14 September 2006
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

PRESS BRIEFING BY THE OFFICE OF THE SPOKESMAN FOR THE SECRETARY-GENERAL


AND SPOKESwoman FOR THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY PRESIDENT

 


The following is a near-verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Yves Sorokobi, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and by Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.


Briefing by the Spokesman for the Secretary-General


**Guest at Noon


Good afternoon.  I will begin by welcoming to the UN today some young journalists from the Reham al-Farra Fellowship Programme.  That is a fellowship for journalists from developing countries.  Be welcome here and we hope you enjoy your stay.


Our guest today will be Peter Sutherland, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Migration.  He will be joining us shortly and will talk about the General Assembly High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development, which began this morning.


**Migration


The Secretary-General this morning addressed the General Assembly’s High-Level Dialogue on International Migration and Development.


In his remarks, he said that more and more people are becoming excited about the ways in which migrants can help transform their adopted and native countries.  More and more people understand that Governments can cooperate to create triple wins -— for migrants, for their countries of origin, and for the societies that receive them.


The Secretary-General also said that now was the right time to have an international dialogue on migration –- for three reasons.


First, more countries are now significantly involved in, and affected by, international migration.  Second, the evidence on migration’s potential benefits is mounting.  And third, Governments are now beginning to see international migration through the prism of opportunity, rather than that of fear.  We will have the full text of the Secretary-General’s remarks upstairs.


**Statement on Financial Support to Africa


“The Secretary-General warmly welcomes the recent, separate announcements by an alliance of the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in support of a new African Green Revolution and the generous financial support of Mr. George Soros and the Open Society Institute for the Millennium Villages Project of the Millennium Promise Organization.


“The two initiatives represent the kind of clear, practical support needed to help give Africans living in rural areas, where the needs are greatest, the tools and support needed to help feed themselves and their children, and pull themselves out of poverty.  The Secretary-General is particularly pleased to note that much of the work that will be done by both initiatives follows key recommendations by the UN Millennium Project that he commissioned and underpins the vision of an African Green Revolution that he has long championed and hopes to spend a significant portion of his time and energy after he leaves office to helping reach fruition.  He hopes that these far-sighted actions will encourage others to step forward and support the work by the United Nations and other partners in assisting African countries in their fight against the challenges of poverty, disease and hunger as they seek to meet all the Millennium Development Goals.”


**UNIFIL


Major-General Alain Pellegrini, who is the Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), said today that he took satisfaction in how much has been accomplished since the cessation of hostilities took effect one month ago.  He said that the cessation of hostilities has been generally maintained, the Israeli Army is continuing to withdraw from South Lebanon, and the Lebanese Army is deploying in these areas.  “I expect the withdrawal to be completed by the end of this month”, Pellegrini added.


UNIFIL, meanwhile, has observed a number of minor incidents and violations in its area of operation between the Litani River and the Blue Line, but they have not been of an offensive and hostile character, and the parties seem determined to uphold the agreement.


Pellegrini said that the UN Force has been reinforced by Italian and French troops, and that he expects the Spanish contingent to arrive tomorrow.  “We are starting to have the numbers that we need, we have a detailed concept of operation and the required rules of engagement,” he said.  “Working in conjunction with the Lebanese Armed Forces, and in close coordination with the Israeli Army, I think we can ensure a stable environment here in south Lebanon, something that the people need very much to get on with their lives.”


** Lebanon


The Secretary-General, in an exchange of letters with the Security Council that is out on the racks today, says that a group of Member States, comprising France, Greece, Italy and the United Kingdom, have provided an interim naval task force in Lebanon, led by an Italian commander.  Meanwhile, the preparations for the deployment of a full naval task force under the command of UNIFIL are proceeding.


The interim task force currently comprises five Italian ships, as well as one ship each from France, Greece and the UK.


**Security Council -- Iraq


The challenges facing the Iraqi people have never appeared more daunting, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Iraq, Ashraf Qazi, told the Security Council in an open meeting this morning.


He said that the key challenge for the Government of Iraq is to develop a truly national agenda that is responsible to the needs and aspirations of all Iraqis.


Discussing the Secretary-General’s recent report on the country, Qazi said that Iraq today has become one of the most violent conflict areas in the world.


Given Iraq’s importance and potential, its neighbours and the wider international community have a vital stake in helping Iraq become a peaceful, stable and prosperous partner, fully integrated within the region and the international community, Qazi said.  The International Compact with Iraq could become an important vehicle towards this end.


He noted that the Secretary-General has taken the initiative to convene a high-level meeting at UN Headquarters on 18 September, which will review progress in the implementation of resolution 1546 and it will review the development of the International Compact.  We have copies of this upstairs for you.


**Security Council -- Other


Also today, the Security Council expects to hold a formal meeting to vote on a draft resolution extending the mandate of the panel of experts dealing with sanctions on Côte d’Ivoire.


Once its formal meetings are done, the Council intends to hold consultations, to hear a briefing from the Department of Peacekeeping Operations on the Russian strategic cell that is to assist in the implementation of resolution 1701.


This afternoon, at 3:00 p.m., the United States has also invited the other Council members to a meeting under the Arria formula on Sudan.  Elie Wiesel and George Clooney will be addressing the Council members in that meeting.


**Democratic Republic of Congo


The UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (MONUC) says that President Joseph Kabila met his electoral rival, Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, on Wednesday, yesterday -– for the first time since clashes between their followers killed more than 30 people last month.


The meeting follows a diplomatic drive by the UN Mission to have the pair meet -– and this included visits to Kinshasa by the EU High Representative for the Common Foreign and Security Policy, Javier Solana, as well as South African President Thabo Mbeki, both of whom urged the candidates to return to the business of Government.


Meanwhile, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, William Swing, has welcomed the meeting as a step forward in the Congo’s democratic transition.


Ahead of the next round of presidential elections, logistical preparations continue –- as of 12 September, just over half the total number of 60,000 electoral kits had arrived at the various distribution hubs throughout the country while 24 per cent of the total kits have already been dispatched to their final destination.


** Sudan


The UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) says that it has received reports from the African Union (AU) Mission in Sudan that two shots were fired by an unknown man at an AU post near the Kutum airstrip in north Darfur.  One soldier was shot in the leg, and the gunman escaped.


The AU also reported that 10 armed men forced their way into the Tawilla camp for internally displaced people, southwest of El Fasher, on Tuesday and stole animals belonging to the camp’s occupants.  One of the armed men was killed in an exchange of fire with AU peacekeepers.


Meanwhile, in south Darfur, the UN Mission said the Buram area still cannot be reached because of continued fighting and lack of security guarantees on the ground.


In west Darfur, the Mission says there are reports of fighting these past few days between factions of the SLA [Sudan Liberation Army] group that have not signed the Darfur Peace Agreement and other factions of the SLA that have done so.  You can find more on this upstairs and on the press release from the Mission.


** Nepal Floods


Turning to the recent floods and landslides in Nepal, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) tells us that UN agencies are still working to get aid to the survivors of those floods and landslides.  Meanwhile, the World Food Programme (WFP) is delivering rice, lentils, salt and oil to those in need in the western part of the country.  In addition, nearly 6,000 educational kits will be provided by UNICEF.


**Secretary-General


The Secretary-General, meanwhile, will be travelling to Havana, Cuba, this afternoon to attend the summit meeting of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM).  On Friday morning, he will deliver remarks to the plenary meeting of the NAM.  We will have that speech later today for you.


While in Havana, the Secretary-General is expected to have bilateral meetings with senior Cuban officials as well as with a number of Heads of delegations who will be attending the summit.  The Secretary-General is scheduled back in New York on Monday


**UNEP/Google Partnership


If you have ever wanted to fly around a virtual planet Earth comparing today’s crisis zones with yesterday’s areas of natural beauty, now you can.  The UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has teamed up with Google to feature an atlas of the changing environment on Google Earth, offering satellite images of 100 environmental hotspots from around the world.


You will be able to see “before and after” images of things like melting ice in polar and mountain areas, as well as forest loss in the Amazon and forest fires across sub-Saharan Africa, and much more.  Until you try it out yourself, we have more on it upstairs from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).


**Treaty Event


And a quick reminder that this year’s Treaty Event is under way, having started yesterday and running until tomorrow, and again on the 19th and 20th.  It is happening in the Kuwaiti Boat area just inside the Delegates’ Entrance here at UN Headquarters; and it is part of the UN Office of Legal Affairs’ efforts to bolster international law on a broad range of issues.


Question and Answers


Question:  I fear I will be ambushing you with a question you are not in a position to answer, but I know by asking it in this forum, the people in the Secretary-General’s Office who do have the answer will be able to hear it.  I expected Stéphane to be here and I know he’s travelling.  My question departs from something Stéphane said in May, which was that the Secretary-General would be filling out a financial disclosure form.  We just had a briefing here, for an hour, with Christopher Burnham, in which he described the new policies for transparency and accountability at the United Nations.  We asked twice, what did he think of the Secretary-General declining to fill out a financial disclosure form.  Twice he said “I think all officials ought to fill out such a form.”  My question is:  What is the possible explanation for the Secretary-General, who is recommending in a forward to this big report, that these practices be adopted here, not fulfilling that practice himself?  How possibly would he think that this would send the right message to all the other officials here who he is asking to fill out these forms and asking to do other kinds of accountability practices?


Associate Spokesman:  I think that question came up yesterday during the Secretary-General’s conference.  His answer was that he has fulfilled his obligations to the Organization.


Question:  His answer was a legalism, and that’s a charitable word.  He said “I believe in fulfilling all my obligations.”  I would like to further the question and ask you if you would ask the Secretary-General of this:  if he could be more explicit in either saying “yes, I have filled out that form” -- the impression we have is that he has not -- or if he has not, what is his explanation for asking others to do it and not doing it himself?


Associate Spokesman:  What he said was that he regularly fulfilled his obligations to the Organization.  We should not infer from what he said that he has not done so; this is a bit unfair.  We should wait for the next opportunity for him to address this matter directly.


Question:  I am asking you to please put the question to the Secretary-General.  I am not satisfied with the answer we got yesterday or this morning from Christopher Burnham.  I am asking formally, please will you put the question again.


Associate Spokesman:  I will do so.  In the meantime, his statement of yesterday stands.


Question:  Yesterday, the Secretary-General responding to a question on Iraq said that most of the (inaudible) in the Middle East thought that Iraq was a total disaster.  Given the fact that Iraq has been killing (inaudible), the UN hasn’t had enough (inaudible).  Can you ask Mr. Qazi to give us a briefing?  There has been no briefing whatsoever about Iraq from the United Nations side.  There are statements by Mr. Qazi, I understand.  But, over here, to come and give us a briefing?


Associate Spokesman:  I believe Mr. Qazi is speaking later today and I will see if we can get more people to come and brief you.


Question:  In his report on Kosovo, the Secretary-General rightly concluded that both sides are determined in their polar political positions:  Serbs for full autonomy that should be given in the framework of Serbia to the Kosovars in Kosovo.  Not less than total autonomy.  He is also calling for more flexibility and for the negotiators to talk and hold talks in the spirit of compromise.  What is that spirit of compromise?  What does it mean when we have total polar differences on both sides?


Associate Spokesman:  I think what the Secretary-General means by the “spirit of compromise”, and the statement in which he did use the phrase “compromise” also included reference to inter-ethnic violence.  He believes that the negotiating parties need to work in a way that would bring them together, rather than work in a way that would inflame existing tensions in that region.  I believe his words are very clear and self-explanatory.


Question:  I do not believe that they are clear.  I do not think, with all due respect, that it refers to the violence.  We have totally different points, here.  How does the Secretary-General think that he, or the United Nations, can offer good services to facilitate that kind of compromise?


Associate Spokesman:  As the Secretary-General said most recently, a compromise is possible, if the parties will generally negotiate and also avoid creating situation in which people might think of resorting to violence, and as he said in this latest statement on Kosovo, most particularly violence among people from different ethnic backgrounds.  In the meantime, the United Nations remains committed to Kosovo.  We have very recently appointed a new Special Representative of the Secretary-General, who has recently taken office and who will be working toward ensuring that peace prevails in Kosovo.  We should give the United Nations Special Representative time and not jump to conclusions about what certain words by the Secretary-General may imply or may not imply.  I think I will stand by what the Secretary-General said, in that the parties need to work in the spirit of compromise and that dialogue needs to prevail.  In the meantime, all efforts will be deployed to ensure that talks continue in a friendly spirit and that a solution is found sooner rather than later.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General believe that the Kosovo talks could end by the end of the year with any kind of result?


Associate Spokesman:  It is not up to the Secretary-General to determine when the talks will end and whether they will end with full agreement.  What the Secretary-General has done, and continues to do, is encourage the parties to keep up their dialogue, and refrain from creating an atmosphere in which inter-ethnic violence might spread.  I think his words are pretty clear.  As to when the process is going to end, that is up to the parties that are involved in the negotiations.


Question:  I am from Iran News Agency.  I would like to know that, since the Iranian Interior Minister has not been issued any visa by US authorities to take part in the General Assembly session on International Migration and Development, what can the UN and the Secretary-General do to make the US Government respect its international obligation with the UN?  And has Mr. Annan received a letter from Iran’s Interior Minister?


Associate Spokesman:  I am not aware of a letter sent by the Iranian Interior Ministry to the Secretary-General, but it is an obligation of Member States, especially when they host a UN office operation, to facilitate the travel of people who are coming to take part in UN events.  I am not aware of these particular three individuals who were denied visas by the United States, but I will again say that as Member State, the US is…


Question:  Some people, like the Health Minister, got a visa the same day there was a meeting here.


Associate Spokesman:  I am sure that, if the Secretary-General received a letter that you refer to from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Iran, he will take the proper steps toward addressing this situation.


Question:  Will you ask him on this?


Associate Spokesman:  I will look into it, but I am not aware of him receiving it at this stage.


Question:  I had a follow-up on that.  When a Member State is not granted a visa by the United States, what kind of steps does the United Nations take?  What is the protocol?  For instance, as my colleague mentioned, the Iranian Minister was supposed to talk either today or tomorrow on international migration and since Secretary-General Annan says we should have a dialogue on this, what happens when a Member State is not granted a visa?


Associate Spokesman:  Well, there are certain administrative steps that are set?


Question:  Can you elaborate?


Associate Spokesman:  I cannot elaborate from this podium because they are very elaborate steps that are taken.  I can assure you that the UN does effectively work toward ensuring that those individuals in particular do obtain the…


Question:  Ensuring to get the speech on the floor or ensuring, I’m not exactly sure.  I do not understand your answer.


Associate Spokesman:  Come again.  Your question was about the…


Question:  You said the United Nations takes proper steps.  What kind of steps are we talking about?  Do they get the speech on the floor through somebody else or what happens?


Associate Spokesman:  First and foremost, we try to get those individuals to be granted a visa to come and deliver their speeches by themselves.  If that is not possible, I would believe that would depend on the delegations of which those individuals are members, to decide by themselves who would represent them at the General Assembly.  The UN cannot decide who, for Member States, should be speaking on their behalf.


Question:  In some cases, such as the AIDS conference, you had again the Iranian delegate was not granted a visa, and he was granted a visa on the evening the conference was over, so what happens then?


Associate Spokesman:  Not all the situations can be predicted and each case, of course, has its own implications and difficulties and each one is treated differently.  I am not sure, in this particular case, what will be done.  But, what I can tell you is that, we have administrative steps that are set and that we will follow to insist with the Member States that those individuals in particular be granted visas to come here.  Anything beyond that, I have to see how events turn before we can comment further.


Question:  I know that you were previously the Spokesman for the International Criminal Court.  I guess I wanted to ask you, as this in northern Uganda, came up yesterday, where with these outstanding indictments of Joseph Kony, Vincent Otti and them.  There is talk; I heard it again on the radio this morning of Joseph Kony seeking asylum status in the Central African Republic.  What are the obligations of Member States that are members of the International Criminal Court to enforce the indictments and arrest the people who have been indicted for war crimes?


Associate Spokesman:  Thanks for the reminder that I came here from the International Criminal Court but I can’t speak for the International Criminal Court from this podium.  What I can tell you is that, as far as the Secretary-General and the United Nations system are concerned, we believe that justice must prevail and we believe that also peace must prevail.  So, as the legal consul told you from this podium just a few days ago, it is now about sequencing, how these particular goals can be reached.  Now, the Secretary-General firmly believes that justice for the most heinous crimes must prevail; that people who commit these kinds of crimes must face justice.


Question:  Does the ICC statute provide for a kind of exemption or a waving of time?  Has any step been taken to say how long that would last?  I understood Mr. Michel’s answer, but I’m not sure who interprets what the sequence is?


Associate Spokesman:  Well again, I think you have to speak to the judges of the ICC, if that might be helpful to you, to understand what they could do to exempt Mr. Kony of facing charges.  What I can tell you from this podium that the Secretary-General believes that justice must prevail for the worst crimes against the worst abuses of human rights in international humanitarian law.


Question:  I wanted to ask one follow up on the financial disclosure issue.  It is clear that he is not legally required to file the financial disclosure, that’s been said.  He’s not a staff member, the Secretary-General.  That’s why his statement that he fulfils his obligations is so confusing.  Many of us take it to mean that he has not filed, and that meets his obligations because he doesn’t have to file.  The problem is that his Spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, said on 3 May he will definitely file “to be an example to the rest of the staff who need to fill it out”.  So, that is the problem with leaving it unclear, which is why I think we need an answer today.  Even in his absence I’m sure they have the answer upstairs.  It is a terrible example to the staff.  I’m sorry, to make this a statement.  Given, if what I’ve just said is true, can you understand why the press want an answer on this question?


Associate Spokesman:  Certainly, I can understand why the press does what it does.  What I can tell you is that the Secretary-General from this podium, again when he was asked that by you, Matthew, did say that he fulfils his obligations to the Organization.  I am not in the position from this podium today to give you a full breakdown of what his obligations are.  When he said that, I think it was a pretty definitive answer and I do not want to speculate further whether or not that statement inferred that he has not, or that he has.  I believe his words are pretty clear.  When he says “I have fulfilled my obligations”, that’s what he means.  He has fulfilled his obligations.


Question:  The problem is there is this wiggle room.  He’s not legally obligated, but his Spokesman has said that he would.


Associate Spokesman:  I think the Secretary-General spoke yesterday his most recent comment on that particular issue.  I’m not aware of what the Spokesman told you before, but I can tell you that the Secretary-General yesterday, in answer to that question, has said he was doing precisely that, fulfilling his obligations and when the next opportunity comes, he will take the time to give you a full breakdown of what he meant by that.  In the meantime, I think we should not read more into what he said, than what he said.


Question:  I have a question that is not directly related to the Secretary-General, but actually regards UNICEF.  Two days ago, UNICEF awarded a major humanitarian and cultural prize to the President of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov.  Several of the biggest human rights organizations strongly protested this award.  So, I was just wondering if it’s possible to get some kind of opinion or a statement from the Secretary-General on this particular occasion, awarding of this award -– the name of this award is (inaudible) –- to the President of Uzbekistan because his regime is accused of major human rights violations, so that’s basically the point.


Associate Spokesman:  Well, I think I need to give some clarification about the award you refer to.  First, it was a protocol-related gift and not an award, per se.  The gift was not given to the Uzbek President.  It was given in recognition of the heritage of Uzbekistan and those who have worked to conserve it.  The gift that UNESCO gave to the President and, through him, to the nation, was actually a small coin, which can be found in the UNESCO gift shop in Paris.  It’s not an award and it’s not a distinction that speaks for the human rights activities of the President of Uzbekistan.  Again, it was something that recognizes Uzbek heritage.


Question:  It was a major prize no matter how (unfinished).


Associate Spokesman:  It’s not a major prize.  As I said, it’s a coin that’s sold in a gift shop of UNESCO in Paris, and anyone can obtain those coins.  It’s in no way a distinction for the human rights record of the Uzbek President.


Question:  One follow-up question.  You and your colleagues, there have a couple of questions that have not been answered about UNDP working with Uzbekistan, the Karimov regime.  There was one where they helped them to collect taxes, that was asked.  Can UNDP explain how helping to collect taxes for a Government that is reported to boil its --


Associate Spokesman:  I believe that question came up several weeks ago and we did give you an answer.


Question:  There was no answer given.  I say that because I’m still waiting for it.  The most recent one, that they developed open-source software with Uzbekistan while news sites are blocked in the country.  So maybe this afternoon you can tell all of us, on the squawk or something, you can come out with some…


Associate Spokesman:  We will look into it and ask UNDP to give you some more clarification.


Briefing by Spokeswoman for General Assembly President


Good afternoon.  Just a little update on what is happening in the General Assembly.


The General Assembly began this morning to host the first of two high-level meetings prior to the opening of its general debate next Tuesday 19 September.  The first meeting, which began this morning, will focus on migration and development, and the second, which begins on Monday 18 September, will review the Brussels Programme of Action for Least Developed Countries (which was adopted in 2001).


The two-day meeting on migration will discuss the different aspects of international migration and development.  It will identify ways to maximize the development benefits and minimize the negative impacts.  The High-level dialogue is also expected to have a strong focus on policy issues, including the challenge of achieving internationally agreed development goals, such as the Millennium development goals.


In addition to the four plenary meetings to be held today and Friday, the Assembly will have four interactive roundtable discussions. These will bring together ministers, permanent observers, intergovernmental entities, nongovernmental organizations, civil society representatives and the private sector to exchange views on some of the key issues of migration and development.  These include the effects of international migration on economic and social development, remittances [that is monies sent home by workers abroad], smuggling of migrants and trafficking in persons and promoting the building of partnerships at the bilateral and regional levels.


The meeting was opened this morning by the President of the General Assembly, Her Excellency Sheikha Haya al Kalifa, who stressed that migration, if harnessed constructively, could have a profound effect on development.  She noted that remittances from migrants can help to reduce poverty and assist in achieving the millennium goals by increasing access to education and health care. She drew the Assembly’s attention to the importance of taking into account issues associated with migration in formulating development, trade or foreign policy strategy. She also stated that the UN has a crucial role to play in realizing the potential of international migration to underpin economic growth and development.  There are some 144 speakers who are expected to address the Assembly over the next two days.


I’m sure that you have all seen the very informative press kit, because I see a lot of you with the blue kits. There is lots of good information, there are lots of good statistics about the situation on migration at this point in time that I’m sure you can use when you’re putting together your stories, and I’m sure Mr. Sutherland will have a lot more to tell you. Any more questions on the General Assembly before Mr. Sutherland comes?


Thank you.


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