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
25 June 2008
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Michèle Montas, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Janos Tisovszky, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General
The Security Council began its work today with a briefing by the High-Level Coordinator dealing with the return of missing persons and property from Iraq, Gennady Tarasov. He presented the Secretary-General’s latest report on that topic, which came out as a document yesterday.
After that, Shola Omoregie, the Secretary-General’s Representative for Guinea-Bissau, and UN Office on Drugs and Crime Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa briefed the Council on the latest developments in Guinea-Bissau. Costa warned that transnational organized crime is threatening regional security in West Africa. The briefing was followed by consultations on Guinea-Bissau.
Yesterday, João Honwana, the Director of the Africa I Division in the Department of Political Affairs, spoke to the Security Council on the de facto ceasefire that has been observed since last week between Djibouti and Eritrea. He told the Council in an open meeting that the ceasefire should be consolidated and the status quo ante restored.
And for the record, yesterday afternoon, the Security Council urged the parties in South Sudan to use the opportunities created by the 8 June road map to resolve all outstanding issues in the region’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement. The road map was signed in order to quell the outbreak of violence in the city of Abyei.
In a presidential statement, the Council encouraged the parties to implement the agreement fully and in the agreed timelines.
Towards that goal, it emphasized the importance of the establishment of an Abyei Area Administration, deployment of a new joint battalion, free movement for troops of the United Nations Mission in the Sudan (UNMIS) and redeployment of the Sudan Armed Forces and SPLM troops outside the Abyei area.
It also called on UNMIS to robustly deploy in and around Abyei to support the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.
Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs Haile Menkerios continues to be in the region on the Secretary-General’s behalf, where he is in communication with the leaders around the region and with the actors in Zimbabwe, to reinforce the Secretary-General’s message.
Today, he is in Luanda, the Angolan capital, where he expects to meet with the Foreign Minister of Angola this evening and with the country’s President tomorrow.
** Middle East Quartet
Representatives of the Middle East Quartet met at the principals’ level in Berlin yesterday. The Secretary-General participated by videoconference. Following the meeting, a statement was issued.
The Quartet reaffirmed its support for ongoing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Noting the dire budget situation facing the Palestinian Authority, it urged all donors who have not done so to fulfil their pledges from the December 2007 Paris donors’ conference.
The Quartet called on Israel to freeze all settlement activity, including natural growth, and to dismantle outposts erected since March 2001. It also expressed its strong support for steady and sufficient fuel supplies to Gaza and for the immediate resumption of stalled UN and other donor projects there.
The Quartet principals said they would meet again in September at the UN General Assembly. At that time, the Quartet will consider, after further consultations with the parties, the timing and agenda of an international meeting in Moscow to lend support to the process launched in Annapolis.
We have the full statement upstairs.
**World Drug Report Launch
Tomorrow, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) is launching the World Drug Report 2008. It will show that recent progress in drug control is under threat by a surge in opium and coca cultivation and the risk of higher drug use in developing countries.
UNODC Executive Director Antonio Maria Costa will launch the report at 1 p.m. tomorrow, across the street at the Trygve Lie Center for Peace, Security & Development at the International Peace Institute.
We have more information in the media advisory upstairs. We also have press kits on the World Drug Report, which include an executive summary. The Report’s findings are embargoed until 1 p.m. tomorrow, New York time.
Turning to post-Cyclone Nargis relief efforts in Myanmar, a joint assessment team has found that there is a need for continued humanitarian relief efforts to cover unmet needs.
Based on roughly half the data from a recent village tract assessment, the survey found that nearly three quarters of households do not have enough food to last more than a week, and nearly half are dependent on humanitarian assistance to eat.
Meanwhile, 60 per cent of households say their access to clean water is inadequate. Many are now depending on rainwater since ponds are full of salt water.
The assessment will be used to revise the humanitarian appeal, which is set to be issued in early July. We have more information upstairs.
The world's largest resettlement operation passed a significant milestone this week, with more than 30,000 Myanmar refugees transported from Thailand since January 2005 to begin new lives in third countries, according to UNHCR [Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees].
The UN refugee agency says that the number of departures since the resettlement programme began had this week reached 30,144. Nearly all of the refugees had been sheltering in nine refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border since fleeing fighting and oppression in their homeland.
Resettlement has become an attractive option for Myanmar refugees in Thailand, UNHCR says, as the chances of returning home any time soon have dimmed. Settling down permanently in Thailand is also not a possibility.
** Central African Republic
In his latest report on the situation in the Central African Republic and on the activities of the Peacebuilding Support Office there, the Secretary-General says that the overall political, security and socio-economic situation in the country continues to be fragile. It is characterized by widespread poverty, insecurity, and a disturbing cycle of human rights violations and impunity.
The Secretary-General renews his appeal to all armed groups to lay down their weapons and work towards restoring peace and stability. He adds that the Government’s encouraging efforts to improve respect for human rights need to be intensified and made irreversible.
Out on the racks today is an additional report by the Secretary-General on children and armed conflict in Uganda. In it, he notes that his Special Envoy for the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA)-affected areas, Joaquim Chissano, transmitted a message from the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict to the head of the LRA delegation to the Juba peace talks. Among other things, that message contained a strong condemnation of the continuous recruitment and use of child soldiers by LRA.
In his report, the Secretary-General urges LRA to provide a complete list of names and ages of the women and children remaining in its ranks -- for verification purposes and to bring about their immediate release. He also requests that several UN bodies develop a strategy for increased regional joint capability to monitor and report on cross-border recruitment and use of children by LRA.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has launched a new safety checklist for surgical teams to use in operating theatres, as part of a major drive to make surgery safer around the world.
The launch of the new tool follows studies which indicate that a significant percentage of surgeries result in complications and deaths that could have been prevented.
Meanwhile, also from WHO, the agency is launching a new report tonight on water. Called “Safer Water for Better Health”, it is the first ever report providing country-by-country estimates of the effects of poor water, sanitation and hygiene on health.
Seven municipalities in the Arab World today launched a network to combat racism.
At a ceremony in Casablanca, under the auspices of UNESCO [United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization], they signed a joint declaration committing themselves to tackle discrimination specific to the region, on the basis of a 10-point action plan.
By creating the network, the Arab municipalities are joining regional coalitions of cities in Europe, Africa, Latin America and the Asia-Pacific regions.
Those regional networks will launch an International Coalition of Cities against Racism next Monday in Nantes, France, as part of UNESCO’S World Forum on Human Rights.
Turning to Timor-Leste, UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador Jackie Chan is on a three-day visit to that country. The action film star and kung fu expert is there to meet young people to promote the use of martial arts for peace. There’s more information on the UN Integrated Mission on Timor-Leste’s website.
**Upcoming Press Encounters
At 11:30 a.m. tomorrow, the Secretary-General will be briefing at the stakeout position outside the Security Council chamber before he leaves on his trip to North-East Asia.
We will not have a briefing tomorrow, but Jan Egeland, UN Special Adviser to the Secretary-General, will brief you at 12:30 p.m. on his recent trip to the Sahel, in particular, climate change in that region.
This all I have for you today. Yes?
**Questions and Answers
Question: The Israeli Ambassador wrote the Council yesterday saying they will take future steps in response to the Palestinian attack in Sderot. And Islamic Jihad had taken responsibility for that in a response to an IDF [Israel Defense Forces] raid on Monday night that killed one of their members. I guess my question is: the truce -– did it include the West Bank?
Spokesperson: This is a question that should not be addressed to me. We are not a party to this process.
Question: But in the Secretary-General’s meeting in Berlin, did they discuss this issue?
Spokesperson: Not that I know of.
[The Spokesperson later referred the journalist back to yesterday’s Quartet statement, in which Quartet members urged that the period of calm, which began on 19 June, be respected in full.]
Question: And my other question is, just to confirm -– I’m not sure if this was raised yesterday -- but did David Veness resign in light of the report on UN security?
Spokesperson: About his resignation, I said it yesterday. He said he’s the one who volunteered his resignation.
Question: And will Ralph Zacklin, the Assistant Secretary-General for Legal Affairs -– when will he be raising this issue of individual accountability?
Spokesperson: It’s going to be a six-week process, as I said yesterday. And the process has already started. So they have started to work.
Question: And my last question is on the Nemeth Report panel, as we understand it, they conclude their meeting in Geneva today. When will they be briefing us?
Spokesperson: I don’t know at this point. I will ask for a briefing whenever they are around. But it is not the case at this point.
Question: Michèle, is there a suggestion that the Secretary-General is considering appointing Kofi Annan as his Special Representative to solve the crisis in Zimbabwe? Is that something the Secretary-General is considering now?
Spokesperson: I don’t think this has been raised, no.
Question: You haven’t heard about it either?
Spokesperson: No. Right now the Secretary-General has Haile Menkerios in the region.
Question: Obviously, that’s one of the reasons because he helped resolve the crisis in Kenya. What about on the human rights -– has he got a new -– has he made a decision on the new human rights chief as yet?
Spokesperson: Interviews are taking place this week.
Question: When --
Spokesperson: I don’t know when he will have an answer to your question –- which is who, right? I don’t have an answer for you yet.
Question: Two things I wanted to ask you. Yesterday, the Security Council made two requests of the Secretary-General. One, to send a fact-finding mission to the border of Djibouti and Eritrea to investigate whatever clashes may or may not have happened. And then, also to sort of clarify the circumstances of what UNMIS was doing during the violence in Abyei last month. Has anything been set up -– I know that the Peacekeeping Department is going to try and find what lessons can be learned from Abyei, if any. Is there anything more formal that’s being set up? And what about Djibouti and Eritrea?
Spokesperson: Not yet. These recommendations by the Security Council will be taken up by the different departments, DPKO [Department of Peacekeeping Operations] and the Department of Political Affairs.
Question: May I follow up on Eritrea and Djibouti, because they actually said that in two weeks the Secretary-General should present his report on Djibouti and Eritrea.
Spokesperson: I will let you know as soon as they start working on it.
Question: But he believes that two weeks is good enough to finish this job?
Spokesperson: I don’t have an answer for that. It will be up to the people doing the work to let us know how soon they can do it.
Question: Ambassador Yousfi of Algeria is scheduled to see the Secretary-General this afternoon. Who initiated the appointment, the Mission or the Secretary-General’s Office? And will this meeting be centred around the Brahimi Report?
Spokesperson: I cannot answer those questions. I will have to ask from his scheduling office whether he asked for the meeting, or whether the meeting was initiated by the Secretary-General. And I don’t know yet what the agenda of the meeting will be.
[The Spokesperson later added that the meeting was meant to be a farewell call.]
Question: I wanted to clarify something with you. That report that you mentioned on water. Does that have anything to do with another report on more corruption in using water and that the water sources should be brought back to the public?
Spokesperson: As I said, there is more information on that upstairs. There is a press release.
Question: But it’s separate?
Spokesperson: It is two things, yes.
Question: Yesterday, POLISARIO said that they would not go back to the negotiations with Morocco until Mr. Van Walsum leaves his position. I was wondering if the Secretary-General has any reaction on this? And also, is there any new date set for the fifth round of talks?
Spokesperson: From what I gather, he has not been informed of this formally. And the second thing is we don’t have a date yet.
Question: Is he working on it, Mr. Van Walsum?
Spokesperson: Well, he is certainly working on it.
Question: One last question. Yesterday, we heard that a person has been chosen to be the Chief Mediator for Darfur. Is that announcement, once it’s vetted by all the various parties, going to be made here, or could it come out at the African Union summit?
Spokesperson: I don’t know yet.
Question: Is it --
Spokesperson: The process is ongoing. The final announcement is not ready yet.
Question: Who is going to the summit?
Spokesperson: I think it’s going to be the Deputy Secretary-General. I’ll check for you, but I think it’s going to be the Deputy Secretary-General. That’s the one in Sharm el-Sheikh right?
Spokesperson: It’s going to be the Deputy Secretary-General.
Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President
Good afternoon, good to see you all. I thought I’d come and give you an update of what the President has been up to and what the General Assembly still has on its plate. Let me start with the activities of the President.
**Visit to Switzerland and Liechtenstein
General Assembly President Srgjan Kerim is on an official trip that takes him to Switzerland, Liechtenstein, Austria, Italy and the United Arab Emirates.
The President is in Vaduz, Liechtenstein, today for a full day of talks. He met with Prime Minister Otmar Hasler, then Foreign Minister Rita Kieber-Beck and with Prince Alois later in the day. This is the first time that the President of the General Assembly makes a visit to Liechtenstein since the country became a UN Member in 1990.
The focus of the talks was on the activities of Liechtenstein in the work of the United Nations and a review of the main priorities of the sixty-second session of the Assembly, including and especially UN reform issues, climate change, MDGs [Millennium Development Goals] and financing for development. As regards the latter topic, the President of the Assembly praised Liechtenstein for raising its official development assistance to 0.6 per cent of GDP.
Speaking to the press following his talks, the General Assembly President stressed that his visit to Vaduz was recognition of the active role of the country in the work of the United Nations.
Yesterday, the President was in Geneva to attend the first meeting of the Global Humanitarian Forum, which was established by former Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The meeting, which focused on the human face of climate change, brought together Government leaders, as well as key business and civil society representatives, as well as heads of international agencies.
The President in his address told participants that climate change affected nearly every aspect of human activity, with its implications ranging from the environment, health, security and migration, to energy, good governance and economic development. In this regard, the President noted that the multifaceted nature of the challenge was well-reflected in the programme of the Global Humanitarian Forum. He also stressed that the United Nations had a crucial role, as it was best placed to provide an integrated response to the complementary challenges of addressing climate change and sustainable development. In conclusion, he noted that it was the human face of climate change that we should consider when making our policies, and that we all needed to take greater individual responsibility for our action if we were to secure the planet for future generations to enjoy.
The full text of his address is on his website.
While in Geneva, the President also met with the Director-General at the United Nations Office at Geneva, Sergei Ordzhonikidze.
As regards his official talks in Switzerland -– this happened in Bern on Monday -– and there he met with President Pascal Couchepin and Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs Michael Ambuehl. He also had a meeting with a group of Swiss parliamentarians. The meetings focused on current major challenges, especially climate change and the global food crisis, as well as UN reform issues including the reform of the Security Council.
Tomorrow, the President will begin his official visit to Austria with meetings with Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer, Minister for European and International Affairs Ursula Plassnik and State Secretary Hans Winkler. He is also scheduled to meet President Heinz Fischer on Friday. He is also expected to meet briefly with the heads of UN and international agencies that are headquartered in Vienna.
**Law of the Sea
The United Nations Open-Ended Informal Consultative Process on Oceans and the Law of the Sea is holding its ninth meeting this week for the full week. The focus is on maritime security and safety.
This is a process established by the General Assembly in 1999 to facilitate its annual review of developments in ocean affairs and the law of the sea (resolution 54/33). The mandate of that process was twice extended by the General Assembly for three years. The last time was during the sixtieth session (resolution 60/30). So again, it will come up for review during the sixty-third session. The Ambassadors of Canada and Senegal are the co-chairs of this process, and they are going to report to the President of the Assembly on where the process is going. (Background Press Release: SEA/1905.)
But as I said, it’s the sixty-third session of the Assembly that will look at this issue.
**General Assembly’s Agenda
I thought I would take the opportunity and give you a rundown of what is still on the General Assembly’s plate and what is expected in the next few months.
One of the issues –- and that is the flagship issue of the General Assembly for the current session: Climate Change. You may already remember that the big High-Level Thematic Debate on Climate Change was at the beginning of February, and emanating from that meeting was the idea of holding two follow-up meetings. One was already held on 9 June, on private investment and climate change. The second one coming up is scheduled for 8 July, and that’s on vulnerable countries.
Another issue that is still on the agenda of the Assembly, of course, is the review of the counter-terrorism strategy. That is currently being prepared and is set for 4 September. The facilitator, Ambassador of Guatemala Gert Rosenthal, is consulting with Member States to prepare that event.
On 18 June, when the Secretary-General briefed the General Assembly on the food crisis, the General Assembly President proposed to have a meeting sometime in July within the General Assembly on the food and energy crisis. The proposal received support from the Member States in that meeting, so I’ll let you know when and how that’s going to pan out.
Also, some of you may have followed the issue of various elections that the General Assembly is involved in. One of the elections still on the agenda is the election of members to the Organizational Committee of the Peacebuilding Commission. That is something that is still to happen. Last Friday, the Assembly took a decision to extend the current membership of the Organizational Committee until 11 July. So, I’ll keep you updated on where that is going.
And finally you do remember that one of the first big meetings for the General Assembly’s sixty-third session is going to be on 22 September, just right before the general debate -– that is the high-level meeting on issues related to Africa and development. Two ambassadors are leading that preparatory process as facilitators, the Permanent Representatives of Angola and the Netherlands. So that process is also going on.
These are as far as preparations for meetings are concerned.
Some of the issues on the agenda of the Assembly that are still there and are in their final stages include Security Council reform. We talked about this. There is the four-member Task Force and this Task Force is working with the Member States at the moment and starting to prepare the report of the work of the Open-Ended Working Group on Security Council reform and also prepare some sort of a draft decision that would be included in that report, on which the Assembly would at some point take a decision. The goal, as we have being stressing, is still to commence intergovernmental negotiations.
Then there is the financing for development process. That is co-chaired by the Ambassadors of Egypt and Norway, and still on the agenda of the General Assembly. The actual review meeting of the Monterrey Consensus is going to be in Doha, at the end of the year, but preparing for that, as you know, the Assembly took the decision that there should be the first draft of the draft outcome document presented to Member States by the President of the General Assembly by the end of July. That is in the process. That is what the two facilitators are working on.
General Assembly revitalization is an issue on the General Assembly agenda. The two facilitators for that process are the Ambassadors of Paraguay and Poland. They’re meeting with Member States on and reviewing the various different resolutions the Assembly has taken on this issue since its fifty-first session to see how those have been implemented. A report on their work is going to be submitted to the General Assembly plenary within this session.
Then there is still the system-wide coherence process. That’s going on with the co-chairs as facilitators, the Ambassadors of Tanzania and Ireland. Again, we’re awaiting a report from them sometime in late June or early July.
Mandate review is going on with the Ambassadors of Namibia and New Zealand carrying that issue forward. Again, here we’re awaiting a report to be given to the President of the General Assembly by the end of July.
Then there is also the International Environmental Governance process. That’s co-chaired by the Ambassadors of Mexico and Switzerland. They are working on a draft text with the members of the General Assembly. Hopefully, by the end of July, we’ll have something on that as well.
This is what I have. Sorry for exhausting you. But I just wanted to give you an update. The President himself actually should be giving you details on all of these. I’ll try to get him here sometime in the first half of July to give you a sort of round-up on where things stand.
**Questions and Answers
Question: What will the General Assembly President focus on in his talks with the UAE [ United Arab Emirates]? And will they discuss the Arab League’s letter on Security Council reform?
Spokesperson: I am sure that reform of the UN and Security Council reform will be on the agenda, as well as some of the other priority issues that the Assembly has on its plate: climate change, financing for development, definitely. When I have more of the details, I’ll brief you and let you know. It’s the part of the visit that is going to be towards the end of next week.
Question: Thank you. The Foreign Minister of Malaysia is complaining that the oil price hike has not been discussed in the Security Council and he’s thinking of bringing the issue to the general debate of the Assembly. Has Malaysia requested that the issue be on the agenda of the Assembly? Or is there a discussion of that at the present time?
Spokesperson: I’ve read the report. I’m not aware of this being an issue with which the President -– the current President –- has been approached. But I can say two things. One, which I have just mentioned, that, when the issue of the food crisis and the energy issue came up during the 18June briefing of the Secretary-General, the President said he is proposing to convene a meeting in July on the issue of the food and energy crisis, so this may be a venue when this can come up.
As far as bringing the issue to the general debate –- which, of course, would be during the sixty-third session of the Assembly -- that is something for the President-elect, Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, to work out with the membership. And as you probably know, the way things work with a President-elect, is that he usually has a good three months of preparations -– that’s what the General Assembly resolution actually asks for in electing a President, to give that three months lead time. So the President-elect, I assume at this point, or very soon, will be sitting down with the various different regional groups and probably working on what may be the priority areas for his session. And that’s also a framework where this issue can be brought up. But that’s for the sixty-third session.
Question: The President will give a press conference here in June or July?
Spokesperson: That is our plan. In the first half of July, once he’s come back from this visit. Obviously, after the 8 July climate change meeting. We will try to schedule a press briefing for him when he can brief on where we stand on all of the issues I have mentioned, in more detail and substance.
Question: Not before 4 July?
Spokesperson: It will be after 4 July, definitely. We’re thinking of 9, 10 -– that time. But, I’ll let you know once we have it set.
Question: Thank you, Janos, who will be participating in the climate follow-up on vulnerable countries? Who prepares that list, how it comes to fruition?
Spokesperson: The moment I have a little more detail on the actual programme participation, I’ll let you know.
Question: And number two, to put a little more light, if we can, on how these preparation meetings for the talking on the general strategy of the United Nations on fighting terrorism -– does it have any compatibility with the ongoing efforts and work of the CTC Committee -– I mean, of the Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee -– any synergy, any compatibility there?
Spokesperson: Definitely. Because what the 4 September meeting is about is a review of the Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy that the United Nations membership has adopted on 8September 2006.
Question: You’re excellent with the dates.
Spokesperson: Thank you very much.
The strategy has four pillars and the four pillars together have close to 50 action points. These are points that require action on the part of the individual membership -– or the Member States in their individual capacity -- also in their collective capacity as well as actions required by the UN system actors. And that also includes the various different (counter-terrorism related) committees of the Security Council. So definitely, the work of the Security Council counter-terrorism bodies are very much part and parcel of the strategy that is going to be reviewed.
Also, one of the major facilitators of the strategy implementation is, of course, the Counter-Terrorism Implementation Task Force that was set up by the Secretary-General and is chaired by the Office of the Secretary-General. And that body is made up of about 24 different United Nations system entities, including, of course, the Security Council Counter-Terrorism bodies.
So, in this case, for CTC, it includes CTED, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate.
Question: It includes what?
Spokesperson: It includes CTED, the Counter-Terrorism Committee Executive Directorate, which, of course, is kind of like the expert body, the operational secretariat body assisting the work of CTC. It is very much part and parcel of the whole counter-terrorism work of the UN, the Task Force, and overall of the whole implementation and review process for the strategy. So it’s definitely there.
Question: I couldn’t quite hear Rima’s question, because I’m at the back and I may be duplicating. But the General Assembly President’s visit to the United Arab Emirates: the dates, who he’s going to be meeting with and what he’s going to be talking about?
Spokesperson: I’m going to give you the exact programme when it’s more or less finalized. The dates, it is towards the end of next week. It’s the last leg of this several country visit that he has. And, as I did tell Rima, the talks will most likely focus on the key issues of the General Assembly’s current session. So climate change, financing for development, counter-terrorism issues since we’re in the midst of preparations for the review meeting that Errol asked about, and also UN reform and Security Council reform.
That’s what I assume will be on the agenda. But as I said, the moment I have more details, I’ll let you have it.
Question: Do we have any idea who he’s meeting with there?
Spokesperson: I don’t have the details, and whatever is there, is more or less tentative at the moment. But I’ll give you all the details when I have them.
Thank you very much for your attention.
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For information media • not an official record
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