3 November 2006
Spokesman's Noon Briefing

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

DAILY 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-Tailor Sainte, Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.


Briefing by Spokesman for Secretary-General


Good afternoon.  Our guest today is Adolf Ogi, Special Adviser to the Secretary-General for Sport for Development and Peace.  He’ll be talking to you about the new book on the achievements of the International Year of Sport and Physical Education 2005, and the Action Plan on Sport for Development and Peace.  We’ll have two statements today, one on the Middle East and one on Darfur.  I will start with the Middle East, which was issued a short while ago.


** Middle East - Statement


“The Secretary-General is deeply concerned about the continuing escalation of violence and rising death toll caused by the Israeli military operation in northern Gaza.  Military operations in populated areas inevitably cause civilian casualties and, in this operation, several civilians have already been killed and wounded, including women and at least one Palestinian child.


“The Secretary-General urges Israel to exercise maximum restraint, do their utmost to protect civilians and to refrain from further escalating an already grave situation.  He also calls on Palestinian militants to stop firing rockets against Israeli civilian targets.


“All concerned should remember that continuing violence is liable to make the search for a just and lasting peace in the region even more difficult.”


And that statement is upstairs.


**UNRWA


On a related note, the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) warns that the operation is taking place in an area densely populated by Palestinian refugees, with more than 10,000 students going to UNRWA schools, as well as more than 400 of the Agency’s staff, affected by the operations.


UNRWA adds that between 30 and 40 women today were collected inside two of its elementary schools, where their mobile phones were taken from them by Israeli soldiers; the Agency confirmed that two of the women subsequently suffered gunshot wounds.  UNRWA also had problems getting humanitarian and health help to those in the schools.


** Lebanon


The UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) says that it has now deployed a total of around 9,000 troops from 20 different countries.  Of that number, 7,700 troops are deployed on the ground between the Litani River and the Blue Line, in addition to a UNIFIL Maritime Task Force with 1,700 naval personnel.


Two Sector Headquarters have become operational as of the start of November, with the headquarters for the western sector located in Tibnine, and the one in the East located near Marjayoun.  We also have more details on the composition of the force, the contingents serving with UNIFIL, in a press release upstairs.


** Sudan - Statement


“The Secretary-General condemns the large-scale militia attacks in the Jebel Moon area of West Darfur on 29 and 30 October.  The attacks on eight civilian settlements, including a camp harbouring some 3,500 internally displaced persons, caused scores of civilian deaths and forced thousands to flee the area.  The Secretary-General is particularly distressed on hearing reports that 27 of those killed were children under the age of 12.


“The Secretary-General calls again in the strongest possible terms on the parties to respect their agreements and the provisions of international humanitarian law.  He appeals once more to the Government of the Sudan to take all necessary measures to prevent further attacks against civilians, particularly by militia forces.”


** Sudan


Regarding these attacks in Darfur, which we reported to you first on Tuesday, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights reports from Geneva that they resulted in approximately 50 civilian deaths and as many as 7,000 persons in the area were affected by the violence.  Many fled to the South or across the border to Chad and in other directions.  The attacks affected nine villages or locations, including a camp for internally displaced persons. 


The most recent report on the human rights situation in the Sudan, as compiled by the Human Rights Office and issued in Geneva, calls on the Sudan to conduct an impartial, transparent and timely investigation into the attacks with the aim of prosecuting those who planned, orchestrated and carried them out. 


Meanwhile, the UN refugee agency also expressed extreme concern about the Jebel Moon attacks and announced it was sending a team today to the border area to monitor the situation and assess the needs of the refugees who were seen fleeing the attacks into Chad.


Recent inter-ethnic violence, including attacks by Arab-led armed groups along the tense border areas in eastern Chad adjacent to Darfur, has now pushed the numbers of internally displaced in the past year up to an estimated 63,000 from an earlier figure of 50,000, according to UNHCR.


**Secretary-General in Montevideo


The Secretary-General this evening will address the sixteenth Ibero-American Summit in Montevideo, Uruguay, and he will highlight the challenge of entrenched inequality, the need for fair distribution of the gains from international trade and the importance of the upcoming Global Forum on International Migration and Development.


He will detail the ways in which that Forum, which he had proposed as a way to continue the debate that began with last month’s UN High-Level Dialogue on migration, can help mark a sea change in how Governments deal with that issue.  We have embargoed copies of his speech upstairs.


The Secretary-General began his work today with a tête-à-tête meeting with the Secretary-General of the Ibero-American General Secretariat, Enrique Iglesias.  He also met with the United Nations country team for Uruguay.


** Iraq


We have upstairs briefing notes from the UN refugee agency, or UNHCR.  UNHCR is increasingly alarmed over the incessant violence in Iraq and distressed over the lack of an international humanitarian response to deal with the massive numbers of people being displaced by that violence. 


** Ethiopia


In the wake of worsening floods in south-eastern Ethiopia, the World Food Programme is working closely with the Government of Ethiopia to ensure that food aid urgently reaches tens of thousands of flood survivors in the country’s Somali region.  As access to the flood-hit area is difficult, air-dropping food aid is being considered.  We have a press release on that upstairs.


** Pakistan


According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), agencies are working to improve tented camps where some two million quake survivors are still living, ahead of winter.  In addition, the UN Humanitarian Air Service, which is managed by the World Food Programme, is set to resume helicopter operations next week in that region, to carry building and agricultural materials to remote areas.


**Governing Council


The Governing Council of the United Nations Compensation Commission dealing with Iraq today concluded its sixty-first session in Geneva.


The Governing Council considered the issue of inaccurate awards involving overpayments and approved a significant number of claims for correction.  The Council decided that all affected Governments and submitting entities be required to undertake best efforts to recover the overpaid amounts and return them to the Commission.  We have a press release from them upstairs on that.


**DPKO - Valencia and Brindisi


The Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) is pleased to announce that, subject to the approval of the General Assembly, it has accepted a proposal from the Government of Spain to locate a Telecommunications Facility in Valencia, Spain.  The facility will serve to reinforce our current capacities provided through the United Nations Logistics Base in Brindisi, Italy.


In addition, the Department of Peacekeeping Operations is pleased to announce that it has accepted a proposal from the Government of Italy to host the Standing Police Capacity at the United Nations Logistics Base in Brindisi.  This new unit, which will be launched in spring 2007, will assist in fulfilling the strategic mission of UN police, which is to build institutional police capacity in post-conflict environments.  We have more upstairs from DPKO.


**UNDP


Our colleagues in the UN Development Programme (UNDP) would like to inform you that UNDP Associate Administrator Ad Melkert will be holding an embargoed media briefing on the sixteenth Annual Human Development Report, on Monday at 10:00 a.m. in the UNCA club.


Embargoed copies of the report, as well as press kits, will be available this afternoon in my office.


That is it from me.  I will take some of your questions.  Yes, Laura?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  I just wanted to ask you regarding at the top of the briefing about the Gaza incursion by the IDF.  Has the United Nations made any protests to the IDF, considering that they rounded up a bunch of women, took their cell phones from them and then shot them?  Making a statement that the Secretary-General was concerned is nice, but is anything concrete going to happen here?


Spokesman:  What UNRWA is telling us is that they are still trying to get details about what happened at their schools.  They will, as they have in the past, protest the incident that took place in the school.  But the level of violence we are seeing in Gaza is of great concern to the Secretary-General.  The Quartet envoys are in constant touch with each other to see how they can try to move forward the situation.  Yes, Mark?


Question:  I was looking for clarity with regard to the appointment of the WFP head.  How much input at this stage does Ban Ki-moon have on a formal level in this decision?  Is this in any way being characterized as a joint decision between Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon?  Does Ban Ki-moon give advice?  What is the situation with regard to this?


Spokesman:  The appointment of the WFP head is made by the sitting Secretary-General and the Director-General of the FAO, which they then jointly write to the WFP executive board.  This Secretary-General has made it clear that he will consult the Secretary-General-designate on the process.  The process had started before Mr. Ban Ki-moon was designated.  But, since this is a five-year term to a major United Nations agency, he is being consulted.  But the appointment is that of the Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, and of Jacques Diouf, Director-General of the FAO.


Question:  To follow up, what does this consultation amount to and how much weight does it hold?  Does Kofi Annan speak to Ban Ki-moon?  Does Ban Ki-moon’s deputy speak to Kofi Annan’s deputies?  What does this consultation amount to?


Spokesman:  These will be consultations between the Secretary-General and the Secretary-General-designate.


Question:  Up until now, what has been the level of communication between the Secretary-General’s team and Ban Ki-moon’s team on this particular appointment?


Spokesman:  On this particular appointment, there have been and there will be consultations between the Secretary-General-designate’s and the Secretary-General’s teams.  I don’t have any details of actual conversations that may have taken place between the Secretary-General and the Secretary-General-designate.  But the appointment is one that is jointly made between the sitting Secretary-General and the head of FAO.  Yes, sir?


Question:  The Israelis are using their aerial surveyors to Lebanon as a means to put pressure on the United Nations in order to exercise the disarmament of Hizbollah.  Israelis are discussing this amongst themselves on the political level.  Did you hear from the Israelis about that, or did you discuss with the Israelis this, because they insist that they will continue their air sorties over Lebanon.


Spokesman:  We have protested and continue to protest the air sorties by Israeli jets in violation of the Blue Line and in violation of [Security Council resolution] 1701. We will continue to do so, as we would protest any violation of the resolution.


Question:  Did they come to you and ask you that you should fulfil certain things regarding 1701?


Spokesman:  Clearly, according to the resolution, the disarmament of all militias will be based on a political agreement, which will be reached by the Lebanese themselves.  Yes, Massood?


Question:  To follow up on Laura’s question, the statement that you issued, is that all the United Nations…?  Has it been in touch with the Israeli Government?  This is an outrageous incident and, if it were somebody else, you’d be crying bloody murder.


Spokesman:  The situation is ongoing.  We are obviously trying to get as much information as we can.  We are following closely from here and our folks on the ground are following it closely.


Question:  A question on North Korea.  There are certain reports from North Korea that, when United Nations agencies provide some of the aid packages to North Korea, that they are basically demanding hard cash.  Is that report right?  Instead of goods and services and so forth, they are demanding hard cash?  Is that correct?


Spokesman:  I have not heard any of that.


Question:  The other thing I wanted to know is about the six-party talks that are going on, which will go on.  Will the United Nations be a party to it?


Spokesman:  The United Nations is not part of the six-party talks.  The Secretary-General has repeatedly expressed his support for that endeavour and welcomed the initial reports that the talks would resume.


Question:  Why has he totally distanced himself from this issue?


Spokesman:  He has not distanced himself from this issue.  Massood, he has not distanced himself from this issue.  Not every problem requires the same sort of solution.  There are some issues in which the United Nations is directly a party, whether it is the Quartet or the Good Offices of the Secretary-General in Cyprus or other places.  There are other situations which demand a different solution.  Everything is tailor-made to the problem.  The Secretary-General is extremely supportive of the six-party talks.  Yes, Matthew?


Question:  DPKO and WFP.  There are reports that the United States would like to head DPKO and maybe give up [the Department of] Management to do it.  If you could comment on that.


Spokesman:  No.


Question:  Is Mr. Guéhenno, when is his term… other Under-Secretaries-General….


Spokesman:  Most Under-Secretaries-General have their contracts ending in February, so as to give the incoming administration the best, the most flexibility.  But, as far as speculation on what the United Nations would look like on 1 January, I cannot speak to that.


Question:  On WFP, can you describe the level of input by the United States into the process?  Mark had asked you to describe Ban Ki-moon and Kofi Annan.  Can you give some, does Kofi Annan get called when…?


Spokesman:  As the Ambassadors have told you and as has been reported in the press, there is a shortlist.  But, the decision is one made by the Secretary-General and the Director-General of the FAO.


Spokesman:  I’d asked before about staff rule 4.4 and an FAO constitution provision, both of which say if people are equally qualified, the person already in the United Nations should be given preference in appointments.  Do these rules apply to this?


Question:  The hiring will be done consistent with all applicable rules.  I have nothing further to say.


Spokesman:  Is it true the Secretary-General is preparing to launch a Mediation Support Unit in the near future with funding from the Norwegian Government?  Do you know about that?


Question:  I do not but I’m happy to check for you.  James?


[The Spokesman later added that a Mediation Support Unit had now been created within the Department of Political Affairs to provide advice and support to mediators in the field.]


Spokesman:  On Maurice Strong, what is it that has changed that it was appropriate for the United Nations to have an envoy until 18 months ago and then it was no longer appropriate for the United Nations to have an envoy after 18 months ago?


Question:  Each situation changes.  Just because there is no envoy and there was no replacement for Mr. Strong should not be read as a lack of interest, or lack of interest in the Secretary-General or the United Nations of what is going on in North Korea.  The Organization as a whole is engaged, in fact, in North Korea through the World Food Programme and, politically, the Secretary-General is very much supporting the six-party talks.  Thank you.


We’ll now have Gail brief on behalf of the General Assembly and then, Mr. Ogi will be here.  Thank you.


Briefing by Spokeswoman for General Assembly President


Good afternoon, everyone.  On Thursday, the Assembly extended the tenure of 18 temporary Judges serving on the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, which is hoped will assist the War Crimes Court to keep on track to meet its target of trying all defendants by the end of 2008.  The Assembly, in one round of voting, also elected 17 Member States for three-year terms to the Economic and Social Council.  These include Algeria, Barbados, Bolivia, Canada, Cape Verde, El Salvador, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Malawi, the Philippines, Romania, Somalia, the Sudan and the United States.  Their terms will begin on the first of January 2007 and end on 31 December 2010.  One seat, of the Eastern European States, remained unfilled after nine rounds of balloting, as the Assembly failed to give a two-thirds majority to either Belarus or Bulgaria, and three rounds of unrestricted voting did not field a third candidate that could gain enough votes.  The final ballot was Belarus:  123 votes -- one vote short of the needed 124 majority -- and Bulgaria 62.  Voting will continue on Tuesday, 7 November.  The Assembly, at that time, will also hold another by-election, following Australia’s announcement that it will relinquish its seat in the Council in favour of New Zealand.


The Assembly, this morning, has taken up the annual report of the Economic and Social Council as well as matters pertaining to the return of cultural property, a culture of peace, the new global human order, and sport and development.  Some 39 speakers are inscribed to speak on the four agenda items under consideration.


In the Fourth Committee, debate on the report of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) ended yesterday with an interesting exchange of views between Member States on the contribution of Arab States to the total pledges to meet the emergency appeals of the UNRWA.  You can look at the Press Release, which is GA/SPD/360.  In concluding remarks, the Commissioner-General of URNWA took note of the positive developments in the region, including the early recovery of Lebanon and, what she described as the Government’s landmark decision to allow for an improvement of refugee living conditions.  She expressed the hope that renewed engagement by the international community to resolve the conflict in the Occupied Palestinian Territory would improve the untenable humanitarian situation there.


Meanwhile, the Third Committee, yesterday, approved, without a vote, two draft resolutions on international cooperation against the world drug problem, and strengthening the United Nations crime prevention and criminal justice programme.  The resolution on international cooperation against the world drug problem calls, among other things, for States to step up national efforts to counter illicit drug abuse by 2008 and chart progress in reducing drug production and trafficking.  The Committee also heard a presentation by the Independent Expert on the situation of Human Rights in Burundi, who expressed concern over the Government’s increasing intolerance of all forms of criticism.  In the discussion that followed, the representative of Burundi said that, while his delegation agreed with certain aspects of the report, there were aspects that gave rise to apprehension.  He noted that Burundi had a long way to go after 40 years of human rights violations, but stressed that his Government was determined to improve the human rights situation and was committed to national reconciliation.  The Committee will begin consideration of refugee questions on Tuesday, 7 November.


In the Fifth Committee, discussion concluded on Wednesday on proposals of the Secretary-General to improve the management of human resources within the Organization.  In her closing remarks, the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Resources Management, Jan Beagle, warned that failure to dedicate resources to the mission of investing in people could result in greater managerial risk, loss of productivity and effectiveness from high vacancy rates, inexperienced staff and inconsistency of standards across the Secretariat.  Today, the Committee is holding elections to fill vacancies in a number of its subsidiary bodies.


That is my report for today.  There were a number of questions that I was asked yesterday.  I don’t see some of the questioners here, but I see Matthew, so I will respond to that question on the Investments Committee.


I have checked with the Secretary of the Fifth Committee, [as requested] and he refers you to the document that has been prepared, document A/61/9.  In this document, you will find the rules that govern the membership of the Investments Committee; and there is paragraph 100, under the title “Membership of the Investments Committee” which states that “the Board invites the Secretary-General, in cooperation with the United Nations Ethics Office, to establish procedures to ensure that there are no conflicts of interest in the appointments of members of the Investments Committee.  I think this comment is the safeguard in terms of questions of conflicts of interest.


The item on the UN Pension Fund, which I think Benny asked about, will be discussed next Friday.  Mr. Burnham’s proposal on the Pension Fund will be put forward and of course it is up to the Member States to express themselves on how they feel about that particular suggestion.


On UNRWA, the Head of the UNRWA Liaison Office, Andrew Whitley, has asked me to let you know that he is willing to answer any questions that you may have on UNRWA.  There were a number of questions yesterday.  I was asked specifically what issues of reform had UNRWA been working on.  In fact, the management reform of UNRWA has been underway for at least eight years, but has been accelerated since June 2004, when the Agency held a major inter-governmental conference in Geneva, which was co-hosted by the Swiss Government.  They have in fact begun the reform process.  It has been moving on three main tracks post the Geneva meeting, namely:  first, strengthening the inter-governmental machinery, expanding and revitalizing the Advisory Commission and improving stakeholder relations generally; second, planning and introducing a three-year Organizational Development Plan that would transform the way the Agency works and strengthen its capacity to plan, evaluate and deliver its services to refugees; and thirdly, the Plan hopes to introduce results-based management, which will focus on outcomes, not inputs, in part through need-based surveys of the refugee conditions in all of their five fields of operation.


The Development Plan was approved by the Agency’s major donors and host Governments at the June 2006 meeting of the Advisory Commission.  They have fleshed out a package initiatives costing some $30 million dollars which has been recently put before donors.  To date, donors have been able to raise approximately $2 million of these new funds.


I think that answers most of your pending questions.  There was one other question I think, on whether there was going to be a resolution on UNRWA.  In fact, there are going to be four resolutions at the end of the debate on UNRWA.  They have consolidated the seven resolutions that they have traditionally passed into four draft resolutions, [which will be considered by the Committee next Friday].


Any questions?


**Questions and Answers


Question:  Do you know when the annual resolution calling for a lifting of the US embargo against Cuba is scheduled this year?


Spokeswoman:  On Wednesday, 8 November.


Question:  And the Panama election will be in the morning next week?


Spokeswoman:  On the seventh, yes, in the morning.


Question:  What is the latest on the ECOSOC election for Eastern Europe?


Spokeswoman:  They will go back to voting on the seventh, on Tuesday.


Question:  Did they defer that, as they deferred the formality of the Security Council election?


Spokeswoman:  Yes.


Question:  To the best of anyone’s knowledge, is the Panama election just a formality, or might something come unglued?


Spokeswoman:  Well, I think our hope is that nothing will come unglued, but we are waiting for the official letters of resignation and the official proposal from the Group that Panama…


Question:  There was some trepidation on the part of the Caribbean members of GRULAC and they were going back into an afternoon meeting yesterday.


Spokeswoman:  They are actually meeting today again.


Question:  There seemed to be a stand-off in the Third Committee about whether the President of the Human Rights Council would present the report.  How has that been resolved, both in this case and going forward.  Two different countries seemed to disagree about it.


Spokeswoman:  They are still discussing the issue.  The decision yesterday in the Third Committee was that the Third Committee would invite the President of the Human Rights Council to present the report.  The decision that was taken before was that the report would be considered by the Plenary and the recommendations would be looked at by the Third Committee.  However, in the Third Committee there is a strong feeling that they would like to have the President of the Human Rights Council present the report.


Question:  In the Fifth Committee, the Controller Warren Sach presented the budget and said that the Organization’s outstanding obligations for those who contribute troops and equipment to peacekeeping are going to go up.  I wonder -- and this may also be a question for Stéphane -- whether any part of that might be the UNIFIL operations and payments for naval services and, whether -- as Inter City Press has heard -- there are some European countries that are asking for full reimbursement and even depreciation costs on the ships they contributed to UNIFIL…


Spokesman:  We will find out.


Spokeswoman:  That is the short answer.  We will make it a joint effort to do that.


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