|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.
I’ll start off with the situation in Nepal. We’ve just recently received an update from our colleagues in the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Kathmandu. They report that demonstrations have taken place in multiple locations in Nepal, with tens of thousands challenging the curfew.
The Office also confirms that three deaths have occurred as a result of use of deadly force by police in Kathmandu. The use of such force against unarmed civilians, the Human Rights Office says, is without justification and inexcusable.
The Human Rights Office also reports that, since last night, there have been severe restrictions on the movement of human rights monitors –- a clear violation of the agreement between the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Government of Nepal.
The UN human rights monitors were obstructed by authorities from fulfilling their work in monitoring and playing a restraining role, in terms of the behaviour of demonstrators and security forces.
However, about two hours ago, the head of the UN Human Rights Office in Nepal, Ian Martin, met with the Nepalese Army Chief of Staff to deliver a letter from the High Commissioner, Louise Arbour. The Chief of Staff promised that UN staff would then be given curfew passes for tomorrow. And we have more information from our colleagues in the Human Rights Office available to you upstairs.
Today in the Security Council there will be consultations at 3 in the afternoon on humanitarian issues in Africa and other matters. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland will brief Council members. And afterwards, he has promised that he will stop at the stakeout to answer any of your questions.
The Secretary-General today appointed a group of 20 business, labour and civil society leaders from around the world to serve on the Board of the UN Global Compact.
The Board will provide strategic advice on the initiative as a whole and make recommendations to the UN Global Compact Office, participants and other stakeholders. The 20-member body is comprised of business representatives, business associations, labour groups and representatives of civil society organizations. And we have a press release on that upstairs as well.
**UN Mission in Liberia
From the UN Mission in Liberia, the Mission and the Government of Liberia today celebrated the successful conclusion of a programme to aid the internally displaced victims of the civil war. Ceremonies in a former IDP camp some 200 kilometres north-east of the capital included a symbolic destruction of an IDP camp hut. Under the programme more than 300,000 persons received return assistance packages and transportation allowances, allowing them to go home.
The Mission reports that the returnees continue to be assisted through the UN Refugee Agency’s community-based recovery programmes, which provide aid to schools, clinics and agricultural projects. And we have a press release on that upstairs as well.
The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, known as OCHA, today reports that it has given an emergency cash grant of $100,000 to the Colombian Red Cross to help it cope with increased flooding in that country. More than 57,000 people have been affected by the floods which started in January and are continuing. And at least 81 deaths have been reported.
And the IAEA reports that a secret operation to return a large quantity of spent nuclear fuel to Russia from Uzbekistan was completed safely yesterday. It is the first time that fuel used in a nuclear research reactor, known as “spent” fuel, has been repatriated to Russia since the break-up of the Soviet Union.
Under tight security, 63 kilograms of spent highly enriched uranium, enough to make 2.5 nuclear bombs -– I don’t know what a half nuclear bomb is -- was transported to Mayak in Russia, in four separate shipments. IAEA safeguards inspectors monitored and verified the packing of the fuel for transportation over the course of 16 days. The fuel is now to be reprocessed in Russia so that it cannot be used to make nuclear weapons.
And an announcement from our colleagues in the Department of Public Information. The second annual UN Documentary Film Festival takes place this weekend.
The Festival, called “Stories from the Field” will have some 40 entries from UN agencies and operations from all over the world. The theme this year centres on the Millennium Development Goals. And the documentaries will be screened at the New School for Social Research downtown here in Manhattan. And we have a press release on that for you as well.
And lastly, tomorrow, we will welcome at 12:30 here Prime Minister Fouad Siniora of Lebanon for a press conference. And as you know, he is here to meet with the Secretary-General.
That is it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Just my daily question. Will there be anybody from the OIOS to brief us on the Qazi investigation?
Spokesman: To be completely honest with you, Benny, I saw an e-mail from OIOS at about five minutes to 12 on my computer, which I did not open. But you and I can go and open the e-mail together after the briefing. Hopefully, that contains the answer.
Correspondent: Looking forward to that.
Spokesman: Yes, Bill?
Question: Can I come, too?
Spokesman: Anything else? Yes, Matthew?
Question: You announced about the Global Compact, and I think yesterday they announced they’re setting up a Global Compact Foundation. I don’t know. I guess I’d just say –- I don’t think that’s on their website yet. I wonder how the individuals were selected and whether, in fact, this is something that came up before, whether, especially the corporations that are on it –-
Spokesman: The people that were selected to serve on this panel was the result of consultations of members of the Global Compact. The Global Compact Office sent out requests for nominations of people and companies, and it was selected through that sort of consultative process.
About three rows behind you is a young man who works for the Global Compact Office who will be able to answer all your other questions.
Question: The IAEA secret operation that was conducted, I mean, you are now making it aware -– when was it, when did it take place and when did it complete?
Spokesman: I think –- obviously you didn’t pay attention to what I said and I didn’t pay attention to what I read. We’ll call the IAEA afterwards and they’ll give you all the details. Yes, Bill?
Correspondent: Sixteen days were completed yesterday.
Spokesman: Thank you.
Question: My question is, has the Secretary-General asked Denmark to take Charles Taylor if and when he’s convicted?
Spokesman: As I said, that issue has not yet been resolved. But as I also said yesterday, the Special Court is continuing with the process of the trial, so at this point, it is not holding up the processing of the trial. And the Security Council still has a resolution under its discussion.
Question: My question was, has the Secretary-General asked Denmark to take Charles Taylor?
Spokesman: I have no information on that. Yes?
Question: I heard on the TV what you said about Nepal. Is there going to be any change to the UN’s policy regarding the deployment of Nepalese peacekeepers?
Spokesman: At this point, we are still following the policy which focuses on individuals and how they behave. The Human Rights Office in Kathmandu is passing on to the Peacekeeping Department any information they may obtain concerning specific acts by individual Nepalese soldiers or police officers. If any of those are then found to be serving in peacekeeping operations we would ask the Government of Nepal to remove them and take appropriate action. But at this point, it is only at the –- it remains at the individual level.
And just to give you a little background, Nepal currently is the fifth highest contributor to our peacekeeping operations. And they have about 3,500 military and police personnel serving at about 12 peacekeeping operations around the world. Yes?
Question: Just to follow-up on that, does the UN actually have the resources to vet each individual peacekeeper from Nepal?
Spokesman: No, as always and in general when these things happen, if information reaches us concerning a specific soldier who may be accused of human rights violations, we would ask the contributing country to remove that person and take appropriate action.
With Nepal, there is the added communication from our own human rights colleagues in Nepal, who are passing on information to the Peacekeeping Department.
Question: But the reality is you can’t vet every single soldier?
Spokesman: No, we base ourselves, as we always do, on information we get from Member States or from other sources. And in the case of Nepal, we have the added benefit of the input from the Human Rights Office in Nepal.
Question: So it’s not considered a risk that the UN is deploying soldiers from a nation that –-
Spokesman: As I’ve said, at this point, the policy remains focused on individuals. Yes, Benny?
Question: There’s a new resolution proposed in the Fifth Committee by the G-77 regarding Annan’s reform plan, and some say that that resolution pretty much puts that reform plan on ice. Does he have anything to say about that?
Spokesman: You know, there are, as you know, intensive discussions in the Fifth Committee and as long as those deliberations are continuing, we’ll not have any comment.
Question: A couple things on the 1559 report. For one, also, is Mr. Roed-Larsen going to be going to the Security Council or being here tomorrow with Mr. Siniora?
Spokesman: No, he is going to the Council, it is -- he will not be there with Mr. Siniora. Looking at the calendar, in my head, I think he goes there next week to present the report, and he said would speak to you at that point.
Question: But he’s not going to be in tomorrow with Mr. Siniora?
Spokesman: I can check.
Question: On the 1559 report, what evidence does the Secretary-General or Mr. Roed-Larsen have that Iran is financing and arming Hizbollah in Lebanon?
Spokesman: I think, you know, the report is in the hands of the Council. You’ve all read it. It speaks for itself. I have nothing to add to it, and Mr. Roed-Larsen may be able to answer some more of your questions once he’s briefed the Council.
Question: This latest report that Mr. Ibrahim Jaafari is going to step aside in the formation of the Government. Do you have any comment on that?
Spokesman: No, we’re looking at the situation. Mr. Qazi’s looking at the situation very closely. You know, he’s been working hard the last few days, having discussions with various political and religious leaders in Iraq. But at this point, until there’s a deal done, we won’t have any reaction.
Question: Is there any further update on the progress of the UN getting visas to make an assessment mission to Sudan?
Spokesman: As I said yesterday, the issue of visas, and again, we’ve seen visas are a piece of paper. People have had visas; they’ve been denied visas. So that’s –- it was made clear to Mr. Annabi yesterday that, at this point, the Government of Sudan felt that they wanted to wait until there was a peace accord in Abuja before allowing an assessment team on the ground.
That being said, our planning continues based on our conversations we’ve had with the AU, the work we’re doing with the AU, based on the information we have from the ground. And we will present options to the Security Council as scheduled I believe late next week.
Question: Actually, I thought it was Monday, 24 April?
Spokesman: Monday. Next –- whenever it’s on the calendar. I would have to check what the exact calendar day is.
Question: There was a report out that a general from UNMIS was intending to go, or planned to go, to Chad or areas along the border for his own sort of mission of some sort. Can you confirm this?
Spokesman: No, I have no information on that.
Question: Has the Quartet meeting been confirmed? And also, can you confirm that only Jordan and Egypt will be attending as the regional members, I mean, regional assistance? And also, is James Wolfensohn going to be there, too?
Spokesman: On the date, I have no further -– I think the date we announced still stands. On the regional partners, I will check after the briefing as I will on the other issues.
Question: And James Wolfensohn?
Spokesman: Yes. Yes, Benny?
Question: She asked about James Wolfesohn [inaudible]. Didn’t he announce his resignation soon?
Spokesman: His mandate ends at the end of April.
Question: One more question, to follow up on Bill’s question, I don’t understand this. The UN tried to put a planning team into Sudan. Sudan said “no”. The UN tried to send Jan Egeland to Sudan. Sudan said “no”. The UN tried to call the President, the Secretary-General tried to call the President of Sudan –- they didn’t even pick up the phone -- and I’m yet to hear one word of denunciation about all this.
Spokesman: We’ve had different -- we’ve had other contacts with the President of Sudan. He saw Mr. Annabi earlier in the week. Other senior UN officials have gone to Darfur. Last week, in fact, David Veness, the Head of our Safety and Security was there to look at security issues for UN staff. It’s a bumpy road, but we’re moving ahead with contingency plans for an eventual transfer. So the contingency planning and the planning for an eventual UN force continues.
Question: Aside from security folks, how many UN personnel are now working in the UN offices in Erbil and Basra in Iraq?
Spokesman: I’ll have to get a number for you right after the briefing.
Question: Two questions, like Benny did the litany on the layout of Sudan. This Uzbekistan thing with the nuclear fuel. So now it’s interesting. At the same time they threw UNHCR out, they’re praised for their Millennium Development Goal progress and now nuclear fuel is going out. I don’t know if there’s some –- you seem to be able to try to tie together events in Sudan and say it’s a bumpy road, but at least there’s some sort of theory there. In Uzbekistan, what is, how are those two related, I guess is my thing? What’s happening with the refugees there?
Spokesman: Well, what I said on the refugees, we obviously expressed our regret that they decided to close the UNHCR office, but they have said that they would allow UNDP to provide the support needed for the Afghans, for mostly the Afghan refugees that are currently in that country. I think the nuclear operation has, as far as I know, nothing to do with the rest of the events.
Question: I guess I just wanted to, although the UNDP is dealing with these mostly Afghan refugees, there were various people who were deported back to Uzbekistan who just sort of dropped off the map. UNHCR was there and was saying, it was very important that they be treated fairly, and now with them out -– I guess I’m noting that. I don’t know what you can do about it.
Spokesman: The information we had from the Refugee Agency is that UNDP would look after all the refugees that UNHCR had been looking after, and that they had been mostly Afghan refugees, not all of them were Afghan refugees.
Question: [Inaudible] -- UNHCR, I think in Liberia, had said, now with the new administration there were refugees coming home, coming back from Sierra Leone and Guinea. But they claim to either -- they called it a “logistics nightmare” to not have the resources to repatriate people or not be responsible for transporting them. So I wonder if there’s some -- is there another UN agency in any way involved in that, if UNHCR is not going to do that, or what?
Spokesman: No, we can check after the briefing.
Thank you very much.
* *** *
For information media • not an official record