3 December 2009


Spokesperson's Noon Briefing
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.

Good afternoon,

**Press Conference Today

At 3 p.m., there will be a press conference by Ambassador Christian Wenaweser, Permanent Representative of Liechtenstein and President of the Assembly of the States Parties to the Rome Statute governing the International Criminal Court.


Our first item is on Somalia.

The United Nations, the African Union Mission in Somalia, known as AMISOM, the European Union, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, the League of Arab States, Norway and the United States issued a joint statement in Nairobi today.  They all condemned in the strongest terms the cowardly suicide bombing carried out which killed Transitional Federal Government officials, students, journalists and other civilians in Mogadishu.

The horrific attack is another demonstration of the extremists’ complete disregard for human life, the statement says.  The full statement is available upstairs and I’m expecting a statement by the Secretary-General on this attack shortly.


Also on Somalia, a Humanitarian Appeal for the country was launched today in Nairobi by the United Nations Humanitarian and Resident Coordinator for Somalia.  The 2010 appeal seeks an estimated $690 million for 174 projects to respond to the most urgent humanitarian needs in Somalia.

The appeal focuses on four strategic priorities:  providing life-saving humanitarian services; protecting and increasing the social economic and environmental assets; providing vulnerable populations with a minimum package of basic services; and strengthening the protective environment for vulnerable populations particularly women and the youth.

The Resident Coordinator, Mark Bowden reiterated that, "early funding will be absolutely crucial to provide humanitarian assistance in time" and added that "without strong donor commitment from the first week of 2010 humanitarian assistance for nearly 3.6 million Somalis will be delayed and lives will be at greater risk.  There is more information on this upstairs.

**Security Council

And also in connection with Somalia, the Security Council has scheduled consultations at 3 p.m. this afternoon, to discuss the latest developments in Somalia.

The Security Council this morning, as you know, met to hear the latest update from the Presidents and the prosecutors of the two international tribunals on their efforts to wrap up those bodies’ work.

Serge Brammertz, the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, noted the progress of the trial of Radovan Karadzic, and added that the arrest of Ratko Mladic remains a priority for his office. And Hassan Jallow, the Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, said that he anticipates that by the end of 2010, the trial of all the current detainees, except for two recently arrested suspects, will have concluded.  We have the statements by the two tribunal officials upstairs.


The report of the Secretary-General on his mission of good offices in Cyprus is out on the racks.

In it, the Secretary-General says that the parties are making solid progress, and that he is “cautiously optimistic” that a solution can be achieved. He adds that, on the basis of what has been accomplished so far, the international community expects the talks to continue to make substantial progress in a timely fashion.

The Secretary-General urges the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders to maintain their good personal and working relationship, which is vital for the success of the talks.  He says the coming weeks and months will be decisive, as important decisions will have to be made. This is a unique opportunity that must be seized by both sides, he adds. And as I mentioned, the report is out on the racks today.


And also on Cyprus, Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias and Turkish Cypriot leader Mehmet Ali Talat met today under UN auspices in Nicosia.

In his remarks to the press after the meeting, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser non Cyprus, Alexander Downer, said that the leaders discussed the question of citizenship, aliens, immigration and asylum.  They are expected to meet again next Wednesday, 9 December.

**SG Statement-Somalia

And as I mentioned at the start of the briefing, we now have the statement attributable to the Spokesperson of the Secretary-General on the suicide attack in Mogadishu.

The Secretary-General condemns today’s suicide attack at a graduation ceremony of medical students in Mogadishu.  Reports indicate that at least 15 Somalis have lost their lives, among them three cabinet ministers of the Transitional Federal Government, graduating students and journalists reporting on what should have been an event filled with hope for Somalia.  Another government minister has been severely wounded in this attack.  The Secretary-General sends his deepest sympathies to the families of the victims as well as to the government and the people of Somalia.

This attack could only strengthen the determination of the Somali government and people and their partners to persist in their efforts to fight terrorism.  It underlines how urgent it has become for the international community to accelerate its delivery of pledged support to Somali security institutions as well as to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

And that statement is available for you in the Spokesperson’s office.


On Burundi, the Secretary-General’s latest report on the United Nations Integrated Office in Burundi (BINUB) is also out today.

In it, the Secretary-General says that much has been achieved in Burundi in a short time but that the situation remains fragile.  He adds that the coming year will be crucial for Burundi, as the country must be assisted to ensure that the gains achieved so far are consolidated before, during and after the 2010 elections.

In light of this, the Secretary-General recommends that the mandate of the Office in the country be renewed for an additional year when it expires on 31 December 2009.


And on Iraq, Ad Melkert, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, responded positively in a statement yesterday to multiple suggestions to assist in finding solutions for the few outstanding questions concerning Iraq’s Election Law.  He has been using his good offices during his various consultations with all political leaders in order to assist in reaching an agreement.

The UN Assistance Mission for Iraq (UNAMI) strongly supports the efforts undertaken to clarify voting for Iraqis abroad, as well as the inclusion in the law of the distribution of seats among the governorates.  UNAMI, that’s the UN mission there, says that 27 February 2010 is a feasible option for the election date, for practical and constitutional reasons.


And a couple of more items.

Measles death worldwide have fallen by 78% between 2000 and 2008—but a resurgence is likely if vaccination efforts are not sustained.  That’s according to the Measles initiative, a partnership launched in 2001 that includes UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO).  There is more on this in a press release upstairs.


And there is press release also by the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) today about a new report which says that maternal deaths in developing countries could be slashed by 70% and newborn deaths cut nearly in half if the world doubled investment in family planning and pregnancy-related care.

Currently, more than half a million maternal deaths and 3.5 million newborn deaths, many of them easily preventable, occur each year in developing countries.


And as you know, today is the International Day of Persons with Disabilities.  The theme this year is “making the Millennium Development Goals disability-inclusive.”

In a message, the Secretary-General says that persons with disabilities are often among the poorest and most excluded members of society.  He stresses that putting persons with disabilities and their communities at the heart of development efforts is a proven way to advance the agenda.

The Secretary-General also says that the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which entered into force in 2008, is one of the most important tools to advance this cause.  We must continue to work for its implementation and its universality, he adds.  And that message is available upstairs.

**Stevie Wonder

And as you know, just a few minutes ago, the Secretary-General introduced the singer Stevie Wonder as the newly-designated UN Messenger of Peace.

He acknowledged Stevie Wonder’s role as a music star but also as a great humanitarian and activist.  He said the UN looked forward to working with him to advance the rights and well-being of persons with disabilities.

We have his remarks also upstairs in which the Secretary-General asked Stevie Wonder to consider a special performance of his song “Signed, sealed, delivered” to inspire the negotiators of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference.


And at 3 p.m. today, the Secretary-General in the ECOSOC Chamber will celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, known as the CEDAW Convention.

He is to say that the Convention will underpin the work of the new United Nations gender equality entity that the General Assembly has decided to establish.  The Secretary-General urges Member States to get this new entity up and running quickly.

He also will urge the entire UN system to support the full implementation of the Convention and will call on those few countries that have not ratified the Convention to do so.

**Press Conferences Tomorrow

Finally, two press conferences for tomorrow that you should be aware of -- At 11 a.m. tomorrow, there will be a press conference by Janos Pasztor, the Director of the Secretary-General's Climate Change Support Team, on the ongoing climate change negotiations, and at 1 p.m. we’ll have Luis Moreno Ocampo, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.  He will be briefing to the Security Council on Sudan, and he will come to 226 immediately after that.

So, that’s what I have for you.  Let’s start in the back.

**Questions and Answers

Question:  Yes.  Was Mr. Wonder and Ban Ki-moon, were they taken outside or to another part of the UN during the fire alarm?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think they wrapped up the event and they came up here for their press conference.  And I announced a little bit before, right before the press conference that -– for those of you who were asking -– the alarm was triggered by smoke or dust that was generated by construction work on the second basement level and we were told that there was no damage reported and no fire there. Yes, Masood.

Question:  Marie, can you tell me since the Pakistan military operation is ongoing in Waziristan, are there any more reports of IDPs that the United Nations has encountered or settled?  And the other thing is, has the funding which was like 60 per cent or 61 per cent, is there any update on that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not received an update today.  But we’ll ask OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) to provide you with one if they have any further figures on that.

Question:  Also Marie, is there any update on the exchange of prisoners between the Israelis and the Hamas group?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Nothing beyond what we’ve been reading in the press reports.  Yes.

Question:  Marie, the Permanent Representative of Spain yesterday called the Secretary-General to ask him personally to intervene on the case Aminatou Haidar. Do you have anything on that?  What was the response of the Secretary-General to the request, and what he plans to do?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I actually don’t have a read out on… I don’t have confirmation of that phone call you mentioned.  However, if it’s in regards to the detention of Ms. Haidar, the Secretary-General has already stated his concerns about her detention, and the United Nations is engaged in finding a solution.  We’re working with Morocco and other parties to promote a speedy resolution, and I don’t have anything beyond this for now.  Yes.

Question:  On Climate Change, do you have any update on how many heads of state and government will take part in Copenhagen?  And also, when do you the SG will be leaving to Copenhagen?

Deputy Spokesperson:  The Secretary-General has told you that he will be in Copenhagen for the Climate Change conference and I hope to have an announcement for you tomorrow on the exact dates that he will be there.  And in regards to the numbers, they are going up everyday.  Yesterday the Secretary-General mentioned that I believe that the number was over [90], but we do have to check with the actual Climate Change conference organizers who are keeping the tally on the summit part of the conference, which is on 17 and 18 of December.

Question:  How much confidence (inaudible)…that the treaty will be signed?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you’ve heard the Secretary-General on this a number of times on the need to seal the deal while in Copenhagen and he will be going there with that goal in mind.  Matthew.

Question:  Marie, I wanted to know if you can confirm that a Nepalese major serving in MINURCAT, Niranjan Basnet, who was found guilty of both murder and torture in Nepal is being repatriated from the mission and Nepalese media accounts say that the UN only vets senior officials, therefore didn’t vet this major despite the charges that were swirling around him at the time he was deployed.  It’s reported that DPKO has decided to send him back.  Is that true?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I think we’re waiting for some updates from DPKO on that issue, but I haven’t seen any yet.  So if they’re listening, please send it down.

Question:  And if that update can include whether it’s true that… why he wasn’t vetted in the first place and what the cut-off is in terms of officials whose human rights records are vetted by the UN before they’re deployed as peacekeepers.  I also wanted to know in terms of the…it’s called the massacre in the Philippines last week, in Mindanao.  So, has there been any request to the UN to be involved in probing that?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I am not aware.  But if there is anything, we’ll get back to you on that.

Question:  And I asked you about this letter from Elders, Desmond Tutu and others about Sri Lanka.  At the time that I asked you you’d said that you hadn’t received it.  Has it been received and what’s the UN’s response to it? 

Deputy Spokesperson:  We checked for you at that time and we had not received it, and I have not seen anything that has updated that. Yes.

Question:  Thank you, Marie.  The former head of the UN panel of experts on Sudan, Enrico Carisch who coordinated the most recent report gave testimony this morning to the House Sub-Committee on Africa and (inaudible).  He had some pretty harsh words about the UN.  He said that the UN was… that in addition to the government of Sudan creating obstacles to the…impeding the work of the panel, the UN also caused problems.  They denied access to the panel to parts of Darfur and Sudan for two months for what he says alleged security reasons.  And then he says that there is a general sort of caving in to Sudanese government pressure on the part of the UN, its bodies and also the Security Council.  So I’m wondering if you might have anything; if you’ve heard of these allegations and if there is any response.

Deputy Spokesperson:  I have not, and I don’t have any guidance on that today.  But I will check with the mission and with DPKO and we’ll get back to you with an answer.  Mr. Abbadi.

Question:  Thank you, Marie.  The Secretary-General will soon travel, as you know, to attend the Copenhagen conference on Climate Change.  Are there any preparations being made for his end-of-the-year press conference before or after?

Deputy Spokesperson: Yes, his press conference as you know, the next one is now scheduled I believe for 14 December; that’s on Monday at 11.00 a.m.  Yes.

Question:  Marie, the Iraq election law was rejected by the vice president (inaudible)… saying that by February (inaudible)… How is that possible…such short timeline?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I can only refer you to his statement that was issued yesterday and we just read out for you.

Question:  Will there be any specifics added onto how they’re planning on getting all this together the next eight weeks…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Well, you can certainly follow up with the mission or you can have somebody in our office follow up with the mission on that.  But his statement is the latest that we have.  Matthew.

Question:  Since yesterday’s announcement about Mr. Gambari, the NLD, the main opposition party regarding Myanmar has said various things about Mr. Gambari, from their point of view, wasn’t effective; didn’t speak loudly enough; didn’t have the government meet with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.  I wonder, one if there is any response from the UN from what this opposition party has come out and said.  And two, what’s the process for appointing a successor for good offices to Myanmar?  Does it require a letter to the Security Council, or who will the Secretary-General consult with before naming such a person and when does he expect doing that? 

Deputy Spokesperson:  All I can tell you right now is what I told you yesterday, that the Secretary-General will be looking for a replacement now that Mr. Gambari has been appointed…you know, now that the Secretary-General has written to the Security Council about his intention to appoint Mr. Gambari.  And beyond tht I have nothing further on the process, but only to tell you that the good offices mission is continuing, even as we speak.

Question:  Just a factual question; Mr. Gambari I believe was in D.C. on Monday.  So, I guess the question is, does this concern the new UNAMID Sudan posting or did it concern the good offices role?  Was it a UN trip in essence?  Did he see…?

Deputy Spokesperson:  It sounds like you’ve already spoken to him and you’ve gotten his answer on that.

Question:  No, I’ve done where he was; not why he was.

Question:  Just to clarify…

Deputy Spokesperson:  He is not the Special Representative for Darfur yet.  So, he would only be going in his current capacity.  Yes.Question:  Just to clarify where Stevie Wonder actually went during the alarm, because he was, he re-entered the conference room then.  So where was he taken?

Deputy Spokesperson:  You’d have to ask his people.  I don’t know.

Question:  Where was Ban Ki-moon, then?

Deputy Spokesperson:  Most of the time he was sitting at the podium.

Question:  Okay, but when the alarm went off, where did Ban Ki-moon go?

Deputy Spokesperson:  I wasn’t watching, but if you really need to find out we can find out for you, okay.  All right.  Have a good afternoon.

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