26 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, the Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.


Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General


**Guests at Noon


Good afternoon.  And a special welcome have 15 students from Meiji Gakuin University, Japan, observing the briefing today.


Our guests today are Nicholas Burnett, Director of the UN Educational and Scientific Organization’s (UNESCO) Education for All Report, and Peter Smith, Assistant Director-General of UNESCO, who will be here to brief you on the 2007 Education for All Global Monitoring Report.


**Statement on Christopher Burnham


I now have a statement attributable directly to the Secretary-General:


“It is with great regret that I have accepted the resignation of Under-Secretary-General for Management, Christopher Burnham.


“Chris has been a driving force in the management reform efforts over the past eighteen months, including the creation of the first-ever Ethics Office in the United Nations, rewriting the UN whistleblower protection policy, devising stronger financial disclosure requirements, the creation of the first Consolidated Report of the United Nations, the adoption of new international accounting standards as well as the reform and modernization of the UN’s procurement service.


“Soon after his departure on 15 November, he will be returning to the private sector after more than 5 1/2 years of public service, both at the United Nations and, before that, at the State Department.


“Chris’s strong leadership will be missed at the United Nations.”


We have the full release available upstairs.


** Democratic Republic of the Congo


The Special Representative of the Secretary-General in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), William Lacy Swing, yesterday met with Vice-President Jean-Pierre Bemba, a candidate in Sunday’s run-off presidential election.  The meeting was part of Mr. Swing’s regular consultations with the Congolese leaders ahead of the historic election.


Mr. Swing and Mr. Bemba discussed security and public safety arrangements for a rally planned by Bemba’s supporters for tomorrow in a Kinshasa stadium.  They also discussed broader security issues, including allegations of the discovery of unlawful weapons in the residence of one of Mr. Bemba’s advisors.


The UN Force Commander of the peacekeepers in the DRC, meanwhile, has condemned a decision to prevent a UN weapons verification team from inspecting a logistical camp run by supporters of President Joseph Kabila, the other contender in the Sunday election.


**Security Council


Turning back to the Security Council and its activities, this morning it began an open meeting on women, peace and security, which is expected to continue this afternoon, with 48 speakers now inscribed.


Rachel Mayanja, the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and the Advancement of Women, who briefed you here yesterday, presented the Secretary-General’s recent report on women, peace and security, which assesses the progress of the System-Wide Action Plan implemented earlier this year.


Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations Jean-Marie Guéhenno told the Council that less than 2 per cent of UN military personnel, and less than 5 per cent of police personnel are women, and he argued that a greater number of women peacekeepers must be deployed.


Tomorrow afternoon, Guéhenno is now scheduled to brief the Security Council in consultations on the issues regarding Sudan.  And that is attributable to the President of the Security Council.


**Security Council - Yesterday


To recap from yesterday, the Security Council held a private meeting and closed consultations on Côte d’Ivoire.  The Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Côte d’Ivoire, Pierre Schori, in response to your questions at the stakeout said afterwards, "this time it's more serious" because leaders of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States support the latest plan to promote the peace process in Côte d’Ivoire.


This time, Schori told reporters, the urge for peace and reconciliation is much stronger than before, and hopefully the Security Council will endorse that and provide the clarity and the firmness needed.


A draft resolution, as you know, is currently being discussed at the experts’ level.


Also yesterday, Council members decided to establish a new integrated office in Burundi for an initial period of one year, following the end of the mandate of the current UN operation in Burundi.


**Lebanon


And from Lebanon, the Deputy Force Commander of the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), Brigadier General Jai Prakash Nehra, met today with senior officers from the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) and the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF), to discuss the situation around Ghajar to find a way to ensure a speedy withdrawal of the Israeli forces from the area.


“The meeting was productive and the main focus was to finalize arrangements for Ghajar after the IDF withdrawal,” Nehra said afterward.


Minor administrative issues concerning Ghajar residents are still pending, and UNIFIL hopes they will be solved in the next meeting early next week.


** Eritrea


Meanwhile, the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) reports that on 21 October, two Eritrean nationals forcibly entered a UN troops’ headquarters in the town of Barentu.  UN peacekeepers then opened fire, injuring one of the intruders, before rushing to a UN military hospital where he was later pronounced dead.


The Mission says it immediately opened a comprehensive investigation into the incident, and will fully cooperate with any additional investigation conducted by the Eritrean authorities themselves.


The Mission deeply regrets this tragic loss of life and extends its sincere condolences to the family of the deceased and to the Eritrean authorities.  And we have a press release available upstairs from the Mission.


**Timor-Leste


The UN Mission in Timor-Leste (UNMIT) says it’s continuing its efforts to strengthen the political stability of this young nation.  The Department of Peacekeeping Operations says that the number of UN police force deployed as part of the Mission now stands at 860.


This number includes some 440 police officers from 13 countries and 420 officers in three so-called Formed Police Units, from Bangladesh, Malaysia and Portugal.


**Gambari in Japan


And I have an update on the ongoing travels of the Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs, Ibrahim Gambari.  After concluding a series of meetings yesterday in Beijing, Mr. Gambari travelled to Japan, where he met today in Tokyo with the Special Adviser to Japan's Prime Minister on National Security Affairs and with senior diplomats.


The meetings permitted an exchange of views on ways to resolve the nuclear issues on the Korean Peninsula through diplomacy, as well as on cooperation between Japan and the United Nations on peace and security issues.  On behalf of the Secretary-General, Mr. Gambari conveyed to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe his deep gratitude to Japan for its continuing support of the United Nations.


** Iraq Compensation Commission


Just a couple more notes for you, the United Nations Compensation Commission has made available today a total of more than $417 million to seven Governments for distribution to 46 successful claimants.


This, you’ll recall, is the commission dealing with the damages from Iraq’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait. The Governing Council of the Compensation Commission will hold its sixty-first session, starting on 31 October in Geneva, under the Presidency of Ambassador Tassos Kriekoukis of Greece.  We have two press releases available on that upstairs.


**World Food Programme – Africa


The World Food Programme (WFP) today warned that a massive funding shortfall is forcing food aid cuts to more than 4 million people across southern Africa who remain chronically vulnerable despite this year’s reportedly good harvests.


In related news, WFP says it is facing increasing difficulties in providing food aid to Saharawi refugees living in remote camps near Tindouf in south-west Algeria.  This concern is also shared by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).  We have a press release on that upstairs.


**Press Conferences


And lastly, we announced yesterday that Jean Ziegler, Special Rapporteur on the right to food, had been scheduled to come at 1:00.  But in fact that briefing has now been moved to 2:00 this afternoon.  And that is it for me. I will now take some of your questions.


**Questions and Answers


Question:  The Sudanese Ambassador just told the press that Mr. Pronk is history as far as the Sudanese Government is concerned.  So what’s the UN position?


Spokesman:  I didn’t have the opportunity, as you did, to listen to the Sudanese Ambassador.  Mr. Pronk met with the Secretary-General this morning as we told you.  The discussions between Mr. Pronk and the Secretary-General will probably continue later today.  As far as we are concerned, his status remained unchanged.  He remains the Secretary-General’s Special Representative, having been recalled for consultations.  But obviously the decision regarding Mr. Pronk, as the decision regarding any Special Representative of the Secretary-General, is the Secretary-General’s to make.


Question:  To follow up, the plan would be that if he’s to stay in place and the Sudanese Government doesn’t change its position, then he has to operate from outside?


Spokesman:  We need to take things one step at a time.  The Secretary-General had a meeting this morning with Mr. Pronk; they ran through the situation.  They will probably have more discussions either later this afternoon or tomorrow.


Question:  The Sudanese Ambassador said that Mr. Pronk went beyond his mandate in commenting on the morale of the Sudanese Armed Forces in his blog.  Is that necessarily the view of the Secretary-General?


Spokesman:  Mr. Pronk continues to serve with the full backing of the Secretary-General and with his full confidence.  As to the content of his blog, I think we’ve discussed this rather in depth on Friday and it remains his private views.


Question:  I have some questions to ask on Lebanon.  First, there are violations of Lebanese airspace still by Israel.  Do you have any reaction from the United Nations?


Spokesman:  We have expressed in the past and we continue to express our concern about the violations, General Pellegrini spoke to this yesterday when he mentioned there had been a number of violations in the last few days.  I didn’t get any reported for today, but obviously these air violations are a concern, and General Pellegrini called on everyone to respect the spirit and the letter of the resolution.


Question:  And also is the Security Council still considering an arms embargo on the Lebanese from smuggling arms to Hezbollah?  Do you have anything on that?


Spokesman:  I think the Council decided what it wants to decide.  But resolution 1701 is clear on the need for all to respect the call for non-arming of militias and the disarming of the militias.


Question:  Do you have something on the draft international tribunal?


Spokesman:  No I do not.  As soon as we have something to announce, I will let you know.


Question:  And on 1559, anything new?


Spokesman:  I think the Larsen report was recently -- there is nothing to add to Mr. Larsen’s report.


Question:  Are you going to do anything to see if you could get Mr. Pronk into this room?  Or to the stakeout?


Spokesman:  You should not expect Mr. Pronk to speak to the media until the discussions with the Secretary-General and senior officials here have been completed.


Question:  Can you put that request in for us?


Spokesman:  That request is in, but it could be today, it could be tomorrow.


Question:  When is Mr. Gambari scheduled to visit Myanmar?  We understood that he is supposed to go sometime in November.  And also there are some reports coming out of Afghanistan that up to 60 perhaps or more civilians were killed in NATO’s latest push in the South.  And I heard that the Afghan Ministry of Defence will be calling for an investigation or looking into an investigation?  Is the UN going to head an investigation as well?

Spokesman:  I don’t have anything specific on an investigation or even a request for one from the Afghan authorities, but today the UN Mission in Afghanistan expressed its concern at the heavy loss of civilian life in these operations and reminded that everything should be done to protect the lives of civilians in these military operations.  As for an eventual trip to Myanmar, there will likely be one, I think as we’ve said in the past, but I do not have anything specific to announce today.


Question:  In the UN Mission in Afghanistan, is that in their purview to investigate claims?


Spokesman:  We would first have to receive any request and then study that request.


Question:  Niger has said it would and now has started expelling tens of thousands of people to Chad. I don’t know if UNHCR or the UN system has anything to say given the scope of these expulsions?


Spokesman:  Yes, it is in fact something UNHCR is aware of. They are trying to get more information as is the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.  Teams were already planning to head this week to Northern Niger and the Niger-Chad border from OCHA for some routine assessments.  Those teams will now take a look at the situation regarding these reported expulsions.


Question:  Have they tried to ask Niger not to do it?


Spokesman:  They are trying to gather more information.  I can’t go beyond that. They are trying to assess what the situation is.


Question:  And also, various human rights groups say they have written to the UN to express concern about the former President of Sri Lanka, Kumaratunga, being made a special consultant to UNESCO, given her human rights record.  Are you aware of this request?


Spokesman:  I’m not aware of that request.


Question:  How are special consultants to UNESCO chosen?


Spokesman:  In fact, you are lucky enough to have a guest from UNESCO after Gail briefs, so they can handle that question and not me. Thank you very much. On that note, I will leave you to Gail and then we will move to our guests from UNESCO.  Thank you.


Briefing by Spokeswoman for President of General Assembly


Good afternoon, everyone.  The plenary of the General Assembly will meet this afternoon at three to take action on the third report of the General Committee on the split allocation of item 68 which deals with the report of the Human Rights Council.  The General Committee is recommending that the report be allocated both to the Third Committee and the General Assembly plenary. 


Other issues on the Assembly’s agenda today include consolidation of the list of candidates for election to the International Law Commission and action on a letter from the Chairman of the Committee on Conferences to the General Assembly President requesting that the International Research and Training Institute on the Advancement of Women, known as INSTRAW, be allowed to hold one meeting in New York during the main session of the Assembly.  This is not normally allowed except, of course, for the main Committees.


The Assembly will also consider the report of the International Court of Justice.


As you are aware the meeting of the Assembly scheduled for today to resume balloting to elect the fifth non-permanent member to the 2007-2008 Security Council has been cancelled.  Voting will resume on Tuesday 31 October at 10 a.m. in the General Assembly Hall.  A timetable has also been drawn up in the event that voting continues as follows:


Wednesday, 1 November -– 3 p.m. (GA Hall)

Tuesday, 7 November -- 10 a.m. (GA Hall)

Wednesday, 8 November -- 3 p.m. (GA Hall)

Tuesday, 14 November -- 10 a.m. (GA Hall)

Wednesday, 15 November -- 3 p.m. (GA Hall)


Work in the Committees continues:  The First Committee on Wednesday took action on 21 draft resolutions (the details are reflected in GA/DIS/3334.)  All these resolutions it will eventually recommend to the General Assembly for approval.  Among the draft resolutions scheduled for action by the Committee this afternoon is one on a possible arms trade treaty.


In the Second Committee, discussions centred on energy security as the Committee discussed sustainable development.  Delegates argued that a combination of higher efficiency, more renewable resources and better technology was urgently needed to avert global warming and other climate consequences of uncontrolled energy use.  The Committee also heard the introduction of a draft resolution on the integration of economies in transition in the world economy.  Debate on sustainable development continues today.


The Sixth Committee approved without a vote the draft resolutions recommending observer status for the three organizations -- I think I mentioned earlier this week -- the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries [OPEC] Fund for International development, the Indian Ocean Commission and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations [ASEAN] to participate in the work of the General Assembly as observers.  The Committee continues its consideration of chapters of its 500 plus page report on the International Law Commission dealing with, among other things, diplomatic protection of persons and entities and international liability for transboundary harm.


I want to flag for you two upcoming events, one of which will be co-hosted by the President of the Assembly Sheikha Haya Rashed Al Khalifa.  On 21 November 2006, the Office of the President of the sixty-first session of General Assembly and the United Nations Foundation will co-host a forum on the relationship between the General Assembly and non-governmental organizations.  The forum will be held at the Millennium Plaza Ballroom from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.  Some 200 participants are expected, including Permanent Representatives of Member States and heads of international non-governmental organizations.  It is hoped that the 21 November forum will enable an open exchange of views between Member States and NGOs on NGO involvement in the Assembly and other related topics.


And finally, the President of the Assembly has also sent out a letter to all Member States inviting them to attend the first of her thematic debates on 27 November 2006, entitled “Partnerships towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals: Taking stock, moving forward.”  The President in her invitation letter notes that as we approach the midpoint of the target date to achieve the goal of eradicating poverty by the year 2015 “it is essential to take stock of the progress made so far in order to generate further impetus towards achieving our objectives.”


**Questions and Answers


(Answer from earlier question)

Spokeswoman:  That’s my report for today and I have some pending questions to answer except I don’t see some of the people who posed the questions here.  I will report on yours, however [referring to Matthew Lee of Inner City Press].  Special Rapporteurs are masters of their own affairs, in the sense that they decide whether or not they would like to do a press conference.  Mr. Pinheiro, unfortunately, has left, but the focal point here in New York is willing to give me his address so you can personally be in touch with him.  The same with Mr. Alston.  Mr. Alston, however is in New York, so the focal point has promised to be in touch with him, and I have said to him that there is a journalist interested in interviewing him, so I will have his contacts as well for you.


Question:  Question about the Sixth Committee resolution, approving observer status for OPEC and ASEAN, when does the General Assembly take that up?


Spokeswoman:  That I don’t know. I don’t know when the General Assembly will actually take that up, but I can find out.


[The Spokeswoman can confirm that usually recommendations go from the Sixth Committee to the Plenary when the Committee concludes its work.  However, there can be exceptions if Member States request on an urgent or exceptional basis that an item be considered earlier.  This is not the case at the moment with this recommendation.]


Question:  In the press briefing earlier today here, there was a speaker from Sierra Leone speaking about the Peacebuilding Commission who said that already in Sierra Leone people are being told that there is some bureaucracy in terms of it actually starting up.  Whether it’s under the Security Council or the General Assembly, it’s somewhat unclear.  So I guess I’m wondering, maybe you can say, which committee, what is going to be the General Assembly involvement with the Peacebuilding Commission and Peacebuilding Fund now that it’s actually supposed to be rolling out programmes in Sierra Leone and Burundi.  Is the committee going to somehow oversee it on a day to day basis or what steps would be taken to make sure that the bureaucracy of which the speakers spoke does not set in?


Spokeswoman:  I don’t want to answer that off the top of my head because I know there is a relationship, but I’d like to have the facts clear and get back to you on that.  Anything else?  Thank you.


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