19 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


**Guest


Good afternoon.  My guest today will be Major-General Alain Pellegrini, who, as you all know, is the Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), and he will be joining us shortly to provide an update on developments in the field, including the deployment of the expanded UNIFIL.


**Security Council - Middle East


Staying on the Middle East, Alvaro de Soto, the UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, told the Security Council that, in that region today, crisis and opportunity exist side-by-side, in a daily struggle for dominance over the fate of Israelis, Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, and the region as a whole.  At the heart of the conflict, he says, is the problem of Israel and Palestine, and the deadly crisis that continues in Gaza.


De Soto told the Council, in its open meeting this morning, that since 25 June, Israeli operations have killed 295 Palestinians and injured more than 1,000 others, while indiscriminate rocket attacks by the Palestinians have injured some 20 Israelis.  Palestinian militant rocket fire should cease, as should Israeli military operations, Mr. de Soto said.


He also drew attention to the political crisis of the Palestinian Authority, which has, for several months, been governed by a President and a Prime Minister with divergent programmes, and has been polarized by deadly clashes between rival security forces.


The fragile balance between crisis and opportunity is also apparent in Lebanon, where momentum has been generated in the implementation of resolution 1701, but, also, where the country’s heavy political tensions remain as a constant source of concern, de Soto added.


The Council’s open meeting is continuing, with some 20 speakers inscribed.  That should end sometime after 1 o’clock, and Mr. de Soto has indicated he would come to the stakeout afterwards.


** Sudan


Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Sudan (UNMIS) says it has received reports that a government aircraft dropped an unconfirmed number of bombs near Birmaza, in North Darfur yesterday, leading to the death of an eight-year-old boy.


The Mission has also received reports that two staff members from an international NGO were arrested, in South Darfur, two days ago, for taking photographs without the required permit; and in West Darfur, armed bandits tried to break into an NGO compound.


And, while on the topic of Darfur, a new UN assessment has found that, despite the deteriorating security situation, overall malnutrition levels have mostly stabilized this year and food insecurity has improved slightly, thanks to a stronger international response to the suffering in Darfur.  And we have more on those issues upstairs, in a press release.


**UNEP


Meanwhile, the UN Environment Programme, the number of “dead zones,” or low-oxygenated areas in the world’s seas and oceans, may be as high as 200, according to its new study.  Low levels of oxygen make survival difficult for fish, oysters and other marine creatures, as well as for important habitats such as sea grass beds.  And we have a press release on that upstairs.


**Post-Employment Restrictions


And yesterday, I was asked a question by Masood -- I don’t know if he’s here, but hopefully he’s listening -- about a draft policy on post-employment restrictions.


The aim of that policy, as outlined in the Secretary-General’s management reform proposals, is, basically, to ensure that staff who have responsibility for procurement, requisition or similar issues do not seek employment with companies they have been doing business with, after they leave the United Nations.  That policy is currently being discussed by senior managers, as well as the staff unions, and it is being discussed in consultations and should be finalized within the next couple of weeks.


**Press Briefings Tomorrow


And, lastly, tomorrow our guests will be Rogelio Pfirter, Director-General of the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW).  He will be joining us to provide you with an update on the non-proliferation and destruction of chemical weapons.


And, immediately following that, the Defence Minister of France, Michele Alliot-Marie, will be here holding a press conference in this room.


Before we turn to General Pellegrini, I’ll take some of your questions.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Maybe I missed it, but did you release the 1559 report yet?


Spokesman:  No, the 1559 report will be making its way down to the Security Council members at some point later today.


Question:  Second question, Secretary-General-elect Ban Ki-moon told me he would make his financial disclosure form public.  Will Kofi Annan, now, after he said it was going to be a problem for his successor, will Kofi Annan, now, make his disclosure public?


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General has done all that is required of him, and beyond filing the financial disclosure form, we’ll leave it at that.


Correspondent:  That’s enough.


Question:  How has the Secretary-General reacted to the decision of the AU to prolong the presidency of Laurent Gbagbo of Côte d’Ivoire, by one year?


Spokesman:  The important decision, taken by the African Union Peace and Security Council, is a welcome one.  It builds on proposals made by ECOWAS earlier this month, and will serve as a sound basis for the upcoming discussions in the Security Council on Côte d’Ivoire, which will look at all these issues, which is scheduled for later this month.  So we are now looking forward to the discussions in the Council on the way forward in Cote d’Ivoire.


Question:  The Prime Minister of Ethiopia has now acknowledged having sent troops into Somalia, so I’m wondering if the Secretariat, or the UN System, has any response to that, as relates to the arms embargo.


Spokesman:  The Secretary-General’s position on that is that he has himself and through his special adviser called on all countries in the region to exercise restraint and play a positive role in the political reconstruction in Somalia.


Question:  This has come up before and it was always said:  “These are press reports, we don’t know anything,” so, now that it’s acknowledged, this statement seems pretty generic.  Is there nothing more specific than that?


Spokesman:  As I said, I think it is important for all the neighbours of Somalia to play, inasmuch as they can, a positive role in helping the Somali people on their way forward to peace.


Question:  In the highlights of Mr. de Soto’s speech, he doesn’t seem to have taken notice of the Israeli announcement, last night, that they were widening their anti-Palestinian operations.  Has the Secretary-General taken note of that?


Spokesman:  We have obviously seen that, and I think the reaction from Mr.  de Soto, in his briefing, is a call on the Israelis to cease these operations.


Question:  Does the Secretary-General plan to go to the Korean peninsula to try and defuse the crisis that’s happening now, or at least participate in the talks there, and also, any plans with Darfur?


Spokesman:  He has no plans to travel to the Korean peninsula, his effort’s on supporting the existing framework of the six-party talks, and I have nothing at this point to announce on any possible African travel.


Question:  The latest North Korea human rights report says, today, there’s some discussion in there about North Korean officials rounding up disabled people and putting them in camps and sort of a whole litany of horrors going on, in terms of human rights inside the country.  I know this report comes from the Secretary-General, from his Special Rapporteur, it’s a little bit dry.  Does the Secretary-General have anything he can say about the human rights situation in North Korea that’s sort of from his own…


Spokesman:  I think the Special Rapporteur has made the situation extremely clear, and we would hope that action would be taken to remedy that situation, but it is one of the important aspects of the Special Rapporteur’s functions to flag these issues for all to see.


Question:  The French Minister of Defence will be here tomorrow.  There will be a meeting with the United Nations Secretary-General.  Do you know what will be the subject of the meeting?


Spokesman:  I believe that there will be a meeting.  Obviously France is a major partner for us, in a number of peacekeeping operations, including Lebanon, as you will hear from General Pellegrini, Côte d’Ivoire, and other places, so they will have a host of issues to discuss.  But we’ll see if we can provide you with a read-out afterwards.


Question:  Michele Alliot-Marie is here to discuss also the UNIFIL, I guess.  Is there any meeting with Mr. Pellegrini on that subject, on UNIFIL?


Spokesman:  No.


Question:  Since Jan Egeland made a story two weeks ago about the Israeli use of cluster bombs, yesterday, there was a Human Rights Watch report that said Hizbollah used a lot of cluster bombs during the war.  Does the UN, Jan Egeland, intend to investigate it?


Spokesman:  What the Secretary-General’s position has been, as he said in his last report, is for a comprehensive look at the violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, that took place on both sides during the conflict.  If this use of cluster bombs were true, we would have the same reaction that we would have when Israel uses them, as when Hizbollah has used them.


Question:  Is it illegal?


Spokesman:  That is not something I can pronounce myself on.


Question:  Yesterday, on the issue of UNDP’s praise of the Turkmenistan government, and the question of when UNDP’s directors come here, you said he’s come frequently, it was unfair to say not.  As best as I can make out, he came in August 2005 -- 14 months ago – so, I don’t know if it’s possible to have UNDP’s director comment on this question.  UNDP is sponsoring a human rights commission that all of the human rights groups in the country are boycotting.  So questions have arisen, I wonder if you could address that, or if you could get Mr. Derviş to come more than every 14 months.


Spokesman:  We’ll see what we can do.


Briefing by Spokeswoman for President of General Assembly


The General Assembly, this morning, resumed voting to elect a candidate from the Latin American and Caribbean region for a non-permanent seat on the 2007-2008 Security Council.  There were five ballots by 12:30, and the numbers again have not changed significantly from Tuesday of this week.  The last ballot, which was the 27th round and restricted, saw Guatemala receiving 105 votes to Venezuela’s 78, and neither country getting the required votes needed for a two-thirds majority (which was 122 for that round).


On Wednesday, the First Committee, which deals with Disarmament and International Security, concluded its thematic debate on conventional weapons, introducing eight draft resolutions, one of them titled:  “Towards an arms trade treaty:  establishing common international standards for the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.”  The resolution followed intensive consultations with a wide number of United Nations Member States.  Introducing the draft, the representative of the United Kingdom said the time had come to engage in an informed discussion, on whether and how to develop common international standards on the import, export and transfer of conventional arms.


Other draft resolutions include the annual draft omnibus resolution on small arms and light weapons in all its aspects; a resolution on consolidation of peace through practical disarmament measures; the Declaration of the Fourth Disarmament Decade; the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons; problems arising form the accumulation of conventional ammunition stockpiles in surplus; assistance to States for curbing the illicit traffic in small arms and light weapons and collecting them; and nuclear disarmament.  The Committee will meet again, today, to hear further introductions of draft resolution and decisions.


In the Second Committee (Economic and Financial) a panel discussion was held yesterday afternoon, in which experts said that concerns about job security cut across both rich and poor countries, as technology accelerated the pace of globalization and sent corporations and workers moving beyond borders around the world.  Panellists in the discussion, titled “Social Policy in an Era of Globalization”, said Governments in both developed and developing nations, in addition to the international community, must develop flexible policies to address the social, economic and labour challenges sparked by the increasing interdependence of today’s world.


The Committee, this morning, also held an interactive dialogue with the heads of the five United Nations regional commissions, on the role of innovation, science and technology in the development process.


The Second Committee, today, is considering the Secretary-General’s report on the role of innovation, science and technology, in pursuing development, in the context of globalization, among other items.  The Second Committee will also take up the summary on the High Level meeting, by the President of the Assembly, as it considers the item International Migration and development.


On Wednesday, the Third Committee held several informal meetings, among them, one on a draft resolution on trafficking in women and girls.


And, in the Sixth Committee, because I tend not to focus on the Sixth Committee, since sometimes I know it’s very technical for you, but I still think there are a lot of interesting things happening there that you should know about, so today I’m going to focus on the Sixth Committee.


They’ve been holding a number of interesting discussions on the status of the two 1977 Protocols to the Geneva Convention of 1949, which deals with the protection of victims of armed conflict.  Delegates were told, on Wednesday, that with near-universal acceptance of the Geneva Conventions, the focus must now be on ensuring implementation of their provisions, under international humanitarian law.  There are now some 194 States Parties to the Conventions.  The Committee also discussed measures to enhance the safety of diplomatic and consular missions.


This week, in the Sixth Committee, delegates also welcomed the inclusion of the new agenda item on “the rule of law at national and international levels,” noting that the discussion was timely and in line with the Secretary-General’s call, in 2004, to put emphasis on the rule of law in the work of the UN, as well as the World Summit Outcome document of 2005.


Delegates stressed that the rule of law is important for the attainment of peace and security, development and human rights.  Compliance with the rule of law, they noted, must be looked at from two angles:  from both the domestic and international perspectives.  Most delegations stressed that, in order to comply with international law, treaty obligations must be obeyed and domestic laws should not be enacted, so as to depart from such obligations.


The Sixth Committee also decided, this week, to establish a working group on terrorism, under chairmanship of Ambassador Rohan Perera of Sri Lanka.  The working group hopes to meet later this week to further the work under its mandate, namely, the conclusion of the comprehensive convention on international terrorism and the possibility of convening a high-level conference, under the auspices of the UN, to formulate a response to terrorism.  They are also discussing, in informal session, the draft annual resolution on measures to eliminate international terrorism.


The President of the General Assembly, Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa, is in Toronto, Canada, this morning, addressing a forum organized by the University for Peace on “Capacity Building for Peace and Development: Roles of the Diaspora.”  In her statement, Sheikha Haya stressed that Diaspora communities must be given the opportunity to engage constructively and harmoniously in society and policy making.  The key to this, she says, is the availability to them of access to quality education and equal work opportunities.  Diaspora communities are key stakeholders, she noted, and within the UN system “we must continue to provide a platform for their voices to be heard.”


That’s my briefing for today.


I did have some questions on the precedents in the General Assembly, in terms of what were the next longest ballots, after the one in 1979.  The second longest ballot was in 1960.  There were 52 rounds, and it was between Poland and Turkey.  What is interesting about that round of voting is that there was an agreement to split the term between Poland and Turkey.  What they decided was one country would have it in 1960, and the other in 1961.  So, in 1960, it was Poland’s term, and in 1961, Turkey took the seat.  What was also noteworthy about that decision was that one country had to resign at the end of their term, in order for another country to take office the following year.


The third largest round of balloting was in 1956, between Yugoslavia and the Philippines, and this time there was an outcome.  Yugoslavia won after 35 ballots.  So, those were the two precedents.


In terms of sharing the seats, besides the situation in 1960-1961, there was another situation in 2003, between Argentina and Brazil, and there was an agreement, between both countries, that one Member would take the seat in

2004-2005, and the other would have the seat in 2005-2006.  Again, there was an interesting agreement there, because each delegation had a representative of the other team on their delegation.  So for example, Argentina, when they held the seat, they had a representative of Brazil in their team, and the other way around, when Brazil had the seat.  They did this by a joint political declaration, in December of 2003, which reflected in a memorandum of understanding, in January of 2004.


So, I think that because people have been very curious, about, one, whether there has been precedents and, two, whether there had been accommodations, we have given you this information.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  So this is the fourth longest ballot in history, is that accurate?


Spokeswoman:  It depends on how far we go, today, there are now 27 rounds of balloting.


Question:  Is there any sort of growing recognition from the GA President that we’re sort of entering the realm of the absurd here with the vote.  I think the last two were basically identical, and then proceeding to the next vote, I mean, by my count, we’ve gone through more than 5,000 ballot papers.  There’s a lot of, sort of, wackiness to this whole thing, as well as what seems to be a fairly substantial amount of inefficiency from the man-hours and paper.  Is there a sense that something needs to be done to break this deadlock, or is it just, let Member States, sort of, hash it out on their own?


Spokeswoman:  I think this morning you may have heard that Egypt intervened on a point of order, and has said that Egypt intends to raise the question of how the Assembly will proceed with this process, as we move forward in the future.  I think, as they put it, they wished to have some clarification on how the voting process was going to be structured, and suggested that, perhaps going forward, they would not want to see more than two days or three, each week, devoted to balloting, because the Assembly has many committees and delegations are involved in other aspects of the Assembly’s work.  But, I think that, to be fair, this is an important vote and, as I understand, it’s been very rare.  I’m told last year was one of the few years when everything was completed in one day.  There is always an extended period of balloting, and I know that it feels, to many of you, as if it may be moving to the absurd, but one would hope that you’d look at it from the point of view that Member States take this very seriously, and I don’t think they’d want to just simply sit and waste anyone’s time.  They want to be fair to both parties who have invested a lot of time and energy in campaigning for this seat.


Question:  Is there any kind of escape clause here where you say Venezuela is not going to withdraw, Guatemala is showing no indications so far, it’s clear that neither side is close to winning a 2/3 majority.  Is there something that’s triggered after 300 votes, is there a rule that suddenly you can’t, you’ve got to find a way out?


Spokeswoman:  If you’ve noticed, we’ve gone to one extreme, which is 155 ballots, and we would hope it would not go back to that point.  I think the hope is that there could be an accommodation before that, through the good offices of the President of the Assembly, working together with Member States.


Question:  Has the President set any deadline of cutting this off?  Because most of the long ballots that you mentioned were during the cold war, and this is a different UN.  People are looking at it critically and, to echo Nick, it is a theatre of the absurd, totally absurd.  I’ve heard several diplomats suggest that she should just cut this off, and tell them to go back and negotiate, and come up with some scenarios that could be followed in the meantime.  But, is she going to let this run in the next week, or do you think it’s going to end on Friday?


Spokeswoman:  She cannot simply cut it off.  She has to hear from Member States, what they would like to do and we should wait to see what happens next.


Question:  Well, she has to take the initiative and approach Member States, you know.  The Assembly is paralyzed, and it looks ridiculous.  This is no longer the old UN, where everything done is treated by the outside world as nice stuff.  It is a theatre of the absurd, because the vote is not changing.  It’s a 20 to 30 gap each time.  As Nick said, no one is withdrawing, and it’s a waste of diplomats time, and certainly our time.


Spokeswoman:  Absolutely, I can hear your frustration clearly.  But I think we have to wait to see how the Member States, who are in charge of this process as well, want to play this out.  I am sure that the President is very aware of the fact that, in this kind of circumstance, she can be a facilitator, and I’m sure she will play that role.


Question:  Is she asking Member States, or is she waiting for an Egypt to wander up to the podium every three days?


Spokeswoman:  Please note that Egypt’s concerns centred around the procedural aspects of the process, not the outcome of the voting process.


Question:  Yeah, “I’m looking for someone else to wander up to the podium and say this has got to stop.”  Or, is she asking Member States in different regional groups, “I don’t like this, what do you suggest?”  Because, you know, every three days, someone wandering up to the podium, with a paralysed Assembly, do you know if she’s asking, is she initiating anything?


Spokeswoman:  She actually isn’t here at the moment, she’ll be back this afternoon, and an initiative has been put on the table, so I am sure that she will have a response.


Question:  Has she met with the head of GRULAC to talk about this, the Ecuadorians, to see where things are heading?


Spokeswoman:  She left yesterday afternoon, so I don’t think there was time for her to meet with the head of GRULAC, but I will double check on that.


Question:  Can you let us know if she takes any initiative, any consulting that’s constructive?  Because otherwise we’re going to have to write that she’s doing absolutely nothing.


Spokeswoman:  I will definitely let you know as soon as any initiatives are taken to move this process forward.


Question:  I’m looking at this from a different angle, from the perspective of changing the constituencies, the basis of my question is the pattern that you mentioned included Yugoslavia and the Philippines.  I understand that Poland and Turkey were part of Europe, but Yugoslavia and Philippines, what kind of a region was that?


Spokeswoman:  Well, remember this was 1956, so it would have been…


Question:  That was my first question.  Do I get, historically, several small questions, this was the first one, was there a time when the elections were not solely regionally-based?  Otherwise, how did Yugoslavia get involved with the Philippines?


Spokeswoman:  I thought of that myself and I will check on that.


Question:  Can we have the figures for the 27th ballot?


Spokeswoman:  105 votes to Guatemala, 78 to Venezuela, and the required 2/3 majority was 122, with 8 abstentions.


Question:  Ambassador Bolton has said any honourable country would withdraw, given the current split for the Guatemalans.  In these two scenarios, maybe you can report this, tomorrow or before then, what were the vote counts before they reached these agreements, were they closer, were they further apart?


Spokeswoman:  So that you have a comparison?


Question:  Right, because then we can say they didn’t follow…


Spokeswoman:  So what were the vote counts before they came to a final conclusion.


Question:  Not necessarily for all the rounds, but at the end, how was it standing?


Spokeswoman:  OK.


Question:  And maybe the President of the General Assembly can do a stakeout interview, this afternoon, when she’s back.  I mean, it seems like there are a lot of questions for her.  It seems like there are even suggestions being made by some of our colleagues.


Spokeswoman:  I’ll definitely give her the feedback.


Question:  And then, the Sixth Committee, you said they were talking about the Geneva Conventions.


Spokeswoman:  Yes, they had a long discussion yesterday.


Question:  Do you know if the controversy around the United States interpretation, or reinterpretation, of the Geneva Conventions, if that’s going to be discussed in the GA?  Because that’s a pretty hot topic.


Spokeswoman:  Not from what I read yesterday.  They were looking at the question of the protection of humanitarian workers, by the new… I’m trying to remember… you have the Red Cross, the Red Crescent, and now you have the new Red Crystal, and the hope is that the Red Crystal will give more protection to humanitarian workers in the field.  So it’s centred more around those kinds of issues.  I think, also, they were looking at the fact that you have a large number of countries who are now parties to the Conventions, and they would like to see it move forward; they’d like to see more implementation of the provisions.  So, I guess, under that rubric perhaps, the question of implementation may cover your question.


Question:  Is there discussion of the Geneva Conventions?  Is it ongoing?  Where is it taking place?


Spokeswoman:  In the Sixth Committee.  Again, I would have to check if the session is open or closed.  If it’s an open meeting, of course you’re welcome to attend.  If it’s closed, it’s a different story.


Question:  The Latin American regional group, what’s their position?


Spokeswoman:  Well, they met yesterday, so I’m sure you can contact them and find out what their discussions were.


Question:  Did they make any disclosure?


Spokeswoman:  They did not make an official disclosure, because it’s a private consultation among a group of States, so you’ll have to check with them about the final outcome.


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For information media • not an official record