10 May 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 PRESIDENT OF THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY


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.


**Commission on Sustainable Development


The Secretary-General this morning addressed the high-level segment of the 14th session of the Commission on Sustainable Development.


In his remarks, which we have upstairs, he said that, among other things, we need a revolution in energy efficiency, as well as a reduction in the pollution generated by fossil fuels -- through the use of clean coal for example.


Saying that renewable sources of energy remained woefully inadequate and underutilized, the Secretary-General added that all countries needed to be more rigorous in carrying out what they have agreed to do with regards to energy and sustainable development.  And that speech is available upstairs.


** Middle East Quartet


Following the series of meetings on the Middle East held by the principal members of the Quartet, the Secretary-General late yesterday afternoon opened a press conference by noting that the Quartet underscored its continued commitment to a two-State solution, as embodied in the Road Map, as well as the need for both parties to avoid actions which could prejudice final status issues.


He said the Quartet also expressed its willingness to endorse “a temporary international mechanism, limited in duration and scope and fully accountable, that ensures direct delivery of any assistance to the Palestinian people”.  The Quartet welcomed the EU’s offer to develop and propose such a mechanism, and invites donors and international organizations to consider participating.


The Secretary-General added that the Quartet welcomed Israeli Prime Minister Olmert's call for negotiations with a Palestinian partner committed to the Road Map, as well as President Abbas’ continued commitment to a platform of peace.


We have the full transcript of the Quartet press conference on the web and upstairs, and we also issued a statement yesterday following the Secretary-General’s separate meeting with the Foreign Ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.


** Sudan


In the Security Council yesterday, the Secretary-General spoke about Sudan.  He said the next step in the possible transition from an African Union force to a UN operation in Darfur will be an assessment mission there to work out exactly what would be needed.


He has written to Sudan’s President Omar Hessian Ahmed al-Basher seeking support for the assessment mission, and hopes to discuss it with him directly as support for this mission is vital.


The Secretary-General also said an immediate priority is strengthening the African Union force currently in Darfur.  And he also appealed to donors to start now and not to wait for a pledging conference, which he expects to take place in the coming weeks. And we have upstairs available copies of his statement, as well.


The Security Council President issued a statement on Sudan yesterday in which he calls on the Sudanese Government of National Unity to facilitate immediately the visit of the joint UN and African Union technical assessment mission to Darfur.


**Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs


And while on the subject of Darfur, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egeland is currently in eastern Chad, visiting a camp for refugees and internally displaced persons and meeting with local officials and aid workers.


Yesterday, in Khartoum he met with Sudanese Vice President Ali Osman Taha.  During that meeting, Mr. Egeland raised a number of issues related to security, access and resources for humanitarian operations in Darfur and others areas of Sudan.


And also while on the topic of Jan Egeland, he today announced that $32 million would be made available from the Central Emergency Response Fund for the world’s most underfunded emergencies.


And those countries that will benefit from this first disbursement are Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, Haiti, Kenya, the Republic of Congo, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Of the $450 million that the UN has requested for the Fund, $254 million has been received from 40 countries and two private-sector donations.


**Security Council


And this morning, the Security Council held consultations on Somalia and received a briefing from the Ambassador of Qatar, who chairs the sanctions committee for Somalia, about the recent report of the Monitoring Group dealing with reported violations of the arms embargo in that country.


In the report, which is out on the racks today, the Monitoring Group says that the arms embargo violations continue, as do the militarization of central and southern Somalia. It says that, in recent months, militant Islamic fundamentalists have actively and aggressively asserted their independence as the third force among the major antagonists.  Council members then held a formal meeting, voting to extend the mandate of the Monitoring Group by six months.


Council members will also have their monthly luncheon with the Secretary-General today.  And the Secretary-General did tell me he does intend to stop at the stakeout to speak to you on the way out of the lunch.  That’s probably at some point after 2:30 p.m. outside the Delegate’s Dining Room.


**Secretary-General’s Trip to Asia


And as a reminder, the Secretary-General then leaves on a two-week-plus trip to Asia, which we’ve previously announced.


** Somalia


And also on Somalia, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, François Lonseny Fall, today appealed for an end to hostilities in Mogadishu as the city entered its fourth day of violence between heavily armed militia forces.  And we have his statement upstairs.


**Human Rights Council


As you will recall, yesterday the General Assembly elected the first members of the new Human Rights Council.  In a statement issued afterwards, the Secretary-General welcomed the elections, noting that the new Council, which will start work on 19 June in Geneva, is required to conduct regular human rights reviews of all countries, beginning with its own members.  And that will give its members the chance to show the depth of their commitment to promote human rights both at home and abroad, he said.


He also lauded the fact that there were genuinely contested candidacies, and that all those elected made specific pledges and commitments to promote and protect human rights.  And we have a full statement upstairs, as well as the statement issued by High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour.


** Suriname


A couple of other items to flag for you, from Suriname, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) is assembling a UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination Team to respond to recent flooding there.  OCHA -- as well as UNDP -- is also allocating funds to that relief effort.


** Haiti


And from Haiti, the UN Population Fund (UNFPA) and Haitian authorities today released the results of the first census held in Haiti in the past 24 years -- and it shows that half of the country’s population is now younger than 20, unemployment is high at 33 per cent, and the school attendance rate is as low as 49 per cent.


The Fund says the census offers a map of where the direst needs are in Haiti and that, with an overwhelming majority of young people, more resources are needed in education and reproductive health services.  And we have more on that upstairs.


**World Business Awards


And the UNDP has asked us to announce that the 2006 World Business Awards will be presented to 10 winners at 6 p.m. tonight at the Grand Hyatt Hotel here in New York.  Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland and former High Commissioner for Human Rights and the current Chair of The Ethical Globalization Initiative, and Ad Melkert, the UNDP’s Assistant Administrator, will be attending.


**Special Adviser on Ethics Office


And tomorrow -- good thing that James just walked in -- Tunku Abdul Aziz, the Special Adviser on the Ethics Office, will be joining us to brief you on the work of the Ethics Office.


And before we turn to Pragati, I will turn to Nick.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  In his statement, the Secretary-General said, on the Human Rights Council, he hopes countries will use this opportunity to express the depth of their commitment to human rights.  Is he concerned that Saudi Arabia as a member of the Commission perhaps won’t use this opportunity to express the depth of its commitment to human rights?  What does he think about some human rights abusers being on the Council?


Spokesman:  I think the way the Human Rights Council is laid out offers the UN system a new chance in the human rights field.  As we said, the people who were up for candidacy laid out their platforms.  They will have their own human rights record reviewed.  It will be a much more open process.  Obviously, the hard part of the work starts now, once they start meeting in Geneva.  I think that, with the pledges and their own peer reviews, the systems will be much more transparent and it will be easier for their own population and the population at large, the NGO community, to keep countries accountable.


Yes, Masood?


Question:  What will be the next step now that the Quartet has somehow agreed to a temporary mechanism to ease money to the Palestinians?  For the problem of the United Nations, what will be the next move to help out the starved Palestinians, and, not having all the health and medical services?


Spokesman:  In terms of this mechanism, the next step is the European Commission, as its Commissioner for External Relations explained yesterday, will be bringing its own experts, as well as people from the UN and the World Bank, to try to put together this mechanism, which we hope will come together in the next few weeks.


Question:  The United Nations, as far as the Palestinian situation is concerned, will they immediately address the problem or will they still be waiting for that mechanism to kick in?


Spokesman:  We continue parallel to that -- the UN agencies on the ground, notably UNRWA and WFP -- continue with their work.  But, obviously, we will be participating in the elaboration of this mechanism.


James?


Question:  Steph, as you know, the UN has something called MINURSO, which is the UN Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara.  In reading the Western Sahara report, it seems to be backing away from the idea of holding a referendum in Western Sahara based on a lot of strange logic that the situation is deteriorating when the actual report says that the number of military violations has decreased.  What I wanted for you to explain is why the Secretary-General is backing away from having a referendum in the Western Sahara.


Spokesman:  More than the report, I don’t have any guidance on the Western Sahara, so I would have to get you information on this.


Question:  I have some other questions on this.  Is the Secretary-General’s brother still the Ambassador in Morocco?


Spokesman:  I have no information related to his --


Spokesman:  Can you check on that?


Question:  No, I will not check on that.


Questions:  Also, could you check whether the Secretary-General has any business interests in Morocco?  And also whether Peter van Walsum, the UN Special Rep, and his family, have any business interests in Morocco?


Spokesman:  The financial disclosure forms will be reviewed by the Ethics Office and we will flag whatever issues there are and those will be dealt with.


Yes, sir?


Question:  Thank you for bringing up the Commission on Sustainable Development.  I have two problems with his statement.  The first one is it says it was the first time ever a Minister of Finance has been elected as the Chairman, the problem is that this Minister of Finance has only arrived last night.  That means, basically speaking, he had no input whatsoever.  So I would have been happier not to have seen that statement because, I mean, can you elaborate more on what that Minister of Finance has contributed to the meeting besides his name? That’s question number one.  Question number two; I am not happy with the mention of clean coal.  There simply isn’t such a thing in terms of climate change.  Could you elaborate on the two questions?  Because I think these are very important questions.


Spokesman:  On the first question, no.  I think that’s a question best directed at the Bureau for the Commission.  It’s a member State Commission.  And on the issue of clean coal, I need to be educated a bit more on that and I’ll get back to you.


Yes, Benny?


Question:  On the Quartet, following up on Masood’s question, how does the UN, which is part of the Quartet, envision squaring that circle of transferring money to Palestinians directly for humanitarian reasons while most of the so-called humanitarian offices in the Palestinian Authority are controlled by Hamas, which hasn’t yet adhered to the three conditions?


Spokesman:  You’re right they have not adhered to the three conditions, which was something that was reiterated in the Quartet statement.  That was something that was of deep concern to the Quartet members.  As for the details of how the mechanism will work, we’ll just have to wait.  But it will basically be established to meet some of the basic human needs in terms of health, education and welfare.


Question:  But those human needs are controlled by offices that are controlled by Hamas?


Spokesman:  We will have to wait for this mechanism and how it works to elaborate some more.


Yes, Laura?


Question:  Steph, I just wanted to ask you two things.  The first on the  $32 million that is being distributed to a number of African countries, what was the criteria for that?  I know that there are a number of aid things that Jan Egeland is working on.  The second thing is that I just wanted to get an update on the 23 per cent of humanitarian money that has been received for Darfur.  The Secretary-General has now generously decided to donate half a million dollars, how much does that percentage go up?  And also I believe he did write a letter to Member States asking for donations.  Has he received any sort of input from that letter?


Spokesman:  We will check with OCHA on the input on the Fund and where the Fund for Darfur stands.  As for the criteria, as I said the CERF brings short-term assistance to emergencies that are currently underfunded.  And the CERF works with, obviously, OCHA and an advisory committee made up of Member States.


Yes, Nathan?


Question:  I think it was last week or the beginning of this week that you said there were more positive comments coming out of the Sudanese Government on the acceptance of a UN force.  Since then, there have been published reports that the Foreign Minister has suggested that the UN force still would not be welcome.  Have you had communication in the last week that would indicate a willingness, a more openness to a United Nations force from Khartoum or the opposite?


Spokesman:  As the Secretary-General said, he’s written to the President explaining to him that we would expect the Government of National Unity to cooperate with us as we move in the planning stage, including on the sending of the assessment mission on the ground.  I think the Security Council members and other foreign ministers, I think everyone spoke with one voice.  Now that the agreement in Abuja has been signed, everyone needs to facilitate the planning process.


Question:  But have you received any direct communication?


Spokesman:  I am not aware of any direct communication, but we can check.


Yes, ma’am?


Question:  I’ve got two questions, Stéphane.  The first one is about the Ackerman report.  The independent inquiry is done.  Why has the report not been released?


Spokesman:  As soon as I have something to add to the Ackerman debate, I will do so, but I have nothing new to say at this point.


Question:  And my second question is about the Stamp, Archive and Postal Administration report.  When will that report be finalized?


Spokesman:  The last I heard it was still in the audit, as requested by Mr. Burnham’s office, still being finalized and I will let you know about that also.


Matthew?


Question:  On Somalia, you’ve mentioned that the Security Council is meeting today.  Yesterday, there were people that were on a boat to Yemen that were forced off the boat at gunpoint supposedly because Yemen was coming to stop the boat.  These were refugees.  And just to put one more fact in there, is that there is report that part of Somalia -- Puntland -- is starting to sell, to give concessions to oil and its resources.  So I’m wondering what is François Lonseny Fall, does his mandate cover the entirety of Somalia?  When will he come to Headquarters?  Can he brief us?


Spokesman:  Yes, we’ll find out when he comes.  He will brief you.  And his mandate covers Somalia as the UN recognizes it, which is the whole country.


Yes, Betsy?


Question:  Back to Ackerman if you would, whose decision is it whether or not to release the report?


Spokesman:  The report will be sent up to the Secretary-General’s Office and a decision will be made.


Question:  So it’s up to the Secretary-General whether or not to release that report?


Spokesman:  That is my understanding, but I will double check.


Yes, James?


Question: On Western Sahara again, first of all has Peter van Walsum filled in an ethics form and does the ethics form cover the fishing fleets his family, I believe, owns?  That’s the first question.  The second question was we had a rather odd juxtaposition of events with Perez de Cuellar where he altered the criteria for the referendum in Western Sahara and several weeks later was appointed on his retirement to a State-owned company in Morocco.  Does the Secretary-General plan to take any jobs with Moroccan companies or to acquire any property in Morocco when he steps down?  Could you ask him? 


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has made clear what his plans are and that is to focus on issues that were dear to his heart, including girls’ education and development in Africa.  And I’ll leave it at that.


Question:  Is that a no?


Spokesman:  It’s a question that I won’t entertain.


Question:  Sorry, I’ve never heard of a question that has never been entertained before by the Secretary-General.  Why is that a question that you won’t entertain?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General will serve out his mandate until 31 December.


Question:  My question is, at the moment, does he have any intention of taking a job with a Moroccan company or acquiring property in Morocco?  That’s my question.  Could you ask him that?


Spokesman:  I have no inkling that he intends to do that.


Question:  Is smoking allowed at the UN, in the UN Secretariat?


Spokesman:  The rules for staff, as I understand it, is that staff is not permitted to smoke in the Building.  The rules, as they concern delegations, do not apply to them.  There are certain areas where you see “No smoking”.  There are other areas where I think you see “Smoking discouraged” or “not recommended”, which are mostly areas where delegations meet.  But as far as staff is concerned, they are not supposed to smoke in the Building.  And I don’t know what the rules are concerning journalists.


Question:  In the Vienna Café, for example, there are “No smoking” signs and then right under them people are smoking.  Is there any way that the United Nations can enforce those “No smoking”?  It’s not really a rule, is it?  It’s sort of a recommendation.


Spokesman:  Again, I’m doing something that’s dangerous as I’m speaking off the top of my head.  My understanding is that it is a rule for staff, but, obviously, it does not apply to delegates.  And I’ll stop there.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General urge people not to smoke? 


Spokesman:  Most definitely, as does the World Health Organization.


James?


Question:  There is a report into alleged corruption at the Moscow Office of UNDP.  Can you tell us what the status of that report is?  I’m not sure.  I think it may not be an OIOS report. Can you tell whose report it is and where it is now?


Spokesman:  Not off the top of my head, but you can check with UNDP, and I’ll see if I have anything on my end.


Matthew?


Question:  Again on Somalia, can we get an answer from François Lonseny Fall today if it’s his mandate the whole country?


Spokesman:  When the briefing is done, we can go up and we can call his office.


Benny?


Question:  Have you received any communication from the Government of Dubai regarding the Secretary-General’s decision to take the money that they gave him and give it to Sudan?


Spokesman:  None whatsoever that I’m aware of.


Question:  What’s the punishment for UN staff who smoke in the Building?


Spokesman:  I don’t know.


Question:  Is there any way to find out?


Spokesman:  There’s always a way to find out.


Question:  Is the Secretary-General still going to set up his foundation he was going to set up with the Zayed prize money?


Spokesman:  Yes, he very much intends to do that. 


Question:  Where will he get the money from?


Spokesman:  Excuse me? 


Question:  Where will the seed money that was supposed to be provided by the Zayed prize?


Spokesman:  The seed money that is supposed to be used will now go for Sudan.


Question:  Will the seed money come from the UN Foundation?


Spokesman:  When we have something to announce, we will.


Question:  Will that foundation qualify for money from the UN Foundation?


Spokesman:  When the foundation is set up, we will announce it.


Matthew?


Question:  Just one more, there was a press conference on Burundi at 11 a.m. that was cancelled.  Why was it cancelled?


Spokesman:  It was held by the Burundian Mission.  You’d have to ask the Burundian Mission.  I don’t know.


Question:  Has the Secretary-General filled out his ethics form yet?


Spokesman:  When we have something to announce on that, we will.


Question:  OK, just to make the point on that.  If we’re going to see the ethics adviser tomorrow, obviously, it would be more helpful if we spoke to him after the Secretary-General filled in his ethics form, as he announced he’s going to be the first one to do it, rather than before he fills in his ethics form.


Spokesman:  As we’ve said repeatedly, Mr. Burnham has said, the financial forms will not be made public and the Ethics Office will not discuss in details staff members’ forms.


Thank you very much.  Pragati, all yours.


Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President


Good afternoon.  As Steph mentioned, yesterday the General Assembly elected 47 members of the new Human Rights Council, and lots were drawn to ensure that the terms of the new members are staggered, for either one, two or three years.  We have circulated the results to you and they are also available on the same website where the candidates were posted (www.un.org/ga/60/elect/hrc).


In his press encounter and statements yesterday, General Assembly President Jan Eliasson stressed that this was a truly historic occasion, and that we are witnessing a new beginning for the promotion and protection of human rights.  He noted that the members elected are a reflection of the whole body of the United Nations, and he stated that he finds it very important that all the members have made pledges and commitments to human rights that they are expected to live up to, and that they have accepted, by their membership in the Council, to have their human rights record reviewed during their term.  The process and preparations for the new Council will now move to Geneva.  President Eliasson said that he has great confidence that the newly elected members will agree on the measures necessary for a successful first meeting of the Council, and he looks forward to participating in that meeting, starting on 19 June.


Tomorrow morning, the Assembly will begin informal consultations of the plenary on a counter-terrorism strategy, based on the report presented by the Secretary-General recently.  That process will be co-chaired by Ambassador Vanu Gopala Menon of Singapore and Ambassador Juan Antonio Yañez-Barnuevo of Spain.


Questions and Answers


Yes, Masood?


Question:  I probably missed it yesterday also.  In order to determine as to who serves one year, two years and three years.  It’s a ballot, right?


Spokesperson:  They drew lots.  Their names were placed in a box and the President drew their names from the box.


Question:  This process, this mechanism for review, as to who can sit on the Human Rights Council or not, when does that begin?


Spokesperson:  The periodic review of the human rights records of those sitting on the Council?


Question:  Yes.


Spokesperson:  Well, those procedures will be established by the new Council, how that review will take place, the methods and procedures and the order of the review.  So that’s all to be worked out.  That’s why the coming period is very important.  There’s a lot of important work ahead.


Yes, Matthew?


Question:  In the handout yesterday of votes, in each region there were a number of countries that got, like, one vote.  As it turned out, some of them weren’t even running.  I was curious.  I tried to ask Frey yesterday, why?  How would you characterize that?  The country of Spain got one vote, Qatar got one vote.  There were a number of countries that got one vote.


Spokesperson:  Well, they were countries that had not actually formally submitted their candidacy.  But the procedure was that, on the first ballot, any country could write in anyone, so they were write-in candidates.


Betsy?


Question:  Tomorrow on the counter-terrorism debate, is that moving towards something?  Will there be a vote or a convention to come out of it eventually?  Is there an endpoint?


Spokesperson:  I think the idea is to agree on a strategy, a kind of resolution of the Assembly.  But we’ll have to see how far we get with it.


Question:  So there will be a drafting committee or something that will come out of this?


Spokesperson:  Well, tomorrow, I think they’re just hearing views based on the Secretary-General’s report, but I can check to see how they expect the process to go.


Great, thanks very much.


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