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Daily Press Briefing by the Offices of the Spokesperson for the Secretary-General and the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President, 09 May 2011

Department of Public Information . News and Media Division . New York

The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Farhan Haq, Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General, and Jean Victor Nkolo, Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly.

Briefing by the Acting Deputy Spokesperson for the Secretary-General

Good afternoon, everybody.

**Secretary-General in Istanbul

The Secretary-General opened the Fourth UN Conference on Least Developed Countries (LDCs) in Istanbul today. He said that today there are 48 least developed countries that are home to nearly 900 million people, or 12 per cent of the global population, half of whom live on less than $2 a day. They are the most vulnerable societies, the least secure and they have produced some 60 per cent of the world’s refugees in recent decades. This cannot continue, the Secretary-General said.

Instead of seeing LDCs as poor and weak, he said, let us recognize these 48 countries as vast reservoirs of untapped potential. Investing in LDCs is an opportunity for all, and success for the LDCs is ultimately success for all.

The Secretary-General also spoke to the press, saying that the Istanbul conference is the first major development conference of the United Nations of this decade. It is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to mobilize global solidarity and action for the poorest and weakest members of our global family. We must not waste it, the Secretary-General said. We must seize this momentum.

We have his remarks today available in our office. And we also have the remarks and readouts of his meetings over the weekend posted online.

**Security Council

Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Valerie Amos will brief the Security Council on the humanitarian situation in Libya, in an open meeting and closed consultations this afternoon. We expect that she will come to the stakeout afterwards to talk to reporters.

This morning, the Security Council heard a briefing from the High Representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina, Valentin Inzko, in an open debate.

** C ôte d’Ivoire

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) says that 68 bodies were found in 10 graves by the human rights team of the UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire (ONUCI), which went to the Youpogon neighbourhood last Friday. This includes two mass graves — one with 31 bodies, and the other with 21.

The Office says that the team is interviewing witnesses and families of victims to find out what happened. It is believed that the killings took place on 12 April by pro-Gbagbo militia and that those killed are all males. The Office also says that there are allegations of other graves nearby, and that the Mission’s human rights team is continuing to investigate.

** Sudan

Yesterday, officials from the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) attended the first meeting of the Abyei Joint Technical Committee, which focused on finding a timeline to implement the Kadugli Agreements between Northern and Southern Sudan. The meeting ended with the signing of an agreement between the parties to effectively deploy the Joint Integrated Units across the region. These units are made up of both Northern and Southern military and police forces. The signing parties also demanded that all unauthorized armed groups withdraw their forces from the Abyei area between 10 and 17 May.

** Darfur

A United Nations humanitarian assessment team who visited South Darfur’s Kalma camp for the internally displaced found no shortage of water, medicines and food there. The UN-African Union mission in Darfur notes that the finding belies recent media reports that aid supplies were running low at the camp.

**Climate Change

Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report that concluded that close to 80 per cent of the world’s energy supply could be met by renewable energy sources by the middle of this century, if backed by the right enabling public policies.

With such policies in place, the world would cut its greenhouse gas emissions by about one third, compared to business-as-usual projections. It could also help to meet the goal of keeping the rise in the global mean temperature from exceeding 2˚ Celsius in the twenty-first century. As you may remember, countries recognized this goal in the Cancún Agreements.

**Press Conferences Today

For press conferences today, at 12:45 p.m. today, there will be a press conference by Ray Dolphin, a staff member of the UN Office of the Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs, and author of the report East Jerusalem: Key Humanitarian Concerns.

And at 3 p.m., there will be a press conference organized by the United Nations Democracy Fund, to discuss new findings on how effectively the international democracy family is supporting the many actors in the field.

And right after this we will have Jean Victor Nkolo, the Spokesperson for the President of the General Assembly. That will be after my briefing.

Yes, please, Sylviane?

**Questions and Answers

Question: Thank you, Farhan. Any reaction from the SG on the arrest of peaceful figures in Syria?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We don’t have any reaction just yet. As you know, the Secretary-General made his own concerns known to the President of Syria, President Bashar al-Assad, when they spoke last week. In particular in that call, he had reiterated his calls for an immediate end to the violence against peaceful demonstrators in Syria, as well as calling for an immediate end to the mass arrests of the peaceful demonstrators in Syria. He had also called for an independent investigation of all killings that had happened during the protests, including the alleged killing of military and security officers, and had noted the need to respect the human rights of the population. And those remain his viewpoint today.

Question: Do you think he will be sending someone from the UN to go to check and to verify what is happening there?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have anything to announce on that. On the humanitarian side, our Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has been trying to see whether they could get into certain areas in Syria. They have not been able to do so, so far, however. Yes?

Question: Farhan, regarding the situation in Bahrain, there has been some allegations that organ harvesting has been taking place in hospitals in Bahrain. Some have been brought to the attention of the [International Criminal Court] in The Hague recently. Does the Secretary-General lend his support to such initiatives, I mean to investigate the situation there?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any reaction to that, because I don’t have any details confirming those particular reports. Yes?

Question: This Palestinian peace process, it is being reported that after the Secretary-General had this conversation with [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu over the weekend, that there is some sort of a movement towards exchange of Palestinian prisoners for one Israeli soldier. Is the United Nations involved in this process at this point in time?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: No, there isn’t any direct UN involvement in this. And as you know, regarding the case of [Staff Sergeant] Gilad Shalit, we have repeatedly and consistently called for his prompt and unconditional release, and we continue to do so.

Question: What about, just a minute, what about 10,000 Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: And the Secretary-General has periodically raised the issue of Palestinian prisoners, as well. Yes, Matthew?

Question: Sure, I want to ask you about Cambodia and Sudan. In Cambodia, the head of the UN human rights office there who… Ban Ki-moon had been asked by Hun Sen to take him out of the country in November, has now left the country, many say, because at the Government’s pressure. Does the Secretary-General have any comment on this?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We don’t have any comment on this at this stage.

Question: Do you see it as a follow-through by the Government on what was said to the Secretary-General in November?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any reaction for you at this stage. If we do later on, we’ll share that.

Question: Can I ask you, on Sudan? I wanted to… a person active in the [internally displaced persons] camps, Hawa Abdullah, has been arrested by the Government and charged with Christianization and being a member of the Abdul Wahid Nur group. There is some uproar there, and I wonder if UNAMID has any awareness of this case or comment on it.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We’ll check with UNAMID whether they have any reaction. They haven't disclosed any reaction so far. But we’ll see whether they say anything down the line. Yes?

[The Acting Deputy Spokesperson later confirmed reports that a local United Nations staff member had been arrested by the Government of Sudan security forces. UNAMID is following up.]

Question: The Guardian newspaper is reporting that NATO forces left some 61 African migrants to die in the Mediterranean Sea, even though French warships were in the region. Does the Secretary-General have any response to this?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We’re trying to get some further details about the situation of the migrants. As you know, we have repeatedly raised our concerns about the fair treatment of migrants on the high seas. But on this, we do not have the first-hand details of what has happened in that particular case. Yes, please?

Question: Farhan, there is a very recent report of representatives of 25 Libyan tribes meeting in Abu Dhabi and expressing their support for the National Transitional Council. Since the SG is consistently an advocate for the inalienable rights and aspirations of the people, especially of a country like Libya, has he had any opportunity to comment at all on that meeting of 25 tribes for the opposition of [Colonel Muammar al-]Qadhafi?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: We haven’t had any comment on that. As you know, the Special Envoy for Libya, Abdul Ilah al-Khatib, has been meeting with various groups and following up with all the latest developments. And he continues with his efforts, including by attending the recent conference in Rome. He will continue to monitor all of the various meetings by different groups and see where he goes from there. Yes?

Question: Over the weekend, this clash in Egypt, sectarian clash in which 10 people were killed, has the Secretary-General got anything to say about that? That was happening over there while they are in the process of reconciliation and so forth.

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: Well, as you may be aware, the Secretary-General visited Egypt a month ago, and at that point he met with different groups, including from the various different sects in Egypt, and encouraged the process by which all of the various communities in Egypt are now working together to try and forge a new democratic transition. And we are trying to continue to support that, and we would hope that there are no tensions among various groups while they go through the process of the democratic transition.

Question: And in light of this recent incident in which 10 people were killed, do they have… does the Secretary-General have anything…?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I don’t have any specific comment. During past cases where there have been these particular sectarian tensions, the Secretary-General has spoken out against them, and has tried to make sure that the various different groups in Egypt are able to work together as the democratic transition proceeds. Yes?

Question: Sure, there’s something, that the UN’s work on Somalia, although in Nairobi, that there was this office that was supposed to be built called the Security Liaison Office for the Somali Government in Nairobi, $180,000 were allocated; the money, quote “was disbursed but no office was ever built”. I wanted to know, what’s the UN… what’s up with that case? What… Are you aware of it, and what is the status of investigation? who is investigating it and what will be done about it?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: I am not aware of that case.

Question: There’s an AP story about corruption in Somalia, and it says “a top UN official in Somalia declined to comment, citing an ongoing UN investigation”. So, my question really is, is OIOS [Office for Internal Oversight Services] investigating it, or is it another thing that just, sort of, will disappear?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: If there are results of an investigation that we can share, at that point we’ll certainly do that. At this stage, there is nothing, there is no comment on that. Yes?

Question: What is the status of the proposed UN humanitarian assessment mission to Deraa in Syria?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: The humanitarian assessment mission has not been able to get into Deraa. We are trying to clarify why it hasn’t had access. And we are also trying to get access to other areas of Syria at this stage. But right now we have not been able to get into Deraa. And we are trying to clarify that.

Question: Does the Secretary-General or the UN feel that Syria has reneged on a prior agreement to allow this mission to go forward?

Acting Deputy Spokesperson: First we are trying to get the clarification as to why it hasn’t gotten in. Let’s see whether they can get in in the coming days.

And with that, Jean Victor?

Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President

Good afternoon.

**President of General Assembly at LDC Conference in Istanbul

On the LDC Conference in Istanbul, the President of the General Assembly, Joseph Deiss, is participating in the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries, taking place in Istanbul, Turkey, from 9 to 13 May 2011.

In his speech at the opening ceremony on 9 May, President Deiss stated that the Conference represents a unique opportunity to make a real difference for the development of the Least Developed Countries. He called for a renewed and strengthened partnership of the international community to support the LDCs that are undertaking reforms.

President Deiss assured that the General Assembly would take the necessary steps in the follow-up and the monitoring of the implementation of the [draft] Istanbul programme of action. The General Assembly is expected to adopt a resolution on the [draft] programme of action.

On 8 May, President Deiss addressed civil society representatives during the opening ceremony of the Civil Society Forum at the Conference. He underlined the key role of civil society in conveying the aspirations of the people and in having a checks-and-balances role.

On the same day, he also addressed the LDC Leaders Summit, calling for resolute and effective leadership for the development of the LDCs. The President of the General Assembly also participated in several events of the private sector track of the Conference, during which he delivered a strong message in favour of putting in place sound institutions to further promote a business environment favourable to investment and job creation.

In Istanbul, the President of the General Assembly had a series of bilateral meetings with Head of States, ministers and high-level representatives attending the Conference, including Abdullah Gül, President of Turkey, as well as Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Prime Minister of Turkey. President Deiss also met with Jhala Nath Khanal, Prime Minister of Nepal and Chair of the LDC Group.

Topics discussed included the expected outcomes of the LDC Conference and the content of the [draft] Istanbul programme of action, as well as global governance, including United Nations reforms, and other issues on the agenda of the sixty-fifth session of the United Nations General Assembly.

Any questions? Masood?

**Questions and Answers

Question: One question. I mean, I asked earlier also about the Security Council reform and you had said that you’d talk to, I mean, the President of the Security Council, the President of the General Assembly’s interlocutor, Ambassador [Zahit] Tanin, to come and talk to us. He has not done so, so far.

Spokesperson: Well, I specifically discussed this with Ambassador Tanin on Thursday last week, on the celebration of the World Press Freedom Day, and that was only Thursday, so, he is looking into it. We should be able to come back to you this week or next week with a response. He is looking into it. Yes, Matthew?

Question: Can you, I mean, in this run-up to the 20 May vote for the Human Rights Council, there has been a lot of discussion around Syria’s candidacy, and I understand probably that President Deiss won’t take any position on that. But it is understood that it is blank, you know, it’s a clean slate, i.e. there is no opposition to Syria. Is there some way to know what’s the involvement either of the PGA’s office in knowing what those slates are? Can you give us some idea if write-in candidates, for example, are considered? What can you say about this, you know, newsy event coming up in the GA?

Spokesperson: Well, Matthew, let me first comment on your first statement. I don’t think the President has to take a position in that, one way or the other. I think this is a matter for the Member States. And as you will recall, the Human Rights Council, and thereafter the General Assembly, follow the guiding principles and the procedures with regard to membership in the Council, and then a vote in that regard at the General Assembly. So the President will only be the guardian and implementation of the General Assembly rules and procedures in this regard. So there is no specific position of the President with regard to this other Member State when it comes to human rights and the Human Rights Council. But when it comes to what you call the “newsy” trend regarding Syria’s candidature, I think that for the time being we have no comment, really. It’s a matter for the Member States; it has to go first through the Human Rights Council, and then the President will take it when he is seized of the matter.

Question: When Libya, for example, was expelled from the Human Rights Council, the vote here in New York, did President Deiss think that was a positive thing, or did he have no feeling about it?

Spokesperson: Well, the President’s statement on that is online; you can go and check again. But…

Question: [inaudible] contradictory…

Spokesperson: …that is his statement on 1 March is online and the President was very, very strong again in his statement. But first and foremost you have to allow the Member States to go through the procedures and make up their mind before the President can…

Question: And so, he waits to see what they vote on, and then he…?

Spokesperson: It doesn’t necessarily work that way, but in this case, you have to allow the procedures to take their own course.

Thank you very much, I wish you a pleasant afternoon.

* *** *

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