14/11/2005
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

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 Marie Okabe, the Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, the Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


Good afternoon.  Maybe I should tell you at the outset here that I don’t have anything on the Stephanides decision as of now.  So, I hope to have something this afternoon.  They’ll be no further updates at the noon briefing on that subject.


**Secretary-General - Afghanistan


The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the upsurge in violence in Afghanistan.  He strongly condemns the suicide bombing attacks carried out against the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul today.  The Secretary-General expresses his condolences to the families of the victims, to ISAF and to their respective Governments.


The Secretary-General calls upon the Government of Afghanistan, the Coalition Forces and the International Security Assistance Force to take all necessary measures to address the security situation.


**Secretary-General in Iraq


The Secretary-General arrived in Baghdad on Saturday morning to meet with the staff of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq and with a number of Iraqi leaders.  In a town hall meeting with national and international UN staff, he expressed his solidarity and the thanks of the Organization for the crucial work they are doing, in very trying circumstances, in assisting the Iraqi people during this period of political transition and reconstruction.


After meeting with the senior staff of the UN Assistance Mission in Iraq, the Secretary-General met with Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Ja’afari.  He and the Prime Minister discussed, among other political developments, the initiative by the Arab League to convene a reconciliation conference for Iraq.  In comments to the press afterwards, the Secretary-General said the United Nations has had a long relationship with Iraq and will continue its efforts to help the Iraqi people.  He said that the United Nations had been discreetly aiding the Iraqis, adding, “You have to remember that sometimes those who are not seen also serve.”


**Secretary-General in Tunisia


The Secretary-General is in Tunis today, to attend the World Summit on the Information Society.  He met today with the Tunisian President, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.


Prior to arriving in Tunisia, the Secretary-General met, over the weekend, with the Prime Minister of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed al-Jaber al-Sabah, and briefed him on his trip to Iraq, as well as on the Syria/Lebanon issue and the Middle East.


** Sudan


The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, is today meeting officials of the government of southern Sudan, in the city of Juba, in the country’s south, for talks on the ongoing implementation of Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement.  The UN Mission in Sudan, says Pronk, arrived there yesterday for three days of talks, and his meetings include Riek Machar, the Vice-President of the government of southern Sudan, as well as the speaker of the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly.


Mr. Pronk will also meet the commanders of the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Sudan People’s Liberation Army for talks on security issues.  Meanwhile, the Mission says the situation in Darfur is reportedly tense due to both intertribal and factional fighting in many areas of the region.


** Lebanon


Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari has arrived in Lebanon, where he met with President Emile Lahoud.  He is to meet later today with the Foreign Minister.


Earlier, Mr. Gambari met with the Justice Minister and commended the Lebanese Government for its cooperation with the UN investigation into the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.  He urged that Syria also cooperate fully, adding that the assassination was “a terrorist act” that should not go unpunished.


**Secretary-General - Alliance of Civilizations


The Secretary-General has named Professor Tomas Mastnak as the Director of the Office of the Alliance for Civilizations.  He will take office towards the end of December.  Shamil Idriss has also been named Deputy Director of the Office and is Officer-in-Charge.


The Secretary-General regrets being unable to participate, as he had intended, in the inaugural session of the High-Level Group for the Alliance of Civilizations that will take place in Spain on 27 November.  He will be sending as his Personal Representative, Mr. S. Iqbal Riza, who currently serves as his Special Advisor on the Alliance of Civilizations.


** C ôte d’Ivoire


The Sanctions Committee today is studying a report from a panel of experts looking into the arms embargo in Côte d’Ivoire.  The experts recommend, among other things, in-depth audits of the cacao, cotton and diamond industries to see if any funds are being used for arms.


** Liberia


On Friday, the Security Council issued a press statement saying the completion of free and fair presidential elections will be a key step forward towards restoring the normal State functions of Liberia.


The Council members also “stressed that any concerns related to the election should be pursued and resolved exclusively through peaceful and legal means”.  It urged “the candidates, their parties and all their supporters to respect the final results of the election once they are officially declared”.


**South Asia ‘Quake


Turning now to the South Asia ‘quake, the UN Development Programme (UNDP) launched an initiative this week aimed at helping 30,000 families in high altitude, rural areas to build locally designed winterized shelters from the rubble of their homes and locally available materials.


For its part, the UN refugee agency has deployed teams to fix water- and sanitation-related problems in relief camps that have sprung up across hard-hit areas.  In organized camps, UNICEF and its partners have already set up water points, latrines and bathrooms.  Regarding the $550 million flash appeal, the UN has only received $119 million, as well an additional $40 million in pledges.


** Colombia


The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), is very concerned about the deteriorating humanitarian situation in southern Colombia, after more than 500 Colombians fled to Ecuador over the weekend to escape armed combat in the Putumayo and Nariño areas of Colombia. 


This is the biggest influx of Colombian refugees into Ecuador this year, and the new arrivals say there are many more people on their way to Ecuador.  There are also reports that some of those arriving are badly wounded.  


UNHCR is working with local authorities, the Red Cross and other UN agencies to provide shelter and food for the asylum-seekers in Ecuador, and will continue to monitor the situation in Colombia.


** Haiti


And on Haiti, the World Food Programme and Yéle Haïti -- which was founded by the Haitian singer/songwriter, Wyclef Jean -- today announced the launch of a new joint food distribution programme in two of the most violent and vulnerable neighbourhoods in Port-au-Prince, the capital of Haiti.


And we have more in a press release on that upstairs.


**Diabetes


Today the World Health Organization (WHO) is marking World Diabetes Day, whose theme this year is "Diabetes and Foot Care".  According to WHO, foot complications are one of the most serious and costly effects of diabetes.  Of all lower extremity amputations, 40 to 70 per cent are related to diabetes.


And we have more on that in a press release upstairs. And


And that’s all I have for you today.  Before I turn to Pragati, any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I have a question regarding the Mehlis report.  (Inaudible).  First of all, any reaction to Mr. Farouk Shara’s statement asking to have the investigation going on in Egypt, or the Arab League, or not in Lebanon, and the refusal of Mehlis to answer him?


Deputy Spokesman:  I have no further updates from Mr. Mehlis, no reaction on the activities of Mr. Mehlis.  I can only refer you to the remarks that the Secretary-General had made, and we have made here, which is that he is supportive of Mehlis’s investigation and will back whatever he decides.


Question:  Mr. Mehlis is coming to New York some reporters say?


Deputy Spokesman:  I’ll look into that for you.  I have no information but that doesn’t mean he’s not.


Question:  Any word on the extension of Mehlis’s mandate?


Deputy Spokesman:  I have not heard anything on that.


Question:  In the attack that took place in Afghanistan, apparently it took place in front of the United Nations Mission.  Four people were killed including a member of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).  Is there any information as to whether the purpose of the attack was on the Mission itself, or on the Force, or both?


Deputy Spokesman:  I have no further information on the attack.  But I can tell you that I think it did also impact a United Nations OPS vehicle, and luckily there were no casualties, but let me look into that for you.


[She later said the UN had no information to indicate that the UN had been targeted}


Question:  Is Mr. Annan going to talk about the freedom of the press with the Tunisian President?  And is it because the United Nations has a lot of humour that they choose Tunisia to have that big conference on information?  And who will control the Internet?


Deputy Spokesman:  On your first question, I just mentioned to you that the Secretary-General just met with the Tunisian President and I can confirm that the issue of freedom of the press and human rights did come up in that conversation.  That’s the readout I just got before I came down here.


Question:  Why did the United Nations choose Tunisia for that when everybody knows there is no freedom of the press, there is no human rights, no access to the Internet?


Deputy Spokesman:  I think there’s been a lot of debate on this subject.  Just on this issue of access to the Internet and who is trying to control it, I’d just like to put on record that nothing could be farther from the truth than the United Nations trying to take control of the Internet.  And far from it, the United Nations wants to ensure its global reach, and the effort is at the heart of this global summit, where the Secretary-General will be attending.


Question:  Is the Secretary-General considering filing some sort of official reservation?  I mean there’s a reporter from a French newspaper who just got attacked.  There’s Tunisian reporters who have been attacked, in the lead-up to the summit.  There’s a note in today’s headlines about a well known professor resigning from his post in protest about this summit.  Is the Secretary-General going to file any protest or attend the summit under reservation given the concerns about Tunisia?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, on the matter of the Secretary-General, all I can tell you right now is what I just mentioned -- is that he did speak to the President and that this issue of freedom of the press and human rights did come up in that bilateral meeting that just occurred in Tunis.


Question:  And on this adviser that just resigned, do you have any more information on him?


Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we’ve been looking into those reports since we saw them earlier today.  As of now, first of all, he is not a Personal Adviser to the Secretary-General on this issue.  As of now, we’re checking to see what exactly his role may be.  But, so far, we’ve not been able to identify him as working in that capacity.  So, we’re still checking and I’d like to get back to you on that.


Question:  Could you enlighten us on what the process is to choose sites for these conferences?  (inaudible)  Is there a committee that’s set up?  It’s obviously very lucrative for the local economies of the places to get these conferences.  There would be a lot of demand for them.  How is it chosen where the sites are?


[The Deputy Spokesman later said that the 46-nation Council of the International Telecommunications Union decided in 2001 that Switzerland would host the first phase of the Summit in 2003, and Tunisia would host the second phase in 2005.  The General Assembly welcomed that decision that year.   Tunisia had been the country that first proposed convening the summit, in 1998.]


Deputy Spokesman:  Let me look into that for you.  I don’t know off the top of my head.


Question:  Is there any progress in the follow-up mechanisms to the findings of the Volcker committee?  And over the weekend there were a lot of alarm bells raised in Berlin.  Transparency International’s been sending out the press releases over what will happen to the documents.  Can you give us an update as to where the United Nations stands on that?


Deputy Spokesman:  I just saw the Transparency International press release, and it’s precisely for the reasons that are outlined in that press release that the United Nations, specifically the legal affairs department, is talking to the Volcker Commission on the fate of the documents.


Question:  Does the United Nations have a position on this?


Deputy Spokesman:  The United Nations obviously would fundamentally like to give the best access possible.  But as of right now, I can’t go into the details, because that is precisely what is being discussed.


Question:  On Friday you said that Stephanides admitted to have violated staff rules.  What do you base this on?


Deputy Spokesman:  I would rather, as I said at the beginning of today’s briefing on matters related to Stephanides and the decision based on the recommendation, if you could wait until when we have something this afternoon.  I will answer that question together with that.


Question:  You said on the record that he admitted to violating staff rules.  He says he did not admit, and neither did his lawyer.  You have to either say that you based it on something or retract it.  You cannot say you will not answer that.


Deputy Spokesman:  I’m not saying that.  I said I will answer it later this afternoon when we have something more to say on the Stephanides case.  Yes I did say that on Friday, and it was based on guidance that I had, but let me get back to you on that.


[She later told the correspondent that the guidance was based on the second paragraph on page 541 of the 27 October Volcker report.]


Question:  On Friday I asked you about the G-77 letter which was written to the Secretary-General.  Has the management been able to read it and respond to it on the changes and specific concerns they have expressed in that?


Deputy Spokesman:  I understand that that G-77 letter is now coming out as a document either today or tomorrow.  I think Pragati may be able to tell you more on that.  Obviously management had read it.  I don’t think they want to comment on the specific details, only to say that the Secretariat and the Secretary-General are following up on the recommendations from the outcome document, and that’s what I have to say on that.


Question:  I wanted to ask about that human rights report that came out from the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq today.  It says that the United Nations organized three training sessions with human rights organizations and that the human rights officer continues to work with Iraqi institutions in civil society.  I just wanted to find out what the United Nations is doing with the multinational force, considering the US declines to totally rule out torture with detainees in Guantánamo, Iraq and in Afghanistan.  Does the United Nations work with the Multination Force in educating them on human rights?  Because they’re educating the educators.


Deputy Spokesman:  Let me look into that for you, but I would like to draw your attention to what the Secretary-General said today that there’s a lot of work the United Nations does that is not necessarily seen, but is contributing to.


Question:  But shouldn’t it be in the report then?  I mean if it’s important, it should be in the report.


Deputy Spokesman:  Yeah, I will look into that for you.  I don’t know the answer to that question, I just simply wanted to flag something that the Secretary-General himself flagged when he was in Iraq.


Question:  As you know, for the last week or 10 days I’ve been asking for the Mercedes being (inaudible) tax exemption and what happened to the person that allowed the $14,000 tax exemption to go through and you refusing to say what happened to them.  So you can imagine my surprise when, at the prompting of a colleague, I looked up the 19 September press briefing from your very podium.  In it you said, 12 days after the Volcker report containing those findings, today we’re also announcing the appointment of Mr. Abdoulie Janneh of Gambia as the new Executive Secretary of the Economic Commission for Africa.  The press release from your office issued that same day, that’s an under-secretary-level post.  Can you explain, first of all, why you were reluctant to say what Mr. Abdoulie Janneh was doing when he (inaudible) been appointed by the Secretary-General?  Can you tell us what he was being rewarded for with that promotion?


Deputy Spokesman:  I think what I was answering to your questions repeatedly about the United Nations official and the car was there were no adverse findings in the Volcker report pertaining to that gentleman.


Question:  What happened to him or whether he was facing any disciplinary action and whether in the absence of (inaudible) it wasn’t sufficient for the United Nations, the fact that he had at the behest of an outsider, namely the Secretary-General’s son, sought a $14,000 tax exemption for a car being imported to Ghana?


Deputy Spokesman:  I stick to what I said, that there were no adverse findings against this gentleman in the Volcker report.  His candidacy, when he came up for that post, was vetted very thoroughly.  As a very able UNDP Africa Director, he was chosen for that post. 


Question:  We were told that part of the reform process was that all the Under-Secretary-General level posts would be advertised, and missions would be informed and invited to present candidates and that there would be a short list of candidates.  None of this seems to have happened in this case.  Mr. Janneh seems to have slipped in there without anybody noticing.


Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t think there was any slipping in.  As you said, we announced his appointment here from this podium.  As for exactly what the procedures were, of what went into selecting him, about the details, I can get back to you on that.  But all I can say is that I repeat, that his candidacy was fully vetted and he was appointed based on his performance at UNDP.


Question:  Was it taken into account the fact that he had sought a $14,000 tax exemption from an outsider?  Would he get me a $14,000 tax exemption if I asked him that.  It would be very nice?


Deputy Spokesman:  Well, you can ask him yourself.


Question:  Now that we found where Mr. Janneh is, can we find where the car is?


Deputy Spokesman:  I think we’re done with this conversation.


Question:  We’re not done with this conversation.  You keep giving us answers that are evasive.  And then something is unearthed and, all of a sudden, we’ve been saying all along he’s promoted.  James has been asking you for weeks, where is Janneh?  And you said I don’t know, never heard of him.


Question:  What are you covering up Marie?  Has the United Nations refunded the $14,000 tax exemption bought in his name?  Does the Secretary-General still own the Mercedes bought in his name?


Deputy Spokesman:  We have nothing to say on the Mercedes.  As I mentioned, there were no adverse findings in the Volcker report neither against the Mercedes, nor against Mr. Janneh.  Your questions on Mr. Janneh were always framed within the context of whether he was implicated in something that related to the oil-for-food programme and Volcker’s report.  So, in that context, I repeatedly said that his name is not…


Question:  My own question did not relate to whether he did anything wrong in the oil-for-food inquiry.  The Volcker report found that the purchase of the car in the Secretary-General’s name, by Kojo Annan, with (inaudible) did not in Volcker’s view relate to oil-for-food.  Therefore, it was not in their purview to make an adverse finding against Mr. Janneh for his favour he apparently did for Kojo Annan in getting a $14,000 tax discount.  But it seems to me, on the facts presented in the Volcker report, there is clear malfeasance.  That he shouldn’t be getting tax discounts for outsiders without consulting the Secretary-General, which he claims he didn’t do.  So I’m asking you what follow-up action is being taken for an Under-Secretary-General who has been obtaining tax benefits for outsiders without consulting the United Nations hierarchy?


Deputy Spokesman:  All I can tell you is that his candidacy was thoroughly vetted in light of what you said, and in light of that, he was appointed to this commission.


Question:  Does the decision rest with Mark Malloch Brown?


Deputy Spokesman:  The decision at the end of the day rests with the Secretary-General.


Question:  We were told that all these Under-Secretary-General posts, as far as the reform, would be subject to open competition with invitation to invite candidates, and a short list announced and then a review board and a selection.  Did any of that happen in this case?


Deputy Spokesman:  I told you I would look into this particular case.


Question:  Are you aware, as the Spokeswoman, who announces these things every day, did you ever announce the competition, or did you ever announce a short list of candidates for this post?


Deputy Spokesman:  No, I did not.


Question:  Professor Thomas who has just been appointed Director of the Alliance for Civilization, is he an expert on civilization?  Do you have the bio?


Deputy Spokesman:  Yes, we do.  It’s upstairs in our office.


Any more questions for me?  Pragati.


Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Today the General Assembly is holding a debate in plenary on the strengthening of the coordination of humanitarian and disaster relief assistance, among other items.  In his opening statement, Assembly President Jan Eliasson commented that the complexity of today’s crises and the growing magnitude of disasters require that humanitarian assistance remains one of the highest priorities of the work of the United Nations.  In addition to the action under consideration in the draft resolutions tabled -- on the Indian Ocean tsunami, the South Asian earthquake, and the Chernobyl disaster -- the President noted that the Outcome Document from the World Summit calls for better predictability of humanitarian funding, notably by improving the current Central Emergency Revolving Fund.


To answer questions raised on Friday about the negotiations for a comprehensive convention on terrorism, the Sixth Committee has extended its work and has decided to keep this item open until the end of November, to see if further progress can be made.  The President is working with the Chair of the Sixth Committee, the Ambassador of Spain, to hold consultations with Member States on the way forward.  


On the question of transparency of the Summit follow-up process, the President has decided that he would like to brief you himself later this week on the progress thus far on the full range of follow-up work under way.  We will be setting that up, and also will be consulting with the Co-Chairs of the various informal processes to see how we can keep you better informed about them.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Do you have any update on Mr. Kuznetsov, the Chairman of the ACABQ?  Is he still in jail?


GA Spokesperson:  I don’t know where he is.


Question:  Is there any progress on the resolution regarding procedure in matters in the Council?  The one you said was not tabled yet?


GA Spokesperson:  The debate ended on Friday, and the resolution was still circulating on an informal basis.  It has not been officially tabled.  Some delegations have called for further consultations on it.


Thank you.


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For information media • not an official record