16/02/2006
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


The 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.


Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General


Good afternoon.


**Statement Attributable to Spokesman


I will start off with a statement attributable to the Spokesman.


“The Secretary-General and President Tassos Papadopoulos have agreed to meet on 28 February in Paris in order to review the situation in Cyprus and discuss ways of moving forward the process of reuniting Cyprus.”


And that statement is available upstairs.


**High-Level Panel


Also today, the Secretary-General is establishing a new, high-level panel that will explore how the UN system can work more coherently and effectively around the world in the areas of development, humanitarian assistance and the environment.  The panel is to be chaired by the Prime Ministers of Norway, Mozambique and Pakistan, and it has 15 members in all, whose work will be supported by a small Secretariat staff based here in New York.


It will produce a study, which was called for in the World Summit Outcome Document, that will lay the groundwork for a fundamental restructuring of the UN’s operational work, which will complement the other major reforms currently under way.  The panel is expected to complete its work by this summer and to present its recommendations to the next session of the General Assembly.


We have a statement upstairs with more details, as well as a list of panellists.


**Security Council


The Security Council held consultations this morning during which members heard briefings on Haiti and Eritrea.  It was Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi who gave the briefings as part of this morning’s daily briefings by the UN Secretariat.


On Haiti, Annabi briefed Council members on the decision by Haiti's Provisional Electoral Council -- also known by its French acronym CEP -- to declare René Préval the official winner with 51.15 per cent of the total votes counted.  He also explained how the CEP had adopted its decision by distributing blank ballots on a pro rata basis according to the distribution of votes among the candidates.  On Eritrea, Council members were informed that as of today, 10 Eritrean staff members of the UN peacekeeping operation in Ethiopia and Eritrea remain in detention.


The monthly Security Council lunch with the Secretary-General is also expected for today.  And we do expect the Secretary-General to speak to you after that lunch.


** Haiti


The UN Mission in Haiti says that, following the announcement by Haiti’s Provisional Electoral Council of the results, residents in the capital began celebrations as early as 3 o’clock this morning, and at the moment, there are about 20,000 demonstrating their joy after the Council’s announcement.  Around 15,000 of those people are gathered around the National Palace, and the rest are scattered in Port-au-Prince.


Along with the Force Commander’s reserve troops, peacekeepers usually deployed in the regions and around Port-au-Prince have temporarily been redeployed to the capital to increase the number of military static points.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Haiti, Juan Valdes, and the Secretary-General of the OAS -- Organization of American States -- José Miguel Insulza, began a press conference in Port-au-Prince about 30 minutes ago.  And we hope to have a bit more on what they’ve said available to you later today.


** Côte d’Ivoire


Turning to the situation in Côte d’Ivoire, Jan Egeland, the UN Emergency Relief Coordinator, said today he was profoundly shocked at the level of destruction he observed at UN and NGO offices in Guiglo in the western part of Côte d’Ivoire.  Egeland, who as you know is on a visit to that country, said he was even more deeply concerned about those who have been deprived of the humanitarian aid they so urgently need due to the disruption of aid work.  Their offices were attacked in late January, as you will recall.


Egeland, who is on a four-day tour of Côte d’Ivoire, said he had received assurances from the Government that the violence will not be repeated.


We do have a press release with more information available upstairs.


**Horn of Africa


Also on the humanitarian front, the Secretary-General’s Special Humanitarian Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Kjell Bondevik, will be heading to that region next week to discuss with local leaders and UN agencies problems caused by the continuing drought in that part of the world.  Bondevik will visit some of the worst-affected areas and meet with the government and UN officials in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Djibouti and Kenya.  Several UN agencies, including UNICEF and the World Food Programme, as well as the UNHCR, have already issued appeals for drought relief in the region.


** Iraq


And from Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, met today with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Moscow.  Qazi briefed the Foreign Minister on recent events, including the United Iraqi Alliance’s nomination of Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to head the first elected Government, and the emerging of new alliances in Iraq and the likely formation of the new Government.  He also updated the Foreign Minister on the work being done by the UN Mission in Iraq, and Lavrov expressed appreciation and promised continued Russian support for the UN role in Iraq.


**Guantánamo Report


And as you know, five independent investigators of the UN Commission on Human Rights are calling on the United States to close the detention centre in Guantánamo Bay and bring all the detainees before an independent and competent tribunal or release them.  The call comes in a report published today and issued in Geneva, following a six-month joint study by these independent experts on the situation of detainees at the U.S. Naval Base.


**UNDOF


And in an exchange of letters, the Secretary-General and the Security Council agreed to add India to the list of countries providing military personnel to the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights.  The Indian troops will replace the Canadian soldiers, who had been serving as a logistic support element for the Force.


** Afghanistan


And lastly, Tom Koenigs took up today his post in Kabul as the head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.  We have a press release with more details on that, and as you know, he replaces ... [Jean Arnault]


It’s not very good, but that’s it from me -- I will now take your questions.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  The report on Guantánamo Bay has been rejected by the White House today.  What is the next step of the UNHCHR -- is it going to request the United States Government again to visit Guantánamo Bay?  Or is it [inaudible]


Spokesman:  Again, the report is done by -- as I have mentioned to you a couple of times -- independent rapporteurs.  So those questions as to what their next steps will be should be addressed to them.  Procedurally, this report is to be presented at the Commission on Human Rights at its next session, which is scheduled to start on 13 March, and it will be up to the Commission made up of the 53 Member States to decide what follow-up to give to the report.


Question:  No requests have been forwarded up?


Spokesman:  Again, I can’t speak for these rapporteurs, who are independent.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General support the call for the closing of the prison that was made by the rapporteurs?


Spokesman:  I think this report is just out, we will study it closely and we would advise all concerned and everyone else to also do the same.  The Secretary-General has often said, and repeatedly said, that there is need for proper understanding and effective balance between action against terrorism and the protection of civil liberties and human rights.


Question:  What does that mean?


Spokesman:  It is not up to him to endorse the conclusions of his ... of this report.  It is not his job to endorse or reject the conclusions of the report.  He will study the report, and his position ...


Question:  How long will it take him to study it?


Spokesman:  Well, we’ve just received it.


Question:  I was actually going to ask about the situation in Tokelau, but before that I was going to ask you also -- if this is focusing on Guantánamo Bay, presumably the logic means that other alleged holding bases, possibly Bagram, possible Diego Garcia, are also covered.  People are being held in these conditions without trial in Guantánamo Bay that are being held elsewhere.  Presumably, although this is the focus on Guantánamo, it must cover other camps, as well.


Spokesman:  You would have to address that question to the authors of the report.


Question:   On Lebanon, the Brammertz ... there are many questions I don’t know how to handle there.  The Brammertz team has changed completely.  Can you tell us why this change happened and what’s the budget of this new team?


Spokesman:  The budget is still being put together.  I think it is up to Mr. Brammertz to put his team together.  The investigation obviously continues from the work that Mr. Mehlis completed, but Mr. Brammertz is putting together his team, and he is operating under the mandate given to him by the Security Council.


Question:  Did he dismiss all the other ...?


Spokesman:  He is putting together his team.  You know, I don’t have the details of the personnel movements, but he is the new head of this independent investigation commission, and it is up to him to decide who is going to work with him and for him.


Question:  [inaudible] the new budget ...


Spokesman:  As soon as ... I will try to find out and let you know.


Question:  Another question.  The UN calls on the Lebanese Government to explain allegation that the army aided weapons transfer from Syria to an armed group in Lebanon.  Today, the Lebanese Prime Minister condemned the flow of arms from Syria.  Can we have the specific wording of this condemnation?


Spokesman:  Yeah, I think I mentioned to you yesterday that Mr. Roed-Larsen -- who is the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy on 1559 -- is following up on the statements made about the arms shipments, including those made by the army, and if the information was correct, this would be an alarming development in violation of 1559.  But Mr. Roed-Larsen is still continuing his contacts, and when we have more to report on what he has found, I will let you know.


Question:  [inaudible] and the UN human rights official or there is a team in Syria right now to discuss the fate of the Lebanese prisoners in Syria.  Do you have anything on this?


Spokesman:  I don’t have at this point, but we can put you in touch with the human rights office when we are done.


Question:  I’d like to go back to the Human Rights Commission.  At this time when Kofi Annan has been working towards ... trying to get reform of that Commission itself, because it’s been called a hypocrisy and -- you know -- people don’t believe that it really stands for human rights issues and all that.  At a time like this, you get a report that condemns the United States for Guantánamo, while at the same time you’ve got human rights abuses going on in a variety of countries from Cuba all the way through Sudan, Iran, Zimbabwe, Burma and what not.  Does the Secretary-General have anything to say about such a report coming out at this time and again, this lack of concentration on other areas in the world where human rights abuses are happening and nothing is being done about it?


Spokesman:  I think the drafting of the report, the way it was put together, the time of the issuance of the report is something that the Secretary-General has no control over, as these people are independent rapporteurs named by the Chairman of the Commission on Human Rights.  That being said, the Secretary-General’s appeal for the creation of a new Human Rights Council, that would be credible and more effective and sitting year round, continues to stand.  The Member States are working hard at it now.  We hope they come to closure on this very soon and, obviously, one of the elements of this new Human Rights Council as the Secretary-General sees it is that those who sit on the Council would have their human rights record examined.


Question:  A follow-up to the announcement of the Secretary-General’s meeting in Paris -- does the Secretary-General now see a window of opportunity for resuming his good offices in Cyprus and, if so, why the change?  What’s new and different?


Spokesman:  This meeting should be seen as his continued consultations on the issue of Cyprus and on moving forward on the process of reuniting Cyprus.  And that’s as far as we are going to go right now.


Question:  Who asked for this meeting and what is the agenda?


Spokesman:  The agenda is that they have both agreed ...  First of all, they have both agreed to meet and the agenda as stated is to review the situation in Cyprus and discuss ways of moving forward to the process of reuniting Cyprus.


Question:  Are they going to discuss Turkish proposals?


Spokesman:  Michael, I have nothing to add beyond what we’ve said here.


Question:  [inaudible] that the SG is studying the proposals.  Did they finish studying?


Spokesman:  There is a lot of studying being done.


Question:  What is the verdict?


Spokesman:  There is a lot of studying to be done.  When there is a verdict, I’ll let you know.


Question:  I just wanted to ask if the Secretary-General has contacted Préval to congratulate him.  Has he made a phone call?


Spokesman:  No, I am not aware of a phone call to Préval in the last 24 hours.


Question:  Is the UN satisfied with the election results in Haiti and the way it was agreed?


Spokesman:  Haiti’s top electoral body found a political solution within the confines of the law, and we do expect to have something a bit more to say.  Probably, the Secretary-General will have a bit more to say when he speaks to you, on Haiti.


Question:  Why are the Canadian forces being replaced with Indian forces in the Golan Heights?  And what is the reasoning for [inaudible]


Spokesman:  I think you have to ask the Canadians that.  You know, we get troop rotations out of peacekeeping missions all the time, when countries for their own reasons decide they need to pull out, and then we go around and find countries that are willing to provide the troops that we need.  We’ll give you a number.


Question:  Do you have anything to tell us about this P5 meeting that’s going on at this point of time ... anything on it at all?


Spokesman:  Next.


Question:  Is there any update regarding the international force for Sudan and what is the attitude of the UN to the request by the AU that the force should be led by an African?


Spokesman:  We are very much still in the planning process on the transition force.  We have a planning unit here in the Peacekeeping Department, which is working hard on this issue, trying to put a much more mobile and robust force together when we do take over from the African Union and, no doubt, we’ll be working with the AU on the transition.  I think, it’s too early to ... you know, before the leader is appointed, I think the first task is the planning process and putting the force together.


Question:  At the UNDP, they established, as I understand, a fund for the development of the Turkish-occupied areas of Cyprus.  I know that the Cyprus Government has protested.  Can you tell us if any action has been taken by the UNDP?


Spokesman:  I think you should ask exactly that to the people at the UNDP.


Question:  Can you take the question and ask them?


Spokesman:  I’ll do whatever you want me to do, Michael.


Question:  Back to the human rights issue: does the SG think that the timing of the issue of the report might hinder the possibility of successful negotiations on the new Human Rights Council?


Spokesman:  The timing is out of his hands.  The Member States are right now working hard and focused on the creation of the new Human Rights Council.  We hope they will continue to work hard and stay focused on it.


Question:  Did the SG bring up the Guantánamo issue when he met with President Bush or Condoleezza Rice this week?


Spokesman:  Did he bring it up?  I can’t speak for ... I have a hard enough time speaking for the Secretary-General – that I would not speak for the President (of the United States).  The Secretary-General’s position on this is to the authorities who’ve asked is exactly what I’ve laid out to you publicly.


Question:  [Inaudible]


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General did not bring it up.  Thank you.


Question:  To the report again. Five mandate holders who all sought access to Guantánamo Bay; they were allowed to have access to Guantánamo Bay, but were not allowed if they went to interview any of the detainees.  But only three of them were actually invited to go to Guantánamo Bay by the US Administration.  Why were the other two not invited?


Spokesman:  I think, you know, this is the dialogue that took place between these mandate-holders and the Government of the United States, so I think you should ask one of those two groups.


Question:  Will the Secretary-General weigh in on the issue?  On the report?


Spokesman:  No, he is ... You know, he is studying the report, it’s not up to him to endorse the conclusions or to reject them.  It is a report that will now go to the Commission on Human Rights as it exists now, and it will procedurally then decide what to do.


Question:  So you don’t anticipate any reaction from Annan?


Spokesman:  Not beyond what I have said.


Thank you very much.


Question:  This thing on high-level panel that he has appointed -- is it available as a press release?


Spokesman:  Have we ever made a press release not available to you?


Thank you.  Oh -- sorry.  Don’t go away.  Pragati is here for you.


Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President


Good afternoon.


On the Human Rights Council, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson is now coming to the end of his bilateral consultations.  He has met with a number of delegations, both at his request and at the request of those Member States.  He is now reflecting on the outstanding issues, together with his Co-Chairs, and is planning to come back to the membership by the middle of next week, in line with his letter of 8 February.  This should still provide sufficient time for a smooth transition at the March meeting of the Commission on Human Rights.


As requested by the Secretary-General, the President is sending a letter to all Member States today transmitting the membership of the High-level Panel on UN System-Wide Coherence, which Steph mentioned.


The Ad Hoc Working Group of on the Revitalization of the Work of the General Assembly will hold its first meeting this afternoon, co-chaired by Ambassador Alsaidi of Yemen and Ambassador Silkalna of Latvia.  Delegations have been invited to comment on themes related to the work of the Assembly, including its role and authority, its working methods and its agenda.


And to respond to a question asked yesterday, the President did receive a letter from the Chair of the Non-Aligned Movement, Ambassador Ali of Malaysia, on 14 February, setting out some of the group’s concerns about the respective mandates of the Assembly and the Security Council, especially with regard to issues of procurement and sexual exploitation and abuse in peacekeeping operations.  The letter will be issued as a document, as requested, and the President will be consulting with Member States and the General Committee on those matters.


We can make the text of the letter available, and if you plan to write on this issue, I encourage you to read the version sent to the President, since some of the quotations cited in the IPS story yesterday were not accurate.


Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  [inaudible] there are some reports floating around that Mr. Jan Eliasson will be also a candidate to become the next Secretary-General, that he has thrown his hat in.  Right?


Spokesperson:  The President has seen some of those press reports.  He wants to emphasize that he is the President of the General Assembly, he is very busy doing that.  He is obviously completely focused on the very demanding negotiations for the reform of the UN that he has been mandated to undertake, coming out of the World Summit. And he is not a candidate for Secretary-General.


Question:  Regarding a letter that NAM just wrote, what’s the accurate address -- first of all to the President of the Security Council and then a copy was sent to the UNGA?  Is he talking to Member States and the President of the Security Council to clarify the position of the Security Council on this discussion [inaudible], saying that this interferes with the functions of the UNGA?


Spokesperson:  The President was sent a letter to him by the Non-Aligned Movement, which we can give a copy of.  He is consulting with the Member States on the issue.


Question:  Would the President consider becoming a candidate if he is asked to?


Spokesperson:  He often says that his is a case for the right to family reunification.  He is looking forward at the end of his term to returning to Sweden to rejoin his wife and family, so I don’t think he is considering candidacy.


Question:  The Group of 77 and China has circulated that letter to the General Assembly that touches on procurement issues and having the General Assembly kept apprised of the developments in the investigations of procurement and what not.  But one of the people who was caught in the web of what appears to have been wrongdoing in procurement was the actual budget man for the General Assembly itself at one point.  So is there not a conflict of interest that if all information is going to be provided to the General Assembly about ongoing investigations that you might end up screwing up an investigation in the end?


Spokesperson:  The due process is being followed on all those investigations and we have to follow what the Member States -- the process they have set out.  And the General Assembly has a mandate to go through certain channels, you know, to handle these issues.


Question:  Right, but is this point that I just brought up -- is that being taken into consideration, that you might actually interfere with an ongoing investigation by trying to keep everybody informed about the investigation that is going on?


Spokesperson:  I think I am not going to speak further on behalf of the Group of 77 and their concerns.  Yes?


Question:  What is the prospect that the General Assembly is going to consider a resolution regarding the reform of the Security Council?


Spokesperson:  There is an open-ended working group on Security Council reform that  ... co-chairs have been announced for it and it’s expected to meet some time in March, I believe.  A precise date has not been set.  But it will be coming back on the Assembly’s agenda.


Question:  The President of the Assembly met with the Secretary-General this morning.  What was the subject of this meeting?


Spokesperson:  It was primarily on the Human Rights Council, though other issues may have been raised.


Question:  On Human Rights Council, how much progress has been made so far? [inaudible]


Spokesperson:  I can’t give you specific positions.  There are several outstanding issues still ...  The President has to decide, you know, there is clearly lack of agreement or different views, and some of those are shifting, because of his consultations and because of consultations going on among Member States.  And he is still in the process of reflecting on how those shifts are taking place and what’s the best possible outcome that he can generate. Everyone feels it’s important to have a strong human rights mechanism, and he is seeking the best possible outcome.


Question:  Has this Guantánamo report entered the negotiations and discussions at the General Assembly on the Commission on Human Rights?


Spokesperson:  I haven’t heard him mention that this has been impacting the discussions -- no.


Question:  Is there any talk of taking that issue to the General Assembly overall?  Or leaving it with the Commission on Human Rights?


Spokesperson:  I haven’t heard anything to that effect.


OK.  Thank you very much.


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