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
14 December 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 Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
Good afternoon. I’m sorry I was a little late. I was trying to get the latest for you on the Algiers bombing.
The efforts on the ground to clear away the rubble following the bomb blast at the UN offices in Algeria on Tuesday have, as we feared, helped us find and identify more bodies. Consequently, I can now confirm that 17 UN staff were killed in the Algiers attack. I have the following statement from the Secretary-General to read about the attack, which I will read in his voice:
I have learned with profound sadness that the death toll on the bombing in Algiers is even higher than we feared. Seventeen UN colleagues are now confirmed dead. A devastatingly high number of innocent Algerians have also perished, as well as nationals from other countries. Words cannot begin to do justice to the grief I feel.
I send my prayers to the loved ones of those who perished, to those who are wounded, and to those who are grappling with trauma after this terrible event. I send my thoughts to all their colleagues who work every day, in difficult and dangerous circumstances, for peace and security, development and human rights around the world. And I stand with the people of Algeria and the wider region in the face of the scourge of terrorism.
Those who target innocent civilians in this way commit an unspeakable crime. Terrorism is never justifiable, on any grounds, as all 192 UN Member States agreed last year when they came together to adopt the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. It hurts all nations -- large and small, rich and poor. It takes its toll on human beings of every age and income, culture and religion.
I will spare no effort in ensuring that the United Nations provides adequate security for its staff, wherever they serve. I will look at all possible ways, with all parts of the system, and with Member States, to ensure that this is done.
This was an attack not only against the United Nations, not only against Algerians, but against humankind itself. Our colleagues there were working with no other mission than support the people of Algeria in building a better future.
The Secretary-General concludes his statement by asking for all UN staff to observe a minute of silence in memory of those who died in Algiers next Monday, the 17th of December, at 10 a.m., New York time. That statement is available upstairs in the Spokesperson’s Office.
**Secretary-General in Timor-Leste
The Secretary-General himself today is in Timor-Leste, where he first met with President José Ramos Horta before having a working luncheon with Prime Minister Xanana Gusmão and members of the Cabinet. Speaking to reporters after the luncheon, the Secretary-General said that he and the Prime Minister held substantive discussions on the security and justice sector, socio-economic development, and the humanitarian situation of the internally displaced persons. He said that he believed that the Prime Minister and the Cabinet are doing an excellent job in tackling many difficult issues.
The Secretary-General later addressed the Timorese Parliament -- we have that statement upstairs -– and he met with civil society representatives and visited a police station and a camp for IDPs.
The Secretary-General was asked by reporters about the state of the climate change talks, and told reporters that he will return to Bali tomorrow to check the status of negotiations and, if necessary, he will again meet with the delegations present there. He urged the leaders present at Bali to agree on a timetable with clear targets, and added, “This is an issue where industrialized countries should take the lead, considering their historical responsibilities, particularly those with the largest emissions.” We have copies of his statements and all other statements that I referred to upstairs.
**Secretary-General Travel to Paris
The Secretary-General will travel from Indonesia and will arrive in Paris on Sunday evening.
On Monday, he will take part in the Donors’ Conference for the Palestinian Territories. The Conference, hosted by the French Government, will be co-chaired by France, Norway, the European Commission and Tony Blair, in his capacity as Quartet Envoy.
While in Paris, the Secretary-General will also attend a meeting of the principal members of the Quartet –- which brings together the United Nations, the United States, the European Union and the Russian Federation -– as well as a dinner with representatives of the Quartet and the League of Arab States. He is also expected to have a bilateral meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The Secretary-General is expected back in New York on Tuesday afternoon.
**Democratic Republic of Congo
Hundreds of underage boys and girls are being forcibly recruited by rival armed groups in the DRC, according to the UN Mission there. The children are being sent to the front lines of an escalating conflict in the North Kivu province. The Mission has identified the Congress national pour la defense du peuple (CNDP) of dissident General Laurent Nkunda and the Front démocratique de liberation du Rwanda (FDLR) as the two main groups responsible for the forced recruitment of children into armed conflict.
These and other groups canvass schools, camps for displaced persons and other venues to draft children they consider fit for combat into their ranks. This has led to the closure of several schools and to a noticeable absence of young children among communities in North Kivu. And families attempting to resist the enlistment of their young are harassed and variously retaliated against. A large number of the 8,500 former child soldiers rescued by the UN and humanitarian organizations since 2004 have been forcibly re-recruited and are now on the front lines fighting, or being used as sex slaves.
Meanwhile, the High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres, who arrived yesterday in Kinshasa for a five-day visit, is today going to North Kivu. He will assess UNHCR operations in the region and meet with local officials and IDPs.
And on Sunday, in Goma, the Joint Monitoring Group, created to monitor and report on the implementation of the Nairobi Communiqué by the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Rwanda, will be holding its first meeting. Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios and the Special Representative for the DRC, William Lacy Swing, will be representing the United Nations there.
Here in New York, the Security Council this morning unanimously approved the extensions by six months of the mandates of two UN peacekeeping missions: the UN mission in Cyprus until 15 June 2008, and the Disengagement Observer Force until the end of June 2008.
Council members then went into consultations to hear a briefing by the Ambassador of Qatar, who chairs the Council’s Sanctions Committee on Liberia, on the sanctions regime for that country. I believe we mentioned the report to you by the experts, yesterday.
Then, at 3 this afternoon, the Security Council will hold an open meeting, followed by consultations, on Sierra Leone. Council members will hear from the Executive Representative for the United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone, Victor da Silva Angelo.
Hédi Annabi, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General there, is visiting the neighbouring Dominican Republic today. Annabi will discuss how to improve Haiti’s border security and how UN peacekeepers might help to do so. Annabi’s visit comes in response to the recent expansion of the mandate of the UN Stabilization Mission, which allows the Mission to help Haiti secure its borders against drug trafficking and other criminal activities.
**Human Rights Council
The Human Rights Council today wrapped up its sixth session in Geneva. It adopted 13 resolutions and decisions on a wide range of topics.
Concerning Myanmar, the Human Rights Council adopted by consensus a resolution requesting the Special Rapporteur for Myanmar to conduct a follow-up mission to that country before the Council’s seventh session, which is scheduled for March of next year. The goal of that mission would be to assess in greater detail the human rights violations that have occurred and are occurring as a result of the continued violent repression of recent peaceful demonstrations in Myanmar.
With regard to Sudan, the Council unanimously adopted a resolution extending the mandate of the Special Rapporteur for Sudan for one year.
By another resolution, the Human Rights Council urged the Government of Sudan to intensify its efforts to implement the recommendations of the Council’s Group of Experts dealing with human rights in Darfur. It also invited relevant UN bodies to continue providing support and technical assistance to Sudan for the implementation of those recommendations.
This Sunday, the UN refugee agency will start issuing ATM cards to 7,000 of the most needy and vulnerable Iraqi refugee families living in Syria. Each family will receive between $100 and $200 per month in financial assistance. The families have been interviewed by community services staff and identified as being in urgent need of financial assistance. They include women at risk, families with working children, and refugees with chronic illnesses.
The 7,000 families will also receive food assistance from the World Food Programme and UNHCR. There are more details on this situation in UNHCR’s briefing notes from Geneva.
** Republic of Korea
A joint team of eight experts from the UN and the European Commission was dispatched today to the Republic of Korea, following the worst oil spill in that country’s history. The move follows a request for international assistance from the Republic of Korea.
The marine pollution and civil protection assessment experts -- who are in part drawn from the UN Environment Programme and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs -- plan to support the Korean authorities’ efforts by advising on emergency management, removing the remaining oil and limiting its spread. They are also there to advise on long-term recovery for the area’s ecosystem.
** Dominican Republic
On the Dominican Republic, UN agencies there are working at full capacity, helping the Government respond to damage from Tropical Storm Olga. Emergency technical and assessment teams were deployed today to the most affected areas, and the UN remains ready to provide additional assistance as required.
Meanwhile, the World Food Programme is launching an appeal for $4 million to provide aid to 55,000 victims of that storm and an earlier storm Noel, which hit the islands.
**The Week Ahead
On Monday, we will have Michael Adlerstein, Executive Director of the capital master plan, to brief you on the Secretary-General’s accelerated renovation strategy for the UN complex, which was recently approved by the General Assembly.
On Tuesday at 11 a.m. in this room, we will have the launch of the latest World Youth Report by the Division of Social Policy and Development at DESA, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
On Wednesday, the Security Council is scheduled to adopt resolution on a number of missions. And following that, there is a meeting scheduled on Kosovo.
And just to flag for you, next Thursday is an official UN holiday for Eid al-Adha.
That’s what I have for you today. We have the GA Spokesperson, Janos, here. Before I turn to him, anything for me? Claudia?
**Questions and Answers
Question: I just wanted to confirm, as I understand it, there’s no one else missing after the bombings, so that 17 is the final number?
Deputy Spokesperson: This is the number that we have been given. As of now, we can confirm the 17. I never want to say “final” because one really never --
Question: But you’re not aware of any other missing?
Deputy Spokesperson: At this moment, no.
Question: What about injuries? Can you give us any numbers on those?
Deputy Spokesperson: I can’t give you a definitive count on that, as well. But in terms of the identification and the list, we will get that to you as soon as the next of kin have been notified.
Question: Any break-up of nationalities?
Deputy Spokesperson: As of now, we still have the list that we provided earlier this week. As soon as the next of kin have been notified, we will give you the breakdown of their names, nationality and their affiliation. Yes, Matthew?
[A list of 17 names and affiliations was released later in the day.]
Question: It’s reported that Sweden has made this ruling that Somalia is not a place with armed conflict and, therefore, the people seeking asylum from Somalia can be sent back. Since the Secretary-General wrote his report saying it’s too dangerous in Somalia to even send an assessment team for a peacekeeping force, does the UN have any response to a Member State saying it’s not a conflict and asylum-seekers can be sent back to it?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t think there’s an immediate comment. I have not seen anything official that you mention about this. As far as the UN is concerned, the lead agency is the UN refugee agency, and its mandate is to protect refugees and seek solutions for them. So you probably want to ask them. Yes?
Question: Yes, please, I just again want to ask if there’s a reaction from the Secretary-General to the letter received from the Moroccan ambassador protesting the convening of a POLISARIO meeting in the Western Sahara.
Deputy Spokesperson: We have been asked this question earlier this week. I think our response remains the same. We confirmed receipt of the letters. As you know, MINURSO, the UN Mission, continues with its mandated activities on the ground. And the United Nations is currently preparing to welcome the parties at the upcoming meeting at Greentree. As you know, we’ve announced that is January 7th through 9th. And the letters, which you mention, are being reviewed by the Secretariat.
Question: Why is it difficult, Marie, to get anyone to speak to us on the Western Sahara? It’s not a secret, new issue, is it? Why are we getting very little details about it? Why aren’t we having someone to speak to us about what the UN is doing on the talks, where do they stand on the issue? I mean, just some more information beyond the --
Deputy Spokesperson: I think precisely because these are talks to try to bridge differences. As we’ve mentioned to you many times, I don’t think they want to conduct the diplomacy in public. Yes, in the back?
Question: How far do you think this conference to be held by the POLISARIO front in Algeria -- I think, it was held either yesterday or today, I do not know exactly -- how far do you think such a conference can impact the opportunity for success of the next round of negotiations to be held in New York next month?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think I can’t go beyond what I said, which is that the UN is preparing the ground for the upcoming talks. In the meantime, the mission on the ground continues to do its work. As you know, its mandate is to monitor the ceasefire agreement there, and it continues to do its work.
Question: You don’t think such a conference can block the next round of negotiations?
Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t think we want to comment on anything in advance of the upcoming talks.
Question: Can we get someone from MINURSO to tell us what they think about the Moroccan allegation that it’s their responsibility to stop such conferences from taking place?
Deputy Spokesperson: As I said, MINURSO, together with the Secretariat, are currently reviewing the letters. Yes, Matthew?
Question: Can I ask you -– yesterday at the stakeout, Mr. Mullet -- I’d asked him what the Secretariat’s or the Department of Peacekeeping Operations’ response to the Fifth Committee had been on questions the Committee raised about sole-source contract with Lockheed Martin. And he said, sort of by rote, “That’s a DFS issue. You’d have to ask them”. So I guess, to me, I’m not really clear. It seems like it used to be, it’s all -– there’s a letter that Mr. Guyenne wrote to, to, to --
Deputy Spokesperson: Matthew, I have nothing beyond what the Secretary-General has said on this, himself, on a number of occasions in response to questions from you. I don’t have anything beyond what he’s said on this.
Question: His response at that time was to say, it’s going to be entirely transparent. And I guess, all I’m asking, if a DPKO official comes to the stakeout and is asked about a contract that a department in the Secretariat has --
Deputy Spokesperson: I do not speak on behalf of Mr. Mullet. I do know what the Secretary-General told you.
Question: In keeping with what he said, the request is to have DFS come here and not wait until the Fifth Committee because there’s no reason –- the questions are outstanding…. I guess -- he said DFS. So I’m just asking you: DFS. Can they come to a stakeout or here?
Deputy Spokesperson: I think we’ve also mentioned that as soon as the discussions in the Fifth Committee are over, we’ll have the appropriate people come to brief you. And we’ve put in that request for you. Okay? Yes?
Question: Normally, how should MINURSO react to a violation of the ceasefire agreements?
Deputy Spokesperson: It will report to the Security Council.
Question: That’s [inaudible]?
Deputy Spokesperson: It would report to the Security Council. In its report to the Security Council, which, as you know, is available --
Deputy Spokesperson: Ceasefire violations would be --
Question: Specifically, this one committed by the POLISARIO today by holding its congress in area which is a buffer zone? Was it reported?
Deputy Spokesperson: Any ceasefire violation monitored by MINURSO, the UN Mission, would be reported to the Security Council. Yes?
Question: On the Bali conference, which is deadlocked over so many issues and Mr. Ban Ki-moon has extended his stay, would you give us an update about his plans, his new contacts, his new meetings he’s going to hold just to give a push to the negotiations?
Deputy Spokesperson: As you know, today he spent the day in Timor-Leste. That was on his original schedule and he adhered to that. But again, in several hours from now, he will be going back to Bali. He will be taking stock of the situation there. And, as I mentioned, he will be talking to more delegations as needed. So he is determined to have a successful launch and will do what is necessary, after he takes stock of the situation on the ground.
Question: Which delegation is he going to talk to?
Deputy Spokesperson: Whoever he needs to talk to. We read to you all the bilaterals he has had. I don’t have them in front of me now, but it encompassed a range of developing to developed countries and he is willing to speak to whatever delegation he needs to in order to get the process started. Yes, Matthew?
Question: I think it was last Friday that Chef de Cabinet Vijay Nambiar wrote a letter to all staff saying you can’t -– don’t accept any gifts from Governments and, if you do, to not make them feel bad that you’re rejecting them, be sure to turn them into the Secretary-General. So, one, I don’t know if you can amplify, some people thought that there was some kind of limit -– like $25 or below –- but how many gifts have been, in fact, turned into the 38th floor since this letter went out?
Deputy Spokesperson: I have no idea.
Question: Can we find out? It seems like it’s a major –- he put it on iSeek and he said this is consistent with the policy with you know, integrity, etc., so it seems like a fair question. It’s out there.
Deputy Spokesperson: Well, if it’s out in the public, I’ll certainly give you that information.
We’re finished. Have a good weekend. And we’ll turn to Janos.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Good afternoon. Good to see you.
**Open-ended Working Group on Security Council Reform
The Open-ended Working Group on Security Council reform -- and I’ll give you the official name: the Open-ended Working Group on the Question of Equitable Representation on and Increase in the Membership of the Security Council and Other Matters related to the Security Council -- is holding its first meeting of the 62nd session this morning.
The President of the General Assembly is the chair of the Working Group and he had some opening remarks, and we made those public. I’m going to take a few things from those remarks. He said in his opening statement -- and he made a point of stressing -- that Security Council reform was a Member States-driven process where Member States should have primary ownership and responsibility.
As regards next steps, the President stated that, building on his consultations with Member States, he believed the objective should be to move forward by identifying and reaching agreement on the various elements of the negotiables that could form the basis for an intergovernmental negotiation process.
The President announced that he was appointing the permanent representatives of Bangladesh, Chile and Portugal as vice-chairs of the Open-ended Working Group, and that the three vice-chairs with the President as the chair of the Open-ended Working Group would form a task force on Security Council reform. He said that the role of the task force would be to assist the President in conducting the process in a transparent and inclusive manner. The task force would also constitute a focal point for communication with Member States, in particular for identifying elements of the negotiables.
But the President emphasized that it would be up to Member States to identify and put forward a document to the task force that could serve as a basis for intergovernmental negotiations. He called for Member States to begin to conduct consultations among themselves in various settings during the following weeks.
The President also put forward a proposed timetable of the work according to which he intends to have focused meetings in February, April and June –- subject to progress made on the deliberations and consultations during the periods in between.
The full statement of the President is upstairs for you in a hard copy. It’ll be posted on the President’s website. That full statement also contains details of what the President calls agreements that have already been reached on Security Council reform. And he also reiterates in that statement the seven principles that he had made in his concluding remarks which he delivered when the General Assembly discussed the issue of Security Council reform. That was between the 12th and the 14th of November.
**High-level Session on Children
As mentioned to you and as was expected, the Assembly yesterday afternoon did, in fact, conclude the high-level commemorative plenary meeting devoted to the follow-up to the outcome of the 2002 special session on children – or, also referred to as “A World Fit for Children + 5”.
Last evening, more than 140 Government delegations have adopted a new Declaration on Children. The declaration identified eradicating poverty as the greatest global challenge facing children and families. Despite encouraging achievements, it said the number of children dying before their fifth birthday remains unacceptably high.
The President, in his closing remarks, highlighted the importance of having children participate in the high-level debate. He said that children’s active contributions had been the most remarkable feature of the session. It was essential to listen to them -- and take action. “Children have amazing appreciation for universal human values”, he remarked. “The best advocates for children are children themselves.”
The President added that, during the commemorative session, child delegates had articulated a vision for the world in which they wished to live. Their message was simple: children wanted honesty, action, and to know that promises were kept. And, in fact, the closing statement was made by Millicent Orondo, 15, of Kenya. The declaration and related links to the special session are available for you on the website of UNICEF.
Let me flag a few things for next week.
On Monday, the Assembly will hold plenary meetings in the morning and in the afternoon. As regards the morning session, let me note one thing for you. One of the things on the Assembly’s agenda is a report emanating from the Second Committee and that has to do with forests. In the afternoon, the Assembly is taking up the reports of the Fourth Committee.
Then on Tuesday, 18th December, the Assembly in the morning will take up the reports of the Third Committee. And in the afternoon –- again, we have mentioned this -- but I flag it again -- there is to be an informal plenary of the Assembly where the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Myanmar, Mr. Ibrahim Gambari, will address the Assembly.
On Wednesday, the President of the Assembly will hold his end-of-year press conference for you. That will be here at 11. So that’s next Wednesday.
Based on the current work schedule and the plans that we have, it looks as though the Assembly will be extended and we’ll hold a plenary session most likely on the 21st of December, Friday, as well. The idea is – again, based on how the Second and the Fifth Committees finish their work -– is to have the Second Committee have its reports scheduled for 19th of December in the Assembly plenary and on the 21st of December – so, presumably the last day of the Assembly this year -- the Fifth Committee reports would be taken up. Again, provided that the Fifth Committee and the Second Committee finish their work.
The Second Committee is scheduled to meet late this afternoon to take action on one remaining draft text –- which is on the triennial policy review of operational activities for development of the UN system. This is something that it is still actually negotiating in an informal setting as we speak.
And the Fifth Committee is meeting today. It will meet next week, as well, all the way up to the 19th mostly in informal consultations.
And that’s what I have. Any questions? Yes, Carla?
**Questions and Answers
Question: In the report on the infant mortality, was there any specific on the area or the countries where the child mortality rate was highest?
GA Spokesperson: You’re talking about the UNICEF report or you’re talking about --
Question: The one you just read, the –- I think it was the President’s summary?
GA Spokesperson: No. That refers to the Declaration adopted by Member States. The Declaration is a-page-and-a-half short document. It just refers to this issue. But there’s more data and detail in the corresponding UNICEF report that was put out and, also, the Secretary-General had a report out on this issue, timed to the high-level conference. Both are available on the UNICEF website. So, those would have the details.
I know Mia is going to ask about the International Day of Widows. Sorry, there is no such a day proclaimed by the General Assembly, at least not yet. And, as far as we know, it is not on the General Assembly’s radar screen. As I mentioned to you, you should probably go back and check with the promoters, the sponsors as to where are they with trying to bring this issue to the agenda of the General Assembly.
Question: So, they still can fit into 2008? I mean to 62nd session? Or if it’s not there now -– so that means that they can only get to 63rd session?
GA Spokesperson: No, not necessarily. I think if they have enough sponsors --
Question: You can still put it on the agenda?
GA Spokesperson: -- it could probably be the case.
GA Spokesperson: After all, the 62nd session is far from over. It will end on the 15th of September next year.
If no more questions, then thank you very much. And have a great weekend.
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For information media • not an official record
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