|Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York|
DAILY PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL
The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary-General.
**Secretary-General’s Press Encounter
At a press encounter earlier this morning, the Secretary-General was asked about the recent publications of caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, and, while he underlined his support for freedom of speech, he also pointed to the need to exercise responsibility and judgement.
“Quite honestly”, he said, “I cannot understand why any editor will publish cartoons at this time which inflames and pours oil on the fire.”
At the same time, he reiterated that innocent civilians should not be attacked, and stressed that “violence must be condemned as unacceptable”.
We have the transcript of that press encounter upstairs, which also includes comments about his meeting this afternoon with the Israeli Foreign Minister, and the recent Palestinian elections, as well as his upcoming trip to Washington.
On Sudan, when he was asked about the future UN peacekeeping operation in Darfur, the Secretary-General said that such a force would have a completely different concept of operation than the current one headed by the African Union. He described the future force as highly mobile -- that would be able to crisscross the territory in armoured personnel carriers and jeeps.
Furthermore, the force would also have to have tactical air assets to be able to be on the ground when there was a call for help and not arrive after the harm had been done. He said such a force would be able to send a message to the militia and the people causing the damage that it is everywhere, and it will be there on time to prevent them from intimidating and killing innocent civilians.
“But such a force would require the participation of Governments with highly trained troops who are also well equipped”, he added. “It is not going to be easy for the big and powerful countries with armies to delegate to third world countries. They will have to play a part if we are going to stop the carnage that we see in Darfur.”
The full transcript of that press encounter, as I said, is available upstairs.
The Security Council held a meeting with the troop-contributing countries to the UN Mission in Haiti this morning before going into closed consultations on the same subject. Hédi Annabi, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, provided an update on the Haitian elections about which a presidential statement is expected to be adopted following the consultations today.
Also on Haiti, the UN Mission in that country says that so far, about 15 per cent of the tally sheets have arrived at the tabulation centre in Port-au-Prince. About 90 per cent of the tallies have arrived at the local tabulation offices in other parts of the country, and from there they’ll be picked up and brought to the capital.
Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council says it will post some of the results at 6 p.m. local time today. It also says that preliminary results will be available Friday night or Saturday morning.
** Côte d’Ivoire
Turning to Côte d’Ivoire, the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), as well as the UN peacekeeping mission in that country (UNOCI) report that UN agencies and NGOs have now resumed distribution of food in the western Ivorian city of Guiglo.
The World Food Programme (WFP) and its partners have delivered almost 300 metric tons of food to the city that was racked by violence in late January. You will recall that assistance to the area was suspended when the UN agencies and NGOs came under violent attack between January 17th and 19th of this year.
The food aid was delivered to malnourished children being cared for in a nutritional centre, some 13,000 internally displaced people in the area, as well as refugees sheltering in two camps near Guiglo.
Also in Côte d’Ivoire, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, Pierre Schori, today kicked off a three day seminar that is bringing together leaders from all factions in an attempt to clarify and reach a full understanding of the road map ahead.
** Middle East
The Office of the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, in a report today, studies the impact of closures on the Palestinian economy, and finds that the barrier has had a negative economic impact on all communities near it, particularly those to the east of the barrier.
Most rural communities in the West Bank have been affected by intensified closure since 2000, the report says. At the same time, it notes the way in which agriculture and livestock rearing have been used to alleviate the effects of closure, and the way that more women have now been working to compensate for lost income by men in households. The report recommends an immediate effort to enhance local infrastructure and to enhance access to markets and employment.
The UN Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK), along with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), today stepped up efforts to urge Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian displaced persons to leave lead-polluted camps and move to a safer environment that the UN Mission has been offering.
The Mission says the only solution to the problem of lead pollution at several camps for the displaced is to move them immediately to a safer location. That new location has been cleaned up by the UN following recommendations from US environmental engineers. We have a press release available upstairs.
**United Nations Environment Programme
Also on the issue of the environment, earlier today, the world’s Environment Ministers wrapped up a three-day special session of the UN Environment Programme’s (UNEP) Governing Council, which was held in Dubai, with calls for rapid and global improvements in energy efficiency of buildings, factories and cars.
They said these changes are needed if the world is to overcome its dependency on fossil fuels. And we have a press release with more information on that upstairs for those of you who are interested.
**United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime
Also upstairs is an announcement from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime that reports that five Central Asian countries, together with Russia and Azerbaijan, reached agreement at a two-day ministerial meeting in Tashkent to set up a regional coordination centre in Kazakhstan, to fight illicit drug trafficking in the area.
At 12:30, so in about 20 minutes, Ambassador [Dumisani] Kumalo of South Africa, in his capacity as Chairman of the “Group of 77”, will hold a press conference here to speak to you about UN reform.
Tomorrow, Dennis McNamara, the Special Adviser of the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator on Internally Displaced People, will join us at noon to speak about breaking the cycle of conflict and displacement. Internally displaced people today number more that 23 million worldwide.
That is it for me. Any questions before we move to Ambassador Kumalo?
Questions and Answers
Question: With everything that’s going on with the cartoons, I’m just wondering why we haven’t heard from the folks over at the UN Office of the Alliance of Civilizations?
Spokesman: They are available to you should you have any questions and are available for interviews. But I would note that two founders of the Alliance of Civilizations -- the Spanish Prime Minister along with the Turkish Prime Minister -- have been speaking out on this issue and, in fact, I think published a joint article two days ago.
Question: I wanted to ask -- apparently, when the UN issues a security situation about staff, when it’s “phase IV”, it’s like, very risky. What sort of security situation has been issued for Nepal? Is it “phase III”? Are there any other countries or areas where UN staff is, where they have issued phase III?
Spokesman: The security of our staff is of paramount concern in all our locations worldwide. But we would not want to talk from this podium about the specific operational decisions that are taken to protect the staff.
Question: I understand the Staff Union is meeting this afternoon to take up some issues that have to do with their own personal packages, but also stuff related to reform within the Organization. Is the Secretary-General involved in any of this or is he passing a message on to the Staff Union to perhaps put his voice into the debate?
Spokesman: Well, there are a couple of things. One, we do expect to have someone from the Human Resources Office present at that meeting of the Staff Union to answer any questions they may have. But it’s also worth underscoring that throughout the reform process, on the issues dealing with management and human resources, there’s been quite a lot of consultation with staff on these issues. Last October, I believe, the head of the human resources department sent out a note to the heads of all the Staff Unions in the UN, as well as the heads of departments soliciting inputs on reforming the staff regulations and human resources issues for UN staff. And, the same note went out in December to all staff. So, there’s been a constant dialogue between senior management and the staff at large on issues of reform.
Question: But the overriding argument that we hear from the staff side is that it’s more of a one way street, in which they come to the staff for their feedback on decisions taken or things that they are considering, rather than a full participatory position in the actual development of reforms or decision-making.
Spokesman: As I said, it’s been a two-way street. If you look on the issue of whistle-blower protection, we made sure that the staff was fully consulted on those issues, because it’s clear that one can’t have a solid whistle-blower protection without a complete staff buy-in. And as I said, we have solicited and asked for the staff’s input on issues that pertain directly to staff, notably human resources and staff management.
Question: My question is with regard to the cartoons issue: The Secretary-General has condemned the loss of lives due to the cartoon-related violence. My question is whether the Secretary-General has also condemned the publication of the cartoons?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General is a great believer in free speech and freedom of expression, which are enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But that obviously comes with responsibility that needs to be exercised -- the respect for religion is also enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. These two things do not need to cancel each other out. I think we have seen the comments that he made today, regarding the repeated publication of the same cartoons over the past two days. He said he can’t understand why anyone would do that and publish these cartoons at this time and just pour fuel on the fire. This whole issue just underscores the need for greater dialogue amongst people so these kinds of misunderstandings do not occur.
Question: I just wanted to know about the Guatemalan peace corps in Congo. The UN promised an investigation into the recent killings of these soldiers. I wanted to know how this investigation is going, and if you already have some information?
Spokesman: The full investigation, as I understand it, is still not yet completed. The information that we had at the time was passed on to the Guatemalan authorities. There was a letter written to the Minister of Defence telling him what we knew at the time, a week ago or so, when the bodies were repatriated to be buried at home. But the investigation is continuing and we will, of course, fully inform the Guatemalan authorities as soon as we have completed that work.
Question: Do you have a date?
Spokesman: No, one can’t put a date on it, but that is ongoing.
* *** *For information media • not an official record