five years, is also heading out to the Department of Political Affairs.  Brenden has been an accomplished spokesperson, but he is also a man of many talents, an esteemed Bhangra dancer, also a professional playwright, an impassioned actor and even a Ninja assassin.  Okay, maybe not a Ninja.  But we will all miss him also.  The Spokesperson’s Office will be a considerably less fun place without him.  And please be assured that I go, but my team will remain, and they have so far done the job and they will continue to do so.

Thank you so much.

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, all.  I guess we should proceed with the briefing, shouldn’t we?

**Guest at Noon Today

First, let me tell you that the guest at the noon briefing will be Michael Adlerstein, Executive Director of the Capital Master Plan.

**Secretary-General – Commonwealth – Climate Change

The Secretary-General returned to New York yesterday after attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Trinidad and Tobago.

At the conclusion of the summit, the Secretary-General said that momentum has been growing for success at the Climate Change Summit, starting in Copenhagen next week.  He urged the leaders not only to come to Copenhagen, but to express their full political will by staying focused and committed to seal a deal in Copenhagen.

“We will be able to seal a deal that is ambitious, comprehensive and binding”, the Secretary-General said.  “A deal that satisfies the demands of science and will have an immediate operational effect, together with short-term financial support to the most vulnerable countries”, he added.

We are united in purpose, but we are not yet united in action, the Secretary-General stated.  Now is the time for world leaders to show that they are united and committed in action, he stressed.

The Secretary-General was particularly encouraged by the shared desire of Commonwealth Heads of State and Government to achieve a successful outcome in Copenhagen.  He strongly welcomed a statement by the Commonwealth committing their leaders to the crucial global effort for consensus and results in Copenhagen.

**Secretary-General on Afghanistan

While he attended the Commonwealth meeting in Trinidad, the Secretary-General spoke at a joint press conference with UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown and expressed his appreciation for the Prime Minister’s proposal to host an international conference on Afghanistan on 28 January 2010 in London.

He said that the London conference, as well as a further high-level conference to be convened in Kabul within a few months after that, would outline the framework for an increased lead role for the Afghans in the shaping of their destiny.  The Secretary-General underlined the readiness of the United Nations to contribute to the success of these conferences.  We have that statement and his full press conference with the Prime Minister available online.

** Afghanistan – Human Rights

Still on Afghanistan, the UN Assistance Mission for Afghanistan (UNAMA) has kicked off a 16-day campaign to press for an end to violence against women in that country.

In a press conference in Kabul today, Norah Niland, the head of the human rights office for the Mission, says that UNAMA’s field research found that the political space for women, including for those who wish to advocate for their rights, is shrinking.

She added that the field research also found that rape is underreported and concealed, and is a huge problem in Afghanistan.  It affects all parts of the country, all communities, and all social groups.  We have the transcript of that press conference upstairs.

**Palestinian Solidarity Day

The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People is being observed today at UN Headquarters.

Addressing an event this morning, the Secretary-General said that it is vital that a sovereign State of Palestine is achieved.  He added that the Palestinian people continue to struggle for their inalienable right to self-determination -- a fundamental, universal human right enjoyed by so many others across the world.

The Secretary-General also said that, now more than ever, politics must be made credible.  Those who try to undermine moves towards peace through violence or by changing facts on the ground must not be allowed to set the agenda, he added.  We have his full remarks upstairs.

Also in connection with International Day, tonight at six, in the Visitors’ Lobby, a new photo exhibit by the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) will open.

And at seven, there will be a concert by Maqamat, an orchestra of the Edward Said National Conservatory of Music, in the Economic and Social Council Chamber.

**Security Council

On the Security Council, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Edmond Mulet this morning briefed the Security Council on Darfur, saying that the security situation there remains unstable.  He warned that the UN-African Union mission, UNAMID, has been facing some serious challenges related to its freedom of movement.  Mulet said that the United Nations is committed to resolving the issue in collaboration with the Sudanese authorities.

He said that, regarding the peace process, considerable progress needs to be made on key issues like power-sharing, wealth-sharing, security and compensation in the coming months in order for elections to be meaningful in Darfur.  We have his briefing notes upstairs, and the Security Council also heard an update from the Joint Chief Mediator, Djibril Bassolé, before going into consultations.

Earlier, the Security Council unanimously adopted two resolutions.

On the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Council renewed arms sanctions until November 30, 2010, and extended the mandate of the Group of Experts dealing with the DRC for the same period.

And the Council renewed for 12 months its authorization to Member States and regional organizations cooperating with Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government in the fight against piracy and armed robbery at sea of Somalia’s coast.

Today was the last day of Austria’s Security Council presidency.  Tomorrow, Burkina Faso takes over the rotating presidency of the Council.

**Humanitarian Appeal

The United Nations is calling for $7.1 billion to provide urgent humanitarian aid to 48 million people in 25 countries worldwide in 2010.

The 2010 Humanitarian Appeal is the biggest Appeal ever launched since the creation of the Consolidated Appeal Process (CAP) in 1991, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).

In the foreword to the Appeal, the Secretary-General says that the aim is to help people survive the coming year, and start working their way out of vulnerability towards the dignity, safety and self-sufficiency to which every human being has a right.

The 2010 Appeal comprises 12 consolidated appeals, for Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, the occupied Palestinian territory, Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, the West Africa region, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

Launching the Appeal earlier in Geneva, John Holmes, United Nations Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said that humanitarian aid should be insulated from the current budget pressures faced by many Governments.  If not, the people desperately affected by the severest natural disasters and conflicts will pay the price for a recession not of their making, he added.

Holmes also noted that the amount of humanitarian funding requested for 2010 was far less than 1 per cent of the amount spent on financial bailouts and economic stimulus.

We have a press release on this upstairs.

** Lebanon

On Lebanon, the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)’s Maritime Task Force (MTF) today underwent a transfer of command from Germany to Italy.  In a ceremony, the UNIFIL Force Commander, Major-General Claudio Graziano, paid special tribute to Germany for its competent leadership of the MTF over the past months.  We have a press release with more details upstairs.


On the eve of World AIDS Day, the World Health Organization (WHO) is releasing new recommendations on treatment, prevention and infant feeding in the context of HIV -- based on the latest scientific evidence.

For the first time, WHO is recommending that HIV-positive mothers or their infants take antiretroviral drugs while breastfeeding to prevent HIV transmission.

We have more on that upstairs.


The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) launched today an assessment of the impacts of oil production in the Ogoni region of the Niger Delta.

Oil exploration and production in the oil-rich Niger Delta region started in the 1950s, but operations were suspended in the early 1990s due to local public unrest, according to UNEP.  It adds that environmental contamination from these operations has not been remedied to date and that further spills have resulted from lack of maintenance.

The assessment, which was requested by the Government of Nigeria, will last approximately one year.

There is also a press release on this upstairs.


A United Nations report released today says, that while the Asia-Pacific region is leading the global economic recovery -- with the 2010 growth rate forecast at 6.3 per cent, the highest in the world -- considerable uncertainties remain about its extent and durability.

Among the region’s major economies, China is forecast to see 9 per cent growth, the fastest in 2010, driven by public and private investment.  Domestic demand-led economies of India and Indonesia are also forecast to grow fast, at 7.5 per cent and 5 per cent, respectively, driven by domestic consumption and investment.


I have a DPI note.  The Department of Public Information will host a half-day discussion forum on the state of news media and the rise of new media, on 2 December 2009, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.

DPI says the discussion forum will explore the declining state of the print media, showcase news media and their application, and demonstrate new public outreach tools being used by Member States.

Confirmed panellists include:  Joshua Benton, Director, Niemen Journalism Lab, Harvard University; Dr. Amy Khor, Chairperson, REACH (Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry@Home), Singapore; Macon Phillips, White House Director of New Media; and Juliana Rotich, Project Director, Ushahidi.

There will also be presentations by the following Member States on their use of news media:   Brazil, Japan, Switzerland and Sweden.  Ambassador Mr. Antonio Pedro Monteiro Lima ( Cape Verde), Chairman, Committee on Information, will also address the forum.

**Press Conference Tomorrow

And at 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference on a digital media art installation called CO2 CUBES – Visualize a Tonne of Change.  This installation will be unveiled next week in Copenhagen and will highlight the monumental scale of carbon dioxide (CO2) being released into the atmosphere by human activity.

Before taking your questions and before giving the floor to the spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly, I would like to acknowledge the presence of one person who is very dear to me, my predecessor Stéphane Dujarric.  And he has helped me tremendously.

Okay, I will take your questions please.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  I noted in the released statement by the Secretary-General on the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People, he refers to a vision of two States that was set up by resolution 181.  President [Barack] Obama, when he addressed the General Assembly, talked about a Jewish State of Israel living side-by-side in peace with a Palestinian sovereign State.  But in a press briefing here on 22 September, PA [Palestinian Authority] Prime Minister [Salam] Fayad rejected the idea of a Jewish State.  He said it’s not part of the Palestinian Authority’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.  I wonder if the Secretary-General has a position on the nature of the two-State solution, which would include or not include specific protection of Israel as a Jewish State.

Spokesperson:  We don’t have a position on that.  We have said it over and over again.  What we do recognize is the need for the existence of two States, living side-by-side.  We don’t actually want to venture into determining what each State will be like.  I think it’s for the people of those States to determine what those States will be.  What I would say is that, for us, it is important that the two-State solution be carried through.  Yes, Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Michèle.  First of all, thank you very much for all the work you have done with us through the past 10 years.  We appreciate that.  Looking back into your experience, you were a journalist in the past three years  -- what is the biggest lesson you have learned?

Spokesperson:  Doing this work -- okay, I’ve just been told that Ambassador [Susan] Rice will be at the stakeout in a few minutes.  Okay, so for those of you who want to go to the stakeout, please feel free.  My biggest lesson -- I have learned a lot.  I know I have been faced with a lot of misunderstanding, not of the Secretary-General only, but also of the Organization as a whole.  And my biggest lesson is that there is a lot more to say about the United Nations that is not being said.  Yes, Bill.

Question:  I just want to say “thank you” for all your help, Michèle, and good luck in the future.

Spokesperson:  Thank you so much, Bill.  I appreciate it.  Yes, Matthew.

Question:  I have a couple of questions.  One is in Guinea, this human rights leader, Moctar Diallo, has just been arrested by the Government over the weekend, just while the UN panel is present for an interview that he gave during 28 September.  What’s the UN reaction to this move by the Guinean Government?

Spokesperson:  Well, as you know, there have been many arrests made.  We have said clearly that there should be respect for the right of expression and the right of association in Guinea.  We have the group there right now, and I am not going to comment on one specific case.

Question:  I want to also ask on this case in Haiti, the thing I had asked you about before the shooting.  It’s now one of the people shot (inaudible) has said he was shot in the shoulder and that it wasn’t a bullet in the air, but a bullet fired into the field.  What’s been the outcome of the UN’s ... you’d said that they were going to investigate the use of live ammo ...

Spokesperson:  I don’t have anything new on that.  And, of course, I am aware of those statements made by the victim.  I cannot say anything more about this.  As I told you, there is an investigation going on.  I don’t have the results yet.

Question:  One last thing.  There is this letter by the Elders, signed by Desmond Tutu, about Sri Lanka, saying that, among other things, the UN system doesn’t have access to the areas in which people are purportedly being resettled.  Has the Secretariat received this letter, and what is its response to what the Elders are saying should be done?

Spokesperson:  I am not aware of the letter yet.  As soon as we hear, I’ll let you know.  [She later said the letter has not been received.]

Question:  Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the vote in Switzerland to ban minarets from mosques?

Spokesperson:  Yes, we are certainly aware of it and, as you know, this has been a front page story in most European newspapers today.  As you know, we have been consistently calling for understanding among different religions.  I understand that the High Commissioner for Human Rights will have a statement on this in a few minutes, I think soon.  And I also know that you have already a statement by the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of religion, and that statement is upstairs in my Office.  In addition, as recently as earlier this month, the Secretary-General told a gathering of religious and secular leaders that the values of tolerance and the equal worth of every human being are found in all the great faiths, in the UN Charter and in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  They are truly universal.  I’m quoting from the statement he made when he was in London meeting with the faith groups.

Question:  Any reaction from the United Nations to the elections in Honduras?

Spokesperson:  We don’t have anything at this point.  The election took place, as you know, yesterday.  As you know, we didn’t have a role in those elections, I’ve told you several times during our briefings.  It is not for the Secretary-General to recognize or not recognize yesterday’s electoral process.  The vote appears to have taken place in tranquillity, although we have heard reports of heavy deployment of public security forces and some instances of intimidation.  The Secretary-General is aware of persistent division in the region regarding yesterday’s elections.  He continues to encourage all political actors to commit to resolution of their differences and to work for a better future for Honduras.  And the Secretary-General understands that a new Government is scheduled to take office on 27 January, and he hopes that a solution will be reached by then.

And that is really all I can say at this point.

Thank you all so much.  I would like to first give the floor to Jean Victor before we have our Capital Master Plan wizard take the floor.

And I would like to thank my team for being here in force!

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Michèle, thank you so much.  I would very much like to add that you have been and you are a wonderful colleague and a friend, and sharing this podium with you has been a privilege and I very much appreciate your support and your camaraderie.  Merci beaucoup, and the best of luck.  Thank you.

Good afternoon.

His Excellency Dr. Ali Abdussalam Treki, the President of the United Nations General Assembly, made a statement earlier today on the occasion of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People.  In his statement, President Treki reaffirmed, I quote, “the General Assembly’s position that the United Nations has a permanent responsibility towards the question of Palestine until it is effectively resolved in conformity with relevant United Nations resolutions.  Our collective expression of solidarity with the Palestinian people also entails action and responsibility”.

President Treki called for, and I quote, “renewed efforts by the parties supported by the international community with the aim of establishing an independent and sovereign State of Palestine”.

This statement is available and will be posted on line.  Please note that this afternoon the General Assembly will consider the agenda item entitled “Question of Palestine”.  That’s what I have for you today.  Questions?  Yes.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  (Inaudible) ... for clarification.  Does the President want to have the parties to the Middle East conflict start negotiations now?

Spokesperson:  I think this has been an ongoing process in which the President of the General Assembly has been very much engaged in trying to look and contribute to a solution, an acceptable outcome in conformity with the relevant resolutions.  So, whether it is something that has to happen on a specific date, what I can tell is that you may want to monitor what the President is going to say this afternoon at the General Assembly, because this item is coming up.

Question:  Does the President of the General Assembly have any plans for travel in the next few weeks, and to where?

Spokesperson:  Not in the next couple of weeks, but definitely because the current agenda in the next couple of weeks is pretty busy here in New York.  The President will definitely travel early next year, and during his mandate, the rest of his mandate in several countries and covering all continents.  Yes, Masood.

Question:  I just want to find out, Victor, has the President of the General Assembly seen this report about this Swiss, one of the Swiss places banning the building of minarets.  Does he have any take on that banning of minarets in Switzerland on which a human rights (inaudible) has also given a statement?

Spokesperson:  I take your question.  This happened yesterday.  I will check whether the President has a position on that.  He may or he may not have a position on that.  But I’ll come back to you on that, Masood.

No further questions, I thank you.  I know ASG Adlerstein is waiting to brief you.  Thank you.

* *** *

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