|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
Good afternoon. Our guest today will be Karen Konig AbuZayd, the new Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, better known as UNRWA. As you know, she took office last April and this will be her first briefing here in her new capacity.
This morning, the Secretary-General addressed the United Cities and Local Governments Summit here at United Nations Headquarters. In a speech to the mayors and other officials, he said that virtually all the world’s population growth over the next 30 years will occur in urban areas of low- and middle-income countries. He added that “cities and local authorities have a critical role to play in this area because if the present trend continues, the decades ahead will see the urbanization of poverty”.
The Secretary-General will address the Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliament this afternoon in the General Assembly Hall. In that speech, he’s expected to note that “Parliamentarians, the embodiment of democracy, have an important part to play in the implement of the outcome of next week’s Summit”. We have copies of both speeches upstairs.
Turning to the relief effort on Hurricane Katrina, we received the following update from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). They are working closely on the US side with Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) in support of the relief efforts for the victims of the hurricane. An initial UN presence has now been established in Atlanta and is moving on to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, today with a staff of about eight people. The United Nations also has a presence in Denton, Texas, with a total of six staff on the ground today.
Both are working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Regional Coordination Centers. And in addition to logistics staff at Little Rock Air Force Base, which will be the staging area for incoming international aid, we’re also liaising with the USAID Response Management Team in Washington. And UN staff is helping them track international assistance.
From the agencies, the World Food Programme (WPF) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have started talks with the American Red Cross about the possibility of channelling materials and supplies through them. And UNICEF is also providing educational supplies to non-governmental organizations, such as the Church World Service. And finally, the World Health Organization (WHO) is responding to a request for staff to assist in Baton Rouge, Denton, as well as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. More information is available from OCHA.
Turning to Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, today released a report on the human rights situation in that country during July and August. The report voiced concern on the lack of protection of basic human rights in Iraq. The UN’s Human Rights Office receives regular allegations reflecting the deficiencies in the administration of justice, in particular the handling of detainees. It also notes a flagrant disregard for human life demonstrated by armed opposition groups. And we have a press release available upstairs on that.
Turning to Lebanon, Terje Roed-Larsen, the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for the Implementation of Resolution 1559, was in Moscow today, where he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Messrs. Roed-Larsen and Lavrov reviewed the latest developments concerning the implementation of 1559. The meeting took place as part of a broad round of consultations with key partners on this resolution, as well as other related matters. Mr. Roed-Larsen described the meeting as productive, and he will remain in close contact with his Russian counterparts.
On Afghanistan, the UN Mission in Afghanistan reports a slight increase in the number of former officers and soldiers who’ve now jointed the reintegration programme. So far, more than 60,000 people have either entered or completed the process, representing about 98 per cent of all demobilized fighters. And we have more details in the Kabul briefing notes upstairs.
From Liberia, the Secretary-General today sent to the Security Council a report on the United Nations Mission in Liberia, UNMIL. He asked for an extension of its mandate for another year, until September of next year. He also complimented the United Nations Mission and the Liberian people on what he called “steady progress for their preparations for the October national election”.
Just a few more notes. Fertility reductions that took place in developing countries in the 1970s and 1980s have now reduced the share of children in the population and increased the proportion of working-age persons, according to a new report by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs. The report says that those changes can boost the per capita rate of income growth and raise living standards, easing the path of fulfilling the Millennium Development Goals. And a press release is available on that upstairs.
Turning to the General Assembly, the Office of the President tells us that the core group on the draft outcome document for the Summit met yesterday afternoon and evening. It considered the text of the document dealing with development, terrorism and the Peacebuilding Commission. This morning the core group is taking up the sections on Secretariat management reforms, Human Rights Council and the concept of responsibility to protect civilians from genocide and other crimes against humanity. The group is expected to meet again this afternoon to report on its work so far.
In terms of dues, Viet Nam sent in its dues in today. The arrival of that check brought the list of fully paid Member States to 113. And that check was for $373,000.
** Sri Lanka
Also yesterday, we posted a statement attributable to the Spokesman on the situation in Sri Lanka. That was made available to you upstairs yesterday.
Our guest tomorrow will be Antonio Maria Costa, the Executive Director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. He’ll be discussing, among other things, his recent trip to Nigeria, where his Office hosted a round table on crime and development in Africa.
And quite a few press conferences these days. At 12:45 p.m. today, panellists participating in the second day of the DPI/NGO Conference will brief you on that ongoing event on development, peace and security. At 2:30 p.m., Nicolas Michel, the United Nations Legal Counsel, will brief on the upcoming 2005 Treaty Event, which coincides with the 2005 World Summit. Mr. Michel’s briefing will be immediately followed by a background briefing by key delegates in the negotiations on terrorism conventions and current negotiations to highlight the occasion of the opening for signature on the Convention for the Suppression of Actions of Nuclear Terrorism during the Treaty Event. That will be a background briefing.
Tomorrow morning, Hania Zlotnik, Head of the Population Division, will launch a report entitled “Population Challenges and Development Goals”. At 12:45 p.m., Anders Yatsen of the IPU, and Juan Somavia, the Director of the International Labour Organization (ILO), and Baleka Ambeta, the Speaker of the South African National Assembly, will present the conclusions of the Second World Conference of Speakers of Parliament. And at 1:30 p.m., the panellists participating in the third and last day of the DPI/NGO Conference will brief you on that conference.
That’s it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Can you tell me more about the meeting between Messrs. Roed-Larsen and Lavrov?
Spokesman: There’s really nothing more to say. They discussed implementation of 1559 and the situation of Lebanon in general.
Question: What about Mr. Mehlis?
Spokesman: Mehlis was in New York today and yesterday. He’s been talking to a number of officials, discussing obviously his ongoing investigation into the death of Rafik Hariri. He is meeting the Secretary-General this afternoon and will be meeting with key ambassadors who have an interest in the situation in Lebanon.
Question: Which ambassadors?
Spokesman: We’ll try to find out for you.
Question: Another thing. Do you have anything on the Slovak trail involved in this investigation?
Spokesman: No. But questions about the investigation have to go to Mr. Mehlis himself.
Question: Following the revelations yesterday in the Volcker report that Kofi Annan’s son was lobbying actively with United Nations officials to get the Cotecna contract, with the United Nations did award to Cotecna in 1998, are any United Nations officials with whom Kojo Annan lobbied facing any disciplinary inquiry as a result?
Spokesman: The 1,000-page report Mr. Volcker put out yesterday is full of details and is quite exhaustive, and we’re not going back into the details of that investigation. He spent quite a lot of time on it. The findings against various United Nations officials are clearly stated. We feel this was the definitive investigation into the oil-for-food programme.
Question: There’ll be no follow-up action to the report, is that what you’re saying?
Spokesman: Follow-up action is taken as necessary, based on the findings in the report, and obviously we’re still going through the report.
Question: What kind of action are you referring to?
Spokesman: As I said, we’re still studying the report but we won’t go back here and discuss the details.
Question: One official heavily criticized is Louise Fréchette. What is she up to now? She’s in charge of the United Nations reform efforts, which some people at the United Nations find very odd. Is there talk of her resigning, is she talking of resigning, what will her function be throughout the General Assembly?
Spokesman: She continues in her function. I think the Secretary-General spoke very clearly yesterday when he said he did not expect any resignations.
Question: How would you describe the Secretary-General’s mood after being in the Council yesterday and hearing the statements there?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General is very focused on the weeks ahead, on the Summit, and on trying to get a solid outcome document out of the Summit.
Question: It seems some sort of action should be taken against the worst offender officials named in the Volcker report.
Spokesman: Action has been taken against a number of staff members over the past months as reports have come out. The Secretary-General was very clear yesterday about his acceptance of the findings in the report. He was very clear in his address to the Council and when he spoke to you yesterday.
Question: Wouldn’t it send a message that the Secretary-General is truly committed to transparency, accountability and management reform if he were to take some action on this report before the Summit?
Spokesman: The action that will be taken on this report is following through on the recommendations of Mr. Volcker. And as the reports have come out, we’ve taken action on these recommendations, which include the creation of follow-up committees to audit management findings. It includes better whistle-blower protection, creation of an ethics office and better financial disclosure by United Nations officials. So action is taken. For us, the report was an effort to get at the truth about what happened with the oil-for-food programme and also a matter of lessons learned about how we can improve the administration of this Organization.
Question: Following up on the other questions, wouldn’t it be a prudent thing for an organ within the United Nations or some outside organization to look at the actual criminality done in oil-for-food and go after those officials?
Spokesman: Any criminal activity will be prosecuted by national authorities and we have said time and again that we will cooperate. And we have been cooperating with national authorities who are prosecuting criminal behaviour. So it is not a matter of people who took part in criminal behaviour getting off scot-free.
Question: Following the management reforms you’re talking about, under that new system, would someone who failed to manage or failed to adequately perform oversight and failed to accept responsibility for things directly under their control, would they continue to do their job and not have to leave the Organization?
Spokesman: Oil-for-food is not something we’d ever want to run again. But it would have been better run if we’d had the clear lines of responsibility between the Security Council and the Secretariat, as well as better follow-up on audits.
Question: Under the new standards being set up, would Louise Fréchette or Kofi Annan resign?
Spokesman: You’re asking a hypothetical question that I won’t answer.
Question: About Kojo’s use of his father’s status to get a tax exemption on a Mercedes in both Switzerland and Ghana, why are the documents missing? Are those among the documents that Iqbal Riza ordered shredded from 1998.
Spokesman: That question is covered in-depth in the Volcker report, and I have nothing to add. Mr. Volcker has spent a lot of time doing an exhaustive investigation.
Question: What’s the United Nations explanation for why the papers are missing?
Spokesman: The answers of United Nations staff involved in the episode are detailed in the report.
Question: Why are the papers missing?
Spokesman: It’s an 800-page report, I won’t go into the exhaustive report. The clear message of this report is the need for better administrative -- for the Secretary-General to be given more moderate administrative powers with greater oversight. And that’s what we’re working on now.
Question: Any deadline for the negotiations on the outcome document?
Spokesman: I’m not aware of any hard deadlines, though obviously they’re working almost around the clock.
Question: Has there been phone contact between President Bush and Kofi Annan since the release of the report? Can Fréchette appear at a press briefing? Has Fréchette offered a resignation?
Spokesman: The DSG enjoys the confidence of the Secretary-General. I don’t believe she’s planning a press briefing and there have been no phone calls between the Secretary-General and President Bush as of this morning.
Question: The new USG for management was supposed to come and brief us on changes, but where is he?
Spokesman: We’ll try to get him down here in the next few days.
Question: How does your response today, your refusal to go into the important 800-page report, and your refusal to answer questions about issues raised and left unanswered by the report, how is that consistent with the Secretary-General’s stated commitment to accountability and transparency.
Spokesman: Many questions weren’t left open. The report answered a lot of them, and I won’t go beyond that answer. They are exhaustively answered and I have nothing to add.
Question: Has the Secretary-General met with Fréchette to discuss the many pages devoted to her?
Spokesman: They have seen each other, but I’m not aware of specific discussion.
Question: When you say the DSG enjoys the Secretary-General’s confidence, does that mean he accepts her allegations that she did not realize she was the manager of the oil-for-food programme?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General said yesterday he accepts the findings of the report. That means he accepts the findings and doesn’t dispute them.
Question: Can we put in a request for Fréchette to meet the press here? We’d be delighted to hear from her. Where is she? What is her role during the GA debate?
Spokesman: She’s in the Building, she’s continuing to work on issues of reform, and she will be a full participant in the Summit.
Question: There’s some speculation among Member States that Louise Fréchette will be made the sacrificial lamb while Kofi Annan stays on.
Spokesman: None whatsoever.
Question: The report said Kofi Annan had not met the United Nations standards for management. Why is that not reason for resignation?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General has accepted the findings. He has apologized for the way the programme was managed in terms of administration. It was a very clear mea culpa. He’s been working on issues of management reform since he got here, and he feels strongly that he’ll continue to work on them for the next year and a half and he’ll see them through.
Question: I missed the apology. Can you point out where he apologized?
Spokesman: He accepted responsibility. You’ve seen the text. I will refer you to his words.
* *** *For information media • not an official record