|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, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.
**Secretary-General - Iraq
“The Secretary-General was deeply concerned to learn about the reported abuse of a large number of detainees at an Iraqi interior ministry building. The Secretary-General welcomes the immediate investigation announced by Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari yesterday. The Secretary-General also welcomes the Prime Minister’s statement that such practices are completely contrary to Iraqi Government policy.
“The United Nations has repeatedly expressed concern about ongoing human rights violations in Iraq, and specifically the lack of due process for detainees and abuses against them. Most recently, such concerns were expressed by the United Nations Assistance Mission to Iraq (UNAMI) in its second bimonthly report on the human rights situation in Iraq dated 14 November 2005.”
**Secretary-General in Tunis
In Tunis today, the Secretary-General spoke at the opening of the World Summit on the Information Society, saying that it must be “a summit of solutions” that would lead to information and communications technologies being used in new ways to benefit all social classes.
He emphasized that the United Nations does not want to “take over” the Internet, but to protect and strengthen it to ensure that its benefits are available for all. And, as I mentioned yesterday, he stressed the importance of freedom and openness to the information society, saying that, without the right to receive and impart information through any media regardless of frontiers, the information revolution will be stillborn. We have copies of that speech upstairs.
Speaking at a press conference later, he noted the intense debate over free speech and human rights at this summit. The Secretary-General said that, when such a discussion takes place, “it can only be beneficial to the society concerned and other societies around the world”.
**World Summit on Information Society
Delegations in Tunis reached an agreement on Internet governance late last night, just ahead of the Tunis Phase of the World Summit on the Information Society. The agreement, which will make up part of the Summit’s Outcome Document, contains a number of breakthroughs, according to the Summit spokespeople.
For example, it recognizes that all Governments have equal roles and responsibilities when it comes to Internet governance. It also asks the Secretary-General to convene and invite participants “to a new democratic and transparent Internet governance forum”, which would have no oversight function and would not replace existing arrangements, but would allow for dialogue between stakeholders.
Delegates also agreed that, while the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) would still be in charge of technical management of the Internet, individual countries would now manage their own country-code top-level domains.
Earlier today, on the sidelines of the World Summit, the Secretary-General organized a short trilateral meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom.
The Secretary-General congratulated them for the agreement reached yesterday between Israel and the Palestinian Authority regarding the movement of Palestinian goods and people in and out of the Gaza Strip. He hoped that all sides will press ahead with implementing that agreement, adding, “This is only a beginning of better days to come.”
The Secretary-General also met separately today with President Abbas. The President briefed him on the recently agreed measures to ease the movement of goods and people in and out of the Gaza Strip and West Bank. They also discussed the upcoming elections in the Palestinian Authority.
The Secretary-General told reporters afterwards, “The Palestinians are talented people, but they need help. They need material help and support to get the job done.” The transcript of those comments is upstairs.
Among others, he met with Huang Ju, Executive Vice-Premier of China, with whom he discussed avian influenza. The Secretary-General thanked the Chinese authorities for all the measures they have taken to deal with this disease, saying that international cooperation is the most efficient way to fight it.
The Secretary-General also had a tête-à-tête meeting with President Emile Lahoud of Lebanon. They discussed the implementation of United Nations resolutions dealing with the situation in Lebanon and Syria. The President understands the need for all to cooperate with UN resolutions. They also discussed stability in the region.
The Secretary-General assured President Lahoud that the Security Council wants to get to the truth and find the perpetrators of the attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others. The Security Council, the Secretary-General told the President, is conscious of the need for stability in the region.
Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari met in Beirut today with Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Saniora.
At a news conference following their meeting, Gambari made a renewed plea for cooperation by Syria with the UN independent investigation into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri and others. “We are waiting for the concrete manifestation of that cooperation”, he said.
Mr. Gambari also announced that the mandate of Geir Pedersen, originally the Secretary-General’s Personal Representative for Southern Lebanon, has now been expanded to cover all of Lebanon and to encompass economic and social development issues, in addition to matters of peace and security.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, Jan Pronk, left for South Darfur today where he’ll meet commanders of the Sudan Liberation Movement and Army.
He’ll discuss a range of issues with them, including their participation in the seventh round of Abuja talks scheduled to start next Monday.
Yesterday, I mentioned how fighting between the local population in Yambio, the state capital of Western Equatoria in Southern Sudan, had led to casualties and the looting of a compound run by the World Health Organization, as well as the evacuation of UN and international NGO staff members.
The UN Mission in the Sudan says the staff relocation is temporary, and they’ll return as soon as the situation is normalized.
Unfortunately, the fighting there has led to the postponement of a massive measles immunization campaign that was due to start next week. There’s more on this in briefing notes from the Sudan, their weekly briefing in Khartoum, upstairs.
The Security Council held closed consultations this morning, in which it was briefed by Ambassador Adamantios Vassilakis of Greece, in his capacity as Chairman of the Council’s sanctions committees for the Sudan and Côte d’Ivoire.
He spoke about the work of the panel of experts for the Sudan, and then about his recent visit to Cote d’Ivoire.
Also, at 3:30 p.m. today, the Council’s Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict will hold a closed meeting.
The UN Mission in Haiti reports UN peacekeepers fought a gun battle with gang members in the Cité Militaire area of Port-au-Prince yesterday and killed four of them.
The Mission said a Brazilian patrol stopped to check on a barricade under construction in the zone when they came under attack by men firing heavy weapons.
The “Blue Helmets” returned fire and called for back-up. Some 200 UN peacekeepers battled the gangs for about eight hours, the Mission said. Besides the four killed, 30 other gang members were apprehended and turned over to Haitian authorities.
There were no civilians injured in the battle and no casualties among the peacekeepers. Two other UN posts came under attack yesterday, the Mission said. There were no UN casualties. We have a press release in French upstairs.
**South Asia ’Quake
Turning to the South Asia ’quake, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports that the UN flash appeal still remains under 30 per cent funded. Moreover, only 5 per cent of shelter needs and 9 per cent of water and sanitation requirements have been met.
And in other news, the Office of the Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery is launching its new website today. The website features up-to-date data on the tsunami-affected region and ongoing progress in the recovery effort.
[You can visit it at: www.tsunamispecialenvoy.org.]
Today is the International Day of Tolerance, which is observed every year to focus the world's attention on tolerance as an essential condition for peace, democracy and sustainable development.
The Secretary-General, in his message marking the day, said, “The need for tolerance is greater today than at anytime in the United Nations’ past”.
He warned of a rising tide of xenophobia and extremism which, he said, “demands our strongest response”.
To flag a couple of press conferences this week, the Secretary-General’s report on the Capital Master Plan to the General Assembly is expected to be released tomorrow morning, and we’ve arranged for a senior UN official to brief you on background tomorrow at 1:15 in this room. We’ll let you know if there are any changes in that schedule.
In response to requests, we are arranging a press conference by members of the International Advisory and Monitoring Board (IAMB) for Iraq, the auditing oversight body, which monitors the Development Fund for Iraq, and we hope that could take place in the next couple of days. I’ll let you know as soon as it has been scheduled. As I mentioned, Mr. Halbwachsis away until January, so the idea is to try to bring together the other members so they can talk to you at your request. And that’s what I have for you today. Before I turn to Pragati, let me start in the back, with Laura.
**Questions and Answers
Question: There is a report out that the City College of New York and Yale University are going to be creating a data base of Kofi Annan’s documents and letters. They’ve already started to meet. Are they going to be involved in the “oil-for-food” documents, such as his interviews that he gave with investigators?
Deputy Spokesman: I’m aware of the press reports today that quoted one of the university officials, on behalf of two universities, who made that announcement. Her name is Dr. Jean Krasno. She has been authorized to undertake this project. The Executive Office of the Secretary-General is still reviewing all of its aspects, including its timing and logistics, as well as the archival rules and legal aspects, which must be taken into consideration. So it’s still a work in progress. I don’t really have anything more to say on exactly what will be involved. But yes, we are in discussion with Dr. Krasno.
Question: As far as this Palestinian-Israeli accord at the moment, what is the understanding of the United Nations? Who will oversee whether this accord is being faithfully implemented?
Deputy Spokesman: Let me look into the details on that, because I want to be precise. [The reporter was told that James Wolfensohn, the Quartet Special Envoy, would help to monitor implementation.]
Question: One follow-up on the Annan archive would be a specific request. It would be of great historical interest to have the conclusions of the September Volcker report, as they were before they were rewritten at the Secretary-General’s request, in the archives, so historians can see the changes that were made, even if it’s not immediately. So I would just like to put that on record. I have a question about Syria. The Financial Times reports today that the Secretary-General is trying to reach some kind of compromise between Mr. Mehlis, his requested interviews in Lebanon and Syria, which doesn’t want to send suspects to Lebanon. Is it true the Secretary-General is intervening in this matter and trying to seek a compromise, and is it helpful given that these are suspected murderers that he should be trying to seek a compromise on their behalf?
Deputy Spokesman: On that subject, I got back to Mark Turner and the rest of you in an announcement yesterday afternoon. I can confirm that the Secretary-General did speak to President Assad the day before yesterday in the context of urging cooperation from the Syrian authorities as it relates to the Mehlis investigation. That’s all I have to say on that subject, and the Secretary-General has repeatedly said that he would respect Mr. Mehlis’ lead on this subject.
Question: But does the Secretary-General support Mr. Mehlis’ request that suspects should be interviewed in Lebanon?
Deputy Spokesman: The Secretary-General has not conveyed his view. I think he has left that decision to Mr. Mehlis.
Question: Anything on the extended mandate of Mr. Pedersen from UNIFIL to the whole territory of Lebanon, including socio-economic issues? Can you comment on that?
Deputy Spokesman: I just announced that Mr. Gambari had announced that while he was in Lebanon. So I’ll give you the text upstairs if you missed that.
Question: Do you have any comment on that? It seems a very huge mandate. Why did it happen?
Deputy Spokesman: It is something obviously that had been under consideration for a time, and as his mandate was limited to Southern Lebanon and given recent developments, I guess it was decided to expand it. But if you want more details on that, I’ll try to find out for you. [The Spokesman’s Office later provided a transcript of a press briefing by Ibrahim Gambari with details on Pedersen’s mandate.]
Question: And just a follow-up on that, it would be interesting to know what his relationship is going to be with Mr. Larsen. And, for example, is public security detail to oversee the dismantlement of militia? Just on another question, is the Secretary-General concerned at calls of the Syrian state media for the opposition to overthrow Mr. Saniora in Lebanon?
Deputy Spokesman: I have no comment from him on that, but I’ll look into that for you. [She later said that the United Nations supports the sovereignty, security and stability of Lebanon, as well as its elected Government.]
Question: On the Iraq report, which is basically very scathing of the coalition forces in Iraq for using excessive force and on the Iraqi Government also, will the Secretary-General take up this issue with the Security Council?
Deputy Spokesman: Are you referring to... I’m sorry, I didn’t hear the beginning.
Question: On the Iraq report. Basically it is supposed to be presented to the Security Council, right? The Iraq report that just came out yesterday.
Deputy Spokesman: You’re talking about the human rights report?
Question: The Iraq report which came out yesterday.
Deputy Spokesman: What I mentioned in the statement at the top of the briefing was a UN Mission report. A bi-monthly report of the human rights situation.
Question: In that perspective, will it be taken up with the Security Council at all, what is happening in Iraq? It is spiralling out of control and no-one seems to be... especially the Security Council is sitting tight doing nothing about it.
Deputy Spokesman: Well the Secretary-General drew attention to the situation today by this statement. The report did come out yesterday, and as you know, there are monthly briefings in the Security Council. I don’t have the Security Council programme right in front of me, but let’s see if at the next briefing, this issue comes up.
Question: Since the end of the month is approaching, could we get a more serious readout on the negotiations between the UN and the Volcker Commission, on the papers, exactly where it stands, what the big issues are, if it’s extended, who’s going to fund it?
Deputy Spokesman: As I mentioned to you yesterday, I flagged that the Commission was going to be extended, and I believe the Volcker Commission just issued a press release a short while ago announcing the extension until the end of December. And it also notes that discussions are ongoing between the UN, the Iraqi authorities and the Commission on the future of the documentation. So I will draw your attention to that press release as well.
Question: Can you confirm that the current arrangements for the funding of the Volcker Commission will then extend through December?
Deputy Spokesman: I’ll have to look into the details on the funding arrangements. But this is something that just came out shortly before the briefing.
Question: Thank you for arranging that briefing on Joe Stephanides. We learned some things that we didn’t know. One of them was that disclosing any public information to somebody involved in a bidding process is a breach of staff rules because it’s showing partiality towards them. As you know, in the Volcker report it talks about Wagaye Assebe, the Secretary-General’s personal assistant, providing information to Kojo Annan, the Secretary-General’s son. And originally the Volcker report said that Kojo Annan had said to the Commission that Ms. Assebe had been providing “inside information”. And we asked questions about that, and that was corrected in the last edition of the Volcker report and the reference to inside information was removed. But my understanding of her position is that the information she provided to him was publicly provided information. So my question is, given that that’s exactly what Mr. Stephanides has been punished for, is there now going to be some kind of action against Wagaye Assebe, the Secretary-General’s personal assistant, for providing public information to the Secretary-General’s son at the time of the bidding process?
Deputy Spokesman: No.
Question: Can you explain why the double standard?
Deputy Spokesman: We are not reopening this investigation. There were no adverse findings against Ms. Assebe.
Question: It does look like a double standard, Marie. Can you explain why there’s such a double standard? Because they seem to have done the same thing, as you see.
Deputy Spokesman: That’s your perception. I’m just saying that there were no adverse findings against this individual in the report, and the investigation is not going to be reopened, and the Secretary-General has his highest regard for the work of Ms. Assebe.
Question: I just had one quick question on Stephanides. The letter from the Under-Secretary-General for Management to Stephanides to serve as his written censure. Is that then going to be a public document of the United Nations? Because it seems like it’s a confidential letter.
Deputy Spokesman: It is a confidential letter, and as the human resources officials told you yesterday, it will go into his file.
Question: But it’s quietly in his file. That doesn’t seem, on a procedural level, to serve as a written censure.
Deputy Spokesman: It seems to have gotten circulated quite well yesterday.
Question: I just wanted to follow up on what’s happening in Zimbabwe. Is everything all quiet as far as the UN is concerned, despite continued misery of the people there?
Deputy Spokesman: All is not quiet and the UN Humanitarian Coordinator, the Resident Coordinator on the ground, is expressing his deep concern on the sudden re-eviction on the fourteenth of November of hundreds of vulnerable individuals, who had already been targeted, affected, by Operation Restore Order and who were staying in the Tsiga area in a neighbourhood of the Zimbabwean capital, Harare. The Resident Coordinator has sent a note verbale to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs that stresses that the evictions make it hard for the provision of humanitarian assistance to the affected populations. But I also wanted to note that in the note verbale, he also notes the decision yesterday of the Government of Zimbabwe to accept UN assistance in constructing temporary shelter as a positive development.
Question: Yesterday you said that the question of the Mercedes that was bought in the Secretary-General’s name with a tax discount obtained by a UN official was not a UN issue. I wonder if that was actually a message from the Secretary-General to the OIOS investigative arm that they shouldn’t look at that. And isn’t there a weakness in the system here that this is a question that involves the Secretary-General himself and you’re speaking for the Secretary-General, when we ask you questions about investigations, there’s nobody from the OIOS who can tell us whether something deserves investigation or not? And is it appropriate for the Secretary-General to say something that may be worthy of investigation by an arm of the UN, is not a UN issue?
Deputy Spokesman: I have nothing further on that since what I said yesterday.
Question: On the Mercedes, in the Volcker report, it was described how the Mercedes was bought and says the various monies that came to buy the Mercedes and says that $3,000 came from Michael Wilson and $39,000 came from Kojo Annan and $15,000 came from Kofi Annan. I just wanted to know how the Secretary-General regards those monies. Does he regard, given that the car was in his name, does he regard those monies from Michael Wilson and Kojo Annan as a gift to him? Or does he regard his $15,000 as a gift to Kojo Annan?
Deputy Spokeswoman: I have nothing further on the issue of the car beyond what I said yesterday.
If there are no more questions, let me turn over to Pragati.
Spokesperson for General Assembly President
Assembly President Jan Eliasson will give a press briefing tomorrow at 11 here in Room 226. As I mentioned yesterday, he will give you an update on progress on the World Summit follow-up and the next steps he is taking.
Today the Sixth Committee was scheduled to meet at noon to adopt a draft resolution agreeing on an Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Safety of United Nations and Associated Personnel and inviting States to become parties to it.
The Optional Protocol extends the scope of legal protection under the Convention to United Nations and associated personnel delivering humanitarian, political or development assistance in peacebuilding operations, as well as emergency humanitarian assistance. Conclusion of this Protocol had been urged by leaders in the World Summit Outcome Document.
Tomorrow the Third Committee is expected to take action on a draft resolution on the situation of human rights in the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea. We’ll try to get a more precise timing on that for those of you who are following it.
* *** *For information media • not an official record