18 October 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 Spokeswoman 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 Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Spokeswoman for the General Assembly President.


Briefing by Spokesman for the Secretary-General


**World Food Day


Good afternoon.  World Food Day will be officially observed today, in Conference Room 4, at 1:15 p.m.  The Secretary-General is expected to attend and, in prepared remarks, is expected to say that, in order to tackle hunger, we must bolster agriculture and improve the education of rural women and girls, since they form the backbone of most agrarian economies.  We have his embargoed remarks upstairs.


Leading the event will be Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization, and the guest of honour will be Judy Rodin, President of the Rockefeller Foundation, in recognition of the Rockefeller family’s historic commitment to sustainable agriculture.  Also expected to attend are the Presidents of the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council.


**Security Council


As far as the Security Council is concerned, there are no official meetings or consultations of the Security Council scheduled for today.


However, yesterday afternoon, Council President Ambassador Kenzo Oshima of Japan delivered a press statement on Eritrea-Ethiopia.  Council members called on Eritrea to immediately withdraw its troops from the Temporary Security Zone, and urged both parties to show maximum restraint and to refrain from any threat or use of force against each other.  That statement was, of course, made available to you.


** Eritrea


The Secretary General’s Special Humanitarian Envoy for the Horn of Africa, Kjell Magne Bondevik, completed a five-day visit to Eritrea today.


In meetings with the President of Eritrea, Isayas Afwerki, and other senior Government officials, Mr. Bondevik expressed his concern over the possible humanitarian consequences, should the violation of the Temporary Security Zone lead to an escalation of tensions between Ethiopia and Eritrea.  We have a press release with more information upstairs on his visit.


** Western Sahara


Also, out on the racks, today, is the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation concerning Western Sahara.


In it, he recommends that the Security Council call on the two parties, Morocco and the Frente Polisario, to enter into negotiations without preconditions, with a view to achieving a just, lasting and mutually acceptable political solution that’ll provide for the self-determination of Western Sahara.


Given the role the UN Mission in Western Sahara plays in maintaining the ceasefire, the Secretary-General also recommends that its mandate be extended for another six months, until the end of April next year.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


In response to questions by some of you, we are now in a position to say that the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo has made available two UN helicopters to the Independent Electoral Commission.


The Mission hopes that the two candidates in the run-off presidential election of 29 October, President Kabila and Vice-President Bemba, will use the helicopters for their campaign trips across the vast country.


The Mission says the decision was inspired by the fact that the official campaign period was cut to 15 days from the initially agreed 30 days.  And, taking into account the size of the country, it was necessary to ensure that the candidates have the transportation and logistical option to meet their supporters, in all corners of the Democratic Republic of the Congo.


** Liberia


From Liberia, the UN Mission in that country, today, launched its fifth periodic public report on the human rights situation in Liberia, with a special focus on the challenges facing the judicial system and the impact on the promotion and protection of human rights.


The report, which covers the period May to July 2006, says that sexual and gender-based violence, particularly against children, continues to be a major source of concern.  We have more information in the report available upstairs.


** Nepal


From Nepal, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, has announced, today, the appointment of Lena Sundh as head of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal and as her Representative in the country.


Ms. Sundh, a Swedish national, has specialized in conflict management and peacekeeping in her 30-year international career.


Within the United Nations, she was most recently appointed as the Deputy Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the DRC.


** Sri Lanka


And, from Sri Lanka, the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has welcomed the World Food Programme’s launch of an emergency food security assessment for internally displaced persons, host families and surrounding communities, in the northern Vanni region.


OCHA has, also, welcomed the fact that Sri Lankan Government officials are cooperating with humanitarian efforts, by allowing the movement of essential relief items, such as diesel fuel and medical supplies.


**UNICEF


And just a couple of more items for you, a UNICEF report, out today, says that, despite a widespread economic upturn in south-eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent States since the late nineties, 25 per cent of children under 15 still suffer from extreme poverty in that region.


Among the report’s recommendations is a call to the governments of the region to improve the level and targeting of income support to families with young children.  And we have a press release on that.


**Children and Armed Conflict


In addition to the World Food Day events, also today, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, will be launching her Office’s new website and strategic framework.  And that is at 1:15 p.m. in Conference Room 9.  A short documentary on child soldiers will be followed by a panel discussion.  I think you are all invited to attend that.


**Guest at Noon Tomorrow


And, lastly, as a reminder, tomorrow our guest will be Major-General Alain Pellegrini, who you know well as the Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in southern Lebanon.


Questions and Answers:


Question:  You mentioned that Mr. Bondevik had been in Eritrea and met the President.  Did he specifically raise the issue of the troop movements and what was the response from the President?


Spokesman:  I think we will let the Eritrean Government speak to that.  Mr. Bondevik did raise that issue and expressed his concern at the humanitarian impact and the rise of tensions that the two countries could have.  But, as for their response, you would have to talk to the Eritreans.  But the situation on the ground has not changed.


Question:  So, the troops and the tanks are still in the buffer zone?


Spokesman:  The information that I have is that we have not seen any change of the situation on the ground.  Also, on the political end, the acting Special Representative of the Secretary-General met with Eritrean officials to follow up and continue to express our concern and our call for the withdrawal of our forces.   But the situation on the ground is unchanged is the bottom line.


Question:  Do you have anything on the transition team?


Spokesman:  You know, I think you’re all very curious about the transition, we are all very curious about the transition.  I think people will play a lot of fantasy football, UN version, in the next few months.  You will probably be informed of things before we are.  But, I think I really will have nothing to say on the transition from here, at this point.


Question:  A question about this new document, that the Secretariat confirmed, considering that the staff members that retire here or are let go do not have employment with the UN, due to attrition or whatever, will not be allowed to have any contact with any entity which has any financial or pecuniary interest in the United Nations.  And, that if any staff member who after leaving the United Nations has any contact or employment with any such organizations, there will be sanctions, any staff member found to have violated the provisions of this bulletin may have a note placed in the official folder of their status file, indicating the nature of the violation and the recommendation against any future employment by the organization.  I’m just asking the discussion…


Spokesman:  I’m not aware of the details of that document that you are quoting from.  So let me look into it.  I don’t know what you are reading from, so I can’t really comment on it.


Question:  Did the ICRC visit with the Secretary-General yesterday?  Have anything to do with Guantánamo or detainees anywhere?  American or elsewhere?


Spokesman: I will check on that and get back to you after the briefing.


Question:  About Turkmenistan.  There was a conference this week with UNDP and Turkmenistan.  UNDP praised the country and its Government.  There’s an SG report out, on human rights, and the EU has just refused to ratify a trade agreement on human rights grounds and there’s a new law prohibiting marriages with foreigners and the killing of journalists.  My question is, what is the connection?  The SG’s report on Turkmenistan, is this communicated to UNDP?  How is it decided with agencies engage with…?  UNDP on its web site said they advise Turkmenistan Government agencies.  If you have something to say, I’d like to hear it, or at long last have UNDP come to this room.


Spokesman:  I don’t have any of the details of this event involving UNDP and Turkmenistan.  I know that you and UNDP have had some issues and you’ve had some trouble talking to them.  We will try to negotiate some sort of communication channel between you and UNDP, so you can get your answers to your questions.  The reports of the Secretary-General are obviously public documents and, of course, available and known to all agencies and UN country teams.  But I don’t have the details of this specific event you are talking about.


Question:  Shashi Tharoor, in this room, said that Kemal Dervis, Head of the UNDP, was going to appear by video, but something happened and he was in Rome.  I’ve never actually seen a UNDP person come and brief anyone here.


Spokesman:  That would be unfair, because there have been people here.  Mr. Dervis has been here and briefed the press.  That is a bit of an unfair assessment, but we will try to iron out the specific problems between you and UNDP.


Question:  Can you give us some more details about the meeting tomorrow with the UNIFIL Commander and the Secretary-General, and what in particular they will discuss?


Spokesman:   South Lebanon.  Obviously, this is a chance for the Secretary-General to hear first hand from General Pellegrini on the situation, since the cessation of hostilities and the now almost complete Israeli withdrawal.  That will be the focus of his discussion and then Mr. Pellegrini will be here to answer your questions around 12:20, right here in this room.  Thank you very much.


Briefing by the Spokeswoman to the President of the General Assembly


Good afternoon everyone.


The General Assembly, after two days and 22 inconclusive ballots, will resume voting on Thursday to elect a candidate from the Latin American and Caribbean region for a non-permanent seat on the 2007 Security Council.  Yesterday, with Guatemala receiving 102 votes to Venezuela’s 77, and neither country getting the required 120 votes needed for a two-thirds majority, the meeting wound up.  Despite the fact that the tally moved up and down, both countries ended up about where they were when the Assembly recessed on Monday evening.  The Assembly will reconvene at 10:00 a.m. on Thursday, 19 October, to continue the balloting.


In news on the work of the Committees:  on Tuesday, the First Committee, which looks at Disarmament and International Security, continued its thematic debate on conventional weapons.  One Member State suggested that the subject of conventional weapons was becoming something of a blind spot for the international community and that there was an overemphasis on small arms, which could overlook the huge quantities of sophisticated conventional weapons and technology being traded world wide.  Conventional arms control, this Member State suggested, needed to be pursued primarily in the regional and subregional contexts.  Pakistan also introduced a draft on “regional disarmament,” which stressed that such measures would enhance the security of all States.


A number of African countries in the debate, however, stressed the devastating effects of small arms and light weapons, which they noted were causing armed conflicts and promoting crime and terrorism.  One representative noted that the situation in Darfur has increased the flows of illicit weapons while decreasing regional security, all of which, he argued, jeopardized efforts at investment and development.  He called for an effective arms trade treaty.


Debate will continue today, as well as the introduction of draft resolutions and decisions.


In the Second Committee, concern was voiced over the suspension of the World Trade Organization’s trade negotiations.  Member States noted that the suspension of the Doha talks had not only curbed access for developing nations to global markets, but was also leading to the spread of regional and bilateral agreements that isolated the poorer countries even further from the benefits of expanding trade.  Delegates stressed the need for the rapid resumption of the talks and a fair conclusion which would eliminate unfair trade practices, particularly for agricultural products which were crucial for developing countries trying to pull their citizens out of poverty.


In the Third Committee, discussion on indigenous issues concluded, and draft resolutions on the situation of Lebanese children and on violence against women were introduced.  As the Committee began to discuss human rights questions, calls were heard from Member States for the streamlining of the United Nations human rights machinery to avoid duplication of work, backlog of reports and an excessive reporting burden among other things.  Debate continues today.  And that’s my report for today.


Questions and Answers


Question:  I have two questions. In the First Committee is the debate over whether to begin talks on a treaty on small arms and when would the decision to make the decision be made? And then I have a question on the Venezuela-Guatemala impasse.


Spokeswoman:  My understanding is that this issue of small arms and conventional weapons was raised in a general debate in the First Committee on Conventional Weapons.  In the general debate, delegations air their views on the issues, and the issue this time is conventional weapons.  You have some delegations that feel very strongly that this (conventional weapons) should be the focus, and that to some extent, the focus on small arms has overshadowed the question of what’s happening with conventional weapons…


Question:  But they have to make a decision soon, because the whole point of the First Committee this year seems to be small arms.  And they have to make a decision of whether they can start work on a treaty, or begin to look at one soon.


On the vote, this vote seems to have paralyzed the General Assembly, is there any possibility that the President will just cut off on Thursday after a few votes, after a few rounds, if it remains the same, and insists people negotiate or lead the negotiations herself? I know in 1979 they went for months, but that was then, this is now, and it just seems it makes a mockery of the General Assembly to have one vote after another that comes to no conclusion.


Spokeswoman:  My understanding today is that the regional group itself is meeting… The President of the Assembly on the other hand, is there to facilitate moving the process forward…


Question:  Well how long is she going to allow this ridiculousness to continue on Thursday, all day Thursday?


Spokeswoman:  To be fair, I don’t think you can just describe it as “ridiculousness”.  I think that both Member States want to be fair to themselves and it is an important vote and we have gone before to more than 22 ballots. This is not the first time.  It happened actually in the year after ‘79, the Assembly went to 23 ballots.  I think that everybody is anxious that this be resolved as quickly as possible. So my expectation is after the regional discussion, with at least another day to go, we will see what will happen on Thursday.


Question:  Is it possible to ask the General Assembly, all of them, whether they want to continue this or force them to go back and talk under her supervision or…


Spokeswoman:  Well it is up to the Assembly, to Member States, to make that decision.


Question:  Has it been raised?


Spokeswoman:  At this stage, no.  It has not been raised formally, no.  The President was asked that by journalists yesterday, and she said, so far it has not been raised.


Question:  Can she raise it?


Spokeswoman:  She is the President of the Assembly and in her role as facilitator, she will do whatever it takes to facilitate the process.


Question:  Is she going to?


Spokeswoman:  [This is a decision that the President will make in due course in consultation with Member States.]


Question:  Did that GRULAC meeting take place? Can you confirm?


Spokeswoman:  It was supposed to take place at 12:30.  I will have to check for you.


Question:  Does the President of the General Assembly have any views on this?


Spokeswoman:  This is a matter for the regional group, the region is calling this meeting, so, I think it is between them; it has nothing to do with the President.


Question:  I have a Fifth Committee question.  It seems last week, there was some discussion about a board of auditors’ findings on different UN agencies, one of which was UNDP, and there seems to be these findings of no monthly bank account reconciliations, weak internal controls over enterprise resource planning.  So one of the Member States talked about these audit findings and said we look forward to actions being taken to address these weaknesses.  I don’t know if you could answer it here, but if you could say what then does the Fifth Committee do with such findings?  And on these particular findings, what’s going to happen?


Spokeswoman:  On these specific findings? I will certainly find out for you.


Question:  Or if those meetings are open? I don’t know if they are.


Spokeswoman:  Fifth committee meetings?  I don’t think so.  I doubt that they are, but I can certainly find out because, as we said before, the question of whether meeting(s) are open or not is dependant on the Member States themselves.  So, I can find out whether this particular discussion is open, but I am sure you are quite welcome to talk to members of the Committee itself to find out what’s happening.


I don’t know if you remember, at the end of the high-level meetings on Migration, a summary by the Assembly was promised. That has just been published and the number is A/61/515.  It is published in all six languages, so it might be good to just pick it up and look at what is being said there.  It is interesting.


Question:  With reference to this so-called GRULAC pow-wow, I don’t know how authentic what I’m about to give you is, but we were told yesterday by various successive ambassadors, this meeting had to be called by Ecuador, as the monthly chairman of GRULAC, and that the whole notion was worthless, unless they had the attendance of the Guatemalans and the Venezuelans.  Is it your understanding that it has been called so by Ecuador, and as far as you know, will both the Guatemalans and Venezuelans be there?  Do you have any of that specific information at all?


Spokeswoman:  No, I don’t.  But I would assume if you are having a group meeting that everybody in the group would be there and these are the two main contenders, so I don’t see how you are going to have a meeting without them.  This meeting is not really a part of the General Assembly’s work, per se, so I think we will have to wait to hear what happened probably at the stakeout, because I notice most of the time the ambassadors give you the information at the stakeout.  I’ll probably hear it at the same time you do, whatever the readout is on the meeting.


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For information media • not an official record