|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
Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General
I see we have a number of students from various universities, who are here to watch this show. Welcome. No doubt you won’t be disappointed.
Our guest today will be Arthur Levin, the Chief of Coordination, External Relations [and Communications] for the International Telecommunications Union, who will brief you on the upcoming World Summit on the Information Society which, as you know, will be held in Tunis from the 16th to the 18th of November.
Earlier today the Security Council unanimously adopted resolutions extending the mandate of two UN peacekeeping missions, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in the Western Sahara.
The Council extended the UN Mission in the Congo until 30 September 2006, and also authorized an increase of 300 personnel in its military strength to allow for the deployment of an infantry battalion in Katanga Province.
The Council also extended the mandate of the UN Mission in Western Sahara until April 30th of next year.
The Council followed those meetings with a private meeting on Georgia, to be followed by consultations. The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Georgia, Heidi Tagliavini, is briefing Council members, and she is ready to speak to reporters at the stakeout afterwards once she’s done, for those of you who are interested in Georgia.
**Security Council - Last Night
Yesterday evening, the Security Council, after a day-long open debate on women, peace and security, stressed the importance and urgency for accelerating the full and effective implementation of resolution 1325.
In a statement read out by Security Council President Mihnea Motoc of Romania, the Council also condemned sexual and other forms of violence against women.
The statement is available upstairs.
**Chief Executives Board
Today the Secretary-General opened a meeting of the Chief Executives Board of the United Nations, which brings together the heads of the UN agencies, funds and programmes twice a year to discuss issues of mutual interest.
The current session comes after last month’s 2005 World Summit, and will discuss, among other things, the developments at the Summit and the follow-through.
**South Asia Quake
Turning to an update on the relief effort following the South Asia earthquake, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the situation in Pakistan remains very serious, with up to 30 per cent of the affected villages -- some 200,000 people -- still not having received any assistance at all. Meanwhile, agencies are quickly running out of money.
The UN Children’s Fund Executive Director, Ann Veneman, will start a two-day visit to the quake zone on Sunday. There, she will visit hard-hit communities and meet with Pakistani officials. Within the last 10 days, UNICEF has helped to vaccinate 65,000 children against measles and tetanus.
For its part, the UN refugee agency is continuing to provide blankets, tents, plastic sheets, jerry cans and other items. In addition to UNHCR’s existing 320 staff members in Pakistan, the agency has sent an additional 14 emergency specialists, and another nine are on the way. Meanwhile, the NATO-UNHCR airlift, which we’ve been telling you about, which is taking place from Turkey to Pakistan, is now in its tenth day and has, so far, delivered more than 450 tons of urgently needed supplies.
And, lastly, the World Food Programme (WFP) says it has, so far, distributed some 3,000 tons of food aid to about half a million people. But the agency said that is insufficient to meet the needs on the ground. More of that information is also available upstairs.
Turning to Eritrea, which is something we’ve been mentioning from here, to give you a bit of a humanitarian update on the ground, approximately 2.3 million Eritreans require some kind of food assistance to support their coping mechanisms, which have been overstretched by drought and loss of production and livestock over the last four years, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
In some areas of the country, 15 per cent of children are malnourished, while in others, 25 to 30 per cent of children are affected by acute malnutrition.
Eritrea has only produced 13 to 18 per cent of its annual food requirements over the last few years.
Many factors have contributed to this: poor harvests due to five consecutive years of drought; lack of market stability and high inflation of food prices; and the loss of assets and livestock.
More than 70 per cent of the rural population currently falls below the poverty line, and coping strategies, after many years of hardship, are badly over-stretched.
Food insecurity and widespread poor nutritional status among women and children remains the paramount humanitarian concern in the country.
The Secretary-General, as you will recall, wrote letters to the Presidents of Eritrea and the Security Council, in which he expressed his growing concern about the restrictions placed on humanitarian operations in Eritrea by the Eritrean Government.
Turning to Burundi, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, today warned that it may have to suspend the repatriation of hundreds of thousands of Burundian refugees, for lack of funds.
The agency has been issuing calls for assistance to repatriate about 400,000 refugees who fled to Tanzania during the violence in Burundi in the 1990s.
The agency said it had received less than half of the funds it needs for the project, which it said was the largest such programme in Africa.
And from Zambia, the World Food Programme (WFP) today warned that the lives of many Zambians could be in danger as the number of people needing food aid there has climbed to nearly 2 million.
To help make up for the crop failure and rising food prices, the WFP says it needs more than $30 million to feed hungry Zambians through to the next harvest in March.
The situation is getting so bad that young girls from the villages are increasingly being found in nightclubs, selling their bodies to earn cash to buy food, according to local Government officials. And we have more information on that upstairs.
** Rome Statute
I also wanted to flag to you a milestone from the Treaty Section. Mexico has informed the UN of its intention to deposit its instruments of ratification for the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court -– that should have happened a few minutes ago -– making Mexico the 100th ratification or accession the UN has received.
**Upcoming Press Conferences
And this afternoon, press conferences: the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea will brief at 2:15, and Jean Ziegler, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food, will brief here at 3.
That’s it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On Pakistan, yesterday the Special Envoy, I mean, Mr. Egeland, said $1.3 billion had been pledged, but only $15 million are functional, basically meaning the commitments are still not materializing. What is it that the UN can do to somehow urge the Member States to come up with their commitments?
Spokesman: I think we’ve always said from here pledges are good, but cash is always better, and we would encourage all the donors to follow through quickly on their pledges.
Question: Another thing I want to point out. At JFK Airport, at this point in time, there were 100 tons of relief goods, donated by the Americans and Pakistanis flying over there, which include a lot of tents and so forth, which are badly needed. Is there any way the United Nations can ask NATO to airlift that because Pakistan Airlines is not able to carry so much stuff there?
Spokesman: I don’t know. I can look into the specific case with you afterwards.
Question: Today, in reactions to Larsen’s report in Beirut, Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said that Larsen’s report instigated civil strife and increased the tensions between the Syrian and Lebanese Governments. Do you have any comments on that, especially since Hezbollah is a valid political party in Lebanon that has a representative in the Government?
Spokesman: Mr. Larsen’s report was done as a follow-through of a request of the Security Council. It will be discussed here on Monday. Mr. Larsen will be here on Monday as well, and he’ll be able to speak to you, but I think we have to let the members of the Council digest the report, and we look forward to that discussion on Monday.
[It was later announced that Mr. Roed-Larsen will meet members of the Security Council later next week, during the Russian Presidency.]
Question: It seems to be some pressure from the Israeli Government and other groups and Governments to ask the Secretary-General to cancel his trip to Iran because of the comments by the president about wiping Israel off the map. Is the Secretary-General rethinking his trip?
Spokesman: I think the Secretary-General’s statement yesterday was clear and to the point, but I have nothing further to add on that as of today.
Question: How concerned is the Secretary-General about possible violence in Côte d’Ivoire?
Spokesman: It remains a concern. It remains a concern for him, especially as we approach October 30th. In his contacts he, as always, has pushed for both the Government and other groups to live up to the many accords they have signed but often failed to follow through on.
Question: The Los Angeles Times story, in which Mr. Volcker confirms that hours before the publication of his findings about Mr. Annan in September, he changed the wording of the findings in response to a request by Mr. Annan and Mr. Annan’s lawyer. First of all, can you confirm that Mr. Annan’s lawyer asked for wording changes in the findings in the final moments before the report was published, and can you give us any detail of what wording changes they were seeking?
Spokesman: No, as the report, I think the more than 2,500 pages we’ve seen from Mr. Volcker, I think all those reports speak for themselves. As part of the process, everyone had a right to respond. Everyone who had findings about them in the report was approached by Mr. Volcker and his team, and people had a right to respond. For any other further information, I would encourage you to talk to Mr. Volcker.
Question: Another question, please. People had the right to respond, they were given the right to respond, they were given notice a week before the findings against them and, in Secretary-General Annan’s case, possibly even longer. Was it unusual that the Secretary-General was able to make changes hours before the report came out? And also, I’ve heard stories of Mr. Volcker and some of his staff going on retreat with Mr. Annan and some of his lawyers, possibly for more than one day, at that time. Can you tell us how much contact there was between Mr. Volcker and his staff and Mr. Annan and his lawyers in those days?
Spokesman: Any questions having to do with the way the report was put together and the policies Mr. Volcker followed, you should address to Mr. Volcker.
Question: I have a couple of “oil-for-food” related questions, but on Larsen, what time is he going to talk?
Spokesman: That meeting, I believe, is in the morning, but he’ll probably be available at the stakeout afterwards. [See earlier notation.]
Question: And then he’s going to talk at the noon briefing?
Spokesman: No, probably at the stakeout.
Question: At the stakeout. OK. In follow-up to what James had mentioned on the LA Times, Volcker is quoted in that article saying “to this day, I still don’t know whether Kofi Annan knew about Kojo’s attempt or relationship with Cotecna”, and that means that that whole issue, the central question related to Kofi Annan, is still unanswered. Is there a way that we can get to the bottom of this? Can we hear from Kofi? Do we have to look at the report...
Spokesman: You’ve heard from the Secretary-General, and you’ve heard through the Secretary-General on what’s in the report. I’m not going to reopen and reinvestigate the investigation. The report is out, and we have absolutely nothing to add to it.
Question: But then there’s this giant question mark...
Spokesman: The report and the conclusions, the findings on the Secretary-General, go back and read the report. The findings on the Secretary-General are in the report, and read them and take them.
Question: Given that the central finding on the Secretary-General is that the evidence, and it speaks of evidence, is not reasonably sufficient to know whether Mr. Annan did or did not know of his son’s effort to get a Cotecna contract, do you think it’s premature to close down the enquiry when, as Mr. Volcker said in the LA Times today, the central question relating to Mr. Annan has not been settled?
Spokesman: Mr. Volcker published his final and his final, final report yesterday, and he said he would wind up the inquiry at the end of November, and that’s that.
Question: My question is regarding the Security Council meeting on Monday. Does Syria’s Foreign Minister (inaudible) meeting with...
Spokesman: I think the discussions to whether or not these will be at the ministerial level are still going on.
Question: So (inaudible) Syria is coming?
Spokesman: We’ll have to see at what level the meeting is going on. Those discussions are still taking place, probably this afternoon.
Question: Yesterday you read a statement. I think it was released by your office –- attributed to Kofi Annan about how he’s implemented reforms and things are changing -– and then we noticed -– a colleague of mine and I were on the website, the UN website –- and you’re posting positions or tenders of interest for experts on governance and management to look into the internal oversight services and other things. I don’t understand. Have these reforms been implemented or not yet? Where are we in this process?
Spokesman: In fact, that very question by one of your colleagues, one of your many colleagues at Fox News, and we’ve answered her in writing, so you could ask her what the answer is, but I will tell you that that is a request done by the General Assembly for an external assessment or oversight of OIOS, and we’re following through on the [World Summit] Outcome Document on that specific question.
Question: But Kofi Annan’s statements from yesterday made it sound like these reforms are already, it’s a fait accompli. This is already in the process...
Spokesman: These reforms are being done. Part of the Outcome Document was a request to have an external, and I’m at a loss for the word, an external survey or review of OIOS, and that is part of that final Outcome Document, and that’s why we’re asking for offers to conduct that review.
Question: But those offers close a date on that, the offer of interest or whatever you call it, the...
Spokesman: RPF, I think.
Question: It closes on November 5th or something, 6th. That means that they close it, then they review it. Then this whole reform process -– it’s months out.
Spokesman: No, this is a specific request for an external review of OIOS. Thank you.
Question: One other question. Mr. Volcker’s been going around saying there’s a need for a chief operating officer in the Organization, which isn’t, I understand, in the current reform plans. I have two questions about that. One is, is there going to be a chief operating officer of the UN, and the second one is, isn’t that exactly what Louise Fréchette’s job was designed as in the first place?
Spokesman: You know what, the same question was asked yesterday, and I answered it yesterday, so you can check the transcript.
Question: Well, it might be easier...
Spokesman: No, I think it may be easier for you to look back at –- Masood asked the question, and I answered the question yesterday.
Question: Just a quick question about Benon Sevan. He’s now out of reach and in Cyprus and, as you had mentioned yesterday, it’s going to take an authority, a jurisprudent authority, to request his extradition or whatever they need to do to examine what he’s done, but are there any sort of reforms? Part of this reform that you were talking about, and Kofi Annan’s bandying about, does that address an issue of a man who’s under investigation, who was allowed by the Secretary-General to leave the country, to create a circumstance that we face now? Is this the way things will be handled in the future if someone’s under investigation? He was kept on a dollar salary so he would stay and cooperate, but next thing we know he’s run off to Cyprus.
Spokesman: There was no legal process by which the United Nations could stop him from, we’re not a police organization. We can’t, he was under investigation, as we all were, so to speak, by the IIC [Independent Inquiry Committee]. He made himself available obviously partially to the IIC. If any legal proceedings are started against him by authorities in the United States, or authorities in Cyprus or anywhere else, we would waive immunity.
Question: But it seems, is there now any scrutiny of that policy? You say legally you can’t keep him bound to one place, but is this something that the United Nations is looking into so that you don’t have a repeat of this type of scenario?
Spokesman: I think it is up to judicial authorities. If they have enough to open an investigation and ask for someone to be detained, then obviously we would never stand in the way of those activities.
Question: So, you’re saying there is no policy or discussion of a policy that would rein in a person so that they wouldn’t be a flight risk, as Benon Sevan was?
Spokesman: Short of giving the United Nations the power to arrest people without being charged, I don’t see where you’re going with that.
Question: On Gianni Picco, first of all, you had said the other day that he didn’t have any connection to the UN. I read somewhere that his contract was extended until 2006, and maybe you could clarify that. My question about it relates to his extramural activities. We’ve talked about the fact that the UN didn’t know that he was the Chairman of the Board of IHC, which has now been suspended from procurement business. He also, he told me, was representing David Chalmers, the head of Bayoil, which has been indicted, both Bayoil and Chalmers, in the United States, and there’s a congressional report coming out next week that questions why the oil overseers’ issues with Bayoil weren’t communicated by Benon Sevan to the 661 Committee. I have a question whether the Secretary-General was aware of Gianni Picco’s relationship with Bayoil and David Chalmers at the time when he was a UN envoy?
Spokesman: Part of the way we are moving ahead and learning from the lessons of oil-for-food is to have all our $1-a-year, when actually employed, envoys actually fill out financial disclosure forms, which would enable us to flag any possible conflict of interest and avoid a repeat of this situation.
Question: A follow-up on that. As my colleague Benny pointed out yesterday, in the Volcker report, it points out that Tun Myat was meant to fill out a conflict of interest form and didn’t actually do it and nothing seemed to have happened. Can you guarantee to us now that anybody who fails to fill out a conflict of interest form will cease to be employed by the UN?
Spokesman: Failing to follow on these rules will be a violation of staff rules.
Question: One other question, Stéphane. We’ve had repeated promises going back years and years and years about these various reforms and things are promised and they never deliver. For instance, the whistle-blower policy that Mr. Annan announced 18 months ago that still hasn’t been delivered. You’ve been promising in recent weeks the financial disclosure forms. In fact, I think it’s been a number of months now that you’ve said that the financial disclosure forms would be required of special envoys. Can you give us a date by which they will have been filled in? Can you promise us...
Spokesman: What I can tell you is that there was a management policy committee meeting yesterday, as a matter of fact, at which a lot of these decisions were finalized on financial disclosure and other issues, and we’re trying to get Mr. Burnham down here to speak to you and unveil this package on either next Tuesday or Wednesday.
Question: A little follow-up on Picco. Can you confirm what the UN’s doing about Mr. Picco’s case? Is he being investigated by OIOS or some other body within the UN to find out really what his connection was and whether there really is an issue there?
Spokesman: I’ll have to get back to you on that.
Question: (inaudible) question his contract? The contract seems to have expired 2006. Is he still on contract to the UN, or is he not on contract with the UN?
Spokesman: You had asked me if he was employed by the UN, and he is not employed by the UN. I believe his contract, which allows him to be -– actually allows us to exercise an option to employ him, runs out in the next few months, but he is not currently employed by the UN.
Question: Will the Secretary-General be available to talk about Lebanon on Monday? Are there any plans that he will be...
Spokesman: I don’t know what the plans will be on Monday.
Question: (inaudible) financial disclosure was? Can you give us a date by which UN special envoys will have filled in this form? What is the deadline...?
Spokesman: I think that’s a question Mr. Burnham will be able to address. Thank you. Pragati?
Hold on, sorry, I do have something.
Early this morning, the principal representatives of the Middle East Quartet, including the Secretary-General, spoke by phone on the situation in the Middle East.
The Quartet, in a statement issued afterward, condemned the October 26th terrorist attack on the Hadera market, responsibility for which was claimed by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, headquartered in Damascus. The Quartet urged the Syrian Government to take immediate action to close the offices of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and to prevent the use of its territory by armed groups engaged in terrorist acts.
The Quartet denounced all acts of terrorism and urges all parties to exercise restraint, avoid an escalation of violence, and keep the channels of communication open. The Quartet strongly encourages and supports the Palestinian Authority in its immediate efforts to take steps to prevent armed groups from acting against law and order and the policy of the Authority itself.
The Quartet believes it is imperative that all involved act decisively to ensure that terror and violence are not allowed to undermine further progress in accordance with the Road Map. We have copies available upstairs.
**Questions and Answers
Question: Did the Quartet also take into account what Israel is doing in reprisal, in killing Palestinians an inordinate number of times also?
Spokesman: You can get the full statement upstairs. Obviously, the situation as a whole and the terror attack and what has been going on in Gaza was discussed. For our part, we would state that it is the obligation of all to take, of Israel to take, all precautions to ensure that non-combatants are not put at risk, and I think the Secretary-General is apprehensive that such action as we’ve seen can lead to further deterioration for an already distressing environment.
Question: Could you tell us who participated, the other participants in the call?
Spokesman: Yes, it was Condoleezza Rice for the US, Sergei Lavrov for Russia and, representing the European Union, Jack Straw, for the EU presidency, Ms. Ferrero-Waldner for the European Commission, and Mr. [Javier] Solana for the European Council. And this was done over the phone.
Question: On the question of Syria and terrorism, I noticed that in the Mehlis Report, it’s referred to as a terrorist attack that killed Mr. Hariri. In the high-level panel report released by the Secretary-General’s special panel, it’s made the point that terrorism is not done by States. It said there was a different legal regime for violence by States, and that terrorism was conducted by non-State actors. If it turns out that Syrian officials and Lebanese officials were involved in the explosion that killed Mr. Hariri, is it an accurate description to describe it as a terrorist attack, or should it be described as something else?
Spokesman: I think we’ll have to wait for Mr. Mehlis’s final report to answer that question. Pragati?
Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President
In the General Assembly’s Third Committee this morning, statements were made by the Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, and the Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons. This afternoon statements will be made by the Special Rapporteur on the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health, and the Independent Expert on the effects of economic reform policies and foreign debt on the full enjoyment of human rights.
In the Assembly’s Second Committee this afternoon, there will be a briefing on the Hyogo Framework of Action and the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, with participation by high-level officials from OCHA and UNDP, as well as the Director of the secretariat for the International Strategy for Disaster Reduction.
And to give you a heads-up, on Monday morning, the General Assembly will meet in plenary to take up several items, including the Report of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which will be presented by its Director General, Mohamed ElBaradei. As you know, the Agency and Dr. ElBaradei recently received the Nobel Peace Prize. Other items to be discussed include the situation in Central America, a zone of peace and cooperation in the South Atlantic, and Holocaust remembrance. Draft resolutions or decisions have been tabled on all four of those items.
Also on Monday morning, the Third Committee will hear a statement by the Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance.
And a reminder that next week the Assembly’s meetings will be starting at 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. respectively, and ending a half hour earlier than usual, because of the final week of Ramadan. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: There were some questions raised when Mr. Volcker met the General Assembly yesterday, what the status of the meeting was. Can you explain to us why that meeting was held in that format, given that the General Assembly hasn’t had any formal role at all in oil-for-food?
Spokesperson: I think the Under-Secretary-General for General Assembly Affairs was asked that question at the briefing. He said it was an informal meeting held because there was concern that it was advisable for Member States to hear from Mr. Volcker about the report. [It was later clarified that this was an informal briefing organized by the Executive Office of the Secretary-General for all Member States, and not a General Assembly meeting.]
Question: Is it also the case that the Member States hadn’t been distributed the report ahead of the meeting, and have they now been distributed the report?
Spokesperson: I’m not aware of that.
* *** *For information media • not an official record