|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT
Good afternoon, our guest today will be Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, and he’ll be joining us shortly after his briefing to the Security Council on Ethiopia and Eritrea.
**South Asia Quake
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that many of the tents arriving in Pakistan are not winter-friendly, making additional blankets, tarpaulins and ground sheeting necessary. Also, many of the tents can’t be pitched easily because of the mountainous terrain.
For its part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) has sent supplies to Pakistan, including blankets, food, children’s clothing, educational materials and equipment for four large-capacity water treatment plants. UNICEF is also working to identify and register orphaned and separated children throughout the quake zone.
UNICEF has also been active in India, where it has supplied, among other things, tents equipped with wood-burning stoves, emergency health kits, school-in-a-box kits, as well as water tankers.
The UN Mission in Sudan reports a number of humanitarian concerns in southern Sudan and in Darfur in its weekly briefing in Khartoum. It says that attacks on civilians in southern Sudan by elements of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) remain a major concern of humanitarian agencies. Humanitarian access to affected areas remains limited, preventing agencies from forming a clear picture of numbers of affected populations and delivering much-needed assistance to them.
Also in the south, humanitarian agencies are deeply troubled by the continued extortion and even forced conscription of returnees by local militias. Negotiations to bring such practices to an immediate end are ongoing, according to the Mission.
And humanitarian access to populations in need is increasingly difficult throughout the three States of Darfur. Armed clashes and banditry in west Darfur have practically isolated the humanitarian community with all roads out of town restricted. In west Darfur alone, assistance to 170,000 people is temporarily restricted.
Meanwhile, in north Darfur, three separate and serious clashes have been reported within the last six days involving the Government troops, SLA rebels and militia. Throughout Darfur, villagers report continuous harassment by nomads and militia through looting, banditry and the forced payment of “protection taxes”.
The Council, as I just mentioned, is holding consultations on Eritrea and Ethiopia this morning and heard a briefing by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno.
The other item on the Security Council consultations agenda is a briefing by Warren Sach, the UN Controller, on the status of the oil-for-food accounts. The Secretary-General, in a letter to the Council earlier this week, informed the Council that he had asked for consultations to be conducted by the Secretariat with the relevant Iraqi authorities on the termination of the oil-for-food programme’s ongoing operations. Sach met with the relevant authorities this month and the letter includes proposed arrangements that are to be discussed.
**Security Council Yesterday
Yesterday the Security Council passed a resolution extending the mandate of the experts group on Côte d’Ivoire. They also issued a presidential statement on Haiti and published a press statement on Iraq.
The Council heard briefings on Haiti by Prime Minister Gérard Latortue and the Secretary General’s Special Representative there, Juan Gabriel Valdés. In the presidential statement the Council called for a transparent, inclusive, free and fair election in Haiti.
The Council statement also welcomed the referendum in Iraq, calling it a milestone in the political process there.
Also out on the racks today is a letter from the Prime Minister of Lebanon to the Secretary-General asking for the extension of the United Nations International Independent Investigation Commission into the assassination of the late Prime Minster Rafik Hariri
The report by Terje Roed-Larsen will not go to the Security Council until later next week.
Also from the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), they are telling us they are in close contact with the UN Resident Coordinators’ offices in Cuba and Honduras, following the upgrading of Hurricane Wilma to a highly dangerous category 5 storm.
OCHA is especially concerned about potential damage in the wake of the recent severe flooding and landslides that hit Central America and Mexico earlier this month.
And out on the racks today is a report from High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour on human rights in Afghanistan, which says that, despite some successes in disarmament, a great deal remains to be done.
The security situation continues to pose a great challenge to protecting human rights in Afghanistan, with security threats including the continued power of factional commanders. Meanwhile, the human rights of women and children, although improved, remain a matter of great concern for Ms. Arbour.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says it has received disturbing reports that registered asylum-seekers have been relocated to desert sites close to the borders in southern and eastern Morocco, but that a special team sent on 11 October has still not been permitted to travel outside the capital Rabat.
That team is still awaiting Government permission to gain access to people of concern to the agency, who are reportedly being held in various parts of the country, according to UNHCR.
Although no firm figures are available, the agency has evidence that dozens of sub-Saharan Africans holding UNHCR documentation have been picked up by Moroccan authorities in a crackdown on irregular migration.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) says it is concerned with the possibility of bird flu reaching eastern Africa.
The agency said migratory birds flying out of South-East Asia could bring the disease to humans in areas ill prepared to handle the problem.
A FAO report said Middle East and Northern African countries should be able to build up a defence, but the agency is more concerned about East Africa, where veterinary and medical services might not be able to launch control and vaccination campaigns.
And lastly, a check from Antigua and Barbuda arrived yesterday, bringing the honour roll of fully paid-up Member States to 127. Antigua and Barbuda paid $53,385.
And tomorrow, at 11, we’ve arranged for a senior United Nations Official to do a background briefing for you on Kosovo.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Thank you, I have some clarifications to make on Mehlis report (inaudible) When is it due? On Thursday or Friday? When will it be made public? Another thing, Mr. Mehlis is here in New York, will we have a press conference with him? And another thing, Ms. Rice met yesterday with Kofi Annan. Anything about this thing with Lebanon and Syria?
Spokesman: OK, let me try to answer all of your questions. Mr. Mehlis did indeed arrive today from Vienna. He is continuing to finish up his report. That report is expected to go to the Secretary-General at some point tomorrow. There will be an official meeting between him and the Secretary-General. It is likely that the report will go to the Security Council as early as Friday morning. It will then be discussed on Tuesday, Mr. Mehlis will brief the Council on Tuesday. We do expect the document to be available in all six languages by the time the meeting happens on Tuesday. But again as the usual practice, the Security Council members will get an advance copy likely on Friday. I do not expect Mr. Mehlis to speak to the press until he has a chance to officially brief the Security Council, but we would like to get him in here as soon as that is done, hopefully on the same day. The meeting yesterday, I spoke about it at the briefing yesterday, the Secretary-General and Ms. Rice spoke about a number of issues, including Lebanon, Syria, the Middle East, Iraq, Latin America, Ethiopia and Sudan to name a few.
Question: (Inaudible) The report tomorrow to Annan, when does he present it to the Lebanese Government and who does he present it to? The judiciary or the Lebanese Government? [The Spokesman later specified that the Prime Minister of Lebanon would receive the report.]
Spokesman: Traditionally these reports would go to the Government at about the same time it goes to the Security Council.
Question: Do you know what time he is going to present the report tomorrow?
Spokesman: We’ll know that by the end of the day. The schedule is still being drawn up.
Question: So, there will be leaks, there will be leaks?
Spokesman: Well, you’ve been here long enough. All I can tell you is Security Council members on Friday.
Question: Is Syria going to be given an advance copy in order to goad a response from Syria?
Spokesman: No, the only Government outside the Security Council members that will be given the report is the Government of Lebanon.
Question: What is the Secretary-General, what is his sort of general sense of requests that the investigation be extended to all sorts of other issues, like you know, assisted suicides and journalistic attacks? Is there a certain nervousness, as some people suggest, within the United Nations Secretariat that the United Nations become a sort of de facto broader Middle East investigating agency? Would you prefer this to be kept on one issue only, or are you open to these ideas?
Spokesman: I think the first step is for him to get this report. The time extension for the mandate, as it currently exists, is within the Secretary-General’s authority and he said clearly that he would make a decision on that request after he sees the report. Extending Mr. Mehlis to all sorts of other issues would entail a change in the Security Council resolution, so, that is something for members of the Council to decide on. But I think from a United Nations point of view we would not want to be given a task larger than we could chew.
Question: Secretary-General Annan said a few days ago that he doesn’t want this report to enflame any trouble in the region, I’m paraphrasing, I don’t know the exact wording. The question is, and that he will do anything in his capacity to make sure this doesn’t create turmoil. The question is how much is that doing everything in his power? I mean, there’s a little tension here between what might be the truth and what might inflame. I mean, let me spell it out, if it turns out Syria at the highest (inaudible) was responsible, it could inflame, so the question is how do you balance those two conflicting?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General mentioned that in response to a question about the politicization of the process, and he said he wanted Mr. Mehlis’s report to be a report of a police judicial investigator, be a technical report. What happens obviously afterwards we cannot control, but is for us an issue of focusing on the work that Mr. Mehlis has done in the investigation into the killing of Mr. Hariri and, I think, 20 others, and helping the judiciary bring those people to justice. But there is obviously not much one can do once the report is out.
Question: So your responsibility is to the investigatory part of it and not to the political outcome?
Spokesman: Our responsibility is to make sure that this police judicial report is given to the Security Council. But, obviously, the Secretary-General would appeal for calm and restraint as the report is being studied.
Question: Can you tell us why Mr. Larsen has delayed this report?
Spokesman: First of all he’s putting the finishing touches on it, and I think the basic explanation is we don’t really want too much confusion and congestion over too many reports, Secretary-General’s reports to the Security Council on the same area of the world, to come out all within the same twenty-four hours. So you can expect Mr. Larsen’s report to come out at some point, to go to the Secretary-General at some point next week.
Question: Can you answer any questions about the earthquake or should I wait for OCHA people?
Spokesman: I think there is someone from OCHA coming down.
Question: The Secretary-General is presumably not going to add, change or remove anything in Mr. Mehlis’s report?
Spokesman: No, Mr. Mehlis is an experienced terrorism investigator, and the Secretary-General will forward that report to the Security Council.
Question: Larsen hasn’t finished his report yet? I just want to be clear on that.
Spokesman: No, he’s putting the finishing touches on it. He just came back from London either last night or this morning, but a conscious decision was made to hold the report as not to create too much confusion or congestion.
Question: Information is saying that the report contains accusations to Syria of smuggling weapons to (inaudible)…
Spokesman: I haven’t seen the report, and I think we have to wait for the report to be handed in.
Question: The Washington Post today said that the US and France are preparing for a Security Council resolution accusing Syria of (inaudible). Does the Security Council have any information on that? Is Annan aware of that?
Spokesman: Those questions you need to address to the French and Americans.
Question: On your statement that the Secretary-General has the competence to decide on extending the mandate to mid-December, but expanding…
Spokesman: Right. The resolution, as it’s drafted, gives him the option of extending the mandate as is, until December 15. Extending an expansion of the scope of Mehlis’s work, that would entail a change in the Security Council resolution.
Question: Well, but the Lebanese Prime Minster’s letter that you mentioned earlier in the briefing seems to kind of span both of those areas by not only asking for an extension of the mandate but by saying why he wants it expanded, which is to advise…
Spokesman: Part of the answer would come from the Secretary-General and part from the Security Council.
Question: Steph, just hold off on this. You said in the past that part of his mandate was to assist with building the judiciary in Lebanon. Is that all part of what you said before, because this seems to be going further than that, because he says he wants help, international help, in determining how to carry out the trials of the people who would be found guilty?
Spokesman: As I said, the Secretary-General will give an answer once he’s seen the report.
Question: What you just said about the Secretary-General not wanting to get a task that he couldn’t handle, that sounds very much that the Secretary-General opposes an expansion as opposed to an extension. What does that mean?
Spokesman: No, not at all, it means that, obviously, any request would have to be studied, but I think it’s fair to say in general terms being asked of us by the Member States we would not want to take on something we don’t feel we could handle effectively.
Question: Do you think you could handle an expansion?
Spokesman: We would have to see what the exact request for expansion is.
Question: Will we have a second report and third report?
Spokesman: Let’s get this first one and then we’ll see.
Spokesman: Yeah, I know but I can’t answer that question until we’ve seen the report. And until there’s been a decision, if there is one on the extension of his mandate.
Question: In this report you will have the names?
Spokesman: This will be the major report of Mr. Mehlis on the investigation. I can’t answer to the content of the report.
Question: Are any United Nations experts engaged in any kind of contingency planning, studies, ideas, as to where a court might be located outside Lebanon, should that be the decision that’s taken in terms of proceeding with prosecutions?
Spokesman: No, not that I’m aware of.
Question: What is the provenance of the threat against Mr. Friji when he fled Lebanon?
Spokesman: Mr. Friji didn’t flee Lebanon. He was removed on advice of our United Nations security expert.
Question: Ok, he was threatened and he left. What was the provenance of the threat?
Spokesman: I do not know, and if I knew, I wouldn’t be able to say.
Question: Is it within the Mehlis mandate at all that threat against Mr. Friji, or not?
Spokesman: I think there is a highly energized climate in Beirut right now, with all sorts of reports expected, and our security services felt it was best for Mr. Friji’s own protection that he leave right now for a while.
Question: My question was, is the threat against Mr. Firji going to figure at all within the Mehlis report?
Spokesman: I do not know because I haven’t seen the report.
Question: Is it within his mandate?
Spokesman: My uneducated guess would be no, it’s not within his mandate.
Question: Did the United Nations ever offer any substantial assistance to the special court against Saddam Hussein? And the second question is -- there are hard debates on the legitimacy of the special court. What is the United Nations’ comment?
Spokesman: This court is an Iraqi process. The Secretary-General has always thought it would be right for Saddam to be tried in Iraq, by an Iraqi court. Obviously, some of the statutes of the court, including the death penalty, prohibit the United Nations from working with the court.
Question: Has the United Nations ever offered any substantial assistance the special court?
Spokesman: Not that I’m aware of.
Question: Just in this room, Olara Otunna said that the Secretary-General hadn’t done enough to bring the plight of northern Uganda to the Council. Any reaction?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General and his senior officials have spoken quite a bit and quite vocally on the issues of northern Uganda.
Question: So, will he be pushing the Council to take more action?
Spokesman: I really have nothing further to add on that.
Question: On a sort of housekeeping matter, I would like to put on the record a protest from the wire service and print reporters that we’re being penned in outside the Security Council under the same restrictions that were being imposed during the General Assembly Summit. And we would like to go back to the practice that’s been in effect for years and years where print reporters were not required to stay behind those barricades and those barricades have been extended. And some of us have had problems with some of the security guards and so we’d like you and Gary Fowlie to do something about that.
Spokesman: Sure, and I think my colleague Ahmad Fawzi has been working on this with security as well, but we’ll follow that up.
Question: Yesterday, I think UNESCO had adopted a document on cultural diversity. Does the Secretary-General have any comments on that?
Question: There was a document out today, in the document room, a letter from Kofi Annan to the Security Council on the Iraqi Government’s request on the termination of the oil-for-food programme. And it says that he’s had consultations, attaches a note, and he’s proposing a possible course of action for the Council’s consideration. This document just seems completely inscrutable, and I’m trying to figure out is he, has he proposed a mechanism for ending the programme? Has the programme now ended? Or whose decision is it to end the programme?
Spokesman: We will try to get the Controller Warren Sach to come down and talk to you about this because it’s an issue of the accounts, and there were some monies left over in the accounts, which we have been on a regular basis handing over to the Development Fund for Iraq. But, we’ll get you more details from the Controller’s office.
Question: So the programme is not yet terminated?
Spokesman: It’s an issue of the accounts. The operational part of the programme has ended, but it’s an issue of the monies that were left here in the accounts at Headquarters.
Question: On the handling of the winding up of the oil-for-food programme of the budget for the Volcker committee. Are we going to see an accounting of how the Volcker committee spent the $35 million dollars that it used? Is that going to be published? Such things as the salaries of the investigators -- which I feel are significantly in excess of the Secretary-General’s own salary, and the expenditures on things like luxury hotels they were going to -- are we going to see any of that?
Spokesman: I will follow up with you to see what sort of audit process there is on the Volcker commission.
Question: Yesterday, we had a rather strange discussion about the whistle-blower policy in which Barbara Dixon denied that the United Nations used the word whistle-blower and then Jonathan from Fox read from the handbook about whistle-blowers. Is there an explanation as to why 18 months after the Secretary-General promised protection for whistle-blowers, and said there was whistle-blower protection policy, there still isn’t a whistle-blower protection policy? And also, when can we expect there to be an approved whistle-blower policy?
Spokesman: The establishment of a whistle-blower policy does take a long time, because you cannot have an effective whistle-blower policy without an effective buy-in from the parties involved, notably the staff. So, we’ve gone through a series of staff consultations. The draft policy was posted on the website. We’re hearing back from staff. We’ve worked with a number of organizations approved and recommended to us by Transparency International. We’ve worked also with the Government Accountability Project, which is a Washington-based organization which you may know. There may be another quick round of consultations with staff, but we very much would like to see a final policy before the end of the year.
Question: Let me just follow up on that. So, you’re basically blaming the staff for the delay?
Spokesman: No, no, not at all. James, maybe I’m not being clear or you’re not understanding me. This is a policy to protect staff. If the staff is not consulted, and does not feel empowered by this policy, it’s useless.
Question: My understanding was that it was the staff who wanted the policy, and started pressing for the policy to be adopted quickly, and I’m surprised that the Secretariat is now saying that’s the reason the policy hasn’t been adopted.
Spokesman: James, that is your skewered interpretation of what I am saying. Obviously, a whistle-blower protection policy cannot work if it is imposed by management in a week on staff.
Question: We’re going on 18 months here.
Spokesman: I’m talking about discussions with organizations recommended to us by Transparency International which looked at the system as we had. There were periodic reviews by management. To have successful and solid policy, it takes time and you need to be patient.
Question: How much time more do you expect it to take?
Spokesman: As I said to you, we hope to have something by the end of the year.
Question: By the end of the year -- so it will take a total of about 21 months?
Spokesman: James, the important thing is that the policy that comes out of this process is a solid policy that staff feel protected with.
**Briefing by the Spokesperson for the General Assembly
Tomorrow the General Assembly will meet in plenary for a joint debate reviewing progress in implementing the International Decade for a Culture of Peace (2001-2010) and the Global Agenda for Dialogue among Civilizations. The Assembly will be considering draft resolutions on these two agenda items.
On the Peacebuilding Commission, by the end of the day the two Co-Chairs, the Ambassadors of Denmark and Tanzania, are expected to send a letter to all delegations along with a paper setting out various options for the Commission, which we will make available. The next meeting is scheduled for Friday morning.
Most of the Main Committees are continuing their work today.
Tomorrow morning the Second and Third Committees will hold a joint panel discussion on the “World Development Report 2006: Equity and Development”, by the World Bank. Panellists will include one of the lead authors, Mr. Francisco Ferreira, and senior officials from the International Labour Organization and the Department of Economic and Social Affairs.
**Questions and Answers
Question: In his introductory letter on reform and next steps to membership, the President of the General Assembly called for creative solutions on the nuclear impasse. Have there been any creative solutions or suggestions to break the impasse in the General Assembly over what to do about the nuclear issue?
Spokesperson: I understand that the Chairman of the First Committee cited the President’s quote when he opened the First Committee discussions, but I haven’t heard there have been any solutions proposed.
Question: After President Elliason sent out the same letter that Mark referred to, and then briefed us here, I asked him about the formation of the ethics office and he said that it wasn’t mentioned in the letter because it was still under construction and there was still some debate on it. Can you give us some sort of update because he briefed us some weeks ago and I was just wondering?
Spokesperson: I think that is part of the package that the Secretary-General is going to have in his report on management reform. The report is in the pipeline.
Question: You mentioned the words Dialogue among Civilizations. Does that still exist? I thought it was replaced by some other thing, what’s going on?
Spokesperson: There was an International Year of Dialogue among Civilizations, which I believe was transformed into a global agenda for dialogue for civilizations. There is a Secretary-General’s report which you’re welcome to read.
* *** *For information media • not an official record