|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
Daily press briefing by the officeS of the spokesman for the secretary-general
and the spokesperson for the general assembly president
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General
Our guest today will be Ms. Margareta Wahlström, Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, and she will be here to brief you on the UN response to the South Asian earthquake.
I have a statement from the Secretary-General.
“The Secretary-General was deeply saddened to learn of the death of his friend and colleague Joke Waller-Hunter, the Executive Secretary of the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework for the Convention on Climate Change, who passed away today at the age of 58. He extends his condolences to Ms. Waller-Hunter’s family and colleagues.
“Ms. Waller-Hunter led the UNFCCC at a crucial time. Appointed Executive Secretary in 2002, she oversaw the entry into force of the Kyoto Protocol and played a leading role in preparations for its implementation, particularly on adaptation to the impact of climate change. She was a firm believer in the principles of sustainable development, and knew that global cooperation was essential to advancing that cause. She will be mourned with deep affection and respect by many friends and allies around the world.”
And that statement is available upstairs.
The Secretary-General is, as you know, today in Salamanca, Spain, where he addressed the 15th Ibero-American Summit. In his address to the Summit, he praised the gathered leaders for their “groundbreaking” efforts to promote development and strongly urged them to build on the outcomes of last month’s World Summit in New York.
He told the leaders that, with their engagement, “we can equip the United Nations with a truly accountable, efficient and effective Secretariat” and press ahead with a new Peacebuilding Commission and a new Human Rights Council. “Let us persevere”, he said, “and let us do it together.”
The Secretary-General also offered his deepest sympathies and condolences to the leaders whose countries have been hit by tragedy with the recent hurricanes and mudslides. “I have appealed to the international community to give, and give generously, and to work with them for recovery and reconstruction”, he said.
We have copies of his speech upstairs.
Earlier today, the Secretary-General addressed a group of business and civil society leaders in Salamanca, telling them that Ibero-American cooperation, including their participation, is essential in order to tackle global problems. On the sidelines of the Summit, he scheduled bilateral meetings with the President of Peru, as well as the Vice-Presidents of Guatemala and El Salvador.
In the evening, he will attend a dinner hosted by King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain. Tomorrow morning, he has bilateral meetings scheduled with the Presidents of Bolivia, Brazil, Mexico and Venezuela. And we do expect the Secretary-General back in the office on Monday.
The Security Council today held consultations on Somalia and Liberia. On Somalia, the Council discussed the latest report of the Monitoring Group for that country, which found a sustained and dramatic upswing in arms embargo violations in recent months. Ambassador Lauro Baja of the Philippines, Chair of the Council’s Sanctions Group on Somalia, briefed them on the report.
Then, Council members received an update -- from Dmitry Titov, the Director of the Africa Division of the Department of Peacekeeping Operations, on the elections that took place in Liberia on Tuesday.
The Council is now holding a formal meeting to vote on a draft resolution on the mandate of the Somalia Monitoring Group, if they haven’t already done so. After that, it is expected to adopt a presidential statement on Côte d’Ivoire and a press statement on Liberia is also expected.
Yesterday afternoon, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Côte d’Ivoire, Pierre Schori, told Security Council members in a public meeting that several major challenges stand in the way to sustainable peace and stability in that country.
He warned, “There is too much anxiety and fear in the air, and too many Kalashnikovs on the streets. Rampant insecurity seems to be the order of the day.” Schori said the Council may want to respond to the recent African Union Summit in Addis Ababa on Côte d’Ivoire by endorsing the Summit’s conclusion, to send a strong message about the international community’s unity of purpose and action.
Council members also heard briefings on the Summit from officials representing the African Union, and an update from the High-Level Representative for Elections, Antonio Monteiro, about preparations for these elections.
Also yesterday afternoon, Council members adopted a presidential statement expressing their grave concern at the reports of an upsurge of violence by all sides in Darfur.
The Council strongly condemned the October 8th attack that killed four Nigerian peacekeepers and two civilian contractors and wounded three others, which was reportedly carried out by the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army. It also condemned the September 25th attack in Modaina, Chad, by armed groups coming from the Sudan, which reportedly killed 75 people.
From Baghdad, Ashraf Qazi, the head of the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq, yesterday met with Iraqi Vice President Ghazi el-Yawer, and briefed him on the UN’s effort in making the draft constitution, including the latest changes to the text, available to as many Iraqis as possible.
Qazi also met yesterday with the Chairman of the Constitutional Committee, Sheikh Humam Hamoudi. He told Hamoudi about the steps taken by the UN Mission to ensure that the Iraqi electorate was informed about the latest changes to the text of the constitution, so they can make an informed choice during tomorrow’s referendum. We have a press release on those meetings, as well as one describing the UN’s informational efforts regarding the draft constitution.
The helicopter restrictions we’ve been telling you about in our peacekeeping forces in Eritrea continue to remain in place. The UN Mission also tells us there have been sporadic restrictions on the freedom of movement of some foot patrols, on the Eritrean side, of UN foot patrols, that is.
The UN Force Commander, General Singh, continues to be particularly concerned about the safety of UN peacekeepers and the situation on the ground, in general, because of our limited ability to monitor the situation. The helicopter restrictions cut, by 50-55 per cent, our monitoring capabilities on the Eritrean side.
These restrictions hinder our ability to sustain operationally some isolated posts. The Force Commander has begun to thin out troops in three remote posts on the Eritrean side. And just to give you an example, General Singh travelled by road to one of those posts, Senafe, from Asmara. A trip which would have normally taken him about 90 minutes round trip in a helicopter, took about nine hours over very difficult roads.
The Deputy Secretary-General, Louise Fréchette, is in the last working day of her visit to Australia. She met today with Foreign Ministry officials, UN personnel and leaders of local NGOs.
The discussions with Foreign Minister Alexander Downer focused on Australia’s work at the UN and the Summit Outcome Document.
The Deputy Secretary-General then met with UNIFEM Australia and participated in a round-table discussion with a large number of Australian NGOs. Again, the main topics were the implementation of the Summit decisions and UN reform. And, the Deputy Secretary-General is scheduled to leave Australia for New York this Sunday.
** Western Sahara
The Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy for Western Sahara, Peter van Walsum, arrived in Tindouf today from Rabat. During his visit to camps in the Tindouf region, van Walsum met with the leadership of Frente POLISARIO. POLISARIO officials gave him a warm welcome and reiterated their confidence in the UN to enable the Saharawi people to exercise their right to self-determination without further delay.
Mr. van Walsum said there was consensus within the international community on the need to reach a solution to the Western Sahara issue as soon as possible.
Just a couple of more items for you.
In a letter to the Security Council, the Secretary-General provides an update today on the progress towards the setting up of a mixed Truth Commission and Special Chamber within the court system of Burundi. In the coming weeks, he said, the UN Operation in Burundi will initiate preparatory discussions with members of the Government on the nature of those bodies.
On the basis of the preliminary results of the process of consultations, a UN mission would be dispatched to Burundi to negotiate the practical implementation and the legal framework involved. And that letter is out on the racks.
**World Food Programme/Somalia
Yesterday, we told you about the hijacking of a World Food Programme-chartered ship off the coast of Somalia. That ship, the World Food Programme now tells us, has been released, after 32 hours in limbo, with its crew unharmed and its food aid cargo intact.
WFP welcomed the release and is now quickly working to get the rations to 78,000 drought-stricken people in southern Somalia.
Also, updating you on something we told you yesterday, that the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) had decided to allow former Kosovo Prime Minister and war crimes suspect Ramush Haradinaj to engage in politics and travel throughout Kosovo during his provisional release.
Now the Chief Prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, has appealed that decision, so the court has stayed the decision. In other words, Mr. Haradinaj cannot engage in politics until his defence team responds to the stay. Del Ponte’s team says they appealed because they were concerned about the issue of double standards.
That is it for me. Tomorrow is Saturday, which means today is Friday and which means we have the Week Ahead. Just to flag a couple of items, Sunday is World Food Day and we have a message from the Food and Agricultural Organization. Monday is the International Day for the Eradication of Poverty and there will be a briefing in this room by French Permanent Representative Jean-Marc de la Sablière and a representative of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs. And our guest at noon will be Paulo Pinheiro, the UN’s Independent Expert on Violence against Children. He will be here to brief you on a recent study and he will be accompanied by a youth leader from Grenada.
That is it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: The Lebanese Government yesterday presented a formal request to the Security Council to extend the Mehlis mandate. When do you think the Security Council is going to look at that? And also Mehlis is presenting his report on the 21st, and the Security Council is discussing it I think on the 24th. Will you make copies of the report available to the press before that, before the Security Council convenes?
Spokesman: It’s a lot of questions. On your first question, on the Security Council, that is something I can’t answer. You’d have to ask the Council presidency when they’ll consider the letter. The hard date that we have is the date for discussion of the report by Security Council members, as you mentioned. I think that is the 25th. How the release of the report will be handled both to the press and Council members prior to the discussion is still being finalized. So, as soon as we get an update as to when you can get your hands on the report, we will let...
Question: So, we may get...
Spokesman: I understand the situation. As soon as I can tell you when you will be getting the report, I will let you know.
Question: There has already been a request for an extension. That was disregarded? The over-the-phone request?
Spokesman: No, as I said, and this still stands, the Secretary-General is considering...
Question: It’s been two weeks.
Spokesman: It’s a difficult issue and it is still being considered. Thank you.
Question: In the face of such humanitarian disasters going on all over the world, it does seem rather strange that the Secretary-General and the Deputy Secretary-General are away from Headquarters. That does not sit well with several Member States. There should be some... he’s answerable to the membership, I understand, but there should be some responsibility. Why is he not?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General is not on vacation. He is participating in a high-level summit with Central American leaders, Latin American leaders, as well as Portuguese and Spanish leaders. Whether he’s here or on the road, he’s constantly in touch with Headquarters, as is the Deputy Secretary-General. These humanitarian disasters that you refer to are obviously being dealt with directly by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. I think you’ve been briefed extensively on those efforts and you’ll be briefed again today. So in this day and age, everyone is in touch.
Mr. Egeland is in Pakistan taking a firsthand look at what the UN is doing, and I said the Secretary-General may be on the road, but he is in touch, a number of times, by phone, with staff here.
Question: The presence of the chief executive here does matter, no matter how you look at it.
Spokesman: I understand. But I also think he’s a chief executive of a global organization so it’s normal that his business takes him around the world.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any remarks to Bolton’s statements that enlarging the Security Council would fail?
Question: I noted from what you read, regarding what Ambassador van Walsum said, regarding the Western Sahara, and when he stressed the need for reaching a solution as soon as possible, he did not use the phrase that the Security Council resolution indicated, which is a “political solution”. Is there a difference or is this an omission?
Spokesman: I’ll vote on the side of omission.
Question: Do you have any update on the leak in the General Assembly Hall?
Spokesman: On the leak, yes, I think we put out an update yesterday. The leak was due to bad drainage on the roof, which was repaired about 10 years ago and there was another operation on it about five years ago. Yesterday, they called in the contractors who’d been responsible for doing the work on the roof and on the drains, and they were looking at it yesterday and they were looking at it again today. This was not related to the work that was done inside, the dome, I think last year.
Question: What about the new leak on the second floor corridor?
Spokesman: Maybe I should come in special plumbing blues. We’ll do a special plumbing update every day, I promise you. Let’s hope for sun over the weekend.
Question: I have a plumbing update too. On the third floor, in room 322. We’re trying to figure out, the whole place is all brown, I thought coffee was all over the place. It happened over the weekend and we found out from the cleaning man that... the water came down, on papers, books, so that’s in room 322.
Spokesman: I would encourage you, any of you who encounter problems, do not wait for the noon briefing; call maintenance, or talk to our friends in Media Liaison and they will be happy to help you.
Question: I reported it.
Spokesman: Ok. Good.
Question: I have the draft resolution on Somalia. It doesn’t say anything about neighbouring countries which are being, indicated by the report, involved in supplying arms to the warlords. Are they doing anything to contact them, to talk to the Transitional Government and come up with some sort of plan to stop this proliferation of arms? Also, is there any update on the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE)?
Spokesman: UNMEE. I read out a long update maybe just before you came in, so I’ll give you that afterwards. On the Somalia weapons issue, I encourage you to get in touch with Ambassador Baja of the Philippines who leads that sanctions committee and we can put you in touch with him.
Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President
This morning, the General Assembly plenary concluded its review of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and the Decade to Roll Back Malaria.
In his concluding remarks, Assembly President Jan Eliasson summarized the debate. He said that there is widespread recognition that NEPAD has changed the nature of discussions on development. There is now a spirit of genuine partnership and African ownership, and the African Peer Review Mechanism is now regarded as an illustration of the way things are changing.
On Monday morning, the plenary will meet to hold elections for 18 seats on the Economic and Social Council. The only region where the choice of candidates is unresolved is Latin America and the Caribbean, where there are five candidates for the four allotted seats. The candidates for that region are Cuba, Guyana, Haiti, Paraguay and Uruguay. We have the document available upstairs showing the candidates for all the regions.
This morning, the Assembly President met with a group of 12 journalists participating in the DPI Reham Al-Farra Memorial Journalists’ Fellowship Programme. Among his comments on the Summit follow-up process, he said that he would like to see “a quality consensus” emerge on the Peacebuilding Commission and the Human Rights Council.
The informal consultations of the plenary on the Peacebuilding Commission will meet next on Monday afternoon, when they will have a dialogue with senior officials from several field missions, including those in Haiti and Afghanistan, about their experiences in peacebuilding.
And all the Main Committees are continuing their work today.
Questions? Thank you.
* *** *For information media • not an official record