|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 Yves Sorokobi, Associate Spokesman for the Secretary-General, and Gail Bindley-Taylor Sainte, Spokeswoman for the President of the General Assembly.
Briefing by Associate Spokesman for Secretary-General
We are expecting a statement on the deteriorating situation in Darfur and its consequences for the wider region, including Chad, which we flagged to you yesterday.
[The Spokesman later added that it was not expecting to issue a statement on Darfur today.]
** Democratic Republic of the Congo
Now, moving on to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the UN Mission in that country reports that Joseph Kabila was sworn in earlier today in Kinshasa, as the first democratically-elected Congolese President in more than four decades. In a message prepared for the occasion and delivered by Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Marie Guéhenno, the Secretary-General warmly congratulated President Kabila and the Congolese people. The Secretary-General said that the Congolese people’s peaceful, enthusiastic and determined participation was critical in ensuring the success of the electoral process. The Secretary-General encouraged the incoming administration to work closely with the people and with civil society throughout the country, in order to stimulate economic growth, reform the security sector, protect human rights, and strengthen economic governance, democracy and the rule of law. “Reconciliation,” the Secretary-General said, “will be crucial, especially given what the country has been through.”
And we have a full text of the Secretary-General’s message upstairs, in both French and English.
Now, turning back here to the Security Council, the Security Council this morning discussed, in its closed consultations, the text of a draft presidential statement, concerning the inauguration, today, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) of President Joseph Kabila. Under other matters, the Security Council members also discussed a draft resolution on Somalia.
And, at 4 p.m. this afternoon, the Security Council has scheduled two formal meetings, the first one to vote on the Somalia draft resolution, and then to adopt the presidential statement on the DRC. Earlier today, in a formal meeting, the Security Council adopted its annual report to the General Assembly, and we hope that that report will become an official document soon for you.
I have an appointment to announce to you. The Secretary-General has appointed Joel Boutroue of France as his Deputy Special Representative for the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). The post also carries the responsibilities of Humanitarian Coordinator, Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative. Mr. Boutroue assumed his new responsibilities yesterday.
Mr. Boutroue has had a long career with the UN, beginning in 1984, when he worked for UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), a career culminating in his most recent appointment as Deputy Director of the Coordination and Response Division of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). And we have upstairs a full bio of Mr. Boutroue.
**Human Rights Council
Now, about the Human Rights Council. In Geneva today, the President of the Human Rights Council announced the appointment of Christine Chinkin of the United Kingdom as the second member of the high-level fact-finding mission to Beit Hanoun. That mission was authorized by the Human Rights Council’s special session on 15 November. Ms. Chinkin will join Desmond Tutu, who was appointed last week, to lead the mission. The two hope to travel to the region this weekend and will report back to the Human Rights Council by the middle of this month, of December.
Now, from Somalia, the UN has appealed for $18 million to help hundreds of thousands of flood survivors in that country. The appeal was launched today in Geneva, and the funding that it receives will complement the $10 million already approved through the Central Emergency Response Fund for this crisis, for the floods in Somalia.
And the Secretary-General today, in his latest report on the UN Disengagement Observer Force in the Golan Heights, which is known under its acronym as UNDOF, the Secretary-General says in that report, that the situation in the Israel-Syria sector has remained generally quiet. However, the situation in the Middle East in general remains tense, and the Secretary-General considers UNDOF’s continued presence to be essential. He recommends that the Security Council extend UNDOF’s by six months, until the end of June 2007. And we have the full report upstairs.
The International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda says that Elizaphan Ntakirutimana, a former pastor sentenced in February 2003 to 10 years imprisonment for aiding and abetting genocide in Rwanda, was released earlier today from prison. This is the first time that a person convicted of genocide by the Tribunal has been released after serving their full sentence. The former pastor was first arrested in September 1996 in the United States. And we have the press release from the Tribunal upstairs.
**Guest at Noon Tomorrow
And Jan Egeland, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, will be joining us at noon tomorrow to talk about the High-Level Conference on the Central Emergency Response Fund, which is taking place tomorrow, and which will also be attended by the Secretary-General, who will be addressing the delegates there.
As you know, Mr. Egeland will be leaving the Organization, so this will be his last press briefing as head of the UN’s humanitarian affairs department.
**Press Conference Tomorrow
And, also at 5:15 tomorrow afternoon, in this room, the UN Global Compact Office will be hosting a press conference by the board members of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, which is a coalition of Governments, companies, investors, and international and nongovernmental organizations seeking to overcome corruption in the oil, gas and mineral extraction sectors.
That’s it from me. Very few announcements to make.
**Questions and Answers
Question: At the risk of editorializing in a question, which is something, as you know, that I never do… This is serious, though. There was an incident a couple of days ago, in which Deputy Secretary-General Mark Malloch Brown addressed one of our colleagues, Matthew here, as a jerk. Do you think that is the tone that is befitting the second-highest diplomat in the world?
Associate Spokesman: Well, I am not aware of that incident taking place, and I am certainly not aware of the circumstances leading to Mr. Malloch Brown saying that, if he actually did say it. But, it’s not for me to judge whether or not Mr. Malloch Brown has a right to be angry and to deem certain people to be what he believes they are, in a moment of anger. I think I will leave that to him to explain the circumstances leading to that incident, if it did happen.
Question: Is it the language that…?
Associate Spokesman: Again, as I said, I do not have any record of him saying that, I am not aware of him saying that and, again, I will leave that to him.
Question: So, what happens if he did say it? What are the consequences?
Associate Spokesman: But, what happens if he did not say that?
Question: Oh, he said it, though. He has acknowledged that. Well, I do not think he denies saying it.
Associate Spokesman: Well, I will have to check that with him. He did not tell me that he did say it, and I will have to check that.
Question: Well, as a member of the press -– I am not representing any union or any organization –- as a member of the press, let me just say that I, as a journalist, am outraged that such a high-level official at the UN uses such language to a regular member of the press, regardless of what he thinks or what he writes about him.
Associate Spokesman: Well, I respect your sense of outrage about it. Clearly, if this is correct, if this incident did take place, I would understand why you would be outraged and why anyone would be outraged, but again, I am not aware of that incident taking place and certainly not aware of the circumstances leading to that. But Mr. Malloch Brown is a human being, like all of us, and he can have reactions of anger, like anybody else, as long as he is being provoked. And I will leave it to him to explain why he felt provoked.
Question: A policy question here: does the UN Secretariat have any take on the Iraq Study Group report and its recommendation, among others, that suggested that the United Nations get involved in a constitutional review process in Iraq? Is this something that the UN is considering?
Associate Spokesman: We have not yet seen the full Baker Commission report.
Question: It is on the Internet.
Associate Spokesman: Well, I will look into that later and tell you what our position is on that particular constitutional review process, but we understand, from news reports, that there were certain ideas put forward by the Commission, which are fully supported by the Secretary-General. In fact, some of them have been put forward by the Secretary-General, including the idea of an international conference on Iraq, which is now being advocated by the Iraqi Government.
Question: Recommendation seven… I want to know, is that something the Secretary-General suggested to the Group or what your reaction is? Recommendation seven is that the Secretary-General should designate a special envoy to this Iraq Support Group. Is this something that’s likely to happen?
Associate Spokesman: As I said, we first have to study the recommendations proposed by the Baker Commission. We’ll have to see with the mandate that we have from the Security Council in Iraq, whether we can accommodate such recommendations. And then it will be a decision of the Secretary-General to put that into practice.
Question: A Minister of the Lebanese Government recently has said, to a Canadian newspaper, that they are recruiting 44,000 militias and putting them in the security forces of Lebanon, and the United Arab Emirates are financing that deal. Given that the situation in Lebanon is very volatile and there is a risk of civil war, is the United Nations aware of that, and is there any contact with the Lebanese Government to stop such things, because of the risk to security and peace?
Associate Spokesman: We obviously are in contact regularly with all parties from Lebanon. To my knowledge, that matter has not been brought to our attention yet, but if it is, I believe, we’ll have a response on that particular piece of information.
Question: Mr. Pederson did not brief you on that?
Associate Spokesman: Not to my knowledge.
Question: On the Congo, there are reports that MONUC has increased fighting and there is something like 150 militias killed. There is also a more recent report of civilians fleeing that part of the country to Uganda, getting killed by a bomb. Does MONUC have any statement on this increased fighting in Eastern Congo?
Associate Spokesman: Obviously, MONUC and the rest of the UN system are very concerned by those developments in Eastern Congo. Today should have been a joyful day for that country, when, as I said earlier, the first democratically-elected President is being sworn in. The current violence in Eastern Congo is a flare-up from last week’s violence in that region. MONUC is working actively to put an end to the hostilities and our humanitarian colleagues are also monitoring the situation there to provide emergency aid to the refugees streaming into Uganda.
Question: Is MONUC playing a role in determining whether it was the Congolese army or the rebels that killed those civilians?
Associate Spokesman: The fighting is ongoing, as we speak. I think we’ll have to first bring some form of order to that town and region before we can see who actually committed crimes, if anyone committed them.
Question: And another thing –- not that it is not good to have you here, but yesterday, Stephané said, in a response, that “obviously, there is some very good system in place at UNDP for whistleblowing”. That was his statement, that was fine. There is an Acting Ombudsman report, from the Office of the UNDP Ombudsman, which talks not just about retaliation, but something called “pretaliation”, meaning the managers within UNDP telling employees what to say to the Ombudsman and then also trying to discover, after the fact, who spoke to the Ombudsman, whenever any complaint comes out. As a journalist, I find that to be an atmosphere of fear. And I wish –- I understand you cannot speak for Mr. Malloch Brown, but I hope you can speak for Stephané at this instance. What was the basis for his statement? When he was making this statement about the UNDP, was he aware of this report? Or did he just make the statement?
Associate Spokesman: I think what Stephané told you is what is true for the system in general, that there is a whistleblower policy. At the UNDP in particular, they have an Ombudsman, who is working on the internal ethical issues. That particular point of “pretaliation” is something that I am hearing for the first time and cannot speak for Stephané whether or not he was aware of that report when he was giving you that answer yesterday. But, what he told you encompasses pretty much what is in that report, that policies are set in place; mechanisms are set in place to make sure that people do not feel afraid from denouncing bad behaviour in the system.
And coming back to Mr. Malloch Brown’s issue: this is an incident that happened outside, from what I understand, as from what Benny was saying, happened in the hallways and we have absolutely no record of it. I speak for Mr. Malloch Brown, but I do not speak on incidents that I am not aware of, especially when they happen outside his official activities as Deputy Secretary-General. So, until that incident is confirmed to me, either by him or someone who witnessed it, I would not be able to say anything more than what I said.
Question: Can I follow up on this? Could you find out from Mr. Malloch Brown or somebody who knows what he is doing, whether the incident has occurred, and if it does, could you please register with him that at least some of us want some kind of apology?
Associate Spokesman: Oh, certainly, I will raise the issue with Mr. Malloch Brown and if he does confirm to me the facts that you are now alleging here, and if he deems his own behaviour inappropriate in those circumstances, I think he would do the right thing.
Question: I just want to say, it is not about the jerk issue. It is not just about the question of apology. I just want to put in to you a simple request for whether there can be, from this podium, some explanation or statement on the recent reassignment within the UNDP of Brian Gleeson, the Head of Human Resources, and of Kalman Mizsei, who is the head of UNDP Europe and the CIS.
Associate Spokesman: I am sure when Mr. Kemal Dervis, the Executive Director of the UNDP, is here to brief you on December 18, he will be in a position to answer some of these questions.
Question: On Darfur and Somalia, we were told that the letter to Kofi Annan from President Bashir will be released. I understand it has not been released yet. Could it be released to us?
Associate Spokesman: I believe, the last I heard about that letter, it was still being studied and as…
Question: The Spokesman’s Office had said it would be released after an announcement of the African Peace and Security Council, which happened a couple of days ago, so it would be great if we could see a copy of that letter.
Associate Spokesman: Sure, I will look into…
Question: Another question, if I may, on Somalia. I was just wondering if you could give us a sense of what the UN analysis is of the situation, as the Security Council is about to adopt a resolution calling for African forces to support “the Government in Baidoa”, as we call it. There was talk about some kind of a deal between the Baidoa faction and the Islamic faction. Anyway, is there any independent UN analysis of the situation?
And, just a final request on Congo: we occasionally had a couple of very helpful briefings with maps and slide shows. If the UN is fighting a hot battle at the moment, it would be very helpful if we could have a repeat of previously helpful briefings on what is actually happening in the Congo. Thanks.
Associate Spokesman: I will see how that PowerPoint presentation on the Congo can be staged again. As to the position of the UN on Somalia, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Somalia was very recently in Mogadishu, and before that, he travelled to Baidoa, and in Nairobi, where he is based, he is continuing to hold a series of meetings with regional and international actors in trying first to obtain a commitment from both the Islamist and the Government for a resumption of the discussions in Khartoum, which we remain very committed to and which, hopefully, we can bring those parties to bring a little life back into…
Question: It’s just that there has been a time in the past when, for big political issues the UN was involved in, officials used to come down and -– sometimes on and sometimes off the record –- we used to have briefings. That practice seems to have ended, and I wonder if it could be revived.
Associate Spokesman: Oh, that practice is actually very much alive. In fact, the Special Representative for Somalia was here on this podium just three weeks, or a little more, ago. And it was announced that he would be here; it was in the Journal.
Question: But, that’s once a month. That is a fast-evolving situation; so anyway, could we have a more regular dialogue on the political issues in which the UN is deeply involved, in fast-unravelling situations? That would be very helpful. Thank you.
Associate Spokesman: It was reported that the Secretary-General appointed a special envoy for northern Uganda. Did he consult with Ban Ki-moon? And how long does this position last? Could you describe the process?
Question: Well, that was a recommendation from the Security Council in a resolution on northern Uganda. The Secretary-General had a mandate from the Security Council to appoint a special envoy for northern Uganda. As for the process, I believe that Mr. Ban Ki-moon’s team has been made aware of the activities, especially during this transition period, of the Office of the current Secretary-General, so I would take it that they have been informed of the appointment.
Associate Spokesman: I had a similar question on Haiti mission. Was Ban Ki-moon consulted?
Question: Again, as I said… well, whether he approved, that I cannot answer, but I am pretty confident that this administration is informing the Ban Ki-moon transition team of every decision the current administration is making that will live past its office. I am pretty confident that Ban Ki-moon’s team was informed of the decision of the Secretary-General to appoint Mr. Boutroue in Haiti.
Associate Spokesman: How long is this position going to go? What’s the contract for this position?
Question: I don’t have this specific information, but I can get that for you.
Well, on that note, thank you, and Gail is here.
Briefing by Spokeswoman for General Assembly President
The General Assembly this morning is meeting on the agenda item on “Integrated and coordinated implementation of and follow-up to the outcomes of the major United Nations conferences and summits in the economic, social and related fields”. Today, the focus is on development, and there are some 11 speakers inscribed to address the Assembly. The Assembly today is also going to act on more than 40 draft resolutions put forward, by the First Committee, for its approval.
The Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee, which has been working since 2001 to draft a comprehensive legally binding United Nations convention on the protection and promotion of the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities, wrapped up that task yesterday, by adopting its final report, and the document number for that report is A/AC.265/2006/L.7. This now provides the General Assembly with a final version of the historic convention on protecting the rights of persons with disabilities. The fifty-article draft treaty and an optional protocol will be forwarded to the General Assembly for adoption next week.
The Committee also approved draft resolution A/AC.265/2006/L.8, by which the Assembly would adopt the instruments and open them for signature at the United Nations Headquarters from 30 March 2007. The current Chairman of the Committee, Don MacKay of New Zealand, said the baton would now pass to Governments -- but especially to civil society, disabilities advocates and persons with disabilities -- to ensure that the draft convention is implemented properly. The new treaty will require countries to guarantee freedom from exploitation and abuse for disabled persons, while protecting the rights they already have, such as ensuring voting rights for the visually impaired and providing wheelchair accessible buildings.
The draft optional protocol would allow persons with disabilities to petition the Convention Committee if they have exhausted all possible remedies at home.
On other news of work in the Main Committees, on Monday, the Assembly extended the time for the Second Committee to submit its report by today, 6 December. This afternoon, the Committee will meet to take action on some 18 resolutions and one draft decision on its agenda.
The Fifth Committee is meeting in informal consultations on the scales of assessment on the apportionment of the expenses of the United Nations. It is also holding informal discussions on financial reports and audited financial statements and reports of the Board of Auditors.
That’s my report for today. If you have any questions…
Sorry, I have one response for you, because, in fact, the PBI, the programme budget implications for the resolution that you were asking me about yesterday, [referring to the draft resolution on the establishment of the United Nations Register of Damage caused by the Construction of the wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory] is out; and the cost is just over $3 million. I’ll give you the document afterwards.
Anything else, Matthew? Good.
Have a good afternoon.
* *** *For information media • not an official record