DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York
1 October 2007
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Let me start with a statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General.
The Secretary-General condemned in the strongest possible terms the recent attack on African Union peacekeepers in Haskanita, South Darfur, and calls for the perpetrators to be held fully accountable for this outrageous act.
The African Union reports that 10 personnel from the AU Mission in Sudan (AMIS) have been killed, several more have been wounded and many more are missing following the shocking and brutal assault on the AMIS peacekeepers.
The Secretary-General offered his condolences to the families of those killed. He calls on all parties to immediately end the violence and recommit as a matter of the highest priority to a peaceful resolution to the conflict as the Government and rebel movements prepare for peace talks in Libya on 27 October and as the African Union and United Nations prepare to deploy a joint peace operation in Darfur. This is a statement issued yesterday afternoon.
And just to give you an update on the incident, our UN Mission in Sudan reports that it was on 29 September, that is Friday, at about 7:30 and again on 30 September at about 4 a.m. when the AMIS team group site in Haskanita in South Darfur came under heavy attack by armed elements. The Mission tells us the group forced its way into the camp and completely destroyed it. AMIS troops as we just mentioned suffered serious causalities and the future UNAMID Force Commander who is the current AU Commander on the ground, General Agwai, visited the area following the attack and was involved in directly supervising search and rescue efforts for the injured and missing.
And the joint AU-UN Special Representative Rodolphe Adada is in Haskinita, where an investigation into the attack -- about efforts trying to find out who is behind the attack and how it happened -- is under way.
The UN and AU Special Envoys to Darfur, Salim Ahmed Salim and Jan Eliasson, both expressed shock and dismay at the attack and urged all parties to the conflict to demonstrate a serious commitment to the peace process and to halt hostilities.
We have another statement from the UN Mission in Darfur and, as I mentioned, Martin Luther Agwai, the Force Commander and the future UNAMID Force Commander Designate, said that it was regrettable that such actions are taking place weeks before the convening of the Tripoli Peace Talks. And despite the casualties and loss of life, we will persevere in our efforts to keep the fragile peace on the ground while all eyes are set on the negotiation table to ensure the peace is a lasting and sustainable one.
Meanwhile, the acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General, Tayé-Brook Zerihoun, met yesterday with the so-called Elders delegation, headed by South African Nobel Peace Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, and including ex-US president Jimmy Carter, former UN envoy Lakhdar Brahimi, and Graca Machel, wife of former President Nelson Mandela.
And UNMIS also reports to us that over the weekend there were attacks on an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp and on humanitarian convoys in South Darfur. The past month as you know has witnessed violence in virtually every Darfur locality that is hosting IDPs and we have more of an update on the humanitarian side as well.
Question: Why did they meet the Machel group and Tutu?
Spokesperson: Their mission was to Sudan and they were meeting with the UN representatives on the ground to discuss the future of both the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, as well as what was going on in terms of the efforts under way for Darfur.
We have another statement that was issued earlier this morning and that was the statement attributable to the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General on the inter-Korean summit.
The Secretary-General welcomes the upcoming Summit between the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, scheduled to take place in Pyongyang from 2-4 October 2007. He wishes the two leaders success in using this historic occasion to lay a solid foundation for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.
The Secretary-General hopes the summit will lead to increased inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation, as well as promoting co-prosperity. He further hopes that it will contribute to the progress of the six-party talks on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and advance security cooperation in North-East Asia. The United Nations stands ready to provide assistance as may be required.
In this context, the Secretary-General on Sunday evening telephoned President Roh Moo-hyun of the Republic of Korea, and conveyed his best wishes on the eve of the historic Summit. The Secretary-General also expressed hopes that the Summit would lead to inter-Korean reconciliation, cooperation and co-prosperity, as well as the progress in the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula as we just mentioned.
The Secretary-General is scheduled this afternoon to meet with the Permanent Representative of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to convey a similar message as delivered to the President of the Republic of Korea.
**Security Council Briefing
And just in on the Security Council, I was trying to confirm this information for you. The Security Council is now scheduled to hold consultations at 3 p.m. this afternoon to hear a briefing from Jean-Marie Guéhenno, Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, on the attack on AMIS peacekeepers in Darfur.
Finally to Myanmar, the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser, Ibrahim Gambari, arrived in Myanmar on Saturday afternoon, and then spent that evening in the new capital, Naypitaw.
Gambari was received on Sunday by the Acting Prime Minister, Lieutenant General Thein Sein, along with the Cabinet Ministers for Information and Culture and the Deputy Foreign Minister. He conveyed a message from the Secretary-General.
In Yangon, later Sunday afternoon, Mr. Gambari met for over an hour with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. He also consulted with the United Nations Country Team and the International Committee of the Red Cross.
Mr. Gambari remains in Myanmar today. He looks forward to meeting with Senior General Than Shwe, Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, before the conclusion of his mission.
And we have gotten word that the Secretary-General has spoken with his Special Adviser, Mr. Gambari, to express full support for his mission there.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) says that authorities in Mandalay have lifted restrictions on shipments of food supplies. Convoys of food trucks began moving out of that area on Saturday. Earlier restrictions had prevented the movement of food supplies to more than 200,000 people in the northern part of the country. Distribution of WFP supplies that had already reached their destination had not been affected.
Back to the Security Council, Ghana has replaced France as the Security Council President for the month of October, and Ambassador Leslie Kojo Christian of Ghana, the new Security Council President, is holding bilateral consultations with other Council members on the programme of work, and as I just mentioned, at 3 p.m., they have now just scheduled consultations on Darfur. The Council is expected tomorrow to have consultations again on the programme of work. And following that briefing, Ambassador Christian will brief you in this room on the Council’s work for the month ahead.
And that will be at the usual time after the noon briefing tomorrow.
Turning to Afghanistan, Tom Koenigs, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative there, over the weekend condemned the bus attack that took place in Kabul on Saturday morning. He said an attack of this kind, on a busy city street, clearly aims at terrorizing large numbers of people and those responsible, he said, must be made to know that they will not prevail. That statement is available in the Spokesperson’s Office.
The Secretary-General’s latest report on Guinea-Bissau is now out on the racks. In it, he says progress has been made over the past few months, especially in the areas of public finance and cooperation with international financial institutions.
But at the same time, Guinea-Bissau continues to face enormous challenges, including political partisanship, simmering social discontent and the alarming threat posed by drug trafficking and organized crime. Unless those issues are urgently addressed, the important achievements made towards consolidating democracy in the country could be jeopardized, the report adds.
On Somalia, there is a press release from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) saying that some 600 police recruits graduated last week in a UNDP-supported training programme and that is part of a wider effort to help Somalia’s police which is expected to help strengthen the rule of law and boost security in that in that country.
**South Asia Floods
We also have a press release from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and other humanitarian organizations appealing to the world not to forget the millions of flood survivors in South Asia.
Please look at that upstairs.
And just to flag for you, UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis and OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria are chairing the launch of the Partnership for Democratic Governance today at 2:30 p.m. in the Delegates Dining Room. Also speaking will be the Minister of Chile, Secretary-General José Miguel Insulza from the Organization of American States, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from the US, Deputy Minister In-kook Park from the Republic of Korea and Under-Secretary Andrzej Sadoś of Poland.
If you can, take a look at the press release upstairs for the correct names. I think that’s it for me. Let’s start in the back. Colum?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Can you tell me the time again for the [Jean-Marie] Guéhenno briefing on the attacks? And also can you give us some sense of what impact do you think, or the Secretary-General thinks, this is going to have on his ability to deploy a hybrid force? Will it slow it down? Apparently, some of the countries are talking about pulling out.
Spokesperson: The Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, is briefing the Council at 3 p.m. and hopefully we can get him to the stakeout for you as well and perhaps you can pose your questions directly to him. However, in terms of what happened this weekend, as already spoken by the future African Union-United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) Force Commander, Martin Agwai, I think we can say that the attack confirms that the AU-UN force which will deploy to Darfur must be sufficiently robust to defend itself from spoilers and protect civilians from attack, and the African Union and UN are working with a range of troop-contributing countries, so that the troops who make up this future force have the capabilities required to do so. And, of course, we are working very closely with the African Union to ensure that as UNAMID is deployed, African Union Mission in Sudan (AMIS) troops already on the ground are strengthened and troops deployed early to UNAMID are sufficiently robust.
Question: You said that UNAMID and the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) are helping with some search and rescue. What information can you tell us about how many are missing, who’s holding them and where they’re concentrating their efforts?
Spokesperson: Well, first of all, this is right now an AMIS operation, so the information we are getting from UNMIS is second-hand information. The first source of this information is AMIS. As of now the only concrete information that we have is that there are 10 dead, that there are six to eight injured -- six of whom I believe were taken to a hospital in Khartoum -- and there are a number of missing, but that is something that you need to follow up with AMIS in terms of the numbers, because a number of those missing have been found subsequently.
Question: I know it’s an AMIS operation, but you said the UN is helping. What exactly are you doing?
Spokesperson: The UN, obviously, will be working very closely to carry out an investigation into the attack, of course. Right now it is AMIS that is doing so, but the UN has offered and, as the UN did offer yesterday in the transport of casualties. I don’t have a follow-up on who transported what, but I know that throughout the hours after the attacks the UN and the AU have been working very closely together on the follow-up.
Question: One more thing: UN personnel. No UN personnel were on the camp, anywhere nearby or witness to any of it?
Question: And who did this?
Spokesperson: The investigation, as I said, is under way, so who did it and what was behind is precisely what is being investigated right now. Benny, and then we’ll move on.
Correspondent: This is on Burma.
Spokesperson: Can we go through Darfur because I know there are probably questions on both? Yes?
Question: Can you say that this is the largest attack on AU forces so far?
Spokesperson: Well that’s what AMIS says. That’s something that AMIS has said, yes. Let’s go to somebody who hasn’t asked. Matthew?
Question: Two questions: this trip of the elders to Sudan with Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter and all that, what communications do they have with the UN system?
Spokesperson: Maybe you weren’t in here yet. The acting Special Representative, Tayé Zerihoun, as well as the Joint AU-UN Representative, Mr. Adada, they met with the group yesterday. But my understanding is that they’re there on their own independent mission to Sudan.
Question: And the other thing is that the President of Senegal has said very explicitly that he would pull his troops if he finds that they were under-equipped and he’s ordered his own investigation. Is the UN’s understanding that Senegal is going to do its own investigation or is that a part of the African Union investigation? And what does the UN say to a country that says they were under-equipped?
Spokesperson: Well, I think you missed again the remarks about the fact that this attack, this kind of attack precisely underscores the need to have a robust force in the future, both the force that is on the ground now -- to reinforce AMIS on the ground -- and as we prepare to deploy UNAMID.
Question: Is that an acknowledgement that they were under-equipped at the time?
Spokesperson: I think that you are looking at the same press reports that I have about Senegal. I don’t have anything directly from the Peacekeeping Department on that particular country. Again, the forces on the ground currently are with AMIS. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations for its part has had, I believe, a number of troop-contributing meetings and I understand that they will convene one shortly to brief them as soon as more facts from the ground become available.
Question: But if Senegal did its own investigation, would the UN cooperate?
Spokesperson: My understanding right now is that it is AMIS that is doing the investigation and the UN will be working very closely with the African Union on this.
Question: Do you know when that troop contributor meeting will be?
Spokesperson: It has not yet been scheduled, but before the end of the week. Right now the only information that I was able to convey is that the Security Council is meeting at 3 p.m. this afternoon.
Question: In terms of UN action in the area where the attack happened, have you pulled out all staff from the area? Are humanitarian missions continuing as normal?
Spokesperson: Well humanitarian missions have not been continuing as normal at all in Darfur which is what I was trying to tell you --
Question: I’m sorry to cut you off, but I understand in response to other events, but in response to this specific event what has changed as far as UN operations?
Spokesperson: This was a team, a small team AMIS site from what I understand. Again, this is information conveyed to our people from AMIS. It was a small team site of less than 100 people. Those of you who have gone to Darfur know what the terrain looks like. This is in a remote outpost where we’re talking about a number of tents -- this is not a fortified headquarters structure -- in the middle of the bush.
Question: Could you keep us posted on the composition of the force? Because it’s not true that Sudan is accepting specialized troops from elsewhere, having turned down engineers from Norway so … and also the AU wants all African infantry and Sudan wants all African infantry, which is [inaudible] operates and it’s not a technical problem, but a big political one. So, if you can keep us posted on troop contributors, and whether the Secretary-General is speaking to both the AU and Sudan on where this is going?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General is very, very focused and engaged in this issue as you know and his first reaction was in the statement issued yesterday. Darfur? No more Darfur? Okay. Myanmar? Richard?
Question: I yield to my colleague on the first Myanmar question. Benny?
Question: You said that Mr. Gambari conveyed the message from the Secretary-General to the General. What was that message?
Spokesperson: The message has been repeatedly mentioned and obviously the exact content of the message we are not going to have. But in general, his message has been conveyed to you repeatedly, which is that at the time of his dispatching Mr. Gambari to the region and subsequently, he has said that he hopes the Government will seize this opportunity to engage without delay in dialogue with all relevant parties to the national reconciliation process on the issues of concern to the people of Myanmar, and that the Secretary-General -- and this again he has said repeatedly through his good offices -- is committed to continue to intensify his assistance in this process with a view to promoting national reconciliation, the restoration of democracy, and full respect for human rights in Myanmar.
[She later announced that, in his phone call to Gambari, in addition to expressing support for his mission, the Secretary-General asked his Envoy to call on the Myanmar authorities to cease the repression of peaceful protest, release detainees and to move more credibly and inclusively in the direction of democratic reform, human rights and national reconciliation.]
Question: Is there any “or else” in the message? I mean the UN has a presence there, there’s food deliveries of the World Food Programme, is there any conditionality?
Spokesperson: I think for now, Benny, we will have to see how Mr. Gambari’s mission plays out. He, as I mentioned to you, he arrived there Saturday, he has met with the leadership, he has met with Aung San Suu Kyi, and he says he looks forward to meeting with Than Shwe before the end of his mission. So let’s wait until he’s finished with that.
Question: Just to put a dot on the “i” there, has Than Shwe agreed to see him or is that firm?
Spokesperson: Well, it’s late tonight, so obviously he did not meet with him today so let us give you an update tomorrow. [She later announced Mr. Gambari has been told by authorities that he will be able to meet the Senior General, Than Shwe, on Tuesday.]
Question: When you said the Secretary-General spoke with Mr. Gambari to express support for his meeting there, since he’s the main man and as the world watches, what is Mr. Gambari’s message back here? How is his trip going so far and, I realize it’s a fluid situation, when can we expect him back to brief the Council? What’s the earliest possible?
Spokesperson: I don’t have any dates to announce as of now. I’m going to ask you for a little patience until we find out exactly when he’s coming out of Myanmar and when he’ll be returning here.
Question: Why did the Secretary-General feel it was necessary to say, “I express support for him”?
Spokesperson: The Secretary-General, is the one who dispatched Mr. Gambari to the region, and before he went, I believe he said he wanted to see all important actors while he is there. He is in the process of doing so and I think it’s natural for the Secretary-General to be in touch with his Special Envoy.
Question: Will he be disappointed if he does not meet the senior military leadership?
Spokesperson: As Mr. Gambari himself says, he looks forward to meeting with General Than Shwe before he leaves.
Question: Does he plan to meet with the other leaders [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: I don’t have any further details on who he met with other than what has been released by us over the weekend. Yes?
Question: There were some questions over the weekend about where exactly Mr. Gambari was and problems getting hold of him. What happened?
Spokesperson: He arrived in Yangon and then he went to the new capital. He returned back to Yangon where he met with, as I mentioned, Aung San Suu Kyi, with the UN team and other groups on Saturday. Then he again went up to the new capital. He is still in Myanmar and he looks forward to meeting with the military leader.
Question: So, he didn’t go anywhere else?
Spokesperson: I cannot say that. I just told you what I know up to now.
Question: So he’s in the new capital today? Because, of course, today is over.
Spokesperson: He is in Myanmar today.
Question: So he’s going to stay tomorrow our time?
Spokesperson: I don’t have the precise location of where he is this evening.
Question: No, I’m just saying when you said he was waiting today to meet them, today is over now in Myanmar because of the time difference.
Spokesperson: Yes, that is correct. He’s spending the night in Myanmar but I cannot confirm to you where he is.
Question: And you don’t know how long he’s going to be there?
Spokesperson: No, I cannot tell you how long he’s going to be there. That’s correct.
Question: Can you provide any further details about the remainder of the time he’s going to be there as far as itinerary, any other meetings he has planned, or any other schedule?
Spokesperson: I think this statement today speaks for itself. He is waiting, looking forward to seeing the General.
Question: The meeting with the General, is that considered the end of the visit once that happens?
Spokesperson: I have not said that. This is all I can say for today. Yes?
Question: In terms of the message to the leadership is there also sort of carrots in the package? Often times when these Special Envoys go in these crises, they offer them more economic assistance and money and stuff like that. Is this all criticism to get him to stop or is there also a package of possible inducements?
Spokesperson: Colum, I’m going to have to say that, if we could say all this publicly, then there probably wasn’t a need to send Mr. Gambari on this mission, so let’s wait until he finishes his diplomacy there and let’s look forward to him speaking once he comes out of the country. Yes?
Question: Can I understand that the purpose of his mission has slightly changed? Initially he was supposed to go there to calm the violence which turned out to be that the military controlled perfectly the demos…
Spokesperson: I’m sorry I didn’t understand the first part.
Question: The military controlled perfectly the demo as the violence is calmed down. Can we understand that there was a shifting of his mission now that…?
Spokesperson: No. If you look at all the statements that were issued by the Secretary-General over the past week or so, I think the message has always been the same which is that the Secretary-General is using his good offices, mandate, and he’s committed to continue to intensify his assistance in the process with a view to promoting national reconciliation, the restoration of democracy and full respect for human rights in Myanmar. The purpose has always been the same. Yes?
Question: Who’s he travelling with while he’s in Myanmar? Is it just him? Or does he have a team from Department of Political Affairs or his Office?
Spokesperson: He has one desk officer travelling with him.
Question: Is it important for him to see Shwe? It sounds almost as if he came “hat in hand, please, please see me”. Is that the case or…?
Spokesperson: Yes, it’s important for him to see him and that’s why he’s looking forward to seeing him before he leaves.
Correspondent: It seems that the General is not that enthusiastic.
Spokesperson: Benny, that’s your interpretation.
Correspondent: I’m asking, it sounds like he’s saying he’s looking forward to it but the General’s not exactly saying, “okay, come in”.
Question: Can I ask you another way? Are Member States of the United Nations actively trying to persuade the General to see Ibrahim Gambari?
Spokesperson: You’d have to ask the Member States.
Question: Is the Secretary-General asking Member States to ask the Burmese?
Spokesperson: I think the Secretary-General has made it perfectly clear by sending his Envoy there that he wanted to meet with all key actors and that included the General, yes.
Question: Did he ask Member States for support?
Spokesperson: Well, as you know, all last week he has been, throughout the General Assembly on the margins, he has been meeting with a number of regional and world leaders and that subject, yes, has come up in the relevant discussions. Yes?
Question: There’s this Reuters report quoting a diplomat saying that Gambari went to the border of China to some other town other than the two you mentioned. Are you saying that he didn’t go?
Spokesperson: I cannot confirm. I do not have first-hand information of where he is this evening. I know he is in Myanmar.
Question: There’s also a quote by the UN Special Rapporteur to Myanmar, Pinheiro, saying, “I would not qualify the protest as a popular uprising and this is not the time to make threats”. Does he speak for the UN system and does the Secretariat agree about the uprising?
Spokesperson: The Special Rapporteur is an independent Rapporteur and as all Special Rapporteurs, they have an independent voice, and they’ve been appointed to bring their opinions into the human rights debate. I don’t have a comment on that particular opinion. Again I refer you to the Secretary-General’s statements on the last few days on Myanmar. Yes?
Question: Can we understand that Mr. Gambari is now also raising the question about the missing monks or the arrested monks, the disappearing monks?
Spokesperson: I don’t have that degree of detail about what he will be raising since that meeting hasn’t taken place.
Question: Will he raise the question of deaths in those demonstrations?
Spokesperson: Again, let’s get a readout once he has had these discussions. Yes?
Question: Is Mr. Gambari’s mission open-ended or is there some deadline for when he’ll return?
Spokesperson: I don’t have the end date of his mission at the moment.
Correspondent: This is not about Myanmar.
Spokesperson: I think it’s okay. I think we’ve exhausted Myanmar.
Question: There was a terrorist attack in Turkey over the weekend and 12 people died, including one 5-year-old. I know the Secretary-General was very concerned about the incident. Does he have any reaction?
Spokesperson: I don’t have any immediate reaction. Let’s see afterwards if there’s something from upstairs.
Question: There is a new report on the UN website saying that an increasing number of Palestinians are dying because of the closing of routes by Israel. What does the Secretary-General intend to do to ease the situation?
Spokesperson: Well, the Secretary-General as you know has repeatedly drawn attention to this humanitarian situation. I don’t have anything new today but I can certainly provide you with statements made in the past but I don’t have anything new on this today. Yes?
Question: Over the weekend, on Saturday, in Pakistan, security forces beat up [inaudible]. Has the Secretary-General noticed that this is going on in Pakistan? [inaudible]. Does he have a reaction?
Spokesperson: Let me check for you. I don’t have an immediate reaction right now for you today. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Does the UN or the Secretary-General have any comment on this guilty plea in the oil-for-food trial of Oscar Wyatt? Has it taken note of it and does it have any bearing on the UN’s previous statements about oil-for-food?
Spokesperson: I don’t think it would change any previous statements on oil-for-food by the UN, no.
Question: My question is about the recent clashes between Uganda and the DRC. Do you have something about that?
Spokesperson: Let me check with the Department of Peacekeeping Operations to see if there’s anything on that for you and please come to my office afterward and we’ll look into it together, okay? Thank you very much.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Good afternoon. Thank you very much for your continued attention to the General Assembly. Just a couple of things to flag:
**Statement on Inter-Korean Summit Attributable to Spokesperson
We also have a statement on the inter-Korean summit, which is attributable to the Spokesperson of the President of the General Assembly. It reads as follows:
“The President of the General Assembly welcomes the upcoming historic summit meeting on 2 October in Pyongyang between the leaders of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the Republic of Korea. The President wishes to commend the two leaders for their brave initiative and further encourages them to use the opportunity of their meeting to make progress on promoting peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and on inter-Korean reconciliation. The President notes that it is in the interest of all Member States of the United Nations to achieve progress on those issues. The President believes that it is through dialogue that differences between Member States can best be resolved.”
And we have copies of the statement available upstairs for you.
The General Assembly’s general debate is in its fifth day. As of this morning we had 119 member states address the Assembly and one observer, that’s Palestine. “Responding to climate change”, which is the theme of this year’s debate has been addressed by almost all speakers and most of them also reflected on the key priority issues of the current, the sixty-second session -- these being, apart from climate change: financing for development; countering terrorism; the Millennium Development Goals; and management reform.
The Assembly is expected to conclude its work on Wednesday.
Then on Thursday and Friday -- I’ve mentioned this already but I’m flagging it again -- the General Assembly will hold a two-day High-Level Dialogue on Interreligious and Intercultural Understanding and Cooperation for Peace. This is to be at the ministerial or the highest possible level. The two-day event consists of three plenary meetings and on Thursday afternoon there will be an informal interactive hearing with representatives of civil society on challenges of interreligious and intercultural cooperation and on best practices and strategies for interreligious and intercultural cooperation. And we will have a detailed media advisory issued on this event.
**Day of Non-Violence
And, as regards tomorrow morning -- Day of Non-Violence, by the way, tomorrow -- tomorrow morning the Assembly will have its first observance of the International Day of Non-Violence. From 9:30 to 10 a.m., there will be an informal meeting of the plenary in the Assembly Hall and the President of the Assembly, as well as the Secretary-General, will make statements. The observance of the Day on 2 October is based on resolution 61/271 adopted by during the 61st session of the Assembly on 27 June 2007. That resolution “invites all Member States, organizations of the United Nations system, regional and non-governmental organizations and individuals to commemorate the International Day of Non-violence in an appropriate manner and to disseminate the message of non-violence, including through education and public awareness.”
That’s all I have for you. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Does the President of the General Assembly have any time frame for when he will start kicking off the Security Council reform process as far as appointing the facilitators, the chairperson et cetera?
Spokesperson: It is starting in the sense that he’s listening to all Member States and their expressions of what they think on how to proceed on various issues and in this regard he is looking at the statements in the General Debate getting some feel of where Member States want to go with that issue. Also he has held already over 40 bilateral meetings at the end of last week and this week he’s also continuing with bilateral meetings and one of the issues -- and I mentioned this last week already when I talked about the bilaterals -- one of the issues discussed during those meetings was Security Council reform and how to proceed on that. So, I think once he gathers all of that information, then he’s going to proceed and see which way he goes about the Working Group, appointing new facilitators et cetera. The lady in the back?
Question: Could you confirm is Myanmar still scheduled to speak in its regular slot?
Spokesperson: Yes, as far as I have seen this morning, that is correct. It is going to be the third speaker from the last, the Foreign Minister of Myanmar, that’s correct. Matthew?
Question: I noticed late last week in the speech by Palau, they said that there’d been a commitment by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to open eight offices in the Pacific Islands of sort of the UN system, various humanitarian agencies and that those had still not opened. The speech expressed displeasure at that. I’m wondering what’s the mechanism to respond to specific things, critiques of the UN? Is there any follow-up? Is the UNDP supposed to hear that? Does the GA President’s office follow up?
Spokesperson: What I can say about that is that the General Assembly President and his Office is listening very attentively to all the speeches of the Member States looking at, as I just mentioned to your colleague before, the various different issues that Member States are saying, whether it’s the priority issues, whether it’s the theme or whether it’s other issues on the agenda and that includes of course very specific comments. So in that sense, yes, this is noted. I don’t know what kind of follow-up we are supposed to be expecting, but it is definitely noted and the President’s Office is aware of all of the things that have been said by Member States. That’s the whole idea. When the President mentioned, if you remember at the very beginning, he talked about the General Assembly debate becoming not just a series of monologues, but kind of a dialogue, that’s what the whole revitalization of the Assembly is supposed to be about. That’s what the idea of having a theme, having priority issues, that’s also why he’s looking at each and every speech, he’s following the issue and will, of course, follow-up on those issues. Otherwise, then we’re back at a series of monologues.
Question: Can you brief me about the system of right of retorting?
Spokesperson: It’s called the right of reply and if I understand the rules correctly, it is the following: if the right of reply is exercised, in reply or in reaction to a statement made by a Head of State, that right of reply can only be exercised in writing. However, if it is in reaction to not a Head of State, but Head of Government or Minister, then you can take the floor from your seat and react and the first right of reply gives you 10 minutes. Usually what happens -- this is what played out Friday late evening in the Assembly hall as the plenary concluded that day -- is that you would have one country exercising right of reply concerning a statement given by another country and would have 10 minutes. Then maybe the country in regard to whom the right of reply was exercised, that country may also react and would have 10 minutes. And then the second time you could come back again and then you would have only five minutes.
Question: And after that, another five minutes for those who have been?
Spokesperson: Yes. And then that’s where it ends, yes.
Question: Does this often happen or very rarely?
Spokesperson: In the plenary or let’s put it this way, in the general debate as we have seen it does happen, probably not that often. But I think those of you who tend to follow other meetings, committee meetings, et cetera, that happens quite often, yes, that countries do exercise the right of reply.
Question: And can the right of reply be turned down from the President if he deems necessary?
Spokesperson: That is a very good question. Since I think it’s the sovereign right of every Member State to exercise this, I would venture to say -- but I will check on this -- I would venture to say that not. That he would not. I do not think that he would want to exercise that when the whole idea of having a general debate is to have a forum where you voice your views. Also, the idea of reacting immediately to some kind of a statement that you feel is not in line to what you may believe. I would think he would not want to curtail this right.
Question: I think in referring to that same back and forth, there seemed to be some problem with the microphones. Did they fix the microphones before the general debate? Were they turned off at a certain time? Why did that happen?
Spokesperson: I don’t know why that technical glitch happened, but I think if you watched what happened in the end basically none of the Member States wanting to exercise the right of reply felt terribly annoyed by this incident. They just worked with Assembly Affairs and with the President to work this out and do it. Obviously it’s not a good thing what happened, but in the end I think it was pretty well solved. But I don’t know what exactly happened and what were the technical problems.
Question: Can we tie it somehow to the Capital Master Plan (CMP) or is there some need to rehabilitate…?
GA Spokesperson: Matthew, if you mean can we, does that mean you and me? You can tie it. I would rather not tie it, because I don’t know. I really don’t know what was the reason behind it. Okay, thank you very much.
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For information media • not an official record
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