14/12/2005
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 Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Pragati Pascale, Spokesperson for the General Assembly President.


Spokesman for the Secretary-General


Good afternoon.


** Liberia


I will start off with a statement on the situation in Liberia.


“The Secretary-General is concerned about the recent disturbances in Monrovia and the tensions resulting from protests by supporters of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) against the results of the run-off presidential elections, which were held on 8 November.  The Secretary-General calls on the leaders and supporters of the CDC to respect the internationally certified results of these elections, and adhere to universally accepted standards of democratic governance and the rule of law.


“The leadership of the CDC and their followers should refrain from any violence, which is absolutely unacceptable, and allow any complaints to go through the full legal process set out in Liberia’s electoral legal framework.  The Secretary-General calls on all Liberians to work together in charting a course for political stability, social and economic development, and the strengthening of the rule of law in their country.”


**Security Council/Eritrea-Ethiopia


Jane Holl-Lute, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, briefed the Security Council this morning on the situation in Ethiopia and Eritrea.  The Secretary-General was present throughout the consultations.


Security Council members are now in the process of formulating a Presidential Statement based on the discussions this morning, and we will await the issuance of that Presidential Statement before offering further comments on Ethiopia-Eritrea.


**Security Council/Other Issues


This morning, the Council held consultations on Iraq and Guinea-Bissau.


On Iraq, Council members will discuss the latest report concerning the work of Yuliy Vorontsov, the High-level Coordinator dealing with missing Kuwaitis and other persons, as well as missing Kuwaiti property.


On Guinea-Bissau, they will discuss the Secretary-General’s latest report on the United Nations office there.


Starting at 3:00 this afternoon, the Security Council will have another series of meetings, beginning with a formal meeting to vote on the mandate of the United Nations peacekeeping mission in Cyprus.


After that, Council members will hear from Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari, on an open briefing on the latest developments in Iraq.  That briefing will be followed by consultations on Iraq as well.


** Bolivia


Concerning the situation in Bolivia, the Secretary-General has been closely following the situation in Bolivia ahead of national elections this weekend.


He has decided to send his Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Angela Kane, to the country in order to deliver a message on his behalf to President Rodriguez, expressing his support for peaceful and democratic elections.  Ms. Kane is expected to travel to Bolivia today and to meet with the President on Thursday.


** Middle East


From the Middle East, Alvaro de Soto, United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, is today attending the annual Ad Hoc Liaison Committee meeting in London.  At that meeting, key donors, along with representatives of the Palestinian Authority and the Government of Israel, are discussing the humanitarian, social and economic situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, as well as the issue of Palestinian reform.


** Sudan


The United Nations Mission in Sudan today reports that it has decided to open two roads east of Geneina in West Darfur, which had been closed for safety reasons.


The decision followed a meeting held by the United Nations with over 45 community leaders who gave their assurances that humanitarian vehicles would be granted safe passage.  The United Nations will immediately begin assessing humanitarian needs in the area.


Meanwhile, the Mission has received reports that last Friday, armed tribesmen attacked eight civilians in a village in South Darfur, killing two and looting their belongings.  We have more information upstairs with the briefing for the Mission.


** Somalia


Francois Lonseny Fall, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, today warned that insecurity was blocking deliveries of humanitarian relief and jeopardizing the lives of people in urgent need of assistance.


“I could not stress enough the need and the urgency to provide a safe operating space for humanitarian agencies to reach these people”, Mr. Fall said.


According to the latest estimates, 1 million Somalis are in need of urgent assistance and protection, mostly in the South and Central parts of that country.


**Convention Against Corruption


The United Nations Convention against Corruption enters into force today, with 140 signatures and 38 ratifications.  To mark the occasion, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the treaty’s custodian, will hold a panel discussion on combating corruption.


John Bolton, the United States Permanent Representative, will be the keynote speaker, and the panellists will include Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Ibrahim Gambari as well as the head for the Office for Internal Oversight Services Inga-Britt Ahlenius.


The event, which will be moderated by UNODC head Antonio Maria Costa, will take place tomorrow from 11.00 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Trusteeship Council Chamber.


I assume if I’m telling you this, it’s because you’re all invited to attend.  At least, I would hope so.


** Alliance of Civilizations


The Secretary-General today announced the complete composition of the High-level Group for the Alliance of Civilizations, with two names added:  those of Professor Candido Mendes of Brazil, and Professor Pan Guang of China.


The additions bring the membership of the High-level Group to a total of 20, and we have all 20 names available upstairs.


** Sierra Leone


Out on the racks is the exchange of letters between the Secretary-General and the Security Council confirming the appointment of Victor da Silva Angelo as the Secretary-General’s Executive Representative for the United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone.


The new office starts work on 1 January, and as you know, the mandate of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone expires at the end of the year.


**Secretary-General’s AIDS Message


In a message, the Secretary-General has called on the Governments of the Middle East and North Africa not only to review their domestic budgets devoted to AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria, but also to assess their overseas development assistance that can be mobilized to meet the global challenges posed by AIDS and other development issues.


The call was part of a message delivered on his behalf today at the high-level session of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which was held in Morocco.  Health ministers of the Middle East and North Africa were also in attendance.  We have copies of the message upstairs.


**UN-HABITAT


Today the United Nations Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) gathered donors in Nairobi to raise funds intended to cover shelter recovery.  The President of UN-HABITAT’s Governing Council, who is also Poland’s Ambassador to Kenya, opened the meeting by pledging personal funds to build houses in the Pakistan for the quake survivors.


**Guest Tomorrow


David Gressley, United Nations Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator for Southern Sudan, will be joining us tomorrow to provide you with an update on the situation in Southern Sudan.


That’s it from me.  Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Reportedly, there’s gridlock as far as the reform is concerned.  Obviously, if there is gridlock over that, then there’ll be no movement on the budget.  As a contingency, does the United Nations have a plan to assess Member States’ dues for either 3 months or a year, if push comes to shove?


Spokesman:  I think Mr. Sach gave you a pretty clear picture of the budget and what would happen.  The way the budget is organized on a two-year cycle, and the way we assess Member States, is by decision of the General Assembly.  So any change in the way we handle the budget would have to be made by the General Assembly.


The Secretary-General’s position on the budget is clear, in that we need a budget by the end of the year.  But discussions are continuing, and I would encourage you to ask Member States, notably members of the Fifth Committee.


Question:  That’s what I’m saying.  I have asked several Member States, and they are saying that there is gridlock.  They are saying that there is no movement.


Spokesman:  They have hard decisions to make, and we hope they make these decisions soon and obviously by the end of the year.


Question:  About Mr. VorontsovIs he the former Soviet Ambassador?


Spokesman:  I believe so.  He’s been the High-level Coordinator on this issue for quite some time.


Question:  Can you confirm, deny or nod your head to the question of whether, last night, one of the Belgian candidates to replace Mr. Mehlis withdrew his candidacy?


Spokesman:  When we have a candidate to announce, we will.  We’re actively looking for candidates.  Unfortunately, investigative judges with a high level of experience on anti-terror cases are not lining up on First Avenue looking for work.  So, this is a difficult process, and we’re working actively to find someone to replace Mr. Mehlis.


Question:  Can you say why it is -- since Mr. Mehlis has notified the Secretary-General months ago that he’s going to quit tomorrow -- that, yesterday, the Secretary-General said that it will take at least a week or two?


Spokesman:  First of all, Mr. Mehlis, as I think he has clearly said to you, will not drop the investigation, and will continue to assist and be the titular head of the work until we find a replacement; he will make sure there is a smooth transition.  All I can tell you is that we are working actively to find someone to replace Mr. Mehlis.


Question:  A couple of questions.  On Iran, does the Secretary-General have a response to the Iranian President saying that the Holocaust was a myth, and that Israel should consider moving to Alaska?  And why was that an if-asked question and not a straight-out condemnation?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General made his condemnation clear...


Question:  Why was it only made when asked?


Spokesman:  If you will allow me the courtesy of finishing my sentence before commenting on my answer, I’d appreciate it.


The Secretary-General, I think, was very clear in his condemnation of the Iranian President’s statements when he first made them, I believe, two weeks ago, which the Iranian President cast out on the Holocaust, and, as you said, suggested that Israel be moved.  He was shocked by these remarks, and continues to be shocked by these remarks, every time they come out of the mouth of the Iranian President.


Question:  Is there anything he can do in terms of -- you know, we’re sort of pushing up against an issue of the Charter, calling for the destruction of a fellow Member State -- in terms of not inviting the President to the General Assembly?  Can United Nations membership be suspended?  Can any action be taken against the Iranian President?


Spokesman:  The suspension of the membership of a Member State from the Organization is laid out clearly in the Charter.  It is a decision by the Membership.  The Secretary-General reminded, and reminds again, the Iranian President that Israel is a long-standing Member of this Organization, with the same rights as all other 190 Member States.  In fact, Iran, as a Member of this Organization, has, as the Charter says, undertaken to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity and political independence of any other Member State.


Question:  A few days ago, the Secretary-General received the newly-elected President of Liberia, Ms. Johnson-Sirleaf.  At that meeting, did she raise the issue of the Congress for Democratic Change, and did she ask for any special assistance for her country?


Spokesman:  I will get back to you on exactly what was asked.


Question:  Last night at the Security Council, was there any discussion on expanding the Hariri investigation to include other killings?


Spokesman:  That is obviously a decision of the Council.  We will have to wait for the Security Council to issue its resolution on that.


Question:  As a follow-up, how might the Secretary-General feel about an international trial, as opposed to a Lebanese one, after the investigation?


Spokesman:  Those are issues that are currently under discussion at the Security Council, so we will not want to get ahead of them.


Question:  I wanted to follow up on a question spelled out in a story by Fox.  They had a story last week, I think, talking about Sanjaya Bahel.  There have been audits of him in possible wrong-doing in terms of procurement contracts.  I’m wondering if the United Nations has a rule on the books that would prohibit an official who is on secondment from another country, as Sanjaya Bahel is from India, from being involved in contract tenders that involve bidders from their country of origin.  Is there any rule, or firewall?


Spokesman:  We would expect all United Nations officials, when they work for this Organization, whether they are seconded or recruited independently, to act with complete independence from whatever their home country may be.  In fact, when United Nations officials come here, they take an oath to do that.  Mr. Burnham, I think, gave you a pretty clear picture of what was going on in procurement, in terms of the overhaul of the system.  I think, as you pointed out, there was an ongoing -- I think the word he used was expanding -- investigation by the Office of Internal Oversight Services (OIOS), which will be looking into issues of procurement.


Question:  But that oath is not necessarily binding.  I mean, look at Mr. Burnham himself -- he wears cufflinks bearing the United States presidential seal.


Spokesman:  United Nations regulations do not touch on sartorial issues, for what people wear.  People are allowed to wear whatever cufflinks they want, whatever headdress they want, which may represent their nationality.  I would not read into the cufflink or headdress issue too much, Nick.


Question:  I’m being facetious.


Spokesman:  Really?


Question:  But I’m wondering, are there rules in place?  Obviously Mr. Bahelsigned an oath.  But is there a rule in place that would explicitly prevent him...


Spokesman:  United Nations officials need to act independently and not be influenced by their home country.  If they do not do that, then they’re in violation of those rules.


Question:  Is there a firewall?


Spokesman:  On the issue of procurement, Mr. Burnham said they are overhauling all their rules to make sure there are better systems to catch any conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest.  But the bottom line is that international civil servants are exactly that -- international civil servants.


Question:  Was there an inquiry into Mr. Bahel’s conduct?


Spokesman:  I can’t speak to that specific case at this point.


Question:  I believe there was an inquiry, but do we know what was the...


Spokesman:  I would have to see if I can get you anything more on that later.


Question:  The Secretary-General is receiving Mr. Iqbal Riza, the Director, and the Deputy Director of the Alliance for Civilizations.  Is their purpose to discuss the recent meeting in Spain, or is it for something else?


Spokesman:  It will be a chance for the Secretary-General to be briefed on the recent meeting in Spain, and also, it will be his first official meeting with Thomas Mastnak, the new Director of the Office, and Shamil Idriss, who is also the Deputy Director of the Office.  Mr. Riza, as you know, went as the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy to that meeting.


Question:  As a follow-up, I would like to renew our request for Mr. Iqbal Riza to brief us on the Alliance of Civilizations.


Spokesman:  Probably the best person to brief you at this point would be the head of the Office.


Question:  On Iraq, the United States has already determined that the abuse in Iraqi prisons is worse than what they had said -- it’s in a report of the New York Times today.  Will the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights be renewing her call to have an investigation?


Spokesman:  As I’ve said, the Secretary-General is very concerned about these new reports of abuse in another facility controlled by the Iraqi Interior Ministry.  Both he and the Special Representative, Mr. Qazi, have expressed their concern to the Iraqi authorities.  In the letter sent towards the end of November, Ms. Arbour, as you know, called for an international element to be added to the Government’s own investigation into these abuses.  The Secretary-General very much looks forward to an early issuance of reports on the Government’s investigation.  Meanwhile, Mr. Qazi, aided by his human rights officers, continues to raise these issues with the Government, and we have offered -- we are actively supporting -- human rights training for the Iraqi security forces.


Question:  Two more things from me.  On the issue of the documents, the discussion on the Volcker documents...


Spokesman:  Let me put it this way.  As soon as I have something to announce, I will promise to announce it to you.


Question:  The other thing was, last night you guys had a notice on the website saying that an audit from Ernst and Young found no dishonesty or fraud by the World Intellectual Property Organization.  Could we see that audit?


Spokesman:  We’ve asked the World Intellectual Property Organization if we can get a copy of that audit and make it available to you.  I know they’re distributing it to their membership, so we’ll see if we can get that.

Question:  Are they resisting?


Spokesman:  We’ve just asked.  Maybe we’ll give them a few minutes before we qualify their response.


Thank you very much.


Spokesperson for the General Assembly President


Good afternoon.


Today at 5:00 p.m., General Assembly President Jan Eliasson will present a new text of a draft resolution for the Peacebuilding Commission to Member States at the informal consultations.  Based on extensive consultations that he and the co-chairs have held, this text represents what he feels is the best agreement for the Commission that will hopefully be accepted by Member States.  Action on the draft resolution would be taken at a formal plenary meeting early next week, and we are planning for the President to give a press briefing at that time.


Yesterday afternoon, the Assembly’s General Committee met to consider two requests to include additional items on the agenda for the sixtieth session.


The item on follow-up to the Volcker report, proposed by Costa Rica, was recommended for inclusion in the agenda, without a vote.  The wording of the agenda item was orally amended to clarify the nature of the Assembly’s role.  It now reads, “Follow-up to the recommendations on administrative management and internal oversight of the Independent Inquiry Committee into the United Nations Oil-for-Food Programme”.  The General Committee’s recommendation will be taken up by the plenary tomorrow morning.


The item requested by Azerbaijan, Georgia, the Republic of Moldova and Ukraine on protracted conflicts in the Black Sea-South Caucasuses region was not recommended for inclusion in the Assembly’s agenda.  This decision was taken by a vote of 5 against to 3 in favour, with 17 abstentions.


Informal consultations of the plenary on the Human Rights Council are being held this afternoon, to continue working on the new text that was circulated by the co-chairs on Monday.


Tomorrow morning the Assembly will meet in plenary to adopt a number of draft resolutions on humanitarian issues.  Among these is a resolution on the upgrading of the Central Emergency Revolving Fund, as called for in the Summit Outcome Document.  The Secretary-General has called for the Fund, which will in future be called the Central Emergency Response Fund, to be increased by a factor of 10.  Tomorrow an announcement is expected to be made on what funding has been pledged.  A media stake-out is being planned by the General Assembly President for sometime around 11:30, and those details will be announced.


Also, to give you a heads-up, the plenary will take up the report of the Third Committee, which includes the draft resolutions on human rights, this Friday afternoon.


Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  These draft resolutions -- can we get a copy of those on the Peacebuilding Commission and Human Rights Council?


Spokesperson:  On the text of the Peacebuilding Commission draft, it will be decided after today’s meeting if that can be given to the press.


Question:  On the Human Rights Council?


Spokesperson:  That text is still at quite a preliminary stage.  They say they want to keep it informal.


Question:  I’m sorry, Pragati.  The one that the President is going to be presenting today at 5:00 p.m. is which one?


Spokesperson:  That’s the Peacebuilding Commission.


Question:  Will it then be made public, once he presents it at the meeting?


Spokesperson:  It depends, I think, on the reaction of the Member States in the room.  If they feel that there is large agreement on it, I think they’ll make it public.


Question:  Is it still the intention of the President to submit a report on the Security Council by 20 or 21 December?


Spokesperson:  Yes, some time next week.  But I wouldn’t expect that report to include new proposals.  It will basically be a summation of views expressed in the General Assembly debate, and also views that were expressed in consultations that the Chef de Cabinet and the President have been holding over the last couple of weeks.


Question:  Does that mean that there is no progress in the discussions regarding this issue?


Spokesperson:  The President feels that the expansion of the Security Council is a very sensitive issue, and that Member States need to drive the process and come up with proposals that they feel will be accepted.


Question:  Do you have the names of the five that oppose the inclusion in the General Assembly agenda of the item from GUAM -- Georgia-Ukraine-Azerbaijan-Moldova?


Spokesperson:  Yes, we do have it.  I don’t have it with me, but we can give it to you afterwards.


Thank you very much.


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