|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
Today in Timor-Leste radio stations broadcast a message sent yesterday by the Secretary-General, in which he urges the people to set aside their differences in the interest of the nation.
He says he has already spoken to the country’s political leaders, encouraging them to work to end the crisis.
And he urges the Timorese people to stand up against anyone who tries to divide them.
Also today, the UN Office in Timor-Leste reports that the Secretary-General’s Special Envoy there, Ian Martin, has met with the President, President of the National Assembly, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and other officials, as well as the Bishop of Dili, representatives of civil society, and members of the diplomatic corps.
He is continuing to assess the situation and will report back to the Secretary-General.
Several UN agencies on the ground in Timor-Leste have joined NGOs in a task force to provide assistance to more than 100,000 persons displaced by the violence.
The World Bank and the IMF have also joined 11 nations and several international institutions in a joint call for all rival political, military and ethnic groups in the country to end the fighting. And the full text of the Secretary-General’s message is available upstairs.
We’re also expecting a statement on the situation in Darfur shortly, hopefully before the end of this briefing. But, meanwhile, I can tell you that the Department of Peacekeeping Operations has informed us that Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Hédi Annabi will brief the Security Council tomorrow on the mission he recently undertook with Lakhdar Brahimi to Khartoum. And he has told us that he does intend to speak at the stakeout afterwards.
In response to questions about whether the UN-AU assessment mission would overlap with the Security Council mission also headed to Sudan, I can report to you that planners are closely coordinating with the Council mission, so they are not in the country at the same time.
Meanwhile, the Security Council last night extended the mandate of the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) for a further four months, until 30 September.
In a unanimously adopted resolution, the Council also authorized the reconfiguration of the Mission’s military component, approving the deployment of up to 2,300 troops, including up to 230 military observers within the existing mandate.
And, yesterday afternoon, the Council President read out a press statement, in which members strongly condemned the resumption of fighting in Mogadishu. They called for an immediate and unconditional ceasefire and urged both sides to find solutions to the problems in Mogadishu, within the framework of the Transitional Federal Charter.
And today being the first of the month, we have a new Council President. Denmark has now assumed the presidency of the Security Council.
And, at 1 p.m. tomorrow, Ambassador Margrethe Løj is scheduled to brief you right here on the Council’s programme of work for the coming month.
Turning now to Indonesia, UN agencies are continuing their efforts to help quake survivors. The UN’s Disaster Assessment and Coordination team, for example, has set itself up at Yogyakarta Airport to help coordinate incoming relief supplies. WHO is managing the arriving medical supplies, to ensure that the right medicines and equipment are distributed to the right places. WHO has also noted shortages of orthopaedic supplies, anaesthetics and antibiotics.
On a more positive note, UNICEF has opened the first child protection centre in the quake zone. It is the first of five to be opened this week. However, the World Food Programme (WFP) reports that the price of basic foods like rice has increased in urban areas by 10 to 15 per cent since the quake struck. That will be hard on poor families who lost their homes and assets, the agency says.
And on 2 June, the UN will launch an earthquake response plan to support the urgent needs of over 100,000 people severely affected by the earthquake. And we do have a press release on that upstairs.
The 2006 High-Level Meeting on AIDS is continuing today. This afternoon, at 3 p.m., the Secretary-General will meet with people living with HIV/AIDS.
A short press encounter will take place on the third floor outside of the Express Bar area.
And the latest quarterly report of the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, known as UNMOVIC, which deals with Iraq, is out on the racks today.
The Commission says that the summary of the compendium of Iraq’s proscribed weapons and programmes has been completed, and it seeks to have that summary made available as a report to the Security Council.
The Commission adds that, in light of Iraq’s intention to accede to the Chemical Weapons Convention, its report contains an annex which gives an overview of Iraq’s chemical weapons.
And now a note from Cyprus. Christopher Girod, the recently appointed third member of the Committee on Missing Persons, arrived in Cyprus last night for a preliminary visit before assuming his full-time official duties in July.
The Secretary-General’s Special Representative in Cyprus, Michael Møller, will introduce Mr. Girod to the Turkish Cypriot leader, Mehmet Ali Talat, today, and to the Greek Cypriot leader, Tassos Papadopoulos, tomorrow.
And just following up on a question I was asked yesterday about Montenegro, the reaction to the referendum, the Secretary-General does take note of the official result of the referendum on the independence of Montenegro announced by the Republican Referendum Commission yesterday.
He is gratified by the fact that the referendum went smoothly and that the International Referendum Observation Mission has confirmed its conformity with international standards.
The Secretary-General hopes that all concerned will continue to engage in direct negotiations on the way forward.
**Weapons of Mass Destruction
And one last note, the Chairman of the independent Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission, Dr. Hans Blix, handed over a copy of the Commission's report to the Secretary-General today. The work of the Commission, as you know, is primarily funded by the Swedish Government.
The Secretary-General welcomed the release of the Commission’s report, saying that it will be an important contribution to the debate on disarmament and non-proliferation. He looks forward to studying the Commission’s report and is considering its recommendations.
Dr. Blix will be holding a press conference to present the Commission's report at 12:30 p.m., right here.
And that is it for me. Any questions? Nick?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Steph, I have a couple of questions about yesterday’s Dileep Nair report. The first one is the UN News Centre, in its little recap about the Nair investigation, said under the headline “Investigation clears former UN Oversight Chief of allegations of improper behaviour”. The thing is, if you read the report it doesn’t do that. It finds that he predetermined the hiring process in three cases. And then, in Secretary-General Annan’s letter to Nair at the end of the report, he doesn’t actually mention the fact that Nair was found to have done anything wrong. In fact, he apologizes to him for the extended investigation, which, as far as I understand, was called by OIOS, due to the fact that Nair wouldn’t cooperate. So, I’m wondering if the Secretary-General feels if, at any point, it might be necessary to acknowledge the fact that this report did in fact find that Nair was guilty of wrongdoing and whether he’s going to do anything about it.
Spokesman: As for the official reaction to the report, I would refer you to the statement that I read out yesterday, which you have, and to which I have nothing to add. So, that is the official reaction from the Organization, as opposed to what you may have read on the News Centre.
Question: I read that statement and it said that it took note of the findings. But the fact is that the findings did find that he had committed wrongdoing. Does the Secretary-General believe that he needs to address those findings in any way, rather than just taking note of them?
Spokesman: As I said, the Secretary-General took note of the findings, decided there was no further action to be taken in the case and, accordingly, decided that the matter is closed. And we really have nothing to add to that.
Question: But that doesn’t answer my question on that. Given that the OIOS is the internal watchdog charged with upholding the integrity of the body, and its chief is found to have committed wrongdoing, does the Secretary-General believe that… is there anything that he can do now that Dileep Nair is retired? Is this just sort of a case where he’s looking at the facts and realizing that Nair is essentially untouchable?
Spokesman: The report was made available to you in its entirety. The Secretary-General read the report and took note of it. His decisions are in the statement. And, as I said, I have absolutely nothing to add.
Question: Steph, does the Secretary-General feel that it’s appropriate for a UN official, either current or retired, not to cooperate with an investigation? He went to great lengths to assure cooperation with Volcker’s panel. Why is there a different standard in this case? And why is the Secretary-General, in a sense, providing him with a certain political cover for not having cooperated?
Spokesman: No doubt OIOS will read the report and reflect on the issue of cooperation. But, as I said, we’ve made everything absolutely available to you. The report, the response from Mr. Nair and the statement in the report, as I said, was made available to you in its entirety as it was received from Mr. Ackerman. And I have nothing to add.
Question: But a little more on that though, Steph. One of the things that’s really glaring there is that OIOS, in the report, withheld information and that when Mr. Ackerman and his colleague were doing the report, they were not getting all the information that they requested, and never did get all the information that they requested. At the end of the report, which they write in the report, that unfortunately they were not able to get essential material from OIOS. So the actual watchdog of the Organization was withholding information. So, who exactly in OIOS was instrumental in not allowing the free flow of information so that this investigation could have been conducted properly?
Spokesman: The report is fairly complete in its detail of what was made available, what was not made available. The Secretary-General took note of its findings and no doubt our colleagues at OIOS will do the same.
Question: Can you point out who at OIOS was responsible for holding up the flow of information?
Spokesman: The only further comments you can get are from Mr. Ackerman, and he has said that he is willing to speak to the press. And we’ll make his number available to you.
Question: Stéphane, with all due respect, we’ve spoken to Mr. Ackerman. And Mr. Ackerman has acknowledged that he was unable to get all the information that he had requested and had expected to get for such an investigation. So speaking with Mr. Ackerman about the problem that he encountered doesn’t answer the question as to who is responsible in OIOS on this report.
Spokesman: This report, as we consider, is exhaustive. It was made available to you. It’s up to you to draw your own conclusions. The Secretary-General has drawn his. And the matter is now closed.
Question: Just as a follow up to that Steph.
Spokesman: Nick, please.
Question: But, you just said that it’s an exhaustive report and the key target of the investigation didn’t cooperate. That sounds completely, sort of illogical.
Spokesman: Mr. Nair was provided an opportunity to respond. He responded and we attached that letter from his lawyers to the report for you to study.
Question: I just wanted to, on that, in this last letter that Mr. Ackerman wrote, he says “As per your suggestion that we provide you with a list of questions Mr. Nair would consider responding to. We intend to consult with other (inaudible) either we (inaudible) or (inaudible) it will communicate further with you.” Does it mean that it’s still open, that they’ll still come back to it? Or has the Secretary-General just closed the matter?
Spokesman: The Secretary-General considers this matter closed. Obviously there are a couple of cases pending in front of the tribunal, which are going on. But otherwise the matter is closed. Matthew?
Question: After this OIOS, I have something else to ask, but I’d rather…
Spokesman: You can ask now.
Question: No, no. It seems like a good idea to finish this.
Spokesman: Go ahead. Go ahead.
Question: I’ll defer to my colleague.
Question: Thank you Matthew. I wanted maybe from a different… the report aside. The Secretary-General had given Mr. Ackerman a mandate, by which he was to be given access to any document that he wanted. As the report makes clear, he was not given access to the documents he wanted by a UN unit. So, what are the Secretary-General’s thoughts, since he has the OIOS essentially violating the terms of the mandate that he prescribed? And is he planning on doing anything about it?
Spokesman: As I said, no doubt our colleagues at the OIOS will read the report and reflect on the need for cooperation.
Question: But that doesn’t answer the question.
Spokesman: That’s all I have to answer for that question.
Question: Can the Secretary-General do anything, if he sets down a mandate and a UN agency or body violates that mandate?
Spokesman: As I said, I really have nothing further to add on this.
Question: Is there a way that we can hear from OIOS about what they plan to do, to ensure that they have fair and cooperative (inaudible).
Spokesman: You can call Ms. Inga-Britt Ahlenius’ office and see if she would be willing to speak to you. Yes, Matthew?
Question: The International Criminal Court has pushed back the beginning hearing on Thomas Lubanga, the first defendant, because of violence in Ituri, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, saying that it can’t protect witnesses there. So, one, does the Secretary-General, given that he’s mentioned this case at the stakeout, have any response to the delay in the trial? And another question, if witnesses can’t be protected there, what does that mean in terms of the election? And what’s the UN going to try to do? And what’s the status of the seven UN peacekeepers?
Spokesman: On the seven peacekeepers, indirect contact is continuing with the captors. On the schedule of the trial, obviously that is up to the Court to decide. On the other side, MONUC is actively working to try to bring peace and security to the Ituri province. In terms of elections, as you know, the European Union has said that they will bring in additional peacekeepers, which we very much welcome, to help with security during the elections.
Question: On Timor-Leste, one of the reports from (inaudible) indicated that the Serious Crime Unit was looted yesterday and that 138 computers were stolen, containing evidence against all sorts of suspects in the Indonesian army, evidence of massacres. More than a year ago, in resolution 1599, the Security Council asked the Secretariat to preserve a complete copy of all the records compiled by the Serious Crime Unit. Do you know whether this has been done? Or can you find out where that evidence physically is located?
Spokesman: I can find out.
[The Spokesman later added that the records were still at the compound of the United Nations Office in Timor-Leste.]
Ok, great. Thank you. Pragati, and then we’ll have Mr. Blix after Pragati.
Briefing by Spokesperson for General Assembly President
Good afternoon. The General Assembly AIDS review is continuing today, with a number of round tables and panel discussions taking place this morning.
This afternoon at 4 p.m., the Assembly will meet in plenary to hear from rapporteurs who will give summaries of those round tables and panels. The Assembly is also expected to take a decision on a revised format for the High-Level Meeting tomorrow, in order to accommodate the large number of speakers, over 140. [The decision was adopted.]
At the beginning of the ministerial-level speakers, that’s around noon tomorrow, the session will split into two simultaneous meetings to be held in conference rooms 2 and 3. And we expect to issue a revised list of speakers this afternoon, reflecting that change. The speakers for the opening remain the same, preceded at 8:55 a.m. by a statement by Laura Bush, the First Lady of the US. Opening statements will then be made by the Assembly President, the Secretary-General, the Executive Director of UNAIDS and the Executive Director of the Global Fund.
Consultations continued all day yesterday on the draft political declaration, primarily at the bilateral level, led by the co-chairs. Based on those discussions, a revised text has been developed by the co-chairs and the Office of the President. The President will present that text to a small group of Member States early this afternoon and strongly encourage them to reach an agreement. Consultations on several key issues are expected to continue this afternoon in small groups, led by the co-chairs. We’ll distribute that text to you this afternoon, and we are trying to arrange for a background briefing to walk you through that text.
The Assembly President is hosting a working luncheon today, where a number of people living with HIV will be holding dialogues with Government delegations.
And this evening, the President will be making remarks at an evening of remembrance and hope, a programme and concert in the General Assembly Hall, starting at 7 p.m. A photo-op with the performers, including Wyclef Jean, Whoopi Goldberg, Naomi Watts and Angelique Kidjo, is being arranged at 6:30 p.m. [That photo-op was later cancelled.]
**Questions and Answers
Question: Earlier today, Peter Piot said that the President of the GA had gotten involved with the discussions on the document, in part because things were headed for such a train wreck and there was no real leadership on negotiating a strong document. And it was felt that he needed to come in and really sort of put a stranglehold so that he could rescue this conference and get a strong document. Would you describe his intervention in those terms? And did he have plans prior to get involved? And why did he get involved?
Spokesperson: I don’t think it’s unusual for the President to come in at the end of a negotiating process to try to resolve whatever differences are remaining. I think he feels that the co-chairs have done a very good job. It’s not that there was lack of leadership. But some of these issues are quite difficult, contentious. And he’s coming in now to get the strongest document possible.
Question: From the opposite angle then, was he discouraged by the results of the negotiations so far? The document, when he had a look at that draft, dated from yesterday or whenever, did he think it could be a little bit stronger?
Spokesperson: He is trying to resolve what differences are left and, as he said in his statement yesterday to the Plenary, we need a strong document that is commensurate to the threat of HIV and AIDS. So he’s coming in with his own authority here, towards the end of the process, to get the strongest result possible.
Question: Would it be fair to say that he would characterize the previous draft as weak?
Spokesperson: I don’t think he would say that.
Question: Pragati, you said that President Eliasson is going to be presenting it to a small group of nations?
Spokesperson: He’s holding a meeting with chairs of regional groups and key countries, just to kind of walk him through the text that they’re proposing. But it’s not a final text by any means. There are additional consultations scheduled this afternoon on some of the remaining outstanding issues.
Question: I was just going to ask, what the nations were. But you’re saying that they were the chairs of regional groups.
Spokesperson: I don’t have a precise last of who it includes.
Question: But, if you did, that would be something that you would release, right? There seems to be a lot of questions about who was at the table, who is negotiating this. There was a briefing by civil society earlier and that was the main complaint. If you get the list, if you could somehow…
Spokesperson: Yes, I will try to do that.
Question: I would like to insist on what my colleague said. Civil society seems to be angry about the lack of transparency of the discussions. What can you say about this?
Spokesperson: The President has been meeting with civil society. His Office has been meeting with them. And their points of view are being incorporated into the consultations. Quite often when it comes down to the end of a negotiating process, the issues need to be resolved bilaterally and in small groups. So, it’s not any attempt to keep any players out of the process. But, it’s an attempt to get the strongest result from it. The President is meeting with civil society. He chaired the civil society hearings yesterday. He is meeting with people living with HIV this afternoon at lunch. He has high respect for civil society and has emphasized the importance of civil society being engaged in this process. But now we’re at the eleventh hour of the negotiations, and they’re taking all points of view into account to come up with the best result.
Question: Is the President hoping to have this document settled by the end of the day today, so that it can be approved tomorrow? Or it is possible that negotiations will run into tomorrow?
Spokesperson: I think everyone is hoping to get it agreed today but there really is no way to predict.
Question: A question for the UN website, the President met this morning with the other President, the President of the Security Council. Do you have any details of that meeting?
Spokesperson: I don’t have any readout from it, but he has a meeting at the beginning of every month with the incoming President of the Security Council, trying to increase the cooperation between the General Assembly and the Security Council. So it is a routine meeting. I can try to get a readout on any particular things that were discussed.
* *** *For information media • not an official record