18/11/2005
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICES OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


AND THE SPOKESPERSON FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT


Following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Marie Okabe, Deputy Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General


**Secretary-General - Iraq


The Secretary-General strongly condemns the brutal terrorist attacks that occurred in Iraq today, including the suicide bombings at two Shia mosques in Khanaqin, and the attack against a hotel in Baghdad.  These criminal acts against innocent civilians are also aimed at fostering divisions among the Iraqi people.  The Secretary-General reiterates that no cause can justify the indiscriminate use of violence, in which innocent civilians are the principal victims.  He extends his condolences and deepest sympathies to the families of all the victims.


**Secretary-General in Pakistan


Earlier this morning in Pakistan, the Secretary-General travelled to the region hardest hit by last month’s earthquake.  After meeting with President Pervez Musharraf at his Islamabad office, the Secretary-General, accompanied by his wife Nane, flew by helicopter with the President, and his spouse, to Muzaffarabad.


He was briefed on the situation there by the senior Pakistani military officer in the area.  The Secretary-General and the President then flew a short distance to the Thori Park camp for some 2,000 internally displaced persons, which is administered by the local authorities with assistance from the United Nations.


The UN staff then briefed the Secretary-General on the challenges ahead, and also told him that UN and Pakistani health experts had managed together to prevent an outbreak of communicable diseases usually found in such situations.


In speaking to camp inhabitants, the Secretary-General said he had come to express the solidarity of the international community to the population.  He told them, “As difficult as the situation seems, I have no doubt that you will overcome, you will rebuild and you will build even better”.  He also paid a special tribute to the women, who, he said, often bear a heavy load.


A short while later, the Secretary-General and President Musharraf spoke to the press.  The Secretary-General said that he had been depressed by the number of houses that had been destroyed, but impressed by the level of cooperation and determination he had seen.  We have that transcript upstairs.


**South Asia Quake


According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), throughout the quake-hit areas of Pakistan, there are currently 18 planned or organized camps and approximately 1,000 self-settled ones.  UNICEF and UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, have trained 32 Pakistani civilians and army personnel on site planning and improving the camp living conditions.


Meanwhile, the NATO-UNHCR airlift from Turkey, which started on 19 October, ended last night after its 103rd flight.  But the UNHCR's operation will be continuing.


On the health front, the World Health Organization has said that, following several hundred diarrhoea cases, quick action was taken to bring in proper water and sanitation, dramatically improving that situation.


I think that’s what the Secretary-General was briefed on in the previous note that I read.


** Iraq – Human Rights


Now turning to human rights, Louise Arbour, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, today urged an international investigation into detention conditions in Iraq.  She said that the recent discovery in an Interior Ministry building of detainees, who appeared to have been tortured, pointed to widespread problems with the system of detention in the country.


Ms. Arbour said that, in announcing a probe into conditions of detention, the Iraqi Government had acknowledged the problem.  But, in light of the apparently systemic nature and magnitude of that problem, and the importance of public confidence in any inquiry, she urged the authorities to consider calling for an international inquiry.  She also pointed to the large number of detainees in Iraq as a matter of worry.  We have a press release with more details upstairs.


**UNCTAD


The Secretary-General announced today the appointment of Dirk J. Bruinsma of the Netherlands as Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).  Mr. Bruinsma, a high-ranking economic official in the Netherlands Government, succeeds Carlos Fortin of Chile, and will take up his new post on 1 January 2006.


** Israel


Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari, concluded his visit to Lebanon yesterday and has now begun a visit to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory.


He met Israeli National Security Adviser Giora Eiland, yesterday and today, toured Gaza to see firsthand the situation on the ground in the aftermath of disengagement.  He visited the Rafah crossing point to view the recently-agreed border crossing arrangements between Gaza and Egypt.


Gambari will continue his visit tomorrow with meetings with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah.


**Ethiopia/Eritrea


After yesterday’s Security Council consultations ended, Under-Secretary-General Jean Marie Guéhenno spoke to reporters about the briefing he had given to Council members about the problems caused by the constraints on the movements of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE).


He said the Mission has now had eight peacekeepers who have had to be evacuated by road in very difficult circumstances, because of the suspension of flights.


The UN Mission reports that three Jordanian peacekeepers, who were injured in a road accident on Monday afternoon, had needed to be evacuated by helicopter, but Eritrea did not respond to that request.  Travelling by road, the soldiers did not get to a place where they could have medical assistance until Tuesday morning; two of them are in serious condition.


Guéhenno said that the UN Mission’s visibility on the ground has also deteriorated, to about 40 per cent of the area.


** Madagascar


According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the food security situation in south-eastern Madagascar is deteriorating, with heightened rates of malnutrition among children becoming a cause for concern.


For their part, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Food Programme are helping Madagascar’s Government to hand out food and basic supplies, as well as to bolster local health facilities.  We have a press release on that.


**AIDS


Joining us at Monday’s noon briefing will be Desmond Johns, Director of the New York Office of the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), and Jim Kim, Director of the World Health Organization’s Department of HIV/AIDS.  They’ll be launching the “AIDS Epidemic Update 2005”.


The report is expected to show a drop in HIV infection rates in several countries.  At the same time, however, it will note that the number of people living with HIV continues to increase in all regions except one.  We have embargoed copies of the report upstairs, and we also have more information about a teleconference on HIV/AIDS that will be taking place on Monday.


** Week Ahead


Available for you upstairs we have The Week Ahead for next week, which is Thanksgiving week, and Thursday UN Headquarters will be closed.  That’s all I have for you.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  The five Special Rapporteurs who decided to decline the UN’s invitation to visit Guantanamo Bay, do you know what their next step is and if the Secretary-General has any comment on their decision?


Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary-General, as you know has been flying all day and in Pakistan, so I don’t have an immediate reaction from him.  As for the Rapporteurs, I think they have spelled out what their concerns were, and their decision to go, and I’ll try to find out if there’s a next step involved, but I think this was their decision based on the previous information that was given.


[The Deputy Spokesman later announced that the Rapporteurs will continue to collect information from credible sources to fulfil their aim of writing a report.]


Question:  Maybe you misspoke, you just said that Mr. Gambari was looking at the accord between Gaza and Egypt.  You meant Gaza and Israel?  Or is there an accord between Gaza and Egypt?


Deputy Spokesman:  Let me double-check.  I was just reading a note that was handed to me right before I came downstairs.


Question:  Are you talking about the report that was just signed?


Deputy Spokesman:  That’s right.


Question:  That was between Gaza and Israel, not Egypt.


Deputy Spokesman:  Ok, point noted.


[The Spokesman’s Office later announced that the agreement for arrangements at the border between Gaza and Egypt was concluded between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.]


Question:  Will Mr. Gambari be coming out and briefing us on the security?


Deputy Spokesman:  We’ll certainly ask him to.  As you know, the Secretary-General will be back next week as well, and the Security Council is taking up the Middle East on Wednesday.


Question:  Can we get an update on the progress of Mehlis’s investigation? And is there a deal on the way on where to interrogate that Syrian official?


Deputy Spokesman:  I have no updates to make public. You have to direct those questions to Mr. Mehlis himself.


Question:  How can we talk to him? He’s in Beirut right now.  Right?


Deputy Spokesman:  I don’t even know his whereabouts, but he is conducting this investigation, and he is in the lead.  So if he’s not saying anything, we certainly can’t say anything.


Question:  So there wasn’t any attempt by the UN to mediate between Mehlis and the Syrian Government on where to conduct the investigation?


Deputy Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has repeatedly said that he will back Mr. Mehlis’s decision on that.


Question:  But was there a mediation between the two parts to reach a solution for this problem?  Because Mehlis’s mandate is approaching an end, and there has to be a solution very soon.


Deputy Spokesman:  Mehlis is still working on that issue and as I said, I prefer not to speak for Mr. Mehlis.  As for Mr. Annan, who I do speak for, he has been in touch with the Syrian authorities, as you know, and with President Assad at least twice this week.


Question:  When was the second call to President Assad?  And there was a report that the United States sent a letter to the Secretary-General urging him not to interfere in the Mehlis investigation. Has the Secretary-General received such a letter?


Deputy Spokesman:  I just checked with those who would know whether the letter had come in and no, there was no such letter. And the last time he spoke with President Assad was on Wednesday.


Question:  Regarding the serious case of prison abuse in Iraq, you said the High Commissioner for Human Rights is calling for an international investigation. But what does she plan to do about it?  Is she planning to send a team, a rapporteur, to Baghdad to investigate this?


Deputy Spokesman:  This is a proposal that just came out of Geneva, so I don’t have any further information here, but I’d be glad to find out more for you.


Question:  Is there any movement, because when I asked Mr. Jan Egeland to lecture on another OCHA official about airlift of all those donations and goods, which are accumulating at the airport, and they said they will look into the possibilities of whether NATO or any other entity can help transport this.  Has there been any update on that?


Deputy Spokesman:  The only update on NATO was what I just mentioned to you, which was that the recent UNHCR airlift had ended after the 103flights.  I have not heard anything on that, and I know they were looking into that for you, so maybe there’s been no movement on that.  I’ll double-check that for you.


Question:  Is Louise Arbour asking the Iraqi Government to initiate an investigation?


Deputy Spokesman:  I’ll read to you exactly what Louise Arbour has requested.  She has urged an international investigation into detention conditions. That’s what she’s asked for.


If there are no other questions for me, I’d like to turn it over to Pragati, the GA Spokeswoman.


Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President


This morning at the General Assembly’s informal consultations on the Peacebuilding Commission, a draft resolution text was circulated to Member States.  In his opening comments, Assembly President Jan Eliasson stressed the importance of the Commission as the best assurance we have that the nightmares of conflict will not erupt again, and he urged Member States to read the new text “with the eyes of the people out there who need peacebuilding very soon”.


Yesterday, the Third Committee adopted several resolutions, including one on the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, by a vote of 84 in favour to 22 against, with 62 abstentions.  Other resolutions were adopted on contemporary forms of racism, and implementation of human rights instruments.


Today, the Third Committee is scheduled to take action on several draft resolutions, including two on the human rights situations in Iran and Myanmar, and one on the promotion and protection of the rights of children.


President Eliasson will be travelling over the weekend to Geneva, where he will hold consultations on Monday and Tuesday with the High Commissioner for Human Rights and other officials, delegates and NGOs concerning the Human Rights Council and other Summit follow-up issues.  He is scheduled to give a press briefing in Geneva on Wednesday at 9:30 a.m. just before he returns to New York.


Any questions?  Ok, thank you.


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For information media • not an official record