|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.
Good afternoon. Obviously the clocks here haven’t been changed, so we’re still some 54 minutes early. But we’ll start, nonetheless.
Joining us today will be Christian Balslev-Olesen, the Acting Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, and Phillip Lazzarini, head of the Somalia Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and they will obviously join us to answer your questions about Somalia.
**Secretary-General on Sudan
I have a statement on the travels of Mr. Egeland:
“The Secretary-General regrets that the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Jan Egeland, was not permitted by the Government of Sudan to visit Darfur.
“The pressing and urgent humanitarian requirements of Darfur are a priority for the United Nations and coordination efforts to sustain this large programme were at the centre of Mr. Egeland’s visit.
“The Secretary-General will be seeking to speak to President Omar Hassan Ahmed al-Bashir on this matter.”
The Security Council, as you know, is holding its first consultations this month under the Chinese Presidency, and it adopted its programme of work for April.
Under “other matters” Council members heard from Hédi Annabi, Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, on the most recent developments in Sudan. They are discussing the planning for the UN-African Union transition force in Darfur, along with the decision of the Government of Sudan not to welcome Mr. Egeland to Darfur.
Following today’s noon briefing, the new Council President, Ambassador Wang of China, will be here to brief you on the programme of work and answer any of your questions.
**Panel on System-Wide Coherence
The co-chairs of the Secretary-General’s High-level Panel on UN System-Wide Coherence in the Areas of Development, Humanitarian Assistance, and the Environment, will be gathering tonight in New York with the Deputy Secretary-General, Mark Malloch Brown, and the High-level Panel’s Executive Director, Adnan Amin.
The Secretary-General is expected to address the Panel tomorrow morning, as it officially opens, and the three co-chairs and the Deputy Secretary-General will speak to you in this room on Thursday, on the last day of the meeting.
Those co-chairs, as you know, are the Prime Ministers of Mozambique, Norway and Pakistan. The Panel was formed last February to explore how the UN system could work more coherently and effectively across the world in development, humanitarian assistance and the environment.
Out on the racks today is a letter from the Secretary-General to the Security Council outlining his intention to temporarily transfer an infantry battalion, a military hospital, and up to 50 military observers from the UN Operation in Burundi to the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The military units would operate in the central area of Katanga province, and the observers would be deployed throughout the country to increase the observer capacity during the upcoming elections. The troop-contributing countries, Pakistan and Jordan, have indicated their agreement in principle to such a move, and the initial period of the transfer would be until the end of the year.
**International Mine Awareness Day
Today the Secretary-General marks the International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action with a message saying that landmines have no place in any civilized society. He says mines are one of the greatest impediments to rebuilding and renewal, but their elimination has the potential to become an early success story of the new century. He calls on Governments that have not done so, to ratify existing anti-mine agreements.
Tonight he addresses a dinner in the Delegates’ Dinning Room to raise money for landmine removal in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Cambodia and Mozambique. In his remarks, he is expected to say that, after having seen first-hand the terrible toll inflicted by landmines on these societies, he is certain that there could be no better use of resources than for demining and survivor assistance in these countries.
Earlier today, Nane Annan, also assisted by landmine survivors, planted ceremonial roses across the street at the Isaiah Wall. And we have the Secretary-General’s remarks available for you upstairs.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is reporting from Colombia that it is warning of a looming humanitarian emergency among Colombia’s indigenous communities, because of the ongoing conflict in that country.
It is especially highlighting the plight of the Wounaan people, who have been fleeing their traditional territories in north-western Colombia following the murder last week of two of their leaders, and the Nukak people in the south-east, who have become the targets of irregular armed groups wishing to control their lands.
And also from the UNHCR briefing in Geneva, the briefers note that UNHCR has not yet received a reply to a letter that High Commissioner António Guterres, sent in mid-March to President Jalal Talabani, asking for increased security and legal protection for refugees in Iraq.
This afternoon at 2:15, Hania Zlotnik, the Director of the Population Division, together with the keynote speakers of the thirty-ninth session of the Commission on Population and Development will brief on the session’s theme, which is international migration and development.
That is it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: The Iraqi court today announced that they are trying Sadaam Hussein for genocide. Does the UN agree that Sadaam Hussein… or that genocide was committed in Iraq? Is genocide the right word to use here?
Spokesman: You know, we’ll leave it up to the Iraqis to use the right word. The Secretary-General has often spoken out for the need for justice and for leaders to face justice, and for impunity not to stand. But, as for this specific court, we are not involved in this process.
Question: On Sudan. Is Mr. Egeland still in the south part of the country? How long will he be there?
Spokesman: No. Mr. Egeland is in Nairobi and he will be going on to Paris, I believe, later today.
Question: So this visit is aborted?
Spokesman: This visit is exactly that.
Question: Further on Sudan. Is this because Mr. Egeland is outspoken or is there a whole trend? I mean Sudan hasn’t given permission for a UN force. Can an assessment mission get in? And the AU has yet to be firm about the “re-hatting”.
Spokesman: You know, I think as to why he was not let in you’d have to ask the Sud…
Comment: Oh sure… I’m just saying: is this a trend or what..?
Spokesman: We’ve had problems in Sudan. Sometimes our people have been allowed in. We have had access problems. As for the re-hatting and the planning for the transition, that is continuing. The next step will be for the UN to work much more closely now with the AU, and probably, at some point, send a team to Addis to work closely with them on the transition process, and also to see when it would be best to send an assessment team on the ground.
Comment: You didn’t answer my question.
Spokesman: I think I answered two of your questions. What was your…
Question: I’m wondering if Sudan’s even going to let the assessment mission in, and if the AU is not going to just want a partnership with the UN and not go for the re-hatting?
Spokesman: As I said, we will be talking to the AU in Addis. We will be going full steam ahead with the planning for a transition team. But, there has been no official request, at this point, for the assessment team to go on the ground. We’ll be working with the AU to see when it would be best for the team to go.
Question: Further on Sudan. Is there anything that the Secretary-General can do when a Member State refuses a visit like this? I mean, aside from issuing a statement expressing his concern. Can they suspend them from some committee or take any punitive action within the UN? Can he do anything at this stage?
Spokesman: No. There’s no punitive action the Secretary-General can take. As I said, he’ll be talking to the President, hopefully a bit later on today, raising this matter. But, obviously, I think there’s a role for Member States and members of the Council to play in this issue, to make sure that the planning mission does go ahead and that the humanitarian access that we so dearly need is available. Among the issues that Mr. Egeland was going to raise, was the fact that the humanitarian situation on the ground is deteriorating, and that we have problems with humanitarian access. Those were the kinds of issues he was going to address, on the ground in Darfur.
Question: So does that mean that the Secretary-General is calling for the Council to threaten punitive measures?
Spokesman: No. That’s not at all what I said. But I think every concerned Member State has a role to play in trying to ease the situation.
Question: He’ll be talking to what President?
Spokesman: The Sudanese President.
Question: Before I go to the other question I have, just a follow-up on the Sudan issue. Has there been a request for the planning team to go into Sudan? (inaudible)
Spokesman: No. There has been no official request for visas at this point. As I said, one of the things we’ll be discussing with the AU -- which is currently the force on the ground – is to see when the optimal time would be for us to go on this…
Question: So, there hasn’t been a request?
Spokesman: As far as I know, there has been no official request for visas for an assessment team.
Question: The second question I have is regarding the continuing investigation into the anti-Semitic incidents in the security department… I mean the fact that nine of the people were let go, I mean, allowed to retire with benefits, even though I understand that they are involved in that issue and by now they will be (inaudible) to answer questions in the investigation that is continuing.
Spokesman: All I have on that is, I think, what I told you in the beginning of March, which is that OHRM, with Security Services, had formed an investigation panel to look into these issues. I can see if I can get you a bit more on these retirement packages.
Question: I asked this question last week also of Marie, and now Iraqi Prime Minister Jaafari has also said that there is interference in the Iraqi process to pick a Prime Minister and President. I have been asking what is the UN position regarding what Mr. Jaafari is saying that there is interference going on? Is he qualified to be Prime Minister or not?
Spokesman: It is definitely not up to the United Nations to say whether Mr. Jaafari is qualified or not to be Prime Minister. The work of the mission, as led by Mr. Qazi, has been to encourage a Government that is as representational of the Iraqi people as possible.
Question: I know that the Secretary-General doesn’t speak on behalf of the press, but I know that the Government of Niger just issued a statement that they would not allow local and international press to do any articles on the fact that there is a food shortage in Niger right now. And the reason why I’m asking is because Jan Egeland did make an appeal for that. Does the Secretary-General have anything to say?
Spokesman: I haven’t seen the particular case you’re mentioning, but in general terms, it’s clear that the press has played a key role in bringing to the attention of the world a number of crises, notably the one in Niger. But I will look into that issue.
Question: Back to Sudan. Since Jan Egeland’s permission to visit Darfur was revoked, have we been seeing similar actions to other UN officials on the ground? Has there been a “stepping up,” if you like, of…
Spokesman: Some officials have been allowed in. I think it’s hard to say whether or not there is a pattern. But Mr. Egeland’s visit had been planned well in advance, with all the green lights given by the Sudanese authorities, and things changed on the ground.
Question: So is there any indication, for example, what I’m trying to work out in my mind, is whether this is the Sudanese having difficulties with an OCHA visit, or whether that is now permeating down to UN teams that have been in Sudan already? Do you see a difference there?
Spokesman: I’m not prepared to make a comment on that at this point.
Question: Out of the mandate review report from last week, I had a question. I know today is International Mine Awareness Day, which seems like a worthy day to remember, but what does the Secretary-General make of the recommendation in the report that there are too many “days” and “years” that are set aside for commemoration? I mean, we had the whole “year of the potato” thing and things like that. Does he agree with the idea that they should sort of clear the slate of “years” to be commemorated for things like the potato?
Spokesman: (Laughs) You know, I really enjoyed my week off. I’m not going to add anything to the debate of the potato.
On that note, I would ask Mr. Balslev-Olesen, to join me, who is the Acting Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia.
* *** *For information media • not an official record