|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. I’ll start off with [a statement attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General on] Sudan.
“The Secretary-General has taken note of the expiration of the 30 April deadline at the Inter-Sudanese Peace Talks on the conflict in Darfur. He urges the parties, particularly the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), to redouble their efforts and to come to an agreement without delay, so that the suffering and destruction in Darfur can be brought to an end.
“The situation in Darfur continues to be dire. Millions of civilians remain dependent for their survival on humanitarian assistance. Attacks and insecurity threaten to put a stop to this life-sustaining humanitarian work. The clear solution is for the parties to seize this historic opportunity to achieve peace and begin the task of recovery and reconstruction. The United Nations stands ready to assist them on this path.”
Also on Sudan, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, arrived over the weekend in Khartoum for a visit to Sudan, including the Darfur region and the south of the country.
Meanwhile, the UN Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan said today the security and humanitarian situation in Darfur is serious and that fighting over the past three months has resulted in the displacement of some 250,000 more people in that area. He told a press briefing in Khartoum that as a result of the violence in Darfur, “households that can take care of themselves” dropped from 40 per cent to 20 per cent.
The Deputy Humanitarian Coordinator was also critical of what he termed the insufficient flow of funds pledged by donors to Darfur. He said there was also an urgent need for $20 million to address problems stemming from the new displacements, including along the Chad/Sudan border.
Tomorrow at 11:30 a.m., the Secretary-General is scheduled to unveil his recommendations for a global counter-terrorism strategy to the General Assembly as requested by world leaders in the 2005 World Summit.
At 11 a.m. tomorrow, here in Room 226, we will distribute embargoed copies of the report and we’ll have a senior UN official here to brief you and to take you through the report.
With the beginning of a new month, the Republic of Congo has assumed the rotating Presidency of the Security Council, replacing China. Congolese Ambassador Basile Ikouebe is holding bilateral discussions with other Council members today on the Council’s work over the coming month.
The Council expects to hold consultations on the programme of work for this month starting tomorrow, after which Ambassador Ikouebe plans to speak to you in this room.
Tom Koenigs, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Afghanistan, is visiting Iran today and tomorrow to promote regional cooperation. He is scheduled to meet with Iran’s Foreign Minister and other senior officials.
Yesterday, Koenigs participated in the first meeting of the high-level body bringing together the Afghan Government and the international community to oversee the implementation of the Afghanistan Compact. He said that the meeting marked a very important step towards achieving that ambitious plan.
And we have his comments available for you upstairs, as well as other press releases.
Kjell Magne Bondevik, the Secretary-General’s Special Humanitarian Envoy for the Horn of Africa, arrived in Somalia today, the fifth stop on his tour of drought-hit countries in the Horn of Africa.
In Baidoa, Bondevik called for increased security and access for humanitarian workers so that they can deliver aid to the people of Somalia. He also urged donors to be flexible as the aid community works on carrying out longer-term programmes. And we do have a press release available on that upstairs.
** Sri Lanka
From Sri Lanka, UN agencies there have started aid deliveries to people affected by the recent tensions between the Government and the Tamil Tigers.
According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, a UN assessment of the area has shown that some 10,500 people have been displaced in rebel-controlled areas over the past week and are in need of food, safe water and protection.
The UN’s Commission on Sustainable Development began its fourteenth session this morning, focusing on the issues of energy, air pollution, industrial development and climate change. The Chair of the Commission, the Georgian Finance Minister, sent word that he could not attend the opening due to a national emergency, but said in a message that the issues under consideration were “unparalleled in their importance for achieving sustainable development goals.”
A number of you had asked me when Mukhtar Mai, the Pakistani woman who was not able to speak at the United Nations earlier this year, would be here at UN Headquarters.
The answer is: tomorrow. She will be speaking downstairs in Conference Room 3 from noon to 2 p.m., focusing on her experiences in Pakistan and what needs to be done for education and women’s rights in the region where she lives.
The event is co-sponsored by the NGO called Virtue Foundation and by the Department of Economic and Social Affairs’ NGO section. It comes following invitations from the Secretary-General’s office and the Pakistani Mission to the United Nations for Mukhtar Mai to speak here.
Also tomorrow at 9:30, Ann Veneman, Executive Director of the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and Catherine Bertini, Chair of the UN Standing Committee on Nutrition, will hold a press conference in this room to launch a report on malnutrition.
At 10:30, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) will be sponsoring a press conference by Ann Cooper of the Committee to Protect Journalists, to launch the report on global censorship entitled “The Most Censored Countries in the World”.
And that is it for me. Any questions?
**Questions and Answers
Question: On Friday, the French Ambassador called the vote in the Fifth Committee the saddest in the United Nations’ history, and he said he hoped one could go forward from it. The Secretary-General has suffered a set-back as a consequence of the vote. What does the Secretary-General now plan to do and what does he have in mind?
Spokesman: Obviously, the breakdown in consensus in the Fifth was very regrettable. But we are going to move on. We very much hope that we can refocus the attention of Member States on the importance of the reform package. There will be more reform proposals coming down the pipe, notably on financial rules, oversight, internal justice, budgeting... those kind of issues. We hope that the political divisions, that we have seen in the last week in the Fifth, can be overcome and that the Member States can refocus on the importance of reforming and creating a better United Nations.
Question: One of the reasons why this came about was basically that the Third World was thinking that the GA’s powers were being usurped by the Secretariat. How can the Secretariat think that any parliament or congress would give up any power of decision-making to a president?
Spokesman: There is no issue of taking away anybody’s powers. The issue is of creating an Organization that functions better in the twenty-first century and the Secretary-General has laid out his plan clearly and briefed the Member States and has been in touch with ambassadors on their request. But we are going to move on.
Question: Isn’t there a clear conflict of interest if the Secretary-General appoints somebody as the head of UNEP [the United Nations Environment Programme] when that person has recently served on a jury that awarded the Secretary-General $500,000 for his personal use? Shouldn’t Achim Steiner stand down as head of UNEP because his appointment is now irrevocably tainted?
Spokesman: First of all, the Secretary-General is not keeping the money for his personal use. It will be used for charitable purposes, as we have said repeatedly here. Mr. Steiner was appointed after a long and exhaustive search. If you take a look at his resume, if you speak to people in the environmental community, he has strong experience and he is clearly –- and continues to be, in the Secretary-General’s eyes -– the best man for the job.
Question: Does the fact that he was on a jury that awarded $500,000 to the Secretary-General, which can be used for his own personal foundation, have anything to do with the fact that the Secretary-General regards him as the best person for the job?
Spokesman: None whatsoever. Looking at his resume, and if you speak to people in the environmental community, you will see that he is a first-rate person, and in our eyes, he is the best person for the job.
Question: Does the Secretary-General still think it is a good idea to have accepted that gift? And is there not a concern, after everything the UN has gone through the last two years, that you should do whatever you can not to create any perception of wrongdoing or conflict of interest?
Spokesman: I understand your question. As I said, the search was long, was exhaustive. Every aspect was looked at, including his serving on the panel. But as I said, it was clear that he was the best person to lead UNEP.
Question: Who makes the decisions? Is this the Secretary-General himself making the appointment on the recommendation of somebody? And who was the person who...?
Spokesman: Senior appointments go through interview panels, but it is the Secretary-General’s decision. [The Spokesman later added that, with the new head of UNEP, the Secretary-General appointed him, and the General Assembly approved the appointment.]
Question: Is there any sensitivity to the fact that it might look a little tone-deaf to appoint someone who sat on a panel that awarded a major cash prize to the Secretary-General? It looks a little funny.
Spokesman: I understand that. But the point is, we looked at the shortlist, we had all the names, we were aware of all the facts, and the Secretary-General still felt he was the best person to lead the organization.
Spokesman: The Office of the Secretary-General. But the appointment is made by the Secretary-General.
Question: I understand there was a shortlist with nominations by member Governments, but Mr. Steiner’s name was added to that shortlist by Mark Malloch Brown on behalf of the Secretary-General. Can you explain why this supposedly transparent process of asking the candidates and receiving nominations was somehow circumvented in this case by the in-house candidate being put forward, especially after receiving $500,000?
Spokesman: The process was not circumvented. If you look, Mr. Steiner was on the shortlist that we issued, I believe, in January. He was on there...
Question: Was he nominated by a Government?
Spokesman: I do not believe he was nominated by a Government, but... excuse me, let me finish... the way these appointments are recruited: people can either be nominated by Governments, their name can be put forward by civil society, or Secretariat officials can consider these people for appointments.
Question: Can you clarify who nominated him?
Spokesman: The point is, these appointments are looked at by senior management, and then a shortlist is put out to the public, and Mr. Steiner’s name was on that shortlist.
Question: Let me try again, third time: can you clarify who nominated Mr. Steiner for this job?
Spokesman: Mr. Steiner came onto our radar screen through discussions with the environmental community, through NGOs, and it was clear he was a very strong candidate.
Question: Sorry, fourth time, who nominated Mr. Steiner?
Spokesman: I have nothing else to add.
Question: Was it true that the Secretary-General or Mark Malloch Brown nominated Mr. Steiner for the job?
Spokesman: Mr. Steiner was named by the Secretary-General who feels very strongly in his credentials and his ability to lead UNEP.
Question: What is the going rate for UN agencies these days, $500,000?
Spokesman: James, I won’t even answer that question.
Question: Regarding the Fifth Committee, this weekend has been some kind of debacle for you guys in terms of the Investing in the Future report. You said there will be new reform proposals coming out. Does that mean you are abandoning everything?
Spokesman: Nothing is being abandoned. I don’t think the reform process should be judged on the results of one inning. It is a long process and it is not over.
Question: Much of it has been put forward to the sixty-first session of the GA and that is after the Secretary-General will leave and there will be a new one to replace him. Does this effectively [inaudible] the reform?
Spokesman: It was clearly regrettable and a set-back, but the process will move on.
Question: This looks like it could set up a cascade of events on the financial health of the Organization. Are any measures being taken or considered to mitigate that?
Spokesman: Obviously, the financial health of the Organization is being looked at quite closely on a regular basis.
Question: Is the Secretary-General at this moment in any way in contact with the US and other major funders of the UN with regard to the renewal of the budget at the end of June, which is linked to reforms? Reform has just been stymied.
Spokesman: I’ll try to get you a line on that.
Question: On Iran. Iran made a point that presumably has some validity in international law: that it is being threatened and that they are not threatening. Does the Secretary-General have any response to that letter?
Spokesman: No, we have not yet received that letter.
Question: That seems strange. They are across the street.
Spokesman: Well, you and I know very well that letters are often released by the sender before the recipient gets them. (The Spokesman later announced that the letter had been received.)
Question: On the reform plan. They seem to have blocked the centre-piece of it which was to give the Secretary-General the flexibility to move staff around. How do you get around that?
Spokesman: We need to wait. The whole process is not over.
Question: Do you know what happens to the proposals? How do they move forward?
Spokesman: I think Pragati can talk to you about the process where things go from the Fifth to the GA.
Question: On the counter-terrorism report, we get it at 11. How long is the embargo?
Spokesman: I think the embargo is until the Secretary-General’s speech at 11:30.
Question: Is there any strategy to reintroduce the proposals that started in the Fifth Committee in different forms or to repackage them in different reform proposals?
Spokesman: We will obviously be re-assessing the situation and working with the Member States and the GA President to see how things move.
Question: For several weeks I have asked if the Secretary-General filled out one of these “ethics disclosure forms”, having announced that he would be the first person to fill it out. Can you tell us if he filled one out? And if so, how has he dealt with the question of the Zayed Prize, which is now in some kind of limbo, the money.
Spokesman: I’ll try to get you an answer on that.
Question: It has been two weeks since I asked that question.
Spokesman: I did give you an answer, which was that we expected by the end of this month full compliance.
Question: It is May the first, today.
Spokesman: I’ll try to get you more information.
Question: On Darfur, a lot of media reports seem to be suggesting that the US is now taking the lead in the final 48 hours of negotiations. Is that how the UN would characterize it, or is the UN still in control of the process?
Spokesman: The African Union is in the lead on this.
Question: Can you give us an update on when the Ackerman report is going to be released and can you tell us whether the Secretary-General has done anything to try to influence Mr. Nair to fully cooperate with the investigation or the OIOS to cooperate with the investigation? Has he sent letters? Has there been any threat to hold up his pension or something like that?
Spokesman: On the Ackerman report, as for the pension, there is nothing the UN can do.
Question: Can you clarify on the counter-terrorism report? The presentation is at 11 a.m. and the report is embargoed until 11:30?
Spokesman: That is correct.
Question: How many days has Mr. Ackerman actually worked on the report? The report is months overdue. It is not clear whether Mr. Ackerman had been doing anything. I have asked you how many per diems Mr. Ackerman has been paid.
Spokesman: Mr. Ackerman has been working on the report. Once the report is completed, maybe we can give you a figure of how many work days he has put in.
Question: We haven’t had an adequate explanation of the unseemly delay on the issue of the report. Can you give us an explanation of the delay?
Spokesman: Once the report is out, we will be able to answer your questions.
Question: When will the report be out? How is Mr. Ackerman being paid? Is it a per diem or a lump sum? I ask this because it has now been exactly a year and a week since Mr. Nair left the Organization.
Spokesman: I will not make any prediction on when the report will be ready, as I have done in the past and lost. On what he is being paid, I’ll let you know after the briefing.
Question: Will that report be made public?
Spokesman: I will get you an answer on that as well.
Question: Does the Secretary-General have any comment on the fact that James Wolfensohn is not going to be renewing his mandate?
Spokesman: He has informed the Quartet that the mandate will not be renewed. The Secretary-General has great appreciation for the work that Mr. Wolfensohn did and may even call on him in the future.
Question: I just want to be clear on that. We have been asking you about the Ackerman thing for over a year and you don’t know whether the report will be made public once it is finished?
Spokesman: Not at the top of my head at this very moment, but I promise you...
Question: Can we assume that the report will be distributed to the Member States who requested it?
Spokesman: I don’t want to make any assumptions. I will get you an answer right after the briefing. But it is not an OIOS report. That is the issue.
Question: That is the loophole? Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
Question: For a number of days now, I have been asking for the acting Head of the Ethics Office to come down and brief us, what is the status of that request?
Spokesman: We are seeing if that can be accommodated.
Question: Is there any time frame? I mean, it has been more than two weeks now that that request has been made.
Spokesman: I will try to get you an answer.
Question: Could you give an update on the trial of Charles Taylor?
Spokesman: The Special Court in Sierra Leone is continuing with the process and the preparations of the trial.
Question: Is it true that we don’t know yet where Taylor is going to be put after the trial?
Spokesman: The issue of his residency after a judgement has at this point no real effect on the procedures that have to take place vis-à-vis a trial. Those are continuing in Sierra Leone at the Special Court.
Question: But that particular issue of his residency after the trial has not been resolved?
Question: About a week ago, we have asked how involved the Secretary-General was in contacting Member States on that issue. Is he still involved in that?
Spokesman: As I said earlier, the Secretary-General would like to see this issue resolved, but beyond that, I have nothing to add.
Question: Is there not a concern about the danger to the stability in Sierra Leone of Taylor’s incarceration? Is there also a concern that the whole The Hague strategy is going to unravel? Also, can you tell us who is managing this whole issue in the Secretariat?
Spokesman: No, I have nothing to share with you on that, but I would stress that while that issue is being discussed by Member States and the Secretary-General, there are steps that are being taken in Sierra Leone. Before 17 May, there will be some initial disclosures by the prosecution in terms of witnesses. There is a time line in the Special Court that continues to be followed.
Question: There are a lot of NGOs and various groups that are getting louder, saying: “Keep him there in Sierra Leone.” Given that nobody seems to want him, is there a rethinking of the strategy?
Spokesman: I have nothing to say on that on this point.
Question: I would like to see the UN Ombudsman and try to get a sense of what she has done over the past few years. I hear that there is a report, which is not easy to get hold of, which is curious for an ombudsman, but I might be wrong. Would it be possible to get an update on what the Ombudsman had done since she has taken up her position?
Question: Is the Ombudsman the same as the Ethics Adviser, or is that somebody different?
Spokesman: This is different.
All right, thank you very much. And Pragati will brief you on the Assembly.
Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President
As you know, late on Friday the Fifth Committee adopted by a vote of 108 to 50 with 3 abstentions a draft resolution submitted by the “Group of 77” and China, on management reform. The President of the General Assembly, along with many Member States, had hoped for a consensus on this matter.
The Office of the President will continue to consult with Member States on the way forward. It is being explored whether the plenary meeting to take action on the Fifth Committee’s recommendation could be held sometime next week, so that the President can be present.
The President is travelling today to Amman, Jordan, where he has been invited in his capacity as President of the General Assembly to give the keynote address tomorrow at the annual meeting of the InterAction Council of former Heads of State and Government. Following that he will be travelling to Nairobi, primarily as President of the Assembly, to discuss environment and other related issues with senior officials at the UN Environment Programme and UN-HABITAT, and with Government delegates there. He is scheduled to be back at UN Headquarters next Monday, 8 May.
**Questions and Answers
Question: So the GA President doesn’t feel the need to be here during the last week? He’d rather go to Nairobi and talk about the environment than preside over this [inaudible]?
Spokesperson: Member States made it clear that they wanted the negotiations on this issue to take place in the Fifth Committee. The President and his team were fully engaged, within the limited role that they had, in this process, on the sidelines, trying to encourage Member States to reach a consensus. The President’s Office is at the disposal of Member States, if they request him, to play a role in further consultations.
Question: Is there not a leadership role there for the President?
Spokesperson: There is a very divided membership, not only on matters of substance, but also on matters of process. He has to take the wishes of Member States into account on the process, as well as on the substance.
Question: I have been wondering, because he really is a skilled diplomat, if he might have been able to contribute something to bridge this division?
Spokesperson: He has tried from the sidelines… He tried before he left. He held some meetings in his office the Friday before he left. I understand that some Member States were even concerned that he went as far as even doing that.
Question: When was the last time there was a vote in any of the Committees and in the Fifth Committee?
Spokesperson: Well, there are votes in many of the main Committees frequently. But, in the Fifth Committee there has been a tradition since 1986 -– there was a resolution adopted [document A/Res/41/213] and we have the language on that. There have been votes since then on matters pertaining to particular budget-line items or particular issues like the pattern of conferences, but not on major UN budget overhaul or on major policies.
Question: What happens as a result of the vote? Does it mean it is really delayed? When it comes to Plenary, does it matter whether the Fifth had a resolution or not? How does this work now?
Spokesperson: Procedurally, it is possible that there could be further consultations in the plenary. That is what the President’s Office is consulting on this week, to see if there is any willingness or interest among Member States to continue the process of discussing it.
I think you know that normally, the plenary just adopts the recommendation of the Main Committee, but procedurally, it is possible to continue discussions.
Question: Is that what Eliasson is doing, trying to open it up again?
Spokesperson: He is not actively seeking, but some Member States are seeking that and he is trying to see if there is willingness among Member States to follow that road.
Question: When is he coming back?
Spokesperson: He is due back next Monday.
Question: I recall that we have had the same kind of thing on the issue of cloning, where the Committee made a decision and it was done again in the plenary. Procedurally, this is not adopted yet, it is a recommendation of the Fifth Committee and that could be changed. You said there was discussion of having the GA plenary debate next week after the President gets back. At the moment, is it scheduled for a particular time this week?
Spokesperson: No, it is not scheduled yet.
Question: So at the moment, there is not any strict decision in official terms, as it were, by the GA on this issue?
Spokesperson: There is a recommendation of the Fifth Committee, which carries a certain weight.
Question: In the Fifth Committee, basically is this the understanding that a vote is taken by consensus only on budget issues or is it all around?
Spokesperson: I think it is best to go back to the language of the resolution. We will be happy to show that to you. We have the resolution from 1986 [document A/Res/41/213, para.7].
Question: Why is the President still somewhere else while negotiations are going on here?
Spokesperson: We don’t actually know that there will be further negotiations. His Office is consulting to see whether Member States are interested in doing that. He is at their disposal, if they want him to play a role, but he has not been requested to play a role.
Question: Yes, he has. There is a letter signed by 47 countries that said just that.
Spokesperson: But there has to be a consensus.
Question: Does the President of the General Assembly consider that request by 47 countries consider a request to intervene, or not?
Spokesperson: He certainly took note of that letter, and has been working on the sidelines to see what he can do.
Thanks very much.
* *** *For information media • not an official record